My Lords, in August 2013, when we last debated whether the United Kingdom should engage in military action in Syria, I said that although there was an understandable desire to do something, we were torn by the drive to act in the certain knowledge that in a desperate and complicated situation, there were no easy answers.
There are still no easy answers, but the situation then was very different, as was the question posed. Faced then with the atrocities of Assad and his indiscriminate use of all manner of evil against his people, particularly the use of chemical weapons, we were being asked to take direct action against him. That was direct action against a despot with a horde of nasty weapons who had, and still has, powerful friends.
There seem to be a lack of a clear strategy and legitimate concern that our actions would inevitably carry unintended consequences. Despite having sympathy with the Government’s argument that bombing Assad was necessary, if your Lordships’ House had been given a vote that day, I would have voted against military action.
Today is different. In an initiative sanctioned by the United Nations, we are being asked to help a large coalition of Governments from across the globe, including Arab countries, to counter an evil and thuggish organisation which masquerades under the name of one of the world’s great religions and yet thinks nothing of killing and maiming innocent Muslims. Daesh is a threat to us all, and we have an obligation to help in whatever way we can.
I understand the concerns raised in this important debate and share some of them. I also recognise that those who oppose this Motion do so with principle and a firm belief that we should combat Daesh in a different way, but I believe that we have to act now, and therefore I support the Government in their actions to try to make this world a safer place. However, military action has to take place against wider diplomatic efforts: that imaginative diplomacy of which my noble friend Lord Hague of Richmond spoke in his brilliant maiden speech. I was pleased to hear my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal stress that military action should be seen in the context of a comprehensive solution encompassing political, diplomatic and humanitarian dimensions.
In October, I had the privilege of meeting Syrian refugees in Zaatari camp in Jordan. We can only imagine what life must have been like when they are prepared to risk their lives and the lives of their children in seeking a safe refuge. If they are ever to have the hope of returning home, it is, in the words of King Abdullah of Jordan—a country which has borne more than its fair share of the burden of this conflict— up to all of us to face this moment of truth with determination.