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Syria: UK Military Action — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:34 pm on 2nd December 2015.

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Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Conservative 8:34 pm, 2nd December 2015

My Lords, it is easy to be the backstop speaker at the end of this great debate, because almost everything that is wise and profound about this complex situation has been said by your Lordships, not least by my noble friend Lord Hague, my former boss, whose superb maiden speech I think we all recognise was the beginning, we hope, of many contributions in this place.

As the noble Lords, Lord Ashdown and Lord Ramsbotham, and other noble Lords have said, obviously the RAF bombing, however skilful, will make only a limited difference to the outcomes, and bombing alone will not eliminate the repulsive ISIS, or Daesh, which anyway now operates in many other places far away from Syria and Iraq—in the Maghreb, for instance. Air-supported intense ground operations at the very least are needed to make any lasting impact.

This is a global conflict against a global poison, as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury reminded us, in which many nations are already involved and which is different in horrific degree from all other conflicts raging around in the region. Even the Chinese are offering to lend a hand. Nothing will begin to be solved in this region until this pure evil is eradicated, and it is not just a western issue. In many ways I find the whole public discussion of whether we should somehow join in at this stage a demeaning and inward-looking process—small power politics in a big world that is moving on. The real issue is how we work, at least temporarily, with the Russians, our French neighbours, America, Iran, Turkey and the other regional powers such as the Peshmerga Kurds.

As to what kind of ground troops, again it is obvious that the front-line street fighting needs to be done not just by the slightly shaky Free Syrian Army but by units from the regional powers—as many as will play—plus expert support from our own special units, which we have available and of which we plan to have more. We will be discussing that in this House tomorrow. Where do we start? By far the most promising point is at the northern end of Jordan, where the Jordanians are seeking support for establishing a buffer zone—indeed, two buffer zones—cutting right into the ISIL heartland.

This is a new kind of conflict, not just with guns and troops but equally through information technology, cyberattacks, bank accounts and oil flows. We have ample capacity to impose devastating damage on ISIL in all these areas, and I only hope that we are already doing so and not just hanging about waiting for armchair experts in Parliament and the media to give us permission. Indeed, I must confess that I rather agree with the noble Baronesses, Lady Deech and Lady Symons, and others that the whole process in which we are now participating is somehow wrong. The job of Parliament is not to govern but to call the Government to account for their actions. I am told there is a convention that Parliament should decide this sort of issue. It is not a convention at all. It is a passing arrangement, a passing fad. It may be necessary in times of coalition but mercifully we are no longer there. The Executive, the Queen’s Ministers, should get ahead with their strategy and then win support for it in Parliament.

Of course there are many other fearsome security, refugee and humanitarian issues all lying ahead for us, particularly in the Middle East, but I say first things first. Let us have a co-ordinated strategy to destroy the crucifiers, the beheaders, the mass murderers, the rapists, the burn-us-alivers. Whatever the means, I cannot understand how anyone in their right mind could be against that.