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“to work with international partners in Europe and elsewhere to help establish safe and legal routes to places of safety, including this country, for refugees who are vulnerable and at severe risk.”

That motion passed with 333 votes and none opposing. The Archbishop of Canterbury made it clear that, in his view, force might be necessary to keep the refugees safe. He also said that the Church would not be forgiven if it turned inwards at this time of crisis. Rather, it must face the fact that extremism is now a feature of every major faith, including Christianity.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols has backed proportionate military intervention to tackle Daesh, and he cites Pope Francis saying that where aggression is unjust, aggression is licit against the aggressor. These are views which I share, which is why I will support the motion.

As the Prime Minister has said, this is not a war against Islam. Religious extremism is global and the key to solving this is the determination of people of faith to overcome it, not just in Syria, but right around the world. The Church is well placed to help, as the conflict is both theological and ideological. By reaching out to other people of faith and showing common cause in tackling extremism, we can demonstrate to a fearful secular world that faith leaders hold one of the keys to finding a solution. Where religion is being hijacked for political ends, we should say so.

The Anglican Communion offers a worldwide network of churches to deploy in the joint global endeavour to stamp out extremism. Together, the integration of hard and soft power is likely to produce a better outcome. I urge my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who will be replying to the debate, to consider this question: to combat Daesh, it is important that prominent theological and ideological strategy is alongside any potential military humanitarian intervention. Unless we understand our enemy and those we choose as our allies in the region, we are unlikely to properly understand the conflict. I hope he will be able to inform the House what thought the Government have given to this advice as they develop their strategy.

The Church can also play an important practical role in offering hospitality, accommodation, support and friendship to refugees, whatever their religious tradition, and advocacy for those who are being persecuted because of their faith. Hospitality is seen as a spiritual gift by the Church and explains why this country, with its Judeo-Christian roots, has a long tradition of providing safe haven to successive waves of migrants. We need to recognise that the conflict may affect the number of migrants and displaced people, and the Prime Minister is therefore right to convene a donors conference early in 2016.

We should also recognise that international development aid agencies, many of which are Christian in origin, would emphasise that it is better to help refugees in their own region, so that once it is safe they can more easily return and rebuild their country. My local imam, who is from Syria and has family still there, is very anxious about the safety of civilians and the need to avoid a power vacuum.

The public will need continuous assurance and transparency about why action is being taken and what outcomes are being achieved, so I welcome the commitment to quarterly updates for the House.

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It is all important how we give our international aid, during and post-conflict, and how we ensure that the voice of the displaced is heard in the post-conflict planning. As we know, it is the most vulnerable, and often the women, who have no voice at all in war. We have a duty to ensure that they are heard.

4.25 pm

Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab): There are two issues at the heart of this debate: the first is how we view the terrorist threat we face, and the second is the specific proposal before us tonight. I will take each in turn. There is a view that the Islamist terrorist threat we face is a product of what we have done or a reaction to it. According to this view, although the activities of terrorists are of course condemned, the real source of the problem is seen as the actions we have taken in the past, and the kind of action proposed in the motion. This was the view that saw the killings in Paris as “reaping the whirlwind” of the action that France, or perhaps the west more generally, has taken.

The danger of this view is that it infantilises terrorism and absolves it of full responsibility for its actions. That view, at heart, separates the world into adults and children, or perpetrators and victims, with the west as perpetrator and others as victims. But life is not that simple. The world is not, in foreign policy terms, split up into adults and children. The terrorists are adults, motivated by their own ideology, which justifies the killing of innocent people from France to Mali, Iraq and Syria. They are fully, not partially, responsible for what they do. No one forces anyone to sell women into sexual slavery. No one forces anyone to behead innocent aid workers. No one forces anyone to bomb the London underground or kill innocent Parisians at a pop concert.

The problem with this argument is that it not only misunderstands what we are up against, but implies that if we lie low they will leave us alone. They will not. If we disarm ourselves against the threat we face, we cannot confront or overcome it. This argument is also too timid in defending our own values. Our society is not perfect, but we strive for a society in which women and men are equal, and where we have freedom of association, freedom of religion, democracy and diversity, and those things are worth defending.

Let me turn to the specific proposition before us tonight. Too much of the debate in recent days has discussed it as though it is an entirely new military intervention, but it is not; it is an extension of the military intervention against ISIS in Iraq that we have been engaged in for 15 months, which has had some effect. Why is it right to take action against ISIS in Iraq but not in Syria?

Several things have happened since we took that decision. First, we have had more terrorism, on the beaches in Tunisia, in Paris, in Mali, on a Russian passenger jet and elsewhere. Secondly, we have had a United Nations resolution calling on us to take all necessary measures to eradicate the safe haven that ISIS/Daesh has across both Iraq and Syria. That call from the international community, backed up by calls from a socialist Government in France, from Jordan and from other allies, should mean something to us.

As I said to the Prime Minister the other day, if we take this action we extend not only our involvement, but our responsibility. If we do this, he has a personal

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responsibility, and the Government as a whole have a responsibility, not just to take military action as a response to Paris and then move on; it is a big moral responsibility to use every means that we have, diplomatically with our soft power, and politically through the Vienna process, to get people around the table, including many who see one another as enemies or opponents, to try to carve out a better future for Syria. The use of hard power and soft power go hand in hand.

Similarly, if we are concerned about the flight of refugees, and the human desperation implied in that flight, then we have a duty to do something about its causes. That means both tackling Daesh/ISIS and trying to shape a better future for Syria—a future where people can live in that country rather than seeing it as place from which to flee.

4.30 pm

Johnny Mercer (Plymouth, Moor View) (Con): We have heard a lot about the complexities around this very difficult question, so I stand with humility not to add any particularly clever intellectual insight into the debate, but to lay out very briefly my view—and I hope, by extension, the views of most of those whom we ask to conduct these operations—of what this means for our country and the choice we face tonight.

I feel very strongly about national security. I have seen the threats that we face with my own eyes and I have felt them with my own hands. We have a privileged way of life in this country, with a free democracy, a free-speech society, and a healthy economy. We are privileged for reasons too numerous to enter into now, but chiefly blessed because throughout our generations we have had men and women who believe so much in this nation that they have taken difficult political decisions, and some have even taken up arms and sacrificed everything, to protect this way of life. I have become worried of late that we have lost some of that spirit—something that makes us recognise the dangerous threat to this precious way of life and resolve to deal with it appropriately. We must always remember how privileged we are in the sea of humanity of which we are a part. We earned this privilege through the years, from generation to generation. We protected this gift, and it is time to protect it again.

We are under threat from a group of individuals who seek to destroy our very way of life in this country. They hate everything about us and work night and day to disrupt and kill us whenever the opportunity presents itself. This is not the Iraq problem of 2003.

Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that at the heart of this matter is that only last month one of our closest allies suffered the most horrific terrorist attack, that that same ally is asking us for military help, and that therefore quite the wrong message for us to send out would be simply to turn our back on one of our closest allies at this time?

Johnny Mercer: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I completely agree. This is a hugely complex issue and there are no easy answers, but I do think we are in danger of almost over-complicating what it is—a threat to our national security, the capability of individuals to project force into this country, and the duty we have to defend it. These individuals have demonstrated that

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they have strategic reach. They can reach into our homelands, into our communities and into our families, and destroy all that we hold dear.

I understand the avalanche of questions from colleagues, and I think that in the history of this House it would be impossible to find a Prime Minister who has done more to answer them. We will add to the mission in that part of the world militarily. We will operate in a way that will—not might, but will—accelerate—

Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Johnny Mercer: In a moment.

We will add to that mission because we operate in a way that will—not might, but will—accelerate the process of destroying the networks and individuals who operate against us. We have been doing that in Iraq; we must also do it in Syria, where they regenerate themselves. We will use weapons—I have used them myself—that are specifically designed to limit collateral damage while retaining pinpoint accuracy and lethality. They are better at this than anything else currently being used. We have been asked by our international partners to step up, and we must deliver on that.

Overlaying these technical arguments must surely be a greater calling that, in the relative comfort of the United Kingdom in 2015, we cannot neglect. We have a duty in this House to keep our nation safe. That involves a multi-faceted approach. We must do all we can to stabilise the instability through aid. We must ensure that our security and intelligence services have the resources and powers to act here at home to retain an effective goal line defence. We must train and mentor indigenous forces. We must do everything possible to stop the source of funds for terrorist organisations, however uncomfortable the conversations with those in the region may be. I have personally interrogated the Government’s response to the threat, and I am satisfied that we are doing all of those things.

In our comfortable existence in this country of ours, we must also accept some uncomfortable truths. There are some—thankfully few, but a significant few—in this world who trade on man’s inhumanity to man. They use fear of religion and violence to promote nothing more and nothing less than their own self-interest and power. The so-called religion they proclaim is as far removed from Islam, a religion of peace, and from any Muslims I have ever known and lived among as it is possible to get.

In 2008, I wrote a reconciliation strategy towards tier 1 al-Qaeda targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The truth then is as valid as it is today: this group of people will never be reconciled to the peaceful, democratic, equal society that they hate so much. They want to die. They want to kill all those who do not conform. Until they are killed they will not deviate from their path. Military action is therefore part of national security. As a society, we must get used to that in the barbaric world in which we now live. We cannot honestly say that we are doing all we can to our constituents at home if our full-spectrum response does not include military action.

Finally, I respect and to an extent understand those who disagree with me. We have made catastrophic mistakes of late, which have damaged our standing on the world stage, but they are done. They are history, and they

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cannot be changed. We must wear them and carry them as our burden. That is the least we owe to the families of the men and women we have lost in pursuit of such actions. Similarly, I understand those who think that some of us are too quick to call for action and seem to take every opportunity to engage militarily abroad. All I would say to them is that conducting such operations makes you less, not more, likely to want to do so again or to ask anybody else to do it for you unless it was absolutely necessary.

Today, I say to the House that this action is absolutely necessary: we must do all we can to keep our people safe. A part of that involves surgical foreign military engagement, and if we neglect that part, we cannot honestly say we are doing everything we can to keep our families safe. I am not prepared to go back to Plymouth tomorrow night and say to my constituents that I was fully aware of the threat that we face from this particular angle, but was not prepared to do everything possible to protect them from this threat.

4.37 pm

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer). Although I do not agree with the position he put forward, I think he put it very clearly and passionately, for which I thank him. I thank the armed forces for the work they do.

I share the horror and revulsion at recent atrocities in Paris, Beirut, Syria itself and elsewhere. yet I have still to hear convincing evidence to suggest that UK bombing of ISIS targets in Syria is likely to increase our security in Britain or help to bring about a lasting peace in the region. On the contrary, the evidence appears to suggest that it would make matters worse. I want to highlight that in the few minutes available.

If we are interested in evidence, a good place to start might be to examine the effect of the US-led bombing campaign so far, explore whether it has been successful and see whether our contribution would make a real difference. From what I have seen, the sustained bombings to date have not done much to push Daesh into retreat. According to the latest figures from the US Department of Defence, US-led forces have flown some 57,000 sorties, while completing 8,300 airstrikes over a 17-month period, but they have relatively little to show for it. While the air war has so far killed an estimated 20,000 ISIS supporters, the number of fighters ISIS can still deploy—between 20,000 and 30,000—remains unchanged.

Moreover, there are very real dangers that airstrikes on Syria have become increasingly western-driven. All four of the middle eastern states previously involved—Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—have now withdrawn. That risks feeding the Daesh propaganda, in which it presents itself as the true guardian of Islam under attack from the crusader west. Although utterly pernicious and wrong, precisely that message is being reinforced by western bombings, with every indication that the attacks are an incredibly effective recruiting sergeant. According to US intelligence sources, last September, 15,000 recruits were reported to have joined Daesh from 80 countries; a year later, the figure

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has risen to 30,000 recruits from 100 countries. I have had no reassurance that western military action would not simply drive more recruitment.

