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Baroness Angela Smith of Basildon, Shadow Leader of the Lords

House of Lords debate on intervention in Syria
2nd December 2015
My Lords, When the Noble Lady repeated the Prime Ministers statement last week
she made a commitment that, should there be a vote in the House of Commons on
extending military air strikes to Syria, there would be an opportunity for debate in
Your Lordships House.
So can I thank her as is clear from the number of speakers today, this is welcomed
across the House. As I said last week, I hope that the Government will seek to make
use of the expertise in here, beyond and outside this debate.
Can I initially share some thoughts about our colleagues in the other place of all
parties who will be voting tonight.
Occasionally, Ive envied those who, at the outset of any debate or consideration of
serious important issues, have absolute confidence and certainty about their
decision. For most of us it isnt like that. Unless we are experts in a particular field we
want to hear the arguments, analyse information, take advice, give thoughtful
consideration and examine our consciences, before reaching a judgement. Many
MPs with the same information, will come to different conclusions.
Across the House of Commons, there are those who continue to have doubts but
that does not make them weak on ISIL/Daesh or security issues. And those that are
convinced should not be attacked for supporting action they believe will be part of a
process to attack ISIL and better protect UK citizens. For many, it will be a marginal
decision in weighing up the considerations.
So we must support MPs who we entrust to make such decisions and condemn those
who abuse, intimidate and threaten them. And also, all party leaders are entitled to
seek to persuade their MPs of their views through information and argument.
Reported comments that those who vote differently are a bunch of terrorist
sympathisers or have no place to hide are offensive, wrong and of no help in
allowing considered decision making.
My Lords, we are not debating whether or not to engage with Allied forces to attack
ISIL militarily. We are rightly already doing so. The proposal from the Prime Minister
is about extending that military force into Syria. In some ways it is a relatively
marginal increase.

And today the Prime Minister has to provide the information and arguments to
convince, not just MPs but the country as a whole, that the extension of airstrikes
against military targets will be effective, and that it is part of a wider strategy. A
strategy that comprehensively addresses not just military aspects but post airstrikes,
the humanitarian and diplomatic issues and the reconstruction of post conflict Syria.
I am grateful for the briefing on intelligence and military issues I had on Privy Council
terms, which has helped my understanding.
But no briefing is needed to understand the vile evil of ISIL. They are murderous
fanatics, despised and condemned across the world. Not just for the
incomprehensible attacks on Paris, but also the murders of British holiday makers in
Tunisia; the beheading of British citizens; the bombing of a Russian airline; the mass
murder of women too old to be sold as sex slaves; or the murder of gay men by
throwing them off buildings. The list goes on. And we know that the threat here at
home is real and severe.
For all these reasons there can be no doubt that action against such evil is necessary,
and justified.
My Lords, as I said last week, we are not an isolationist party. We recognise wider
international obligations and responsibilities. I cited both military and humanitarian
examples of intervention by UK forces that had helped to secure peace and stability.
It is why we are part of the Allied forces in Syria and Iraq already part of a campaign
that shows solidarity with those who also recognise the threat of ISIL and playing our
part militarily, diplomatically and on the humanitarian issues.
The UN Security Council resolution 2249, unanimously passed on 20th November,
calls on member states to use all necessary measures to prevent and supress
terrorist acts specifically by ISIL/Daesh; and to deny them safe haven in Syria and
Chapter VII, Article 51 of the UN Charter is clear about the inherent right of individual
or collective self-defence until the Security Council has taken necessary measures to
maintain international peace and security.
We clearly should be part of that coalition, seeking to weaken ISIL and to be a
credible and authoritative voice in the Vienna talks to bring some peace and stability
to Syria and the region. But on the specific motion before the House of Commons
tonight that we are discussing here, there remain issues to be addressed in judging
the effectiveness of the new action proposed.

The Government will need to provide further reassurance regarding:

whether additional airstrikes is the best way to achieve our common
on the difference and impact the extension of our military involvement in
Syria will have;
how it contributes to the wider strategic aims including the Vienna Peace
the wider comprehensive strategy, including the humanitarian implications
and support;
engagement with moderate Islamic communities and working with them
here in the UK to combat and prevent home grown violent radicalisation;
and all of us will want guarantees that every conceivable action will be taken
to avoid innocent civilians becoming causalities or being killed.

It would be helpful to Your Lordships House if the Noble Lord, Earl Howe when
replying tonight could set out the military assessment of the difference our
extended involvement will bring given our current level of engagement and the
amount of bombing that has already taken place in both Iraq and Syria.
Only so much however valuable can be achieved by airstrikes alone. There has
been extensive debate already about the potential moderate ground forces, post- air
strikes, and what action they will be able to take.
A number of MPs and experts have questioned the reliability of the 70,000 estimate
provided by the Prime Minister. And the ability of those ground forces to mobilise in
the way deemed necessary, given that there arent any military command structures,
weaponry and communications that would be needed to co-ordinate land and air
Can the Noble Lord when responding say more about this, including when the use
of ground forces would be needed and how this would be co-ordinated?
And also what consideration has been given to diplomatic initiatives to build up a
larger coalition of regional ground troops?
My Lords, there is significant and encouraging developments in the Vienna peace
talks which we welcome and support. But we seem to be a long way from developing
more than a process, as important and crucial as that is. The statement from the
International Syria Support Group (ISSG) last month set early time scales for

objectives to be met. Further meetings will soon evaluate progress and this must be
the key diplomatic priority indeed, without it the strategic case fails.
Can the Noble Lords reassure the House of the governments confidence in this
process and the advances that are being made?
I know that the Government understands that both in the short term and in the
longer term future of Syria, there are serious concerns about Assad. The Noble Lady
was very clear last week about there being no role for Assad in a post conflict Syria,
but it remains uncertain how that can be achieved.
The future of Syria, and the ability of Syrian refuges to return to their homeland to be
part of the reconstruction is dependent not just on removing ISIL, but also Assad. Is
the Government confident that the military action and objectives is adequately
strategically linked and coordinated to the diplomatic efforts?
Obviously, to seriously combat ISIL we need to end or significantly limit their finances
and funding. It is extraordinary that government estimates that they are funding
their activities by around of 1.5 million dollars each day from oil revenue, as well as
other sources. Is this part of the Vienna talks and what immediate political and
diplomatic efforts are being employed now?
Although we do not vote tonight, we will bring consideration and thoughtfulness to
this issue. We are fortunate in having a number of Noble Lords with considerable
experience in diplomacy, in the military, in security, in aid and humanitarian work,
in government and parliament. Their experiences may not lead them all to the same
judgement at this time. But I urge the Government make use of that expertise.
I thank the Government, in the statement to the Commons today, for its
commitment to provide quarterly progress reports but I just want to confirm that
this House in included? And should there be significant developments, would
additional statements be provided?
Finally, My Lords, whatever the outcome of tonights vote in the Commons, we
entirely concur with the final paragraph of the Government motion, that we offer
our wholehearted support to Her Majestys armed forces.