6.49 pm

David Warburton (Somerton and Frome) (Con): One or two Members of this House may not have read the Daesh propaganda sheet, Dabiq, or indeed heard the address in Mosul of their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to mark his leadership. He spoke about territory and about establishing his hard-line caliphate in that territory. He described how his organisation will

“trample the idol of nationalism, destroy the idol of democracy and uncover its deviant nature.”

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That perspective is rather important in our debate. Unlike the threat from al-Qaeda, without the occupation of territory, Daesh’s claims to authority are literally baseless. Their notional caliphate has quickly turned from a spiritual aspiration into a geographic reality, and so loosening their grip on that territory is an essential pre-condition of meeting the wider challenge that they pose.

Dabiq consistently emphasises the fact that the existence and the integrity of this territorial caliphate are necessary for Daesh to function. Even the name “Dabiq” refers to the site of a mythical future battle between them and the west. Even in that name, the emphasis is on territory.

From reading the material, it seems that the short and medium-term foreign policy of Daesh, such as it is, has two distinct aims. The first is to consolidate their holdings in the Levant, which already cover an area larger than the UK. The second aim, which is wholly contingent on that, is the spread of Daesh’s contorted version of soft power into western societies where they hope it might calcify into extremism.

The Paris attacks tragically highlighted Balzac’s principle that the cool measured gaze of Paris was an arbiter not only of French values, but of universal human values. Alongside a clear articulation of enlightenment values, the search for a political solution, the humanitarian effort and our commitment to the post-conflict reconstruction, we must also respond militarily. These people are implacably opposed to our way of life in all its aspects. For them, plurality, diversity and individual freedoms indicate weakness rather than strength.

Furthermore, I do not believe that we should abdicate our moral duty to others. It is not only nonsensical, but counterproductive to join with coalition forces in Iraq and to threaten fewer civilians there because of the Brimstone missile system and then not to do so in Daesh-held territory in Syria, where the French, the coalition and the allies are all asking for help.

I see no place for any kind of twisted moral relativism whereby the Daesh threat is seen in some way as a consequence of our own foreign policy. In fact, Daesh can only be defeated as a result of our foreign policy—a policy directed at the very caliphate from which they seek to attack us. I am talking about the territory that they have won, that they celebrate and on which they intend to build their movement.

Of course we all feel the enormous weight of responsibility that is devolved to us today, but our message must continue to be unambiguous that we will not allow terrorists to build a platform from which to attack us, that we will continue to stand up for those universal rights and that we are prepared to meet murderous fanaticism with force.

6.53 pm

John Nicolson (East Dunbartonshire) (SNP): Let me begin with where, surely, we all agree. None of us in this House supports Daesh. All of us want to see them defeated. As an atheist, I shiver with horror when I see and read about Christians being beheaded. As a gay man I weep to see homosexuals being thrown from buildings in Syria. So let no one, on either side of the House, impugn the motives of those who speak in this

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debate. However, let us remember recent debates. It is not unkind to remind those who claimed that bombing would bring order to Iraq 12 years ago, and to Syria two years ago, of how wrong they were.

In the debate on the Iraq war, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) said:

“The idea that this action would become a recruiting sergeant for…those who are anti any nation in the west is, I am afraid, nonsense.”—[Official Report, 18 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 774.]

He now sits in the Cabinet and advocates a new bombing campaign against another foe in the middle east, but uses much the same line. This debate puts mostly the same arguments, with the same proponents, as the debate on the Iraq war. I was a journalist at the time, and interviewed all the main political players and the country’s leading experts in chemical warfare, missile accuracy and Sunni-Shi’ite politics. I concluded that, while Saddam was a monster, he was a monster who controlled the monsters. The then Labour Government and Tory Front-Bench team disagreed and removed Saddam, thereby unleashing the forces of medieval hell on Iraq and its neighbours. Eliza Manningham-Buller, director general of MI5 during the invasion, said:

“The bombing increased the terrorist threat by convincing more people in the region that Islam was under attack. It provided an arena for jihad.”

The armchair generals would be chastened, one might think, but two years ago, by then in government, the Conservatives asked the House to bomb the region again. This time, they wanted to bomb another secular despot—President Assad—but wisely, the House refused.

Alberto Costa: The hon. Gentleman said that we all want to see the end of Daesh. I invite him to join us in the Lobby to agree the motion. Our position is that airstrikes can destroy Daesh supply lines and, more importantly, the terror training facilities, which are a danger to his constituents in East Dunbartonshire, as they are to South Leicestershire and the whole United Kingdom. Why does he not support that?

