Jurisdiction in relation to marriage of same sex couples


1 This Schedule shall have effect, subject to section 6(3) and (4), with respect to the jurisdiction of the court to entertain any of the following proceedings in relation to a marriage of a same sex couple—

(a) proceedings for divorce, judicial separation or nullity of marriage;

(b) proceedings for an order which ends a marriage on the ground that one of the couple is dead; and

(c) proceedings for a declaration as to the validity of a marriage.’.

Amendment 34, page 27, line 32, leave out ‘a divorce order’ and insert ‘divorce’.

Amendment 35, page 28, line 3, leave out ‘a nullity order’ and insert ‘nullity of marriage’.

Amendment 36, page 28, line 28, leave out from ‘for’ to ‘even’ in line 29 and insert

‘divorce, judicial separation or nullity of marriage’.

Amendment 37, page 28, line 32, leave out from ‘for’ to end of line 38 and insert

‘an order which ends a marriage on the ground that one of the couple is dead on an application made by the other of the couple (“the applicant”) if (and only if)—

(a) at the time the application is made, the High Court does not have jurisdiction to entertain an application by the applicant under section 1 of the Presumption of Death Act 2013 for a declaration that the applicant’s spouse is presumed to be dead, and’.

Amendment 38, page 28, line 44, leave out ‘of validity’ and insert

‘as to the validity of a marriage’.

Amendment 39, page 29, line 47, at end insert—

8A (1) Schedule 1 (staying of matrimonial proceedings in England and Wales: interpretation), paragraph 2: after “kinds” insert “(whether relating to a marriage of a man and a woman or a marriage of a same sex couple)”.

Transitory provision until commencement of Presumption of Death Act 2013

8B (1) This paragraph applies if section 1 of the Presumption of Death Act 2013 has not come into force at the time when the amendments of the Domicile and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1973 made by the other provisions of this Part of this Schedule come into force.

(2) Schedule A1 to the Domicile and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1973 has effect with the following modifications until section 1 of the Presumption of Death Act 2013 comes into force.

(3) Paragraph 1 has effect with the following provision substituted for paragraph (b)—

(b) proceedings for death to be presumed and a marriage to be dissolved in pursuance of section 19 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973; and”.

(4) Schedule A1 has effect with the following provision substituted for paragraph 3—

3 The court has jurisdiction to entertain proceedings for death to be presumed and a marriage to be dissolved if (and only if)—

(a) the applicant is domiciled in England and Wales on the date when the proceedings are begun,

(b) the applicant was habitually resident in England and Wales throughout the period of 1 year ending with that date, or

(c) the two people concerned married each other under the law of England and Wales and it appears to the court to be in the interests of justice to assume jurisdiction in the case.”.’.

21 May 2013 : Column 1150

Amendment 40, page 34, line 4, at end insert ‘, or

(c) married to a person of the same sex in a relevant gender change case.

“(1B) The reference in sub-paragraph (1A)(c) to a relevant gender change case is a reference to a case where—

(a) the married couple were of the opposite sex at the time of their marriage, and

(b) a full gender recognition certificate has been issued to one of the couple under the Gender Recognition Act 2004.”.’.

Amendment 41, page 34, line 13, after ‘(2)’ insert ‘—

(a) paragraph (a): after “man” insert “, or a woman in a relevant gender change case,”;

(b) ’.

Amendment 42, page 34, line 18, after ‘woman’ insert

‘(other than in a relevant gender change case)’.

Amendment 43, page 34, line 27, at end insert—

‘( ) After subsection (9) insert—

(10) In relation to an earner who is a woman, a reference in this section to a relevant gender change case is a reference to a case where—

(a) the earner is a woman by virtue of a full gender recognition certificate having been issued under the Gender Recognition Act 2004, and

(b) the marriage of the earner and her widow (that ends with the earner’s death) subsisted before the time when the certificate was issued.

(11) This section is subject to regulations under section 38A.”.’.

Amendment 44, page 34, line 29, after ‘woman’ insert

‘or a woman married to a woman in a relevant gender change case’.

Amendment 45, page 34, line 32, after ‘woman’ insert

‘(other than in a relevant gender change case)’.

Amendment 46, page 34, line 34, at end insert—

‘( ) After subsection (3) insert—

(4) In relation to an earner who is a woman, a reference in this section to a relevant gender change case is a reference to a case where—

(a) the earner is a woman by virtue of a full gender recognition certificate having been issued under the Gender Recognition Act 2004, and

(b) the marriage of the earner and her widow (that ends with the earner’s death) subsisted before the time when the certificate was issued.

(5) This section is subject to regulations under section 38A.”.’.

Amendment 47, page 34, line 35, leave out paragraph 20 and insert—

20 (1) Section 37 (alteration of rules of contracted-out schemes) is amended as follows.

(2) For subsection (4) substitute—

(4) The reference in subsection (3) to a person entitled to receive benefits under a scheme includes a person who is so entitled by virtue of a qualifying relationship only in such cases as may be prescribed.

(5) For that purpose a person is entitled to receive benefits by virtue of a qualifying relationship if the person is so entitled by virtue of being—

(a) the widower of a female earner;

(b) the widower of a male earner;

(c) the widow of a female earner, except where it is a relevant gender change case; or

(d) the survivor of a civil partnership with an earner.

(6) In relation to a widow of a female earner, the reference in subsection (5)(c) to a relevant gender change case is a reference to a case where—

21 May 2013 : Column 1151

(a) the earner is a woman by virtue of a full gender recognition certificate having been issued under the Gender Recognition Act 2004, and

(b) the marriage of the earner and her widow (that ends with the earner’s death) subsisted before the time when the certificate was issued.

(7) This section is subject to regulations under section 38A.”.

20A Before section 39 insert—

“38A Regulations about relevant gender change cases

(1) The Secretary of State may, by regulations, make provision for—

(a) section 17,

(b) section 24D, or

(c) section 37,

to have its special effect in relevant gender change cases only if conditions prescribed in the regulations are met.

(2) Regulations under subsection (1) may, in particular, prescribe conditions that relate to the provision of information by—

(a) one or both of the members of married same sex couples, or

(b) the survivors of such couples.

(3) The Secretary of State may, by regulations, make further provision about cases where (because of regulations under subsection (1))—

(a) section 17,

(b) section 24D, or

(c) section 37,

does not have its special effect in relevant gender change cases.

(4) Regulations under subsection (3) may, in particular, provide for the section in question to have its ordinary effect in relevant gender change cases.

(5) Regulations under subsection (1) or (3) may, in particular, modify or disapply any enactment that concerns information relating to—

(a) the gender or sex of a person, or

(b) the change of gender or sex of a person,

including any enactment that concerns requests for, or disclosure of, such information.

(6) In this section, in relation to section 17, 24D or 37—

(a) “relevant gender change case” has the same meaning as in that section;

(b) “special effect” means the effect which the section has (if regulations under subsection (1) of this section are ignored) in relation to relevant gender change cases, insofar as that effect is different from the section’s ordinary effect;

(c) “ordinary effect” means the effect which the section has in relation to same sex married couples in cases that are not relevant gender change cases.”.’.—(Maria Miller.)

Schedule 6

Marriage overseas

Amendment made: 48, page 45, line 31, at end insert—

‘(2) In the case of an Order in Council containing provision which would (if contained in an Act of the Scottish Parliament) be within the legislative competence of that Parliament, no recommendation is to be made to Her Majesty under this paragraph unless the Scottish Ministers have been consulted.

(3) In the case of an Order in Council containing provision which would (if contained in an Act of the Northern Ireland Assembly) be within the legislative competence of that Assembly, no recommendation is to be made to Her Majesty under this paragraph unless the Department of Finance and Personnel has been consulted.’.—(Maria Miller.)

21 May 2013 : Column 1152


Amendment made: 54, title, line 4 after ‘overseas,’ insert

‘and for the review of civil partnership,’.—

(Maria Miller.)

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Speaker: It is always so encouraging to see such a display of enthusiasm at this hour.

Third Reading

Queen’s consent signified.

5.58 pm

Maria Miller: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I start by thanking the Front Bench speakers from the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats, as well as those from other parties located in their area of the House, who are too numerous to mention, for the good natured way in which the Bill has been discussed, both on the Floor of the House and in Committee. The Bill has excited many different views, but we have always conducted ourselves in the best ways of this House.

While I am giving thanks, I also thank the officials who have worked very long hours to ensure that the proceedings of the House took place in a seamless manner, that questions were answered, and that papers were made available. My heartfelt thanks go out to them all for the hard work they have put into the Bill.

I have spent some time thinking about how I would address the House on Third Reading. As I have said, for many reasons, the subject draws strong opinion from Members on both sides of the House. Just as the Civil Partnership 2004 Act was discussed in pubs, homes, church halls and communities throughout the country, so has the Bill. Over the past few months, I have listened carefully to many different voices within and outside Parliament. Throughout the passage of the Bill, we have had passionate but fair debates. In the best traditions of the House, we have maintained respect for one another’s views, and had open and constructive discussions with all involved.

Mr Ellwood: My right hon. Friend makes an important point on discussions with constituents. It might be wrong to generalise, but does she agree that there is a generational aspect to approaches to the Bill—the younger generation very much supports it, but the older generation is concerned about the society in which they have grown up?

Maria Miller: I understand my hon. Friend’s point. I am not sure whether he puts me into the older generation —I hope not. There are differences in views across the generations, and differences in views in different parts of the country and different communities. We must accept that people have different views for whatever reason. The most important thing is that we maintain respect for people’s different views. Such an open approach, which we have taken throughout proceedings on the Bill, has meant that the Government have been able to take action to improve the Bill, and to reassure hon. Members on some of the issues they have raised.

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The Government have throughout remained committed to the principle that people should not be excluded from marriage simply because of who they love. The institution of marriage underpins our society. Over the years, as society has evolved, so has marriage. As such, it has remained our bedrock. The values of love, commitment and stability underpin marriage—they are the values on which our society is built. Despite our differences in opinion, no hon. Member would dispute that those are the values we should promote. If the values of marriage are the values on which we want to build our society, they must be available to all, and they must underpin an institution that is available to all couples. Our country is renowned the world over for its tolerance. We have a rich tapestry of faith, belief and culture. That is unique—it is part of what makes us British. Those strong traditions will enable same-sex couples to marry.

In no way will the measure undermine those who believe—for whatever reason, whether religious or philosophical—that marriage should be between a man and woman. They can continue to believe that. That is their right. No religious organisation or individual minister will be forced to conduct same-sex marriages if they choose not to do so, and nor will religious organisations or individual ministers be forced to have same-sex marriages conducted on their premises. The quadruple lock that the Government have designed provides robust and effective protections. The Government are also clear that the Bill does not prevent people, whether at work or outside, from expressing their belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman. That is their right. Teachers will still be able to express their personal beliefs about marriage as long as they do so sensitively and appropriately. Employers will be unable to dismiss or discipline a person simply because they say they do not believe in same-sex marriage.

