My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made earlier today in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, on ISIL, Iraq and Syria. The Statement is as follows.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on Iraq and Syria.
I am sure that the House will wish to join me in expressing sympathy and condolences to the family and friends of Alan Henning. Mr Henning arrived in Syria armed only with kindness and compassion. His appalling murder, like that of David Haines, the two American hostages and many thousands of others, has revealed the true, barbaric face of ISIL.
The scale and unity of the international response to the challenge of ISIL is impressive. It involves Muslim countries of the region and the wider international community. The UK is proud to play its part. Working closely with our allies, under a US lead, we have a clear strategy to take the fight to ISIL: a strategy with military, political and wider counterterrorism components —a strategy that we recognise will, at least in parts, need to be sustained over the long term. We are under no illusion as to the severity of this challenge to regional stability and to our homeland security. At the heart of our strategy is the political strand. ISIL will not be overcome until Iraq and Syria have inclusive Governments capable of marginalising its appeal and of mounting a sustained and effective response on the ground to the military and ideological threat it poses.
Let me first address the situation in Iraq, which I visited this week. I did so to show solidarity with the Iraqi people and the new Government of Prime Minister al-Abadi, to tell them that they do not stand alone in confronting the ISIL threat, and to encourage them as they put together an inclusive Government of national reconciliation. I recognise the concern in this House—shared by many in the region—as to the difficulties of achieving this more inclusive approach. I recognise too the enormous challenges that Prime Minister al-Abadi faces, and the understandable scepticism as to his ability to deliver a genuinely different approach from his predecessor. But at the same time, I am impressed by the commitment of all three leaderships—Shia, Sunni and Kurd—to ensure that this time is, and must be, different. All agreed that this is effectively Iraq’s last chance as a nation state.
In talks with Prime Minister al-Abadi, Vice-President Nujaifi and Foreign Minister Jaafari, each of them reaffirmed their understanding of the need for, and their personal commitment to, a more inclusive approach, decentralisation of power to Iraq’s communities and equitable sharing of Iraq’s natural resource wealth. I assured Prime Minister al-Abadi that Britain will do all it can to support reform and reconciliation. He in turn assured me that he expects to complete the formation of his Government, by appointing Defence and Interior Ministers, over the next few days.
In Erbil, I met the Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and other Ministers. They likewise assured me of their commitment to work with Prime Minister al-Abadi and that Kurdish Ministers would be taking up their positions in the Baghdad Government this week. There was considerable optimism, in both Erbil and Baghdad, that this will allow a much needed deal to resolve the long-standing issues between the Iraqi Government and the KRG, including oil exports and revenue sharing.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the history, there is a deep and mutual lack of trust, both between the different communities within Iraq and between Baghdad and some of its neighbours in the region. But it is vital that all parties, having surveyed the alternatives, now put the past behind them and have the courage to build bridges to each other; in particular to appeal to the Sunni populations, who are living under, and in some cases, acquiescing in, ISIL’s brutal reign, and who must be brought back into the political fold if ISIL is to be defeated in Iraq. For our part, we will do all that is in our power to encourage the different communities and countries involved to reach out to each other in rebuilding an Iraq capable of rolling back ISIL and the poisonous ideology it represents.
Turning to the military dimension of our engagement in Iraq, Britain, alongside the United States, France, Australia and others, has assumed a key role in carrying out air strikes and mounting the sophisticated reconnaissance that enables them. We are in the process of redeploying some of our Reaper remotely piloted aircraft from Afghanistan to the Middle East, to add to our surveillance capabilities.
The security situation remains very serious, with ISIL maintaining control of significant swathes of territory in both Iraq and Syria. ISIL has made advances in Anbar in recent days, including taking control of the city of Hit and attacking the provincial capital, Ramadi. At the same time, Kurdish forces have pushed back ISIL in the north, retaking several strategically important villages. There will be tactical ebb and flow, but the coalition air campaign has stabilised the strategic picture, and the assessment of our experts is that Baghdad is not at immediate risk.
