Ms Ritchie: The SDLP wants the best possible implementation of the Stormont House agreement for all the citizens of Northern Ireland. In fact, in February in the Assembly, it was the SDLP which tabled numerous

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amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill. The DUP and Sinn Féin refused to support the measures. They voted down amendments that would have improved the Bill. We were able to give the Minister—




In many instances, the amendments were cost-neutral.

Mark Durkan: The Minister said that they were cost-neutral.

Ms Ritchie: Yes, that is right.

On another aspect of the issue, Northern Ireland needs to move into a shared future that fosters tolerance and respect across the entire island. We cannot do so if we do not confront our past. The north’s past will not simply be dealt with through the passing of time. The SDLP is not happy with the proposed legislation on the past, because we believe that it is an impediment to dealing with those issues and the recovery of truth and accountability. In my constituency, six innocent men were murdered in Loughinisland in County Down on 18 June 1994. We are still waiting on information regarding the truth; we are still waiting on justice. Above all, we are waiting to find out who perpetrated those murders and why they were perpetrated. Was there state involvement and was there involvement by the Royal Ulster Constabulary? We need to find out, which is why it is crucial that the Bill dealing with the past addresses those issues.

I am in absolutely no doubt, nor is my party, that Northern Ireland has considerable economic potential. We need a rebalancing of the economy, and we need balanced regional development. There is an opportunity for reconciliation, which must deal with the past and the situation of our current citizenry, so to speak, so that we can deal with the future. We must have a prosperous future, and we must be able to unite the people of the island of Ireland in terms of a reconciled future.

9.33 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): It is 10 years since the IRA was supposed to decommission its weapons, 10 years since the IRA was to disband its military operations, and 10 years since a party now at the heart of the Northern Ireland Executive began its transition to a party that was, at least so it said, committed to exclusively peaceful means. Ten years on, we have murder on the streets of Northern Ireland and it is that supposedly decommissioned, supposedly disbanded terror group that is once again making the headlines and putting Northern Ireland in the news for the wrong reasons.

We are holding this debate because armed terrorists carried out executions on the streets of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. If this were any other part of the United Kingdom there would be a national outcry. Just how many lies have been told? How many more lies are we expected to believe? We were told the IRA had gone away and had left the stage. It was described as withering away by none other than the Independent Monitoring Commission. Do we believe Bobby Storey when he says that the IRA has disappeared into the air like a butterfly? Cassius Clay said that he floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee. When the IRA stings, people die. That is the difference. Do we believe Bobby Storey or do we believe the IMC? Do we believe the assessment of the IRA by

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the Chief Constable of the PSNI or do we believe that political colossus, Gerry “I was never in the IRA” Adams? Who do we believe?

Is it any wonder that Stormont is in crisis when the largest nationalist party cannot tell its partners in government the truth about its supposedly former terror wing? We cannot expect simply to brush all this under the carpet. After all the hurt, pain, suffering and death that the IRA caused, it is beyond an outrage that Sinn Féin cannot understand the angst not just in the Unionist community, but throughout the Province. Up and down Northern Ireland, normal hard-working families are worried—worried for the future, worried that terror is back on the streets, worried that they cannot trust those at the heart of our Executive and worried that it will affect them.

Mr Gregory Campbell: Does my hon. Friend agree that last week we saw an opportunity for the police to recruit from all communities across Northern Ireland, but that in some cases terror was manifested and threats were made? This weekend, there is one of the delayed recruitment procedures in the north-west of Northern Ireland, which offers an opportunity to politicians, trade unionists and the wider communities to stand united in opposing terror and ensuring that everybody across the community can join up with the police to ensure that terrorism never wins.

Jim Shannon: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He covered my next point. Over a weekend when the PSNI tried to recruit across the whole of Northern Ireland, there were threats and bomb hoaxes. That may be the future that some republicans want to see, but we do not want it.

If Sinn Féin is willing to hide from the truth on this issue—an issue so close to home for many people across our United Kingdom—one must ask what else it is hiding. If Northern Ireland is truly to enjoy a new era and a true process of reconciliation, it is time for republicans to step up to the plate and start taking their responsibilities seriously.

The hon. Member for South Antrim (Danny Kinahan) referred to the elephant in the room. It very clearly is in the room.

Northern Ireland deserves better than this. After all that we have been through, I implore the House to support those who are rooting out the scourge of terrorism within our society so that Northern Ireland can enjoy the true peace and stability it so deserves.

Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP) rose—

Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP) rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. If I am to call the remaining two speakers, they must each be brief because I want to hear the winding-up speeches from the Front Benches as well. If they could speak without interventions, that would help the House.

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9.37 pm

Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP): I am happy with the ruling that I should not take any interventions.

Had you been here earlier, Mr Speaker, you would have heard a number of contributions that could best be described as jaundiced, if not entirely negative. I am pleased that the debate is not entitled the political “crisis” in Stormont, but the political “situation”. I was pleased to support the hon. Member for South Antrim (Danny Kinahan) in his request for this Back-Bench debate and I believe that it has been important. Aside from the jaundiced contributions, there have been a number of encouraging contributions.

