In conclusion, all MPs have a duty fully to scrutinise the merits of the Prime Minister’s proposal. We must learn from the previous decisions taken by this House and place them in context, but I ask that we not be paralysed by them. We are dealing with an implacable enemy, with whom we cannot negotiate. We have already taken the decision to fight Daesh in Iraq, and it has

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extended the fight well beyond the so-called caliphate. The dangers this poses, not just in Iraq and Syria, but in Paris, Sharm el-Sheikh, Tunis, Kuwait City and Ankara, is understood by all members of the United Nations Security Council, who have called on all member states who are able to do so to tackle the scourge and eradicate its safe haven.

Let us be clear that the liberation of Raqqa is not just around the corner. It will take time, and progress on all strands of our strategy will be required, but degrading and placing pressure on Daesh alongside progress on the political track is the key. This strategy includes the 70,000 non-extremist opposition, who are already fighting both Daesh and Assad. Hon. Members have said a number of times, “Who are these people?”, so let me clarify. These are the hundreds of factions that, since the Arab spring, have defended their local communities against the tyranny of Assad, but want no truck with terrorism or indeed extremism. They have successfully kept supply routes to Aleppo open and defeated Jabhat al-Nusra in the south. As such, they are the ones that we need to support, and they are the ones who will play an important role in Syria’s future. They will be part of the political transition in the country, and they will shortly come together in the region to form a common position.

I ask colleagues to ensure that we continue to do all we can, as a leading P5 nation, to support our allies, with our soft and hard-power capabilities, to help advance an end to the Syrian civil war and to defeat Daesh for good.

7.14 pm

Tommy Sheppard (Edinburgh East) (SNP): On behalf of my party, I applaud the Back Benchers who have secured today’s debate. We now know from one of the Conservative contributions earlier that we will be asked on Wednesday to vote on whether or not to go to war in Syria. It is timely and appropriate that in a week in which such a proposition is being put, we should consider the wider historical and political perspectives in the region.

It was less than 100 years ago when the then colonial powers carved up the lands that were once controlled by the Ottoman empire and created the map of the middle east and the territories that we see today. I have to say, on reflection, that some of those decisions were arbitrary and that some did not take into account the territorial and ethnic identifications of the people who lived there. Most importantly, those powers certainly did not consult the people who were to be governed by these arrangements and nor did they have at their heart the democratic and secular principles to which I think we all aspire.

Those arrangements have not served us well in the last century. They have been the source, I believe, of much of the insecurity in that region. If we are to have a wider debate and a wider strategy, this country needs to be concerned not to repeat the mistakes of the past and to ensure that it sees a future in which people will be consulted on their own government. There is probably widespread agreement in this Chamber on the type of political arrangements we would like to see in that part of the world. We believe that they should be democratic and that people should be allowed to elect those who govern them. We would also agree that we want them to

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be secular or, if not entirely secular, at least to be states that will tolerate religious freedom and allow religious expression.

In pursuing those objectives, I believe that we have to be both consistent and coherent in our foreign policy. It is fair to say that that consistency and coherence have been absent from the foreign policies of this country under successive Governments. I want to pick up on three examples in respect of which more work is required.

The first is the situation with the Kurds. Many have applauded the peshmerga, and we and other western countries are coming to their assistance and providing them with the resources they need in the current war that they are waging. We will need to consider and support demands for Kurdish autonomy in the north of Syria, and we will also need to consider, I think, whether the time has come to recognise that there should be a national state of Kurdistan, which would not just bring confidence to the Kurdish people but might end up providing more security in the region in the longer term.

Tom Tugendhat: The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point about the very policies that Her Majesty’s Government and our allies have pursued in the region. On the possibility of a Kurdistan, the hon. Gentleman has elucidated some interesting arguments. The only narrow point I would make is that the creation of a Kurdish state, if that were to happen, would cause such unrest in the region that it might be something best considered in due course rather than at a time when the region is already inflamed.

Tommy Sheppard: My point is that it must be on the agenda, and that we cannot have a situation whereby we appear to be allying with the Kurdish forces in Syria and Iraq, using them in many ways as a proxy, yet at the same time denying their aspirations.

That brings us, I am afraid, to the situation with Turkey. I regard the recent Turkish elections, in which President Erdogan strengthened his position in the country, to be a retrograde step. This country needs, I think, to have a serious dialogue with the Turkish Government and to bring our other allies into that dialogue as well—and we need to say that the way in which they regard the Kurds is not acceptable and will not lead to the longer-term peace we want to see in the region.

The second aspect of Saudi Arabia has been mentioned already. It is a state that, frankly, is barely beyond the medieval in how it treats many of its people. I, for one, am dumbfounded at the continuing closeness of the Foreign Office with the Government of Saudi Arabia and our continuing desire to arm them, even in a situation where there is now credible evidence that the Saudi royal air force is using British-supplied weapons against the civilian population in neighbouring Yemen—contrary to this country’s rules relating to arms supply. I think we have seriously to question what our attitude should be to the Saudi Government and what their role would be in preparing a lasting settlement in the area.

My third and final point, relating to the need for consistency and coherence, is the Israel-Palestine question, which has in many ways been overlooked in the last few years. The situation there is getting worse than it has ever been before. The violence is reaching very intense levels, and, as was pointed out earlier by, I think, the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), the disparity in that violence is really quite marked. The number of

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casualties on the two sides is entirely unequal, and many aspects of the reaction of the Israeli defence forces are disproportionate and, indeed, could be considered unlawful. We cannot continue to ignore the situation in Palestine, in the occupied territories and the green zone.

Tom Tugendhat: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Tommy Sheppard: I am not sure whether I will be given extra time, but I will take the intervention anyway.

Tom Tugendhat: Will the hon. Gentleman forgive me if I make a very short comment on the Israel-Palestine question? He has raised some excellent points, and is advancing an extremely fluent argument encompassing most of the middle east. What has struck me over the past four or five years—and I wonder whether it has struck him as well—is that since the so-called Arab spring, the question of Israel has not been mentioned on the Arab streets. The question is not whether or not Israel is legitimate or illegitimate; it relates to the governance of the Arab countries themselves. Is it not incumbent on us to focus on that question of governance—of which the hon. Gentleman himself has just spoken so fluently—rather than sending ourselves down a rabbit hole and talking about the Israel-Palestine question, which is, let’s face it, distinct from the question of governance in the region?

Tommy Sheppard: It is distinct, but it is not possible to consider a lasting peace in the middle east without addressing the situation there, which I think is being brushed under the carpet at the moment.

In the occupied territories, the Israeli Government are sponsoring and supporting both the development of new settlements and the demolition of Palestinian homes and properties, which is creating a situation that is close to the annexation of those occupied territories by the state of Israel. That may be Israel’s intention, but if it pursues the same path, the viability of a separate Palestinian state will not be there, and hence the two-state solution will not be there. If the Israeli Government intend to continue their present policies, the Israeli Government should be challenged to say what they consider to be the longer-term conditions for a settlement of the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis in that part of the world. Meanwhile, millions of Palestinian refugees are still being held in the refugee camps in neighbouring countries, in a sort of holding pattern, and are being denied any hope or any prospect of a place that they can call home.

I must say in all seriousness that one of the things that this country could do—acting in concert with other western countries—is try to take a fresh initiative on the question of Israel-Palestine, and be seen to try to advocate the human rights of Palestinians and the requirement for a lasting and balanced peace in the area. I think that that would, single-handedly, do a great deal to undermine and counter much of the mythology that is being put about on the issue of Daesh, and the suggestion that this is a conflict between the west and Islam. We should be seen to take new action on Palestine, but at present no one is talking, and no talks are planned for the future. I know from correspondence with the Minister that he is sympathetic to much of what I have just said, but this seems to be the policy that dare not speak its name. The United Kingdom cannot continue to be silent on what is happening in that part of the world.

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Let me now say something about Syria, which is the main event that we are discussing. I must make it clear that the Scottish National party understands the threat that Daesh poses to our way of life, and that we sympathise absolutely with the requirement for international action to undermine and eradicate that organisation. We are, however, anxious not to do something in the short term that would make things worse in the medium and the long term. That is why we remain unconvinced about the need for air strikes, which, it is proposed, should take place not with a ground strategy to follow, but in isolation.

Aerial bombardment in isolation means rearranging the piles of rubble, and it invariably results in some innocent casualties as collateral damage. It creates more refugees, and, above all, it plays into the narrative of Daesh that the crusaders are coming to deny the Muslim people their way of life. Unless there are forces on the ground, all that air strikes do is destroy territory rather than controlling it. Unless the air strikes are linked with a proper ground campaign, we think it irrelevant to make the Royal Air Force the 13th air force in the skies over Syria. For 15 months the Americans have been bombing these positions almost daily, yet the situation on the ground in Syria has not changed by one inch, and, if anything, Daesh is stronger than it was 15 months ago.

Rehman Chishti: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Tommy Sheppard: Again, I am not sure whether I have time, but I will take the intervention.

Rehman Chishti: The hon. Gentleman will know, in relation to numbers on the ground, that at the Vienna conference Jordan was tasked with identifying moderate groups that could work with the international community. I have not seen a list of moderate groups from Jordan. Has the hon. Gentleman seen such a list, and are those groups part of the 70,000 that we are told will come from the Free Syrian Army?

Tommy Sheppard: I share the hon. Gentleman’s scepticism in this regard. Last Thursday I asked the Prime Minister whether he envisaged circumstances in which the Free Syrian Army and the Kurds would launch a successful ground offensive against Daesh, ignoring the presence of the Syrian army or pretending that it was not actually there. I did not receive a satisfactory answer.

It seems to me that a four-way civil war is taking place in Syria, and that some of those four sides are themselves quite complicated coalitions. If we are to develop a Daesh-first strategy, we shall need to persuade the other three sides to agree to co-ordinated action against Daesh. That is where the focus of diplomatic and political effort should be directed. I realise how difficult it will be. I realise that many of the groups that are associated with the Free Syrian Army, for example, would see Assad as more of an enemy than Daesh, and it will take a great deal of negotiation to bring all that together. It does not mean that all those groups must share a command structure, and it does not mean that they must share zones of operation—those can be separate—but any action must be co-ordinated. We cannot allow a situation in which some of them are simply trying to do what would be our bidding in a completely irrelevant and ineffective manner. That strikes me as a recipe for disaster.

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The one hope in all this is the Vienna process, and the fact that a dialogue is under way. We believe that the time now should be spent in boosting that process, and in trying to secure the political and diplomatic agreements that we need for co-ordinated action that will be successful not just in bombing places into the stone age, but in taking control of land, starting with a military administration and then passing it over to civilian administrations month by month, year by year. Unless that framework is in place—and, unlike the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, for whom I have a great deal of respect, I remain to be convinced that it is—when the opportunity comes on Wednesday, the Scottish National party will not vote to go to war with Syria.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Further to the point of order that was raised earlier in the debate about the Prime Minister making a statement to the media without coming to the House, it appears from social media that the media have already been informed that we will be having a debate and vote on the issue of Syria in the House on Wednesday, immediately after Prime Minister’s Question Time. I wonder whether any Minister has had the courtesy to approach you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and explain that he or she would like to make an announcement to the House before briefing the press about when votes would take place.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): I have not received any confirmation or otherwise from a Minister, but I have been in the Chair for the whole of this time. I think that the usual procedure would be for a Minister, or the Leader of the House, to make a supplementary business statement. We must wait to see whether that happens, but so far nothing has been confirmed or otherwise.

7.28 pm

Mr David Jones (Clwyd West) (Con): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) on securing this important and timely debate. I must begin by declaring an interest, as a former member of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding.

I greatly enjoyed and appreciated the contribution of the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard), which was thoughtful and with a great deal of which I agreed. The middle east has, of course, been a source of enormous tension for many years, as has been mentioned by many Members today, and Britain has an important role to play. Next year will mark the centenary of the Sykes-Picot agreement, which shaped much of the middle east as we know it now, and modern Syria dates back to that accord.