Mr Speaker: Order. Interventions must be brief, not mini-speeches, however eloquent.

John Nicolson: If bombing could destroy Daesh, surely the dozen countries that are already bombing it would have succeeded in that aim.

Without a blush, the Government, who 24 months ago wanted to bomb President Assad, now want us to bomb his enemies. As Members, we are offered ever more florid claims by Ministers and their Labour allies. Perhaps the most absurd that we have heard today is that 70,000 fighters, spread across Iraq, consisting of disparate groups and with no central command or shared vision, will march collectively thousands of miles to support a British bombing mission. It is utterly absurd, and that argument has fallen apart during today’s debate.

Let us examine whether UK bombing would make a difference, as the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) contends. I do not think so. Between August 2014 and August this year, 17,000 bombs were dropped on Iraq. Twelve countries are bombing Syria, including Russia, the United States, Canada and France. It is reported that 2,104 civilians have been killed as

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collateral damage in 267 separate bombing incidents in the past year alone. It is a disgrace, and further bombing will not help.

The UN envoy to Syria says that

“all evidence shows that the overwhelming majority of all the civilian victims in the Syrian conflict have been caused so far by the use of aerial weapons.”

Daesh is not a Napoleonic army standing out in the open waiting to be attacked. It wants to draw us into the conflict. It hides in civilian areas, and it uses human shields. It relies on our folly, our arrogance and our lack of cultural understanding. Dr Shuja Shafi of the Muslim Council of Britain says:

“As more innocent people die from air strikes, the appeal of Daesh will strengthen. Daesh craves more Western military intervention in the region. We urge MPs to learn lessons from the past, and not to vote for extending”

bombing. Let us not repeat the mistakes of the past. We will kill numerous civilians. We will radicalise the bereaved survivors. We have no credible peace plan in place. We are being fed ludicrous statistics, and on a wing and a prayer we are hoping for better luck this time.

6.59 pm

Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne) (Con): I am grateful, Mr Speaker, to be called in this important debate.

We have heard many speeches from both sides which have shown considerable passion and a surprising degree of knowledge and commitment. This has been one of the best debates that I have had the privilege to participate in. If we are to look at the question cleanly and lucidly, we have to try to remove the impassioned speeches. As others have mentioned, everyone in the House is equally appalled by the barbarous crimes of ISIL or Daesh. We are united in that. No one can claim the moral high ground by being more against ISIL or Daesh than anyone else. What we have to do as legislators is look at the premise of the argument and at what the Government are trying to do.

The Government, in a way that is historically and constitutionally not usual, are asking the House of Commons to extend a campaign for which the House voted overwhelmingly in a previous Parliament only 18 months ago. The vote was something like 524 to 43. This gave the Prime Minister and the Government authority to launch attacks on Daesh in Iraq. For the life of me I have not been able to understand why those people who in the last Parliament voted for intervention in Iraq draw the line, so to speak, in Syria.

Those borders, as everyone knows, are incredibly artificial. After 1918, they moved around two or three times. The Sykes-Picot agreement that people go on about did not define Iraq and Syria. It simply defined regions within those countries, which were under British and French rule in the form of a mandate.

Ian Blackford: I ask the hon. Gentleman to understand some of the problems for those of us who oppose the motion. We all want to see peace and stability. All of us in the House agree on that, but the difficulty we have is that we cannot see that the air campaign in itself will defeat Daesh. We now know that the 70,000 troops do not exist. How are we going to defeat Daesh? It is not clear.

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Kwasi Kwarteng: The hon. Gentleman is right. I am pleased to see him in his place. He was not in the last Parliament, where we had an extensive debate about intervention. No one ever believed that an air campaign on its own would defeat and destroy that terrorist organisation. That was never the case that was made. I hear people say that an air attack is no good because Daesh will survive it, but that is not what anyone has suggested. It is part of a suite of things we can do to fight against this evil terrorist organisation.

Mr Anderson rose—

Kwasi Kwarteng: I have given way once; I shall make progress.

I hear Members opposed to the Government’s motion saying, “Why don’t we challenge Daesh on the internet?” I hear colleagues today ask why we do not try to attack the ideology. We can do all these things. None of them militates against the other; it is not a question of either/or. These actions are part of a range of responses that we need to deploy against something that we have never seen in the modern world.