I always like to believe that the glass is half full and there are reasons for optimism. It is important that we will receive an analysis this week of the situation that paramilitary organisations find themselves in and of the operations that they may or may not have been involved in, and that we will hear at first hand an independent assessment of what we should believe and what the threats are to Northern Ireland.

The hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) referred to the state of play in the Northern Ireland Executive. Members may well be aware that one member of the Executive resigned, not for any principled reason, but entirely for political opportunism. Few people in Northern Ireland recall who that individual was, never mind what was achieved.

There is a clamouring in Northern Ireland for our Executive Ministers to get back to their jobs full time. Irrespective of how disappointed people are about how things have progressed over the past few weeks, they want devolution to work. They want Stormont to succeed and they want to see delivery in Northern Ireland, as in the rest of the UK. That is hugely important. We want to be back in our places in Stormont castle and in the Assembly.

We know what needs to change, and last week I was encouraged when the Deputy First Minister seemed to herald a shift in his position. That has been described as a preparing of the ground for a U-turn by Sinn Féin on welfare reform, and if that is right it is to be welcomed. It is disappointing the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) has not taken the same view and still stands over the intransigence on welfare reform.

On criminality—the Minister will wish to respond to this—we need to get away from all those who have held us back in Northern Ireland, and from those who currently pillage and persecute their own communities and hold our community back. The Minister knows that he has our full support on that, whether on the Northern Ireland side of the border, in the Republic of Ireland, or internationally. Such positivity should not be misplaced and absent from this debate, and we look forward to a resolution to the current impasse.

9.40 pm

Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP): Like many others, I have been concerned about recent developments in Northern Ireland. Paramilitary activity has no place in society, and it is right that the Secretary of State has called for an independent review to assess the status of paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland. I hope that that review will facilitate the talks that ensue.

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It would be a travesty if Northern Ireland were to return to direct Westminster rule. Such a regressive step would be a hammer blow to the peace process, and could effectively mark the failure of the Good Friday agreement—a deal that was agreed by a majority of citizens in Ireland, north and south, and by the UK and Irish Governments. Peace has been a rocky road in Northern Ireland, and I acknowledge the work of a great many individuals in ensuring that it has lasted.

I am deeply concerned that the peace process does not appear to have been handled as sensitively as it ought to have been in recent years. Failure to find consensus on key areas such as dealing with the past, and external factors such as imposed austerity, are seriously hindering progress. The latter point is a key concern of mine because, as an anti-austerity politician, I find it alarming that such matters are impeding the peace process.

Northern Ireland has real and ongoing issues that are directly attributable to the legacy of the troubles. The situation is deeply complex, and the legacy of the troubles has left long-lasting socioeconomic problems. Northern Irish constituencies, although few in number, regularly sit atop the UK’s unemployment charts. Last month’s figures show that three of the Province’s 18 constituencies are also included in the five highest out-of-work benefit claimant rates per percentage of economically active population. There are generational issues and, not coincidentally, those three constituencies top the tables for unemployment among 18 to 24-year-olds—an age group too young to remember the actual troubles. Those are serious issues, and the root causes need to be addressed as part of the peace process.

The bedroom tax has caused misery for millions across the UK, and real damage to the governance of Northern Ireland. Although the Scottish Government protected citizens from that cruel levy, it has caused chaos over the water. It has not been easy, but the Holyrood Administration have done a commendable job of protecting the most vulnerable. At Stormont, however, the power-sharing Executive have been unable to reach a consensus and have repeatedly been thrown into turmoil on that key issue.

I hope that I am not a lone voice of common sense when I state my bemusement that Tory welfare reform is even being mentioned in relation to the peace process. It is clear that the Stormont House talks did not effectively resolve those issues in the way that they were meant to. Although it is not my place to comment on or dictate the nature of talks, agreements or resulting legislation, I hope to see progress and consensus on key issues. I am eager to see a positive outcome to the current talks, and I truly hope, for the sake of all those living in Northern Ireland and the decades-long peace process, that a lasting resolution can be found.

Mr Speaker: Order. We are extremely grateful to the hon. Lady. Unfortunately there will not be time for a Back-Bench winding-up speech. The opening contribution was substantial, for which we are grateful, but we now need to wind up the debate with the Front-Bench speeches.

9.44 pm

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): I congratulate all those who have spoken this evening. Last time I spoke from the Dispatch Box on Northern Ireland

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matters I was able, proudly, to congratulate Kyle Lafferty on scoring the goal that took Northern Ireland forward. Tonight, it would be wrong and remiss if I were not to mention Josh Magennis and Steven Davis, as well as Michael O’Neill and everyone at the Irish Football Association. They should be proud of their achievement. I am sure this House will be supporting the green and white army in France next year.

It is important to put on the record the position of the Opposition. There has been much welcome regarding the return of my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), and we welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) to the team. There has been no change in the policy of the Labour party with regard to Northern Ireland. We reiterate, on the record, the bipartisan approach. It is vital that we place on record our unwavering commitment to the people of Northern Ireland and to the rule of law, and to reiterate the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling at the Labour party conference when he made it clear that we are fully supportive of the principle of consent as expressed in the Good Friday agreement and subsequent agreements.