I acknowledge the concerns that have been expressed on those issues. The right for people legitimately to express their beliefs is why we have committed to do all we can to clarify or strengthen the protections on freedom of expression. I understand the importance that right hon. and hon. Members place on that.

If, through the Bill, we can strengthen marriage and protect it as the bedrock of our society in these changing times for the decades to come, provide protection for those religious organisations and their representatives who do not want to marry same-sex couples, and reassure those who disagree with same-sex marriage that their right to express such a belief is protected, then we should do so confidently and assertively. I am confident that we have struck the right balance. We have listened carefully to the concerns that have been raised, and we have made changes on the basis of those concerns.

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): The Secretary of State speaks of changes. Will she clarify how many Acts of Parliament will have to be amended as a result of the Bill?

Maria Miller: Many pieces of legislation will have to be amended, which is why we have provisions in the Bill, particularly on ecclesiastical law, to ensure that all required amendments are made. My hon. Friend is right that this is complex. That is why I have been at

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pains, particularly yesterday and today, to ensure that we do not introduce new concepts into the Bill. We want to keep clarity and focus, and ensure that we do the job. I believe that in the years ahead we will look back on the passage of the Bill, as we now look back on the introduction of civil partnerships: we will be in no doubt that equal marriage is right and we will be proud that we made it happen.

It is important that we debated in detail some difficult and challenging issues. Yesterday, we talked about civil partnership. Equal marriage will correct something that is fundamentally unfair, and remove a barrier that prevents a whole group of people from access to an institution that underpins society. Civil partnerships were created to give same-sex couples equivalent legal rights to marriage at a time when society was not ready to give them access to marriage. Although I am clear that taking a decision on the future of civil partnerships now would not be a responsible thing to do, I have listened to Members’ clear concerns, particularly in the comments expressed yesterday. As such, we have agreed to undertake an immediate review of civil partnerships. That will be an important way to ensure clarity on how that aspect of legal recognition of relationships is taken forward.

We have had further discussions today, with Members drawing on issues concerning humanist ceremonies. The system of marriage in England and Wales, as we discussed in great detail, is based on a system of premises, and not, as in Scotland, celebrants. A change of the nature proposed in today’s amendments would, as we heard from the Attorney-General, be a fundamental change to the current structure of marriage. As has happened in Scotland, it would also open to the door to a range of other belief organisations being able to conduct marriages. Such decisions are a matter for Scotland—this is a devolved matter—but if we are to discuss these matters it is only right that Members are aware that the amendments tabled could not preclude opening up the ability to conduct marriages to belief organisations other than humanists. The Attorney-General made an important contribution to the debate. New clause 15 would have given preferential treatment to one particular belief group and made the Bill incompatible with the convention on human rights, so I thank the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) for not pressing the new clause. I welcome that decision.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Can my right hon. Friend assure us that the provisions of the European convention on human rights will not be compromised by the fact that the Bill makes unequal provision for civil partnerships?

Maria Miller: Yes, I can. I am glad that I can make that clear for my hon. Friend, and may I apologise to him for not taking his intervention yesterday? I could not quite hear who it was. Had I known, I would definitely have accepted it. I sincerely apologise to him.

I accept that for some colleagues their beliefs are an insurmountable barrier to supporting the change, but to other colleagues I say, “Now is the time”. Let us not be sidetracked or distracted; let us not expand the remit of the Bill beyond its original intention; let us make equal marriage possible because it is the right thing to do; and then let us move on. I am pleased to commend the Bill to the House.

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Mr Speaker: Before I call the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), I should point out to the House that I have had indication of no fewer than 14 right hon. and hon. Members seeking to contribute on Third Reading, in consequence of which I am imposing a five-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.

6.11 pm

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab): I am proud that the Commons has reached the Third Reading of this Bill, and I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House also feel proud to support it and to be on the right side of history. I thank the Prime Minister and the Government for introducing the Bill. I am proud, too, that Labour votes passed the Bill on Second Reading and will do so again this week. We are strongly committed to the Bill.

The Opposition have, of course, disagreed with the Government on some issues, including on the Bill’s handling of humanism, which we hope will be discussed further in the Lords. We also wanted early progress on opposite sex civil partnerships as an issue of equality before the law, but I hope that we have now agreed progress there. Nevertheless, the Minister will know that we have approached each of these issues, even when we have disagreed, in a considered way to ensure that the Bill can make progress, and I am glad that votes from Labour and across the House have ensured that no one now has any excuse to ditch or delay an important Bill that I think will bring happiness to many people.

I thank, too, all Members who, because it is the right thing to do, have championed the Bill even when they have faced pressure in their constituencies not to do so. I thank hon. Members who sat on the Committee and worked hard at every stage to get the Bill through. In particular, I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) and for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who have done immense work on the Opposition Front Bench, and my hon. Friends who supported them in Committee. I think that they, and certainly the Government, will agree that nothing makes us more grateful for the normal presence of the Whips—I am glad they join us today—than being charged with taking through Bills that depend on free votes.

This is the right thing to do. This Parliament can now join Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Norway, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Uruguay, France, which has just passed its own legislation, and New Zealand, whose MPs last month celebrated their gay marriage legislation in fabulous style by breaking into song. We can only wonder what would happen if the Minister and I leapt up and started leading a Eurovision-style chorus of “Congratulations” or perhaps Abba-style—probably not “One Man, One Woman”, but certainly, “I do, I do, I do, I do, I do.”

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Yvette Cooper: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will begin with an appropriate Abba song.

Daniel Kawczynski: The shadow Minister highlights other countries that have already introduced similar legislation. If we did not pass this legislation, would we

21 May 2013 : Column 1156

not have to recognise the marriages of citizens from those countries who came to live or work in the United Kingdom or those who came here on holiday anyway?

Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We should recognise those people’s marriages. We should be proud to do so, and we hope that other countries across the world will join us, including countries where there is still terrible homophobic discrimination, which we should be fighting against. I hope we can lead the way by championing this Bill. We should remind people why we are doing this. It is time to give same-sex couples the same rights as opposite-sex couples to get married. It is time for equality in marriage.

Mike Freer: I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for taking a chance on me. This week alone, two more countries and six states in America have approved same-sex marriage. Is not the tide of history with us and not against us?

Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman is right. I pay tribute to the work he has done to champion this legislation. I think we are on the right side of history by taking it forward. It is time to celebrate, not discriminate, when a couple decide they want to make a promise to stick together for as long as they both shall live.

I have had many letters and e-mails since Second Reading; I want to share some briefly with the House. One man wrote to me describing the difficulties he had had being accepted by his family because of his sexuality. He said:

“'My partner of 14 years is neither recognised nor accepted. It is however fantastic to hear politicians…standing up for people like me, ensuring that we can become equals at least in the eyes of the state, if not in the eyes of our parents and our religions.”

Another wrote to me to say:

“I’m a 23 year old gay man…I’ve had people tell me all my life that I am less worthy, wrong and sinful because of my sexuality, and although I’ve been incredibly lucky to have supportive family and friends throughout, it does grind you down. And it can hurt, really and truly hurt.”

He, too, described the importance of seeing politicians in this House

“so publicly and passionately support the rights of people like myself and many others to have a more equal standing in society is really one of the most empowering things that can be done—political leaders standing up for those whose voices so often get silenced. I truly feel it is an historic moment in Britain and all I can say is thank you.”

That is what this Bill is all about. Rarely is legislation so personal. Rarely does this House have the chance strongly to reaffirm the equal respect we have for every human being, regardless of their sexuality, and the equal respect we have for their loving, long-term relationships.

We have heard strong objections to the Bill in the course of these debates. In this House we show respect for each other’s views, even though we disagree with them. Some have been concerned about the impact of the Bill on their faith and some have objected to aspects of it on grounds of their faith. It is important for us to respect freedom of religion, and I believe that the Bill has done exactly that. I hope those Members will feel reassured that their concerns have been respected. Of course, no religious organisation or priest can be required to conduct same-sex marriage and there are multiple locks in the Bill to prevent that from happening.

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It is also important to remember that many people with strong faith, of all faiths, strongly support this Bill. We should not see it as something that promotes a secular-faith divide, because it does not. I am pleased, too, that Quakers, Unitarians and Reform Judaism have said that they want to be able to celebrate same-sex marriages. I am pleased that they will be able to do so as a result of this Bill. I hope that other faiths will change their minds over time, because that is freedom of religion too.

We have heard other objections to the Bill in these debates. We have heard people claim that allowing gay and lesbian couples to get married will somehow undermine the marriage of heterosexual couples, but how will it? There are MPs in this House who want to get married who will be able to do so as a result of this Bill: excellent—I personally hope I get an invitation to the reception—but does that undermine my marriage? How could it—unless, of course, they want to marry the shadow Chancellor, which could pose a few challenges. This Bill does not undermine the marriage of anybody in this House or across the country. The idea that two brides tying the knot says anything about the relationship of their neighbours next door is simply ludicrous. Nor is it good enough to say that marriage is by definition between a man and a woman, because marriage has rightly changed before and it can do so again. That is not a definition; it is discrimination.

We have seen this subject become part of the internal debates within the Conservative party. To Conservative Members I would simply say that fighting over Europe is one thing—they are welcome to that—but I hope that they will stop fighting over this. I hope that they will join Members across the House in being proud of this Bill. I have heard many Conservative Members talk about the anger in their constituencies and the anger among their party members. I hope that they will now feel able to stop talking about the anger and to start talking about the joy. This is about the joy that we can deliver for those who want to get married just as their parents did, the joy that we can make possible for the couple who want to get married just as their sister or brother did last year, and the joy that we can provide by saying to couples across Britain, “We won’t discriminate against you on the ground of your sexuality. We respect, support and celebrate your relationship.”

Members might recall that I argued on Second Reading that marriage was about the joy and the sorrow, about the excitement and the tragedy, and about the romance of the wedding day as well as the deeper romance of growing old and grey together, even once the party has faded. I gave the example of an elderly couple, one of whom was caring for the other who had dementia. I described the love, commitment and duty that that showed, and said how powerful that was, whether it was between a man and a woman, two men or two women. In response to that, I received an e-mail from a man who wrote:

“I was particularly touched at your reference to a couple enduring dementia. This is precisely what my parents are now facing after 54 years of marriage. The example they have shown me over my lifetime and now that my mother suffers with the disease is precisely what marriage is all about. I try every day to live up to their example, as I enjoy a wonderful relationship with my partner whom I love very much. I expect in this day and age,

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and for generations to come, that we should be able to have our commitment to each other acknowledged in law in an equal way with our straight friends. Your argument is truly Christian in nature, entirely humanist and on the right side of history. My partner and I, our families, and our future children thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

I thank all those who are supporting the Bill. Let us be loud and proud. Let us start the singing. Let us celebrate, not discriminate. Let us pass this Bill. Let us put aside the anger, and let us hear it for the joy.