I have not heard any evidence to contradict the conclusion of the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report about the military challenges. The report very clearly stated that its witnesses did not consider that extending air strikes into Syria

“would have anything other than a marginal effect.”

Indeed, as other Members have pointed out, far from the issue being a lack of allied aircraft above Syria, the real problem is actually a shortage of viable targets on the ground. The dangers are compounded by ISIS’s deeply cruel use of human shields, which makes targeting more difficult and will add to the civilian death toll.

There is much talk of focusing on Raqqa, but according to recent exiles, many in the ISIS leadership have gone to ground in places such as Mosul. They suggest that to get rid of ISIS in a city like Mosul, which has 1.5 million people and perhaps 150,000 ISIS terrorists, we would literally have to flatten the entire city.

Those of us who are sceptical about the use of air strikes are often accused of saying that we do not want anything to happen and that we want inaction. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Government can and should be playing a role in brokering peace and stability in the region. The Prime Minister could be redoubling his commendable efforts to find a diplomatic solution. The civil war is inextricably linked to the rise of ISIS in Syria, as the Foreign Affairs Committee report emphasised repeatedly. ISIS flourishes where chaos reigns, so renewed efforts are needed to end the Syrian civil war.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind): Is the hon. Lady inviting the House to ignore completely UN Security Council resolution 2249?

Caroline Lucas: That resolution calls on us to use “all means”. I want to make sure that we are using all of the means short of military action. [Interruption.] I do not believe that we are doing that and I do not believe that we should use military action unless there is evidence that it would make things better. There is laughter on the Government Benches at the idea that we might not want to take military action if there is no evidence that it will work.

One reason I do not want to use military action is that there are no ground forces. We have heard again and again that air strikes will not work without ground forces, yet when we ask where the ground forces will come from, it turns out that they are mythical—they are “bogus battalions”, as the Chair of the Defence Committee said.

Let us not suggest that those of us who do not think that there is an instant military answer are not just as committed to seeing an end to ISIS as those on the other side of the House who seem to think that there is a military answer. All of us are committed to getting rid of ISIS. Some of us are more committed than others to looking at the full range of measures in front of us and to looking at the evidence that suggests that bombing, to date, has not been successful.

I was talking about the other measures that I would like to see taken forward. I talked about the diplomatic efforts, building on the Vienna peace talks. The diplomatic effort must extend to Iraq, where the Abadi Government

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must be encouraged to reach out to the neglected Sunni minority, especially in those parts of the country where ISIS is recruiting.

Why are we not applying sanctions to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states that have turned a blind eye and allowed the flow of finance to ISIS and, potentially, other terrorist groups? Why are we still selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, when they are then used in a vicious and destabilising war in Yemen that has killed thousands and made millions homeless, and that is creating yet more chaos in which al-Qaeda can thrive? Why are we not putting pressure on Turkey over the oil sales and the transit of fighters across its border?

Why are we not doing more on refugees? We should have more refugees here in the UK—of course we should—but we should also put more pressure on our allies to put more resources into the refugee camps in the region. I appreciate that the Prime Minister has done a lot on that. This country has been good on that issue. Let us make sure that our allies do the same, because those refugee camps are becoming absolutely desperate. It is cold, there is more poverty and desperation, and we can be sure that ISIS will be recruiting in those refugee camps too.

4.43 pm

Mr David Jones (Clwyd West) (Con): I am bound to confess that I agreed with very little of what the Leader of the Opposition said in his contribution to this debate, but he was entirely right that whether to send British armed forces into action is possibly the most serious, solemn and morally challenging decision that Members of this House can be asked to make.

The principal questions that Members should consider are those of security, legality and utility. The first question we should ask ourselves is whether the security of this country is under threat. That is certainly the case. The terrorist organisation that dignifies itself by the title Islamic State, but which I am glad to see Members on both sides are now calling Daesh, represents, in the words of Security Council resolution 2249, an

“unprecedented threat to international peace and security”.

That is certainly proving to be the case in this country.

Daesh murderers have already beheaded our fellow citizens in front of TV cameras, and distributed those medieval scenes across the internet. Thirty of our fellow citizens were murdered on the beach at Sousse, and we have heard of seven plots disrupted by the security services. There can be no doubt as to the threat that Daesh poses.

Many hon. Members will be concerned about issues of legality, but I believe that is properly addressed by resolution 2249, which calls on states to take “all necessary measures” to prevent terrorist attacks, and to eradicate the safe haven that Daesh has created in Iraq and Syria. After the experience of Iraq, it is hardly surprising that Members across the House are concerned about legality, but I do not believe that that issue arises in the current case. The international community clearly regards Daesh as such a unique threat to the peace of the world, that military action is not only justified, but positively encouraged.

On utility and whether British military action will make a difference, I believe that it will. Britain should not stand by while our strongest ally, the United States,

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and France, which has recently suffered so grievously, bear the greatest load to rid the world of this pernicious and evil organisation. As the Prime Minister rightly put it, we should not subcontract our security to our international partners. The Royal Air Force boasts some of the finest military pilots in the world. It possesses formidable weaponry, including the Brimstone missile, which is unique to the British armed forces and will make a considerable contribution to degrading the power of Daesh. Our allies are calling for us to join them.

Brendan O'Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP): The right hon. Gentleman says that the Brimstone missile is unique to the Royal Air Force. Is it the case—I asked the Prime Minister this the other day—that the Saudi Arabian air force has been using the Brimstone missile in Syria since February this year?

Mr Jones: As far as I know—I stand to be corrected by the hon. Gentleman, although I do not know whether he is right—the Brimstone missile is unique to British military forces, and we have the finest pilots in the world flying those planes.

To those who say that British engagement in Syria will put this country at risk of retribution by terrorists, I say yes, that is probably right. However, that will not change the state of affairs that currently prevails. ISIL/Daesh does not recognise the border between Iraq and Syria, and it regards land on both sides of that border as part of its territory. We are already taking action against Daesh in Iraq, and therefore we are already at risk of retribution. The danger to our citizens is already great, but I do not believe that it will be increased one jot by the action that I hope this House will support. The risk is already there, and we should continue to adopt the vigilance that we are already displaying to keep our citizens safe at home.

I believe that the case for action is strong as is the legal basis for it, and Britain can, and will, make a difference in the struggle against Daesh in Syria. I shall therefore support the motion, and I urge other hon. Members to do likewise. It is entirely honourable for Members to go through either Lobby this evening, but if the outcome of that vote means that we commit ourselves to military action in Syria, every Member of the House should—and I believe will—give all necessary support to our brave armed personnel in Syria.

4.48 pm

Mr Ivan Lewis (Bury South) (Lab): The horrendous events in Paris sent shockwaves through the world, as innocent people were butchered in one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Such carnage inevitably demands a response from France’s Government and closest allies, and it is perfectly understandable that the Prime Minister decided to seek support from this House to extend UK airstrikes against Daesh from Iraq to Syria. As my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) said, however, the problem with the Prime Minister’s response is that it has exposed the failure of the Government and the international community to adopt a credible strategy.

Let me be clear: Daesh must be defeated. It represents a direct threat to our national security, and its fascist ideology and barbarism leave no space for negotiation or diplomacy. However, this will not be possible without significant ground forces from the region. In turn, this will

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not happen unless and until a political agreement is reached to end the Syrian civil war, accompanied by reconstruction and a steady flow of humanitarian support. As other hon. Members have said, there must be a concerted effort to choke off the funding and weapons that are being made available to Daesh through a variety of sources.

In truth, extending our airstrikes will do little or nothing to increase the overall capacity to degrade Daesh. It is a short-term tactic that falls into the category of being seen to do something, rather than being prepared to do the heavy lifting necessary to produce a credible and coherent strategy. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), in his excellent speech, was right to say the Government have a duty to do that heavy lifting. I am not sure that that will exists.

It is rewriting history to equate being on the left with always opposing military action. I feel this more than most, as my grandfather fought in Spain for the International Brigade against Franco’s fascists. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett), I am proud of the difficult choices that we made in Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. We saved hundreds of thousands of lives and, in the latter case, undoubtedly enhanced our national security. However, my generation of politicians must also show some humility. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the post-conflict strategy was a disaster. In Afghanistan, it took far too long for us to adopt an integrated approach to security, political dialogue and development. In Libya, we had no strategy for dealing with the knock-on effects following the fall of the Gaddafi regime.

For some, the lessons of these conflicts is that military intervention is always wrong. I fundamentally disagree. Of course, military action must always be a last resort, but there are times when it is the right thing to do. However, a common denominator in recent years has been our failure, and the failure of our allies, to have a credible, sustainable strategy beyond our initial interventions, one that defeats tyranny but minimises the loss of innocent lives, and restores stability and belief in a better future. I am afraid that in the absence of such a strategy I am not prepared to risk making this mistake again. That is why tonight I will be voting against the Government’s motion.

4. 52 pm

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): I have a great deal of sympathy for the way in which the hon. Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis) advanced his argument, although I disagree with the conclusion at which he arrived. As he and many in the debate have said, there can be no certainty that the motion we are being asked to vote for will necessarily lead to the result the Government are seeking to achieve. Of course we cannot say that. There are a great many very difficult questions to be asked and they need to be answered.

I am very glad the Defence Committee will address shortly some of the practical questions about how military force will be used. Will our modest eight Tornadoes, even with their magnificent Brimstone missiles, make much difference? We do not know. Who will carry out

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the ground operations necessary to secure the ultimate destruction of Daesh? There is also the central question: how can we prevent the deaths of innocent civilians? What effect will it all have on security here at home? Will it make it better or worse? There are then the geopolitical questions we have not really addressed very much this afternoon. By fighting in Syria against Daesh, will we be on the same side as President Putin or even Mr Assad? Is our enemy’s enemy our friend? No one has really addressed that question.

Anyone who claims to have straightforward, clear answers to these questions is probably fooling himself. I do not believe that there are straightforward, clear answers. I do not believe that the motion can be supported simply on dogmatic or straightforward grounds. No one can be certain that what we are asking our armed forces to do will necessarily have the right outcome.

By the same token, if we cannot say with any certainty that the motion will achieve the result we seek, nor can we say that doing nothing will have a better outcome. We cannot say that at all. Who, after all, can really ignore Paris? Can we ignore Tunisia and Sharm el-Sheikh? Can we turn a blind eye to women sold into slavery, crucifixions, beheadings and gay people being thrown off buildings? Are we really too timid to react with force to mass rape, genocide and thousands of people being murdered? How will we look our constituents in the eye if doing nothing means an outrage of some kind in the UK? Can we really sit back and let the US, France, Russia and Hezbollah do our job for us?

Doing nothing is a safe option—there is no question about that at all—but action demands much tougher arguments. The fact is that the middle east is a cauldron, a viper’s nest, a maelstrom, and there can be no dogmatic certainty as to what is the best thing to do there. That leads me to three conclusions. First, our vote today cannot be based on certainty or on dogma, and it certainly cannot be based on party allegiance or on some claimed superior knowledge over other hon. Members. It is truly a conscience vote—a vote based on our instincts, on the balance of probabilities, on our feeling for things, on what our constituents said to us and, above all, our hopes for peace in the future.

Secondly, I have a real feeling that the importance of today’s vote is being somewhat over-egged. We are not “going to war with Syria”; we are not going to blast Syria to pieces, as some of my constituents have written to me to suggest. All we are doing is extending the existing campaign. We are going across an invisible line in the desert sand––the Sykes-Picot line invented by the French at some stage in the past, a line that means nothing at all. If we are committed to destroying Daesh, we must do so whether it is in Syria or Iraq.

I have been reasonably consensual up to this moment, but I am now going to jump to an area in which I am confident that I will be the only Member who agrees with me. Given the complexity of the matter and its insignificance in a sort of way, is it really right that all this debate and argument is committed to the outcome we seek this evening? The only war in the history of Great Britain on which we voted was Mr Blair’s illegal war in 2003. I do not think that that vote by the House of Commons provides a very good precedent.

