Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): If this disaster is avoided, we have an opportunity to move forward and the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), who represents the Opposition, has offered her support. One of the crucial failings in seven-day care is social

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care. Would it be possible for Members on both sides of the House to work together to find a solution to that real problem?

Mr Hunt: I hope we can do that. The Opposition have talked regularly about social care, and rightly so. The fact is that both Labour and Conservative-run councils are responsible for the social care system, and being able to discharge into the social care system is a very important part of seven-day services. We are now about to enter a period of important reform in NHS and social care integration, so I see no reason why that approach could not be bipartisan.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): Last Friday, 321 consultants at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust gave their full support to the junior doctors. That is just the latest indication that the Secretary of State has called this dispute wrong from the start. He now has an opportunity to rebuild trust. Does he accept that that is not helped by him coming to the House and denigrating junior doctors and their representatives again, as he has done today, and by continuing to conflate routine seven-day services with mortality rates? That just is not helpful.

Mr Hunt: I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is, as ever, completely wrong. First of all, I have not denigrated junior doctors. I have spent a lot of time praising their absolutely vital contribution as the backbone of the NHS. Secondly, I have not conflated routine services with mortality rates. In fact, I have done specifically the opposite. In answer to the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford), I confirmed that we are talking about urgent and emergency care and making sure that services are consistently delivered for urgent and emergency care across the week. That is our priority and that does link to mortality rates.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): As the chairman of the alternative dispute resolution all-party group, may I confirm that it is always right to identify common ground before going into a negotiation at ACAS? I do not think that anyone should underestimate the amount of common ground that the Secretary of State has achieved in getting the ACAS talks going. What will it now take to get the BMA to call off the strike?

Mr Hunt: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. What is the common ground between the Government and junior doctors? We want to make sure they are working safe hours; we do not want to cut their pay; we want safer services for patients; and we want to make sure that the many junior doctors who do work weekends get proper consultant support and training opportunities at weekends as well as during the week. I think that that is enough on which to come to a deal.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): In his approach, the Health Secretary has inferred that the current junior doctors contract arrangements compromise patient safety, so will he tell us which hospital chief executives have confirmed to him that that is the case?

Mr Hunt: I can tell the hon. Lady that NHS Employers, which represents all NHS hospital trusts, has said:

“Trusts are clear that the current contracts for both consultants and junior doctors must be reformed to provide modernised and safe 7 day services in our hospitals.”

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Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con): What assessment has the Secretary of State made of both the cost and the wasted NHS resources that will result from any strike action?

Mr Hunt: I cannot provide my hon. Friend with that information this afternoon, because we do not yet know whether the strike will go ahead tomorrow, and how many operations will end up being cancelled in advance of it because of the late notice, but I am happy to get that information for him when we have an estimate.

Marie Rimmer (St Helens South and Whiston) (Lab): This junior doctors dispute is not just about pay. We are very fortunate to have such marvellous junior doctors. My concern, and I know that it is their concern, is about the change to the training of junior doctors in the proposed imposed contract, which will have such a negative impact on the research and development that makes our national health service the greatest in the world. Will you comment on the impact that the change in the contract will have on training and research? Will that be altered, and if not, will you please look at it again, because that is absolutely essential?

Mr Speaker: I will do neither of those things, but we will soon discover whether the Secretary of State wishes to do either.

Mr Hunt: I hope that the hon. Lady will be reassured by the Government’s November offer, which has specific protection for junior doctors doing research that the NHS needs them to do to ensure that they are not disadvantaged by doing any such research. I am happy to write to her about the plans we have outlined.

Michael Tomlinson (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that, rather than treating this issue as a political football, which Labour Members appear to want to do, they should take the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), which is that both sides should sit down and treat the statement with a cautious welcome? Does the Secretary of State agree that my constituents in Mid Dorset and North Poole are more concerned about patient safety and ensuring adequate 24/7 care than playing politics with our NHS?

Mr Hunt: I do agree. I think that improving seven-day services across the NHS should unite both sides of the House and, indeed, should unite the Government and the medical profession. It is extremely unfortunate that we have got into this position, but there is now an opportunity to put things right and I hope that that happens.

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): I welcome the statement, and I very much welcome the conversations that are going on. Many vulnerable and sick people have had letters from their local hospitals today saying that their operation tomorrow has been cancelled. Should we get good news later this evening, is it too late to allow those operations to take place, bearing in mind that in many rural constituencies—and city constituencies —transport has to be arranged for those patients?

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Mr Hunt: My hon. Friend is right to bring this back to patients, which we should always do in health debates. Sadly, I fear—even if the strike is called off, as I hope it is—that in the majority of cases it will be too late to rebook people for tomorrow. We in the NHS will do everything we can to rebook people as quickly as we can. He is right that this is one of the very sad things that happens if people do not sit around the table and talk.

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Backbench Business

Middle East

Mr Speaker: Before I call the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) to move the motion, I should point out that there is a large number of would-be contributors to this debate, a rather disturbing proportion of whom are not yet in the Chamber. I hope that will be remedied before long. We do not want standards to slip. [Interruption.] Well, every Member has a responsibility to keep an eye on the annunciator. The hon. Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher) says that the debate started too soon. It may have started too soon for other Members, but not for him. He, typically, was in his place at the appropriate time. We are grateful to him, as indeed are a great many others.

4.50 pm

Dr Phillip Lee (Bracknell) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the UK’s role in the Middle East.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate and the dozens of parliamentary colleagues from many political parties who supported me in securing the opportunity to discuss this most important of subjects at this most critical of times. In particular, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy), the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) for their support. The importance of this subject to the House can be seen by the fact that the Backbench Business Committee has seen fit to allocate a full day to the debate and by the number of Members who are present and who have indicated that they would like to contribute.

In opening this debate, it is incumbent on me to acknowledge Great Britain’s historical ties with the middle east and state my belief that with that unique history comes a special responsibility to continue to engage with this difficult yet crucial area of the world. I am sure that the Minister will say more about Britain’s historical links to the region later.

In the short time since I made my initial application to the Backbench Business Committee, there have been numerous developments that are relevant to the topic of this debate: a Russian passenger plane blown out of the sky over the Sinai peninsula, a suicide terrorist attack in Beirut, more lives lost in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the first full parliamentary elections in Egypt since the second revolution, the deadly bomb attack in Tunisia, the tragic events in Paris, the downing of a Russian jet on the Syrian-Turkish border by the Turkish air force, the unanimous passing of United Nations resolution 2249, an increase in anti-Semitic attacks across Europe and violent clashes with UK Muslim communities, including two attempts to torch Finsbury Park mosque this weekend alone. That is not an exhaustive list. Those events serve as a reminder of the challenges we and the international community face in understanding the issues and how to deal with them.

Before and during my time serving in this Chamber, I have travelled extensively in the region and worked as a doctor among Muslim communities in the UK, seeking to deepen my understanding. I lay no claim to the answers,

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but one thing has always struck me as essential: the need to take a coherent and comprehensive approach across the middle east as a whole, and to recognise the shoots and roots of the threats emanating from that region which are growing in our own society.

There are many such risks and threats to confront. They are linked across the whole region and are complex. Tribal and ethnic loyalties, cultural ties, religious differences and centuries-old conflicts, most of which transcend national borders, all bedevil the region. The consequent instability inevitably spills over into the mass displacement of people and the consequent humanitarian need. There is the Syrian civil war, the Yemeni civil war, the Libyan civil war, and the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Many global actors have been sucked in and continue to be sucked in. Proxy wars abound, such as Saudi Arabia versus Iran and the US against Russia. The huge range of actors involved in the Vienna process is evidence of that. There are also historical challenges. Changing borders have resulted in diverse communities within national borders. Colonial powers have been a malign influence via Sykes-Picot. The US and Russia have both been involved. Since 1979, there appears to have been a continuing battle between Shi’a and Sunni.

Within that complex situation the House is soon to be asked to decide whether UK air strikes should be extended into Syria. I do not find that a difficult question, but we must be clear about why we are proceeding in this way.

First, we must not declare war on ISIS; we must not legitimise those barbarians in that way because—unlike them—we are not medieval religious crusaders. Instead, we should help to eradicate groups of people anywhere who abuse authority in order to behead children, systematically rape women, kill people whose religious views or ways of life are not the same as their own, and whose extortion, terror and hatred makes it impossible for people to live in the territory they control, and those who commit murder and spread terror in other parts of the world. Such people are not worthy of whichever god it is in whose name they claim to act.

That is why I support the Prime Minister’s proposal to extend air strikes into the ungoverned space of eastern Syria. For the record, I would have supported military action to create safe havens for people in 2011, and I would have included Syria when air strikes against ISIS/Daesh began in 2014, as I regard the current circumstances—in which the RAF can find a foe but not destroy it—as nonsense. The threat from ISIS is clear and present, the legal justification for action is strong, and it is right that Britain should play a leading role with its allies in eradicating ISIS/Daesh from the face of the earth.

The difficult question is how we use military force to constructive and not destructive ends, and on that critical point I do not believe that we have yet got a sufficient answer. Military action never has reliable outcomes, and it spreads fear and chaos. Protracted air strikes will do more harm than good as civilian casualties rise and infrastructure is destroyed. Strikes are not a decisive game changer, but I believe they are an important part of a bigger effort.

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Air strikes may be our only hope of getting, and then keeping, parties in the Syrian civil war around the table, but we must be clear about who we are fighting for and how military action ends. Our focus must be on building the 10 or 20-year stabilisation force needed to generate the space required for lasting solutions to be found. I suspect that we will have to contribute ground forces at some point, and we must rapidly evolve a new sort of international action capability if we are to face up to the immense task of social and physical reconstruction. That needs people who are capable of building the foundations that underpin stability: political reform, economic development, legal systems, education and the creation of opportunity for young people, and all peoples must be engaged, not just the political elites. The Government stabilisation unit is a start, but it must be built into the sort of capability that the King of Jordan once described as an army of “blue overalls”, not “blue helmets”.

The scope of this debate is deliberately broad, and I hope it will convey three messages to our country. First, every individual and community in the UK has a stake in the direction that the Government choose to take in the middle east, and towards the threats and risks that emanate from there. This is not just about immediate questions of foreign policy or military action; it is about our future way of life, how we educate our children, how we welcome and integrate immigrants and refugees, and how we teach respect and loyalty for our country, values, traditions and laws. All those things affect whether or not our generation will deal with the issues relevant to this debate.

It is also true that we are, and will remain, at high risk of attack. Broadening our bombing campaign against ISIS will, I fear, increase that risk, but that is not a reason not to act. I believe that the majority of the British public understand that the frontline against Islamic extremism is not just in Raqqa but also here on the streets of Britain. Gone are the days of wars being fought in distant lands. The Gallipoli of the past could be a provincial shopping centre of tomorrow, and until we stop our society breeding new generations of radicalised young people, until we stop sheltering those who wish our society ill, and until we achieve a fully integrated society in which values are shared, laws are respected, and loyalty to Queen and country is separate from loyalty to a religion, we will not be secure. The risk of atrocity will remain.

Secondly, we must act in the middle east. We must do so now, and we must act more decisively and comprehensively than ever before, recognising where we need to do more to achieve the long-term effects we want. Often in the past, we have been too narrow and reactive. In the west, we have tended to suffer from chronic short-termism. Those who have travelled in the region can attest to the different sense of time in our respective worlds. We have been blinkered to the interconnected nature of the risks and threats. Disengagement is just not an option.