6.22 pm

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): Earlier today, while the Health Secretary was responding to an urgent question on accident and emergency departments, I had to take myself along to the A and E department at St Thomas’s hospital because something was wrong with my eyes. I am told that everything is fine, but I had some drops put into my eyes and, as a result, I am now unable to see the official Opposition. The only thing I can see, and have sought to remark on, is the loud and proud and typically revolting tie of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). However, I notice that you are wearing the same tie, Mr Speaker. I therefore unreservedly withdraw my remark.

The most serious concern that has been advanced about the Bill relates to ensuring that religious freedom is protected. The concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) are surely genuine, and we were right to pay attention to them. I would not support any measure in this House that would force a Church to conduct a same-sex marriage against its will. That principle of religious liberty is immensely important. The fact that the Bill protects Church organisations and that the Church of England has expressed its confidence in the locks that have been put into the Bill should give the House confidence that we can proceed with this measure. Of course there are other aspects of religious freedom that we need to protect. They were discussed yesterday and will be the subject of further discussion in the House of Lords.

The essence is that no church will be forced to conduct a same-sex marriage against its will. Religious freedom cuts both ways, and those who have rightly spoken on behalf of religious freedom cannot ignore the cause of religious freedom for Churches that do wish to conduct same-sex marriages. What about the Quakers, the Unitarians or the liberal Jews; what about their religious freedom? My argument is that the Bill extends religious freedom and does not restrict it and that those who are concerned about religious freedom should support it. Those advancing these arguments need to say why they have not been interested in Churches such as the Quakers and why they believe that the law of the land should prevent those Churches from doing what they seek to do.

Other arguments have been put against this legislation—that it redefines marriage for everyone, so that even if Churches are protected, the concern remains that it changes the definition of marriage for others, too. As has been said on a number of occasions here, how exactly does it harm or affect those who enter into a heterosexual marriage if a same-sex couple enter into a marriage, too? How does it devalue, change or alter the marriage they have? The truth is that this is not a measure that can remotely be held to do any harm to

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people at all. Absolutely no harm is done by this measure and a very great deal of good can be done by it.

Less impressive arguments have been advanced in respect of this legislation. It has been said that because same-sex marriages cannot be consummated, there is some problem or lack of equivalence, or that because adultery provisions will not apply directly, there is a lack of equivalence. Actually, most heterosexual marriages are, sadly, ended by the cause of unreasonable behaviour, which could apply just as easily to same-sex couples. I think there was an unfortunate implication behind that criticism, which was that somehow same-sex couples were seeking a licence to enter a marriage in respect of which they sought to escape or avoid the vows undertaken. Of course, the absolute opposite is the case. It is right to extend same-sex marriage to gay couples precisely because it is a good thing if they enter into a loving and permanent commitment to each other. That is a good thing for them, for society and for families, and we should celebrate and support it.

Daniel Kawczynski: Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a consensus across the country that this legislation is important and that we should back it? Even in my rural county of Shropshire, a recent opinion poll taken by the local media showed a majority in favour of this legislation.

Nick Herbert: I thank my hon. Friend and strongly agree with him.

I was about to say that it has been suggested that the public are not with this legislation. Of course an element of the public are concerned about it. That much is clear, but it is also clear from all the independently conducted opinion polls—not those conducted by the pressure groups opposed to the Bill—that a majority of the public support this legislation and that the majority is increasing, as we have seen throughout the world. As for the idea of holding a referendum on such measures at any time, apart from being a bad idea in itself because the House of Commons decides these matters, such a referendum would be likely to pass this measure in any case because the public are in favour of it.

When homosexuality was decriminalised, some Members of Parliament objected. When civil partnerships were introduced, some Members of Parliament objected. They were found to be wrong because society moved on. Attitudes change and attitudes to gay people have changed. The Bill will do no harm and a very great deal of good by celebrating love and commitment and by treating a minority equally. That is why we should welcome it.

6.28 pm

Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): As is well known in this House, the Democratic Unionist party opposes this legislation and continues to oppose the Bill in principle. I want to commend my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) who served in Committee and faithfully put forward the perspective that we hold on the need to protect the traditional definition of marriage. I also want to thank other hon. Members who share that view, including the hon. Members for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), for Spelthorne

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(Kwasi Kwarteng) and for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who also served in Committee and did a commendable job in putting forward our perspective.

I believe that marriage is foundational, that it is for one man and one woman, and that it ought not to be redefined. I believe that marriage is universal and not just for Christians, although I am a Christian and my stance on this issue, like that of my right hon. and hon. Friends, is influenced by our Christian faith. I believe that marriage is for everyone, man and woman, who wants to take up that right in law. I believe that the definition of marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman should stand. I believe that marriage is beneficial, and that it is for the mutual help and support of husband and wife and for the procreation of children.

Our opposition to the redefinition of marriage is not born of prejudice. It is not born of homophobia. It is born of a deep sense of our Christian faith, and I hope that that can be respected. Our Christian faith is important to us. It is what motivates us to take the stances that we take on many issues. It is shared by many people in our native Northern Ireland, where a high proportion of the population still go to church and more than half our children attend faith schools.

The Northern Ireland Assembly recently voted not to introduce same-sex marriage in our part of the United Kingdom. I welcome the commitment that the Minister has given to seek the consent of the Department for Finance and Personnel, which is responsible for this matter in Northern Ireland, before implementing any amendments that would have an impact there. Notwithstanding that, however, we remain opposed to the legislation in principle. I was a member of the Standing Committee that dealt with the Bill that became the Civil Partnership Act 2004. I remember pointing out at that time that civil partnerships would inevitably lead to a demand for same-sex marriage and being told by the then Government that that was nonsense, that we were scaremongering and that it would not happen.

The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) tells us that marriage has changed and will change in the future. When we talk about equality in marriage, where do we draw the line? There are some in this country who believe that marriage should be between a man and more than one woman. Will we not, in time, hear another demand for equality—the demand that a man who wants to be married to more than one woman should have that right enshrined in law? If marriage is to change in the future, will not the House, in time, be presented with proposals to give effect to the demand for equality for those who want to be married to more than one partner?

We are told that we are on the wrong side of history. Well, time will tell whether those of us who take the stand that we are taking are on the wrong side of history. I have heard that argument many times in the past, and I have watched as the House has legislated time and again to undermine some of the fundamental building blocks of our society. I look around me, and I see the harm that that does to our society.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): Who would the right hon. Gentleman say was on the right side of history as a result of the 1967 legislation that decriminalised homosexuality?

21 May 2013 : Column 1161

Mr Donaldson: I will tell you this, Mr. Speaker. In respect of the Abortion Act 1967, I know that Northern Ireland is on the right side of history, because we refused to accept that legislation. The fact is that 8 million unborn children have not had the opportunity of life because of bad legislation in this House.

I think that, when it comes to the wrong side of history, time will tell, and the judgment will come. I am happy, and my party is happy, to stand on our beliefs, and we ask for them to be respected. We may, in the end, lose the vote in this House, but that does not alter our opinion that this is bad legislation and that it is wrong.

Jane Ellison (Battersea) (Con): Some of the arguments about the right side and the wrong side of history were advanced at the time when civil partnerships were introduced. I was not in the House then, so I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman made the case or whether other members of his party did, but the case was made by some that the introduction of civil partnerships would lead to the decline of society in some way. In my urban constituency in Battersea, it is not people coming together in love to form committed relationships who cause a problem; it is families breaking up in rancour who cause real distress in my community.

Mr Donaldson: I hear the hon. Lady’s point, but in the context of this Bill, I simply do not agree that when we tamper with the fundamentals of our society, the result is necessarily a good thing for our society and beneficial in the long run. I believe in the traditional definition of marriage; I believe in the traditional concept of marriage and I believe that the Bill undermines that. I therefore believe that the House is making a mistake in pressing ahead with it.

The stance that my party takes is not without support out there across this nation. We may be a small party in a small region of the United Kingdom, but on this issue we speak for millions of people across the United Kingdom who share our view. We tamper with these things and change these laws, and we may well come to regret the things that we sometimes do in this House and the legislation that we pass. Our party makes no apology for taking this stance, therefore.

This evening, we stood outside with some of the Christian people who have gathered outside this building. They are very hurt. We talk about pain and hurt. There are a lot of Christians across this country, and also Muslims and Jews—people of strong faith—who are hurt by this Bill. I hope that will be borne in mind.

I want to thank the hundreds and thousands of my constituents who have written to me in support of the stance I and my colleagues have taken on this issue. Tonight, they will feel very sad indeed.

6.36 pm

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): First, I want to thank the Clerks in the Public Bill Office for their patience, diligence and fairness in dealing with all the draft amendments that were submitted in the Bill Committee and the remaining stages.

We are in an extraordinary situation for what is the Third Reading of a Bill that redefines marriage, and I never thought our Government would have done this.

21 May 2013 : Column 1162

There was no clear manifesto commitment, no coalition agreement on it and no Green Paper—there was just a sham consultation—and there are no significant amendments to the Bill beyond the civil partnerships review. We have had programme motions that have denied all MPs the opportunity to scrutinise the Bill in detail. Consciences have been constrained. Indeed, a recent private poll of MPs showed that at least one third of Members did not believe they had a free vote on Second Reading. Let us see what happens on Third Reading, but that will no doubt create a concern in the other place when it comes to discuss the Bill on 3 June, if it passes its Third Reading tonight.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for their diligence in Committee. If we had not served on the Committee, there would have been almost no scrutiny of the Bill at all.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): We find ourselves in the unusual situation that none of the political parties put this in their manifesto. Does my hon. Friend agree that the other place will have complete legitimacy if it chooses to reject the Bill because the Salisbury convention should not apply here?

Mr Burrowes: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments, and the other place is certainly looking in great detail at the way we have handled the Bill.

I welcome, however, the fact that, after the 13 sittings of the Bill Committee and yesterday’s debates, the Government have finally recognised the concern that the impact of the Bill will go beyond the marriage ceremony. My constituents need an explicit assurance that the Bill will not curtail their reasonable expression of their belief in traditional marriage, so I welcome the Government’s late undertaking last night in relation to schools and free speech. We must go further than that, however. If Members believe in traditional marriage and in liberty, they should vote against the Bill on Third Reading.

Jim Shannon: I, in turn, want to thank the hon. Gentleman for his hard work in the Bill Committee. Was he encouraged by the Christian ladies and gentlemen who attended the Bill Committee over a period of five or six meetings and energetically supported us as members of it and by those who took part in the prayer vigil outside over the past two days and who prayed hard?

Mr Burrowes: I do indeed welcome their prayerful support and, indeed, the fact that there has been engagement from those who are on all sides of the argument.