British middle east policy combines a number of approaches and positions. Some are influenced by direct national interest, some by the position of the European Union, and some by the United States and other regional powers. Given all the crises in the region, including Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Palestine, these policy positions might at times appear contradictory. I therefore believe that it is important for us to have this debate today.

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Many hon. Members have focused on Syria today, for what are very clear reasons, and there will no doubt be further contributions on that subject in the next 48 hours. I, however, would like to focus on what is for many the kernel of the middle eastern problem—namely, the issue of Israel and Palestine. As the hon. Member for Edinburgh East pointed out, that issue seems to have been overlooked in recent years, but it is now bursting on to the international consciousness as a result of the increasingly violent tension in that country.

Since the beginning of October, the violence in Israel and the west bank has resulted in the deaths of 85 Palestinians and 11 Israelis, and more than 9,000 Palestinians and 133 Israelis have been injured. There is talk of this being the third intifada. The latest surge in violence began after a Palestinian stabbed two Israelis to death in the old city of Jerusalem, which all hon. Members would of course condemn. We have to wonder, however, whether the Israelis acted proportionately in their response. They have erected more walls to surround the west bank, and added to the 750 km of security fences that are rapidly caging in the west bank. They have fired at protesters on the Gaza border, and early in October, nine Palestinians were killed in what Israel claimed was an attempt to bridge the fence.

The causes of the conflict are many and various. They go back to the 1967 six-day war and beyond. However, it seems that the recent escalation was sparked, at least in part, by the Israelis placing restrictions on access to the al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem’s old city. The French Government have called for an international observer force to be deployed at the holy sites, and I strongly urge the Government to give consideration to that proposal. The al-Aqsa compound has been a source of tension for many, and if Britain could play a part in defusing that tension, it would be doing a wonderful thing.

Many people in this country—and, indeed, in this House—fully understand that Israel’s history renders it unique and that it is concerned about its borders, but it has to remember that it is a democracy. Many of its actions in the region do it a huge disservice, particularly the increase in the number of settlements on the west bank. In fact, the settlement programme continues unabated. On 8 October, Israel’s Defence Minister said that settlement building

“was not frozen for even a minute”,

and pledged that Israel would continue to “build in the future”. If Israel continues to deny the Palestinians any prospect of constituting themselves as a state and of living with the kind of dignity that they are entitled to, it will continue to experience the sort of violence that it is facing at the moment.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Dame Angela Watkinson) said, Israel has a great deal to commend it. Like her, I have visited the Hadassah hospital in East Jerusalem, which treats patients of Israeli and Palestinian extraction equally. However, continuing to deny the Palestinians a homeland of their own will result only in the continued escalation of the violence. It will, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh East put it, render the prospect of a two-state solution almost impossible.

In the climate talks in Paris today, the Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, shared a

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handshake. That could possibly be the start of a dialogue between the two sides, and it is dialogue that is needed, rather than what the Secretary-General of the United Nations has referred to as the continued enclosure of the Palestinians behind walls. We have to find our way towards a solution, and I believe that this country, with its long history in the middle east, could play its part in that. With goodwill on both sides, we may yet see a resolution of that most persistent of conflicts.

7.35 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I know that the focus of the House has mainly been on Syria today, but now that we know we will be debating that subject on Wednesday, I hope that Members will forgive me for talking about another country in the middle east—namely, Yemen. It has already been mentioned by the Minister and one or two others.

The situation in Yemen has reached crisis point. Aid organisations believe that more than 21 million Yemenis—that is 80% of the population—are in urgent need of food, water and medical aid. This is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. The Danish Refugee Council estimates that more than 4,628 people have died and that 28,598 people have been injured as a result of the fighting and bombing campaigns, and that 573 of those killed were children. On average, 30 people have been killed and 185 injured every day in Yemen since the end of March.

The damage to the country’s already limited infrastructure makes aid delivery very challenging. This will also make post-conflict reconstruction extremely difficult. As a direct result of this damage, at least 160 healthcare facilities have been closed down completely across the country. To add to the problems, a lack of fuel has restricted the use of water pumps, which has left 13 million Yemenis—50% of the population—struggling to find an adequate amount of clean water to drink or to use to grow crops.

A report on the crisis published by the all-party parliamentary group on Yemen, which I have the privilege of chairing, has not yet received a response from the Under- Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), but I know that, as Minister with responsibility for the middle east, he has many pieces of paper to read and many visits to make. I hope, however, that he will respond to that report as soon as he can. I want to commend the efforts of the Prime Minister’s envoy to Yemen, the right hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan), who works very hard on this matter and is always in dialogue with members of the local community.

The crisis is affecting people not only in or near Yemen but in Greece. There is evidence that a number of Yemenis seeking to come to the EU are making their way to Greece, because there are no visa restrictions between Yemen and Turkey. Over 1.4 million people in Yemen have also been internally displaced, raising the prospect of an unprecedented refugee crisis.

The situation in Yemen does not seem to have captured the imagination of the House or of the British people, despite the efforts of the vice-chair of the all-party group, the hon. Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), and others. This could be because we are always talking about the situation between Palestinian and Israel, as the right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) suggested, or because we are now talking about Syria and we were previously talking about Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the Yemeni people are suffering terribly.

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Mr Ellwood: I pay tribute to the work that the right hon. Gentleman has done on this subject. I spoke to President Hadi last week and underlined Britain’s commitment to seeking a solution in Yemen. Both sides are meeting in Switzerland in the near future, and we certainly wish the United Nations envoy, Ismail Ahmed, every success. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the situation is dire, and to make matters worse, the port city of al-Mukalla on the south coast, with which he will be familiar, is now run by al-Qaeda. That illustrates the seriousness of the situation and we should not allow other concerns about what is happening in the middle east to overshadow what is happening in Yemen.

Keith Vaz: The Minister is right to say that we should not allow ourselves to be diverted from this. I welcome the news he has given the House today, but it would be helpful if President Hadi was able to come to the United Kingdom to address Members of this House and tell us about the situation in Yemen. We are grateful for the support of the Saudis, without which President Hadi would not have had safe haven, but I gently say to colleagues and allies, which is what the Saudis are, that it is time to stop the bombing, as the all-party group said, to allow humanitarian aid to come in and to help this country be able to be reconstructed. There were reports that President Hadi had returned to Aden, and clearly he is there. That is good news and it will help us to re-establish him as the legitimate President of Yemen in Sana’a, whatever is left of that great world heritage site. I cannot bear to think of what has happened. When I left Yemen I was only nine and my sister was a different age—I cannot disclose her age, because she gets very upset—and I cannot bear to think of what has happened to it.

Finally, I wish to mention Tunisia, another country of interest. It is not quite the middle east, but we would include it as being part of the Arab world. I know that the Minister has been there recently and is very focused on its situation. We needed to take urgent action and the travel ban was necessary at that time, but it is now playing into the hands of those who wish to destabilise the Tunisian Government. When I went to Sousse recently —I do not know whether the Minister went there on his visit—I found that 90% of the hotels had closed down since the travel ban was brought into effect. That has meant thousands of Tunisians are now unemployed, as we Brits made up the largest number of tourists to Tunisia. With that unemployment goes poverty and the possibility of people being susceptible to the appeals of those who wish to destabilise the Tunisian Government, who are democratically elected. We have given huge support to Tunisia, doubling the number of people working at the Tunis embassy, but we need to do more.

Mr Ellwood: I understand that a number of people have dropped out of this debate because there is apparently to be a debate on Wednesday, which gives more time for me to intervene, which I will do cautiously. I can confirm that during my visit to Tunisia we went through a detailed plan of what is required to get Britons back there. Britons want to go back to holidaying in that country, but the first responsibility of any Prime Minister of any Government is the safety of those citizens. We are working very closely, progress is being made and I hope that we will be able to lift that travel ban very soon.

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Keith Vaz: That is very good news. Every time the Minister gets to that Dispatch Box, he gives the House some good news—I hope he will jump up constantly to make these interventions. That move will help the Tunisian Government enormously. Of course the safety of British people is the paramount consideration, but when I went there the security had increased. We have a role to play; British policing is regarded abroad as the best in the world. Sometimes we do not say that here, because they are our police and we do not tend to praise them as much as we should. When we go abroad, people talk about the skills of the police and the security services, and we need to provide the Tunisians with that help. If that is the news he brings to the House about Tunisia, I am very pleased to hear it. The Tunisian Government should work with us to provide the greater security that is necessary.

In conclusion, I know that the Minister is focused on Yemen and that if he could get there, he would be there —I know he cannot go there because it is so dangerous. I ask him please to make sure that Yemen is in his thoughts and those of the British Government, because this is a crucial country and we should not let it fail.

7.44 pm

Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): I have been sitting here racking my brains trying to remember which of Philip Larkin’s poems contained the following lines:

“We are not suited to the long perspectives

Open at each instant of our lives.”

That applies so very well to what occurs in this Chamber so often: we are blinded by day-to-day events—by the proximity of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya—that we find it far harder to take a step back and look at the long duration of our involvement in the region. That is why I congratulate the Backbench Business Committee on granting this debate and my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), who is no longer in his place, for framing such a wide motion, which allows us to engage in a wider sense on the longer-term issues.

If we were to look back over the past century of our engagement with the middle east, we would see that every time there has been a major issue there have probably been those arguing for greater intervention, those arguing for less intervention and those arguing for no intervention at all, but the common point of all those debates has been one of diminishing engagement on the part of the United Kingdom. It is right to take a step back and ask why that might be and whether it is the right thing for the future. We should not blind ourselves by the decisions we will certainly have to take in the next day or two, but instead look at why we are there in the long term and how it has an impact on our national interest.

The hon. Members for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) and for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) were urging us to learn the lessons of history, look at individual events and draw a conclusion from them. I always find that the most frustrating aspect of debate in this Chamber, because history can be a fickle lover. Whatever our argument, we can find that one event that will buttress our argument and somehow disprove our opponent’s, and it is very dangerous indeed because history can mislead. It is far better not to focus on individual events but to try to look at some of the more

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thematic issues that underpin our engagement with this region. Of course foreign policy will be affected on a day-to-day basis by what occurs in the news. When Turkey shoots down a Russian jet it will, of course, have geopolitical consequences to which Ministers must respond, but what really affects the region is not the day-to-day power struggles of those in authority, but what is occurring to ordinary people on the ground.

Across the middle east, we see a number of themes. We see great demographic change. We see a growing population of young people, without the economic growth to give them the jobs they need. That means they become discontented, and that social grievance can lead to changes in Government. Probably, with the benefit of hindsight, we would say that it is what underpinned the Arab spring, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell said, nobody really predicted. In addition, we are seeing changes to the economic structure of these countries: agriculture is changing, food security is diminishing, food prices are rising in the cities and desertification is taking place, possibly as a result of climate change—who is to say? I am not expert enough to call it. That is certainly leading to greater urbanisation, which is accelerating some of those changes to the employment of young people and the social structures that lie within it.

All those things together are a common element in many of the countries we are focusing on, yet we often sit in this Chamber thinking that we in the UK have the sole answer to all these international problems and that only the UK can solve them. That of course is not the case, as the Minister will well know. These problems will be solved only by international coalitions, and the importance of our role will be diminished within these coalitions. What we tend to fall back on in any debate on foreign affairs are some of the more simple clichés, and they can be very dangerous. It is as though there is a binary alternative between intervention and no intervention, and there is no middle ground where we can start to say, “What sort of intervention is most helpful? What do we need to do to build a wider coalition of support in the UK?” The Prime Minister has been admirable in how he has tried to engage courteously with all Members from all parts of the House, whatever their views, to explain why this is not just a simple matter where the whole situation will be transformed if we bomb ISIS in Raqqa. It is far from that, and he has been candid in setting that out.

The other dangerous cliché beginning to circulate is a slightly isolationist one. It is that in some ways this is a religious war that we have no real part of, that we cannot decide between Shi’a or Sunni, and that it is not for Britain or any other western nation to get involved. It is an interesting and seductive argument, but it is also a dangerous one. Let me draw on a lesson from history with which others may disagree. If we go back to the Reformation in the late 16th and early 17th century, the destruction of Christendom and the wars of religion, we may think that that was all about religious differences and divisions, yet, it was not. It was the use of religion as a cloak to reinforce existing divisions of power structures, existing contests between states and between those who were governed and those who did not want to be governed in the way that they were being governed, all of which came to be sheltered under the identity of the person to whom the people owed their allegiance—whether it was a Calvinist, a Lutheran or a Pope.