Our approach must change. Above all, we must recognise the threat of Islamist extremism and the conditions allowing it to flourish. We must eliminate them all, not just its latest iteration ISIS. We must remain credible, consistent and reliable partners to our regional and international allies in this struggle. This must come with an understanding that our allies are often imperfect. We must distinguish carefully between regional

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Governments battling extremism and its regional supporters. We must be aware of the ever-changing balance of power across the region and that power is shifting away from elites to people on the street. Arabic social media is an extraordinary force. We also need to assess the relative power of religion, tribal loyalties and national identities that in some countries are still quite strong. For example, some analysts have detected a reduction in religious adherence, especially among the young. If accurate, this phenomenon would be hugely significant.

We must accept that reform takes time, influence and patient engagement, not imposition and insistence. We must be pragmatic and treat the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. We must better recognise trends. We did not see the Arab spring or ISIS coming. For too long we have played the equivalent of a child’s game of whack-a-mole, with threats and challenges emanating from the region. We deal, or half deal, with one symptom, only for another to pop up elsewhere. We are not yet on a path to defeat the causes of today’s wars and instability, or to deal with challenges fast coming down the line. This can and must change. Our national and international machinery of government must be strengthened to bring about that change.

Our strategic focus must be a more stable region. The Vienna process is a welcome sign that necessary powers may wake up to the effort that a long-term solution in Syria will take. We must wake up in the same way to the whole region. Its neighbourhood, including the Gulf states Iran and Israel, has a vital role. It must become a bigger part of the solution and stop being part of the problem. That will not happen without much stronger institutional machinery and sustained international attention. We must acknowledge that our tools are inadequate. This is not an excuse for not acting, but it should determine our priorities.

Thirdly, Parliament—this Chamber—has an important and constructive role not just in holding successive Governments to account when it is too late, but in ensuring that they shape policies in the first place that are in our nation’s and our constituents’ long-term best interests. Our current range of interventions in the middle east are not yet on track to end well. In some cases, we are already seeing the effects in Libya and with the recent refugee crisis. Others will play out over the coming decades. We must set ourselves up to succeed as a nation and not to fail. We must consider our 10-year, 20-year and 30-year priorities, as well as any immediate threats. The education of the next generation and the emancipation of women are crucial. The British Council is doing good work on those areas, particularly in the refugee camps around the Syrian border. Such work must be better funded and expanded further throughout the region. I have long believed we need a middle east strategy similar to that rightly commissioned by the Prime Minister towards the Gulf states. Here, Madam Deputy Speaker, I must declare an interest, as my wife wrote the recently adopted UK strategy towards the Gulf. Developing such a comprehensive strategy towards the middle east would, of course, be a larger undertaking requiring proper funding, but it would certainly be worth our while.

Britain, of course, already contributes a great deal in terms of humanitarian aid, as well as militarily and diplomatically. We support our allies. We are a strong and steadfast partner. The proposed military intervention will not be a game changer, but our brainpower and

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diplomatic clout, and the respect in which we are held throughout the region very well could be. Let me be clear: I believe that the most valuable role Britain can play in the middle east is to give the world a plan for peace and stability in the region.

In conclusion, I offer this word of caution from Winston Churchill:

“Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong—these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.”

At such a febrile moment in the region’s history, it is important that we step back. There is huge scope for miscalculation. It would be easy to sleepwalk into a new type of global conflict for which, I fear, we are not prepared. We cannot afford to restrict our horizons. Above all, though, we must challenge ourselves. It is time we paid more attention to a way out of this chaos. The apocalypse that Daesh et al seek must be prevented. To this generation of political leaders falls the responsibility of delivering a comprehensive long-term strategy towards the middle east so as to achieve that noble goal. It will require patience, courage and determination. By applying ourselves properly, we can secure our children’s futures and do the country and the wider world a great service.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. It will be obvious to the House that a great many colleagues wish to take part in the debate, so I am restricting Back-Bench speeches to seven minutes.

5.6 pm

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to follow that wide-ranging and comprehensive speech from the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee). It set out well the problems that we face and people’s outrage at the horrific actions of the death cult of Daesh.

The cry is, “Something must be done”, and we are always being asked, “How can Britain intervene? What can we do to put it right?”. One of the best writers I have read on intervention says that intervention is unpredictable, chaotic, uncertain, often prevents local leaders from taking responsibility, does not put pressure on settlements between enemies and is often crippled by the frequently changing aims of intervening Governments. I think that sums up what happens when we intervene. It is from that reality base that we will have to decide, very soon, whether we as a country should extend our intervention from Iraq to Syria.

One thing that worries me about the proposed intervention is our capability—not whether our armed forces are determined or skilled enough, but whether we have the platforms. In the 1991 Gulf war, we had 36 fast jet squadrons; today, we have seven, only three of which are Tornado squadrons. We have eight Tornado GR4 aircraft in Cyprus that have flown 1,600 missions and carried out 360 airstrikes. No one has told us how often those aircraft have had to turn back at the Syrian border. I would like some facts on that. We are saying we have to intervene, yet we do not know the facts.

We have carried out one strike in four missions: a strikingly modest contribution. The Tornados are due to be decommissioned in 2018-19. Each planes has a pilot and a navigator, but we have a limited number of

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planes and pilots and a shortage of navigators for the GR4. We originally had six planes in Cyprus, but now we have eight. We need eight because they need considerable maintenance and spare parts from other planes to keep flying. We increased the number to eight, so let us be clear: we need eight planes in Cyprus to fly two.

The Tornado is an incredibly capable air-to-ground attack plane, capable of carrying 12 of the much talked-of Brimstone missiles. It is generally considered to be poor at air-to-air combat, which is where the Typhoon excels although it does not carry the Brimstones. We need to know how many Tornado pilots, navigators and ground crew would be needed to maintain and arm our planes to extend our mission into Syria. Is it going to be the same eight planes, or are we going to add to those planes? If so, where are those planes coming from? Where are the planes and the crews currently deployed? What missions will we need to cease or decrease to allow them to fly in Syria? Very importantly, will harmony guidelines be breached for those crews, because that is a vital question to which we need to know the answer?

The Prime Minister told us last week that 70% of the territory held by Daesh in Iraq is still to be recaptured. Our 360 strike missions have helped to regain only 30% of the territory over the last year.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making a very powerful speech. When we went to Iraq as a Defence Committee—my hon. Friend being a member at the time and she still is—what we heard when we met a number of the leaders of the Sunni tribes was that they wanted arming in order to take on ISIL, but that that was not happening because the Iraqi Government was not doing that. Does my hon. Friend believe that that is essential to bring about a proper solution here?

Mrs Moon: I thank my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right. The critical issue is how we engage the Sunni tribes in fighting for their own future, and how we ensure that the Sunni become an integral part of the change that is needed both in Iraq and in Syria. Without them, our intervention is nonsense and a complete waste of time.

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): I, too, was on the same trip, but I visited the peshmerga in the north of Iraq whereas she and her hon. Friend visited Baghdad. Does she agree that one of the greatest forces we have in Iraq, and potentially in Syria, too, are the peshmerga?

Mrs Moon: I thank the hon. Gentleman, who serves valiantly on the Defence Select Committee with me. I know how much work he did on that visit, when we really delved deeply into what the capability and the success of the intervention were. Of course, the peshmerga are a tremendous asset and a great fighting force, but they are not going to fight everywhere in Iraq. They want to focus on their own area and on protecting Kurdish lands and Kurdish people. They are not the Iraqi armed forces; they are the Kurdish armed forces.

The Prime Minister told us last week that we are going to regain more territory. I do not want us to transfer our limited intervention capability from Iraq to Syria. In December 2015, our military presence in Iraq outside

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of the Kurdish regions was three individuals—we met them—yet our missions there are critical to preventing Daesh from spreading across Iraq.

I urge Members to read the Defence Committee report produced in January this year, which outlined the problems we faced in Iraq and the capability we had to intervene there. The report states that we saw no evidence of the UK Government seeking to analyse, question or change the coalition strategy to which they are committed. Ministers, officials and officers failed to set out a clear military strategy for Iraq, or a clear definition of the UK’s role in operations. We saw no evidence of an energised policy debate, reviewing or arguing options for deeper engagement.

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Is it not also the case that if we are to launch air-to-ground attacks, we need to be able to collaborate with forces on the ground to report the targets and whether or not the attacks were successful?

Mrs Moon: That is exactly the information that we need. We know that 360 attacks have been made by our planes, but what we do not know is how valid they were. Were they successful? Are they making a difference? Here we are, talking about intervening somewhere else, when we do not even know how successful our intervention has been in Iraq.

The expensively trained and equipped Iraqi army fell apart when confronted by Daesh. The army has serious structural issues, poor-quality leadership, and a sectarian divide that must be addressed before any real progress in combating Daesh is possible. The brutality of the Shia militias often forces Sunni tribes into seeing Daesh as the safer alternative; let us never move away from that recognition. Sunni reconciliation and the taming of the Shia militia are impossibly difficult. If we cannot make that happen in Iraq, what chance have we in Syria? What is the basis of the sectarian divide? Is it simply religion, or is it also the age-old strategy of divide and rule? Is it a question of getting groups to fight among themselves, and allowing the corruption and the repression of the autocratic ruling regime to continue, allowing the poverty to grow, and allowing young men to turn to jihadism when there is no work and no hope for the future?

In Syria there is no compelling image for the future, and there are no leaders to rally behind. Syria is a state in the midst of civil war. In Syria there is nothing that will pull people together, but in Iraq we have potential. There is a Shia president, a Sunni defence Minister, and a wonderful Kurdish president.

5.16 pm

Mr Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) on securing the debate, and on his very thoughtful introduction to it.

I share the outrage that has been aroused by the atrocities in Paris, Tunisia, Beirut, Sinai and elsewhere. Any action that is necessary to protect Britain from similar horrors will have my full support, especially if we can simultaneously deliver fellow Christians and other minorities from the barbarity of the ISIL regime. However, I still need to be persuaded that the Government’s

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policy is likely to be effective and realistic, although I want to be persuaded. Let me spell out my concerns and doubts.

Above all, we must learn the lessons of experience from Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, all of which continue to haunt us. Albert Einstein said that the definition of insanity was to keep on doing the same thing and expect a different outcome. My colleagues are eminently sane, so I hope that they have learnt what I believe to be the three key lessons of recent history. First, it is comparatively easy to destroy a regime. Secondly, it is next to impossible to install a new regime or defeat an insurgency by air power alone, without boots on the ground: troops who are prepared to stay for the long term, preferably because they are in their own country. Thirdly, the only thing worse than a tyrannical regime is the chaos and anarchy that may replace it.

I need persuading first that if we join the bombing campaign, it will be in support of forces that are capable of retaining ground that air power may help to clear. In Iraq, we are supporting the Iraqi and Kurdish forces, and if it is militarily necessary to take action across border in their defence, that is fine by me. However, I must say this about Syria. The Prime Minister referred to

“70,000 Syrian opposition fighters, principally of the Free Syrian Army, who do not belong to extremist groups”.—[Official Report, 26 November 2015; Vol. 602, c. 1491.]

Mrs Moon: Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when the Select Committee was in Iraq, we were told that 1 million Shia fighters alone were willing to combat Daesh. Do we not have a greater chance in Iraq than in Syria?

Mr Lilley: The hon. Lady has made a very good point, and she made an extremely good speech.

I would like to believe that the Free Syrian Army is more than a label attached to a ragbag of tribal troops, factional militias and personal armies with no coherent command structure. I would like to believe that they are moderates. However, when I was carrying out a study of the conflict in Ulster many years ago, I examined similar situations, and concluded that

“it is nearly a law of human nature that where people fear the disintegration of the state they rally to the most forceful and extreme advocate of their group.”

In those circumstances there are no moderates, so at best we will have to rely on some pretty violent and unpleasant forces.