Approximately 20% to 30% of Iraq’s populated territory could be under ISIL control. Liberating this territory from ISIL is a medium-term challenge, to be measured in months and years, not days and weeks. The horrific effects of ISIL—on governance, security and the social fabric—will be felt for even longer.
Prime Minister al-Abadi outlined to me his plans to reform the Iraqi security forces. He is clear-eyed about the scale of the challenges he faces and the resistance he will face in meeting them. But reform will be essential if the ISF are to develop the capabilities necessary to defeat ISIL on the ground. The United States and others have committed to providing the necessary training. Britain has funded bomb disposal training for the Kurdish forces, as we did for the Iraqi security forces earlier in the year, and I saw for myself members of 2 Yorks training Peshmerga to operate and maintain the heavy machine guns we have gifted to them.
In Syria, we need to reaffirm clearly, lest there be any doubt, that Assad cannot be part of the solution to the challenge of ISIL. The depravity of his regime was, after all, a driving factor in creating ISIL. Indeed, while the international coalition has been trying to save Kobane, Assad has been continuing his attacks and aerial bombardments on the moderates, including around Aleppo and Damascus. Those close to Assad should be in no doubt that he must be removed to clear the way for a Government in Damascus who enjoy legitimacy in the eyes of the Syrian people and credibility with the international community, and who can take effective action against extremism. For as long as he remains in power, there will be no peace in Syria.
Britain will continue to provide strong support to the moderate opposition, including technical assistance and non-lethal equipment. We have recently increased our funding to areas under opposition control and to regional allies to increase their resilience against the effects of the Syria conflict. Our support, along with that of our allies, is helping the moderates to deliver good governance and strong public services in the areas they control, relieving the suffering of the civilian population.
Airstrikes are being carried out in Syria by the United States, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Jordan. The UK strongly supports this action. No one who has watched a television screen over the last week or so can have failed to be moved by the plight of the defenders of Kobane. Their situation has at times appeared hopeless, yet, supported by coalition airstrikes, they are holding on and in some areas pushing back. The moderate opposition have held back ISIL in other parts of northern Syria. Airstrikes have targeted ISIL’s headquarters, command and control, and military forces in the eastern provinces of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor, degrading their capabilities. They have also hit the economic infrastructure that ISIL has been exploiting to generate revenue from illegal oil sales.
The UK Government expect to make a significant contribution to the US-led programme to train the Syrian moderate armed opposition, who are fighting both Assad’s tyranny and ISIL’s extremism. Details of how that contribution will be delivered are currently being scoped.
ISIL represents a threat to Iraq and to the region, but it also represents a major threat to us, here at home—particularly at the hands of returning foreign fighters—and to our citizens worldwide. The UK has led the coalition on a number of wider counterterrorism initiatives which aim to cut off the flow of finance and fighters to ISIL in both Syria and Iraq.
Through our membership of the United Nations Security Council, we have been instrumental in securing the listings of 20 individuals, including 16 directly linked to ISIL or the al-Nusra Front and two al-Qaeda-related organisations, since the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2170 on terrorist financing. We are also working closely with partners to disrupt ISIL’s access to external markets for illicit sales of oil and other goods. Domestically, we are seeking to strengthen the powers of the Charity Commission to counter terrorist abuse of the charity sector.
On terrorist recruitment, the UK co-sponsored UN Security Council Resolution 2178 sets out a framework to dissuade, prevent and disrupt travel, to work with communities, to strengthen border controls and to manage the challenge of returning foreign fighters. We will now actively pursue this agenda throughout Europe and the Middle East.
As co-chairs of the Global Counterterrorism Forum’s working group on countering violent extremism, we are looking at new ways to strengthen the ability of partners overseas to counter the terrorist propaganda which contributes to radicalisation, recruitment and mobilisation of individuals to terrorism.
