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Syria — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:59 pm on 8th March 2016.

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Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 7:59 pm, 8th March 2016

My Lords, I warmly thank the right reverend Prelate for such a wise and thought-provoking introduction to his debate. It was not easy to listen to him given some of the intellectual and practical challenges which he spelled out, but it was a vital speech and I thank him for it.

I am glad he stressed that this issue goes beyond the boundaries of Syria. Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey are vivid illustrations of that. As we concentrate on the ceasefire and the opportunities it provides, we must not lose sight of the immediate, huge challenges of providing solidarity and practical support to the people of those countries I have just mentioned. It is not just the refugees who need the support, although that is vital; it is also the people of the countries themselves because this refugee burden is bringing very heavy costs to them. We need to look to that as a priority.

In a life involved in issues of this kind, I have come to the conclusion that if peace talks are to succeed, they must be as inclusive as possible. To last and be enduring, it is essential that there is a sense of ownership among the parties to the conflict. There is a very big difference between peace-keeping and peace-making. If we are to see peaceful, lasting solutions, it requires tremendous self-discipline from the outside world. Particularly powerful nations like us have to be very careful about trying to manage the situation. There is a huge difference between facilitating and managing because the solution ultimately has to belong to the people themselves. In so far as there is any sense that a solution was somehow arranged, made or imposed by other people, it has the seeds of its own failure within it.

As the right reverend Prelate said, no two situations are the same and you must be very careful about making comparisons, but I am surprised that we do not take more seriously the lessons from our domestic experience in Northern Ireland. I see that as an exemplary story of facilitation, not trying to impose our solution but enabling the parties to reach their own solution to which they are committed. That is why we should have immense respect for those who were in bitter conflict but who now try to make a success of what they came to believe was essential and possible.

It is incredible to think of what the ceasefire must mean psychologically, quite apart from physically, for so many people, with the horror, strain, stress and anguish of constant bombardment easing. I am desperately concerned about the long-term mental health consequences of all that for young people and children in those countries, and I hope that we can give that issue great priority. While we concentrate on this, there are still many people in Syria who are still enduring hunger, disease, thirst, homelessness and the most awful situations. Since the UN resolutions made it possible for aid to be taken in irrespective of the wishes, views or policies of the Syrian Government, a great deal has been done to try to improve access and to bring relief and support to a widening circle of people, but much more needs to be done and I, for one, will be very grateful if the Minister will say how we are responding to that and how we are encouraging—and what success we are meeting in encouraging—others to step up that operation when it goes on.

My conclusion is my main message: the ultimate solution has to belong to the people of the area, and if there is one discipline that matters more than any other it is that outside powers, not least ourselves, but very much the Russians, the Americans and others, should resist playing the sort of game, as it is seen by so many people, that in effect aggravates the situation. They must discipline themselves into seeing that ownership of the solution is for the people themselves and we must facilitate that.