There is a moral argument for saying that the generals, the intelligence chiefs and the Prime Minister should be the people who take these difficult decisions, giving us

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the opportunity to scrutinise and criticise what they have done. In asking to vote on the motion, we are in fact removing the right to disagree with our leaders subsequently. Surely there is an argument in favour of setting up some kind of structure—perhaps like the War Powers Act in the United States—and returning the royal prerogative. We need some structure by which the Prime Minister and the generals can take these decisions and it is then our right thereafter to criticise them, rather than emasculating ourselves by voting for them.

4.57 pm

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): In essence, this debate boils down to UK RAF jets going into Syria, into a war that is already in existence—a multi-cornered and multifaceted war. It is not the great squadrons imagined in the press, or in the minds of the public as a result of what has been put into their minds by the press. It is, as we have heard, eight jets, and as the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee told me, probably only two would be active at any one time on any day in Syria.

For context—I am grateful to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) for this—there have been 57,000 sorties in Syria, in 8,000 of which bombs have been dropped, in 17 months. That is 113 sorties a day, with 16 of them dropping bombs. We will deflect from what we are doing in Iraq, where 10% of sorties are by the UK. I asked the Prime Minister last week whether bombing Syria would mean bombing ISIL less in Iraq. He has made the choice to bomb ISIL in Iraq. He could not answer my question, though he should have been able to. He then claimed that he would have 75,000 Free Syrian Army troops. I have to tell the House that the Americans tried to raise a force of moderates and mobilise them, but it failed. David Wearing, who lectures on middle east politics in the University of London, explained on CNN:

“A US initiative to stand up even a 15,000 strong ‘moderate’ force to confront ISIS recently collapsed in failure, having put less than a half a dozen troops onto the battlefield.”

Mr Grieve: The one issue that does not seem to feature in the hon. Gentleman’s discourse, or that of any members of his party, is what would have happened if there had been no intervention in Iraq at all. Surely the consequences might well have been that Daesh spread very quickly and caused a generalised conflict. Ignoring that point seems remarkably selective on the part of those who argue that we should not take further steps now. I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman cared to address that point.

Mr MacNeil: The right hon. and learned Gentleman might like to know something about the interventions in Iraq. Martin Chulov, an Australian who works for The Guardian, and who just got an award from the Foreign Press Association, noted, after speaking to ISIS commanders, that they were incubated in the American camps in Iraq. That is what intervention has done. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows full well that that is the result of intervention.

Only two months ago, one of the central views of the United States and its allied was that Russian involvement in Syria would only fuel more radicalism and extremism. Mehdi Hasan in The Guardian noted that the United

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States Defence Secretary, Ashton Carter, had warned of the “consequences for Russia itself”, which would become “rightly fearful” of terrorism. A point that is almost central to the public debate and discourse here in the United Kingdom in general, and in the House in particular, is that involvement in disastrous wars increases rather than decreases the threats to us in the west. I am also grateful to Mehdi Hasan for reporting the words of retired US general Mike Flynn, who used to run the US Defence Intelligence Agency, and who said

“the more bombs we drop, that just…fuels the conflict”.

That is a very hard truth for some to hear, but it is indeed the truth.

The “war on terror” started by George W. Bush was straight from the “must do something” school of thought, a school of thought that is all too prevalent in the House today. It turned a few hundred terrorists in the Hindu Kush into a force of 100,000, almost globally—they were certainly active in 20 countries—and employed the classic recruiting tactics of the unjust war in Iraq, based on lies. Twelve years ago, the “must do something” rhetoric in the UK involved talk of “appeasement” and attempts were made to conjure up images of Neville Chamberlain, but all the while the unseen appeasement was that of George Bush by the poodle that we had as the UK leader, Tony Blair.

As the writer Jürgen Todenhöfer said in a recent article in The Guardian,

“War is a boomerang, and it will come to hit us back in the form of terrorism.”

We must be honest with the people about that very real possibility. The Daily Telegraph said as much recently when reporting the crash of the Russian Metrojet aircraft in Egypt, which it described as a direct consequence of Russia’s involvement in Syria. It went further, suggesting that Putin might have incited that attack on the Russians. We have to be very sure that we see in our own eyes what we see in the eyes of others.

What do we have in Syria? We have 10 countries bombing, we have Kurds fighting, and we have the Free Syrian Army, which, as we were told earlier by the Chairman of the Defence Committee, is a ragbag of 58 separate factions. We have Assad, and we have Daesh/ISIL. Meanwhile, significantly, Russia bombs our allies but it seems that we will not, or cannot, bomb theirs. We have Turkey bombing a Russian plane, and bombing the Kurds as well. When the Turks bombed the Russian plane, they were taunted by the Greeks; both are members of NATO. Throw in America, France, the United Kingdom and the regional powers, and we have the powder keg of 1914, of which we seem blissfully unaware. All in all, we have a debate about two jets that has led us into something that we should not be going into.

As will be clear to the House, I am against this action for many reasons, but I am also against the way in which the Government are handling the issue. They should have provided more time. They should not have bumped the House into this yesterday, and they know that full well. The United Kingdom is caught between its time of empire and Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex. For that reason, we are being urged that something must be done, even if it is the wrong thing.

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5.3 pm

Steve Double (St Austell and Newquay) (Con): I am a recently elected Member, and one of the questions that I asked myself before putting myself up for election was whether I would be ready to stand up and be counted on a day like today. I am pleased to be able to add my voice to the debate, and to set out my position. Deciding how to vote on this motion marks one of the most serious and solemn occasions in my life, and I have agonised over how I will vote this evening for longer than I have about virtually any other decision that I have had to make so far.

Let us be clear about what we are deciding on today. This is not a new conflict, but an extension of a conflict in which we are already engaged. Daesh is already our mortal enemy: it hates us and everything that we stand for. What is at stake here is our national security. However, to me, it makes no sense whatever for us to be willing to attack Daesh from the air in Iraq while not being prepared to follow its members into Syria. They are our enemy, and they remain our enemy wherever they are to be found.

We also need to note that extending our air raids into Syria is only one part of the full package of measures in the motion. We all want peace in Syria and the region, and I am pleased that the motion commits us not only to the bombing but to a continuing involvement in finding a political solution in Syria. We want an end to the refugee crisis that has seen thousands upon thousands of Syrian people risking their lives to escape from the terror of Daesh. We want to be able to begin the work of reconstruction in Syria, and to see the country and the region rebuilt and returned to economic stability. The motion commits our country to playing a part in all those things. However, none of them will be possible while Daesh remains able to continue its campaign of terror in that country.

In coming to my decision on how to vote, along with wanting to see a comprehensive package of measures, I had two specific questions to which I needed answers. These were reflected in many of the emails I received from my constituents. First, will extending our military involvement into Syria increase or decrease the risk to our nation? We have to understand that we are already at the top of the list of targets for Daesh; there have already been seven known attacks planned on our country. The reason we have not witnessed scenes of horror on the streets of this country like those seen in Paris is not because we are not a target; it is down to the incredible and excellent work of our security services, to whom we should be eternally grateful. This threat will not go away, or decrease, if we do nothing.

Kirsty Blackman: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Steve Double: I will carry on if I can, please, as I am nearly out of time.

My second specific concern related to the risk of civilian casualties. None of us wants to see civilians casualties resulting from the action we take, but we have to face the fact that there are already civilian casualties in Syria as a result of Daesh’s actions. Thousands of people are being murdered, terrorised and enslaved as a result of its activity. Unfortunately, there are nearly always civilian casualties when we engage in war, but I believe that Daesh is already killing more civilians in

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Syria than are ever likely to be caught up in our aerial campaign. Not attacking Daesh will result in more and more civilian casualties. I am comforted to learn that, in the 15 months we have been bombing in Iraq, there have been no reported civilian casualties. That gives me confidence.

Some people say that this is not our fight, and that we should keep out of it and not get involved, but it is already our fight. Our people have already been killed on the beach in Tunisia, and British people were caught up in the attacks in Paris—and it will not end there. This is our fight, and I believe that we should stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies. I will vote with the Government and for the motion this evening.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. A four-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches will now apply.

5.8 pm

Joan Ryan (Enfield North) (Lab): Like other hon. and right hon. Members, I have given a great deal of consideration to this matter, to the views of my constituents and colleagues, and to the contributions made in the House today. There is no doubt that these are difficult and complex issues, but I will vote this evening to extend our air strikes into Syria. I want to outline the fundamental issues that have influenced my decision.

First, does Daesh pose a clear and present danger to the UK and our allies? Daesh is an appalling terrorist group, and it is responsible for terrible human rights abuses and war crimes. We have witnessed atrocities on the beaches of Tunisia, on the streets of Paris, Ankara and Beirut, and in the skies above Egypt, and we know that seven Daesh plots against the UK have been disrupted this year alone. There is no doubt that it poses a clear and present danger to the UK at home and abroad, and to our allies.

Secondly, is there international support for military action against Daesh in Syria? The United Nations Security Council resolution states that Daesh poses an “unprecedented threat” to international peace and security, and calls on member states to take “all necessary measures” to deal with Daesh in Syria and Iraq. The resolution is unequivocal; it is asking us to act. Also, following the atrocity in Paris, the French President has made an explicit request to the UK to join airstrikes against Daesh in Syria.

Thirdly, I ask myself what the outcome has been of the UK’s involvement in Iraq against Daesh. The RAF has helped to shrink the territory controlled by Daesh by some 30% and has succeeded in doing great damage to its infrastructure; it has also helped Iraqi security forces and Kurdish peshmerga troops to liberate towns from Daesh.

Fourthly, is the UK already involved in confronting Daesh in Syria? The UK has reconnaissance drone aircraft operating over Syria, and we are providing equipment to forces opposed to both Daesh and Assad in the country. The primary motion under consideration is about not going to war, but extending military action against Daesh into Syria. Given that it does not recognise borders, I see no sense in allowing it safe haven from RAF strikes in one country when we are confronting it in another.

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My fifth question is: is there a comprehensive plan to end the civil war in Syria? Military action can be only part of a wider process involving further political and diplomatic efforts to enable a Syrian peace process. The International Syria Support Group, which includes major regional players and our allies, has been holding constructive discussions in Vienna on this issue, and I am encouraged by the progress being made. A sustainable peace in Syria will help bring to an end the chaos that has allowed Daesh to thrive. On this issue, I would ask the Prime Minister to give assurances that the bravery shown by Kurdish peshmerga forces and the Kurdish community will be recognised, and that they will be engaged in the Vienna process.

I believe there is agreement in this House that Daesh poses a clear and present danger to the UK, and our first duty is to protect our citizens. Therefore, it is not right to expect our allies to fight Daesh in Syria on our behalf. Extending military action against it will not be the cause of plots against the UK—it has already attempted multiple attacks on us over the past year—but I believe that striking at Daesh has the potential to erode its capability of bringing terror to our streets. I will vote in favour of military action.

5.12 pm

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): There have been many powerful speeches, and I admire those people who have such a certainty of view about this, which I do not share. I suspect that for that reason many people may find it difficult to support what I am going to say. I am full of doubts, as I think are many good people in the country listening to this debate.

I was talking only yesterday to an Arab friend who lives and works in the region and loves his country. He said, “Really, I think you in the British Parliament are not being honest. You have got to go to war, if you want to, on the basis that your closest friends and allies, the French and Americans, have asked you. If that’s what you want to do, go ahead and do it, but bear in mind that when you go to war, you almost certainly won’t make any difference, and you might make things a lot worse.”

I am afraid that is the rather nuanced opinion of many people in the middle east. I know there is a sense of wanting to be in solidarity with one’s own friends in this Chamber, but I was in this Chamber during that Iraq debate and I was one of only 15 Conservative MPs who voted against. I have not regretted that decision. I have been there and talked to people who have been horribly scarred by war. Tens of thousands of people have lost mothers and sons as a result of our actions, so we have to learn from history. We have to learn the lessons of our involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. We have to approach this debate ultimately not from a party point of view or from a point of view of what is important for our own country, but with a deep sense of humanity and love of peace and care for some of the most vulnerable and traumatised people in the world. We have made terrible decisions that have made the lives of many people in the middle east much worse. So this is a nuanced decision.