There has been much tolerance and respect in the debate from those on both sides of the House, but I must take this opportunity to say—I have informed the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) of my intention to do so—that there have been comments that have gone beyond tolerance. There have been intolerant comments that were, frankly, offensive to my constituents and many of his. How dare the right hon. Gentleman equate the position of Christian Members of Parliament such as me and others with the slave traders of Wilberforce’s

21 May 2013 : Column 1163

time? Wilberforce supported traditional marriage and would, I am sure, have been on the side of the dissenters on the Bill.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that by playing the race card and accusing the Bill’s opponents of being in step with the racists and traffickers of years gone by, he is offending not just me—that does not matter—but the majority of the black and minority ethnic communities who are opposed to the Bill? He has offended the black majority Church leaders in his constituency and mine who wrote to The Times recently and said:

“If the Government gets its way, it will not be a victory for equality. Equality requires diversity, and diversity requires distinctiveness, and marriage is and always will be distinctively a union between a man and a woman… The Government is not respecting difference, and it is not promoting a plural society.”

Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab) rose

Dr Huppert rose

Mr Burrowes: Unfortunately, we are running out of time.

What is pernicious is equating hon. Members’ opposition to redefining marriage with previous discrimination on the basis of race. That plays into the hands of those who have accused me and many hon. Members of being homophobic or bigoted simply for standing up for marriage—[Interruption.] I will give way to the right hon. Member for Tottenham shortly. Such intolerant reaction to our belief in marriage runs the risk of being fomented by the state orthodoxy in the Bill about the new gender-neutral meaning of marriage. For our constituents—those who really matter—those who disagree risk vilification and discrimination and they certainly will not get the protection they deserve under the Equality Act 2010.

Mr Lammy: I am greatly saddened that the hon. Gentleman chose to use the term “playing the race card”. My comments were merely sited in an understanding of equality. There have been many battles on equality in this House. The battles against slavery, racism and sexism were noble, and many people outside the House will recognise that the fight for gay rights is one of equality; it is not playing—

Mr Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) must have a chance to finish his speech.

Mr Burrowes: The Bill is triumphed over as being all about inclusivity, when what it has done has caused division, not just in the Conservative party—that is not the most relevant point—but in the country. The settled, respected position on supporting civil partnerships and the previously united concept of marriage between Church and state have now had a wedge driven between them by the Bill. Indeed, we had late resolutions to try to deal with the inequalities that are still apparent. What unites the opposition to the Bill is an unshakeable belief that will not accept the state’s redefinition of marriage and will recognise only the distinctive value of marriage as the bringing together of one man and one woman.

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Throughout its passage through the House, the Bill has lacked legitimacy and scrutiny. I urge all hon. Members to exercise their consciences, listen to the real concerns of their constituents and join me in voting no on Third Reading.

6.42 pm

Mr Tom Harris (Glasgow South) (Lab): This is a great day for Parliament and for the country, and I pay tribute to the Government and the Prime Minister for showing the political courage necessary to prioritise this legislation. I pay tribute to those on my Front Bench for their constructive approach, which will make it more likely that the Bill will eventually become an Act.

My only regret is that the debate is taking place in the absence of David Cairns, the late Member for Inverclyde, who was known, liked and respected by Members from all parts of the House. David was never defined by his sexuality, but he certainly found happiness and completion in his relationship with his partner, Dermot. I have no doubt at all that were he alive today he would be voting enthusiastically for the measure before us. Even though his name no longer appears on the list of voting Members of this House, I will feel David beside me as I walk through the Aye Lobby at 7 o’clock.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. In view of the level of interest, I am reducing the time limit on Back-Bench speeches to three minutes with immediate effect.

6.44 pm

Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): On Second Reading, I talked about many of the letters of concern that I had received from constituents and reflected that that conflict was one that I had had in my life. My hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James) talked movingly yesterday about the freezing effect, and she is right about that period. To realise that you were gay in that climate was difficult, to say the least, but I was one of the lucky ones. I had two great parents who supported me through that difficult time.

Religious faith is not just the preserve of heterosexuals. One of my hardest challenges was balancing my sexuality with my faith. It has taken me years to do that, and as I said at the time, some of those battles were the hardest and darkest in my life.

Fiona O'Donnell (East Lothian) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman join me in welcoming the vote in the Church of Scotland this week to allow gay ministers?

Stuart Andrew: I am grateful for that intervention and yes, I certainly welcome that.

In the context of the Bill, I understand the anxieties of people involved in religious organisations, but I am convinced by the evidence sessions and the questioning that the locks in place secure and protect those religious freedoms. We have heard a great deal about the Church of England in these debates; there are debates within the Church of England too. I went to my own church

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and was a little anxious about facing people there and discussing this issue, but the majority in the room supported the Bill.

Despite the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) and I disagree, I pay tribute to him for his diligence in his analysis and scrutiny of the Bill. I sincerely appreciate his calm and measured tone. I just wish that that tone could have been adopted by everyone. The extremes on both sides of the cause have not acted well, and it has been disappointing, to say the least, over the past few months to hear some of the phrases used. Yesterday, the term “aggressive homosexuals” was just one such phrase.

To that I say this: I am not an aggressive man, but I have had the misfortune of facing aggression in a violent, physical form, and no, I am not referring to that incident. [Interruption.] In 1997, I was attacked and beaten unconscious by three men because of who and what I am. That had a profound effect on me at that time, but in time I fought back, and what helped were the decisions taken in this place. Through a series of Acts, this House brought equality nearer. Where legislation led, society followed, and over time that balance changed and our society became more tolerant. Each small step forward felt like a huge leap forward for me personally.

I joined the Conservative party for a host of reasons, two of them being a belief in freedom of choice and in allowing people to live their lives as they choose. This Bill has the protections for religious organisations that mean that they have the freedom to choose not to marry same-sex couples, but people like me and many others have the freedom to choose to marry the person they love. It therefore strikes the right balance.

6.47 pm

Caroline Lucas: So much has been said about same-sex marriage over the past couple of days. It is important on the occasion of Third Reading to return to the fundamental principle that underpins what we are trying to achieve. That principle is equality. Ultimately, this is about basic human rights. Nobody should be denied on the basis of their sexuality the opportunity to be legally married.

We are righting a wrong and I urge Members in the other place to remember that when they consider the Bill. Peers, including some but not all bishops, recognised the justice of introducing civil partnerships back in 2004, and I hope they will also recognise the justice of now granting same-sex couples the choice to enter into marriage, especially as the Bill has gone to great lengths to protect important religious freedoms.

Colleagues have remarked on the historic nature of the decisions being taken, and I agree. We live in a world where 85 United Nations member states still have repressive laws against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, where same-sex marriage is still a distant dream, and where being L,G, B or T can in some cases be a death sentence. But some dreams come true, and today is an important symbolic as well as practical step forward for equality and human rights.

I met a very inspiring campaigner at a trans networking event in Parliament the other day whose business card carried the strapline, “Tolerance is not good enough”.

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That neatly sums up what I want to say. Tolerance is important, yes, but we need to carry on for more than that. We need to fight for true justice, for true equality, for true LGBT rights, as well as for tolerance. For me, that also has to include the issue of equal pension rights for those in same-sex marriages and civil partnerships. I am saddened that we have not made more progress on that here today, but I hope very much that it will be taken forward in the other place, as I hope will righting some of the injustices that still remain for the trans community.

But today on Third Reading is a time for celebration. For many hundreds of constituents from Brighton, Pavilion who have written to me in support of same-sex marriage, this Bill is about their lives, their loves and their futures together. I have heard many stories about why this legislation is important, including from one constituent who simply said, “Everyone should have the right to marry the person they are in love with.” Another told me that she hopes Brighton and Hove will be the first city to perform a gay marriage. To her I say, “Watch this space.”

I also thank those people against changing the law who have lobbied me, all of whom have been respectful of my position and my right to support same-sex marriage. I know it is difficult for some to square the Bill with their understanding of marriage, but I maintain that it is wrong for gay couples to continue to pay the price for that by being denied equality. Equality and justice must underpin everything else—a principle and a priority, not just something tacked on to existing pledges to try to attract more votes. The majority view in the House today has reflected that, and I hope that it will continue to do so as we vote on Third Reading.

6.50 pm

Mr Bone: It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) who puts her case, as usual, with great sincerity. I will be voting against Third Reading tonight, partly because I think that the Bill is wrong; marriage is between a man and a woman. My real motive for voting against Third Reading, however, is the lack of parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill. We are yet again dealing with an amazing piece of important legislation that owing to the programme motion is going through without proper scrutiny in the House. Yesterday, whole parts of the Bill could not be amended because consideration of the amendments were not reached. I cannot even talk about those amendments tonight because I would be out of order. So we have again to allow the other place to decide on the amendments to a hugely important constitutional Bill.

It seems extraordinary to me that for the Third Reading debate Back Benchers have been allowed 40 minutes, and you, Mr. Speaker, have had to impose a three-minute limit to allow as many as possible to speak. The idea that we can compare this to the days of Wilberforce, when he would talk for three, four or five hours, is absolutely ridiculous. I would go back to that system, and I suggest that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) might agree. We should not have had the closure every evening. Why could we not have talked until 10 or 11 o’clock tonight on Third Reading so that Members could have made their points? I would then have been much happier when the Division

21 May 2013 : Column 1167

came that all the differences had been properly considered. I will end there, because other hon. Members want to speak, but I urge all hon. Members, for the sake of Parliament, to oppose Third Reading.

6.52 pm

Ms Abbott: I simply wanted to say what a momentous piece of legislation this is. Some things we do in the House of Commons do not affect ordinary people at all; some things we do in the House of Commons are best ignored; but this Bill will make a lot of people’s lives much better. I have supported this cause all my political life, long before it was fashionable on the Labour Benches, and I never thought I would live to see the day when the Bill would approach its Third Reading.

Members have talked about their constituents. I remind the House that I represent some people who are troubled by the Bill. Some of them come from countries where homosexuality is illegal. Some of them come from countries where homosexuality is punishable by death. I have had to say to them, “I respect your views, but I have stood for human rights all my life and I stand for human rights on this issue too.”

We could not let this debate pass without mentioning all the ordinary people, all the grass-roots campaigners, who made it possible for us to reach this point. I think not just of people involved in their local or national campaign, but of the ordinary people who have showed kindness and decency and who accepted a child when that child was not expecting acceptance. They all played their part. We could not have this debate without mentioning Peter Tatchell, not always the easiest of comrades, but someone who has devoted his life to human rights. We could not have this debate without mentioning Ken Livingstone, who was the first local authority leader to bring in civil partnerships and show the wider political world that we could have civil partnership without the end of the world as we knew it. And of course there is Tony Blair, who brought in civil partnerships in the last Parliament.

Some people listening to this debate will be thinking, “This is all very well, but there is war in Syria, climate change and a huge economic crisis, so why does this matter?” Let me tell the House why it matters. When this legislation finally goes through, there will be adolescents going to bed that night who are struggling with their sexuality and who, knowing that the law has gone through, will think as they go to sleep, “Maybe it’s not so bad. Maybe my life isn’t ruined. Maybe I can find some acceptance. Maybe I can come out to my friends, and maybe even to my mother and father.” If this debate and this legislation makes the lives of so many hundreds of thousands of young people just a little better, we will have done great work in the House tonight.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I call Dr Julian Huppert. If he can speak more briefly—he does not have to—more Members will get in.