I would like to believe that there will be an effective fighting force. However, in October, the commander of the US central command, General Lloyd Austin, reported to the Senate that the programme to train some 5,400 moderate Syrians each year at a cost of $500 million had so far produced only four or five fighters. The number could be counted on the fingers of one hand. I would also like to be convinced that, if those moderate fighting forces existed, they could be persuaded to fight the Islamists rather than Assad, whom they have mostly considered to be their main enemy up to now.

John Redwood: But is not the issue for any Government contemplating air strikes the question of who they would get in touch with and co-ordinate with on the ground?

Mr Lilley: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have signally failed to train any forces, and is far from clear that we could achieve our aim without any.

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My second area of concern is whether this aerial bombardment in Syria will actually help to prevent terror on our streets in Britain. I should make it clear that I am not one of those who believe that we should hold back from bombing ISIL for fear of provoking more terrorism. Even if there were such a risk, to allow a handful of terrorists to determine British policy would be cowardly in the extreme. But in any case, the truth is that these extreme Islamists attack us not because of what we do but because of what we are.

The preamble to the Prime Minister’s memorandum to the Select Committee states that

“it is from Raqqa that some of the main threats against this country are planned and orchestrated.”

I would like to believe that this was a simple matter of taking out the command and control system to prevent the main threats of terrorism in this country, yet even in that document, when detailing the seven plots foiled by our security forces in the past 12 months, that claim is watered down to say the plots were merely “linked to ISIL” or “inspired by ISIL’s propaganda”.

The truth is that the atrocities we have seen in Britain and France were almost invariably carried out by home-grown terrorists. Many of them were probably inspired by ISIL propaganda or emulating previous suicide bombers and terrorists, but I have seen no evidence that any of them were controlled by, let alone dispatched from, Raqqa. Those plots were hatched in Brussels, not in Syria, and if the French and Belgian security forces on the ground could not identify and stop them, it is pretty unlikely that any plans being hatched in Syria could be prevented by precision bombing from 30,000 feet. In any case, the fact that one horrifying atrocity follows another does not mean that they are directed and controlled by a single organisation. We have seen horrifying school bombings in America, with one following another and one example leading to another, but that does not mean that there was a single controlling mind behind them.

My third concern is that we are led to believe that degrading and disrupting ISIL will reduce the flood of refugees. As I understand it—I am open to correction on this—scarcely any of the refugees coming to us or going over the border into Turkey are coming from the ISIL-controlled areas. My fear is that if we disrupt and reduce that area through bombing, we will add to the flow of migrants into Europe.

The real reason that the Government wish to join the operations in Syria is that we want to join our US allies. It is Britain’s default position that we should support America unless there is good reason not to, and that is a position that I hold to, but when there are doubts and reasons not to go ahead, we should reason and argue and try to persuade our colleagues to change their strategy before we join in.

We are celebrating this year the centenary of the birth of Harold Wilson, whose great achievement was to remain the closest ally of the United States while not being drawn into the Vietnam war. I believe we should learn from that example and, if my doubts cannot be cleared up, hold back rather than join in with our friends and allies in their endeavours, which possibly are doomed to failure unless they have boots on the ground to support the bombs from the air.

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5.25 pm

Stewart Malcolm McDonald (Glasgow South) (SNP): I, too, begin by thanking the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) for securing this debate. One of the first things I was able to do in this House was secure a debate on the case of Raif Badawi, and I know the Minister understands my interest in it. Since then, I have developed something of an insight into how the United Kingdom sees its relations with countries such as Saudi Arabia, which is cultivating a “second Syria” in Yemen. We are continually given assurances that Britain is working hard behind the scenes, in ways that may not be immediately apparent, to secure concrete and durable change—I do not doubt for a moment that that is the case. I stand here in what is possibly the most self-satisfied legislature in the world, the mother of all Parliaments. I have no doubt that the people on these Benches wish to see concepts of democracy, civil society and the rule of law—things they consider to be their own—exported to other countries in the middle east. The problem is a reality in which that idea has yet to arrive. There are too many in this House whose idea of intervention goes back to a previous time. When I asked the Prime Minister last week about the protection of minorities in this seemingly inevitable conflict, I prefaced the question by comparing the middle east to the Mitteleuropa of a century ago. I did so expressly, but the fact is that there has been a slow bleed of peoples from the wider region over that period: and I cannot help but see this country’s hand behind it.

David Lloyd George set the template for UK foreign Policy in the modern era, arming, financing, and encouraging a disastrous Greek invasion of Asia Minor, an action that ended in flames in Smyrna and with a Pontic Greek population that had predated Homer destroyed. Even the greatest leaders cannot seem to help but overstretch themselves; Churchill thought he had no choice but to install Nuri al-Said as regent in Iraq—a regent who was still in power when possibly the greatest Jewish city on earth, Baghdad, was cleansed of that Jewish population. More recently, less illustrious Prime Ministers have led us back to Mesopotamia; an often overlooked corollary of Blair’s war in Iraq was the setting to flight of one of the oldest Christian populations in the world.

I do not offer those examples as a reason why we should not intervene in Syria—if anything, they do not demonstrate the inefficacy of UK intervention, only that it more often than not has unintended consequences. I do not doubt that there is a robust military plan and that our military forces, which are surely the best in the world, will have the better of Daesh, be it from the air or on the ground. It is worth reiterating that the Scottish National party is not a pacifist party, and the Prime Minister would do well to remember that. Of course it goes without saying that something must be done, specifically to those who struck at the heart of Paris a fortnight ago, but the lesson we take from history is that it is simply not enough to say, “Something must be done.”

I beseech the Prime Minister to show that he understands our unease and that he is able to put the immediate problem at hand into the wider context in which it exists. For let us be in no doubt: there is a wider problem facing us that resembles the Europe of 1914. From west Africa to the Sahel, through the Maghreb and the Levant, and to the end of the Arabian peninsula, and from the Caucuses

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to Kashmir, are a series of insurgencies, failed states and civil wars that we are often unable or unwilling to confront. My principal fear is that in chasing Daesh from Syria and Iraq, it will simply reappear elsewhere. The Government’s willingness to act in Syria must be used not as an end in itself, but as a means to seek solutions in the broadest context.

What we need now is a modern Marshall plan for the region, the participation of as many nations as possible and the determination to see it through. The most pernicious lie that too many have fallen for is that this is the clash of civilisations. What, under any other circumstance, would have been a series of local conflicts has been given greater resonance by the injection of jihadist and sectarian rhetoric; a black and white distinction drawn between the faithful and the Crusaders and the ability of many to bring the “near war” and the “far war” together. Let us not forget that that was Bin Laden’s strategic dream. Too often, the actions of our Governments have exacerbated these problems not from malign intentions, but from their inability to think adequately about what follows an initial military invasion.

Let there be no doubt about this: had the Prime Minister come to this place with a plan not just to bomb Syria, but to ensure that there were both funds and a willingness to rebuild afterwards, and to put in place the appropriate forces to occupy and pacify the country; and had he come here with a plan that placed our intentions in Syria into the context of plans for the wider region, and shown that he had the willingness to join, or build, a coalition of states that were willing to spend the time untangling the myriad regional disputes that have set this part of the world aflame—

Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is getting to the heart of the issue. The Prime Minister was able to come pretty close to answering the seven points that the Foreign Affairs Committee raised. There is a limitation on what he can actually say, because creating this entire international coalition is active work in progress, which it was not back in September and October. That is the change. We need our Government to be fully committed to that process. Air strikes are a smokescreen for the more substantial question, which is this: how can our Government most effectively contribute to the international coalition that he is talking about, either as a full member of the coalition or as a non-belligerent in Syria?

Stewart Malcolm McDonald: I always listen to the hon. Gentleman with great respect, and he makes an important point. The Vienna talks provide the platform for the United Kingdom to show the leadership that we all want to see.

I would have been willing to support military action had the Government met the criteria that I have just outlined, but the reality is that they have not done so. Instead what we have is a political version of “virtue signalling”—a token effort that, while it may be appreciated by our allies, does nothing to address the deep misgivings in this House and among the wider public. The point is not to attack ISIS, but to defeat it, and to defeat it not just in Syria, but across the whole arc of insurgency.

While our military forces have learned from decades of involvement in the region, it seems that their political masters have not. I make this final plea: apply the lessons from history; show us what has been learned; and please give us a proper plan for reconstruction.

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5.32 pm

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Four out of four of our speakers have been brilliant. My contribution will be a little more modest.

I have two problems with the proposed intervention in Syria, but that is not to say that the Government do not care, and that nothing has been done to engage the support of Members on both sides of the House. This is the result of careful thought over a number of years, not a conclusion that we have come to over the past two or three weeks. We recognise the appalling nature of the attacks in France, just as we recognise the attacks in the Lebanon the previous day, the earlier attacks on a Russian aeroplane, and, before that, the attack on the beach in Tunisia.

The question is not how we deal with these attacks today or tomorrow, but how we solve the problems of ISIL on a long-term basis. First, we must not find ourselves using boots on the ground. This matter is not something that can be solved by Britain, the United States, Russia or France. The Prime Minister has made it clear that our boots are not to be used in Syria, nor are those of any westerners, which, for the moment, include those of Russia.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I am always extremely worried when someone makes a definitive statement that says that we will not use our armed forces to defend our interests.

Mr Turner: I can well understand my hon. Friend fearing that, but the Prime Minister himself said that we shall not have boots on the ground.

Where are those supporters coming from? We are not speaking about one army under one general but several different factions, some of which are competing against each other. We cannot repeat what happened in Libya. It is not clear whether these factions, which the 70,000 Syrian fighters comprise, are organised and prepared to act, and whether they can move into ISIL ground quickly, because otherwise new criminals will arrive and appear as soon as the old ones are destroyed. The support needs to be reliable and sustainable. How can we be sure that these are forces to count on?

There is not one clear enemy to fight. The Russians appear to support Assad while we support rebel fighters declared as “moderate”. Russia’s support of Assad has resulted in strikes hitting the moderates. If there was an agreement with Russia, it would be much nearer what we are aiming for. If there was agreement from Syria—from the moderates and the Assadis—it would form a united front. I believe that a successful fight against ISIL is possible only when everyone on the allies’ side works together to defeat them.

5.36 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): It is always a pleasure to speak on these issues, and this is an important and highly topical debate. We are all aware of the terrible events in Paris in the past couple of weeks, as the problems that developed in the middle east spilled over on to the streets of Paris. We are also aware of our key role in developments in the middle east, as well as the global problems that often arise.

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The key debate on the middle east at this time is about how we tackle Daesh and how we can respond in a positive fashion. I want to note the strategic interests of four countries at the fringes of Europe, on the borders of the eastern Mediterranean: Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and Israel. They all face a similar strategic predicament. Although they are located near the west and are western in many ways, they are adjacent to a region of great turmoil. Regimes in several nearby countries are supporting terror, acquiring long-range missiles and developing weapons of mass destruction, which means that these four countries cannot fully enjoy the advantages of regional stability, as their fellow western states can, as they are susceptible to threats and other forms of aggressive behaviour. Other Members have mentioned the dispersal of Christians throughout the middle east, and we are all aware of the hundreds of thousands who have been dispersed from Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

The quartet of countries that I have mentioned can best address their common problem by enhancing strategic co-operation among themselves and perhaps even forging an eastern Mediterranean alliance. Such a step would have implications for western interests as well as for the middle east, and I believe that the UK Government should promote it. The main block to such co-operation or alliance is the tense relationship between Greece and Turkey that arises primarily from the division of Cyprus, which is the issue that most needs addressing.