I accept that our military involvement will make some difference. I will not repeat all the arguments. I am not competent to comment on Brimstone missiles, but I am sure they will help to degrade ISIL. I accept the

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argument that, if we are bombing ISIL in Iraq, why not in Syria? There is a difference, however, because in Iraq we are supporting a legitimate if inadequate Government, as well as ground forces, whereas the situation in Syria is hopelessly confused. I am afraid we cannot forget that many of us were asked to bomb Mr Assad two years ago. I have heard the phrase, “My enemy’s enemy is my friend,” but, “My enemy’s enemy is my enemy,” is rather more complex.

Mr Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con): I do not know whether my hon. Friend agrees with me, but so often we have gone into these places with minimal knowledge of the realties on the ground. For example, most of the people whom we call Daesh in Syria and Iraq are the ordinary Sunnis. We have to give them a more meaningful choice than living under either ISIS or Shi’a militias.

Sir Edward Leigh: I agree. I think we are rather arrogant in the way we look at this debate. We want to call ISIL Daesh, but we have to understand that, for whatever reason, many people in the Muslim world who live in the region support ISIL. We find that an extraordinary point of view.

If, by some miracle, our bombing campaign made a difference and we took Raqqa—although, as my right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Defence Committee has explained, there are no credible ground forces to achieve that—what would happen? Would ISIL go away? No, because ISIL is an idea, not just a criminal conspiracy. There are many people in the Muslim world who support this flawed ideology, and we in the west and in this House are not going to defeat it just by military action.

I am not a pacifist. My duty is not to my friends in France, much as I love them, or to the traumatised people in the middle east, but to the people we represent. If, in his summing up, the Foreign Secretary can convince us, not that some people are inspired, but that there is a direct threat to this country from Raqqa and that there is a command and control structure that is planning to kill our people—[Interruption.] Hon. Members are nodding. Let us hear it from the Secretary of State. If we are acting in self-defence, by all means let us go to war, but let it be a just war, defending our people and in a sense of deep humanity and love of peace.

5.17 pm

Tom Elliott (Fermanagh and South Tyrone) (UUP): Obviously, this is a very difficult decision. I do not think that anybody present wants to be in the position we are in. None of us wants to believe that going into Syria or bombing in Syria is a good decision, but let us be clear that we are not planning to bomb Syria. My understanding is that we are planning to bomb the terrorist regime of ISIS in Syria. My goodness, coming from Northern Ireland, we know what it is like to fight terrorism and to experience people trying scrupulously to assess every movement we make. I have great sympathy for the Prime Minister, the Government and everyone else who has to take this decision, whichever voting Lobby they go through tonight, because it is not easy.

What are the alternatives? Yes, I would love to be able to negotiate with the Syrian Government and with those in the middle east who are genuinely interested in a peaceful outcome, but is that realistic on its own? The case has been made today that this is not going to be the

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silver bullet—it will not be the resolution for everything that will happen—but I sincerely hope it will be part of a process that can bring a positive resolution and a positive outcome.

I would love to be able to say today that we will be at peace in the middle east for the foreseeable future, but that is not the reality. I hope that we have a strategy. I talked to the Prime Minister and some of his officials just last week and one of the challenges I put to them was whether we had a short-term and a long-term strategy to resolve things, rather than just bombings and military action. I asked whether there are overarching strategies to resolve the problem in principle. I have heard since then, I heard that evening when I met the Prime Minister and his officials, and I heard in his statement that there are strategies. None of us can guarantee that they will work positively, but I sincerely hope that they will.

I assure the House that I do not take this decision lightly, and I will be voting for the action proposed by the Prime Minister today. I sincerely want a genuine outcome. I reassure all the people of the western world and the people of the middle east that we stand for a peaceful society. We stand shoulder to shoulder with them and hope that we can reach a genuine resolution that will help not only the people in the Chamber today but our wider society. There is one overarching strategy that we must consider and that is protection for the citizens of the United Kingdom and of the western world. I hope that that is what we are providing today.

5.21 pm

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): No one who has taken part in the debate today has approached it lightly and I think that we would all agree that anyone who suffers recriminations as a result of whatever decision they reach should have the sympathy of the House. There can be no recriminations and we must be free to express our views as we think fit. We are accountable to our constituents for what we say and what we do.

Notwithstanding the enormous media hype about today’s debate, it is not about a decision to go to war. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) said, this is essentially an extension of the operations we have been carrying out in Iraq since the House decided last year by 524 votes to 43 that the Government should take that action.

It is important to make the point that our intervention in Iraq has been critical. Without that intervention, there is no doubt that ISIL/Daesh would have taken control of the whole country. Had they taken control of Iraq, the consequences for the entire region, let alone us, would have been catastrophic. They would have been in charge of the entire oil output of Iraq and would have caused absolute mayhem. Since we joined the coalition partners in Iraq, at least 30% of the land taken by Daesh has been recovered. The contribution has been worth while and, as so many have said, it clearly makes no sense for Tornado aircraft and the Royal Air Force to have to turn back at the border.

Many people have made the point—most effectively the Prime Minister, if I might say so—about the unique capability that the UK has and that France and the United States have asked us to contribute to this operation.

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I say to the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond), who is no longer in his place, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), with whom I am normally in agreement but am not on this occasion, that the Brimstone missile is a unique capability that only the United Kingdom can deploy. One other country has it, but the United Kingdom is the only one that currently can deploy it. That missile has been proven to have a precision strike that reduces the likelihood of civilian casualties to a minimum. Of course there will never be a complete absence of civilian casualties, but Daesh is attacking people every day of the week.

It is also important to note that the United Kingdom has some of the most stringent rules of engagement. I know that from personal experience. I was a Defence Minister involved in the Libyan operations and the painstaking extent to which the military and the politicians act to ensure that the target is legitimate, that it is an important military target and that there is an absence of civilians is extraordinary. The House should be under no illusions: there is no cavalier approach to this. I make that point to the wider public as well.

This is a complex issue but there are some simple truths. First, Daesh’s medieval barbarity is a threat to the region and to us. Secondly, the United Nations Security Council has called unanimously on all states to take all necessary measures. Thirdly, we have that unique additional capability to which I have just referred. Fourthly, we are working flat out on the diplomatic front, through the International Syria Support Group, and there is more that could be done, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) said. However, Daesh will carry on killing, beheading and raping until we stop them doing it to innocent people, and it would be immoral for us to stand aside.

5.25 pm

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): I apologise for my voice, Mr Speaker, which is hurting me, but I wanted to speak today. Some 12 years ago, I sat over there listening to a very eloquent and emotional speech from the then Prime Minister. We Back Benchers had a lot of pressure on us in that debate, even more than there has been today. I listened to another eloquent speech from a Prime Minister today. Last time I felt an instinct that what we were doing in Iraq was wrong, and I feel that same instinct today.

I am certainly not a pacifist. I was one of the few people, along with Paddy Ashdown, who called for the bombing in Bosnia long before it was Government policy, and I am certainly not a supporter of terrorism, coming as I do from Northern Ireland. I hope the Prime Minister will apologise to me personally, in private, for accusing people such as me, who might be going to vote against this motion, of being in some way in support of terrorism. I take that very personally.

Lots of Members have cited generals and all sorts of important people, but I wish to mention a constituent of mine who was a soldier for nearly 20 years in the regular Army. He wrote to me to say:

“I view with dismay the current clamour to re-engage”

in this war. He says that when we went into Iraq

“I was assured that we had a superb plan that could not fail”,

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that when we went to Afghanistan

“I was told, ‘this is nothing like Iraq’, and when the RAF were sent to bomb Libya they were told ‘this is nothing like Afghanistan.’”

They always get it wrong.

I would not be against bombing to remove Daesh if I really believed it would work, but so many questions need to be answered convincingly and if they cannot be, I believe the action is futile. Do we know who our enemy really is? Is it just Daesh or is it all or many of the multiple jihadi groups? Do we know who our allies are? Is Russia our ally? Is Assad perhaps one now? Is our ally anyone who is against Daesh? Do our allies share our objectives and those of all our other allies? We do not and cannot know that, as it is at least a five-sided war. Can we trust our allies? That shows the trouble with alliances of convenience. What happens when our allies’ interests conflict with ours, as they will? Do we then bomb our allies? Will they bomb us? Are Daesh sufficiently concentrated for us to bomb them without an unacceptable loss of civilian life? Is Daesh under a centralised command structure that can be destroyed through bombing? When Daesh is removed from an area, who will come in to rebuild, repopulate and keep the peace? That issue has been raised by so many people.

Mr Holloway: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Kate Hoey: No. Will removing Daesh from Syria by bombing reduce worldwide and, in particular, UK jihadism? Will it increase it, as Muslims react to the deaths? Why do we always have to be the policemen going in first? I have not yet heard a genuinely convincing answer to any of those questions. If they remain unanswered and we still go ahead and bomb civilians, we are being as unthinking and reactionary as some of those people we are fighting.

Daesh is an organisation that has no civilised values. We are fighting a cult that has no moral values whatsoever. Bombing will not change that. We have to look at other, cleverer ways and we have to spend some of the money that we are going to spend on this bombing on guarding our borders and making sure that the work against jihadism and fundamentalism in this country is carried out. There is no moral case for this action and I will be supporting the amendment.

5.29 pm

Nigel Huddleston (Mid Worcestershire) (Con): I do not wish to try the patience of either you, Mr Speaker, or the House by merely repeating comments and arguments that have been made by Members earlier today. If anybody wants to know my opinion, all they need to do is read the contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) in Hansard, asI completely agree with him.

At heart, my main reason for supporting the motion is simple. We have friends and allies for whom I have great respect, and when they ask us for help, we need to deliver. The French and Americans are asking for our help, because we have special capabilities that they do not currently have in their arsenal.

A constituent emailed me earlier today and said, “What would happen if we needed assistance in the future, but had not helped our allies on this occasion?”

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I could not agree more. I simply say that part of what makes Britain great is the fact that when our friends ask for help, we deliver.

5.30 pm

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): We all know in our heart of hearts that this debate is not about certainties, but about judgment. I am talking about finely balanced judgment on which the lives of people depend both here and in Syria. What we do know is that defeating Daesh requires strategic action across a number of fronts. We have to take them on ideologically, tackle the causes of their rise, and thwart the grubby financial and trade paths that keep them in business. I accept that military action must be part of the strategy, too.

Last year, when the Yazidis, Christians, Muslims and others were encircled around Mount Sinjar, it was the right decision for the UK to join coalition airstrikes to push Daesh back, to stop further massacres taking place and to provide air cover for the Kurdish and Iraqi Government forces to take back territory from Daesh and to hold it.

Also, I do not accept that if it is morally defensible to use airstrikes against Daesh 200 miles in one direction it becomes morally indefensible to do so 200 miles in another direction simply because there is a border in the middle that Daesh does not recognise. If there is any doubt about the legal situation, it has been answered by UN resolution 2249, and we are already helping the coalition in Syria with refuelling, intelligence and so on.

Where my concerns lie, and what will influence my vote tonight, is whether under the circumstances that we now face RAF participation in airstrikes on the densely populated town of Raqqa makes sense. I have seen no evidence to suggest that there are ground forces there which are capable or have the intention of taking back that town.

Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab) rose

Richard Burden: I am afraid that there is no time, because there are many others who wish to contribute.

That is not what these airstrikes are about. We have been told that they are about degrading Daesh capabilities and communications, which is certainly an important objective. We have also been told that that means not a generalised bombing campaign, but the use by the RAF of sophisticated weapons to minimise civilian casualties. I have asked the Prime Minister to give more information about the rules of engagement, but I have yet to receive a reply. However, I am prepared to believe that the RAF will target its strikes very closely on military targets. The point is that it is not simply RAF planes that will be hitting Raqqa. The town is already being bombed and, as far as I can tell, with a lot less selectivity than it has been suggested the RAF would use.