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When we look at the middle east, we need to be very careful that we do not repeat the same mistake of thinking that the various tensions that are there on the ground are all about religion. Often it is the control of religious observance that is the best way of exerting political control in a society where religious observance is one of the few communal activities that occur on a day-to-day basis, so I would very cautious about saying that this is a religious conflict in which we have no part.

The other point I wish to make in the 26 seconds that I have left is that, I hope in his protection of the Foreign Office Library, the Minister can find some scholarly works on the French mandate of Syria between 1922 and 1945, because it has an awful lot to teach us about the potential solution in Syria, particularly in the establishment of a cantonal system that included a homeland for the Alawites, which the French set up after 1922.

7.51 pm

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I have not been able to sit through all of this debate, but it has been a pleasure none the less to hear so many Members speak up so strongly on both sides of the Chamber. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard). We all take his warnings about the dangers of being glib in our historical references, and about how we must go easier on some of the clichés. He also warned us against allowing a false dichotomy into this debate, by saying that there is only either a military intervention or no intervention at all. Some of us on the Opposition Benches feel that the argument increasingly coming from the Government is that, unless we are prepared to endorse the course that they seem to be on, we are somehow insensitive to the need to fight Daesh and all the evil that it represents and does, and that we are unsympathetic to the suffering of the people in Paris, Beirut, Ankara and elsewhere. But we are not; we know that terrorism must be confronted in all its evils, all its arguments and all its rationales, and that we have to do that in a way that is sustainable and credible.

Before I touch more deeply on the issue of Syria, I wish to welcome the fact that this wide-ranging debate, which was initiated by the Backbench Business Committee, has also allowed us, rightly, to touch on other situations as well, including that in Yemen. Last week, I, along with other hon. Members, heard from CAFOD about how it is treating that as one of the most serious humanitarian situations in the world. The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) touched on some of the graphic statistics, but we need to understand what all that means.

We cannot go on talking about humanitarian crises—there is a queue of humanitarian crises not just in the greater middle east, but more widely as well—just as though they were some new statistical phenomenon. We need to remember the real pressures that they are causing and the real demands. When we respond to a situation, people will want to know why we are not responding meaningfully at all levels in other situations as well. If we send the level of aid that needs to go to Syria and surrounding countries to help in that humanitarian crisis, people suffering other humanitarian pressures will want to know why there is not the same urgency there. They will wonder whether there is more urgency when there is military intervention. If no military intervention is contemplated, does that crisis go down the league table for consideration and humanitarian concern?

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It has also been important to hear about what many would regard as the most enduring middle east conflict—the situation in Israel and Palestine. The hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) and the right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) spoke compellingly about why that situation should not be losing attention as it appears to be relative to what is going on in Syria and elsewhere. Let us remember that that situation is one of the factors that is used in the wider radicalisation agenda that too many people seek to promote. If we are to confront the evil logic and the cynical rationale that are used by Daesh and others who come up with a perverted extremist Islamist view of the world, we need to remember that they cite the west’s ineffectual position on Palestine as one of their main bits of evidence for our unsuited interest in the region. Let us remember that that conflict, which is being pursued with yet more demolitions and more settlements, has had a pretty ineffectual diplomatic response from the west—the same west that is talking about marshalling our best diplomatic efforts, military action and humanitarian aid into a comprehensive strategy in Syria.

Then people will ask, “What quality will this huge diplomatic effort have? Where do we see this huge diplomatic effort elsewhere? Do we see it in the middle east and Palestine?” Frankly, people do not see it there. People see the EU and its member states adopting essentially a screensaver approach to what is happening to the Palestinians. Shapes are thrown, images are projected and impressions are created, but nothing real is going on. When was the last time that the Israeli Government took seriously any strong diplomatic message from EU Governments or the UK Government about any of those ongoing violations?

On Syria itself, I listened to the Prime Minister’s statement last week and to all of the other arguments since, and I know that he thinks that he has covered the basis of a comprehensive strategy, and has touched on a number of issues. Some of us do not believe that the elements are complete, or that they add up to the coherent, comprehensive strategy that will succeed in the way that the Prime Minister claims that they will. We do not pretend that the situation and the choice are exactly the same as those faced by this Parliament over Iraq, but that does not mean that there are no similarities and no questions that we have to ask of ourselves again. The Prime Minister has said that we should not outsource our defence to others, but nor should we outsource our judgment. Just because other people are engaging in military intervention does not mean that we should sign up to support it as well. We should not be doing something just because others are doing it.

The hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys talked about history being fickle. We should remember that we have a fairly fickle proposed alliance arrangement for this intervention. We have a somewhat shifting alliance, which includes some fairly shifty allies, and that is just when it comes to the other states. When we then look at forces, such as the Free Syrian Army, which are meant to be the ground forces, we have to recognise that the question of how many of them are truly reliably and sustainably moderate into the future could come to haunt some Members given the glib way in which they have talked about 70,000 forces being available.

Several hon. Members rose

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Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel): Order. Before I call the next speaker, let me say that there have been quite a large number of Members who have withdrawn their names from the Speaker’s list, so I will raise the time limit to 10 minutes per Back-Bench contribution and we will see how we get on. I may have to drop the time again, but at the moment, I will leave it at 10 minutes.

7.58 pm

John Howell (Henley) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will try to fill the 10 minutes that you have now made available to me, although I have prepared a speech to last for seven minutes. We will see how it goes.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), who is no longer in his place, on securing this debate. I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

In recent years, we have witnessed the ascent of a brutal and destructive form of Islamic fundamentalism across the region. Mosul’s nearly 2,000-year-old Christian population has been purged, the Yazidis have endured what is arguably a genocide, ancient cultural heritage has been destroyed and once stable countries have descended into chaos.

It is without question that the terrorist attacks in Paris were a direct assault on our way of life, just like, in their own way, the attacks on British citizens in Tunisia. Political leaders and the public alike are now coming to the realisation that this is not a problem in some far-flung region of the world that we can simply will away. Sadly, it has taken the tragedy of Paris to open our eyes to the fact that this is a problem that we cannot afford to ignore any longer. If ISIL is allowed to fester, we will see a continuation of the ethnic cleansing, the indoctrination of future generations in ISIL-held territory and thousands more displaced Syrians and Iraqis. I therefore welcome the fact that the Government will, I hope, put the question of British intervention in Syria to the vote in the House this week.

Let us note also that ISIL is but one manifestation of the evil of radical Islam. It would be unwise now to cast similarly reprehensible groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra, Hezbollah, Hamas and others in a different or, indeed, a better light. They have all actively participated in Islamist-driven violence, destroying lives across many communities in the middle east and beyond. It is important to recognise that there are democratic forces in many countries in the region and Britain should take the lead in supporting them wherever possible. The majority of citizens in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere want to live their lives in normality without the daily interruption of car bombs and gun attacks. The Arab spring surely demonstrated a desire for change and for democracy.

In this conflict, we have the advantage of military superiority, but this alone is not enough to win and it is not what is being proposed. When ISIL is eventually defeated, unless we are careful and can also target the cause, which is the ideology, and not only the effect, which can be seen in the actions of ISIL, another group will re-emerge under a different name. Some, such as the Foreign Minister of Sweden, have relayed the misguided notion that the prolonged Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the root of the current turmoil in the middle east and

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that once it is resolved the blight of Islamist radicalism will end. That is simply not the case. In fact, part of the reason we are in this current state is that too much focus rather than too little has been placed on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the expense of other conflicts in the region.

I was at a dinner last week at which a somewhat left-wing Canadian journalist made a speech with which I happened completely to agree. He said that when he first went to Israel, he pointed out that in his news office there were a huge number of journalists concentrating on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the expense of the whole of the region. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at best a minor sideshow. The wars in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere have raged on, yet just last week the UN decided to pass six resolutions against Israel, the only stable democracy in the region.

To suggest that the existence of Israel is at the root of the entire middle east’s turbulence today is to overlook the sectarian divisions in the region that have existed for centuries. It also ignores the large part played by certain countries, most notably Saudi Arabia, that have spent billions to fund the toxic and destructive spread of Wahabist ideology across Muslim communities worldwide. It is imperative that Britain and the whole civilised world does whatever is necessary to combat that ideology and stop its spread.

Mr MacNeil: I understand from the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee that the UK has eight planes in Iraq, of which two are active. If the UK is going to intervene in Syria, is it going to lessen its efforts against ISIS in Iraq or is it not? Or is it not bombing ISIS in Iraq intensely enough? We are only talking about one or two planes that will go in to Syria.

John Howell: That is a debate we can have on Wednesday, I am not going to answer that question now.

We need to put pressure on Saudi Arabia to stop exporting its radical ideology worldwide, despite our geopolitical alliances. I ask the Minister perhaps to write to me in reply to the question of what steps the Government will take to ensure that the Wahabist ideology does not spread further across the middle east.

Before I finish, I want to highlight another important country in the region that has been consumed by a less violent but equally destructive Islamist threat. The AKP Government in Turkey have increasingly eroded democracy by arresting dozens of prominent journalists, turning to authoritarianism and reigniting the conflict with the Kurdish PKK to seal their power. The same Government are a vocal supporter of the terrorist group Hamas, which has masterminded deadly attacks against Israelis from its Istanbul headquarters. In our approach to Turkey, as is too often the case, realpolitik has taken precedence over human values, ignoring the fact that democracy is not only about having an election.

In addition, despite their latent arrests of ISIL suspects, the AKP Government in Turkey have turned a blind eye to ISIL terrorists, instead prioritising fighting Kurdish forces in Syria, the very people making the largest territorial gains from ISIL. The erratic actions of Turkey, especially taking into consideration last week’s developments with Russia, give us increasing cause for concern. I ask the Secretary of State to join me in condemning the Turkish Government’s undermining of the freedom of

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press in the country and to explain how we can expect ISIL and other jihadists to be dislodged from their territory in Syria when Turkey is bombing the Kurdish YPG.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Turkey is still talking to the European Union about accession, so when the Government take such actions, as my hon. Friend rightly points out, what signals does that send out about potential entry to the EU?

John Howell: My hon. Friend raises an important point. At best, it sends a very confused signal and, at worst, it sends a signal that we do not care what Turkey does in the middle east. That is a signal that we do not wish to send to Turkey and we should not send it. We should say that we do not agree with what Turkey is doing and that it is supporting a form of Islamic fundamentalism in its actions.

I am not sure that I have fully used my extra allotted minutes, but let me conclude by going back to what I said at the beginning of my speech. The situation in the middle east is very confused, but it is not surprising, in my view, that the western press ignored totally the rise of ISIL, because they were not looking. All their action was focused on what was happening in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not in the wider middle east.

Edward Argar: Does my hon. Friend agree that sadly the same is true of the press’s attention to the conflict in Yemen in recent months and years? Again, they just were not looking.

John Howell: To a certain extent, the press are still not looking at Yemen. We have heard excellent contributions from Opposition Members about the situation in Yemen and I am very concerned about it. I know that my hon. Friend is, too. We all need to concentrate on that and to ensure that the press do not just focus on the one thing that it is easy for them to get a grip on, which is made easy by the openness of Israel in allowing the press in and allowing access to everything that there is to talk about in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not just the media? Too often, many of us looking on events in the middle east have done too much wishful thinking. Now is the time to take pragmatic action grounded in a much wider strategy to solve the challenges that we face.

John Howell: My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is time to look at the bigger picture, and I am sure that the Foreign Office is doing so. We need to encourage the press and the general population, as well as Members of Parliament, to take into account the fact that there are many conflicts in the region. Some of them are more serious than others. I would put the Yemen conflict in that category. In my book, it is probably the No. 1 conflict. My hon. Friend makes a good point about encouraging people to take a larger view of what is happening in the region. With that, I have almost taken my 10 minutes. It is kind of you to make that available, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Mr Ellwood: I am delighted to use up the last minute of my hon. Friend’s time by responding to the two points that he made. He is right to be concerned about

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the growth of Islamic extremism in Syria. We are focused on working with the 100 or so factions that have proved themselves by saying that they do not want to be part of Assad’s regime. They want to look after their own communities, but they do not want to be part of terrorism.