We need to strike the right balance, of course, as we cannot be seen to be interfering in another nation’s sovereignty, but we must work more closely alongside those eastern European nations, particularly Cyprus. We are fortunate to have the RAF, Navy and Army bases in Cyprus, which former Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers and Governments had the foresight and vision to ensure that we had, and they have a key part to play in any NATO or UK operations against Daesh in the future.

Our role in the middle east should not be confined to the already destabilised regions. We should be working more closely with all our allies in the region so that our influence there is complemented by having such strong relationships. Since the crumbling of the Berlin wall in November 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet bloc two years later, the west has enlarged and moved its influence eastward in several ways. The European Union opened its doors to several countries that were once in the Soviet orbit. NATO accepted the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary as members, and the Bosnian and Kosovar crises have encouraged it to expand its security space to the south and intervene militarily in that region. Thus have the boundaries of the west moved eastwards and south-eastwards, with the expansion to the eastern Mediterranean running parallel to expansion in eastern Europe. That could further western security, including our own security in the United Kingdom. Let us look at the bigger picture: Cyprus, Greece and Israel all have a strategic part to play.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Is there not a problem in the eastern Mediterranean, as the Greek Prime Minister has attacked his Turkish counterpart on Twitter after the downing of a Russian plane, and there are regular air incursions by each country into the other? There have even been descriptions of dog fights between the two. That is no way for anyone to behave when we are facing the likes of ISIS.

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Jim Shannon: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: that is not the way to behave. None the less, we have to work with westernised countries and see whether we can agree a strategy to move forward. The eastern Mediterranean is already the west’s new outer limit. It is where the European attitude towards the use of force meets a very non-European attitude. It is where two strategic cultures meet, each entertaining different notions of behaviour during conflict. The eastern Mediterranean harbours various political entities, and is perhaps the only area in the world where western democracies live side by side, if I can use this terminology, with rogue states, with rich, authoritarian oil producers, and with some of the poorest countries in the world. Such gaps in wealth increase international tensions and nourish revisionist aspirations, as the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the Syrian military occupation of Lebanon dramatically showed.

In 2015, that wealthy region of the world is still in turmoil. We can no longer stand back, or isolate ourselves from a region that has produced truly global problems. Whether it is in a supportive or consultative role, or ultimately as the primary actor in the region, it is time for us in the United Kingdom to stand up and make sure that we take our obligations to the rest of mankind seriously, helping nations less fortunate than us to overcome the difficulties in the middle east so that they might enjoy the prosperity that we in the west too often take for granted.

The west’s long-term strategic interest lies in strengthening western-oriented states in the eastern Mediterranean whose policies have potential to pacify countries in this zone of turmoil and helping to bring their people into the west’s fold. Looking at other countries in the middle east, Jordan is an Arab country that could in effect join the west: certainly the sympathies are there. Other candidates include states of the former Soviet Union such as Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, all of which have developed rudimentary democratic institutions and naturally look towards the west. Most countries, however, would have difficulty extricating themselves from the whims of autocratic rulers.

Those are things we need to think about to create a real, long-term, sustainable and lasting solution to the plague of instability that seems to persist in the middle east. For now, we look to our allies in the region—the Mediterranean quartet of Greece, Turkey, Israel and Cyprus—as the key to unlocking influence once again. We need a positive and influential role in the region, and we need to maintain NATO’s ability to operate effectively in the region if needed. It is imperative that we learn from all too recent mistakes when it comes to how we act in the region, to influence its direction in a way that is positive for it and for the world.

In the next few days, the House will make a truly monumental and historic decision on going to battle in the middle east, whether with air strikes or soldiers on the ground. That is a big decision for the House, and we look forward to that as well.

5.44 pm

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) on securing this important debate. I agree that the United Kingdom has a peculiar

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responsibility for the region. Indeed, it is unique, given the high standing that our country has throughout the middle east.

I pay tribute, too, to the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee for his leadership on our recent visit to the region and for the way in which he has put the Committee front and centre of the debate in the run-up to the important vote that we will shortly hold.

The impression that I took away from our visit to Tehran and Riyadh was one of the mutual hostility, suspicion and antagonism that exists between the two regional powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran. That tension is starting to spill over, not just in Yemen, but in Bahrain and now so tragically in Syria. Many other countries, including Kuwait, are caught up in the appalling tension between those two powers. I am pleased that in the Vienna talks Iran and Saudi Arabia are around the same table for the first time in a long time. As I said to the Prime Minister last week, it is vital that the United Kingdom uses its good offices in the United Nations to encourage and facilitate dialogue between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Bob Stewart: On that point, we must fully understand that the United Kingdom still has an exceptionally good reputation in the middle east, despite the fact that we have lost so much of our military power. We are still regarded as friends.

Daniel Kawczynski: Very much so. When one travels throughout the middle east, time and again people highlight the fact that they see us as an impartial and honourable interlocutor and as people who can facilitate dialogue to try to dissipate some of the tension the region.

We recently saw the extraordinary strength of British diplomacy, particularly over the nuclear agreement with Iran. If we cast our minds back to the extraordinary tensions with that country—by the way, during our visit we spent time at the British embassy, which had previously been trashed by students—we can see the great accomplishment of that painstaking British diplomacy. I pay tribute to our Foreign Secretary for playing a substantial role in the agreement. It shows what British diplomacy can achieve. I therefore do not believe that it is naive or unrealistic to expect that the United Kingdom could and ought to be trying to secure better dialogue between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

It is, however, essential that the Government are probed on strategy and planning in the run-up to a potential bombing of Syria. I spent quite a lot of time on that delegation to the middle east with my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron). He wrote an article in The Mail on Sunday yesterday outlining the case against bombing in Syria, and he is the only one among the entire Conservative parliamentary party who voted against the bombing campaign in Libya. That was an extremely courageous thing to do—to ignore the rest of the Conservative parliamentary party and go into the opposite Lobby. I pay tribute to him—he is a former soldier—for the tremendous courage that he displayed at that time.

I recall from those deliberations how the Opposition, the Liberal Democrats and the Government all rushed to support the bombing of Gaddafi. It was a highly emotional time for us. He promised to instigate a bloodbath in Benghazi and, as has been said, we wanted to do

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something so we sanctioned the bombing of his military capability. Getting rid of a dictator is easy. What is more challenging is the planning that has to take place in order to ensure that the country is then administered properly, and that those important seeds of a democratic society are allowed to germinate before we pass on responsibility to local politicians.

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and for making an exceedingly insightful point. Does he share my concern that when it comes to Syria and the bombing of ISIS within Syria, our relationship with Russia must be very carefully managed to ensure that we do not end up with a conflict that we are not looking for, particularly in the reconstruction?

Daniel Kawczynski: I very much agree, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. I will refer to Syria later in my speech, if I have time.

The lack of planning for boots on the ground in Libya has led so tragically to the continued instability in that country and the civil war that is raging there. The Minister will know about those difficulties, particularly the fact that ISIS has managed to take root in certain parts of the country. Indeed, some reports have identified ISIS in Libya as being the most radical and cruel in the region. One question that I want to pose is this: why at this moment do we want to bomb ISIS in Syria, but not in Libya?

The bar has to be raised that much higher, given the difficulties in Libya, to ensure that, for those of us who support the Government on the issue, adequate time is spent on the Floor of the House and some of the difficult questions that Ministers might not want to hear are asked, so that the Government are better prepared in Syria than they were in Libya.

Of all the interventions I heard at that time, the one made by my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), who now chairs the Defence Committee, was the most prescient. He challenged the figure of 70,000 moderates with whom we could work. It is extremely important that the Government listen to him and debate where that figure came from and of what those forces consist.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): My hon. Friend talks about the Free Syrian Army and the figure of 70,000. It has been said that the Free Syrian Army hates Daesh, but it hates Assad even more. Our strategy is to deal with Daesh first. Therefore, by not addressing the other evil entity—Assad—can we really trust the Free Syrian Army to fight Daesh while knowing that it might get Assad?

Daniel Kawczynski: That is a point well made, and I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to build upon it in his contribution.

During our visit to the middle east, certain states in the region were unable to explain to us what resources they will be committing in Syria, either in the air or on the ground. There is the added complication of Saudi Arabia wanting the almost immediate removal of Assad and how that will play out. Of course, the regional allies, including Kuwait, the Emirates, Saudi Arabia and others, are involved in a complicated and difficult war in Yemen, which is stretching their resources. I very much hope that,

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in advance of this vote, the Government will be able to explain to us what our regional allies will be contributing. It is very positive to hear that the Germans will be contributing 1,500 troops, on which I pressed their ambassador during our discussions in Iran.

My time is running out, so I would like to say that I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) that it is extremely important that the Government work with Russia on the issue. I regularly attend events at the Russian embassy and speak on RT. I am afraid that at the moment it is fashionable to be anti-Russian and to see Russia through a cold war lens. I believe that we must come together at this time, despite all our differences, set aside some of the difficulties we have had with President Putin and work constructively with him and others to bring about stability for Syria. I echo the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell that unless there is a competent strategy, we will end up with a “bat the rat” situation: if we defeat them somewhere, they will pop up again elsewhere only too quickly.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr MacNeil: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It has come to my attention, through BuzzFeed and Twitter, that the Prime Minister will make a statement on Syria after 7 pm. It seems that the statement will be on television, rather than in the House of Commons. Surely we are living in a parliamentary democracy, not a presidential system.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. Of course, I have no way of knowing whether anything that has gone out on social media is correct, so I have no idea whether what he says is true—although, I am quite sure that he would not have raised the point of order had he not seen something to that effect. All that I can say to him, and to the House, is that if the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has something of importance to say to the nation about Syria, or indeed about any other vitally important issue, I have every confidence that he will come first to this House to say it. I am quite sure that he will do so in due course.

5.55 pm

Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP): Latha naomh Anndra sona dhuibh—I wish everyone a happy St Andrew’s day. That includes the 90% who claim direct Scottish descent and the 10% who actually have it. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) for coming to the Chamber just in time to give me the correct translation.

For a number of people, tomorrow marks the first day of Advent, which is seen as a time to guzzle chocolates out of an Advent calendar. For a billion or more people around the globe, however, Advent started yesterday. It is a time of reflection and preparation, to celebrate the birth of a convicted and executed criminal, a Palestinian Jewish refugee whose message of peace and good will to all is as desperately needed today as it ever has been at any time in the 2,000 years since he walked the very lands we are speaking about this evening.

I do not pretend to be an expert in any, or indeed all, of the complexities of the middle east, and perhaps it would be better if none of us did, because I suspect that

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many of the problems in that troubled region have their root cause in the fact that so many experts from other countries thought that they knew what was best for someone else’s country. I approach this with the simple belief that there is right and wrong, morally defensible and morally indefensible, in foreign policy just as there is in everything else. I want to see the United Kingdom adopt a foreign policy that is morally right, rather than simply what is right in terms of political, economic or diplomatic expediency.

Against those measures, it has to be said that the United Kingdom’s record has not been particularly impressive. We have heard talk about our ally Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is a ruthless and merciless abuser of the death penalty. We supply that country with weapons and then pretend not to know that those same weapons are being used to kill innocent civilians in Yemen. We honour the Israeli Prime Minister with a full state visit despite the fact that the UK Government’s position is that the Israeli Government are acting against international law by occupying Palestinian territories. We allow weapons and military hardware to be sent to Israel and then pretend not to know that they could be contributing to the deaths of hundreds of innocent women and children in Palestine. We set a cap on the number of desperate refugees we are willing to accept from Syria, but we will set no cap whatsoever on the number of missiles and bombs we are prepared to send there, and we will set no cap on how long that military bombardment will last.