The advance of ISIL and the continued attrition against its own population by the Assad regime have caused a humanitarian crisis in Iraq and Syria no less grave than the political and military one. More than 170,000 have fled from Kobane and over 30,000 people have been displaced from the town of Hit in Anbar province as a result of recent fighting, many of them ending up in the Kurdish region of Iraq. The need to winterise refugee accommodation is increasingly urgent as the wet and then the cold weather approaches. The Kurdish leadership made very clear to me the scale and urgency of the humanitarian crisis they are facing in accommodating nearly 1 million refugees, perhaps half of Iraq’s total population of IDPs, at the same time as defending their 600-mile front line with ISIL.
And the humanitarian challenges go wider. In Syria nearly 14 million people need assistance, there are 6.5 million internally displaced persons and 3 million refugees. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development recently announced £100 million in additional funding, bringing the UK contribution to the Syria crisis to £700 million.
Our support is reaching hundreds of thousands of people across all 14 governorates of Syria, and in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. UK aid is providing water for up to 1.5 million people and has funded 5.2 million monthly food rations. In addition, we are supporting the Governments of Lebanon and Jordan to manage the impact of the huge influx of refugees to those countries on host communities.
Britain was one of the first donors to respond to the worsening situation in Iraq this summer and has allocated a total of £23 million to Iraq since
We have a wide-ranging and ambitious strategy to confront an evil which is a direct threat to our national security. I pay tribute to the members of our Diplomatic Service and our international development teams in the region who are working in very difficult circumstances, and above all to the men and women of our Armed Forces who are, once again, putting their lives at risk as Britain takes its place at the heart of the coalition waging a struggle against a barbaric force that has no place in human civilisation in the 21st century. They will always have our whole-hearted support. I commend this Statement to the House”.
That concludes the Statement.
I thank the Minister for repeating the long and full Statement made earlier today in another place by her right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The whole House will want to echo what the Statement said in expressing our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Alan Henning. He went to Syria to help the Syrian people in their most desperate time of need. His murder by ISIL reveals the sheer evil and brutality of an organisation that glorifies terror and defies any decency and any humanity. The whole House will stand shoulder to shoulder with Her Majesty’s Government in our determination to defeat ISIL.
We also agree with the tributes paid not only, of course, to the outstanding work of our Armed Forces, but to the dedicated diplomats and aid workers who are today contributing to the United Kingdom’s efforts in the region. I would like to add a tribute to the British Council staff, too, who are employed in the region. I declare an interest as chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the British Council. In that capacity, I visited Lebanon last week and saw with my own eyes the wonderful work that is being done by our diplomats and aid workers there, not least by the British Council in Beirut. They are helping to deal with the issues thrown up by the very large influx of refugees into Lebanon from Syria.
We know that President Obama had a video conference with the Prime Minister, President Hollande, Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Renzi to discuss the campaign against ISIL. We know, of course, of the Foreign Secretary’s visit to the region this week, and we know that the United States Administration hosted a summit with senior military commanders from across the international coalition to discuss the fight against ISIL in Syria and Iraq. We were slightly surprised to hear in the Statement the assertion that the coalition air campaign has stabilised the strategic picture, given that the air strikes initiated in recent weeks seem so far to have failed to prevent ISIL from conquering almost all of Anbar province and coming close—not today, we hope, but earlier this week—to overrunning the Syrian border town of Kobane. There have also been reports that ISIL drew to within 15 miles or so of Baghdad’s international airport last weekend.
The backdrop to the authorisation granted by the other place for UK air strikes in Iraq was the expectation that within Iraq, the Iraqi military and the Kurds would provide resistance on the ground to ISIL’s advance, while of course the United States has now committed significant resources to supporting the Free Syrian Army. Yet, to be frank, so far only the Kurdish Peshmerga seem to have resisted ISIL effectively. That is a very challenging backdrop, on which I have a few questions for the Minister.
Following the Foreign Secretary’s discussions in Iraq this week, can the noble Baroness offer on behalf of the Government a little more clarity regarding the Government’s most up-to-date estimate of the capability of the Iraqi armed forces? Can she also set out what consideration is being given to further material requests from the Kurdish forces for further equipment, training and support? In his Statement, the Foreign Secretary spoke about seeing during his visit to Iraq a growing role for the UK in training and supporting local forces. The Statement says that:
“Details of how that contribution will be delivered are currently being scoped”.