Recently, I read an article by a reporter in Raqqa who said that there has been a massive escalation in activity since 14 November. The reporter said that civilian casualties were dramatically on the rise and, proportionately, Daesh casualties were going down. Members may or may not like this, but we will be seen as part of that general coalition activity, and we have to ask ourselves whether that will increase or decrease the likelihood of indigenous forces joining us further down the line. Will it build

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support for Daesh or will it reduce it? The risk is very, very real that we will be handing Daesh a propaganda victory on a plate, and we will allow impressionable people to be won over to their murderous brand of jihadism.

Therefore in the absence of evidence that these airstrikes will achieve their military objective, and in the absence of evidence about what that objective is, I have concluded that I shall not vote today for direct UK participation in those strikes on Raqqa.

5.34 pm

Dr Daniel Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), who made some thoughtful remarks. I have come to a different conclusion from him about how to vote, but it is worth reflecting that no Government or MP takes lightly decisions about committing UK forces to combat. Our debate has highlighted the fact that there are no easy answers or solutions to the complex questions raised by the conflict in Syria and the fight with Daesh.

In broad terms, there are three issues that we are considering. First, we are considering the issue of combating extremism at home and the impact that airstrikes may have on that. Secondly, is it right to engage in airstrikes against Daesh, given concerns about our ability to engage in ground combat in an effective and co-ordinated manner, or to support troops in Syria? I believe that the answer is yes, and I shall come on to that. Thirdly, we are considering the issue of protecting civilians and refugees.

On the issue of extremism at home, ISIS, I think we all agree, presents a clear and present danger to the UK and our national security as things stand before the vote. To those who say that we will become a focus for attack if we vote for airstrikes, I would say that it is clear that we are already a target for attack. We have heard that there have been seven plots in the UK linked to ISIS in Syria that have been foiled by the UK police and security services. There is a fundamental threat to our national security, as is self-evident in the information that was passed to the Prime Minister, as he explained today. The answer to the question of whether ISIS presents a threat to our national security at home is clearly yes. In my view, given such a threat, it is in the interests of my constituents and of all hon. Members’ constituents to deal with it and strike ISIS at its heart in Syria and protect British citizens in the process.

On the issue of committing to airstrikes, there are concerns about capability on the ground and support for ground troops. We have heard that there is a patchwork of troops working to fight ISIS on the ground. Military action against ISIS has been taken by a number of our UN allies and other countries and concurrently the Vienna process is under way to build a broader diplomatic alliance. That is work in progress, both in diplomatic terms and in terms of supporting ground troops. The fact that we do not have a perfect solution on the ground and do not have absolutely the right capability to tackle ISIS and support the fight against it in a ground war by various Syrian forces is not a barrier to supporting airstrikes. This is an evolving process, and ISIS poses a threat not just to the UK but to other citizens.

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Finally, on the issue of refugees and civilians, the biggest threat to civilian life in Syria is Daesh/ISIS. There is a refugee crisis in Syria because of Daesh/ISIS acts. On those three points, I support the Government, and I urge colleagues to do the same.

5.38 pm

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter), who spoke well. I, too, share many of the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), but like the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich I have come to a different conclusion. I have long argued—since the Government tabled a motion 14 months ago to begin airstrikes in Iraq—that it was illogical to stop at the Syrian border, which pinned down our forces. We were satisfied then, even before the recent UN Security Council resolution, of the legality of conflict, and we were prepared to provide extensive logistical support.

I share the concerns expressed so well by many of my colleagues about our ability to bring together ground forces, and in what number; about the viability of the Vienna peace process; about the need to stop the creation of a vacuum into which more extremists can flow; and about the need to recognise that this is not simply a struggle for a year or a couple of years. To defeat this evil ideology may take generations, and it may take far, far more than military ventures. It requires rethinking the way we have engaged on the international stage. We and all our allies need to do much better than we have done.

Setting such concerns as hurdles to be overcome before we allow an existing capability in the region to refocus—not to go to war, as has so often been evocatively stated in the media and in this House today—seems to fly in the face of military logic and common sense. I am concerned that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield feels that he has not been given the information that he wants about the level of precision and the rules of engagement that our RAF forces will bring to the campaign. I feel that I have been given that information. My sense is that our forces are far more precise and our rules of engagement are far tighter. We can therefore bring a great deal of effectiveness, above and beyond what is already there, and it makes sense to do that, rather than keep our forces in an area which is away from the headquarters, particularly as we have been given clear information that that command centre is even now planning missions that would strike at the UK and other countries.

Finally, I have been proud today to sit on the Labour Benches next to my right hon. Friend the Members for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) and for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), who made superb speeches. Although there are deeply held views on either side, I will do everything I can to stop my party becoming the vanguard of an angry, intolerant pacifism which sets myriad pre-conditions that it knows will never be met, and which will ultimately say no to any military intervention. [Interruption.] Some of those on the Front Bench and those heckling behind me need to think carefully about the way in which they have conducted themselves over recent weeks. We need to do better than this to be a credible official Opposition.

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5.42 pm

Mr Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): Intervention will succeed only if it is part of a coherent military strategy and a coherent political strategy. Both are needed. I have yet to hear them in the statements from Ministers, although I very much want to hear them.

First, on the military strategy, degrading ISIL’s capacity from the air will achieve little unless it is followed by effective use of ground forces. But President Obama has ruled out committing ground troops, as has the Prime Minister, so the question of where those troops are going to come from is paramount. The Prime Minister appears to be insisting that Assad, who still has significant forces in theatre, has no part in the future of Syria. In that case, the ground war rests largely with the Kurds, who are less well organised than they are in Iraq, and on the reported 70,000 non-extremist fighters, but the reality of those seems to have faded somewhat in recent days.

Secondly, and even more important, there is the political strategy. Before military action can be justified, we need to have arrived at the point where the main intervening powers are agreed at least about the broad outlines of a settlement. But that is not evident either. In fact, the military action that has recently been taking place in Syria vividly illustrates the absence of a strategy. A handful of outside powers are attacking or assisting a patchwork of different opponents, some of whom are fighting each other. The political objectives of the western powers and current military action to further them and the political objectives of the Russians are contradictory. The Russians have attacked the groups that the west sees as the potential salvation of Syria. The US and France want to remove the regime that the Russians have been seeking to entrench.

For military action to have a reasonable prospect of succeeding, we will need agreement among the major powers about the use and objectives of air power, about whom we are and are not targeting, about how the boots on the ground will get there, and about whose boots they will be.

James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) (Con): My right hon. Friend refers to the objectives of air power. For those of us who have been listening to the debate, there is a feeling that those arguing against the motion have failed to answer the question of whether they support the action in Iraq, where since last September air power has been deployed very effectively in restricting ISIL’s progress and defending Baghdad against terrorists.

Mr Tyrie: I agree with that. There is a fundamental difference between Iraq and Syria. Iraq is a democracy, at least of sorts, and it has invited us in and is sharing with us the enduring responsibility for what goes on there. If we engage in Syria, we will be picking up the enduring responsibility for a failed state.

A political plan is absolutely essential. That will require at least a measure of agreement on a policy for regional stability. That can be achieved only in collaboration with the Russians, and probably the Iranians. There are some grounds for cautious optimism in that regard. I have very little time to talk about it but, in a nutshell, I do not think that there is enough.

In the absence of both a military and a political strategy, the west might only succeed in supressing ISIL temporarily. In time, an equally virulent Islamist-inspired, anti-western militancy may well return.

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The ruling out of western ground forces is very significant. It tells us that, after Iraq and Afghanistan, the west appears to lack the will, and perhaps the military strength, to commit the resources that might be needed to construct a new order from the shaken kaleidoscope of Syria. As in Libya, it would be relatively easy to remove a brutal dictator from the air, and perhaps also to suppress ISIL, but it would be extremely difficult to construct a regime more favourable to our long-term interests.

We do not need to look into a crystal ball to see that; we can read the book. The result of over a decade of intervention in the middle east has been not the creation of a regional order more attuned to western values and interests, but the destruction of an existing order of dictatorships that, however odious, was at least effective in supressing the sectarian conflicts and resulting terrorism that have taken root in the middle east. Regime change in Iraq brought anarchy and terrible suffering. It has also made us less safe.

Above all, it has created the conditions for the growth of militant extremism. We should be under no illusions: today’s vote is not a small step. Once we have deployed military forces in Syria, we will be militarily, politically and morally deeply engaged in that country, and probably for many years to come. That is why the Government’s description of the extension of bombing to Syria as merely an extension of what we were already doing in Iraq is misplaced. We simply have not heard enough from the Government about exactly what the reconstruction will mean.

The timing of this vote has everything to do with the opportunity to secure a majority provided by the shocking attacks in Paris. Everybody feels a bond with the French, but an emotional reflex is not enough. Military action might be effective at some point, but military action without a political strategy is folly. We have yet to hear that strategy, so I cannot support the Government’s motion tonight.

5.48 pm

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): We are fighting and losing the wrong war. This is a war of hearts and minds that can never be won with bombs and bullets. The situation is truly terrifying, and we underestimate it if we imagine that it is confined to a couple of countries. People who have been brought up in this country, gone to our schools and absorbed our culture and values find themselves seduced by the message of Daesh. Two such people went to Syria from Cardiff and are now dead. They gave their lives to this mad, murderous cult. We must examine why they did that.

The reason is that Daesh’s narrative is very cleverly conceived to appeal to adolescents. It offers danger, adventure in foreign parts and martyrdom. It also deepens the sense of victimhood by churning up all the stories from the middle ages about how the wicked Christian crusaders slaughtered without mercy the Muslims. We must challenge that dialogue of hate. We must have a different narrative. There is a good narrative for us to take up, because in the past 200 years we have had great success in places like Cardiff and Newport in building up mixed communities of races and religions.

We must not imagine that anything will be over as a result of what happens in Syria or Iraq. This has spread throughout the world—throughout Asia and throughout

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South America. There is hardly a country in the world where Daesh does not want to spread its hatred. It has a worldwide plan to divide the world into Muslim communities and Christian communities that are at war. In other countries there is great suffering in many of the Christian communities that are being persecuted. We are falling into the trap it designed in Sharm el-Sheikh, Tunisia and Paris to pull us on to the punch. It is saying, “This is the way to get a world war going. This is the way to incite the west to send in military people and have a world war.” This is precisely what it wants—it has said so. It wants a world war and we must not fall into the trap.

We have heard today throughout this House some very good, sincere speeches, but I believe that the combination of two dangerous views, “Something must be done” and “Give war a chance”, leads us to the position that we are now in. Those of us who were in the House when we went to war in Iraq were told, by the same people who are telling us now that there are 70,000 friendly troops, that there were definitely weapons of mass destruction there. There were not. In 2006, we were told that we could go into Helmand with no chance of a shot being fired. We lost 454 of our soldiers there. Little has been achieved. Because of decisions taken in this House in the past 20 years, we have lost the lives of 633 of our soldiers. I believe that if we go in now, nothing much will happen. There will be no improvement—we will rearrange the rubble, perhaps—but we will strengthen the antagonism and deepen the sense of victimhood among Muslims worldwide; they will have another excuse. We must not fall into that trap. We need to have a counter-dialogue, and get it into the media and on to the world wide web, to say that there is a great story to be told of harmony in our country. We must put that forward as a genuine alternative.

5.52 pm

Mr Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie) and the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn). I shall have to endeavour to explain to them why I think they are both mistaken in their conclusions.

All of us in this House have acknowledged, and indeed it is a legitimate subject of debate, that the condition of the middle east is frankly pretty close to being catastrophic. There are powerful forces at work pulling civil society apart. There is sectarian conflict. There are a whole variety of grievances that have been exploited by various dictators throughout the ages, and that is regularly being repeated. All the signs are that in many places the structure is extremely fragile, and we are very fortunate that in one or two areas it is subsisting.

