Syria: UK Military Action — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:57 pm on 2nd December 2015.

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Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour 4:57 pm, 2nd December 2015

My Lords, I have been persuaded to speak by many friends and families who are questioning the need to bomb on its own. I was interested to see a poll in one of the papers this morning saying that the majority of the population was opposed to bombing. I see this as a debate about whether bombing will help the inevitable peace process that will come.

We are, to some extent, moving into a war situation of our own making. This is a religious war between different parts of the Muslim faith. However, we have had that before. We have had religious wars for the past thousand years, including one in Northern Ireland, as the noble Lord, Lord King, mentioned, and the Crusades. They were all highly destructive, as many noble Lords have said. So I question why we want to be in this one. Could we not be more useful being sympathetic bystanders supporting the diplomatic work that is going on? It is not as if one side—if there is one side; there are several sides at the moment—is better than others. We change our favourites rather too often for credibility. ISIL is a horrible organisation, but I am told that there were in fact 102 executions in Saudi Arabia in the first six months of this year while ISIL is recorded as conducting 66. I do not know whether that is right but it puts a balance on these things.

What good does bombing do? It keeps the people who make bombs happy, obviously, and other people may feel good, but what else does it do? It invites retaliation, which we have had and we may get more. The biggest question I have is this: who are we targeting? It is fine to say that we can pinpoint people with drones —we have seen that—but there are an awful lot of other bombs around and an awful lot of other people who are being killed or blown out of their houses. I do not accept the figure of 70,000 people being trained on the ground to support this. Again, I have seen a report which stated that training cost the US Government more than £1 billion but that only seven people actually turned up to fight the war.

I suppose my next question is: what is the effect of bombing? It destroys homes and businesses—something that we have seen everywhere—in a way that is miles out of proportion to the horrible things we have seen in Paris and other places recently. We have seen it in London in times past. People leave for a better life. They are now coming to Europe and to the UK—and why not, if we bomb them out of their homes? If it happened here, where would we go? We would want to go somewhere else. We would be refugees, like everyone else. So I see this as a rather nasty vicious circle. We make the bombs, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states buy them with their oil money, thus keeping alive the industry that makes them, and they pass on the weapons to their friends and neighbours for this war.

I think that there is a much better way of doing this, which is to encourage them to make peace through a massive co-ordinated and effective humanitarian peace mission. The noble Lord, Lord Hague, in his excellent speech talked about imaginative diplomacy. I think that that is what we should be doing now, and I am not persuaded that bombing will add anything to this.