Turkey is now part of the international coalition. It was struck by ISIL in a terrorist attack in Ankara not long ago, and it is participating in the Vienna talks, which is welcome news.

John Howell: I thank the Minister for that. We will probably have further discussions about Turkey.

8.11 pm

Peter Dowd (Bootle) (Lab): I, too, will not take up my allotted time. Nevertheless, thank you for your generosity, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), who began the debate, set an excellent tone, which has continued, and I hope will continue further when we come to deal with the substantive issue of Syria in the coming days. The hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) gave an excellent analysis, which went to the heart of the issue and was pertinent and incisive.

There are 12 million displaced people, and 250,000 people have died in the nation of Syria—possibly more. That is the context of our debate. We must take the issue deeply seriously, and we must respect everyone’s views. I have had a great deal of contact with people in my constituency and beyond who have expressed their views about the situation in Syria in general and the question of military intervention in particular. I therefore want to set out my position, having written to people in my constituency on the matter. It is the responsibility of every Member of Parliament to have their say and express their view in this important debate.

First, I acknowledge—and no doubt many will—that this matter is remarkably complex. In that regard, any decision made, whether to intervene militarily or not, must be made on the basis of as much relevant and pertinent information and evidence as possible. Moreover, it must stand up to scrutiny in the forum that will ultimately make the decision to authorise the bombing of ISIS—or ISIL, or Daesh; whatever it is called—which is here in the House. No one person or group reaching any decision on this sensitive issue has the right to claim the moral high ground or unassailable certainty. I definitely do not, especially in the context of the suffering inflicted on the innocent in Syria.

Secondly, in his recent statement to Parliament, the Prime Minister very reasonably and articulately set out his “four pillars” strategy in relation to the Syrian crisis: the counter-extremism strategy; the diplomatic and political process; military action to degrade and destroy ISIS; and immediate humanitarian aid and longer-term stabilisation.

Thirdly, I acknowledge that that is a reasonable framework for the debate and for making a decision. However, that must be done on the basis of four pillars with a comprehensive strategy, not by putting into effect just one or two pillars in isolation with the intention of the other pillars being constructed at some unspecified date. In effect, the current position and proposed action do not, in my view, constitute the required comprehensive approach. It is a partial approach, which is a real concern.

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Fourthly, in my estimation the key pillar set out by the Prime Minister is the political and diplomatic process. However, it is not so much the aim itself that concerns me—who could disagree with that aim—as its practical implementation and outcomes. What would that entail? What is the timetable for implementation of any agreements arising from the process? What is the likely success of the process, given the multitude of interested and competing—and in certain cases, diametrically opposed—parties in what is widely recognised as a volatile mix? For example, at present there is no clear plan at all as to who will end up governing Syria, nor how we are going to involve neighbouring Arab states and countries.

Seema Kennedy: The hon. Gentleman said that there is no plan on who will govern Syria after any intervention. Surely, with a political settlement, that is in the hands of the Syrian people.

Peter Dowd: That is a fair point. At the end of the day, that is where we are. We have absolutely no idea: there is no road map whatsoever. Yes, it seems like jam tomorrow—eventually, we will get there—but now we have to set out the path in earnest. I accept the point that the hon. Lady is making, but we have to try to focus on the issue a bit more.

My concern is not about practical implementation. As I said, it is about what that would entail, the timetable, and the success issues.

Fifthly, I fear that other pillars of the strategy, while genuinely laudable—for example, the humanitarian aid and stabilisation plan—are unclear in their aims, extent and, crucially, the mechanisms for their delivery. In addition, it goes without saying that a systematic counter-extremism approach is crucial in any strategy, but that prompts the question of whether or not such a strategy depends on military intervention per se. The two things are not, so to speak, symbiotically linked or mutually dependent.

Sixthly, taking all those factors into account, to activate just one pillar—military action, evidently in the form of bombing—is inappropriate at this point, notwithstanding the interventions being undertaken by other nations.

Mr Ellwood: Perhaps I can clarify for the House the fact that bombing is already under way in Syria. Britain is participating by providing intelligence and reconnaissance for that bombing. We are already in that arena.

As for what is happening on the political front, the Vienna talks have made progress. For the first time, they have brought these groups together, including Iran and Russia, and people have spoken of a transitional period, and of a ceasefire and eventual elections. Those words are part of a lexicon that I have not heard in the past four years. These are incremental, small steps, but they are very, very important steps.

Finally, the opposition groups that I spoke about—the factions—will be brought together. Those are groups that have defended their communities. They do not want to work under Assad, but they do not want to be part of the terrorist organisation of ISIL either.

Peter Dowd: I welcome the Minister’s clarification, but it does not go far enough. The process is incremental and we need to move further. One, two or three increments

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are not sufficient; we need more. I do not want to misinterpret the Prime Minister’s arguments for intervention, but they seem to be significantly, if not primarily, based on a flawed notion—that other nations are fighting our battles for us and protecting our national security by bombing ISIS, and that we should fight our own battles, albeit in alliance with others, otherwise it reflects on our national integrity. This argument appeals predominantly to pride rather than to reason, and we know that pride comes before a fall.

Seventhly, let me make it clear that I am in no position to criticise the decisions of others in this matter, nor would I. I can only speak for myself. Making challenges and assertions and asking questions is not criticism. Rather, it is the bread and butter of the parliamentary and democratic process, and that is why I was sent here.

I hope that I have set out my position as clearly and succinctly as possible, given the complexity of the issues facing us all and in the context of the long-term suffering of the people of Syria.

8.20 pm

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): It is a pleasure to take part in the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) on calling for it and the Backbench Business Committee on letting it happen.

The title of the debate on the Order Paper is the “UK’s role in the middle east”, which is a wide-ranging subject. My position is simple, which on a complicated subject may give the impression that I am being boring and arrogant. Let me explain. On the UK’s role in the middle east, my answer is that we keep out militarily unless our way of life or the existence of our nation, or that of an ally, is directly threatened. If we had pursued that line, we would not have invaded Iraq or got involved in Libya, for example.

Hindsight is an invaluable ally when judging past actions, but it is history that we should use to guide us in deciding future actions. We react, sometimes violently, when others try to impose their will on us, so why do we keep trying to impose ours on them? If we learn nothing else, we must recognise that many countries in the middle east will always be run by unsavoury regimes. Iraq was a prime example. Under Saddam Hussein Iraq was stable and fairly secular. He pushed his luck in Kuwait and was rightly sent packing. Sensibly, in 1991 we did not pursue Saddam into Iraq, knowing that to do so would destabilise the region. Unfortunately, Mr Bush junior did not quite understand that simple philosophy and was determined to outperform his father. The consequent chaos is there for all to see.

ISIL, or Daesh—call it what you will—is a different matter altogether. How wonderful it would be if a political solution were possible. All options must be explored, but I doubt that jaw-jaw will win through on this occasion. ISIL is a repugnant organisation which now runs significant territory in both Iraq and Syria, imposing its twisted and hateful fundamentalism on innocent people, who have in effect been enslaved. The threat to us here in the UK is very real and, although the terrorist might be home-grown, he or she is likely to have been encouraged and radicalised by the evil spouted by so-called Islamic State, or to have fought there and returned to the UK.

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As the saying goes—I love this saying, which I will paraphrase—if good men do nothing, evil thrives. That is so powerful. It is such a powerful moral guide for me personally, and I have no doubt that evil will thrive if we turn a blind eye to this most recent challenge to our security and way of life.

To take our country to war is always the most serious decision that any of us here have to make, but we are already at war. We are bombing ISIL in Iraq. I pay tribute to our brave pilots, crew and all those who service our aircraft for the fantastic and brave job that they are doing, as they always do. The moment those terrorist thugs cross an invisible line in the sand, they are safe from our aircraft. They are safe to kill, maim and torture for another day—unless our allies do the dirty work for us. Can that be right, when we all face a common enemy? Can that be right when citizens of one of our closest allies are butchered in their capital city? Can that be right when those same allies call for our help? Can that be right when an organisation as hateful as ISIL is allowed to operate unimpeded, enslaving, raping and killing perfectly innocent people in their own country for the sake of some twisted form of Islam? I do not think so.

There is no doubt in my view—and I am a former soldier—that bombing alone will not solve the problem, nor will it end fundamentalist Islam, but it will degrade ISIL’s capabilities, kill and dispirit its operatives, and bring hope and relief to those fighting these terrorists on the ground. I am not as well briefed as the Prime Minister, unfortunately, but from what I have read and heard about the 70,000 members of the Free Syrian Army, they are not in a position to prosecute a meticulously planned ground campaign against Assad or ISIL; neither are they as moderate as we are led to believe. All sides in this horrific war behave as badly as one another, but that is not a reason for sitting on our hands.

Left to their own devices, ISIL will flourish and its apocalyptic vision of a new caliphate will only grow in the twisted minds of those who seek it. Following the Prime Minister’s excellent statement last Thursday, I asked him how many further atrocities on the scale of those in New York, London and Paris the west could tolerate before the clamour—indeed, demand—for boots on the ground forced him and other western leaders to put them there. Ultimately, this is the only way that we can deal effectively with this scourge. I am not banging the drums for war. I do not want to see our men and women on the frontline again, but if we follow the logic of the process, that is probably the only solution. I believe that, working with the Russians, a large multinational force could sweep ISIL from Syria and Iraq.

From a military perspective, one destroys an enemy by taking and holding ground; one cannot do it just from the air. Understandably, there is no stomach for a ground war at the moment. We are told that that will be prosecuted by disparate groups already on the ground—an optimistic notion at best. Therefore, the question we need to ask is this: what happens if bombing does not succeed? The only logical answer is to send in ground troops of sufficient size and capability to crush ISIL once and for all. Yes, there is a risk that this fanged head could rear itself elsewhere but, again, that is not a reason to sit on our hands.

Even as I say this, I shudder with anticipation, not at the task in hand, but at whether voters would ever support another venture into that troubled part of the

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world. They were duped over Iraq, led with all good intentions into Libya, and by revenge into Afghanistan. I wonder whether the will to fight has been knocked out of us, and what it will take to regain it. I pray and hope that it will not take another attack on the scale of that which brought down the twin towers finally to convince us that if we are truly to protect our way of life, we need to put our armed forces and those of our allies in harm’s way one more time.

As I have said, I hope that does not occur, and I hope that all the diplomatic efforts being made will work, but let us face it: we are dealing with an organisation that does not do talk very well—it kills, tortures and crucifies extremely well. I doubt whether talk will solve the problem. I hope that our armed forces are not called, with those of our allies, to be put on the ground. However, if we follow this through logically and do some form of appreciation, as we were taught to do in the armed forces, we must conclude that the only solution, regrettably, is to put a massive armed force on the ground, to take ground and to crush ISIL once and for all.

8.30 pm

Edward Argar (Charnwood) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this timely and important debate and pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) for securing it. The middle east is the crucible in which were forged three of the world’s great religions—Christianity, Islam and Judaism—and it can credibly claim to be the cradle of ancient civilisations and empires, such as those of Babylon or Sasanian Persia, which rose and fell while our own country was still in its infancy. I say that because, as the Minister has already suggested, although it is a region whose past and present have been scarred by war and strife, we should never forget that proud and complex history when we reflect on today’s middle east.

After the collapse of the Ottoman empire, crystallised in the treaty of Sèvres, the UK and other powers played a role in the creation of the modern middle east, but they did so in a way that sought to create nation states on the Westphalian model, which paid too little heed to tribal, religious and historical realities on the ground. Similarly, during the cold war, as geopolitical power play was played out in the region, the overriding desire was for stable nation states, which often took the form of government by nationalist, military strongmen, who governed and maintained their hold on power by seeing all diversity or civil society as dissent and by seeking to crush it. That has all meant the non-development, or at least the very slow development, in many countries of the institutions required for the functioning of a pluralistic and democratic state.