Can the noble Baroness help us at all in setting the parameters—not the details; we do not want to know those—of this potential UK contribution?
The Foreign Secretary also mentioned Turkey in his Statement in relation to humanitarian assistance. Can the noble Baroness confirm whether her right honourable friend personally raised the prospect of Turkey’s contribution to the military coalition against ISIL with the Turkish Government directly? What more is it that Her Majesty’s Government would like Turkey to do? I should like to press her on that point because many both inside this House and outside it think that this is a crux question at the present time.
The truth is that the long-term success of any approach will be measured by the role played by the broader alliance against ISIL, and in particular by regional leaders, armies and communities. I know that the Government believe that the role of Sunni communities and leaders is absolutely fundamental. We believe that leading Sunni countries across the region must make tangible commitments to the defeat of ISIL beyond writing cheques. Can the noble Baroness, on behalf of the Government, give her assessment of the progress being made not only on halting the flow of fighters, but also on disrupting the flow of finance to ISIL from countries in the region?
I end by asking about the humanitarian situation. Of course the needs across the region remain great and the effort needs to be sustained. There has been a warning from the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs that due to chronic underfunding of its humanitarian appeal, food rations for up to 4 million Syrian civilians may need to be cut this month. Obviously that could see even greater suffering for the Syrian people as the fourth winter of the civil war begins to set in. Given the dire humanitarian situation in Syria, will the Minister set out what the Government believe can be done to ensure the full funding of the UN’s humanitarian efforts there?
Those are the questions that I have for the Minister, but she knows that we from the Opposition and the whole House will support what the Government are doing in this very difficult situation.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for his support for the Government’s position and for the measured and serious response that he always achieves in these matters.
The noble Lord asked whether I would add my thanks and recognition for the work of the staff of the British Council. I am only too pleased to do so. All those who serve us in these capacities in situations of danger deserve our support and thanks.
The noble Lord asked for my assessment of the capacity of the Iraqi armed forces. I have earlier this week said that we recognise that, in the initial phases, they found resistance difficult. They were certainly retreating and some of their armoury was left behind. Since then, we have been involved in assisting Iraq to meet the challenge of rebuilding, restructuring, re-equipping and retraining those security forces. It was after a period of years that their capability was eroded and, as I mentioned earlier this week, they had lost the support of local populations. That support had been degraded by the blatant sectarianism of the Maliki Government. Since then, the Iraqi Government have become inclusive. We are assured that all the Ministers will be in place and one can see that governance should improve. The Iraqi security forces should have more confidence that not only will they have proper organisation but that they will be paid at the right time. I think that their confidence may be transmitted to various communities where they will be in operations.
The noble Lord, Lord Bach, also asked me about training for the Kurdish Peshmerga. The MoD has deployed a specialist team of army trainers into Erbil, providing the Peshmerga with training on the heavy machine guns that were gifted by the UK last month—which is a little more detail than I gave in the Statement. The team from the 2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment is instructing Peshmerga fighters on how to maintain safely and operate UK-gifted heavy machine guns. This training package is expected to last around a week. We are continuing to scope assistance to the Iraqi security forces; further training for op teams, and addressing soldiering skills, medical skills and countering explosive devices, will follow. It is important that, while we are assisting the Peshmerga, they have the confidence that we are also assisting the Iraqi security forces so that Kurdish fighters can have a greater expectation that they will not need to watch their southern flank as well.
My right honourable friend made announcements earlier this week on the funding of a £230,000 training programme for Peshmerga forces in the battle against ISIL. We are funding a full-week pilot course delivered by a UK firm which will initially train up to 18 students from the Peshmerga to counter improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, raising their expertise to NATO level. The UK Government funded the same course for the ISF in Baghdad earlier this year.
