My Lords, I ask the House to note that I have written a number of letters to the Prime Minister expressing my deep reservations about why we are involved in Syria at all. It seems to me that it is not in this country’s interests and never has been.
I also frankly do not approve of our policy in north Africa and the Middle East and have said so clearly. This crusade of western-type democracy to be imposed upon others with significantly different cultures from our own seems to have resulted in the chaos that we see now in Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan and the subject of today’s debate, Syria. If you look at Syria, a relatively young country created after the First World War, you will see that this is its fourth civil war. The war is not new to that country; this is just the current, awful manifestation.
As I look at the situation and the media coverage of the past few days, and the idea that we are going to launch a strike at any moment, I ask myself—my noble friend Lord Howell raised this—who in the world today believes that the United Sates, the United Kingdom and a couple of other countries should be policing the world? That is not what the vast majority of the world believes; it looks to the UN to provide that. We must work with the UN to make sure that that happens. However difficult it may be to deal with the Russians, the Chinese or anybody else, we have to find ways to work with them and to make that succeed.
Turning to the chemical weapons issue, on the last incident—I am amazed to hear that there were 14 other occasions; certainly I was not aware of them and would like to know why they were not more broadly publicised—we frankly still do not know who did it. We know that it happened. The House knows that I have had deep involvement in Sri Lanka and I know that evidence can be and is fabricated by rebel groups. I have seen it with my own eyes, with the Tamil Tigers’ accusations about certain of the actions of the Sri Lankan Government. Frankly, I do not believe that al-Qaeda is totally innocent in Syria; it may be and it would be wonderful if it was, but I wonder. If it was the Government, what was their motive? Was it a central government decision that there should be a sudden strike on a suburb of Damascus? Far more likely is the suggestion of my noble friend on the Liberal Benches that it was probably, possibly, a rogue element in the Syrian army. Let us reflect on what happened on our side in the Second World War. We had a number of rogue actions taken against government orders; that is not unusual in war and we should never forget that. That was, to a degree, the implication of what the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, said.
Should there be any military intervention? Frankly, those of us who have done a bit of gardening recently know that the worst possible thing you can do to a bonfire is to put petrol on it. The Middle East is a huge raging bonfire at this point in time. If we send in missiles of any sort—I speak as a former RAF pilot, as is my noble friend to my left—however good the pilot, the radar and the homing device may be, they can go wrong. As others have indicated, that could be catastrophic. For me, there should be no military intervention.
However, the West should do something. We have to do more in terms of diplomacy. I was privileged to go out and try to help in Sri Lanka and the Maldives immediately after the tsunami. I was amazed at the amount of support and help that was given to millions of people in Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives in a situation that killed well over 100,000 people overnight. There was a wonderful reaction by the Disasters Emergency Committee and equally wonderful reactions by numerous Governments. With all the experience that this country has in providing great NGOs, why on earth can we not take the lead on the humanitarian front and forget all about any military intervention?
Although he has just left the Chamber, I shall finish by saying how grateful I am to the Leader of the House, as well as to the Leader of the Official Opposition, for sitting through almost every speech. My only request is that, having done so, they should both make sure that the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition know the strength of feeling in this House.