The middle east is a region I know well, having spent time in Yemen, Oman, Syria, Lebanon and Israel and Palestine, and for which I have a great deal of affection, both for the land and for its people. Although I hope to cover the UK’s relationship with Yemen and Oman, I feel that I must touch on Syria, albeit briefly, as so many hon. Members have spoken about it so eloquently and at length, mostly recently my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax).

I fully appreciate and understand the concerns expressed by hon. Members and by our constituents, and I respect what are clearly sincerely held views. The evident care evinced by many of them for the people of Syria resonates

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with me. My knowledge of and affection for that country and its people makes it all the more saddening to see what has become of it through a brutal civil war and the evil that is ISIL—or Daesh, as it is perhaps more properly termed. The case for using that term has been compellingly made in this House by my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti).

What is clear to me is that to do nothing in the face of the threat to ordinary Syrians, to the wider region and to our own country posed by Daesh is the wrong approach. We must of course ensure that any action taken is proportionate and focused, as the Prime Minister has intimated it would be. I support extending the bombing of Daesh from Iraq to Syria and will vote in favour of that when the vote comes forward. The Iraq-Syria border in the desert is not respected by these terrorists, who move freely across it, so it makes no practical sense for us to be able to act to degrade their capability on one side of the border but not when they cross over to the other.

Such action should not stand alone. It requires a parallel, comprehensive strategy to tackle Daesh, and the setting out of a broader, long-term vision and plan to stabilise and bring peace to Syria and the wider region. I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment on this. Of course, alongside that there must be care and consideration for the humanitarian needs of the country, and moves to choke off Daesh’s resources and funding.

A key part of that wider context is the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, which has long been a running sore, with its origins in the days of more direct British involvement in the region. While I have huge respect for my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell), with whom I agree on many things, I cannot agree with him that this is but a sideshow. For too long, the leaders of both sides have let down their people by not making greater progress in delivering peace, and it is the ordinary people of both sides who have suffered. It is more important than ever that we join with others who desire peace to work to achieve a long-term solution to the conflict, however distant that may appear at times.

Seema Kennedy: Does my hon. Friend agree that the main external actor in the Israel-Palestine situation is the United States, and that Britain can play a very important role in assisting the United States in understanding the regional dispute in Israel-Palestine and, we hope, bringing it to the two-state solution that we all desire?

Edward Argar: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. The United Kingdom, with its historical links and understanding of the region, has the potential to play a positive role in helping to move us towards peace not only between Israel and Palestine but in the wider region more generally.

The basic ingredient of a long-term settlement must include an Israel secure within her borders, recognised fully by her neighbours, freed from all acts of aggression and threats of terrorism, and living peacefully alongside a viable, independent Palestine. Alongside these key elements, sharing Jerusalem must be part of any agreement, as would be compromise from the Palestinians on their claim to a right of return and the recognition by Israel

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that settlements on Palestinian land are illegal and wrong and must be given up. Too often in this debate, people say that they are pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian. I believe that in order to be pro-peace, one must be pro-both. While the urgency of finding a solution can at times appear to be lesser, the importance of doing so has never been greater, and we must play our role in restarting stalled peace talks.

Reassuringly, I do not often agree with the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), but on this occasion I did when he referred to Yemen’s as the unseen or hidden war: the “forgotten war”, in his words. He is absolutely right. The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) has spoken similarly eloquently about it.

Chris Green: Does my hon. Friend think that the media have a responsibility to highlight what is going on in Yemen far more than they are doing, and that in so doing they will show the British people more clearly the wider problems in the middle east?

Edward Argar: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Not only do the media have a responsibility to cover conflicts such as that in Yemen, but all of us in this House must take the opportunity to highlight the issue. I know that in the Minister we have an hon. Member of this House who cares passionately about that country.

I have visited Yemen on a number of occasions, though sadly not recently, and have grown to understand, just a little, this proud and complex country, of which I am also proud to declare myself a friend. The former President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, described governing the country as being like

“dancing on the heads of snakes”,

so complex is its recent history and mix of tribal, religious, sectional, economic and political differences. It is currently in the throes of a war bringing untold humanitarian suffering to millions of people, and it faces many daunting challenges. It has a population of about 30 million with incredibly low incomes and a burgeoning young male population with limited economic prospects. It is a dangerous cocktail. This is coupled with genuine security threats from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and across the country a fractured polity and religious and tribal differences. Underpinning that are basic infrastructure challenges such as the dwindling supplies of water. And, of course, for many decades—possibly centuries—Yemen has often been used as the geopolitical playground of other powers playing out their own internal politics.

In the immediate term, we must do what we can to alleviate humanitarian suffering. I pay tribute to the UK Government and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development for their focus, and, of course, to non-governmental organisations such as UNICEF, Save the Children and Médecins Sans Frontières, which do so much in extremely challenging circumstances.

We must urgently find ways to reopen the shuttered Hodeidah port to deliveries of aid and, crucially, fuel, upon which so much of the country’s economic prospects and life depend, and ensure that the security situation is such that the means are found to distribute it beyond those entry points. Central to that, of course, is a meaningful and real ceasefire. I welcome the peace talks in prospect, which offer the best chance for a lasting

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settlement between President Hardi and the Houthi rebels. The UK has the potential to play a very important role in facilitating such peace talks, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister in that regard, and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan) for his work both as a DFID Minister and, to this day, as an envoy. We have done much, but there is much more to do.

Whatever emerges from those peace talks must emerge from the Yemenis themselves and not be imposed from outside. There is an old Arabian saying that goes, “Me and my brother against my cousin, but me and my cousin against a stranger.” We must be very conscious of the fact that, if it is going to stick, anything potentially successful that emerges must reflect not only the needs of the Yemeni people, but the diversity of opinion and interests across the whole of Yemeni society.

In the long term, we must invest in rebuilding Yemen, including modernising its creaking water infrastructure and, in particular, helping to give economic hope to millions. Yemen’s water infrastructure has been struggling for many years, with 60% of water that goes through its pipes lost to leaks. A large proportion of its water is used to grow khat, rather than other crops, and wells are being dug for industrial purposes, even though the law says they should be used only for domestic water purposes. All those issues need to be addressed. In the rebuilding of the country, I hope the Government will support desalination plants, which would genuinely give Yemen the long-term prospect of a secure water future.

Finally, in the context of regional players—Iran and Saudi Arabia included—everyone in the region needs to play their part in bringing peace. I want briefly to highlight one great success story in the region, in a country that has been a true and close friend of the UK, namely Oman. Our relationship with the Sultanate of Oman goes back decades, even centuries, and is based on mutual trust, respect and understanding. Under His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, Oman has trodden a measured and steady path to modernisation and change, while retaining all that makes Oman and its culture what it is. Regionally, Oman continues to play a vital role in advancing peace and acting as a bridge, particularly in the context of Yemen, between Iran and Saudi Arabia and the broader region. Oman has developed, grown and diversified its economy and brought representative democracy in a measured way, allowing each step forward to settle.

We must always remember that change that sticks must emerge from within and go with the grain of a country, not simply be imposed from outside. The democracy and civil society we enjoy took centuries to establish and we must beware of any quick fixes. I will conclude by highlighting that, with our unparalleled links and understanding in the region, the UK has a great role to play.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Last Thursday I warmly commended the Prime Minister on the way in which he had treated the House in relation to the matter of Syria. He was forthright in coming to this House and giving a lengthy statement and then answering questions for two hours. I also said last Thursday that it would be a big mistake for the Prime Minister to attempt to bounce this House into a decision early and without proper debate.

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I understand that the Prime Minister has just announced on television—not to this House—that the debate and vote on Syria are to take place this Wednesday. First, can you confirm, Mr Deputy Speaker, that there could perfectly easily be a business statement at 10 o’clock tonight—that would be perfectly in order—so that that could be made clear for the convenience of the whole House? Secondly, will you confirm that if the Government do not table their motion until tomorrow, which I understand will be the case, the only amendments that can be considered on Wednesday—if the debate is still on Wednesday—are manuscript amendments? In 2013, we could only consider manuscript amendments, but that was because the House had been summoned back from recess. In these circumstances, there is no excuse for us to be proceeding in this way when making such important decisions.

Will you also confirm, Mr Deputy Speaker, that there is no reason why the debate should not be a two-day debate, as we have been requesting for the past two weeks, so that we do not have two-minute, three-minute or four-minute limits to speeches, but can properly consider the very serious issues that many Members on both sides of the House want to raise with the Government?

Finally, I hope you can confirm that if the debate is to end at 10 pm on Wednesday, rather than at the moment of interruption at 7 pm, another motion also needs to be tabled. It would surely be for the convenience of the House if it was tabled today, again so that Members can table amendments to it that do not have to be manuscript amendments.

I just say to the Government that there are many Members on both sides of the House who want to listen to proper debate on a matter that is not straightforward and simple, and any shenanigans or attempts to bounce the House into a decision would be wholly regrettable.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. To run through his questions, he is absolutely right that the motion could be tabled tonight. He is correct that if it is tabled later any amendments would have to be manuscript amendments. It would also take a business of the House motion in order to change the hours of the sitting on Wednesday to take us through to 10 pm. As ever, the shadow Leader of the House is absolutely correct on everything he asked—because he knew the answers before he asked—but I confirm that he is correct. Of course, that is now on the record. Obviously, it is not for the Chair, but for the Government to decide the business of the House. I am sure the usual channels will be in discussions to try to come to an early agreement that will benefit all Members of the House.

8.46 pm

Chris Green (Bolton West) (Con): I thank the Backbench Business Committee. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) on securing this debate on Britain’s role in the middle east.

Many questions have been asked and many concerns raised in this debate. I very much appreciate the concerns about Yemen and the views on Oman expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar). He gave a really interesting insight into what was not covered in much detail earlier in this debate. Tonight, the focus has been on Syria, particularly whether the

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UK should participate further in the coalition to defeat ISIL. We have to consider the risk of inaction, and whether that outweighs the risks of action. Ultimately, however, any action—any intervention in Syria—must be decided on the basis of the British national interest.

Last year, ISIL declared itself an Islamic caliphate, which acts as a continuing draw to many radical Muslims. ISIL has dissolved the border between Iraq and Syria to create its so-called state. Although that is not a direct threat, the fact that it happened at all is an indication that ISIL has become a permanent presence in the middle east. Determining the national boundaries in the middle east is a clear indication of ISIL’s strength and enduring ability to draw radical Muslims to its cause. That creates a permanent threat to many countries when nationals return home, no matter how well funded the security services are.

In 2014, there was a clear legal basis to join the international coalition of countries in air strikes in Iraq, acting in response to a direct appeal from the sovereign Government of Iraq to help them to deal with the terrorist threat and to join a coalition of countries against ISIL. But Syria is not Iraq. Syria has been engaged in a civil war since 2011, with tens of competing armed groups engaged in conflict, including Islamist groups such as ISIL and al-Nusra. Syria does not have the ground troops of Iraq. The Iraqi security forces, as inadequate as they have often demonstrated themselves to be, are better than nothing. Syria does not have an organisation as strong as the Kurdish peshmerga. When we consider any action in Syria, we must be aware that we do not know the strength of the forces that are available.

Mr Ellwood: My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. He is right to speak about the Iraqi forces. We have permission to be in that country. It is taking time to build that capability and they must be indigenous forces. Syria is a different case. The liberation of Raqqa will not happen overnight, as I made clear. It will take months, if not longer. We are still waiting for Mosul and Ramadi to be liberated, even though they are in Iraq and we have forces available. I hope he will concur that there is a political direction of travel that needs to be concluded. That will facilitate a number of opportunities for indigenous ground forces to liberate a city that the majority of people want to be liberated.

Chris Green: I agree with the Minister. He makes a strong point. The more united our front is, the more that ground troops will be able to gather behind reasonable leadership. That will bode increasingly well for the future of Syria.

Raqqa is being used as the headquarters of ISIL, which regards it as the capital of its state. That is where many of its military and terror schemes are made or inspired. We must ask ourselves whether the decision on action or inaction in Syria should be influenced by the now meaningless Syria-Iraq border. Although a difficult military decision needs to be made on Syria, we must remember that military strategy is only a fraction of the comprehensive solution.