The noble Lord, Lord Bach, referred to the fact that my right honourable friend talked about Syria and the scoping exercise that we are carrying out there. I can say at this stage that it is a matter in progress. It is clear that we need to look at how our current contributions have impacted on the situation and what effect a fully appointed Government will have, so I am afraid that I cannot satisfy him by going further than saying that we are scoping that and always acting within the remit that was set by another place when it voted in the parliamentary recall.
The noble Lord, Lord Bach, quite rightly drew attention to Turkey—attention which was drawn in part in Questions earlier this week. It is clear that we have high expectations of Turkey. It is a NATO member. It has a long border with Syria. We have all seen on our screens over the past week the floods of refugees going from the south over to Turkey. Of course, we admire the way that Turkey and its population have been coping with 1 million-plus refugees. That is remarkable. There have been those who have then been impatient at the sight of Turkish military materiel on one side of the border and Kobane being under difficulty on the other.
What more would we like Turkey to do? My right honourable friend Philip Hammond spoke to his Turkish opposite number on Friday, following discussions earlier last week that he had in the United States on the specific question of Turkey’s role in the coalition. The UK National Security Adviser is in Turkey today for further such discussions, and it is at the forefront of the coalition’s agenda as we take the debate forward. Ultimately, it is for Turkey as a sovereign state to take the decision about what to do and when. We can only advise that we are fully supportive of the coalition and the airstrikes in the area, and keep a continued watch on the impact of those airstrikes and what other measures by other members of the coalition may prove necessary.
The noble Lord, Lord Bach, also referred to the issue of humanitarian aid. He referred to a particular organisation facing reduced funds. It would be wrong of me to make assumptions about how one organisation might reallocate funds or gain assistance from others. I can say that through DfID we have made very clear that we intend to take every measure we can to deliver effective assistance. When I was in Geneva briefly last month, I was able to meet the High Commissioner for Refugees and his deputy. I had a long discussion with them about the specific work they are co-ordinating within the area of Iraq and Syria, and I was very impressed. I also had discussions with the aid agency, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and asked how it might work with other aid agencies. I came away with the firm view that there is co-ordination between those agencies and organisations on the ground. In some areas local authorities are holding on. Outside the ISIL areas, services are still being delivered in some areas held by the moderate opposition forces. There is liaison.
Work is also being done with major companies to provide shelter for people in the coming winter months. The noble Lord was absolutely right to draw attention to the fact that this is a time when the climate changes and shelter is desperately needed. I cannot say that all is well now but I can say that all is being done that can be humanly done, and it is always re-evaluated. As we know, this is a situation of ebb and flow. Where need is absolutely paramount one month, we may find that it is required somewhere else another.
My Lords, I start by referring noble Lords to my registered interests. I warmly welcome this visit and its timing. I have seen for myself how much importance our Arab friends attach to senior ministerial involvement in the work that they are engaged in. The timing of this visit not only enhances our already good reputation in the United Kingdom as having an interest in the region but also supports the important work of Her Majesty’s ambassador and his critical staff, who are under very restricted circumstances. Again, I have seen for myself the way they have to live under dense security threats.
Can my noble friend assure the House that she and the Government will do everything possible to support Haider al-Abadi? I have seen for myself that he is a wise, moderate, experienced man. The Foreign Secretary is right to say that this is the last chance for the continued survival and prosperity of the state of Iraq. If Haider al-Abadi cannot do it, I do not believe that anyone can.
My Lords, I am grateful for the support of my noble friend Lord Kirkwood about the timing of the visit and the impetus that it will, I hope, give to further development. No one is complacent. We know the seriousness of this and that there is a long haul ahead.