Daniel Kawczynski: I note the hon. Gentleman’s comments about Saudi Arabia. As I am sure he is aware, his hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins), who sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee, was with us in Saudi Arabia last week and heard extensive briefings on the campaign in Yemen. I very much hope that the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) will spend time with his hon. Friend to find out about the Saudi perspective on this.

Peter Grant: I have no doubt that there is a Saudi story, but that story is not the only one that deserves to be told.

My point is that if we continue to operate a policy in the middle east that is based on the interests of UK citizens, businesses and investors, to the exclusion of all else, we will continue to get it wrong.

Stephen Gethins (North East Fife) (SNP): Today is St Andrew’s day, and I note that he was another welcome middle eastern immigrant to Scotland. On the point made by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), I think that there are two sides to any story. Of course, if there have been any proven breaches of international humanitarian law, I am sure that all of us in this House would welcome an investigation. I think that would be best for everybody so that we have clarity.

Peter Grant: I would certainly welcome such an investigation, although perhaps it should have taken place before we started to supply the weapons in the first place. It is a bit late to discover afterwards that they have been used for the wrong purpose.

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I fear that the international arms trade may have become so entrenched as part of the UK economy that an awful lot of people in the UK, whether they know it or not, or like it or not, have, in effect, a vested financial interest in not finding peaceful resolutions to conflicts the world over. That is not a good position to be in. I accept that we have to be prepared to defend ourselves. I do not have a problem with the fact that a business in my constituency is involved in the military industry, but with what that technology is being used for. The willingness sometimes to provide technology without asking too many questions and without getting assurances about what it will and will not be used for has certainly not helped to bring peace to the middle east or to a number of other troubled spots around the world. This debate is clearly primarily about Syria, although it is badged as being about the whole of the middle east.

It is quite likely that within the next few days this Parliament will be asked to take the gravest and most serious decision that any body of people can be asked to take. I am greatly troubled by the idea that a key consideration for some Members might be the impact that that may or may not have on maintaining or undermining individual politicians in this Chamber. The very fact that the media believe that it will be a factor should give us all cause to stop and think. If we genuinely believe that this Parliament is seen as a beacon of integrity and democracy around the world, what kind of message does it send out if we allow for even the possibility that a decision to go to war could be influenced by domestic political considerations back home? I desperately hope that that will not be a consideration for any one of the 650 people who will be charged with making this decision, but I have a horrible feeling that my hopes may not entirely be realised.

Mr James Gray rose—

Peter Grant: I will give way once more.

Mr Gray: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point about whether the twists and turns of political fortune in this Chamber should affect what we decide to do about going to war. Does he agree that with the sole exception of the occasion in 2003 when Mr Blair took us illegally to war in Iraq, there has never before been a vote on the matter in the Chamber, and that he is describing a very good reason for returning to the old system, which worked extremely well with regard to Libya, for example, whereby there was no vote at all until after the action had taken place?

Peter Grant: My comments are not about whether individual groups of MPs apply a whip or respect a whip that may be applied to them. It is up to the conscience of each and every one of us whether we follow a party whip. I take the view, although it has never been tested in 25 years in party politics, that if the whip contravened a direct instruction of my conscience I would follow my conscience. That is a decision for every Member to take. My concern is that there is a feeling throughout the United Kingdom and elsewhere that for some people—and the vote could be close enough that they are a decisive element—considerations about the impact on positions taken in this Chamber will be a factor. A decision to go to war should never, ever be affected by such factors.

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In looking at the justification that has been given so far for involvement in an aerial bombardment in Syria, I continue to have very serious concerns. In order for a war to be just, for those who believe that there is such a thing as a just war, one of the absolute requirements is that it must have a reasonable prospect of success. Aerial bombardment cannot achieve its aims without troops on the ground. The hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) suggested that those troops will eventually have to come from the United Kingdom, despite the fact that the UK Government have said, “Not under any circumstances.” Yet if they do not come from the UK, they have no idea of where they are going to come from. This will not work without a complete ceasefire between all the different warring factions in and around Syria, and there is no indication whatsoever of any ceasefire between any combination of those factions just now.

My fundamental concern about the idea of airborne military action in Syria is simply that it will not achieve its stated objective. To me, military action that has little chance of achieving its stated objective cannot be justified.

Rehman Chishti: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Peter Grant: I said that I would give way only once more, but since it is the hon. Gentleman, I will.

Rehman Chishti: I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman’s remarks. Military action can degrade, control and contain Daesh, but it cannot defeat the evil ideology that this evil organisation pushes and panders to at every level, so our strategy has to look at dealing with that ideology as well as at taking military action.

Peter Grant: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that comment. The question I asked of the Prime Minister last week was based on that very point. It is one thing to remove Daesh—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): I was going to let the hon. Gentleman finish his sentence, since it is St Andrew’s day.

Peter Grant: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I finished at that point as I was expecting to be told that my time was up, but that did not seem to materialise.

It is one thing to remove Daesh; it is quite another to remove the circumstances where organisations such Daesh, the Taliban and al-Qaeda can continue to flourish.

6.5 pm

Dame Angela Watkinson (Hornchurch and Upminster) (Con): I intend to take a slightly different tack in not speaking, like most colleagues, about ISIL or Daesh. I want to focus my remarks on the value of our constructive relationship with Israel and the contribution that it makes to peace and stability.

The selective discrimination against Israel in UK university campuses contrasts with the huge benefits of BIRAX—the Britain Israel Research and Academic Exchange Partnership—which is an initiative of the British embassy in Israel and the British Council. Israel is a multiracial, multi-ethnic democracy where Arab, Druze and other minorities are guaranteed equal rights under law. Israel’s declaration of independence grants

“all Israel’s inhabitants equality of social and political rights irrespective of religion, race or gender”,

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and it is currently the only functioning democracy in the middle east. In stark contrast to other middle eastern countries, there are no legal restrictions on movement, employment, or sexual or marital relations for any of Israel’s citizens. All Israeli citizens from every minority vote in elections on an equal basis.

In the past two months, there have been over 90 terror attacks that have seen the deaths of 21 Israelis and many more injuries from stabbings, shootings and car rammings. Yet Israeli hospitals have treated both victims and terrorists regardless of their nationality.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): If the hon. Lady is going to quote statistics, she should perhaps do so completely. Since the beginning of October, the violence on the west bank has resulted in 85 Palestinian deaths and 11 Israeli deaths, and 9,171 Palestinian injuries and 133 Israeli injuries. That is a ratio of 69:1.

Dame Angela Watkinson: The hon. Gentleman is quoting from his speech, and I will come to those matters as I continue with mine.

In addition, Israel has participated in disaster relief efforts worldwide, most recently providing assistance to Syrian refugees arriving in Greece and elsewhere.

Violence has been fomented by repeated inflammatory and false allegations from the Palestinian Authority, Fatah and Hamas accusing Israel of planning to destroy the al-Aqsa mosque and other Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. Yet Hadassah medical centre, home to Jerusalem’s largest emergency ward, treats the city’s wounded regardless of whether they are victims or attackers, and co-operation between Palestinian and Israeli doctors has helped to save 607 Palestinian children since 2005. The hospital has mixed Jewish and Arab medical staff and routinely treats both attackers and victims, often in adjacent wards.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): I wonder whether my hon. Friend, like me, has been to Save a Child’s Heart in Tel Aviv and acknowledges that the work that the doctors there do in the Palestinian territories, particularly in Gaza, is second to none in saving children’s lives.

Dame Angela Watkinson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When I continue my remarks, he will find that I cover that.

Israel’s Teva Pharmaceutical Industries provides the NHS with one in six of its prescription medicines, making it the NHS’s largest supplier of generic drugs. It is leading the world in the development of drugs to combat Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis. Scientists have developed methods for producing human growth hormone and interferon, a group of proteins effective against viral infections. Copaxone, a medicine effective in the treatment of multiple sclerosis, was developed in Israel by Teva Pharmaceuticals from basic research to industrial production. It has also developed early diagnosis for mad cow disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob genetic disease in humans, with a urine test instead of a brain biopsy, and identified the gene that causes muscular dystrophy and the gene linked to post-traumatic stress disorder.

In July 2015 the British embassy announced three new water research programmes between UK and Israeli scientists. The work of Israeli research institutions,

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such as Tel Aviv University and the Weizmann Institute of Science, improves the lives of people in water-poor countries by sharing Israel’s expertise in waste water treatment, purification and water reuse. The programmes will enable scientists from Britain, Israel and the region to work together to tackle water shortages.

Israel is one of the founding members of Digital 5, a group of leading digital Governments who met for the first time in London in December 2014. In March 2015 it was announced that three UK-Israel academic collaboration projects will receive £1.2 million of cyber-research funding from the UK Government.

The total value of trade and services between the UK and Israel is now more than £4.5 billion a year, and the UK is Israel’s second biggest export market. British businesses such as HSBC, GlaxoSmithKline, Barclays and Rolls-Royce have invested more than £1 billion in Israel. The UK and Israel work closely together in technological and scientific research, including cyber-security.

In short, Israel is a tolerant, fair society. Creative and innovative, it produces and develops, and it advances knowledge. Britain’s close relationship with Israel is a force for good in the middle east, and it is essential that we build and maintain that strong relationship.

6.11 pm

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): After much reflection and research, and after listening to the views of many people, including constituents, fellow Members on both sides of the House and the Government, I have decided that I cannot support British military action in Syria at present and I will vote against any motion in this House that sanctions it this week. It is my view that the eradication of Daesh from Syria, Iraq and around the world is a necessary process and one in which the UK should be engaged, including through effective military action. I am not currently persuaded that it would be lawful for the Royal Air Force to bomb Syria, but I agree that that is arguable and it is not the principal reason for my opposing the proposed military action. I wish I had more time to talk about the legality of it, but I highly recommend the excellent House of Commons Library briefing, which was published last Thursday.

There are three tests that I do not believe the Government have passed and that the Prime Minister failed to satisfy in his statement to the Commons last week. First, there is no tactical plan for taking control of the areas currently occupied by Daesh, should bombing be successful in dislodging them, which itself is questionable, given that the bombing of those areas by 11 other countries has continued over 15 months. There are insufficient numbers of competent, relevant or motivated ground troops who are sufficient to the task at present.

Mrs Moon: The Prime Minister has said that the head of the serpent is in Raqqa and that therefore we must attack Raqqa. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not a serpent but a hydra, and that if we chop off one head, more heads will grow and they will do so in other areas of the middle east?

Andy Slaughter: With all due respect to the Prime Minister, my hon. Friend is quite right: his was a rather simplistic analogy.

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Secondly, there is no functioning international alliance that can turn short-term military games into a programme for the peaceful governance of Syria. The Vienna talks are a start to such a process, but at present the aims of Turkey, Russia, Iran and the NATO countries are so disparate as to be chaotic.

Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is essential to build an international alliance in order to take action against ISIL/Daesh in many ways other than air strikes? That includes stopping the flow of weapons into Syria and, above all, blocking the revenue, particularly the oil revenue, that is flowing in at a rate of $1.5 million a day. We need to demonstrate that there is international co-operation on those things, alongside any measures that the Government may propose.

Andy Slaughter: I agree, and I will come in a moment to what I think we should be doing.

In addition to the lack of tactical and strategic bases, my third test is that the permanent defeat of Daesh in Syria requires the end of conflict, which is what allows it to thrive. Any short-term retrenchment will likely benefit the Assad regime, which is itself responsible for seven times as many civilian deaths as Daesh this year. That may mean a shift in the balance of forces, but it will bring us no nearer to resolution.

Seema Kennedy (South Ribble) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Andy Slaughter: I will not.

