Syria: Chemical Weapons

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th February 2018.

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Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Labour/Co-operative, Barrow and Furness 12:00 am, 20th February 2018

What evidence his Department has received on the recent use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Joint with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

We are deeply concerned by recent reports of chemical weapons use in Syria. UK officials are in contact with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is investigating. We condemn all use of chemical weapons and are working with international partners to identify and hold to account those responsible.

Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Labour/Co-operative, Barrow and Furness

I thank the Minister for that answer. Anyone who seeks to draw a false equivalence in relation to Syria’s grotesque gassing of its own citizens risks aiding and abetting that gruesome activity. The Government’s concern is not enough, and words are not enough. What is the UK actually going to do to take action to stop this activity? This was supposed to be a red line for the international community, but it has been walked over time and again.

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Joint with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

The hon. Gentleman is right to express concern and anger not only about the use of chemical weapons but about their increasing use. We think that they have been used on perhaps four occasions since the turn of this year. If the use of chemical weapons once again becomes the norm in war, that will go against a century of a united response against them by the world. I took part in the recent conference in Paris led by the French Foreign Minister and the United States Secretary of State to counter activities in the UN, where the joint investigative mechanism has been vetoed on three occasions, by trying to create some other mechanism. We will continue to work through the UN to ensure that the international convention on chemical weapons once again becomes properly effective.

Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art, Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

I thank the Minister for his responses on this subject, but 2018 has proved to be an absolutely brutal year so far for Syrian civilians. What can we do? We can put in place monitoring in that country. Will the Minister tell us a little more about what UK Government resources are available for monitoring and collecting evidence of these terrible crimes?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Joint with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, the UK has been working to equip civilians on the ground with the tools they need to collect evidence that can be used to ensure accountability and justice. We have been doing that work for some years, and we will continue to do it. The hon. Lady has called attention to the increased use of chemical weapons in the past few weeks, which is an outrage. The world community is entitled to be outraged by it, and we must ensure that, through the UN, we do something effective to bring the perpetrators to justice.