I am very grateful to my noble friend for reminding me not just about the ambassadors and British citizens in our posts overseas, but the staff. There are local staff, and there is a particular strain on them. We have given support to Iraq from the very beginning to obtain an inclusive government. A crucial part of that support has been our encouragement to find someone who can provide a nexus of support between Shia, Kurd and Sunni. We believe that al-Abadi is able to do that, and we are giving him every support.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness for her Statement and associate the Lords spiritual with her thanks and tributes to those she mentioned in it. The conflicts in Syria and Iraq are, sadly, part of a wider cycle of sickening violence in which individuals and groups are increasingly targeted for their religious affiliation. I do not know whether the Minister has had a chance to read the article by my most reverend friend the Archbishop of Canterbury in the journal Prospect today. In line with that article, I wonder what steps the Government are taking to ensure that human rights considerations, including freedom of religion and belief, are given greater urgency in their relations with the Government of Iraq, the Friends of Syria Group and any required dealings with the Assad regime.
My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate. I referred to that very briefly at the end of Questions yesterday; it was too brief, I know, but time was running out. We recognise that life in Syria for Christians and other minorities continues to be deeply distressing. That extends to Iraq as well, where whole communities have had to flee. We have serious concerns about rising sectarian tensions. As for Syria, we believe that President Assad’s actions include a deliberate attempt to stir up such tensions in his efforts to hang on to power. The right reverend Prelate asks a timely question.
We think that the only way to secure the position of Syria’s minority communities is to find a political solution to the crisis. Part of that must involve respect for each religious group. I mentioned the other day that one of the priorities for the Foreign Office is freedom of religion or belief. I am involved in working to deliver some practical examples of how that may be achieved. The task of achieving that freedom of religion and belief in societies which are at peace but divided by religion is difficult enough. It is multiplied perhaps a hundredfold or more when we have the situation in Syria and Iraq. However, I am aware that when Foreign Office Ministers visit a region, they do the best they can in the time available to meet Christian communities to discuss their concerns and learn from them. I know that my honourable friend Mr Ellwood visited Iraq at the end of August and raised the persecution of Christians with the then Foreign Minister and other senior officials, but I assure the right reverend Prelate that that will not be the last time that we do that.
All of us here—indeed, all civilised people—recognise the threat that this organisation poses not just in the Middle East but much beyond it as well. I strongly commend what the Government have been doing up to now with all the agencies and individuals concerned. It is very welcome that the Foreign Secretary has visited the region and has spoken to politicians. That has to be a good thing at this time.
I noted that the Statement said:
“We have a wide-ranging and ambitious strategy to confront an evil which is a direct threat to our national security”.
Yet that poses the question as to why, if we have such a strategy, we alone stand outside the coalition that is taking action at the moment in not attacking targets inside Syria. I recognise that there were self-imposed constraints in the resolution from the other place but we are leaving it to the rest of this incredible and welcome coalition to attack the bases from where the brains, the organisation and the control of ISIS actually come. While I welcome what has been done so far, I would still like an answer to this question: how on earth, in a comprehensive strategy, does it fit that we are not taking action against the heart of this organisation that threatens so much?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, echoes some of the anxieties expressed in both Houses over the last month, both at Recall and this week. When the other place was presented with a Motion referring only to Iraq, it was on the basis that we had been invited by the Iraqi Government to be there. It was clear what our role could be: one involving air strikes and not combat troops on the ground, but certainly providing training. We know that that is valuable.
Why do we not do the same for Syria? We would wish to be in a position so that if we were taking premeditated action in Syria—if that ever occurred and we got to the point where we felt that the only way forward was military intervention in Syria—we would carry out our undertaking, to this House and to another place, to return to Parliament before that. That is why there is a next step, if we get to that, in the position. In the mean time, we are doing as much as we can to assist those moderate forces in Syria to withstand the pressure of Assad’s oppression. As I said in the Statement, he is helping ISIL by bombarding the moderates in places such as Aleppo. For the moment, we are carrying out full support in air strikes as part of our coalition. We are one part of it, but a determined part. We will monitor the position but if there were any premeditated change we would certainly fulfil our commitment to come back to Parliament first.
My Lords, the Minister mentioned that measures have been taken to curb the sale of oil by ISIL. Can I press her on the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Bach? What other measures are being taken to curb and reduce ISIL’s access to funding, as well as reduce its terrorist propaganda?