A long-term solution in the middle east will be achieved only through political and democratic means when the Syrian Government represent all the Syrian people. The Minister spoke about a unifying force in the international

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community—from Russia to the United States and including all players in between—that can create a space on which just government and democracy can be built. Our diplomatic efforts and humanitarian support must continue. Getting the politics right in both Iraq and Syria is the immediate and overriding priority.

Britain is committed to spending 0.7% of GDP on international development and has already given more than £1.1 billion in aid for those affected by the Syrian conflict—the highest amount of any European country and second only to the United States of America. I am pleased that the Prime Minister has committed to further support following any intervention. We must be clear that this is being done because it is in Britain’s national interest. It is in our national interest to have peace in the middle east and for refugees to have a home to return to with functioning infrastructure, employment and education.

A point was made earlier about the United Kingdom and other countries taking refugees from the region. I believe that the Government’s response is right. It is right to take 20,000 of the most needy and vulnerable from the region. We should not encourage the mass migration of people from the region to Europe, risking their lives as they come up against criminal gangs, the high seas and the terrible weather conditions in the deserts.

It is important to recognise ISIL’s objectives. ISIL wants to purge what it regards as its state of Yazidis, Christians and what it regards as the wrong sort of Muslims. It wants those people out of the way. It will be far easier for ISIL to establish its state if there is no internal opposition. Once it has a more stable state, it will seek to expand from that position and to exploit regional problems and attack Saudi Arabia and further into Iraq. What if ISIL starts focusing more on Lebanon or Turkey? Israel has been mentioned a few times, but it has not yet become involved in this conflict. If ISIL becomes established in the middle east, at what point will it turn its eyes towards Israel? That is inevitable if we allow ISIL to continue.

Our thoughts remain with Paris and all those who are suffering after what happened at the hands of terrorists during that awful, recent attack. Some of the suicidal attackers in Paris had travelled to the region, and all had been inspired by ISIL. ISIL continues to use social media for its propaganda—my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) raised concerns about the wider media implications of that, because we need the media to be responsible when reporting what is going on regarding ISIL’s activities.

We also need more coverage and a better understanding of what is going on in the wider middle east, by considering what is happening in Yemen. The media have a huge part to play in ensuring that tensions are not increased within Britain, and in fostering that better understanding with the British population. If people understand Britain as a nation, and all the circumstances in the region, perhaps fewer people would be inclined to join ISIL.

I pay tribute to our police and security services who have disrupted many terrorist plots to attack the United Kingdom. Like many, I was pleased that the Chancellor’s autumn statement restated this Government’s commitment to protect our national security at a time of increasing global instability, and to spend a minimum of 2% of

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GDP on defence. The protection and defence of their people—both abroad and domestically—is the first priority of any Government.

That reminds us not only of the role played by our security services in protecting us, but also of the direct threat that ISIL poses to our lives in the UK and Europe, as well as in the middle east. The decision about whether or not to use military force is one of the most significant that Parliament will make this Session, and I hope that questions and concerns that are raised in this House will be taken into account before any decision is made.

8.58 pm

Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): It is a huge pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) after such a powerful speech. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) on initiating this debate, and I join him in thanking the Backbench Business Committee for granting it. It was a huge honour to be asked to support my hon. Friend in his efforts, and I was pleased to do so.

For perfectly understandable reasons, the majority of contributions across the House have focused on the current situation in Syria, and on whether this country should extend to Syria those operations that are currently being conducted over the skies of Iraq. However, the motion before the House is more general and focuses on the middle east as a whole. There was a time when general debates on the middle east were more frequent and occurred in Government time—indeed, I made my maiden speech in such a debate. Issues that concern all countries across the middle east should be ventilated frequently, given the threats that this country faces. I therefore voice a plea—I know the Minister will hear and support it, but it should go to others who command the business in this House—for us to return frequently to these issues in debates of this sort, if necessary in Government time. It should not be necessary for me, my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell and others to go to the Backbench Business Committee to secure this time.

The reason for that is today, more than ever, the problems that the middle east faces and creates for us in this House are of such incredible complexity that a coherent strategy on the part of the United Kingdom too often appears beyond the wit of man to devise. A solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict is no nearer than it was when I entered the House. Indeed, it seems to me clear that the two-state solution is effectively dead. The Arab spring has failed to deliver the security on the promise we all believed it showed, both to the people of the region and for peace more generally. The emergence of power vacuums across the middle east has led to the rise of extremism and terrorism that affects us all. The situation in the entire region is beyond a mess and no immediate or clear solution to remedy it is apparent.

It is almost impossible to know where to begin. We believe that we all know a great deal more about Syria than we did before the terrible events in Paris, but in truth the situation is fluid and unclear. No one is really clear as to how the horror of ISIL/Daesh is to be addressed. In neighbouring Iraq, the rise of this appalling threat has been fuelled by the post-Saddam Governments

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awash with corruption, who have pushed out moderate Sunni Muslims and given a voice to the extremists, particularly in areas that the Government cannot and do not control. Jordan is under huge pressure from the refugees created by the instability in the region, but even the Hashemite dynasty’s claim to descend from the Prophet has not isolated King Abdullah from criticism in declaring war on Islamic extremism in a country where nine in 10 of the population are Sunni.

In Iran, President Rouhani, having reached an agreement with the west with regard to Iran’s nuclear programme, has suffered a backlash that the Revolutionary Guard, of which controls much of the economy, has sought to take full advantage. His country may well wish to sustain a moderate political leadership, but the Guardian Council may well block his allies from the forthcoming elections to the Majlis and the Assembly of Experts.

Mr Ellwood: My hon. and learned Friend is making a powerful speech. I thank him again for securing the debate and heed his words on having more opportunities to speak about the middle east and north Africa. He touches on the Iranian elections in February. Does he agree that that will be the first indication, after the signing of the nuclear deal, of Iran’s direction of travel and whether it will engage with the region and take more responsibility, particularly with its proxy influence on neighbouring countries?

Stephen Phillips: I agree with the Minister on that. The difficulty will be which candidates are permitted by the Guardian Council to stand and which are not. We will see the results in due course.

Turning to Saudi Arabia, the succession of Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to the throne has been accompanied by a welcome questioning in some areas, given the rise of ISIL/Daesh, of the ultra-conservative Wahabi ideology. However, an increased recognition of the benefits of avoiding too literal an adherence to a fiery Salafist doctrine cannot detract from a proxy war being fought between the Saudi-led coalition and Iran in Yemen, where a humanitarian crisis of such enormity is now apparent that Yemenis are fleeing to Somalia, of all places, in an attempt to reach safety. This is an issue to which my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar) and the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) both drew attention.

The other Gulf states are not immune. ISIL/Daesh bombed the Imam al-Sadeq mosque in Kuwait in June, killing 27 Shi’a worshippers, something which failed to attract the attention of the world’s press. The aftermath, a series of new laws and a string of arrests, has failed to calm tensions and rendered one of the region’s most tolerant states one in which the social fabric shows evidence of fraying. In Oman, where Sultan Qaboos has held the reins for 45 years, there is, so far as we are aware, no heir. Quite what is to happen next to this most stable of allies when the reins of power are assumed by others, no one knows.

And so too, the Maghreb. Peace and stability has not emerged in Libya following the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi; quite the contrary in fact, with conditions now emerging in which we know ISIL/Daesh flourishes. That, in turn, threatens Tunisia, possibly the only thing close to a success story following the Arab spring, but where a nascent democracy is fighting Islamist militants

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on the Algerian border, as well as those attacking its territory from Libya. Algeria remains a police state, but with more than 95% of its budget delivered by oil revenues, how long Abdelaziz Bouteflika can keep the lid on the local ISIL/Daesh franchise remains to be seen, particularly in the south, which remains a combustible mixture of violent Islamists and gangs of smugglers. Even in Morocco, the conditions are ripe for the enemies of peace: a lack of opportunity for the young, sluggish economic growth, persistent inequality between the cities and the countryside, and a muzzled press, something we find too frequently across the middle east.

Edward Argar: As ever, my hon. and learned Friend is as erudite as he is eloquent. Does he agree that, although lower oil prices are very welcome to many of us in this country, they pose a risk to the stability of countries such as Algeria, given their reliance on a particular oil price in their budgets?

Stephen Phillips: I do agree, and in fact it affects stability not just in the middle east but across other oil-producing regions of the world. We now have two Foreign Ministers on the Front Bench, although not the Minister with responsibility for South America, but he will know of the risk in Venezuela.

I have only touched the tip of the iceberg—I could go on and on, and would be quite willing to do so were the time limit a little longer—but the point is that the world is sitting on a powder keg, much of which borders Europe, and all the fuses across the region seem to have been lit. If ever there was a time for a coherent strategy and foreign policy designed to defuse tensions—from this country, the United States and all our other allies—frankly this is it.

Where though, I tentatively asked the Minister, is that foreign policy? Where is the 30-year strategy that both I and my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell think is necessary? The crisis of confidence caused by an ill-advised and unjustifiable adventure in Iraq in the last decade has led to what the London School of Economics diplomacy commission—possibly the most distinguished body of former diplomats in existence—has termed a crisis of confidence on the part of the United Kingdom. Nowhere is that more apparent than in relation to the middle east, where we have, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) made clear, an historic role. Of course, there remains a great deal of respect and affection for this country, our values and our ability to help ensure stability in the region.

Three themes need to underpin British foreign policy. First, we and our allies need to speak with one voice. The United States is in a presidential election year, but the initial isolationism that characterised the early years of the Obama White House, even if not the State Department, has caused lasting damage to the security of the entire region. Today, we heard from the middle east Minister, but his colleagues in the Foreign Office have a broader remit, and the responsibility of the Government, bilaterally and within the United Nations, must be to ensure that we act in concert with our allies and that our message on all issues is clear. Without that clarity from the west—on Israel/Palestine, the rise of ISIL/Daesh and the issue of pervasive sectarianism—we risk creating divides that can be exploited by extremists.

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Secondly, we need to make it clear to every regime in the middle east that minorities are to be respected and properly included as part of a political settlement. Excluding minorities from the political process serves only to create a breeding ground for extremist ideology of whatever nature, from the rise of ISIL/Daesh to the type of Shi’a militancy represented by Hezbollah or the various militias operating in the south of Iraq.

Thirdly, we need to be real and recognise realistic approaches and solutions, rather than merely mouthing platitudes about a perfection that cannot be achieved. In the immediate term, we might well have to recognise, if not embrace, the fact that the Vienna peace talks might recognise some of the more moderate Islamist parties as part of the immediate solution in Syria. We might not desire it, we might not like it, but we might have to live with it. The priority, at present, is dealing with ISIL/Daesh, and that cannot come without some compromise on what happens after its eventual defeat.

In the longer term, we might need to abjure our own misconceived notion that we can plant western-style democracies in a region with no history of secular democracy in the way we recognise it. What we want does not matter. The new imperialism of the past two decades has in part fuelled the situation we now face. It is time to recognise that and the fact that we do not know best what the peoples of the middle east want. That is a question for them, not for us.

No one would have foretold the chaos and threat posed by the situation in the middle east even two or three years ago, but that chaos is real, as is the threat it poses to us in this country. Strength in our beliefs and values is part of the answer, but the policy of this country and our allies must recognise that we are currently failing our own citizens as well as the peoples of the region. It is time for a change—a change that makes it clear that we are invested in a realistic future for the middle east. It is that message, which I know he recognises, that the Minister has to take away tonight and which needs to go out loud and clear from this House.

9.9 pm

Dr Tania Mathias (Twickenham) (Con): I, too, commend my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) for securing this important debate, and I was pleased to hear what the Minister said, particularly concerning the funding for diplomatic contacts.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) spoke about the UK’s role in the middle east over many centuries. I wish to focus particularly on the role that is nearly 100 years old—a role that started off with a declaration from the UK Government that said:

“Her Majesty’s Government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

The same declaration also said that it was

“clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.