6.55 pm

Dr Huppert: I will try, Mr Speaker.

21 May 2013 : Column 1168

On the Liberal Democrat Benches, we believe that the state should not bar a couple who love each other from marrying just because of their gender or sexuality, whether they are straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex or whatever, and that the state should not ban groups who wish to conduct same-sex marriages from doing so.

This is an important day, and it is a day to celebrate. When my party passed a motion on equal marriage in the UK three years ago, I did not think that we would be able to get to this legislation so quickly. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), the previous Equalities Minister, for her determination which has transformed the issue and made sure that we could get here. I also pay tribute to the two Stephens, my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol West (Stephen Williams) and for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert), who served on the Bill Committee. The Bill is right today and will seem even more right in future. In five, 10 and 20 years’ time, we will look back and see that it was the right thing to do.

I am proud of the Bill as it is, although it could be better, and we have discussed some of the possible improvements over the past two days. Equal civil partnership is the right thing in theory and in practice, so we need to find the right opportunity and the right vehicle for introducing that. We have heard no good reason why in principle humanists should not be allowed to conduct weddings. The Attorney-General is an excellent lawyer, so I am sure that he will be able to find a way to ensure that we allow that to happen legally.

This is a very positive day, but we should remember that there is still homophobia and transphobia in the UK, and it is even worse in other parts of the world, where people fear for their lives and it is illegal for them to be who they are. We must take steps to ensure that that finally ends. We must not send people back to places where they will be persecuted for who they are. I urge all hon. Members to support the Bill.

6.57 pm

Mr Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): This is not the most important thing to come before the House in this Parliament, or even this year, but it is a really good thing. I am delighted that the most celebrated friend in my household, loved by me, my wife and my three children, will have the chance, if he wants, to marry the man he loves. I did not come into politics to be defined by what I am against; I want to be defined by what I am for. Tonight is a good night.

6.58 pm

Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): I know that for some this is a day for self-congratulation. Others in our society and our country are deeply wounded. I humbly and unashamedly confess that I am a born-again, Bible-believing Christian. I fear that in many ways our nation is swiftly turning its back on many of the great principles it was built upon. Some suggest that we hold on to our traditional views of marriage because of culture or tradition, but I do not believe that that is so. I believe the biblical definition of marriage. I did not make it up; God gave it to us in his precious word.

21 May 2013 : Column 1169

Some have suggested that over the years religious organisations and church councils have changed their mind on a number if issues, and indeed some have already changed their opinion on the definition of marriage. That might be so, but the word of God, by which all men and women shall be judged on the day of judgment, and the standards revealed therein have not changed. Man may have changed, but God’s word has not. We may be a nation that seeks to go back to the days of Judges, when

“every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”

I suggest that this legislation will bring our nation many problems, whether for teachers or in our day schools. Indeed, I certainly pray that God will deliver us even when the Bill goes to another place.

6.59 pm

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): We are on the edge of a profound social change. What a pity there was nothing in the manifesto. What a pity we did not have a Committee stage on the Floor of the House. What a pity we had only two hours to discuss the protection of people in the workplace. This change has been made tonight without full discussion; now it is over to the other place.

6.59 pm

Sir Peter Bottomley: The Bill passed its Second Reading by 400 votes to 175. The amendments wrecking it were rejected by seven to one.

We last redefined marriage in 1973 when we brought in the prohibition on same-sex marriage. I think it is time to undo that and define marriage as being between two people who are qualified to marry.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The House divided:

Ayes 366, Noes 161.

Division No. 11]


7 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Alexander, rh Danny

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Andrew, Stuart

Ashworth, Jonathan

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Baker, Norman

Baldwin, Harriett

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, rh Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Barwell, Gavin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Benyon, Richard

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brake, rh Tom

Brennan, Kevin

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Brown, rh Mr Gordon

Brown, Lyn

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burnham, rh Andy

Burstow, rh Paul

Burt, Alistair

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Cable, rh Vince

Cameron, rh Mr David

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Caton, Martin

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Clark, rh Greg

Clark, Katy

Clegg, rh Mr Nick

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Colvile, Oliver

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Curran, Margaret

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

Davey, rh Mr Edward

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobson, rh Frank

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Duddridge, James

Dugher, Michael

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Evans, Graham

Fabricant, Michael

Farrelly, Paul

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, rh Mr Frank

Field, Mark

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Goldsmith, Zac

Gove, rh Michael

Grant, Mrs Helen

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, rh Damian

Green, Kate

Greening, rh Justine

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gummer, Ben

Gwynne, Andrew

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hames, Duncan

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hancock, Mr Mike

Hands, Greg

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Harris, Mr Tom

Harvey, Sir Nick

Healey, rh John

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Hendrick, Mark

Hendry, Charles

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Herbert, rh Nick

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hinds, Damian

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hollingbery, George

Hopkins, Kelvin

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, rh Mr George

Howell, John

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Huppert, Dr Julian

Irranca-Davies, Huw

James, Margot

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Graham

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Jowell, rh Dame Tessa

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Kawczynski, Daniel

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Kennedy, rh Mr Charles

Kirby, Simon

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Lavery, Ian

Laws, rh Mr David

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leslie, Charlotte

Leslie, Chris

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewell-Buck, Emma

Lewis, Brandon

Lloyd, Stephen

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Luff, Peter

Macleod, Mary

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

Maude, rh Mr Francis

May, rh Mrs Theresa

McCabe, Steve

McCarthy, Kerry

McCartney, Jason

McClymont, Gregg

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, Dr Alasdair

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Menzies, Mark

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, rh Maria

Mills, Nigel

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Munn, Meg

Munt, Tessa

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

Newmark, Mr Brooks

O'Donnell, Fiona

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Onwurah, Chi

Opperman, Guy

Osborne, rh Mr George

Osborne, Sandra

Ottaway, Richard

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perkins, Toby

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Phillipson, Bridget

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raab, Mr Dominic

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reed, Mr Steve

Reid, Mr Alan

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Robertson, rh Hugh

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rogerson, Dan

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Rudd, Amber

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Sawford, Andy

Seabeck, Alison

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Simmonds, Mark

Skidmore, Chris

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Julian

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Stephenson, Andrew

Stewart, Iain

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Stunell, rh Andrew

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Swales, Ian

Swinson, Jo

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Thornton, Mike

Thurso, John

Tomlinson, Justin

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vaz, Valerie

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Walley, Joan

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Watson, Mr Tom

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

White, Chris

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Wilson, Mr Rob

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wood, Mike

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr Desmond Swayne


Sir Bob Russell


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Bacon, Mr Richard

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benton, Mr Joe

Beresford, Sir Paul

Bingham, Andrew

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackwood, Nicola

Bone, Mr Peter

Brady, Mr Graham

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Cooper, Rosie

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crausby, Mr David

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Dobbin, Jim

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Dunne, Mr Philip

Elphicke, Charlie

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Flello, Robert

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gray, Mr James

Griffiths, Andrew

Halfon, Robert

Hart, Simon

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heald, Oliver

Henderson, Gordon

Hermon, Lady

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Jackson, Mr Stewart

Johnson, Gareth

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kelly, Chris

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Dr Phillip

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Mr Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Lumley, Karen

Main, Mrs Anne

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Karl

McCrea, Dr William

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Metcalfe, Stephen

Milton, Anne

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mudie, Mr George

Murphy, rh Paul

Neill, Robert

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Paice, rh Sir James

Paisley, Ian

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Perry, Claire

Pound, Stephen

Pritchard, Mark

Pugh, John

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rosindell, Andrew

Rutley, David

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shannon, Jim

Shelbrooke, Alec

Shepherd, Sir Richard

Simpson, David

Smith, Henry

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stride, Mel

Sturdy, Julian

Syms, Mr Robert

Teather, Sarah

Timms, rh Stephen

Tredinnick, David

Turner, Mr Andrew

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Walter, Mr Robert

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williamson, Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wilson, Sammy

Wright, Jeremy

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr John Randall


Mark Lancaster

Question accordingly agreed to.

21 May 2013 : Column 1170

21 May 2013 : Column 1171

21 May 2013 : Column 1172

21 May 2013 : Column 1173

Billread the Third time and passed.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 41A(3)),

That, at this day’s sitting, Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply to the Motion in the name of Secretary Chris Grayling relating to the Rehabilitation of Offenders, the Motion in the name of Secretary Theresa May relating to the Police, the Motion in the name of Mr Edward Vaizey relating to Reducing the cost of deploying high-speed electronic communication networks, and the Motion in the Name of Alistair Burt relating to Further Amendments to EU Restrictive Measures Against the Syrian Regime.—(Nicky Morgan.)

Question agreed to.

21 May 2013 : Column 1174

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Rehabilitation of Offenders

That the draft Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 (Amendment) (England and Wales) Order 2013, which was laid before this House on 26 March 2013, in the previous Session of Parliament, be approved.—(Nicky Morgan.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),


That the draft Police Act 1997 (Criminal Record Certificates: Relevant Matters) (Amendment) (England and Wales) Order 2013, which was laid before this House on 26 March 2013, in the previous Session of Parliament, be approved.—(Nicky Morgan.)

Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),

Reducing the Cost of Deploying High-speed Electronic Communication Networks

That this House considers that the draft Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on measures to reduce the cost of deploying high-speed electronic communication networks (European Union Document No. 7999/13) does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity for the reasons set out in the annex to Chapter One of the Second Report of the European Scrutiny Committee (HC 83-ii) and, in accordance with Article 6 of Protocol No. 2 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, instructs the Clerk of the House to forward this reasoned opinion to the Presidents of the European Institutions.—(Nicky Morgan.)

Question agreed to.

21 May 2013 : Column 1175

Syria (EU Restrictive Measures)

[Relevant documents: 35th Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, Session 2012-13, HC 86-xxxv, Chapter 4; 1st Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, HC 83-i, Chapter 2]

7.16 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Alistair Burt): I beg to move,

That this House takes note of EU Council Decision 2013/109/CFSP amending Decision 2012/739/CFSP concerning restrictive measures against Syria; takes note of the deteriorating situation in Syria that has led to the deaths of more than 70,000 people at the hands of the Assad regime; and supports the decision of Her Majesty’s Government to agree with Council Decision 2013/109/CFSP.

I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss the important issue of Syrian sanctions. In addition to the statement made yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and my appearance today, the Government have sought to keep the House and the European Scrutiny Committee updated through statements, answers in the House and correspondence, including between the European Scrutiny Committee, which has called this debate, and the Minister for Europe.

Today’s debate is the result of the European Scrutiny Committee report dated 13 March, which referred for debate on the Floor of the House the Council decision agreed by member states on 28 February. The decision amended the EU arms embargo to allow for the provision of non-lethal equipment and technical assistance for the protection of civilians. I apologise to the House that on that occasion the Government had to override the normal scrutiny process due to negotiations on the Council decision in Brussels going to the wire. I appreciate the House’s forbearance on that, and I welcome the opportunity today to debate issues around that Council decision and subsequent developments on Syria.