We have heard some first-class speeches tonight. For anyone who has talked about negativism, I have to say that I have heard knowledge and I have heard people speaking from the perspective of experience. The hon. Member for South Antrim (Danny Kinahan), who secured the debate, should be given credit. He referred at one stage to a “dysfunctional quagmire”, a dramatic expression that will no doubt enter the parliamentary lexicon. It is not one I have heard before. He may be expressing his own personal concerns and fears, but there is, of course, much more to this debate than that.

We have heard from so many Members about the difficulty of moving forward from the past. None has made the case more dramatically than the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds). On 30 July 1990, Ian Gow was killed. Twenty five years have passed since then. The three new commemorative shields over the door to the Aye Lobby will not have escaped the notice of the House. They represent not just Major Charles Lyell, who was the Member of Parliament for Edinburgh South, but Captain Dr John Joseph Esmonde, who was the Member for North Tipperary and the famous Lieutenant Tom Kettle, that great poet from East Tyrone.

The past is all around us. The past is everywhere. We cannot ignore the past, but we have to move forward. One statement we heard tonight shows us how we are still facing terrible problems. The right hon. Member for Belfast North referred to Garda Anthony Golden, who was killed this week. Let us not forget that Garda Golden was the father of three young children. They no longer have a father. What we are talking about here tonight is not some abstract matter. This is not some political game or constitutional discussion. This really is a matter of life and death. It was rightly said that it is much more important that we talk about these issues here and in Stormont than resort to the alternative.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis) said that he might be rusty. I think the House owes my hon. Friend thanks and gratitude for his work from the Opposition Front Bench. He was not rusty. As ever, he was incisive. He was as sharp as a razor and absolutely to the point. We have much to learn from him and from the positivity he expressed.

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In addition to trade unions, my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) mentioned Washington. We should refer in these debates to the role of Dublin and the Irish Government, as well as Washington. We need all the friends we can get in resolving these matters. They have proven to be good friends.

Let us not forget the comments made by the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster). He talked about the future, not the past. That is so important: let that be the key factor. Above all, the hon. Member for South Antrim brought this debate to the House not in a mood of despair, but, as far as I could see, in a mood of optimism. I hope we can resolve these issues.

I would like to put a couple of points to the Minister. The first is on the issue of welfare reform. The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) raised these points. As he will know, Northern Ireland is not like any other part of the UK. We who have not lived through them cannot understand the effect of those traumatic and horrifying acts of terrorism and bloodshed. The post-traumatic stress and other mental health illnesses that blight and curse that community are beyond the imagination and experience of many of us on this side of the water. Does the Minister share the concerns on this side of the House that further reductions to services as a result of welfare reform threaten to enhance the cycle of generational problems of worklessness? What assistance will the Government be offering to ensure that mental health support services in particular are protected?

I reiterate the Opposition’s support for the Stormont House talks, but I would be grateful if the Minister could update the House on the response he has received from the various political parties regarding the proposed legislation. Why is the implementation and reconciliation group referred to not included in the legislation? Finally, what progress is being made with the talks?

I could say more—we could all say more—but I will conclude by thanking, as I think we all do, the hon. Member for South Antrim, not just for bringing this debate, but for the conciliatory, gentle, positive and hopeful way in which he did so. He referred to the greatness of the people of Northern Ireland. We all agree with that. I hope that now is the time for the people of Northern Ireland to prove that they are not just a great people with a great past, but a great people with a great present and future. That future is ours to seize. Let us do it.

9.51 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr Ben Wallace): Before I start, may I add my and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s condolences to the family of Garda Office Anthony Golden? Whatever side of the Northern Ireland border one lives, we all support the PSNI and the Garda in the work they do every day, putting themselves at risk trying to keep people safe. The loss of Officer Golden’s life is truly a tragedy brought about by people who still stick to the path of violence. May I also make a brief apology for my right hon. Friend not being here? She is, of course, in Northern Ireland involved in the talks process.

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This all started last December, when, after an 11-week period, the Stormont House agreement was brought about. It was designed to make a more prosperous, stable and secure Northern Ireland and to ensure that all the problems that had arisen since the Belfast agreement were put behind us, and we underpinned it with a generous settlement of £2 billion. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) that there is no more money. We funded the deal and put together the £2 billion package last year, and there is no open chequebook. The option is clear: to implement in full the Stormont House agreement. It is regrettable, therefore, that this year Sinn Féin decided to break the agreement. Had it not, I think that Stormont House would still be operating and on the path to producing a more prosperous and better Northern Ireland.

For the sake of people in Northern Ireland, however, we cannot allow a non-functioning Stormont to continue, which is why my right hon. Friend convened the talks—to try to work through the impasse. The Government and many other parties have stuck to their part of the Stormont House agreement. We have paved the way for corporation tax legislation at Stormont to allow flexibility and reduced levels to be put in place to encourage the desperately needed businesses to grow, and we are on the cusp of introducing legislation to deal with the legacy of the past. I can assure the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) that nothing in the proposed legislation will prevent her from finding out the truth of what happened to her constituent or justice from being served on the perpetrators, if they are identified.

