Syria: UK Military Action — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:26 pm on 2nd December 2015.

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Photo of Lord Hague of Richmond Lord Hague of Richmond Conservative 4:26 pm, 2nd December 2015

(Maiden Speech) My Lords, it may be regarded as a perilous exercise to embark on a maiden speech and comment on a grave international situation in a matter of a few minutes but, as someone who led the Conservative Party at the time of the height of the power and success of Tony Blair, I am no stranger to perilous exercises—or indeed to time-limited exercises. It is a great honour to follow the speech of the most reverend Primate. Indeed, it is a great honour to be here at all and to find many old friends residing here on all sides of the House—and many old foes residing here on all sides of the House as well. I intend to use my membership of this place to comment on issues such as this but also to work on issues I am passionate about, such as the prevention of sexual violence in conflict and combating the illegal wildlife trade, matters on which I know I will find common cause in many parts of this House.

Like many former MPs, I am hugely influenced by my former constituents, and I am proud to bear the title of “Richmond” in this place. My former constituents are distinguished by many things. One is their common sense—after all, it is Richmond, Yorkshire, we are talking about. One is their ability to choose Members of Parliament—I am followed by a very able MP in Rishi Sunak. One is the huge military presence at Catterick Garrison and RAF Leeming, and that brings me directly to this debate because it means I spent a quarter of a century listening to and learning from people in the Army and the RAF. That has given me great confidence when we ask them to go into any action, but has also taught me never to take lightly any decision to extend their action, as is being debated today.

I want to make three points in two minutes about that. First, we should always be open to imaginative diplomacy, however difficult it may be. I can tell noble Lords that it is desperately difficult. In June 2012, I helped to negotiate the nearest we came to a resolution of the Syrian crisis. All the members of the Security Council and all the leading Arab nations agreed that there would be a transitional Government in Syria formed by mutual consent from the opposition and the Assad regime. Those of us with influence over the then Syrian opposition delivered it to the peace conference to implement that. Russia, with its influence over Assad, did not deliver the Assad regime to implement that. Had it done so, we would not be having this debate and Russia would not be embroiled in Syria today. However, every renewed effort must be made. We have heard about the efforts being made now and, if they do not work, we should be open to new solutions. In the end, if communities and leaders cannot live peacefully together in Syria and Iraq, we will have to try to have them living peacefully but separately in the partition of those countries, although I say that regretfully.

Secondly, while military force alone cannot defeat Daesh, it cannot be defeated without military force. That is a very obvious point. When it enslaves women, murders hostages and persecutes minorities, it is not seeking a negotiation. Since our security as the United Kingdom rests on our alliances, and our greatest alliances are with the United States and France, if our security is indivisible from theirs it would be extraordinary and we would need a very compelling reason not to act with them in this crisis.

Thirdly, if we are to take this action, it must be effective. That means that it has to be, sadly, against economic infrastructure that Daesh controls. It should not rule out, as the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, said, the use of perhaps small specialist ground forces from western nations in the future if that helps to tip the balance on the ground. However, on that basis, I believe that it is in the national interest of the United Kingdom to act with our closest allies in this crisis.