My point is that our role then decreased in 1948, and many people in that area—Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians —would say that the UK Government walked away and

“left the key under the mat”.

Today, we have been involved in action in Libya and Iraq and we may have more action coming up in Syria. My plea is that our role and responsibility must be future-proofed—it must be long term. What this means

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is that our role involves what some people talk of as jaw-jaw and not war-war—and I say that it is jaw-jaw that is continuous. I believe that the UK’s role has been lacking in the Palestine-Israel area, and that the UK must continue to negotiate and have diplomacy. We must still be talking about the borders of Palestine-Israel. We must still be talking about the settlements. We must still be talking about security for Palestine and Israel.

We must talk about refugees’ rights to return, which I have raised with the Minister with responsibility for Syrian refugees. I particularly asked what was happening for the Palestinian refugees who are in the Syrian camps. Can they go home; will there be homes built for them in Palestine? We must, of course, also still talk about Jerusalem. The UK’s role and responsibility in the middle east must be long term and ongoing. Contrary to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell), this is not a sideshow. There can be no long-term peace and stability in the region until there is peace and stability for Palestine and Israel.

9.12 pm

Seema Kennedy (South Ribble) (Con): I begin by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) for securing this important debate, and by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for allowing it to take place.

We meet a time when Britain’s role in the middle east is on the front pages for the reason of war, but the same could be said of almost any day in the last 100 years. If we want to have an effective role in the middle east, which I believe we can have, we need to learn from the past, consider the present and look to the future.

The majority of right hon. and hon. Members have understandably touched on Syria and our role in the coming days and months, but I would like to consider a broader theme. I want to speak directly to those in this place and outside it who say that we should insulate ourselves, turn away and “leave them to it.” To them, I would say quite simply that the links between Britain—or, as it then was, England and Scotland—did not begin with the invasion of Iraq, with Sykes-Picot or the crusades. The Judaeo-Christian underpinnings of our nation were born between the Tigris and the Euphrates, and the fact that Indo-European languages are spoken as far east as Afghanistan shows our common and shared history. That is something we cannot ignore.

The debate is often framed in terms of trade, and how we can benefit from it, and war, but the links are deeper and more complex, to do with culture, religion and family. I am not the only Member of this place, or indeed of the other House, to have family links with the region.

Britain has centuries of diplomatic and scholarly understanding of the middle east. It needs to use that understanding to support stability, with the aim of eventually building a region in which democracy will thrive, and to help our most important ally, the United States, to understand the whole area. I would caution, however, that this will not be the work of one Parliament or of two. It will be the work of centuries.

The immediate threat, which is on all our minds this week, comes from the sadistic cult known as ISIL/Daesh. The origins of ISIL, al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab are complex, but I believe that one reason for the fact that they have survived and thrived is the existence of dysfunctional

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economies in most of the middle east. Where there is corruption, where there are monopolies and raging youth unemployment, there is an ideal recruiting ground for jihadi fighters. I want to elaborate on that a little, particularly in relation to Iran, which is the country in the region that I know best.

After the war, the Ba’athist, socialist command economies of Syria and Iraq, much of the Levant, and north Africa were unable to compete with the far east, which had much nimbler markets, and growth and per capita income declined in relative terms. The petroleum-rich nations of the region are only now reaching the conclusion that they must diversify their economies in order to become more resilient, and to build a wider base for employment.

People often forget that the 1979 revolution in Iran was as much socialist as it was Islamic. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips) referred to central control by the conservative leadership, and, indeed, many of the cronies of the conservative leaders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps now hold much of the country’s economic power. In 1979, there were 105 rials to the dollar. Now there are 30,000. In 1976, Iran’s growth rate was 16.9%, but, according to the International Monetary Fund, it is likely to fall to 0.6%. I am not suggesting that the picture was uniformly rosy under the Shah, because by the end he had definitely become too dependent on oil revenues, but at least there was a thriving private sector.

During the revolution, 80% of all industry was nationalised, including the spinning mill that my father built from scratch and ran between 1971 and 1980. During that period, 380 men worked at the mill, and every day they produced 14.5 tonnes of top-quality yarn. It was sequestered by the Islamic regime in 1980, after which it employed twice as many people and produced half as much yarn, which was of such low quality that it could not be sold on the domestic market, let alone exported. The mill closed in 1992, and every single job was lost.

As we know, unemployment in Iran and, indeed, all over the region is sky-high, particularly among young people. Ahmadinejad propped up the companies of his cronies with $26 billion of cheap debts, which will never be paid off because they were given to flabby, uncompetitive firms. It was the youth of Iran who took to the streets in 1999 and 2009. Rouhani was elected on a mandate of providing sound finances, but the IMF estimates that it will take $10 billion of investment to achieve the 10% growth that is needed to lower the country’s chronic unemployment.

I think that we may be betting a little bit too much on the success of the nuclear deal, and on its inevitably improving the economy. The picture is not so simple. Countries throughout the middle east need fundamental internal economic reform.

Chris Green: We often hear about modernisation in Iran. Does my hon. Friend believe that it is making good progress in that regard, or does she think that that is more of a front, and that the Supreme Leader is not quite the moderniser that people would hope?

Seema Kennedy: I do not think anyone would say that the Supreme Leader was a moderniser. The President is, but the problem is that, under the constitution of Iran, there are different pools of influence and they are pulling at each other all the time.

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The role for Britain is to nurture these nations and to encourage them to build competitive economies in which pluralism can thrive and in which Islamism will naturally fade away. We need to look at our own history, in which the free market and, eventually, freedom and democracy prospered. The primary building block in this edifice is property rights. Nations prosper when private property rights are well defined and enforced. Britain has an important role to play through its international aid budget, and I am glad to see the renewed focus on supporting fragile states to build strong property institutions.

Touching briefly on our interaction with the US—I have made this point in interventions—we need to use our knowledge to influence the date and to push it forward. Our role is to support our ally and to foster in the middle east the evolution that has led to freedom and democracy in the UK. It is a job of work that will continue into the lives of our children and grandchildren, but it is a job of work that is worth doing.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I suggest that hon. Members now speak for six minutes, as I want to bring the shadow Minister in at quarter to 10.

9.21 pm

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy). She made a good speech on Iran and the circumstances from which she originally came. She knows the subject extremely well. I also commend my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) for securing this debate. I well remember when he presented his proposal for it to the Backbench Business Committee. His key point was that we should be looking for a strategy for the middle east, and that we should debate the role of the British Government internationally rather than concentrating only on one area in the region. I believe that many Members share my concern that for far too long we have made interventions in individual countries rather than looking at a broad range of strategic views across the region and deciding what the British role should be.

We are on the cusp of a decision on whether we should intervene in Syria. I am grateful to the Prime Minister for setting out a clear strategy and explaining what we want to achieve from an intervention against ISIL. However, the question remains: what would happen after ISIL was defeated? Where would the replacement Government come from? Where is the alternative view? For far too long, we have looked at countries right across the middle east simply as lines on a map that were drawn after the great war and the second world war, instead of seeing them as groups of tribes and villages that have come together in some form of amalgam or through being dominated by a dictator and his or her forces who required the people to follow a particular line.

Let us look at what we did during the 1980s. At that time, Britain had a settled policy. We balanced Iraq and Iran in the region. We should remember that more people died in the war between those two countries than

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in the entire great war. Under that policy, we armed Iraq in order to combat Iran. Then, however, we intervened in Iraq, took away its Government and unbalanced the region. We are now experiencing the consequences of that intervention, in Iraq, in Iran and across the wider middle east.

Then we had the Arab spring, which had a great swath of democracy at its heart. Everyone dreamed that it would be the beginning of a great movement for change. Sadly, wherever we got democracy, we have now seen dictatorship, war, civil war and further interventions right across the region, and we need to look at that. We have seen the refugee crisis that has erupted as a result of the civil war in Syria, but that is as nothing to the refugee crisis that will be generated unless we address climate change. The region will become uninhabitable, water will be non-existent and food will be impossible to obtain, and we will then bear enormous consequences as a result. It is therefore appropriate to examine that as a particular issue.

Other Members have alluded to the ongoing problems between Israel and Palestine, the area that has failed to be addressed. I speak as someone who has been on visits to Israel and the west bank with both the Conservative Friends of Israel and the Palestinian Return Centre to see both sides of the argument. One depressing thing about the Palestinian representation is how badly they have been let down by their leadership and by their legal advisers, and how they have failed to see any progress towards achieving what they all want to achieve, which is an outright country—a state that is independent and secure.

Israel has to take steps to maintain security. In 2014, Israel, whose territory was subjected to more than 5,000 rockets and bombs sent from Gaza, had to take action against Hamas and the Hamas dictatorship that is misleading Gaza. The reality is that even now Hamas is diverting the international aid that Britain and other countries are putting in to rebuild the terror tunnels it began. Hamas is also utilising the money to fuel hate-filled lessons in ideology in that region, and is preventing the international aid from coming in. It has even prevented the setting up of a water desalination plant which would enable all the people of Gaza to enjoy clean drinking water at first hand. That is extremely regrettable.

Dr Mathias: I agree that the rebuilding in Gaza is crucial. Will my hon. Friend join me in asking the Minister whether there is a way we can monitor it, through our staff or UN staff on the ground?

Bob Blackman: It is key that we monitor what is done. Clearly, Hamas is still using its power to divert aid and prevent ordinary Palestinians from receiving the aid that they so desperately need. It is a scandal that more than a year after the conflict, people who were made homeless as a result of that conflict are still homeless in Gaza. Hamas and its distorted ideology prevent progress from happening.

We see a series of other potential conflicts to come. In Lebanon, Hezbollah has reinforced its forces as a result of being a proxy for Iran, and many hundreds of thousands of rockets are now aimed at Israel, in order to destabilise the region. In Syria, Assad’s regime directly assists Hamas and Hezbollah in rearming. We cannot deal with these countries in isolation.

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I end as I began by saying that what we need in our country is a clear strategy for our policy in the middle east. I congratulate our Government on bringing forward additional resources to target that strategy, on creating a Foreign and Commonwealth Office with more Ministers in it than was the case under the last Government and on putting in place a proper strategy.

9.29 pm

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), who, as always, gave a passionate and knowledgeable speech. I also warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) on securing this debate, with the support of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips), with both giving insightful speeches at a particularly important time. This was always going to be a timely debate, but it is even more so now, given the events of not only recent weeks, but today. Recent events in, and relating to, Syria can only be described as shocking. The civil war and the emergence of so-called Islamic State in parts of Syria and Iraq have produced sickening scenes that simply beggar belief. The sheer scale of the movement in mass migration that we have seen in recent months has been staggering.

Like many, I have been impressed by the words of Antoine Leiris after the tragic events in Paris. In response to the loss of his wife, Hélène, he courageously said of ISIS:

“I will not give you the gift of hating you.”

Like many in this House, I agree with that view. Clearly, that is the right moral response. Today, and over the days ahead, our focus must be on the pragmatic action that needs to be taken to address the two greatest challenges in the middle east: ISIL and the Assad regime.

The attacks in Paris underlined the fact that action must be taken. I am talking about not a knee-jerk response, but a considered, comprehensive approach. The Prime Minister made further important steps in setting out that case last Thursday.

The Syrian civil war and ISIL’s atrocities as it seeks to expand its hoped for caliphate are clearly root causes in driving hundreds of thousands of civilians away from their country and displacing millions from their homes. They are linked and we need to address both, but there is now no doubt that the clear and present danger for us in the UK is from ISIL, which is why tackling ISIL must be at the heart of our comprehensive strategy.

The Syrian civil war has created a power vacuum in the east. The lessons from Iraq, Eritrea and Yemen are that such vacuums need to be filled positively to create a safe environment for citizens and stability in a vital region in the global community.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that over the past decade or more, wishful thinking has been too prevalent in foreign policy, not just our own but that of the west. The Arab spring seemed to point to great promise. Despite advances in Tunisia, our hopes have fallen far short of reality. Our world view hoped for more than the weight of history was ever likely to deliver. Now we have to contend with ISIL and its deep hatred of everything we are and everything that we stand for.

