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Syria and the Use of Chemical Weapons

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:36 pm on 29th August 2013.

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Photo of David Cameron David Cameron The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party 2:36 pm, 29th August 2013

I beg to move,

That this House:

Deplores the use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August 2013 by the Assad regime, which caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries of Syrian civilians;

Recalls the importance of upholding the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons under international law;

Agrees that a strong humanitarian response is required from the international community and that this may, if necessary, require military action that is legal, proportionate and focused on saving lives by preventing and deterring further use of Syria’s chemical weapons;

Notes the failure of the United Nations Security Council over the last two years to take united action in response to the Syrian crisis;

Notes that the use of chemical weapons is a war crime under customary law and a crime against humanity, and that the principle of humanitarian intervention provides a sound legal basis for taking action;

Notes the wide international support for such a response, including the statement from the Arab League on 27 August which calls on the international community, represented in the United Nations Security Council, to “overcome internal disagreements and take action against those who committed this crime, for which the Syrian regime is responsible”;

Believes, in spite of the difficulties at the United Nations, that a United Nations process must be followed as far as possible to ensure the maximum legitimacy for any such action;

Therefore welcomes the work of the United Nations investigating team currently in Damascus, and, whilst noting that the team’s mandate is to confirm whether chemical weapons were used and not to apportion blame, agrees that the United Nations Secretary General should ensure a briefing to the United Nations Security Council immediately upon the completion of the team’s initial mission;

Believes that the United Nations Security Council must have the opportunity immediately to consider that briefing and that every effort should be made to secure a Security Council Resolution backing military action before any such action is taken, and notes that before any direct British involvement in such action a further vote of the House of Commons will take place; and

Notes that this Resolution relates solely to efforts to alleviate humanitarian suffering by deterring use of chemical weapons and does not sanction any action in Syria with wider objectives.

May I thank you, Mr Speaker, for agreeing to our request to recall the House of Commons for this important debate?

The question before the House today is how to respond to one of the most abhorrent uses of chemical weapons in a century, which has slaughtered innocent men, women and children in Syria. It is not about taking sides in the Syrian conflict, it is not about invading, it is not about regime change, and it is not even about working more closely with the opposition; it is about the large-scale use of chemical weapons and our response to a war crime—nothing else.

Let me set out what the House has in front of it today in respect of how we reached our conclusions. We have a summary of the Government’s legal position, which makes it explicit that military action would have a clear legal basis.