G20 and the Paris Attacks — Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:34 pm on 17th November 2015.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lord Wallace of Tankerness Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 3:34 pm, 17th November 2015

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Prime Minister’s Statement. On behalf of my noble friends, I join in condemning the atrocities in Paris on Friday evening, and those who perpetrated them. I also offer condolences to the families and friends of those who were killed, those who were injured and those whose lives will have been shattered. I also join the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition in paying tribute to the emergency services and the ordinary citizens who responded with such evident compassion and help.

I also ask the noble Baroness the Leader of the House to join me in expressing sympathy for the victims of the suicide bombings in Beirut on Thursday, which killed more than 40 people as they, too, went about their daily lives. It is important to send a signal by showing our solidarity with the people of Beirut, as we do—rightly—with the people of Paris. While ISIL likes to frame the conflict as one between the West and Islam, is not the truth that, day in, day out, ISIL is murdering scores of Muslim believers?

We, too, support what the Government are doing. We accept that the primary duty of any Government is to safeguard their citizens. I welcome the announcement of additional support for the security services in general and for strengthening cybersecurity in particular. I hope the Leader of the House will endorse what the Prime Minister has said in another place about the importance of safeguarding human rights. ISIL detests our diversity, our freedoms and our values; we let it win if we compromise on any of these.

I also echo what the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said about police funding. Reassurances have been given about the counterterrorism element of police funding. I will not elaborate on what she said because she very clearly and concisely put the point about the importance of community policing and the intelligence-gathering that can be done through it. I repeat her request to the Leader of the House to recognise the strength of feeling on this and to undertake to take the matter up with the Prime Minister.

It would be very easy, in the aftermath of such outrages, to make knee-jerk, rather than properly considered, responses. I therefore welcome the fact that the Prime Minister says that he will respond personally to the report from the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in the House of Commons on military intervention in Syria. I also welcome the Prime Minister’s acknowledgement that many questions and concerns have been raised—including some from these Benches—about the wisdom of joining in airstrikes and adding our explosives to the tons that have already been dropped on Syria. Specifically, the Prime Minister, in articulating some of these concerns, asked what difference action by the UK would make. Would it make the situation worse? How does the recent Russian action affect the situation? How, above all, would a decision by Britain to join strikes against ISIL in Syria fit into a comprehensive strategy for dealing with ISIL and a diplomatic strategy for bringing the war in Syria to an end?

He went on to say:

“I understand those concerns, and they must be answered. I believe that they can be answered”.

I do not expect the noble Baroness to give us the answers today, but will she give us some indication of when those questions are likely to be answered? When the Prime Minister says that he will set out a comprehensive strategy for dealing with ISIL and our vision for a more stable and peaceful Middle East, will he also be consulting our allies before he makes that announcement on his strategy? It is important that we reflect on the allies. He has said that progress has been made in Vienna to deliver transition in Syria, but we are entitled to ask some questions about the nature of the international coalition. It is important that it is international. We have called in the past for engagement with Russia and Iran but clearly, too, there are a number of different countries and partners—such as the Sunni monarchies in the Gulf and Turkey—that do not all share the same priorities and objectives. Trying to pull together that coalition is clearly a complex matter. What specific steps are the United Kingdom Government taking to make sure that when these talks take place and a coalition is being put together, everyone is pulling in the same direction?

At home, the Statement recognises the importance of engaging with the Muslim communities. Britain’s diverse Muslim communities are affected by conflict and they are as well aware as anyone of the efforts being made by those who would pervert Islam to try to sow poison in those communities. We need an active dialogue with the leaders of our Muslim communities on an appropriate response. When she held office, the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, did sterling work in taking this forward and I would welcome reassurances that the level of work and engagement that she undertook continues to be undertaken by Ministers.

Finally, the Statement also referred to climate change. Not surprisingly, given the enormity of what happened on Friday, it has been somewhat overlooked but it will be in Paris next month that people gather again to discuss climate change. The Secretary of State at DECC is reported to have indicated recently that the forecast is that we will manage only 11.5% of energy from renewables by 2020, rather than the EU obligation of 15%. Can the Minister confirm this and, if it is indeed the case, will she not take the opportunity that this House has provided by taking out the clause that would accelerate the ending of the renewables obligation for onshore wind? Perhaps she could reflect again on that and just quietly drop it.