Scottish Secretary of State Michael Moore has admitted that the UK coalition government has no idea exactly how many Scots are still trapped in strife torn Libya after it emerged that many workers were not registered with the British Embassy.
The admission from the Scottish Lib Dem MP comes in the wake of David Cameron’s apology after opponents slammed the inadequate response of the Tory/Lib Dem government to the plight of hundreds of UK workers trapped in desert compounds.
It also comes only days after the Scottish government were expelled from an emergency meeting where the plight of UK oil workers, including many from Scotland, was discussed.
Speaking on the Politics Show Scotland Mr Moore was asked how many Scots remain trapped in Libya as violence threatened to engulf the north African country.
In his response Mr Moore said that there were no figures for the numbers still trapped but insisted that the UK government was trying to keep in touch with them and was focussed on getting those people currently in transit home safely.
Mr Moore said: “We don’t have a figure for the number of Scots, and indeed the picture about the number of UK citizens generally is still uncertain.”
When pressed that London should have acted much sooner Mr Moore repeated the apology offered by David Cameron last week and said that lessons would be learned. Mr Moore insisted that the coalition had already saved a “huge number” and was working hard to free those still trapped, he also claimed some of those people had in fact chosen to remain in Libya.
Mr Moore said: “Through the efforts of the last few days we have been able to get huge numbers of British into safety from Tripoli, Benghazi or other parts of Libya and other efforts continue.”
“What we’re doing at the moment is making sure we’re keeping in touch with people to ensure that we know as far as possible where people are, and making sure we’re focussed on getting those who are in transit back home to their loved ones as quickly and as safely as possible.
“We are focussed on those who remain, some of whom have chosen to remain, but [as to] the remainder who wish to get out we are working very hard to find the best and safest way to do that.”
Mr Moore refused to say what other options were currently being considered by the coalition and described the situation as one of “serious national importance”. Reports in Sunday newspapers claimed that a daring SAS raid had rescued 150 people; however passengers on the two RAF planes explained that they had in fact boarded the aircraft at an airport in normal fashion with some British troops taking names.
The Lib Dem MP also failed to accept the charge that the UK coalition had failed this “first big test” on foreign policy saying: “I don’t accept that,” before adding: “I accept that there have been real difficulties and I understand there have been anxieties about that. As I’ve said, and the Prime Minister has made clear, we will get to the bottom of the different bits and pieces that went towards last week’s events.”
The Scottish government’s External Affairs Minister Fiona Hyslop said the Scottish government was “deeply concerned” about those still trapped in Libya.
Ms Hyslop, who was prevented from taking part in last week’s UK government crisis meeting into the situation, said that Foreign Office Minister Alastair Burt had now agreed to hold regular discussions with the Scottish government.
She said: “Mr Burt has welcomed the contribution made by the Scottish government and others in Scotland in our joint efforts to bring Scots home, including using our long established contacts and relationship with Scottish-based oil companies,”
The Scottish government’s own Resilience Room (SGoRR) has been activated and will provide ongoing support should it be required.
Ms Hyslop said the Scottish government was also addressing the welfare needs of Libyan students and academics currently living in Scotland.
The turmoil in Libya has also led to major increases in the price of oil with some estimates suggesting that the UK treasury could see a £4 billion windfall from the North Sea resource this year.
Despite prices at the pumps set to hit £6 a gallon as a result, Michael Moore refused to confirm whether there would be any relief for motorists in the forthcoming budget.
Mr Moore described the extra costs being borne by people in rural areas as a “misfortune” and stated that everyone had to contribute to getting the country back to a good footing in order to address the huge deficit left behind by the last Labour government.
Mr Moore said: “I do appreciate the expense that people are now confronted by. It is a real problem when international oil prices move the way they have.
Challenged that motorists were being subjected to “stealth taxes” Mr Moore said: “I am very aware myself of the increases and how are affecting people in very different ways sometime just as a misfortune of where their petrol station is or who their supplier is, that is all very complicated and very hard if you are facing those prices”
“Motorists clearly have been taking a lot of that difficulty in recent time, but they are not alone in that. We are having to make sure that across society everybody contributes their bit to getting the country back on a sustainable financial footing.”
Mr Moore compared the UK financial plight to that of Ireland and Greece and suggested that the measures introduced by the UK coalition were necessary if a similar fate is to be avoided by the UK.
He added: “Sometimes those who complain about particular measures being taken forget the seriousness of what has happened in other countries like Greece and Ireland.”