We have also rolled out and started the process of that £2 billion package: the voluntary exit scheme for civil servants, the £150 million to deal with the legacies of the past and the £350 million towards the economic pact, but unfortunately welfare reform seems to be the sticking point. The hon. Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis) could not have put it better. Whatever one’s position on welfare and my Government’s welfare policy, it needed to be implemented. I say to the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) that it was something that the parties signed up to in December last year. It is simply part of the politics we have to face and implement. Yes, we have allowed flexibilities—flexibilities that the constituents of the hon. Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis) in Lancashire and I do not have. We have allowed flexibilities for Northern Ireland with its generous block grant to make accommodation for the troubles and their impact. It is important to see this through.

We cannot overlook the brutal murders that took place this year, culminating in the murder of Mr McGuigan in the Short Strand. Let me make it absolutely clear that there is no place in Northern Ireland or the rest of the United Kingdom for the paramilitaries or the existence of paramilitary organisations. This Government will fully support the investigation of the PSNI no matter where it leads. We will not interfere with it; we will only support what the Chief Constable of the PSNI does with his operational freedom to pursue justice. That is no more and no less than we should expect.

I support the Justice Minister in the devolved institution, Mr Ford, on his work with the organised crime task force. He is making progress. Only a few weekends ago, we had a successful search, arrest and charging of an individual linked to republican terrorism in west Belfast. I say to the hon. Member for South Antrim

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(Danny Kinahan) that we are making progress in bringing people to justice. With explosives taken off the street, they will not be available to cause harm to, and murder, people as they go about their business. The aim of all this is to bring violence and the men of violence to an end.

As for the contributions, I think that the hon. Member for South Antrim should not have apologised for bringing this debate. We should have more debates on Northern Ireland: it would give me more practice, but I am also delighted that Members of all parties have so fully engaged in the debate.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) focused on action, and I totally agree that we must take action to ensure that Stormont continues. My first time in politics was in the Scottish Parliament. I saw what a working Scottish Parliament can do for the people of Scotland. I would say that a working Stormont is the best path to peace and also the best path to prosperity. We should not let obstacles bring that institution down. If that means tough decisions being taken here, we might have to do that. I hope that the Scottish National party would not rule that out unconditionally.

To my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley, I repeat that there is no more money. The right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) made a valid point, however, and I welcome his support for the full implementation of the Stormont House agreement. The point is to see this agreement through—the agreement signed and sealed in December last year.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) talked about his experiences of Northern Ireland and the chaos and murder that were brought to the mainland of the United Kingdom. We should not forget that the IRA blew up people going about their business shopping, including children and families in this country, in Northern Ireland and all around Europe. We should not forget that when we ask people to condemn the actions taken in the past.

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I think the hon. Member for Bury South demonstrated why he deserved to be the shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. His speech spoke very much about him being a mature politician who delivered what the UK Government should be delivering for Northern Ireland—a bipartisan approach, neutral to the extent of not favouring one party or the other, but focusing on the issue of consent and trying to move forward to the future rather than dwelling on the past.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) asked how long have we got. The money is running out; there is no magic money tree. We have gone as long as people will want to tolerate withdrawal of their services, as hospitals go into crisis and education is not able to function in Northern Ireland. We have as long as it takes, but my view is that the people of Northern Ireland will not tolerate it much longer—and neither should the parties of Northern Ireland.

The prize is great; the prize is in front of us. Northern Ireland is an exciting, confident place—better than when I was there in the ’90s. If we can resolve this Stormont House impasse, I think Northern Ireland will go from strength to strength—like its football team and the Irish rugby team.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the political situation in Stormont.

Business without Debate

Regulatory Reform


That Andrew Bridgen, Richard Fuller, Rebecca Harris, Simon Hoare, Dr Rupa Huq, Imran Hussain, Rob Marris, Mr Michael Meacher, Wendy Morton, Roger Mullin, Andrew Percy, Christopher Pincher, Jeremy Quin and Mr Andrew Smith be members of the Regulatory Reform Committee.—(Bill Wiggin, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.)

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Civilians in Syria

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Julian Smith.)

10 pm

Jo Cox (Batley and Spen) (Lab): Every decade or so, the world is tested by a crisis so grave that it breaks the mould: one so horrific and inhumane that the response of politicians to it becomes emblematic of their generation —their moral leadership or cowardice, their resolution or incompetence. It is how history judges us. We have been tested by the second world war, the genocide in Rwanda and the slaughter in Bosnia, and I believe that Syria is our generation’s test. Will we step up to play our part in stopping the abject horror of the Syrian civil war and the spread of the modern-day fascism of ISIS, or will we step to one side, say that it is too complicated, and leave Iran, Russia, Assad and ISIS to turn the country into a graveyard? Whatever we decide will stay with us for ever, and I ask that each of us take that responsibility personally.