When people look at what the Government are trying to do, it is no good talking about the 2003 invasion of Iraq. That was a completely different set of circumstances. It involved the commitment of British ground troops in a transnational coalition. What the Government are asking for today is an extension of what has already happened. People cannot, on the one hand, say that it will be the most devastating thing in the world if we bomb ISIS targets, and on the other hand say, “It wouldn’t do very much so what’s the point?” It is one thing or the other, but people on the other side of the argument have said both. They have said that airstrikes are so insignificant that we should not bother, and they have said that they will devastate and bomb Syria into oblivion. Both of those statements cannot be true.

It has never been part of the Government’s case that a bombing campaign in itself would destroy ISIS. Three things have happened: the Sharm el-Sheikh outrage, the Tunisian outrage and the particularly savage attacks in Paris. These have completely shifted the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and it is entirely justified for the Government to extend the provision to attack Syria, as they have done in Iraq.

7.4 pm

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I will not dwell on any sense of resentment that the Social Democratic and Labour party might have about the Prime Minister’s line about terrorist sympathisers, but I will say that I think it was unworthy and that it warranted an apology in this debate. However, today is not about any personal offence that Members of this House might feel; it is about the real fears and threats and the dire suffering faced by people in Syria and the concern that so many hon. Members have expressed for the safety and security of our constituents.

People in Syria, as we know, are caught between the barrel bombs of Assad and the barbarism of Daesh, and they struggle to reach the barbed wire now going up in Europe. Yes, their plight demands a comprehensive strategy and compels a much stronger response from this Government and others across Europe. The Prime Minister has told us that he is offering a comprehensive strategy. He told us in his opening statement today that

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he has listened to many of the considerations and concerns raised by hon. Members, and in effect he has collated them and co-opted them in the rolling references we now see in the motion, which is presented as a comprehensive strategy. I do not believe that it is coherent or complete. It do not believe that it is convincing in the collateral considerations and claims that are or are not addressed. I do not believe that it is cohesive in how its different dimensions meet and join.

Like the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng), I think that it is right that we test the logic of what we are hearing on both sides of the debate. I am not among those who, in arguing against the motion, claim that airstrikes will increase the risk of a terrorist attack in any constituency in the near term; I do not think that it makes a difference one way or another to a threat that is real and live. However, I think that there is a severe risk of feeding what we are trying to fight—of feeding a wider agenda of radicalisation—by agreeing to airstrikes and so adopting the role that the jihadism playbook craves us to adopt.

We are told that we should agree to airstrikes in Syria because they are merely an extension of what is already happening. The people who tell us that are the same people who tell us that there is no danger of mission creep in what the Government propose, yet there has already been an absolute mission flip. Only two years ago the idea was to go in and airstrike against Assad, and now it is to go in and airstrike against the very people we would have been assisting had we conducted airstrikes two years ago.

Mr Burrowes: What feeds the terrorists’ agenda is territory, and the more territory they gain, the bigger their so-called caliphate becomes and the greater their ability to recruit other jihadists, including from this country. The fact that we have been able to reduce that territory—we have regained 30%—has degraded their ability to radicalise other jihadists.

Mark Durkan: But let us remember that their concept of the caliphate is not merely geographical; it is an altogether different concept.

There is a danger of western powers piling in because we think that what is proposed is merely an extension of what we are already doing. It has been argued that we should not recognise the border between Iraq and Syria because ISIL does not recognise it, so is ISIL to dictate the terms by which judgments are made? We should not be taking our standards from Daesh.

It has also been argued that we have to take such action to stand by our allies. Does that mean that this House will have to agree to the next thing our allies do? What about ground troops, for instance? Many hon. Members who support airstrikes have been very clear that they would not agree to the deployment of ground forces. Indeed, we are told that one of the merits of the motion is that it contains no commitment to ground forces. What if people say that that is what is required? What if the operational circumstances and exigencies of the conflict are such that ground forces are required, because the 70,000 Free Syrian Army people are not there? They cannot be provided by CGI. What if everybody agrees that ground forces are needed to achieve what the Government want in Raqqa?

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What happens when Assad decides that he is moving into Raqqa, supported by Russia? We will then have a conflict within the alliance itself, because what the Government propose is on the basis of a shifting alliance with some very shifty allies, including some who have been the syndicators of terrorism, powers and personages within the Gulf states. Members should question what Turkey has been doing in relation to oil and arms and Daesh; question what Saudi Arabia has been doing, and they are our allies. When the Government’s mission changes, where will we go? We will have mission creep.

7.10 pm

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): Although I share the Government’s objectives, I am afraid I have strong and deeply held reservations about supporting an extension of the bombing campaign without a longer-term strategy. Indeed, my concerns were admirably summed up by the Chairman of the Defence Committee—my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis)—and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie). I am not opposed to a bombing campaign per se, but as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has himself acknowledged—and across the House there seems to be total agreement—a bombing campaign alone cannot succeed; it can only be a prelude to a ground campaign.

