Syria: UK Military Action — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:54 pm on 2nd December 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Labour 5:54 pm, 2nd December 2015

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hague of Richmond, for his terrific maiden speech. I am sure that we all look forward to many more speeches from him.

I will raise three different questions during this short address. First, like many people, I remain to be convinced about the Prime Minister’s confidence regarding ground forces, particularly the 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters who were highlighted in his Statement last week. In it, he said that they were principally from the Free Syrian Army—a point stressed by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House in opening today’s debate. Can the noble Earl, Lord Howe, say whether the Russian Government have agreed to support the Free Syrian Army forces in taking on Daesh, or will the Russians continue to attack them because they are the forces that have principally been opposing the Assad regime? Have our Government engaged with the Russians actively on this point? Will Russia attack the Free Syrian Army as a force opposed to Bashar Assad, or will it support it as a force opposed to Daesh?

Secondly, the Prime Minister referred in last week’s Statement to what he termed the “full answer”, which,

“cannot be achieved until there is a new Syrian Government who represent all the Syrian people—not just Sunni, Shi’a and Alawite, but Christian, Druze and others”.—[ Official Report , Commons, 26/11/15; col. 1491.]

Later in that same Statement, the Prime Minister referred to Iran and Saudi Arabia being at the same table as Russia, America, France, Turkey and Britain.

Again, an important question is: has everyone at that table agreed explicitly that the new Syrian Government must represent all the Syrian people? I can well believe that that represents the view of America, France and this country but I am very doubtful about the Russians, given their unswerving support of the Alawite regime, and I am even more sceptical about the attitude of the mullahs in Tehran.

My third point is a constitutional one that is very much along the lines of the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. It is right that Parliament should have its say on this crucial question. As Parliament is currently constituted, that means the elected House. This evening, it is right that we in this House debate but do not decide, and right that in the other place they debate and decide. However, does the Minister agree that even though the Government are seeking the approval of the House of Commons, it remains the responsibility of the Government—the Executive, not the legislature—to direct any military action? Moreover, while the Government are responsible for any military action, the House of Commons maintains a collective responsibility for its decisions. Once taken, the decision is the decision of the House as a whole, covering all the Members of the House whether they have voted for it or not. Voting against the Motion does not remove somebody from the responsibility of the collective decision the House has taken. Can the Minister say whether that is the right analysis?

If this House were to be elected, maybe we, too, would have a determinative vote. As it is, I, like many others, can only offer my support to the Government. I understand the many misgivings that have been voiced around the House, but we have the legal framework, the vision for the future and the military capability to offer real support. Above all, we have to do everything we can to stop this appalling and evil Daesh regime, which tortures, rapes and murders without mercy not just fighters who oppose it but defenceless women and children. The Government have made their case and deserve our support.