We can all agree on that, and I also agree that the situation is not amenable to any easy solution, or we would have found it a long time ago, but none of that explains to me logically why some hon. Members in this House consider that action in extending our military operations against Daesh into Syria is wrong. If it is indeed wrong, then our intervention in Iraq 12 months ago was wrong, whereas all the analysis that I have seen suggests to me that it is the one thing that has prevented the situation from wholly spinning out of control. We have

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a remarkable tendency in this House—perhaps it is a good thing in a democracy—to look at our shortcomings and not look at the benefits of what we may have achieved. It seems to me that if we had not intervened, there was a serious risk that generalised war would have broken out in the middle east, with Iranian intervention in Iraq to prop up the Iraqi regime and, ultimately, intervention by Saudi Arabia as well. We ought to look on the bright side of what has been achieved and then consider whether the limited steps that have been proposed are reasonable. It seems to me that they are. They are not a solution to the problem, and to that extent, the challenge remaining for my right hon. Friends through the Vienna process is a very real one. It does not seem to me that those limited steps will make matters worse. What they show is a comity of interest with our allies, to whom we are committed, to try to do something to address this problem and to keep it under control until better solutions can be found. That seems to me to be a legitimate and proportionate response to the problem that we face.

It has been suggested that this will all in some way run away with itself. It will not do so if the House is vigilant. The legal basis for intervention is very limited: every action that is taken hereafter will have to be necessary and proportionate to achieve a legitimate aim that is severely circumscribed. I have every confidence that my right hon. and learned Friend and my hon. and learned Friend the Law Officers will be able to deal with that, and every confidence that my colleagues in the Government will observe the limits.

It has been suggested that we will not be able to engage in diplomacy. I have to say I was staggered to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) say that we ought to emulate the Chinese in this matter, rather than the French. I find that an extraordinary notion.

Stephen Gethins: As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) quite rightly made the point that the UK can maintain its influence without taking military action that will have a marginal effect.

Mr Grieve: If I may say so, the question that should be asked is a different one: does our involvement diminish our ability to exercise diplomatic influence? The hon. Gentleman fails to take into account that by withdrawing from the military process entirely, as he is clearly advocating, we diminish our ability to influence the allies who share our values in this matter. That is why I found the suggestion that we should emulate China so astonishing.

Finally, there is an issue of great importance about Islamophobia and the structures of our own society. The hon. Member for Newport West touched on it, and he has my very considerable sympathy; he probably knows that I have had an interest in this matter for many years. I have absolutely no doubt that Islamophobia is on the rise in this country and, indeed, that the backwash coming out of the middle east threatens to undermine our civil society. That is a very real challenge that everybody in the House ought to address. In that regard, my criticisms of the Prevent strategy are well known. I must say that I do not believe what we are doing in Syria undermines that one jot. On the contrary, I would have thought that a sense of powerlessness in

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the face of the murderous cruelty of Daesh is one of the most likely causes fuelling Islamophobia in this country. A rational policy enacted and proceeded with by the Government—with, I hope, the support of many Members of the House—seems to me to be a better way forward.

5.57 pm

Ms Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh (Ochil and South Perthshire) (SNP): Since our election in May, all new MPs have faced a range of new experiences and challenges. Today’s vote will of course mark one of the most significant decisions we have taken in our careers to date, and we do not wear it lightly.

I respect the sincerity with which the Prime Minister made his case today, but I express disappointment at the words he chose to use last night to describe those who, with equal sincerity, disagree with his view. Those of us who find ourselves supporting the amendment to the Government’s motion have also thought long and hard about our decision and the enormous consequences it will have for so many. We have each listened to our constituents and organisations the length and breadth of the country who have contacted us to share their views. We have also considered, and we acknowledge, the outstanding service of the brave women and men of our armed forces, who put their lives on the line to protect us every day.

As well as thinking about our own security, we have thought about the security of the people of Syria. Although much of today’s discussion has been about the Government’s motion, and the efficacy or otherwise of military action, there is another important perspective on this catastrophic situation—that of the people of Syria and those in the middle east who have been so deeply and tragically affected by this conflict, and whether adding to the multiple countries already bombing Syria will help them, or indeed our security, at all.

Hannah Bardell: Does my hon. Friend agree that in all our discussions and considerations, we must think about the human cost on the ground, in particular among vulnerable groups, such as the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community, which we have not talked about and which is being persecuted—[Interruption.] One Member made a brief mention of it. Those communities are already being persecuted and further bombing will only make the situation worse.

Ms Ahmed-Sheikh: I implore Members of the House to show the same respect to us that we have given to them in listening to their interventions. My hon. Friend’s intervention has been heard and I agree with it in its entirety.

More than half the Syrian population are living in poverty and civilian casualties are on the rise. The recent Russian airstrikes have killed 485 civilians, including 117 children and 47 women. The facts relating to this vicious conflict are alarming and it is difficult to imagine the human stories that lie behind them. That is why I visited the Nizip refugee camp near Gaziantep to see for myself the scale of the humanitarian disaster and to hear at first hand the accounts of refugees who have fled Syria. I listened as people told me how their families had been uprooted by violence. They wanted nothing more than to return home. I heard that their towns and villages had been reduced to rubble by airstrikes—airstrikes ordered by President Assad.

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I spoke to Nafa al Hasan from Idlib, whose house was flattened by Assad’s forces in an attack that killed her mother, father, brother and husband. I met Basil from Damascus, who had spent two years in prison being tortured by Assad’s security services. He is now unable to walk and is confined to a wheelchair. Mohammed was a pilot in the Syrian air force. He fled the country with his family when he was asked to take part in bombing raids on civilian targets in his own country. Salwa, who is a writer, said to me:

“We are not numbers. We are not animals. We want to be human beings, not numbers on a page. I am not a woman after this. I have no dreams. I just want to go home, but Daesh are occupying my home now.”

Those individuals and families were united in their desire to return home one day to rebuild their lives.

Those people are human beings with a story, and that story should be heard. It is a story that confirms to us all the complex nature of what is happening in the region and the number of protagonists who are already involved. Crucially, those protagonists have different agendas and different targets.

Many issues must be addressed if Syria is to be returned to peace, but the proposals before us today will not do that. We need a plan to defeat the terrorist cult Daesh and to replace Assad. We also need a plan to rebuild Syria and to provide a better future for the people I have mentioned and so many more. To join the ongoing bombing campaign in the skies over Syria will only compound the human suffering. A military intervention without credible peace-building plans will only make the situation worse, just as it did in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan.

A comprehensive strategy to act against Daesh is required. The UK could take the lead in a more co-ordinated effort to identify and squeeze Daesh’s finances and disrupt its illegal trade. We could lead a diplomatic initiative, using our non-combative position to secure a long-term peace plan. That is not in today’s motion. That is why I will support the amendment and vote against the Government motion.

6.3 pm

Mr Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con): Since I was 18, I have spent a large portion of my life as a soldier, television reporter and MP in some of the more unhappy places in the world. What has struck me is the blindingly obvious point that war and conflict are the result of broken politics. Over the past 15 years or so, our country has made some disastrous decisions that have left tens of millions of people in the middle east and north Africa in a very difficult position.

One middle eastern ambassador told me last week on the Foreign Affairs Committee’s trip to Iraq and Turkey, “You have to diagnose a sickness properly in order to treat its root causes. Palliative therapy is not a cure.” So what do we have in Syria and Iraq? When we think of ISIS, we think of Jihadi John, with the terrifying offering in orange in front of him, but the reality is that ISIS is mostly made up of the Sunni populations of those areas. Our challenge, if we ever want to cure this problem, is to separate those disfranchised Sunnis from what we might call core ISIS.

We have got to give the Sunni in the middle east a different choice. At the moment their choice is ISIS and security from Shi’a militias, or Shi’a militias. Of course

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airstrikes play their part, but to me they are much lower down the “to do” list. We must have a proper political and security strategy so that we can separate those mass populations from ISIS. Those people are ultimately our ground troops against ISIS, and until we realise that, we’re stuffed.

Last week a very senior coalition commander in Iraq told us:

“We have a military campaign. We don’t have a political one.”

Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the US are all doing their own thing. Think about that—I do not have time to go through it now.

Politicians in the Chamber this afternoon have given expert opinions on military matters, but we have come up a bit short when talking about the politics. Nevertheless, it is mainly politics that will fix this situation. The biggest thing that the United Kingdom can do right now is to use the influence that we think we do not have to talk to people seriously, so that we have a proper long-term strategy that results in a cure. Bombing can only ever be palliative. [Interruption.] I cannot take an intervention because I’m done.

Mr Speaker: We are extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Most helpful indeed.

6.6 pm

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): I will be voting for the amendment tonight, as will my colleagues in Plaid Cymru.

Earlier this afternoon, the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard)—he is no longer in his place—referred, with a magisterial wave, to parties on these Opposition Benches as the “pacifist parties.” Plaid Cymru is not a pacifist party, as was confirmed only yesterday by our leader in the national Assembly. We opposed military action in Iraq, but we supported it in Libya, although now I have my doubts.

I have many concerns about the Government’s proposals, but I will not list them all. The Prime Minister said that 70,000 moderate Syrian fighters would supply the boots on the ground that he—rightly, in my view—will not commit to himself. That assertion is absent from the motion, and my impression is that supporters of the bombing have become increasingly coy on that matter. No surprise there.

We have been presented many times with a false choice, a false dichotomy. We have heard that we must either bomb or do nothing, but surely we can either bomb or do things that, in my view, are reasonable, proportionate and effective. For example, we could provide further support for the peshmerga—the force that has proved itself to be so effective against Daesh, against the odds and with very few resources. Pressure could be put on Turkey to desist from attacking the Kurds so that they can both concentrate on defeating Daesh.

What can we do to secure a future for the Kurds in southern and western Kurdistan, and to secure a settlement for the Kurds in eastern Anatolia? No one has yet made that point this afternoon, but it is a small but essential part of the jigsaw. Daesh does not act alone, and it is abundantly clear that they are killers, not talkers. Daesh

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has international sponsors who provide it with money and material. What further pressure can we put on the Gulf states and their citizens, and on Turkey, to stop the supply of resources that Daesh needs to wage its evil war?

Syria is not some distant land of which we know little. Daesh and its supporters are eager to wage war on the streets of western Europe, but those who perpetrated that foul work in Paris were home-grown, as were those who bombed London. Terrorists are being trained in Syria, but they are radicalised through the specious arguments of those who see oppression everywhere and who misuse distortions of Islam to inspire mayhem and murder. That is being done here and on the internet, and we could take steps in that respect. I will not speak about the Vienna process because of pressure on time.

Members have asked whether bombing will make us safer, and some have said that we are proposing to keep our heads down. In terms of more bombings in the west, if we bomb Syria, we will be sowing a further 1,000 dragons’ teeth. Not bombing is also a serious security consideration, however. It is not just a matter of keeping our heads down.

I was in this House when Tony Blair, at his persuasive best, convinced a majority that Britain was in imminent danger of attack and that we should wage war in Iraq. As has already been said, 2003 is not 2015, but we are still waiting for the Chilcot report. I am not starry-eyed about the prospects for that report, but I believe its earlier publication would have been valuable in informing this debate. The delay is deeply regrettable.

6.10 pm

Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): There is a strong pacifist tradition in this country that often requires courage to hold to. We have seen that in conflicts down the years. I have respect for those who could never support military action in any circumstances, wrong though I believe them sometimes to be. The rest of us have to reach a settled view on whether the proposal before us tonight is right or wrong. My view is that, on balance, it is right.