Syria is one of our greatest foreign policy challenges, not least as it has brought about a humanitarian crisis on a scale not seen in decades. The enormity of death and destruction is horrifying. More than 80,000 people have died, a quarter of the country’s population has been displaced and more than 1 million Syrians have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.

A year ago, 1 million people inside Syria needed humanitarian aid. That figure is now nearly 7 million, and the United Nations forecasts that it will reach 10 million by the end of this year—10 million people displaced by the Syrian conflict. To put that number in context, it is the combined populations of the cities of London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool, and all are in dire need of shelter, water, food, health care and other basic supplies.

As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has repeatedly made clear, most recently in his statement to the House yesterday, our objective is to achieve a political solution to the conflict in Syria and bring an end to the terrible violence and human suffering. Sanctions are an important tool in achieving that objective, but as with any tool, they must be used intelligently to make maximum impact.

Our initial aim in imposing sanctions was to cut off the flow of funds and arms to the Syrian regime, choking off its ability to continue to wage war against

21 May 2013 : Column 1176

its people, and to increase pressure on individuals in the regime to end the violence. Those sanctions have had a profound impact on the regime’s financial flows and put it under increasing pressure, but they have not proved decisive. The Syrian regime has continued to receive material and financial support from its international backers and been able to continue its brutality. I am proud of the leading role that Britain has played in using sanctions to put pressure on the Assad regime. We must now play a leading role in refining those sanctions to ensure that they continue to support our overall goal of achieving a political solution and ending the violence and suffering.

As the conflict in Syria deteriorated, it became clear earlier this year that elements of the existing sanctions package had become an obstacle to our efforts to help the opposition National Coalition to deliver life-saving support to civilians inside Syria, and an obstacle to our efforts to increase the pressure on the regime to end the violence. The Syrian regime has shown no remorse in targeting civilians, including those involved in distributing essential assistance. That is why we pushed to achieve an amendment to the EU arms embargo in February to allow the opposition to receive much-needed technical advice and assistance in addition to a greater range of non-lethal equipment.

The breakthrough achieved by the UK in February has allowed us and other European partners to consider a greater range of measures to help to protect civilians in Syria. The Syrian opposition needs to be appropriately trained to respect the principle of international humanitarian law. The technical assistance includes advice to the opposition to help it to get on with the business of governance and saving the lives of ordinary Syrians.

Since the amendment achieved in February, the situation in Syria has continued to deteriorate. Syria is an unmitigated humanitarian disaster. The Assad regime continues to use heavy weaponry and ballistic missiles on its own people, and there is increasingly persuasive evidence that chemical weapons have been used by the regime.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): The House is well aware of the dreadful situation in Syria, and of the atrocities allegedly committed by the Assad regime, but will my hon. Friend tell us more about the atrocities committed by the people to whom he wishes us to send arms? The House and the country need to be clear on whether the good boys are on one side and the evil boys are on the other, or whether there are faults on both sides.

Alistair Burt: As my hon. Friend is aware, it is clear that there are faults on all sides, but all the evidence collected so far by the UN indicates that a greater degree of atrocities have been committed by the regime than by elements of those opposed to it. He is correct to draw attention to the latter, as the Government do. Abuse of human rights is incompatible with our values and we condemn it everywhere. However, the opposition is divided into different elements. We wish to support and are supporting those who we believe are moderate, and those who have declared their adherence to democratic principles, most recently in April. They are under pressure from the more extreme elements, but we condemn atrocities

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on either side. We are working with those who we believe have the right values. Those are the ones we wish to continue to be supported.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): In the strategy that the Government appear to be adopting in contemplating giving arms supplies to one opposition group, are we not in danger of fuelling a civil war within a civil war? The only solution is a political one involving all countries, including Iran.

Alistair Burt: It remains absolutely clear that the UK objective is to seek that political solution. That is why my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is on his way to Jordan today to take part in talks. The UK has made no decision on the release of any arms or any lethal weapons to any part of the conflict. The purpose of seeking to lift the arms embargo is to increase pressure on the regime and to give the moderate opposition a sense that it has extra backing, but no decision has been made on sending any arms into the conflict.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): The Minister has rightly spoken of the atrocities committed by Assad and acknowledged the atrocities committed by rebel forces. Will he expand on the links between certain groups of rebel forces, such as al-Nusra, and al-Qaeda? Will he give the House an up-to-date sitrep on that?

Alistair Burt: Yes, indeed. Al-Nusra has declared some allegiance to al-Qaeda, which is one of the reasons why the United Kingdom has no contact with it. From what we know, there are a variety of different groups opposed to the regime and there are loose links between many of them. However, those in the National Council, with which we are working most closely—it has evolved in the past two years—do not want to be connected with those who have an allegiance elsewhere. They have declared their principles and values, which is why we wish to work with them. It is true that a variety of forces are now ranged against the Assad regime, but in seeking to support some of them, the House should recognise that there are those with good values who deserve to be supported as they seek to protect civilians against the barrage from the regime.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): I wonder whether my hon. Friend has heard the recent observation by a well-known commentator, who said, “If you’re not confused about Syria, you don’t really understand it,” emphasising the complexity of the issues with which we are dealing. May I offer him a parallel from the past? When the Russians invaded Afghanistan, those who were resisting them were supplied with a great deal of weapons. After the Russians left, and when it was necessary for the allies to take military action in Afghanistan, many of those same weapons were used against the allies. How can we ensure that what we give to the so-called good people does not fall into the hands of the bad people?

Alistair Burt: My right hon. and learned Friend is anticipating something that is not before the House. No decision has been made to introduce new arms into the

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situation. As we know, plenty of weaponry is already in the region. Our work has been to support the elements in the National Coalition who adhere to the values they have declared, and to provide non-lethal support and encourage them in looking after civilian areas. The dangers are real, as he makes clear. However, the point is not that no weapons are currently going in and that a change in the arms embargo would suddenly introduce them; weapons are already going in. The issue we are concerned with is how to stop the conflict. That is why we come back to the urgent need for a political solution.

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): It must surely be the Government’s prime objective to ensure that VX gas and weapons of mass destruction do not get into the hands of al-Qaeda. Is that not more likely if we give more support to the forces that oppose the Government, which include al-Qaeda? This is not just a civil war; it is a war by proxy between Sunni and Shi’a, Iran and Saudi Arabia, and Russia and the west. Surely the Minister can see that if those weapons of mass destruction get to al-Qaeda it will make this country more vulnerable?

Alistair Burt: The hon. Gentleman raises two separate points. First, I seek to make it clear that there is no support going to al-Qaeda elements in Syria from the United Kingdom. All our support is channelled through the National Coalition, which does not have a contact to supply any matériel to forces aligned with al-Qaeda. It is precisely to encourage and support moderate elements that the United Kingdom has been working so hard, with others, in the past couple of years to ensure that those elements have the means to protect the population they are looking after.

Secondly, securing any chemical weapons that may be there is a live issue today that concerns all the nations surrounding Syria. The responsibility for securing chemical weapon stocks lies squarely with the regime. My point is that these issues are already ongoing; there are already risks and nothing we are seeking to do will add to those risks. The most important thing is to continue the work on political transition, and to take advantage of the opportunity that has been created in recent days and of the efforts that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is now engaged in. That is what needs to happen. Risks in relation to weapons are already there no matter what happens to the lifting of the arms embargo that we are discussing.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for his work on this matter. Is it not the case that 25 years ago in Iraq another Ba’athist party dropped chemical weapons on Halabja, and does he not agree that the Ba’athist party in Syria has now reached that red line? I welcome these EU sanctions, but NATO and the free world need to do much more to intervene to prevent a chemical holocaust.

Alistair Burt: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We remember with horror the events of 25 years ago, which heighten our concern about the stocks of chemical weapons. As the House is aware, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said yesterday, and I have repeated today, that we have plausible evidence of their use, but we have not yet got definitive evidence of where they have been used or who might have used them. That

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work is now in the hands of the UN; we are pressing it to get on with the work, and we encourage all nations to comply and work with the UN in order to get a definitive answer. I can assure my hon. Friend, however, that the House’s concern about chemical weapons is absolutely shared by Her Majesty’s Government.

Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Following on from all the points about atrocities, will my hon. Friend make every effort at every opportunity to make it clear to those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity, on both sides, that the international community will make every effort in due course to bring them to trial either before the International Criminal Court or a UN special court, such as happened after Sierra Leone? We need to make it clear that eventually justice will catch up with them.

Alistair Burt: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I hope that the House can be proud of the part that the UK has already played, not only in making it clear that there will be that accountability, but in providing the means to ensure that that accountability happens. Providing the opportunity for training, collecting material, instructing people on what evidence to look for and the like have been an important part of what we have contributed up to now. He is correct, however, that without fear or favour those who take part in atrocities, no matter on which side they range themselves during this conflict, should be subject to the rule of law and international justice.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): If we are concerned about the civilian deaths from air attacks by the regime, would it not be better to do something about stopping the regime using aircraft and helicopters to attack civilian areas, rather than give sophisticated weaponry to people who might then hand it on to others to use against us in the future?

Alistair Burt: I repeat again, at the risk of riling the House, that we are not discussing whether the UK is providing weaponry. That point has been well made. The question of air cover has been discussed before. As the House knows, the Syrian air defences are not weak, and up till now no one has considered there to be a practical way of dealing with them, but part of what I will say is about all options being open. Lifting the arms embargo will increase the flexibility available to those who might need to protect civilians, or supply those who are protecting them, in the future. It offers that necessary flexibility, but no such decision has been taken.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I recognise that the Minister is held in high esteem in the House for his response to humanitarian issues across the world. He refers to the relaxation of the arms embargo. One of the great concerns among Members is the 3.5 million refugees and displaced persons, many of them children. Can he assure people inside and outside the House that the provision of humanitarian aid—clean water, sanitation, clothing, food, blood, medicines—will continue and that the people who are really feeling the pain of this conflict will be helped?

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Alistair Burt: Absolutely. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that remains a matter of the utmost priority to us. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said yesterday, the situation is immensely complex. There is a humanitarian disaster not only within Syria but outside, with, it is reckoned, 1.5 million refugees scattered throughout Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and surrounding areas, and we are working to provide support both outside and inside the country. Some 71% of the latest UN plea for support has been provided, but the rest is urgently needed. We have fulfilled our pledges, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the situation in the camps and for those being hospitable to people in their homes is dire.

The hospitality being given in people’s homes is important—we think of this going on in Lebanon, Jordan and other places. It creates pressure on the domestic population, as rents go up and the local economy becomes distorted, and after a time hospitality becomes stretched and strained, so it is essential that we continue to provide support. I am proud of the way in which the United Kingdom, as the second largest bilateral donor, has been able to do that.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): The Minister knows that my greatest concern is about the dangerous folly of doing anything to assist an alliance of groups that contain thousands of al-Qaeda fighters to get their hands on Assad’s chemical weapons. Rather than reiterate that, may I ask for an assurance that before there is any lifting of the arms embargo, there will be a full debate, with a vote, in this House?