The noble Lord, Lord St John, refers to the sale of oil, as others have. Clearly, one of the difficulties has been that in its initial push ISIL took control over oil supply places. It certainly controls that oil and can sell it, as it has, on the black market. If it is selling it on the black market, perhaps to Syria, one can understand that our influence on Assad might be rather minimal. But if we can have discussions with other colleagues, as we do, we would hope to find a way of encouraging others to bear down on Assad and ensure that they are not in any way assisting the black-market sale of oil. We all know it is happening, even if we cannot prove where it is going or who is selling it, because ISIL is controlling the production and benefiting from billions of pounds. There has to be a link somewhere.
Reducing access to other funds will be a matter of negotiation with other colleagues in the coalition. I am sure that they will be in discussions about how they can have an influence on individuals and countries, but there is no proof at the moment that the money is coming from a particular country.
The point about propaganda is a critical one. This organisation is very sophisticated, and I think we all have a duty in our civic life here to ensure that every time people mention it to us, we do not give voice to what ISIL has been spreading.
My Lords, I very much welcome the Statement and the timely initiative by the Foreign Secretary. I particularly welcome the comments that the Minister has made about the critical role of Turkey. There is one aspect of domestic policy that is noted in the Statement: the Foreign Secretary has said that,
“we are seeking to strengthen the powers of the Charity Commission to counter terrorist abuse of the charity sector”.
Given that such action would already be illegal, will the Minister undertake to ensure that in due course the House is briefed on how this will be achieved?
My Lords, I certainly will. In the Statement I have made a series of statements about what we hope to do with regard to our own security and changes that will be made, and the issue that my noble friend raises is one of those. I know that the Home Secretary has already started negotiations, both within the coalition and elsewhere, and as soon as we are in a position to be able to make clear what steps we may take, obviously I will be in a position to assist the House.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the Statement, following the Foreign Secretary’s visit. It was, however, a very grim Statement. It is appalling that up to 30% of Iraq’s populated territory could now be under ISIL control.
I return to the point made by my noble friend Lord Robertson. The Statement is unequivocal on two points: first, in relation to Syria, it says that the UK strongly supports air strikes, and, secondly, it acknowledges that ISIL is already a major threat to us here at home. Given those unequivocal points, do she and other Ministers anticipate returning to Parliament within the next few weeks on the issue of joining the air strikes on Syria?
My Lords, if I were to give such an undertaking, I would be undermining the work of our Armed Forces, the Peshmerga and the moderates who are fighting against the evil there because I would be making an assumption that further intervention of that nature was necessary, and necessary in a particular timescale, so I shall be overcautious and not do that. But I can say to the noble Baroness that my right honourable friends the Foreign Secretary, the Defence Secretary and the Secretary for International Development, together with the Prime Minister and those who meet in COBRA, are considering these matters almost daily. The noble Baroness has had a distinguished career herself as a Minister at the Ministry of Defence, and she will know that COBRA will look at every single nuance every time it meets, which appears to be almost every day. So we will be watching to see how this develops. However, it is not a matter of saying what we can do in one week, one month or even one year; it is going to be a very long haul, and the difficulty for all of us here in Parliament will be to ensure that we continue to engage the support of the British people in this long haul.
Would the Minister like to comment on whether anything can be done externally to alleviate the sufferings of women in the ISIL-dominated areas? They are all too real, although they are all too rarely discussed in the newspapers. This is a sickening aspect of everyday life under the regime.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, for raising this important issue. I have discussed this very matter with civil society groups, both in Geneva and here in London. I bear in mind the moving speeches made when we had the recall of Parliament by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, and one or two others on this very point. I bear in mind that when women are attacked in war, it is rape, death, seeing your child beheaded or your partner or husband crucified. This is a weapon of war. Sexual violence is a weapon of war being used by ISIL. It signifies what barbarians they are. When people start to wane in their support when the tabloids perhaps start to take some of these stories off the front page, we need to remind them what life is really like for families and for women in these crisis-hit areas.