To date, neither side of the House has a record to be proud of. Let me start with my party. One of the reasons it is such an honour to be standing on this side of the House is the deep, deep pride that I have in Labour’s internationalist past. It is pride in the thousands of people from our movement who volunteered to fight tyranny alongside their fellow socialists and trade unionists in the Spanish civil war; pride in the leaders of our party—and Robin Cook in particular—who demanded action to stop the slaughter of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica and elsewhere, in the face of outrageous intransigence from the then Conservative Government; and pride in the action we led in government to save countless lives in Kosovo and Sierra Leone. In recent years, however, that internationalism has first been distorted, and now risks being jettisoned altogether.

My heart sank as I watched in 2013 when, following President Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians, we first voted against a military response and then supported taking military options off the table. Responsibility for the mishandling of that critical vote, which had such far-reaching international implications, falls principally on the Government, but we on these Benches carry some culpability for letting Assad ride roughshod and unchallenged across what should have been a sacrosanct red line. As a result, the international community lost all credibility in our subsequent efforts to stem the spread of, and the suffering in, this horrific civil war. Indeed, our failure to intervene to protect civilians left Assad at liberty to escalate both the scale and the ferocity of his attacks on innocent Syrians in a desperate attempt to cling to power.

I understand, of course, where our reticence comes from. It comes from perhaps the darkest chapter in Labour’s history, when we led this country to war in Iraq. Many Members in all parts of the House have been scarred by that experience, and understandably so; but let us all be clear about the fact that Syria is not Iraq. I opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning because I believed that the risk to civilian lives was too high, and their protection was never the central objective. I knew, as we all knew, that President George Bush was motivated not by the need to protect civilians, but by supposed weapons of mass destruction and a misguided view of the United States’ strategic interest.

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I marched against that war, and have marched against many others in my time. Indeed, before I joined the House I was an aid worker for a decade with Oxfam. I have seen at first hand the horror of war and its brutal impact on civilian populations. I have met 10-year-old former child soldiers with memories that no child should have to live with. I have sat down with Afghan elders with battle-weary eyes. I have held the hands of Darfuri women, gang-raped because no one was there to protect them. From that experience, alongside a horror of conflict, I have the knowledge that there are times when the only way to protect civilians requires military force. I might wish that it were not so, but it is. That is why I firmly believe that the Labour Government were right to champion the adoption, in 2005, of a landmark global commitment to the best and most fundamental of our human ideals: the responsibility to protect civilians. I still firmly believe that a legitimate case can be made for intervention on humanitarian grounds when a Government are manifestly unwilling or unable to protect their own civilians. Sovereignty must not constitute a licence to kill with impunity.

The history of Iraq hangs over us all, and it should, but its legacy is awful enough without supplementing it with a new one of ignoring the slaughter in Syria. We must not let it cloud our judgment or allow us to lose sight of our moral compass.

The war in Iraq led to the deaths of thousands upon thousands of civilians. Its legacy must be to make us all put the protection of civilians at the centre of our foreign policy, not to make us sit on the sidelines while hundreds of thousands more are killed and millions flee for their lives.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I am greatly concerned about the persecution of Christians in Syria. Some 600,000 Christians have been displaced from Syria. They have been given the ultimatum of “convert or die”. Does the hon. Lady feel our Government could do more to put pressure on Assad and parts of ISIS to make sure the persecution of Christians stops?

Jo Cox: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and I will come on to that subject later in the speech.

I shall now turn to the Conservative party’s record. For four years the Government have categorically failed on Syria, and it is not just the UK that should be judged so harshly. The failure to develop and then implement an effective strategy on Syria left this conflict free to create a horrendous European refugee crisis and provide a haven for the barbarism of ISIS to take root, allowed chemical weapons to be used unchallenged and even emboldened Russia. In particular, since the Prime Minister’s mishandling of the 2013 Syria vote, the Government have let this crisis fester on the “too difficult to deal with” pile. There has been no credible strategy, nor courage, nor leadership; instead we have had chaos and incoherence interspersed with the occasional gesture. Indeed, it has been a masterclass in how not to do foreign policy and a stark lesson on what happens when we ignore a crisis of this magnitude. Britain—with our proud tradition in international affairs, our seat on the UN Security Council and one of the best diplomatic, humanitarian and military services in the world—has been a political pygmy in this crisis.

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None of us has a proud history in this affair. If we are to put this right, we must put that behind us; we must put party politics to one side and focus on what really matters—the protection of Syrian civilians.

Let me first turn to two of the arguments that do most disservice to a serious discussion of this crisis. First, please let us stop casting the humanitarian, diplomatic and military responses as mutually exclusive alternatives. They are not. If we are serious about addressing this crisis, we need to stop pretending that any one of them offers a panacea and instead weave these strands into a coherent strategy. Secondly, let us not be duped into believing that we need to make a choice between dealing with either Assad or ISIS. On the surface, this may seem appealing, but it is not an option. There is no choice.

