Syria: UK Military Action — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 2nd December 2015.

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Photo of Lord Renwick of Clifton Lord Renwick of Clifton Crossbench 6:30 pm, 2nd December 2015

My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hague, on the occasion of his maiden speech in this House. I believe that he will be as pleased as I am that the outcome this evening is likely to be more in line with his wishes than it was two years ago, when we were unable to respond to the killing by the Assad regime of 1,400 people by nerve gas. The regime has been using chlorine gas against its opponents ever since.

We are all aware that the situation in Syria is fiendishly complicated, but the question before us this evening is not complicated at all. Are we going to support our principal allies in action against a common threat or not? Let us suppose, as did the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, that the atrocity in Paris on 13 November had taken place in London, as it very well might have done. How would we feel if France declined to fight alongside us in such circumstances? It is no use us all standing up and singing “La Marseillaise” unless we intend to do something about it. The “better not” report of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs in November dismayed our allies. The chairman of the committee, I am glad to say, has since then changed his views.

Of course bombing alone will not defeat Daesh but it will make a crucial difference to those fighting against it, as it did for the Kurds in Kobani and at Mount Sinjar. The argument that a few Tornados and drones will make no difference is incorrect, given, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, pointed out, Britain’s particular capabilities in precision-guided missiles. As several speakers have pointed out, Arab and Kurdish forces on the ground are very unlikely to be able ultimately to prevail without the involvement of western Special Forces and forward air controllers of the kind that the Americans announced yesterday they will now be sending to Syria. The Government will, I hope, reflect on this.

Attacking Daesh in Syria will not prevent attacks by its followers here, nor will leaving things as they are. The security services have disrupted seven ISIL-related attacks in Britain so far this year. It will take many years to win these battles but this is not a challenge we can evade, still less outsource to our allies in Syria. It has been forced on us not by Islamists but by those whom my friend Christopher Hitchens used to describe as Islamofascists and who have been denounced by all the Arab leaders, including the Saudi monarch, as an evil cult.

I conclude by commending the statement of the shadow Foreign Secretary, Mr Hilary Benn, that,

“inaction also has a cost in lives”,

as the mass graves resulting from Daesh terrorism across the region testify. I hope that noble Lords of all parties will support the Government’s Motion.