HC Deb 07 May 1986 vol 97 cc131-2
1. Mr. Douglas

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the position of United Kingdom nationals in Libya.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

Our consistent advice since April 1984 has been that British citizens choosing to live and work in Libya do so on their own responsibility and that consular assistance and protection is limited. We have more recently advised the withdrawal of dependants and non-essential staff. Our consul in Tripoli is in close contact with representatives of the British community, which now numbers around 3,500.

Mr. Douglas

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. Does he concede that some events have taken place since the United States bombing? In view of the statement by the United States President and Vice President in the last few days about the possibility — indeed, the probability — of the United States taking action against terrorists or state-sponsored terrorism in other countries, such as Syria, what advice does the Foreign and Commonwealth Office offer to British nationals in Syria, Iran, Iraq and elsewhere?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

That is a far-ranging question, founded on a number of far-ranging assumptions. Our advice to travellers in all the areas where tension has increased or where there is a risk of terrorist violence—for example, in certain parts of Beirut—is to make their own judgments, at their own risk, and on their own responsibility.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

As my right hon. and learned Friend would not wish British citizens to be expelled from Libya solely on the ground that they are British citizens, can he confirm that no Libyan students have been or will be expelled from this country solely on the ground that they are Libyans? Does he agree that the training of Arab students in Britain is very much in our long-term interests?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I assure my hon. Friend that action taken in respect of Libyans, whether students or otherwise, who are resident here is on the basis of evidence and because of security considerations, not on the basis of any general categorisation.

Mr. Beith

Does the Secretary of State believe that British nationals living abroad or at home are safer from terrorism now than they were before the bombing raid, or does he share Secretary of State Shultz's assessment that Colonel Gaddafi may be more dangerous now than before?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I have not seen that assessment, but there is no doubt that the risk of terrorism and of injury to innocent people as a result of terrorism is more likely to increase in the face of inaction by countries such as ours.

Mr. Andrew MacKay

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that some of us will be not be particularly sympathetic to British nationals who find themselves in difficulties in the future, because it has been made abundantly clear that risk is involved in going to Libya and they will be extremely foolhardy to go there at this time?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I take note of what my hon. Friend has said, and I understand his point. We have, of course, no legal means of preventing British citizens from visiting or remaining in Libya, but our advice is clear.

Mr. Ernie Ross

Will the Secretary of State nevertheless make it clear that British nationals who have married and now live in Libya will have no impediment put in their way or in the way of their families if they wish to come here to visit their relatives?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

In today's world many people are parties to cross-national marriages and Governments have to react to situations and treat them sympathetically. There is no question of any retaliation by ourselves or of any measures being taken against peopele solely because of their nationality or marital status.

Mr. Dickens

Is it not true that, by and large. British nationals living in Libya are contributing something to that country — whether it be special skills, experience or business acumen—in return for stability and, perhaps, even their own safety? Therefore, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the safety of British nationals should not always cloud the judgment of our foreign policy?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I take the point made by my hon. Friend. Of course the safety of British nationals cannot be the only consideration in foreign policy. However, I hope that the day will never come when it can be said that Her Majesty's Government are heedless of the safety of subjects of this country.

Forward to