We can, and must, address both Assad and ISIS for two principal reasons. First, a sole focus on ISIS will not end the conflict and the threats to our interests. The Assad regime ignited, and continues to drive, the violence in Syria. This year alone, it has killed seven times more civilians than ISIS, so a strategy that only focuses on ISIS will not end the fighting or the threat to regional stability. It will not stem the tide of desperate refugees pouring into Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, or trying to get into Europe.

Secondly, and crucially, a myopic focus on ISIS will not lead to its defeat. It will not work. Assad is ISIS’s biggest recruiting sergeant, and as long as his tyranny continues, so too will ISIS’s terror. Indeed, a sole focus on ISIS while ignoring the regime’s ongoing bombardment of civilians risks inadvertently strengthening the jihadis’ narrative, which is fuelled by the idea that the west is colluding with Shi’a forces in Tehran and Damascus in a crusade to subjugate Sunni Arabs. That is why, to make good on our past failures, to protect our interests and to live up to our proudest traditions, we need urgently to develop a comprehensive and coherent strategy.

I believe that there are three core elements to such a strategy, none of which is easy and all of which are critical. First, I shall talk about the humanitarian aspect. Four years on from the start of the conflict, there are now 240,000 dead—some credible estimates put the figure at over 330,000—and more than 12 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. The scale of the human disaster is breathtaking. One area in which the UK Government have shown considerable and commendable leadership is in the regional humanitarian response to the refugee crisis, where we have led the way with the US and our European partners. I now urge the Government to go further.

As the Minister will be aware, the vast majority of Syrian refugees are in the region and those countries are buckling under the strain. The G20 summit in Turkey in November should be marked by the launch of an ambitious plan to meet refugees’ urgent needs, to invest in their education and livelihoods and to support Syria’s neighbours in reconstruction and development. Equally important is the UK’s response to the refugee crisis, which has, to date, been woefully inadequate. Taking 20,000 refugees over five years is simply not good enough; it sends an awful message about how seriously we take civilian protection. Whether it is the response to the drownings in the Mediterranean or our offer to take Syrian refugees, the Prime Minister has been pushed into climbdown

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after climbdown, embarrassed into action by the humanity of the British public. It is time for him to lead, not follow.

But let us be clear that, no matter what our humanitarian response is to this crisis, it will never be enough. It cannot end the conflict. That is why we also need to invest far more in diplomatic efforts to find a political solution. There are clearly no easy answers, but we can at least be clear on the principles. First, this needs to be a much higher-level conversation. We saw some improvement in that respect at the UN General Assembly last month and in the reopening of the UK’s embassy in Tehran. However, the Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister need to make it clear that ending the conflict in Syria is their No.1 international priority, and to challenge other world leaders to match their commitment.

Secondly, we must not let the urgent need to find a political solution cloud our judgment about what a credible one looks like. If four years of continuous vicious conflict have taught us anything, it is that the current regime is no longer capable of bringing peace and stability to Syria. Whatever its exact complexion and character, and whatever the complex negotiations and compromises needed to get there, a credible political solution has to involve a transition to a new Government that represent all Syrians and that enjoy sufficient trust and legitimacy that all but the delusional fanatics of ISIS will be willing to lower their guns and work together to rebuild their country. Russia’s recent intervention makes the route to a political settlement more complicated but it does not change the necessity for one. A political solution is the only way to end the conflict between the regime and the opposition in Syria. Only when that conflict has ended can ISIS and the handful of other extremists allied to al-Qaeda be defeated.

The third element of the strategy has to be military. While I do not believe that there is a purely military solution to this conflict, I do believe that there will be a military component to any viable solution.

The threat from ISIS—to the region, to the west and to Syrian and Iraqi civilians—is real and growing. I do not believe it to be ethical to watch from the sidelines as Syrian villages are overrun by ISIS fighters who make sex slaves of children, terrorise minority groups and slaughter fellow Muslims. In addition, their call for individual sympathisers to attack westerners anywhere and anytime requires a robust response.

The estimated 20,000 foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, many of whom hold western passports and can therefore travel freely in Europe, present a real and serious threat to us here in the UK. In addition, ISIS’s spread to new havens in Libya, the Sinai peninsula, Afghanistan, Yemen, Nigeria and elsewhere convinces me of the need for active UK involvement—but only if that is part of a comprehensive strategy to protect civilians and end the conflict.

Mr Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): The hon. Lady is making a good and brave speech on this important point. Will she emphasise the point we set out in our joint article over the weekend, which is that the safe havens are not an intervention in the politics of Syria but are strictly a humanitarian measure to ensure safety for those who are fleeing their homes and communities, often under gunfire, and the extreme violence in Syria today? This is the sort of intervention that the

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United Nations was set up to co-ordinate, and we really must ask why more is not being done by the international community to promote this important initiative, which both of us supported at the weekend.

Jo Cox: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that, and we do share common cause on the need for humanitarian protection for civilians in Syria.