I come, like many hon. Members, from what one might call the post-Iraq generation. My default position is to apply a healthy dose of scepticism to any request for military intervention. We can all think of a great many reasons—they have been listed on all sides of the House—why not going ahead with an extension of the air campaign is the right thing to do. I entirely concede that it is not without risks. We have to understand, however, the true impact of saying that we will sit this out. If we say that and accept that air attacks have limited Daesh’s ability to operate in mass formations and conduct clear command and control operations and so on, we are, in the words of the Prime Minister, subcontracting out our security to our friends

In the past few days, we have seen many of the reasons not to proceed fall away: a unanimous UN resolution; a political and diplomatic process involving key parties is under way; and a greater understanding of what an air campaign is and is not.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I agree with my hon. Friend wholeheartedly that we need to

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take action, however difficult. ISIL wants to destroy everything we believe in through its murderous acts. We need to act and to act now.

Richard Benyon: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend.

One of the main arguments put by a number of colleagues—even by the Chairman of the Defence Committee, on which I sit, a few days ago—is that air campaigns are only successful with little green men in battalions moving along the ground underneath the top cover provided by the RAF. In a perfect world, that is how we use air cover. We do not live a perfect world, however. I asked one my constituents––someone who knows a bit about this, General Sir Mike Jackson––whether he could remember any conflict where air power alone made a difference. He thought and said one word: Kosovo. He then started to recite other circumstances in which an air campaign can diminish an enemy, a point very ably made by the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett).

We have now moved on to question the existence of the so-called 70,000 combatants. We can all dance on the head of a pin and say the reason why we cannot support the motion tonight is that they may not all be the kind of people we like, or that they might not immediately be an effective force on the ground. But they are there. They have not signed up to Assad or to the evil death cult we are targeting, and we have to use them. After the failures of the Iraq war, we have at least an independent and analytical organisation, the Joint Intelligence Committee, to provide the details. They are not being provided by politicians or their advisers. We can quibble about who these people are, but broadly speaking, since the Prime Minister raised the figure of 70,000 it has more or less stacked up. They are militias, some local, but through the four-year civil war they are still there and we should use them.

Standing by our allies at this time, particularly France, matters. Not stepping up now would give the impression that we are happy to subcontract our security. That would leave Britain’s role in the world in a very different place in the minds of our friends and our enemies. Britain’s place in the world, however, is not reason enough for armed conflict. Reason enough is found by recognising that the threat is right here and right now to the thousands of my constituents who travel to London every day to work or to attend peaceful events such as those that were taking place in the Bataclan theatre or the cafés where lovers and friends met in a way that we would want to see in every town and city in this country. The proposed action is limited, legal and has the authority of the UN. In supporting the motion tonight, we will be taking the fight, with our friends, to the heart of the ground controlled by one of the most hideous death cults of modern times.

6.15 pm

Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): There are obviously strongly held views both for and against taking action, and I believe that we should respect views that are contrary to our own. I am convinced, however, of the merits of the case to extend military action into Syria.

It seems to me impractical to take military action on the Iraqi side of the border without being able to participate in military action on the Syrian side where

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Daesh/ISIL is strong, where its headquarters are situated, from where it supplies its forces in Iraq and from where it is organising attacks on the streets of the UK. This is a matter of national security and we need to act in self-defence. I do not accept that if we take action in Syria, it will increase the possibility of terrorist threats on the streets of the UK, because that threat exists now. They are out to get us, because they do not agree with our way of life and want to end it. It is a fallacy to believe that if we leave ISIL alone, it will leave us alone. We need to degrade and destroy it; we need to play our part. We bring to the table military ordnance that will help to target ISIL operatives specifically, while limiting the threat to civilian life.

We have heard a lot about the Brimstone missile—a missile that can be launched from an RAF jet and target ISIL in such a way as to avoid civilian casualties. Lieutenant-General Gordon Messenger, the deputy chief of the defence staff, said:

“The thresholds for approving the strikes are high and the skills sets are high, as yet the UK has not had a civilian casualty incident after months of bombing”—

and he means in Iraq. We have heard much about the Syrian ground forces that can or cannot help to destroy ISIL. The strategy on the ground should not prevent the RAF’s involvement in air strikes. The ISIL strategy must be implemented first to suppress its ability to launch attacks on our streets. If the air strikes limit the opportunity of ISIL to attack us, we should take part in them. I believe it is important that we support our allies.

I do not know how I could face my constituents if we voted no tonight and, God forbid, there was a terrorist attack in the UK or on a beach in Tunisia and we had not done everything in our power to prevent it. What do we say to our allies who are taking military action when we are not with them after such an incident? Do we say, “Get on with it, but sorry, our involvement in military action in Syria stops on the Iraqi side of the border”, even though we know the attack on the UK was organised from Syria? If we do not take part in this action, I believe we will be letting down our country and our allies, and will reduce our credibility in the international arena.

My prime motivation for supporting this motion today is the protection of our citizens. The wider strategy, both political and diplomatic, is important. It will not happen overnight, and neither will the involvement of ground forces. Our military involvement may be small, but our aircraft can use weaponry that the coalition does not have—weaponry that is precise, limits casualties and can suppress ISIL activities. It is not a complete answer in itself, but it is a start. It will buy us time to deploy a wider strategy. I feel uneasy about Britain not taking part in airstrikes when we know that it is a matter of self-defence. I will therefore support the motion tonight.

6.24 pm

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): I have the greatest respect for all colleagues in all parties who have spoken so eloquently against military action in Syria. The right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) spoke passionately about the risks of being drawn into a vicious civil war. That is why I voted against taking action in Syria two years ago. However, I believe that this has gone beyond a civil war and that ISIS is

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bringing the fight to us and would do so again on the streets of Britain as it has on the beaches of Tunisia and in Paris. This is an enemy with which there can be no dialogue. This is an enemy that has perpetrated enslavement, rape, child rape, torture and mass murder throughout the territories that it now controls. I believe that there is a compelling case for us not only to stand with our allies tonight, but to stand with the United Nations as it calls for us to take every action that we can against Daesh. I believe that there is also a case for standing with the civilians on the ground, given that our military action against Daesh in Iraq has so far helped to push it back, and to prevent the kind of atrocities that we have been witnessing across Syria and Iraq today.

Kirsty Blackman: Airstrikes, by their nature, are intended to inflict death, pain and suffering on people and families, some of whom will be innocent. Will someone please tell me how this action will stop new people becoming radicalised, how it will stop new terrorists, and how it will improve the human rights situation on the ground?

Dr Wollaston: I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, because I think that it goes to the heart of the matter—and the heart of the matter, I would say to her, is that people are already suffering and being tortured throughout these territories. I would say to her that the action we have taken so far in Iraq—very careful, measured action—has, in fact, reduced the kind of civilian casualties to which she has referred. I am wrestling with this, just as she is, on behalf of my constituents, and I would say that the majority of my constituents who have contacted me agree with her. It is, therefore, with a very heavy heart that I am trying to make the case to them for my belief that action is now not only in our national interest, but in the interest of the civilians who risk being taken over by an evil that is beyond our imagining, here in the comfortable world that we inhabit in the UK.

I would say to the hon. Lady that these people have no hesitation whatsoever in perpetrating the most barbaric atrocities. I would point to the Yazidi women and girls—more than 5,000 of them—who have been kidnapped and are being held in conditions of enforced slavery, and, indeed, to child rape, which is allowed by Daesh. I would ask the hon. Lady whether she would like to spare civilians across Iraq and Syria that fate—the fate that awaits them. But I agree that these are very heavy considerations.

I would also say, as the proud daughter of an air force family, that our air forces are already putting their lives on the line in the skies above Iraq. I would like to call on the Leader of the Opposition—but he is no longer in the Chamber—to reflect on how much it will mean to the forces’ families who are following the debate today to know that they cannot count on his support. I think that although we all take, respectfully, different views about the risks, or indeed the consequences, of extending our action to Syria, it is essential for him to state unequivocally his support for our armed forces in the skies above Iraq.

For the benefit of any of us who are considering how to vote, let me focus for a moment on the consequences of inaction. Our first responsibility in the House is to protect the citizens of this country, and I believe that it

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is only a matter of time before mass casualty attacks such as those that we have witnessed on the streets of Paris and around the world are perpetrated in the UK. I think that we must all ask ourselves whether there is a greater sin in omission than in commission. I feel, very strongly, that there is now a compelling case for us to be able to look in the eye the families of those who may lose their lives in future, and to be able to say that we did absolutely everything we could to diminish the powers of this evil organisation.

This is the fascist war of our generation. We had to take action against fascism in Europe, and I think there is a compelling case for us to say that we have done everything we can today.

6.24 pm

Jim Dowd (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston). She says she is from an RAF family; my father served in the Royal Air Force for 15 years, including all the years of the second world war, so we have that in common. In fact, I was born at the RAF base in Gütersloh in Germany.

When Bill Clinton was first elected President of the USA, the slogan was, “It’s the economy, stupid.” That was thought to be the primary reason for people voting as they do in elections. I do not disagree with that entirely, but I believe that people have a higher consideration as well. It is the primary duty of any Government, or any party purporting to form a Government, to do anything and everything necessary to protect the people, their families and their homes. If any party, Parliament or Government do not do that, they will pay a terrible price. That is what people expect the Government to do. I am sure that everyone in the Chamber agrees with that. Perhaps the only question we have to answer is how best we can protect our citizens and communities.

Hon. Members have said that we should accept the genuine depth of feeling on this issue on both sides. I am grateful to the many constituents who have contacted me with their views. Many have sent formalised messages given to them by other organisations, but I do not dispute their belief in what they were saying and doing. I am particularly grateful to the constituents who said, “Even if you don’t agree with me, I hope you will do what you think is right,” and that is what I intend to do this evening.

Others have said that the debate is out of all proportion, because we are not talking about a new engagement. We are talking about a variation on the commitment that the House overwhelmingly endorsed not so long ago. There will of course be complications. Actually, I have some sympathy with those who have said that the effect will be only marginal. That might well be true, but the question is: is it worth doing or not? We need to decide which side of the argument to come down on.

I will certainly not vote for the amendment, for a number of reasons, not least because of the weasel words and sophistry it employs to suggest that the case has not been made. That is the kind of thing the Liberals used to say before 2010, when they had to face up to genuine responsibility. It is like when people say, “I take a principled stand on this.” They seem to be suggesting that they are principled and that anyone who

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opposes them is unprincipled, but that is not true. The fact is that people can have genuine, deeply held views on this matter, and we should respect their views—

Alex Salmond: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Jim Dowd: No I will not, thank you very much, because there are plenty of people waiting to get in—

Alex Salmond rose

Jim Dowd: Oh all right, as you’ve got your gang with you. Go on!

Alex Salmond: For the hon. Gentleman’s information, the wording of the cross-party amendment is exactly the same as that of the amendment that tried to stop the war in Iraq. A lot of people think that it would have been a better thing if that amendment had been carried that day.

Jim Dowd: I do not dispute that for a moment, but I am not sure what point the right hon. Gentleman is making, so I shall move on.

People set up barriers. They say, “We must have a UN resolution.” Then, when the UN comes forward with a resolution, they say, “Oh no! That’s not good enough. We want a better-quality UN resolution. Tell it to go do its homework. Tell it to do better.” It is ridiculous. These are weasel words in the amendment; they are euphemisms. It is almost as though those who say that the case has not been made think they have a higher moral standard, a transcendent judgment superior to that of those who disagree with them.

I just want to say this to the Prime Minister: the Brimstone missile about which we have heard so much is known as a fire-and-forget weapon—[Interruption.] Well, it is known by some as that; maybe not by Conservative Members. It has been described as a fire-and-forget weapon, but the motion, which I find comprehensive and persuasive, is not a fire-and-forget motion. If we pass it tonight, we will have to come back to it and address all the issues raised in it. We must make sure that nobody is pretending that airstrikes alone will solve the problems in the middle east. There is much more to be done, and we will need dedication, effort and application to ensure that we do as much as we can to bring peace and a degree of stability to that troubled part of the world.

6.29 pm

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): I rise to speak in this debate with a degree of apprehension—apprehension that I am sure everyone who has contributed felt—about the implications and outcomes of what I hope we will this evening collectively mandate our brave forces to engage in, but I also speak with absolute clarity in my conscience that supporting this motion is the right thing to do.