I want Britain to engage in a concerted diplomatic effort to wean Russia and Iran away from their support for Assad, and Turkey and Saudi Arabia away from giving comfort, if not actual support, to Islamist extremism. I want a peace process that allows non-extremist opposition to talk to the acceptable parts of the Syrian Arab Army and Kurdish forces, and a concerted attempt, as my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) has just said, to cut off the funds to, and other international support for, Daesh. That is a very difficult, perhaps impossible, agenda, but to engage in bombing missions on the basis of, “Something must be done”, or even on the basis of solidarity, and without clear objectives, does not show sound judgment.

There are other arguments for and against intervention, including that our contribution would be small, especially given the lack of military targets without the risk of civilian casualties; that we should support allies, whether they be the Iraqi or French Governments; and that we remain at risk from Daesh attacks on the UK, whether we take further military action against them or not. However, the three points I have mentioned are my red lines. They are also, I am pleased to say, reflected by a ratio of 100:1 in the letters and emails I have received from my constituents in the past few days and weeks. I will, of course, review my decision in the light of changing events, but given the UK’s poor record of intervention in the middle east over the past decade, I think that further military incursion should be approved only if a high burden of proof can be established.

Having dealt with that matter, may I turn, albeit necessarily briefly, to two other issues in the middle east? The first is the current situation in Israel-Palestine. I am sorry that a few moments ago we listened to a

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speech that gave a very one-sided view of that situation, which is at its most serious for many years. The issues are not new—we are familiar with them, including the growth of Israeli settlements, which now account for almost 600,000 people in the occupied territories; settler violence; a shoot-to-kill policy and increased use of live fire; increased use of home demolitions; child detention and administrative detention; pass laws, checkpoints and barriers; and restrictions of access to the Noble Sanctuary and other holy places. None of those things is new, but the intensification of their use by the occupying power is much more significant, and that is going on partly because of the extremism of the Israeli Government and partly because tragic events elsewhere in the middle east, including in Syria, give cover for it.

Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Andy Slaughter: I am sorry, but I will not, because of the time.

There are often distractions. Because the European Union has suddenly decided belatedly to impose labelling restrictions, Netanyahu said this morning that he was not going to talk to the EU. It is important that we do not import settlement goods, but, in the great scheme of the occupations, those are details. I can only quote from a recent article in The Guardian by Marwan Barghouti, who is a prisoner in Israel who wrote that

“the last day of occupation will be the first day of peace.”

That is what we should keep our eyes on—the fact that this is a country that has been occupied for many decades, and justice will never be achieved in Palestine until Israeli forces withdraw.

Finally, the Gulf is another issue that needs a whole debate in itself. The Government’s policy on it is just wrong. We support Saudi Arabia, where many barbaric things occur within the regime, and, indeed, Bahrain, where we are building a naval base, and the United Arab Emirates, all of which have appalling human rights records. Such matters cannot be airbrushed and they ought to be reviewed. Nowhere is that clearer than in what is currently happening in Yemen.

I believe that the Foreign Secretary is on the record as saying that the UK will support the Saudi-led coalition

“in every practical way short of engaging in combat.”

As Amnesty International has reported, that has meant a British-made Cruise missile being used in the coalition’s destruction of a ceramics factory, a civilian object, on 23 September in an apparent violation of international humanitarian law. The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, has said:

“Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years.”

Yemen’s is a forgotten war. It is a war in which the Saudi-led forces are creating havoc and committing humanitarian outrages daily. That is not to defend the Houthi and other forces, who are equally guilty of atrocities, but it is wrong that—for strategic, tactical or other reasons—the British Government are giving their unqualified support to what the coalition is doing. It is wrong that they are supporting a regime, such as the Bahraini regime in the Gulf, which oppresses the majority of its population and carries out torture and human rights abuses. While the Government are prepared to condemn such abuses in other countries, it appears they

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are not prepared to do so in the case of Gulf countries for historical or, indeed, diplomatic reasons, but I believe they should do so.

6.21 pm

Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) on securing this important and timely debate. I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I want to take this debate in a slightly different direction. Our role in the middle east must be to support countries that provide full rights to Christians and protect the rights of all minorities. We must challenge those who seek to persecute minorities for their religious beliefs and practices.

A century ago, Christians made up 20% of the population of the middle east, but this figure has dramatically fallen to 4%. Christians face prison sentences and executions for practising their religion in many countries across the middle east, where hatred of Christians is ignored or encouraged. Daesh is carrying out a campaign of persecution against minorities in the middle east. At least 5,000 Yazidis have been murdered in Iraq since August 2014, with the advance of Daesh forces who have declared Yazidis to be devil worshippers.

The rise of Daesh has intensified the persecution of Christians in the middle east. Countless Syrian and Iraqi Christians have been murdered with methods including crucifixions and beheadings. Daesh has evicted thousands of Chaldean and Assyrian Christians from their homes in Mosul, and in other areas they have demanded that Christians either convert or pay a tax for non-Muslims. They have destroyed countless churches and Christian shrines, and have carried out ethno-religious cleansing of Christian minorities.

Any Muslim who converts to Christianity is considered to have performed apostasy—the conscious abandonment of Islam. In certain parts of the middle east, this is a crime punishable by death. Christians live in a threatening atmosphere in many countries in the middle east, including Iran, where there were hopes that the treatment of minorities would improve under President Rouhani. Christians in Iran continue to be arbitrarily arrested and they face abuse in police custody.

Elsewhere in the middle east, Coptic churches have been burnt in Egypt in recent years. Hundreds of Christian Coptic girls have been kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam, as well as being victims of rape and forced marriage to Muslim men. There are no churches left in Afghanistan. In 2012, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia proclaimed that

“it is necessary to destroy all the churches of the region”.

Tom Tugendhat: I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s comments on the state of Christianity in the region. It is, after all, the crucible of Christianity, and where Jesus Christ himself emerged from the Aramaic communities of Syria, which have tragically been destroyed. There is, however, one glimmer of light—the United Arab Emirates, whose sheikhs have recently been building Christian churches. Is she planning to come on to that point?

Heather Wheeler: My hon. Friend has made the point superbly well already.

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Mrs Moon: During its visit to Iraq, the Defence Committee also went to Jordan. One of the things we were extremely pleased to hear from the King is that he has opened the Jordanian borders to all Christians. A large number of Christian refugees have been accepted there. That has caused him problems, but he is determined to accept them.

Heather Wheeler: I thank the hon. Lady very much for her intervention. Perhaps I should not call it a highlight of my first term in Parliament, but I had the great honour of meeting the King during my first five years in the House. He is the most amazing gentleman I have ever met, and I wish him God speed.

In stark contrast to such countries, the state of Israel remains committed to its declaration of independence pledge to

“ensure the complete equality of all its citizens irrespective of religion.”

Since Israel’s founding in 1948, its Christian population has increased a thousand-fold. Today, Christianity is practised by more than 160,000 Israeli citizens, and it is the largest religious community in Israel after those of the Jews and the Muslims. Israel is home to the holiest sites in Christianity, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, where Jesus was crucified and resurrected; the Room of the Last Supper and the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem; and the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel, where Jesus practised his ministry. Though Christians are exempt from military service, thousands have volunteered and have been sworn in on special New Testaments printed in Hebrew.

The level of freedom in Israel is remarkable when one considers the oppression and persecution faced by citizens in neighbouring countries, including those under the Palestinian Authority in the west bank and under the oppressive rule of Hamas in Gaza. In 1950, 15% of the population in the west bank was Christian in 1950; now, it is less than 2%. A generation ago, as many as 80% of Bethlehem’s population were Christian. This figure has now decreased to 10% owing, it is said, to land theft, intimidation and beatings.

We must continue to work together with Israel, a country that upholds the rights of minorities in this turbulent region and the only country in the middle east that shares our democratic values. I call on the Government to draw attention to the devastating decline in the Christian population in the middle east and to dissociate themselves from any countries that sanction minorities for their religious beliefs or ethnic origin.

6.27 pm

Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP): I wish you an excellent St Andrew’s day, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am aware of your very strong Gaelic connection.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for supporting this important debate, and the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) for his very comprehensive speech and for encouraging us to hold the debate. I declare an interest in that my husband previously served as a member of the UK armed forces.

Due to recent events, there has been much debate about the issues in the middle east and about what the UK’s role and approach should be, particularly in relation

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to extending air strikes to Syria. That was discussed at length on Thursday, when the Prime Minister delivered his statement. Although he is not pushing for a vote at this stage, he has indicated that he will do so and such a vote appears to be imminent. There is therefore an imperative need for continued debate, and this debate is extremely timeous. This is a serious and sensitive issue with significant and wide-ranging implications for our armed forces and their families, and for our response to the middle east. I do not want, during this serious debate or following its conclusion, to create more families, such as the Gentle family, who have gone through trauma.

There are concerns that extending air strikes to Syria may be ineffective, cost further human suffering and help to increase Daesh’s recruiting appeal. There appears to be consensus among many military experts of the area that there is likely to be little benefit from such action. It is recognised that a significant number of nations have already launched bombing campaigns in Syria, with the US’s campaign having gone on for approximately one year, so the suggestion that additional air strikes by the UK will make any significant difference appears unlikely.

Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP): Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating our First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, on her invitation to host an international women’s summit for peace in Syria? Does she agree that it is such peace negotiations that world leaders should be engaged in, rather than further bombing, which only stokes the fires of war?

Dr Cameron: I do congratulate the First Minister and emphasise that diplomacy is important.

Nick Witney, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, has highlighted the fact that:

“The year-long US air campaign against Islamic State…in Syria is now widely acknowledged to have had remarkably little impact—beyond strengthening that organisation’s narrative of oppression by ‘crusaders’, and therefore its recruiting appeal.”

That view is endorsed by Scottish Muslim groups, which highlight the fact that:

“As more innocent people die from the air strikes, the appeal of Daesh will strengthen.”

It is important to remember that many of the recent terrorist attacks that have triggered the consideration of air strikes have been carried out by individuals who were already living in the countries affected. Therefore, the domestic threat is unlikely to be addressed by air strikes.

The Foreign Affairs Committee report emphasised a number of key issues that required further explanation before the House was asked to approve a motion authorising military action. It highlighted important matters such as legality, ground troops and long-term strategies and consequences as being crucial to the success of any military action. The answers that have been provided by the Government to date have not been adequate in addressing those concerns.

Mr James Gray: The hon. Lady is making a very interesting point, but was she not here when the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee said that the seven points he had raised had been answered adequately by the Prime Minister in his statement and that he intended to support the Government’s call for strikes against Syria?

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Dr Cameron: I was here for the statement and I heard the Chairman of the Select Committee state those views. However, I do not believe that his views are held commensurately by all members of the Committee.

Ordinary citizens do not live apart from ISIS terrorists. Youths of over 14 years of age are reportedly conscribed. Those who are unable to flee are, in effect, human shields. They are not able to hide in the tunnels that are dug by ISIS to shelter its commanders.

Bombing is generally a prelude to the use of ground forces. We do not intend to send ground forces, but are relying on about 70,000 local fighters from the Free Syrian Army. Where do the Russian forces stand? Is this an effective ground forces strategy?

Will we be hitting Syria for political reasons, such as to show our strength as part of a coalition? It may be a fallacy that bombing will hasten a political settlement and prevent terrorist attacks here.

There are few Members in this House, if any, who do not want to see action that would swiftly degrade Daesh, but widespread concern remains on a number of fronts. The danger to civilian casualties may inflame anti-western feelings. What is the overall strategic aim of such action? How much bombing will be enough? What is our position on the longer-term outcome in Syria? Will engaging in air strikes reduce the risks here in the short or long term?