Alistair Burt: In response to my hon. Friend’s first point, let me again make it clear that the efforts of the United Kingdom Government—this should not be left unsaid—are directed to supporting those who do not have the ideology and the declared aims of al-Qaeda. It is very important that that distinction is made, because those moderate forces are looking for recognition. They want to be able to say that they can hold areas and provide support to civilian populations, because they want to be able to provide a contrast with those who might not have Syria’s long-term interests at heart. That is why our support for the National Coalition is so important.

In response to my hon. Friend’s second point, I can do no better than repeat the words of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who said yesterday:

“I regularly come back to the House whenever there is the slightest variation in the situation, so if there are any developments in the Government’s policy I would certainly seek to do so.”

He later said:

“If we come to a choice about that, it is a very important foreign policy and moral choice, which of course should be discussed fully in this House.”—[Official Report, 20 May 2013; Vol. 563, c. 908-909.]

Mr Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): Jabhat al-Nusra and the Salafists were a fairly small group about 12 months ago. Part of the problem is that they have been much better armed and are much better fighters, so that elements in the Free Syria army, which is not as well armed as the Islamists, are flaking away to them. That is one area that my hon. Friend needs to consider. Another is that the UK has the chair of the UN Security Council—

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the presidency—next month. That presents us with an opportunity to pursue a radical agenda of engagement with all parties, perhaps including Iran, which has elections next month.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Before the Minister replies, may I remind all Members that this is a timed debate? The Minister has been generous in giving way, but this debate needs to end at 8.46 pm. At least nine Members, if not more, wish to participate, so we need to make a little more progress through the Minister’s speech if we are to get everybody in—unless those who are making interventions but are on the list plan to withdraw their names.

Alistair Burt: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is always difficult: it is important to answer questions as they come up, but I entirely understand the point of trying to move the debate on. I am very much in the hands of colleagues. I will answer questions, but I know we must move on to the speeches. My remarks will not be not terribly long after this, Madam Deputy Speaker, because I thought there might be a number of questions.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I am only trying to be helpful to the House. I did not set the time limit for this debate; I am only trying to be fair to Back Benchers. I do not wish to chastise the Minister; I am merely pointing out the facts before me this evening.

Alistair Burt: I did not for a second take it that I was being chastised; I was only trying to be helpful to all colleagues—but let’s not go there.

My hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark) makes two points, and I absolutely agree with him. His understanding of the situation is clear. He makes an entirely fair point about how al-Nusra has been able to garner support at the expense of more moderate elements. He makes an absolutely valid point, which I hope I have also made in my speech. He is also absolutely correct to say that we will be leading the UN Security Council next month. The Foreign Secretary set out the situation in relation to Iran yesterday. Of course Iran has influence and an interest in the area. My right hon. Friend is keen that those who get round the table for Geneva II should probably be the original cast, but my hon. Friend’s point is well made.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): In any peace talks or conferences that might take place, has the coalition sorted out the leadership question? It is not clear to the public which members of the leadership will be involved in those peace talks.

Alistair Burt: We have worked closely with the Syrian National Coalition over the past couple of years, and there are recognised figures in it. The actual group that will attend the talks in Geneva—if indeed they take place there—has not been decided, but there are recognisable leadership figures in the coalition with whom we deal.

Several hon. Members rose

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Alistair Burt: I should like to make a little more progress. I will then be happy to answer more questions, and perhaps wrap up at the end if there is time.

In light of the developments that I referred to earlier, we need to consider again how best to use sanctions to find a swift and enduring resolution to the crisis. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary told the House in his statement yesterday:

“The case for further amendments to the EU arms embargo on Syria is compelling, in order to increase the pressure on the regime and give us the flexibility to respond to continued radicalisation and conflict. We have to be open to every way of strengthening moderates and saving lives, rather than the current trajectory of extremism and murder.”—[Official Report, 20 May 2013; Vol. 563, c. 905.]

There is a glimmer of hope. The United Kingdom and France are working closely with President Obama and President Putin to try to find a political solution to the crisis. As I have said, we all want that more than anything else, but this is a fragile and fleeting chance. The Assad regime has made a lot of promises to negotiate but has never delivered on them, and the moderate opposition in Syria, the National Coalition, is losing faith.

We and our partners in the European Union must play our part to make the talks a success. That means building leverage on both parties—the regime and the opposition—to do a deal. We must send a message to the regime that we will not stand by while it kills its people in increasing numbers and in increasingly appalling ways. We must make it clear that, if the regime does not ensure that these talks are a success, no option is off the table. We must also show the opposition that we will support their search for a just outcome that they can sell to the fighters in Syria and to the wider population.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): I wholeheartedly endorse what my hon. Friend is saying about the importance of working with our European allies and with the United Nations to put pressure on Russia in particular, because it is key to securing peace in Syria.

Alistair Burt: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Recent conversations between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, President Putin, Secretary of State Kerry and the Russian Foreign Minister have indicated a degree of involvement with Russia. Talking with Russia has never been off the table. Russia has great significance through its relationship with the regime in Syria, and we believe that it should now use that relationship to bring the regime to the table.

We and key allies, including the US and France, believe that lifting the arms embargo will help us to achieve the goals that I have just described. It will strengthen the hand of opposition politicians in relation to the fighters, and the hand of the moderates in relation to the extremists. It will also show that we are committed to supporting them and have the flexibility to consider further action if the regime makes a mockery of this chance for a political solution.

I want to make this Government’s position clear: no decision on arming the Syrian opposition has been taken. Amending the embargo on opposition forces would not mean that we would automatically and immediately begin arming them, although we cannot rule that out in the future; but even without acting on it,

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providing an exemption from the current arms embargo for opposition forces would send a powerful and timely signal to both sides. It would say to the Assad regime that a political solution is the only option, as there will be no military victory. It would tell moderate opposition forces and politicians not to lose faith in their fight against oppression or against the extremists who are seeking to capitalise on the continued instability.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Is the Minister saying that the message to the regime is that if talks do not succeed, nothing will be off the table? Some people in the opposition might interpret that as giving them a stake in ensuring that talks do not succeed, because guns and other collateral would then come into the equation. That would not help the moderates. Instead, it would help those who have a mindset of, “We’re going to be top dog, and top gun.”

Alistair Burt: If there were a realistic assumption on either side that the balance of arms could change sufficiently to give one side an advantage over the other so that there was a point to continuing the slaughter, the hon. Gentleman’s point would be well made, but the assessment that more and more people are making, on the ground and outside, is that a military solution is not possible. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said yesterday, there are only two scenarios here: one is long drawn-out killing and humanitarian suffering on a massive scale, with no decisive result; the other is the peace opportunity that is now before us. I entirely take the hon. Gentleman’s point, but our argument is that, because of that assessment that there can be no military victory, let us give the moderates the sense of support and protection they might need to be flexible if conditions change. The important point is to press both sides to negotiations and talks, because that must be successful.

We make no mistake: the regime is trying to change the balance of forces on the ground even as we talk, and will do so even as negotiators meet in Geneva. Lifting the embargo for the opposition will give us the flexibility to protect civilians, save lives and respond to a major escalation in the conflict, such as the use of chemical weapons. Even if the embargo were to be lifted, we are clear that lethal supplies would be considered only if they were a necessary, proportionate and lawful response to extreme humanitarian suffering and there was no practicable alternative. Any supplies would be carefully calibrated and monitored, as well as legal; they would be aimed at saving lives, alleviating the human catastrophe and supporting moderate groups. Our policy on Syria will continue to focus on bringing an end to the bloodshed.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): It is obviously a very difficult situation and I respect what the Minister is trying to do. No one believes that the UK Government are going to give arms to an organisation linked to al-Qaeda. The point is that in Syria, given what we have already heard about the strength of extremist groups, there is no way we could guarantee that such weaponry would not fall into the hands of extreme elements.

Alistair Burt: As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said yesterday, there are no guarantees, but over time we have established a series of links with moderate groups who would have no vested interest in

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allowing equipment that might be used against them to fall into the wrong hands. The hon. Gentleman anticipates a situation that we are not in, but I hope I can reassure him that the risk of diversion is very much on the Government’s mind. Pathways have been found for equipment and support, which are already going in, but I say again that Members need not suppose for a moment that stuff is not already ending up in the wrong hands. That is why finding a political answer is urgent; that is why the Foreign Secretary has gone to Jordan; that is why people are gathering now to seek that. The longer this goes on, the worse it gets, and diversion becomes even more likely.

Let me conclude by saying that in both bilateral and multilateral efforts, including our vital co-ordinated efforts through the EU, we will continue to respect the rule of law for which the Assad regime has shown so little regard. At all times, our overriding objective will remain encouraging the parties to come together to agree a transitional Government who can start to build a stable, inclusive and peaceful Syria, which the people of Syria so much deserve. I commend the motion to the House.

7.48 pm

Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab): I welcome the opportunity to discuss the ongoing conflict in Syria and specifically amendments to the EU arms embargo. I commend the European Scrutiny Committee for calling this important debate.

Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House are deeply concerned and horrified by the violent and brutal conflict and loss of life in Syria. The death toll has now reached 80,000 people, and the refugee crisis is intensifying, with more than 1.3 million people having fled to neighbouring countries. As the Minister outlined, this is a humanitarian crisis on a scale not seen in decades.

I am grateful to the European Scrutiny Committee for giving the House an opportunity to consider specifically, in detail, the decision made by the Council of Ministers in February to amend the existing EU arms embargo to allow the transfer of non-lethal military equipment to certain groups in Syria.

The debate is timely, given that the EU-wide embargo is due for renewal at the meeting of the Council of Ministers next week. As a result of the Council’s agreement in February, the Foreign Secretary announced to the House on 6 March that the British Government would increase their support for the Syrian opposition and that that would include equipment that had previously been banned under the EU embargo. The change in both the scale and the type of material support from the United Kingdom clearly marked a new stage in the Government’s engagement with the opposition forces.

Since that date, and specifically on 15 April, the Government have informed the House that, among other items, a number of vehicles with ballistic protection, packs of body armour and hundreds of radios have been transferred to the Syrian opposition as gifts from the Government. Equally important, we have received details about the ongoing training of Syrian opposition members in which the UK has been involved. I am grateful for further details provided by the Minister today and by the Foreign Secretary in his statement yesterday.

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We welcome measures taken by the Government that help to unite members of the fragmented opposition in Syria, help them to communicate better with each other, help them to gain a better understanding of international law and help them to protect themselves and civilians from the violence being inflicted on them by the Assad regime. However, we are extremely concerned about the suggestion that the EU arms embargo should be amended further, or rolled back completely.

In the light of the February Council decision and the forthcoming Council discussion early next week, I seek further clarification of the Government’s position from the Minister. Will he tell us precisely what the Government will be calling for with respect to any alteration in the embargo next week? It has been suggested that they are considering two options. The first is to seek an exemption from the embargo for the national coalition of Syrian and opposition forces, and the second is to remove the “non-lethal” language to allow lethal equipment. That would effectively render the embargo null and void. Which of those options will the Government seek to secure on Monday and Tuesday next week in Brussels?