In Daesh, we face an enemy that will not ever be willing to sit down and discuss its grievances, and will not bargain with the west through intermediaries, because it does not have any. Why is that? It is because it despises us simply for who we are. When we meet an enemy like that, we cannot back off. We cannot cite past misjudgments in Iraq, the nature of the Saudi arms

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trade, or the lack of progress in disrupting the oil trade as justification for not supporting this motion. We must realise that this evil force does threaten our security. It cannot be contained in some far-off land as we continue to close our eyes, stick our fingers in our ears and imagine it will go away; it will not, and Daesh will not.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The decision for us in the House tonight is this: to protect our citizens in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the decision must be taken to go to Raqqa and ensure that those involved in the campaign to organise attacks in France, Belgium and elsewhere are stopped, that the source of money is stopped, and that Raqqa is taken over and the people who live there have their freedom and their liberty.

John Glen: Not for the first time, I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. As we saw in Paris, as our domestic security leaders tell us, and as the many desperate refugees flooding into continental Europe testify, the implications of this evil are real, and I do not believe any realistic alternative course of action exists that properly deals with the nature of this threat.

My concern is this: we must accept that to defeat this evil we need a grand strategy covering humanitarian, military, political and security dimensions, and this will likely require more time than many of us, and perhaps of our constituents, want to contemplate. Special precision-strike Tornadoes will not be enough. We will need to embrace uncomfortable compromises with Iran, Russia and Assad himself.

Syria will not become benign in its outlook until a comprehensive long-term political solution is found that demonstrates acute sensitivity to many conflicting but co-existing outlooks. Yet this political solution does not have a hope of success until we realise that some enemies of our way of life and freedoms cannot be hidden from. They cannot, and will not, become less lethal. They will not diminish unless we take military action to degrade them—a task we cannot justifiably outsource to our French and American allies.

Let us be clear: although I believe it is true that air power will not defeat this enemy by itself, it will not be defeated on the ground alone either. We will need a co-ordinated approach involving an Arab coalition, NATO, Iraqi and Syrian Kurds, and the Iraqi and Syrian armies, but our airstrikes are instrumental to our task of defeating this evil.

I want to address the argument that bombing Syria will not stop jihadi bombers already in the UK or France. No, I do not believe it will, but that is to misunderstand the comprehensive strategy that must be employed, and is now being employed. Special forces, the police and the intelligence services are well positioned to prevent these atrocities, but the severe risk we currently face is unlikely to diminish if we fail to support today’s motion. If we fail to act, the evil heart pumping life into this death cult will remain healthy. Finally, we must not underestimate the scale of the humanitarian crisis facing Syria, or the time and resources needed to help bring order to that country.

I have thought very carefully about these matters. There is much I do not know—I concede that—but my conscience is clear. We must act and begin the long,

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intense, delicate and difficult process of facing up to a profound evil. I support the motion and our Prime Minister’s compelling case.

6.35 pm

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen), who spoke with great integrity.

The Prime Minister has been plausible in public, but graceless in private. I and other colleagues who will vote against his motion tonight are not “terrorist sympathisers”. He was wrong to say that we are. The Prime Minister wants us to take action, but he is not prepared to take action that, in my view, is adequate to the task. The House is being presented with a false choice. The Prime Minister wants us to believe that the choice is between taking the inadequate action proposed by the Government and taking no action. That is vacuous. I want effective, comprehensive action that will ensure an adequate ground force, under United Nations authority, made up not of western countries, whose presence can only inflame the situation, but of predominantly Islamic countries, particularly Sunni countries.

The Prime Minister’s statement and the Government response to the Foreign Affairs Committee talked repeatedly of the moderate opposition, but the opposition in Syria is neither unitary nor moderate. It is wrong of the Government to try to present it as being otherwise.

The Prime Minister knows that the United States had a programme to train and equip Syrian rebels to fight against Daesh. It was so unsuccessful in identifying any capable, trustworthy allies in action against Daesh that it was abandoned in September. Every single expert witness to the Select Committee said that there are “thousands” of disparate groups; allegiances are like shifting sands, and there are few moderates left.

In September the US announced that, instead of training people, it would focus on distributing weapons and ammunition to existing groups. The House may consider that distributing arms to groups whose members are increasingly radicalised and defecting to Daesh is a very foolish strategy indeed that risks doing more to strengthen Daesh than to eradicate it.

Imran Hussain: Does my hon. Friend agree that a number of individuals who trained on that programme ended up joining al-Qaeda?

Barry Gardiner: My hon. Friend is absolutely right and simply reinforces my point. I want to eradicate Daesh. Doing so requires an effective ground force that can co-ordinate with the existing allied airstrikes in Syria—airstrikes that, in the words of Lieutenant General Sir Simon Mayall, are

“not a war-winning…campaign”.

Airstrikes can create a temporary opportunity for territorial gain, but in default of a competent ground force, that opportunity is squandered—and at what cost?

The population of Raqqa who are subjugated under Daesh will not be allowed into the tunnels. They will not be whisked out of the city in armoured jeeps with Daesh commanders. They will remain in the city and wait for British bombs. All military action comes with

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the risk that innocent lives will be lost; I understand that. Sometimes that risk must be accepted, but only when the military and diplomatic strategy that is put forward is coherent and comprehensive and has a reasonable chance of achieving its objective. The Government’s motion does not.

The Government have argued that it makes no military sense to curtail our pilots at an arbitrary border. They correctly point out that we are already engaged in military action. That is in itself a reasonable argument about the efficient use of military resources—I accept that—but the Government cannot also try to argue that by voting against today’s motion, we are voting to do nothing. We are still engaged in Iraq, where the Kurdish peshmerga and the Iraqi army can provide a limited but credible ground force. The Government have also argued—it is a powerful argument—that in the face of a request from our allies, we should respond. Of course we should, but we should not respond by doing just anything. We should respond by doing something that is effective, and what the Government propose is not. I will vote against the motion tonight.

Finally, Mr Speaker, I applaud the fact that you have spent the entirety of this debate in the Chair. I also admire your bladder.

Mr Speaker: I am extremely grateful.

6.40 pm

Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): I praise your endurance, Mr Speaker, rather than any part of your anatomy.

I have sat in the Chamber all day listening to this debate and I remember a debate I heard in this place when I was somewhere else. I was sitting in a forward operating base waiting to go to war in 2003. When many people in this place were talking about it, I was preparing for it. I remember vividly the fear in my heart and in those of the men and women with whom I had the honour to serve. I remember the nervousness, and I feel it again here today. Again, we are making a similar decision and I feel that burden heavily, but I know the courage with which the men and women who will be asked to serve will serve and I know that the Prime Minister’s case is right, honourable and true. That is why I am supporting him.

This is an enormously sad moment for me. I grew up as a young journalist in Lebanon, spending my holidays in Syria. I know the country well and I love the people dearly. They gave me a kindness that no one else showed and they gave me warmth and the richness of their culture and history. It has been the most extraordinary sorrow for me to watch the destruction of Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Hama, to see the Christians driven from Maaloula, and to see friends of mine, priests and monks, driven from their monasteries and murdered. I know who is doing it. We know who is doing it. Yes, it is the so-called Islamic State, this twisted perversion of Islam that is to Islam what fascism is to nationalism and what communism is to socialism.

This vile Stalinist death cult, this dreadful regime, must, I am sorry to say, be stopped. Sadly, the only way to stop it is not through talks. These are people and this is a group who do not wish to speak to us. They have defined us clearly in their theology as infidels. They have taken the readings of Muhammad Abd al-Wahhab

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and have interpreted them for the modern age. They have defined us as people who must die or convert. I will do neither; I will fight.

It is not enough for us to look at Syria today and wish for peace. It is not enough for us to stand here and hope for it. We must fight for it. When our friends were attacked, as they were in France—here I declare a close interest as my wife is French—when we see our friends injured and murdered and when they ask for our help, we must think not only of what is the right thing to do for them but of what is the right thing to do for us. Militarily, and for very good reasons, we keep armed forces that are too small. They are too small in technical terms, because our armed forces are not limited to our own planes, our own men and our own ships.

Simon Hoare: My hon. Friend is making his point incredibly powerfully, and it will resonate across the House. Does he agree that that is the important reason why we must build an international coalition? No one country can defeat ISIS. We need international western and Muslim resolve against these people.

Tom Tugendhat: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right; our defences do not start at Dover. They include the Emiratis, alongside whom I was proud to serve. They include the Kuwaitis, the Bahrainis, the French and the Estonians. They include so many of our allies. Our defence is their defence and, similarly, their defence is ours. We must stand with the French today; they may need to stand with us tomorrow.

This is not just about bombing, about which people have spoken a lot; it is about territory. Denying territory to the enemy and degrading their capabilities through air attack is an essential part of warfare. I have heard so much about military strategy here from armchair generals. May I say to the academic generals that even academics need universities in which to associate and places in which to meet? So too do terrorists: they need space, land and freedom of movement. That is what they have now and that is what we must deny them.

I say again that it is not enough to wish for peace—we must fight for it. As Ibn Khaldun said when he wrote his histories of the 13th and 14th centuries and “The Muqaddimah”, history does come round, and one day I am sure we will all be pleased to see the middle east regaining its rightful position as the heart of light in the region—as a centre of science, excellence and innovation. But today it is our duty to stand with those who strive for it and fight those who would destroy it. We must stand today against ISIS and with the Government.

6.45 pm

Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) on a powerful speech. I have reached a different conclusion from him, but he made a powerful case none the less.

May I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests? I visited Jordan in October, with my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary. The visit was arranged by Oxfam so that we could meet Syrian refugees in the Zaatari camp and living in host communities.

I welcome the Government motion’s renewed commitment

“to providing humanitarian support to Syrian refugees”.

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Members from all parts of this House can be proud of the role played by our country, particularly the Department for International Development, alongside civil society, in the humanitarian effort. I also pay tribute to the countries in the region that have welcomed very large numbers of refugees from Syria, notably Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. It is vital that we maintain our support for those neighbouring countries, but it is also increasingly important that we focus on the needs of people displaced within Syria itself. It is estimated that just in October about 120,000 Syrians fled their homes in Aleppo, Hama and Idlib. Our support for multilateral organisations such as the World Food Programme and UNICEF is therefore crucial. The International Development Committee is looking at the Syrian refugee crisis and we plan to publish our report in early January. We are examining both the challenges in the region and what more our country can do to help refugees.

The people at the Zaatari refugee camp told us that they wanted to return home to Syria but they live in fear of their own Government and their barrel bombs. That is part of the context of today’s debate. As the Prime Minister said, our debate today is not about whether we want to defeat Daesh—we all want that. The evil actions of that organisation are well documented and have been covered during his debate. The question is: how do we do it? Last year, I supported the decision to join airstrikes against Daesh in Iraq. I agree with those on both sides of today’s argument who have said that our airstrikes have played an important role in helping the Iraqi Government forces and the peshmerga to take territory from Daesh in Iraq. But I also agree with those colleagues on both sides of the House who have said that the situation on the ground in Raqqa is very different from the one in Iraq. I do not necessarily question the 70,000 figure. The issue for me is where those troops are. They are Syrian opposition forces who are typically in other parts of Syria and fighting the Assad regime. It is fanciful to suppose that they will provide a ground force for an operation combined with airstrikes in Raqqa. I am not convinced, therefore, that there is a credible ground force for Raqqa.

After the Prime Minister’s statement last Thursday, I went back to Liverpool, where I met a Syrian doctor who lives there. He expressed the view of many Syrians living in exile when he said that for them the biggest threat comes from Assad. Indeed, the moderate forces that we seem to be relying on are currently bombed by Assad and by Russia. I fear that the lack of ground forces will limit the effectiveness of airstrikes and that the strategy the Prime Minister set out last week of ISIL-first—in other words, Daesh-first—will have the unintended consequence of strengthening the brutal and murderous Assad regime. For those reasons, I will vote against the Government tonight.