Although much of the focus has been on Syria, I briefly want to highlight other areas in the middle east, such as Yemen, where civilians are suffering the effects of civil war. It is important that the people there receive appropriate attention and assistance. Oxfam highlights the fact that, prior to the conflict in Yemen, millions of people were already experiencing poverty and hunger. Since the escalation of the war in March 2015, those issues have intensified. There have been more than 32,000 casualties and 5,700 fatalities. It is reported that approximately 82% of the population is in need of humanitarian aid. Although some of the support that the UK has provided appears to have had a positive impact, much more aid is needed for the civilians who have been affected and more diplomatic pressure needs to be exerted by our Government.

In conclusion, the UK needs to take a coherent approach across the middle east that links humanitarian, economic and diplomatic means. That appears to be lacking, as does a strategic long-term approach to the difficulties faced by the middle east to encourage stability at this time. We hope to work constructively across the House to ensure that the UK takes a progressive role in the middle east by engaging civic society, developing progressive policy and ensuring the survival of society in Syria and beyond. Questions remain to be answered and the solutions will be complex. A clear, long-term military strategy must be developed and presented fully to this House.

6.35 pm

Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) on bringing this important debate to the Chamber. I also commend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood). I have just returned from a trip to Iraq and Turkey as part of my work on the Foreign Affairs Committee and the teams in both

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places told me how engaged he was. I believe that he will be making his fourth visit to Iraq very soon. I want to put it on the record that our ambassadors in those places are doing a tremendous job. I hope to describe in detail some of the solutions in Iraq and Syria. I, too, highlight to the House my declarations in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

Britain has been deeply involved in the middle east for centuries. The region has occupied our diplomatic and cultural attention for decades. Those close links are the reason I stand here today. Britain was the haven of choice for my family when we fled Saddam in the 1970s.

Today, ISIL captures the news headlines, our nightmares and our imaginations, but it is just a symptom—a potentially fatal symptom—of a deep rift at the heart of the Muslim world. The rift has several parts at different layers and they all matter. For decades, a stricter, puritanical interpretation of Sunni Islam has proliferated across the region. Traditional and more enlightened forms have been rejected, leading to more aggression and intolerance. It has led to the spread of extremism when that interpretation has mixed with other social problems, such as unemployment, corruption and poverty, which are all too common in these countries.

The regional powers of Saudi Arabia and Iran are at a stand-off and undermine each other at every turn, their relationship poisoned by suspicion and fear. They risk tearing apart their neighbours by proxy. Syria and Iraq are vulnerable to that because of their origins as Ottoman provinces fitted together into new kingdoms by the victorious empires of the first world war.

Tom Tugendhat: Does my hon. Friend recognise that this is not the first time in the history of the middle east that countries have fought the genuine curse of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s interpretation of Islam, and that when the Ismaili dynasty of Egypt launched one of its great attacks on the Nejd province of Saudi Arabia in the 1800s, it was very much part of that evolution?

Nadhim Zahawi: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He is a great scholar and I look forward to his contribution to this debate and, I hope, to the debate on Wednesday.

In Iraq, a Sunni king who was installed to allow the British to dominate was replaced by a Sunni dictator. In Syria, a Shi’a ruling class was created to enable the French to rule. In both instances, it resulted in bitter divisions, as political oppression added to sectarian divide. That settlement, which was maintained only by fear and force, has completely collapsed in the wars.

As we have watched Syria torn apart by the civil war and Iraq stuck in political deadlock and threatened by ISIL’s invasion, it has become clear to us that a new settlement is needed. The one that the US began in 2003 is completely gone. The Iraqi Government that the coalition set up and the army it trained are hollowed out and militias provide much of the manpower against ISIL. Iran dominates politics in Iraq today. I commend the Foreign Secretary for the work that he has done to bring Iran in from the cold.

As we fight to end the war and restore peace, we must recognise that real peace—a peace that lasts and allows people to feel safe and get on with their lives—can only come from self-government, federalism and political reform. That is the aim and it is a noble one, but challenges

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stand in the way. Syrians and Iraqis may want strong representative Governments, but that may not be what Iran or Saudi Arabia want. That is not what all Shi’a, or indeed all Sunni, in Iraq want, and it is not what Assad and the Shi’a minority in Syria may want. Why? Because all they have ever known is rule by the strongest. Those who are not on top are under the thumb of whoever is on top. People see a protracted fight as preferable to letting down their guard in a compromise that they might not survive. That lesson has been scarred into the region by systematic killing right from the death throes of the Ottoman empire to the murderous regimes of Saddam Hussein and Hafiz and Bashar al-Assad. However, we are not passive on this matter, and it was made clear to me in Iraq last week that we can influence Baghdad—indeed, those who agree with us are crying out for more influence in Baghdad.

Rehman Chishti: My hon. Friend talks about influence in Baghdad, but does he agree that one of our failures was in supporting the Maliki Government who persecuted Sunnis and massacred Members of Parliament in Anbar province? That led to the creation of this monster—Daesh—which is now out of control.

Nadhim Zahawi: I thank my hon. Friend, and I am coming on to that point. He is right to point out the shortcomings of the Maliki Government. As I said, we are not passive, and right now the only game in town is Iran, whose Government may not want a strong Sunni region in Iraq, or a Sunni-dominated Syria. Prime Minister Abadi is an ally, and we must make it clear to him that if he can push back and convince Iran that there is a different way, and begin the project of rebuilding Iraq after the disastrous Maliki Government, we will be with him all the way. We can make it clear that we want devolution to Sunni regions of Iraq, and inclusion so that the Iraqi political project can become the vehicle for Sunni hope that it ought to be. If we give people that, ISIL is finished and none shall follow in its place; if we fail them, we have not seen the last of extremism and violence.

Syria is not different in needing that kind of settlement. Assad inherited a doomed regime from his father. He could have chosen dialogue in 2011, but instead he chose the cudgel. Rather than admit that he was finished, he lashed out at the protests, and bludgeoned his country into civil war. Assad’s barrel bombs, torture chambers and nerve gas mean that he and his family cannot continue to rule in Syria, and they cannot be given a part in any future Government. To do so would guarantee that this is a war without end.

However, there is a difference between Assad and the regime, and a distinction between Assad and the Alawites. It is not a binary choice between Assad’s regime and the terror of ISIL. The moderate rebels are vital to the future of the country, and any future Government with whom we can work. Russia will see that too, because President Putin does not want ISIL to control vast swathes of the country any more than we do. Russia’s Caucasus has a large Muslim population that is vulnerable to radicalisation and terrorism. Putin wishes to keep his bases and a presence in Syria, and he worries about the transition between Assad and the next Government. On that, his views are legitimate, and we have no wish to dismantle

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Syrian Government apparatus. We desperately want a secular Government in Damascus, and for minorities to be protected, and we do not wish to threaten Russia’s interests, presence or bases in western Syria. There is very real room for agreement. The political settlement that we eventually reach can include all things, and Russia can become our partner in influencing such a deal.

The rift between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims has existed for almost as long as the religion of Islam and it is not going away. However, we do not need it to go away to achieve peace; we are not trying to achieve agreement on everything, and we do not need to. People will always disagree about what is important in their life and how society should be governed—that is pluralism. What is important is resolving and compromising on matters within democratic and legal apparatus. That is the real aim and it can achieve a new political system in time. There are also partners for us to work with in those countries, and I met the American, German and Dutch teams. Our Prime Minister is right to say that we must extend our campaign to Syria to fight Daesh, and I will be supporting him on that.

6.44 pm

Roger Mullin (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (SNP): It is some years since I worked in the middle east, so what I am about to say is fashioned mainly from recent research that I have done, and that from the Commons Library. My short speech is not the one that I thought I would give. I had intended my speech to cover the broad sweep of the middle east, but given our debate thus far, perhaps it is better to leave that to another time and concentrate on the matter in hand, which is Syria.

For a long time I have had an interest—both professionally and in other ways—in the issue of capacity building in countries that have suffered from conflict, or that in some way need to rebuild their societies. I was particularly concerned the other day when I read this rather depressing comment from Manish Rai, who is editor of the geopolitical news agency, Viewsaround:

“Only time will tell who will win or lose this war. However, one thing is certain: Syria as a country has already lost the struggle for its survival. Perhaps in the future, coming generations will know through stories that a country once called Syria existed on the planet.”

Let us hope that his concerns and fears do not come to pass and that something can be done. The challenge facing any reconstruction is huge, and at times speakers in this debate have been rather glib in their expectations about what can readily and easily be done.

Let me recite a few of the facts that we know from United Nations agencies and others. The UN estimates that 8 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes, in addition to the 4 million who have fled their country—that is more than half of Syria’s entire pre-war population. According to the UN, 250,000 people have been killed, and half of those were civilians.

Stephen Gethins: Given those numbers, does my hon. Friend agree that we should pay tribute to the people of Jordan, Turkey and elsewhere in the region who are taking in so many refugees, and that the UK needs to help those countries by taking in more refugees?

Roger Mullin: I agree entirely, and in a Westminster Hall debate some weeks ago I argued that we must do more for the thousands upon thousands of orphaned

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children. It is estimated that 300 to 400 children have been captured by Daesh and put in camps to be trained as suicide bombers. Surely compassion compels us to do more for the most vulnerable in Syria at this time.

Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con): If ISIL is to remain in the middle east, and more and more people are purged from that putative state, surely by removing those people from the middle east whom ISIL does not want we will be serving its purposes.

Roger Mullin: My concern is about the most innocent and vulnerable people. Of course we want an end to terrorism in the middle east, and this House will have to address—perhaps in a couple of days—the best means of accomplishing that. I suspect that I will disagree with the hon. Gentleman, but in my short speech I hope to set out the scale of the challenge of rebuilding Syria, whenever that can start.

Rehman Chishti: In defeating this evil organisation, we must defeat its ideology, appeal and self-proclaimed legitimacy. We must join our ally France in using the correct terminology, and I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman and his party for doing that and for not linking this evil organisation to Islam, which has nothing to do with it. This organisation are evil scum and we must describe them as that.

Roger Mullin: They are indeed evil scum. I pay tribute to the many Members who call this scum by their proper name of Daesh. A few weeks ago, Members who did so were few in number, but now there are many more. All those who use the correct terminology in this debate deserve credit. The hon. Gentleman is correct: there are huge ideological and cultural challenges to overcome. I would like to say a few words, however, on the practical challenge relating to infrastructure.

It was estimated recently that the productive capacity of Syria has been so degraded that it is 80% less than it was before the war broke out four years ago. Some 37% of all hospitals in Syria have been completely destroyed and a further 20% are so degraded they are unable to provide anything like the kind of service they provided in the past. There has been a significant destruction of health, education, transport, water, sanitation and energy infrastructure. Indeed, it has reached the stage where some commentators estimate that if the war were to end today and Syria embarked immediately on 5% economic growth—that is highly unlikely—it would take 30 years to return to the economic situation it was in in 2010.

In addition to the destruction of infrastructure, there is the difficulty we will have in entering the area to start to rebuild it. I am the chairman of the all-party group on explosive weapons and I have carried out some investigations into that situation in Syria. As well as the degradation of infrastructure, the Syrian Government have been using both anti-personnel mines, manufactured in Russia, and cluster munitions. Both are deemed illegal under the Ottawa convention. Daesh uses both cluster munitions and improvised explosive devices as landmines. This build-up of the huge detritus of war will have to be cleared before any real development can take place. There is currently no mine action programme in Syria to remove any of it. This is understandable, given that the conflict is still under way. In fact, the situation is so unusual that non-state parties—terrorist groups—have been known

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to dig up landmines from Israeli minefields along the Golan Heights and attempt to reuse them for their own purposes. The number of victims of explosive weapons, predominantly civilians, is already huge. The conflict in the Falklands 33 years ago was relatively small, yet the UK has still not fully cleared all the landmines from the Falkland Islands. I say that not to condemn the United Kingdom, but to think about the challenge facing Syria given the state of destruction that has already taken place.