Let me get back to my point about a myopic focus on ISIS being counterproductive. If selective air strikes against ISIS are the only action the west takes in Syria, we will never defeat ISIS—and we could even strengthen it. At least 75% of all civilian deaths in Syria are a result of action by Syrian Government forces; aerial bombardment by the regime is by far the biggest killer, taking around 200 lives every week. It is horrifically indiscriminate; 95% of the victims are civilians. For these reasons, and in the light of the fact that an ISIS-only approach will not protect us from the threat it poses, our objective must be to stop the indiscriminate aerial bombardment in Syria. Not only would that provide much-needed relief to Syria’s embattled population, who are still being bombarded by 50 to 60 barrel bombs a day, but it could help empower Syria’s remaining moderate opposition, who are essential not only to finding a political solution but to holding back and ultimately defeating ISIS.

Stopping the bombs would also take away a significant radicalising factor in the conflict and could breathe new life into the political process, changing Assad’s calculations and forcing him to the negotiating table. As we saw in 2013, the Syrian Government’s response to the credible threat of force was to make a political deal, not to risk escalation. As such, I believe it is time for the Government urgently to consider deterring the indiscriminate aerial bombardment of civilians in Syria through the willingness to consider the prudent and limited use of force.

A no-fly zone would be an enormous military undertaking, and would entail significant risks, particularly now that Russia has joined the regime in the Syrian skies. But what I call a no-bombing zone, enforced from maritime assets in the Mediterranean so as to avoid engaging Syrian air defences, would save lives, uphold international humanitarian law and breathe life into the political process.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I totally endorse what my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) said about the hon. Lady making a brave speech. My worry is that she can do nothing without a Security Council resolution, which gives political top cover and the legal right to go into a sovereign country.

Jo Cox: I thank the hon. Gentleman for the intervention. I agree that we should try to secure a UN Security Council resolution, but I do not think we should limit ourselves to not acting without one. I believe a no-bombing zone is feasible if it is enforced from maritime assets in the Mediterranean, so as to avoid engaging Syrian air defences. This would save lives, uphold international humanitarian law and breathe life into the political process. A well-designed deterrence operation would impose a cost on the Syrian regime for any indiscriminate

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bombing of civilians—for example, by targeting the military airbases where barrel bombs are stored and flown from. Any attempt by the regime to escalate would trigger additional punitive strikes, rendering aerial bombardment counterproductive. In those circumstances, it is far more likely that Assad and Russia will be forced to the negotiating table.

To conclude, this conflict has proved time and again its propensity to escalate month on month, year on year. For moral reasons—and national self-interest—we can no longer afford to ignore Syria. Indeed, inaction will only see a growth in the number of Syrians killed, the number of refugees fleeing and the potential threat to British national security from ISIS. I urge all Members to look to the best traditions in the history of their parties and to think about the personal role that they can play to protect civilians in Syria and further afield.

The voices of Syrians have been absent from this debate for far too long. They have been asking for protection for years and no one has been listening. It is now time for us to listen and to act.

10.20 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Tobias Ellwood): I congratulate the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox) on securing this important debate. She brings a huge amount of expertise to the House, which is very welcome. I have just returned from the UN General Assembly, where this subject was very much on the agenda. She went into a huge amount of detail, but I am sorry that she chose to wander down a bit of a political path. I will write to her with more details on the issue of British leadership. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) said, unless we have a UN resolution, it is very hard to march forward. I am afraid that, on more than one occasion, either China or Russia has vetoed attempts to move this situation forward. I also disagree with her about the choice between ISIS or Assad. We have never made that statement—quite the opposite, in fact.

I am sorry that we are debating this matter for only 30 minutes. The sheer number of Members in the Chamber on a Monday evening on a one-line Whip shows that this is a very important matter. I hope that the usual channels are listening, and I urge them to consider a far longer debate on the subject. [Interruption.] Let me finish. We are meeting our 2% of GDP commitment and our 0.7% official development assistance commitment. With a long history in the middle east, we have the ability and desire to do more to assist in this terrible conflict, but we seek consensus over how we might do that. A fuller debate would explore how these matters might be pursued in more detail.

The Syrian civil war is now in its fifth year. As the hon. Lady has said, 250,000 people have been killed, almost 8 million displaced internally and more than 4 million refugees created. This is a crisis caused and fuelled by the Assad regime, which is responsible for the vast majority of deaths. Almost 90% of the civilian deaths are a result of the regime’s indiscriminate bombing, its shelling of urban areas, its siege tactics and its use of chemical and toxic substances. This instability has fuelled a migration crisis that affects neighbouring countries, the wider region and Europe as well.

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Assad’s failure to recognise the Sunni people, who make up two thirds of the country’s population, has acted as a recruiting sergeant for ISIL. Today, ISIL poses a threat not just to the region but wider afield to the UK as well. The horrific attacks in Sousse, Kuwait, France, Australia, Turkey and elsewhere demonstrate that the threat knows no borders. But alone, Assad has neither the intent nor the capability to defeat ISIL. The ultimate solution both to the migration crisis and the threats emanating from Syria is a political transition that involves a mechanism for Assad to step down. It is for the Syrian people to decide exactly how that happens. It may be part of a transition process, but the process cannot be open-ended, and Assad can have no part in Syria’s future.