What support, beyond that of France, have the Government secured in the other 25 member states of the European Union? It seems clear that Germany and Austria, among others, are opposed to the lifting of the embargo. If no agreement is forthcoming, will the Government veto the continuation of the embargo? Yesterday, in response to an excellent question from the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway) about the possible use of the veto, the Foreign Secretary said:

“We will meet as Foreign Ministers in Brussels next Monday to look at those discussions in detail. I can say to my hon. Friend that we are prepared to do that if necessary, but of course we are looking for agreement with other EU member states.”—[Official Report, 20 May 2013; Vol. 563, c. 911.]

Will the Minister confirm that the Government are prepared to veto the renewal of the arms embargo next week? I think that, if they intend to do so, there are further fundamental questions that they need to answer.

First, the Government have spoken of the need to tip the balance in favour of the opposition. Can the Minister give us his assessment of the amount of weaponry that would be required to tip the balance against Assad, taking into account the support that we believe that he continues to receive from other states? Secondly, how will the Government ensure that the weapons supplied do not fall into the hands of extremists groups such as al-Nusra, which is aligned with al-Qaeda? Thirdly, given that the Foreign Secretary said that he could only offer his “best endeavours” to prevent British-supplied matérial from going to groups in Syria for which it is not intended, will the Minister tell us whether the Government would be willing to supply arms without any end-use guarantees? I am sure that the whole House would be cautious—several Members have demonstrated their concern today—about any step towards arming Syria’s opposition without a range of solid assessments and analyses from the Minister and his colleagues in the Foreign Office in regard to the end users of any British-supplied arms.

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Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): Is not the weakness in the argument that the arms may fall into the hands of the wrong people the fact not just that we can never give such guarantees, but, above all, that the wrong people already have plenty of sophisticated arms, which are being supplied perfectly legally from Russia, Qatar, Iran and everywhere else because there is no UN arms embargo?

Emma Reynolds: History teaches us to be extremely cautious. In the past, the west—ourselves, the US and others—has supplied arms to forces that then turned against us, so we need to learn the lessons of history and be extremely cautious.

Mr Newmark: I totally respect the hon. Lady’s position, but history has also taught us that when we stood aside and did nothing in Rwanda, 800,000 people got slaughtered, and it took us four years to go into Bosnia, while, again, hundreds of thousands of people got slaughtered.

Emma Reynolds: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point about the loss of life in Syria. The problem with the solution that the Government seem to be offering us is that it could lead to an escalation, not a de-escalation, of the conflict by fuelling the fires of the conflict, rather than encouraging a solution.

The opposition in Syria is fragmented. What more can the Government do to help the moderate elements of the opposition unite and work together?

If the Government believe that arming the opposition in Syria is now the best option available to the EU, how will that help halt the violence and secure a peace that lasts? Are there not significant risks now and in post-conflict Syria, and what would be the implications for peace and reconciliation between the country’s diverse religious and ethnic groups after the conflict?

The Prime Minister was in Washington last week, yet in yesterday’s statement by the Foreign Secretary, we heard little detail about what the Prime Minister has discovered about President Obama’s thinking on arming the opposition. Can the Minister enlighten the House on that point? Moreover, can the Minister provide the House with more detail about the format of the US-Russian peace conference and what role our Government will play in it?

Finally, if the Government veto the continuation of the arms embargo next week and after that decide to arm the opposition, will the Minister commit to bringing that future decision before the House, so Members on both sides can vote on what the Foreign Secretary yesterday called a moral issue?

Sir Menzies Campbell: The hon. Lady has returned to the veto. Has she, like me, sought to establish whether on any previous occasion the United Kingdom has exercised a veto within the European Union in relation to the imposition of sanctions? If we were to do so in this case, what does she think the political outcome would be?

Emma Reynolds: I do not know of any circumstance in which the veto has been used in this area. I agree with the implication of the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s question and his concern: there could be implications

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for other parts of the world, such as, perhaps, Iran, where we have EU sanctions. That is a point worth making.

I hope what is said in today’s debate and the caution urged by Members across the House will be reflected in the approach the Government take at the Council meetings on Monday and Tuesday. There is real concern across the House that arming the opposition will not guarantee peace in a country where sectarian, tribal and democratic impulses are all present. We are all united in our wish to see an end to the bloodshed in Syria, but serious questions remain about whether the Government’s change in policy will secure that peace. The test of the Government’s action will be whether it leads to a de-escalation, rather than an escalation, of the ongoing conflict and bloodshed.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Eight Members are seeking to catch my eye to take part in tonight’s debate. I am not going to set a time limit. Instead, I ask Members to work it out among themselves. If each of them speaks for five minutes, including interventions, that will leave a few minutes at the end for the Minister to address any outstanding questions, so watch the clock, please.

7.59 pm

Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): I support the decision made at the last EU Foreign Ministers’ Council. The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs has raised no objection to the decision to provide further non-lethal equipment to the rebels or to the subsequent decision to supply further equipment to the state of Jordan.

This is a dire situation, and there are no easy answers. We are right to have stood back, and the EU arms embargo has been the right policy to date. Last March, however, the Foreign Affairs Committee raised questions for the Government about their intentions. The Foreign Secretary, in his letter to me dated 20 April, said that the policy was not “static” and that

“We cannot stand by why the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate at an ever more rapid pace.”

From that and from the Foreign Secretary’s statement yesterday, in which he said that he was quite prepared to veto the renewal of the EU arms embargo, one must conclude that although the Government might not have made a decision to arm the rebels they are seriously considering whether to do so.

For me, that prompts three questions: is it legal; is it wise; and how will Parliament be kept informed? To impose military force against a sovereign state is contrary to the UN charter, but we are not looking at quite that state of affairs. There is no precedent for an intervention in what is essentially a civil war. The letter of 20 April also set out the legal basis for a humanitarian intervention, stating that any such intervention would have to be a

“necessary, proportionate, and lawful response to a situation of extreme humanitarian suffering and…there is no practical alternative”.

That clearly follows out the doctrine set out in the 2005 world summit that established the principle of the responsibility to protect, but the responsibility to protect has always required a Security Council resolution, which will clearly not happen on this occasion.

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There have been past interventions without a Security Council resolution—namely, in northern Iraq, Kosovo and Sierra Leone—but they were all pre-2005 and the new doctrine and they all involved repressed populations that were not in a civil war. I submit that Syria is different. This is a civil war. It is also, arguably, a breach of Syrian sovereignty. The Government have recognised the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as

“the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people”,

but that is not the same as recognising it as a Government. The definition of a Government is whether they are sufficiently in control of a territory and exercising governmental authority to constitute a Government. That is not the case here. That all adds up to a very large question mark, in the absence of a Security Council resolution, over the legal legitimacy of such an intervention.

Secondly, is it wise? As Members have intervened to point out, this is now a regional conflagration. The Arab world is split, with the Saudis, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan determined not to let the Muslim Brotherhood take control of Syria, and Qatar and Turkey backing a Muslim Brotherhood constitution. Hezbollah is now engaged and Iran has indicated that a defeat for Syria is a defeat for them, too. That all adds up to its being highly unlikely that there will be a diplomatic breakthrough. Russia, clearly, remains as entrenched as it ever was.

The dilemma for the Government and the Minister is that if they arm the rebels, it will clearly lead to a huge loss of life and a possible subsequent proxy war. Not to arm them, however, will see the Assad regime continue its barbarous regime. Either way, there will be a huge loss of life. I do not believe that the Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister will rush this, and they are wise not to do so. Frankly, I do not envy them in the judgment that they have to make.

I have concluded that the EU arms embargo has been the right policy, but that it has now outlived its usefulness. In the absence of a UN embargo, it is a very difficult situation in a complex arena. I do not believe it is sensible for the Government to have their arms tied by the EU embargo. I wish them well in seeking agreement to amend it and agree with the Minister that it sends a timely signal to the Assad regime. If he cannot reach agreement, he should be prepared to veto the renewal.

Finally, on Parliament, the Foreign Secretary said yesterday:

“Our assessment is that the use of chemical weapons in Syria is very likely to have been by the regime.”—[Official Report, 20 May 2013; Vol. 563, c. 906.]

For those of us who were here in 2003, when we went to war on the strength of an intelligence assessment that none of us had seen, that rings alarm bells. If the use of chemical weapons is used as a justification for further intervention, I invite the Minister and the Government to ensure that that intelligence is made available either to the Intelligence and Security Committee or to a committee of privy councillors. Either way, it is essential that the House is kept fully informed.

8.5 pm

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee on his contribution. I agree with everything he said, with one

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exception. I do not support the lifting of the EU arms embargo, and it is very important that we recognise that Britain and France are outliers in the European Union. Many other countries have been resisting moves by the UK and French Governments over recent months and there will be a decisive split in the European Union on this issue if the Government persist in the approach that they are taking. Perhaps that is what the coalition Government want, or perhaps it is what part of the coalition Government want, but it is not in our long-term interests or in the interests of future European co-operation on this issue.

I have enormous sympathy for the Minister. He is a good man and he has been put up today to defend an extremely difficult position. He has to justify a very bad policy. It is a bad policy, because the prospect of our Government providing sophisticated weaponry at some point in the future, which is the intention and which is what this is all about and has been about incrementally over the past few weeks, means that surface-to-air missiles could be used to shoot down civilian aircraft in the region—missiles which might ultimately be found to have been supplied by the UK and France to elements in the Syrian opposition, and which might then have been sold, captured or handed over by people who defected from one faction to another.

If we are going to put sophisticated weaponry into the region to deal with the brutality of the Assad regime, that sophisticated weaponry should be in the hands of people, first, who are trained to use it, and secondly, who will operate according to the laws of war and who are ultimately controlled by NATO powers—either through Turkey, our NATO ally, or through the UK, the French and the United States working collectively to bring in a no-fly zone.

Two years ago, because of the threat to Benghazi, the coalition Government said that we needed to intervene with a no-fly zone. I supported them, as did most Members in the House. Now we have seen the deaths of tens of thousands or perhaps 100,000 people in Syria already and all the other consequences—the millions of displaced people and the refugees—yet we are not prepared to act. We are, of course, waiting for Obama, and Obama is not coming. He is not prepared to move. I asked the Foreign Secretary yesterday what his understanding was of the position of the US Government with regard to arming the opposition or a no-fly zone, and I got no answer.

The real tragedy in this situation is that countries that could make a difference to end the conflict relatively quickly are sitting back, while other countries, particularly the Qataris, and Hezbollah supported by Iran, are fuelling the process—and Russia, because it wants to keep the Tartus naval base, is prepared to do almost anything to back the Assad regime. I am not holding my breath for success at the forthcoming conference. Either there will be no agreement on who will participate, or agreement will not be reached unless it is a Dayton-style process and everybody is put in a room and kept there, with international forces putting pressure on them until an agreement is reached.