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In Iraq and Afghanistan, we hoped that western boots on the ground would win the war and we wished that the inconvenience of winning the peace would go away. Not enough was done to engage Arab states in the battle, and, sadly, the post-conflict reconstruction plans did not stand up to scrutiny. Wishful thinking and idealistic hoping are not enough. We need a pragmatic approach, one that is grounded in the geopolitical realities and the terrorist threats that we face today. We will need to draw on traditional diplomatic skills, which puts the UK’s national interest as our central objective. The Minister, who has made many strong contributions, has set out the comprehensive approach that we are taking and, with the Prime Minister, has taken a lead on this matter, and I am grateful to him for that.

Our response must be well grounded. Paris reminds us that ISIL’s response not only is grounded in its hoped for caliphate but extends far too close to home. If ever there was a time to act, it is now, and we should not forget that indecision and inaction both have consequences as well. This is not like the summer of 2013 and this is not about entering the Syrian civil war. Indeed, the Prime Minister has ruled out that course of action. Instead our approach needs to be about containing and defeating the menace that ISIL represents because it is in our national interests to do so, and that requires a fully worked-up strategy.

Time does not permit me to talk at length about that strategy, but it is clear that we have certain key elements in place to improve not only our intelligence services and counter-terrorism capabilities but our approach to humanitarian aid as well. That is well documented, because we have given more than £1.1 billion to provide aid to millions of Syrian refugees. We are also taking forward important work to achieve a political settlement. Discussions in Vienna, as the Minister has said, have brought the relevant parties around the table. This is an unprecedented moment in time and, despite the gaps in our interests with Russia, it is the moment when we need to build on that momentum and secure a political resolution in Syria that the many residents in Macclesfield and across the country want to see. Of course, we have also put forward another £1 billion to help with post-conflict reconstruction, and that is another important part of that plan.

It is because those elements of the comprehensive approach are being taken forward in parallel that I feel that I can give my support to the Prime Minister’s military plans. Given the circumstances we face, for the other elements of the strategy to gain traction we need to defeat ISIL. To do that, I have, with a heavy heart, come to the conclusion along with many in this House that we must add our weight to the coalition’s air strikes in Syria. It is for that reason that I support the Prime Minister’s response to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report and will support the Government in the vote on Wednesday.

9.35 pm

Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley), and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) on securing this important and timely debate.

Following the 9/11 attacks, the change in America’s foreign policy was rapid. The first page of the Bush Administration’s 2002 national security strategy said:

“America is now threatened less by conquering states than we are by failing ones.”

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Weak and failing states have arguably become the single biggest global threat to international order, and a disproportionate number are located in and around the middle east. In the wake of the horrific attacks on Paris—Friday 13 November will be a date that lives in infamy for the French people—and the destruction of the Russian passenger airliner in Egypt, Islamic State now universally threatens former cold war enemies, Russia and NATO countries alike.

It might sound surprising now, but before the Arab spring uprising in 2011, neither Syria nor Yemen were areas of concern on the Fund for Peace’s fragile state index. That illustrates both how rapidly states can deteriorate and the extent to which brutal insurgency can embed itself in the power vacuum that remains when states such as Syria fail, as we have seen with the rise of ISIL. Terror groups such as ISIL and al-Qaeda thrive in areas where weak or failed states lack either the will or the ability to confront and defeat them.

The Government have rightly chosen to focus more work on helping fragile and failing states, tackling instability and helping people affected by conflict. That is not just the right thing to do for those people in their countries, but is a way of keeping our country safe, secure and prosperous. That is why our commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on international aid is so vital. It is directly in the international community’s interest and in our own interest to prevent these states from failing and to prevent the breeding grounds for such terror groups from forming in the first instance. If achievable, prevention is better, easier and cheaper than cure.

Equally, it would be entirely wrong and short-sighted to assume that established states in the middle east and conventional welfare are now in some way irrelevant and must be dismissed in the face of combating ISIL. About a fifth of the world’s petroleum supply passes through the strait of Hormuz, a 34-mile wide naval choke point between Iran and the United Arab Emirates. Few locations in the world rivalled the strait’s strategic importance for international trade and prosperity or its tactical vulnerability. As recently as 2011, Iran threatened to close the strait, embarking on military exercises in international waters in the region. It was only through the timely joint intervention of the Royal Navy, the US navy and the French navy, as well as the sheer amount of naval hardware in the area, that the situation was prevented from escalating further, preventing a global oil crisis.

This year, and in clear violation of a United Nations Security Council ban on ballistic missile tests, Iran tested a medium-range ballistic missile. Such missiles are inherently capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Iran and the P5+1 have been participating in intensive talks about the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme for the past few years to reach a negotiated and permanent nuclear agreement. The joint comprehensive plan of action, signed in Vienna on 14 July, was built on a foundation of verification. For that foundation of verification to be successful, access for International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors monitoring nuclear and military sites in Iran must be automatic. Iran cannot be allowed to stonewall requests for access to suspect sites.

The world we face today is inherently more dangerous and uncertain than even five years ago. To combat the growing level and number of threats, as a country we

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must utilise and leverage our extensive network of soft power to prevent fragile states from failing. The UK is second only to the United States in the amount of money provided to international development and we should at every opportunity encourage our international allies to meet their commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on international development. I have no doubt that that will make the world a safer place.

Ultimately, the potency of soft power is contingent on the existence, ability and will to deploy hard power when necessary. Had we not intervened in Iraq or taken action against ISIL’s advance at the request of the democratically elected Government of Iraq, it is possible that the Iraqi Government would have failed in their efforts to push back ISIL, and the situation in the region would now be significantly worse, with more people subject to ISIL’s brutality.

Let us not forget that ISIL burns prisoners of war alive, pushes gay people off buildings, and makes sexual slaves of 12-year-old girls. It beheads aid workers, and publicly tortures religious prisoners and journalists. It is ideologically committed to religious and ethnic genocide, and glories in death, violence and barbarity. If we who can do not stand up to them for those who cannot, what do we stand for?

9.40 pm

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I want to concentrate on the possible effectiveness of air strikes against Daesh in Syria.

Let me begin by looking at Daesh as a military force. The current Daesh order of battle was set up by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who established the so-called worldwide caliphate on 29 June 2014. I understand from my friends that Daesh terrorists are extremely well trained. My contacts say that training courses are sophisticated and last at least three months. Weapons training ranges from pistols to anti-aircraft weapons, and some people can drive tanks and fire them. Daesh has further strengthened its military capability by capturing large quantities and varieties of weapons in places such as Mosul. It has improved its capacity to carry out subsequent operations and obtain even more equipment. Its weaponry includes T-54 tanks—I know how potent they are because I was struck by one in my own armoured vehicle—T-72s and M1 Abrams. It includes armoured cars and Humvees, surface-to-air missiles, BM-21s, which used to be called Stalin’s organ, howitzers and guns, as well as anti-tank missiles such as Stinger.

Daesh is no pushover, which explains why some of the ground forces ranged against it have not made better progress. We are about to consider extending Royal Air Force combat operations to include Syria as well as Iraq. To me, that makes military sense. From Daesh’s point of view, there is no Sykes-Picot line between Iraq and Syria.

Military orthodoxy states that wars cannot be won from the air, and that the enemy must be beaten on the ground. I agree, but let me ponder that for a moment. We won the air campaign in the battle of Britain in 1940, and saved our country from invasion by Nazi Germany. We should remember that Churchill then made a pact with Stalin against Hitler. Today, should we not consider opening a dialogue with President Assad’s regime to defeat the huge threat of Daesh, which is enemy to Syria, the United Kingdom and, indeed, the whole world?

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In 1999, in the Kosovo campaign, air power was crucial, but we needed ground troops too. Air power won it. In 2011, colleagues will remember that it was from the air that the inhabitants of Benghazi in Libya were saved from having their throats cut, as promised by Colonel Gaddafi. Obviously, it went wrong from there. In 2014, Daesh forces were prevented from advancing and taking Baghdad in Iraq, mainly by US air power. Troops were needed then. And today Daesh is severely constrained within its territory because any force that it concentrates could easily be identified and destroyed by our air power. Remember, the Royal Air Force now contributes 30% of the intelligence above Syria.

Military campaigns are fought in phases. I accept that the first military phase in beating Daesh may well be to destroy or severely restrict its activities from the air, then soldiers with rifles need to exploit that advantage. I hope that such forces come from middle east countries, but I would not bet on it. Finally, I believe that to destroy Daesh in Syria and in Iraq, we need to work with the Governments of Syria and Iraq. We may also, at some stage, need to use our own armed forces too, because they may be needed to protect our country by operating in the middle east yet again.

9.46 pm

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) and other Members who secured this timely debate. We know that we will be facing decisions on extending airstrikes into Syria in the coming days. At the start of our debate, the hon. Gentleman set out eloquently the complexities of the region and the many factors and issues that need to be considered when discussing the middle east. He also made a compelling case for the Government to draw up a comprehensive strategy on the middle east.

We have had a good debate and a long one, with 29 contributions and many more interventions, all of them making important points. I shall try to do justice to a few of those points in the short time available to me. Before I do so, I want to mention an hon. Member who is not here tonight—my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), an esteemed former Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who was unfortunately taken ill in the past few days and is in hospital. I am sure all of us want to send our best wishes to him. I know he would very much like to have been here, taking part in the debate.

Understandably, the focus of the debate today has been mainly on Syria and the prospect of military action. I shall return to the subject of Syria, but first I want to mention the other important issues raised in the debate which, as we recall, is on the “UK’s role in the Middle East”. It is unusual to have a debate on the middle east where Israel and Palestine are not the main focus, but we have had important contributions from the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Hornchurch and Upminster (Dame Angela Watkinson), my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), the right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones), my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr Mathias) who all talked about how important Israel and Palestine are to the region.

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We all know that there are no peace talks at present and there seems to be little prospect of a return to negotiations in the short term. I agree with the view expressed by the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard), who speaks for the SNP, who said that the Government need to do all they can to urge a return to the negotiating table. It falls on all politicians in all parts of the House to reach out to the leaders in both Israel and Palestine and ask them not to take steps that will make a return to negotiations harder to achieve. This means an end to blockade and occupation, and an end to rocket and terror attacks.

Yemen was mentioned in the contributions of my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron), the hon. Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on Yemen. He reminded the House that Syria is not the only ongoing civil war in the region, nor is it the only conflict with an enormous humanitarian cost. The situation in Yemen is desperate, the death toll is rising and hundreds of thousands of people rely on humanitarian aid which, as we heard, is becoming increasingly hard to get to those in need. I reiterate the Opposition’s call for an immediate return to the negotiations and for the UK Government to do all they can to encourage both sides to participate in the peace talks in Oman in good faith. It is also important that we have a full and impartial investigation into allegations that coalition forces broke international law during their operations in Yemen. The Secretary of State originally supported that proposal, but the Government appear to have U-turned, and I am still seeking an explanation for why.

We also heard contributions on Saudi Arabia from the hon. Members for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald), for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) and for Glenrothes (Peter Grant). They all pointed out that Saudi Arabia is a key player in the region and highlighted the important role it is playing in Yemen and Syria. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has repeatedly and rightly raised the issue of human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. It is of great concern to us all that there have already been 153 executions this year. We also need to work with the Saudis to ensure that we stop the flow of funding and support to ISIL/Daesh. Closing down the funding stream can be as important as military action, and we need the co-operation of the Saudis in that.

Iran was mentioned as another crucial regional player, particularly in the speeches of the hon. Members for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) and for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy). As a key backer of Assad, Iran will be crucial in enabling a political solution to the civil war in Syria, which is a prerequisite for any defeat of ISIL/Daesh. It was notable last week that the Prime Minister highlighted improved relations with Iran as a key reason for optimism on the prospects of a diplomatic breakthrough at the Vienna talks. Of course, that follows the vital nuclear deal agreed last year. Last week the House discussed the deal and the plans to lift sanctions. I would like to reiterate the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), the shadow Europe Minister, in welcoming that agreement and congratulating all those who have strived to make it possible, including Baroness Ashton and Jack Straw, the former Member of this House.