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op) rose

Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab) rose

Mr Ellwood: I will not give way, because of the time.

The UK supports the efforts of the UN envoy, Staffan de Mistura, who faces a complex and challenging task. The UN Security Council and the wider international community must support Mr de Mistura’s efforts as he works with the Syrian parties to deliver a political process that brings about an inclusive transition.

Graham Jones rose

Mr Ellwood: No, I will not give way.

The Russian Government’s increased support for Assad has further complicated an already complex situation. They must take responsibility for their part in escalating the Syrian war. By predominantly hitting non-ISIL targets, they will only fuel more extremism and more radicalisation.

We call on Russia to cease its attacks on the Syrian opposition and civilians and to focus its efforts on ISIL. Observers of the middle east will know that Russia’s strong links with and interests in Syria are not new. Secret agreements offering diplomatic and political support were signed even before Syria gained its independence from France. The Soviets offered military help to form the Syrian army in the first place and Hafez al-Assad sided with the Soviets during the cold war and agreed the permanent basing of naval, land and air assets. This is not just about global posturing but Russia’s actions in shoring up a tyrant who was on his way out, and it will lead to Russia’s losing influence in the long term.

It took six days for Russia to strike any ISIL targets at all. More than 85% of Russian strikes have been—

Graham Jones rose

Mr Ellwood: I will not give way. I have made it very clear that time is short and I am answering the hon. Member for Batley and Spen. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will hang on to his seat and I will be delighted to speak to him after the debate.

It is clear that Russia’s priority is not to defeat ISIL but to prop up Assad. Russia has violated Turkish airspace three times in the past week and the UK strongly condemns these provocative violations of NATO members’ sovereign airspace. It is important that allies

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show solidarity to ensure the inviolability of NATO airspace is respected, so we call on Russia to stop targeting civilians and opposition groups, which are part of the future of Syria. This is Russia’s biggest air deployment beyond its borders since the cold war, with fast jets, helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles, electronic warfare and air defence systems propping up an ailing Syrian regime whose military is exhausted, depleted and demoralised.

Russia’s entry, with all its propaganda, will no doubt delay a resolution and the political transition about which the hon. Member for Batley and Spen spoke rather than expediting them. It will also widen the extremism footprint for Russia, as significant numbers of foreign fighters supporting ISIL will no doubt react to Putin’s actions.

The hon. Lady mentioned safe zones, and I have taken a lot of time over the summer to consider the issue in detail. We will continue to look at all options along with our allies to protect civilians in Syria. There has been talk of safe or protected zones, no-fly zones and so on, but history tells us that implementing genuinely safe zones is difficult and must be accompanied by an international mandate that would provide the will, the authority and the full means to ensure that they have a chance of being effective. It would also involve significant military commitment. As we have seen, that can be hard to come by from the various Parliaments across the world.

We should also bear in mind the legal justification for intervention in another country has five means. One is a UN Security Council resolution—

Mr Mitchell rose

Mr Ellwood: I will not give way. The other legitimate means for engagement include article 51 of the UN Charter, or the right collectively to defend others, or intervention to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe, as we saw in Kosovo. The final such means is an invitation by the leader, which is what we saw in Iraq.

The hon. Member for Batley and Spen mentioned the humanitarian situation. The UK has been at the forefront of the humanitarian response to the conflict in Syria. I am pleased to say that we have pledged more than £1.1 billion in aid in response to the crisis in Syria and the region. I visited the Zaatari camp in north Jordan in the summer and my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces, who is in her place, has just come back from Azraq. I am pleased to say that we are seeing how well British money is spent. It is clear that refugees want to stay in the region where they have family and cultural ties, and the cost of housing one refugee in the UK equates to supporting more than 20 refugees locally. Let me make it clear that the standard of that support is very different, but that just illustrates the difficult decisions people are having to make in every country about how much money we spend domestically and how much we spend in the region.

The Prime Minister also announced on 7 September the expansion of the Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme to resettle up to 20,000 Syrians in need of protection during this Parliament. Since the crisis began in 2011, the UK has granted asylum to nearly 5,000 Syrian nationals and their dependants.

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In conclusion, we are well aware that Syria remains the greatest humanitarian tragedy of our time. We must support the desire of ordinary Syrians for a future free of the cruelty of Assad and the barbarity of ISIL. I end by apologising to Opposition Members for not being able to take interventions. As they can see from my notes, I have plenty more to say on the matter—

Graham Jones: Will the Minister give way now?

Mr Ellwood: I will not give way, no. The hon. Gentleman is not going to tease me at this last moment. I invite and encourage a wider debate that lasts longer than 30 minutes, which I would very much welcome—

Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab): Let’s have one now.

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Mr Ellwood: We can go on later into the night if you want, Mr Speaker, but I think that time is against us. I look forward to debating the matter in further detail. [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. The business managers can perfectly well facilitate such a debate, and at whatever hour of the night it took place I should be very happy to be in my place. Obviously a lot of people have things to say and would like to do so.

Question put and agreed to.

10.30 pm

House adjourned.