Mrs Moon: I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I have visited the Falkland Islands many times. The problem the Falkland islanders have is that the mines have sunk into peat. It would be more difficult and destructive to remove the mines than to leave them there.

Roger Mullin: I accept that that is true in some regard. However, a UK Government programme is still under way and money is still being spent to encourage further clearance, so it seems the UK Government do not accept that that is the situation in every case. In any case, I make the point to highlight the fact that we will face a huge challenge in Syria. It is one that this House would do well to address.

6.54 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Tobias Ellwood): I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) for securing this timely debate on the middle east and north Africa. It is my usual manner to try to respond to those who have spoken. I am aware, however, of the time constraints and the desire to have further Back-Bench contributions. If I may, I will write to colleagues on the questions they have raised.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell invited us to recognise Britain’s historical relationship with this complex part of the world. That is wise advice. Seeking solutions to today’s challenges must be done through the prism of understanding the peoples and their history. It is fair to say that the fertile lands found between the Nile, the Jordan and the Tigris-Euphrates rivers formed the umbilical cords of the area we now call the cradle of civilisation. Many of the foundation stones of modern humanity come from this part of the world: basic laws, agricultural techniques, the alphabet, the wheel, and, of course, the three monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

An impressive number of tribes, religious groupings and communities huddled around those sparse water resources and coastlines, subject to the waxing and waning of a series of empires and dynasties: the Sumerian empire and the Hittite, Assyrian, Egyptian, Babylonian, Phoenician and Persian dynasties. The region experienced 8,000 years of societal development, wars, culture and governance before the first stitch of the Bayeux tapestry was made.

Tom Tugendhat: The Minister is making some excellent points. We talk very often about cyber-terrorism. Al-Khwarizmi wrote his book on algebra, explaining the correlation of numbers, before the Bayeux tapestry even existed. Indeed, he wrote it before there was a King of England: Ethelbert was the King of Kent, and there was no Duncan and no kingdom of Scotland.

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Mr Ellwood: My hon. Friend underlines my point about the history.

This is a proud and fragmented part of the world. Through the eventual expansion of our own empire, we have come to know it so well. It was through our treaties, alliances and, yes, our wars that we were able to trade and to develop an intricate knowledge of, and relationship with, much of the middle east, which is still evident today. From the 1820 Trucial States treaty with the Gulf kingdoms, the so-called veiled protectorate rule of Egypt, the San Remo conference and the Balfour declaration, Britain’s history, for better or worse, is deeply intertwined and inextricably linked with the security, economy, governance and, in some cases, the very creation of states across the region.

Forgive the history lesson, but it is only through this backdrop that we can fully appreciate the complexity of the region and the expectation that, as one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the world’s leading soft power and with such strong ties to the region, we should be at the forefront of efforts to increase security and safeguard prosperity.

Mrs Moon: I know how diligent the Minister has been in getting to understand the region, and in visiting and talking to the people there. Does he not recognise, however, that one of the major problems our country faces is the hollowing out of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office? Increasingly, there is a lack of understanding of the history, culture, politics, alliances, aspirations and personalities in the region.

Mr Ellwood: One week ago, the hon. Lady could have made a powerful case for that, but I am pleased to say that the spending review confirmed Britain’s and the Government’s commitment to making sure that we have the money to continue our diplomatic contacts.

Our desire to be at the forefront in the middle east was reflected in last week’s strategic defence and security review, where the commitment to building a more secure, stable and prosperous middle east and north Africa region was underlined. In an increasingly globalised world, and as a country open to international business, we understand that our economic security goes hand in hand with our national security. We therefore invest in protecting and projecting our influence and values.

Today, UK trade with the middle east and north Africa is worth £35 billion a year. For example, 4,000 UK companies are based in the Emirates; Britain is the largest direct foreign investor in Egypt; Qatar invests £30 billion of its sovereign wealth funds in the UK; in Oman, BP is building the largest onshore gas project in the world; our exports to Kuwait are up 12% on last year; and in Israel, the Prime Minister has launched a thriving bilateral active technology community hub. Such strong relationships create the trust that allows us to raise issues such as human rights, the rule of law and other aspects of justice, and to have these frank conversations.

Oliver Dowden (Hertsmere) (Con): I know that my hon. Friend is familiar with the case of my constituent’s father, Mr Kamal Foroughi, who is imprisoned in Iran. Does he think that our improving relationship with Iran will allow us to better make the humanitarian case for his release?

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Mr Ellwood: I think we are having a meeting about this next week. The fact that we now have a dialogue with Iran makes it easier for us to deal with these consular matters, and I look forward to doing my best to assist my hon. Friend and his constituent.

Sadly, although there are reasons to be positive, many countries in the region remain afflicted by violence and instability. Yemen was labelled as the forgotten war by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter). In that country, the Houthi advance against President Hadi’s legitimate Government has had catastrophic humanitarian consequences. Some 80% of the population are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, and so far the UK has pledged £75 million of support. We welcome the crucial role that the Saudi Arabian-led coalition is playing, but these military gains must be translated into progress on a political track and a ceasefire agreement.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I am grateful to the Minister for mentioning Yemen, which should not be forgotten when discussing the middle east. What success has he had in persuading the Saudis to ease the bombing campaign, which is causing so many problems for local Yemenis?

Mr Ellwood: First, may I acknowledge the right hon. Gentleman’s commitment to the country as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Yemen? We are aware of reports of breaches of international humanitarian law. We have raised them with the Saudi Government and received repeated assurances of compliance, but we will continue to engage on this issue.

In Libya, delays on both sides in confirming a government of national accord are allowing extremist groups to take advantage of the vacuum and to gain traction, as has been mentioned by hon. Members, but progress has been made. I recently met Prime Minister-designate Sarraj in Tunis, and we very much support UN envoy Martin Kobler as he calls on Libyan delegations to confirm their commitment to the implementation of the political agreement.

Daniel Kawczynski: My hon. Friend will share my tremendous frustration that a government of national unity in Libya has proved so allusive. In the interregnum, until we have secured that government, do we recognise the Tobruk government as the official government of that country?

Mr Ellwood: I was involved in speaking to members of delegations on both sides at the UN General Assembly, and we remain focused on securing that government of national accord. We are working hard with the UN envoy, and Jonathan Powell is also involved.

On the middle east peace process, we all know that there is an urgent need to create the conditions for a resumption of talks leading to a long-term peace agreement and a two-state solution. I condemn the appalling murders of innocent people in recent weeks, and the Foreign Secretary and I have called on all sides to restore calm and improve the situation on the ground.

The signing of the nuclear deal with Iran is welcome, but I share others’ concerns about Iran’s de-stabilising activity in the middle east. Many of our partners in the region share this view. There remain numerous issues on which we disagree with Iran, such as its support for the

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Assad regime, but none the less it has influence in the region so we need to engage with it on these difficult issues.

Stephen Gethins: Can the Minister update us on when we might expect a vote on air strikes being extended to Syria and when we might see a copy of the motion, as called for by my right hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Angus Robertson)?

Mr Ellwood: I hear the words of the hon. Gentleman, who places his concerns on the record, but I seek your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker. I want to take interventions, but I am conscious that I am eating up not only my time but that of Back Benchers. If I may, therefore, I will try to make some important progress.

I turn now to the substance of the debate: the Government’s strategy to defeat ISIL. Last Thursday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister comprehensively outlined the threat posed by ISIL—or Daesh, as it is known in the region—and what more Britain could do following UN Security Council resolution 2249, which calls on member states to use all necessary measures to prevent and suppress the terrorist acts of Daesh and other designated terrorist groups.

As colleagues make their own assessments, I thought it would be helpful to outline the strategy adopted by the 65-strong coalition against Daesh in Iraq. First, there is the military component. In September 2014, swift action by the coalition, in conjunction with the Iraqi forces, contained Daesh’s advance and prevented the fall of Baghdad, Irbil and Kirkuk, and to date 30% of the territory Daesh once controlled in Iraq has been retaken, including the cities of Kirkuk, Baiji and, most recently, Sinjar. It is critical that indigenous forces liberate their own territory, so that they can take ownership of its long-term security. Training these forces will take time, but the cities of Mosul and Ramadi will eventually be liberated, which will be a significant milestone towards ridding Iraq of Daesh.

The second strand is humanitarian and stabilisation support. The coalition works closely with international organisations and Iraqi security forces to ensure that liberated communities are given the services they need as rapidly as possible. We also support the Iraqi Government on important developments, such as the long-awaited but sadly delayed de-Ba’athification and national guard laws, which will give the Sunni population a greater stake in their country.

The third strand is stemming the flow of foreign fighters. As we degrade Daesh on the battlefield, we must cut off the flow of new recruits, including foreign fighters. The fourth strand is cutting the financial support to Daesh. The coalition is working hard to squeeze Daesh’s finances, and a counter-financing action plan has been put in place to identify and freeze donors’ accounts, deny Daesh access to international financial systems and, through UN resolutions, prohibit the sale of oil and antiquities.

The final pillar of the coalition’s strategy is strategic communications. We must debunk the ideology of Daesh and work in partnership with our allies and civil society in the region to counter the extremist doctrine. Critical to this is defeating the laptop terrorists by denying this poisonous ideology a global audience via social media and the dark net. Here, too, Britain is playing a leading role in co-chairing the strategic communications working group.

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As the Prime Minister said on Thursday, military action and the extension of UK air strikes to Syria should be seen not in isolation but as part of a coherent strategy that includes our counter-extremism strategy, the diplomatic and political process under way, and a comprehensive humanitarian and stabilisation package for post-conflict reconstruction. I am delighted to tell the House that in February the UK will be hosting a senior-level summit to discuss how the international community can best assist the people of Syria in humanitarian support and stabilisation.

Extending UK air strikes will have a qualitative and quantitative impact on ISIL/Daesh. On a tactical level, they will allow full targeting of an adversary across a border that they themselves do not honour or recognise. Operationally, we will bring exceptional capability to the table in the form of the Brimstone missile system, which can accurately take out targets travelling at speed with low collateral damage. Strategically, it will make a material contribution to Daesh’s defeat in Iraq by impeding supply lines and thereby hastening the fall of Mosul and Ramadi. It will also apply greater kinetic pressure to the headquarters from which Daesh co-ordinates its activities. It will give hope to the majority of people living in Raqqa who live under duress and constant fear, who want to be liberated but not by Assad. As the Prime Minister said, while air strikes will impede the ability of Daesh to operate freely in the short term, it will be destroyed only through the political process and the ability of all Syrians to have a say in their future.

The recent meetings of the international Syria support group in Vienna brought together for the first time the key international stakeholders, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United States, France and Turkey. There is now a common vision of what is needed to end the war, stabilise the region and help the Syrian people. Military chiefs, politicians and the public rightly ask what success looks like in order to avoid lengthy and costly campaigns. That is why the Prime Minister has articulated a wider strategy in which military action is just one element.

Let me make it clear that I am just as concerned by the mission creep of Daesh itself. No longer is it focused on its so-called caliphate, as it is extending its poisonous ideology in other ungoverned and fragile spaces such as Libya, the Sinai and north-eastern Nigeria. Its mission creep inspires extremists further afield, including those in Tunisia, who killed 30 innocent British holidaymakers on the beach.

Carol Monaghan (Glasgow North West) (SNP): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Ellwood: I will not, I am afraid.

That mission creep is the changing of tactics directly to attack western targets, as we saw in the recent tragedy in Paris and beyond with the bombing of the Russian holidaymakers flying home from Egypt. This cannot go unchecked. That is why Britain must act.