The motion before us specifically excludes UK ground forces, and so we are to fall back on the 70,000 members of the Free Syrian Army. Whether this figure is accurate, I do not know, but I am very prepared to accept the Government’s acknowledgement that it is. However, it is a disparate group, and so we are asked to believe that this disparate group is capable of bringing order out of chaos. Maintaining order in a war-torn country with so many different factions is a massive challenge, as we have seen elsewhere. So we have a vacuum, and as we know, vacuums will always be filled.

Imran Hussain: On top of the points that have already been made and that the hon. Gentleman makes, does he agree that those 70,000 opposition forces are in the south-west of Syria while Daesh is in the north-east, so there are logistical issues as well?

Martin Vickers: I have no direct evidence of what the hon. Gentleman says, but I am very prepared to accept that that may well be the case.

As I say, vacuums will always be filled. How are we to assume that the Free Syrian Army will respect human rights and maintain law and order until a legitimate new regime acceptable to a majority of the Syrian people emerges? How, indeed, would we assess whether a new regime was acceptable to the Syrian people? Who will install this new regime? I want to be convinced of a way forward, but sadly I am not yet convinced of this one.

We want to help and support our French neighbours because, unlike the suffering that we often see on our TV screens in, say, Gaza, Yemen or Mali, which tend to be distant places, we can readily identify with them. They have a Christian heritage and the eternal values associated with that. Many of us have perhaps even been to the same Parisian cafés and walked along the same streets, which are only a short train journey away from here. In fact, they are a shorter journey away than from here to my constituency, and to many others. We desperately want to help, as we wanted to help our

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American allies, quite rightly, when we were shown TV pictures of beheadings, crucifixions and the like, and other unspeakable crimes. Now we see exactly the same pictures from a different location supposedly carried out by a different group, and again, of course, we want to go and help. But sometimes helping our friends and allies can mean putting a hand on their shoulder and saying, “Perhaps this is not the time to be doing what you are doing.” Of course, that was the case with our French allies at the time of the 2003 Iraq situation, when President Bush and Mr Blair were planning their particular adventure in the middle east.

I want to support the Government’s aims and objectives, but I feel that a longer-term strategy has not yet been sufficiently put forward. My hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray) said that if we are undecided we should perhaps fall back on our instincts. My instinct is to say to the Government, “Hold back at this stage.” ISIL/Daesh is an evil force that must be overcome, but I am not yet convinced that what is being proposed is the way to achieve that.

7.14 pm

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), although I disagree with the position he takes. I pay tribute to the hon. and gallant Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) and the hon. and gallant Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer) for their thoughtful speeches, and also to my right hon. Friends the Members for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) and for Derby South (Margaret Beckett), with whom I agree entirely.

This is one of the most important decisions an MP can make, and it is not one I have taken lightly. As a Labour MP, I believe we have to choose and shape Britain’s place in the world if we are to create a world in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few. ISIL poses a clear threat to Britain. Thirty British holidaymakers were murdered on the beach in Tunisia in July, and we know that seven ISIL-related terror attacks against British people have been stopped in the past year. Paris could have happened in London.

There is no hope of negotiating with ISIL. We must stop the flow of fighters, finance and arms to its headquarters in Raqqa. We need military action to stop it murdering Syrians and Iraqis, and to disrupt its propaganda machine, which poisons the minds of our young people and leads them to commit appalling acts at home and abroad. For the past 14 months, UK forces have carried out airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq, with no civilian casualties, so for me it makes no sense to turn back our planes at the Syrian border and allow ISIL to regroup in Syria.

In September, as Labour’s shadow International Development Secretary, I visited Lebanon, where 1.5 million Syrian refugees have sought sanctuary. One in four people in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee. The Department for International Development has made a huge contribution to the aid effort there, opening up Lebanese schools to Syrian children so that they can continue

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their education and have some form of normality after witnessing the horrors of that war.

I met Iman, a 65-year-old grandmother from Aleppo, who was imprisoned by President Assad for two weeks when she bravely returned from Lebanon to Syria, after her son was killed, to rescue her five orphaned grandchildren. She lives in a shack made of breeze blocks in the port city of Sidon. Hadia told me how her husband, a Red Cross volunteer, was killed in Syria, and how her four older children are still trapped in Homs. She did not want to go to Germany under a resettlement programme, because she could not take her elderly mother with her and did not want to leave her alone to die in a camp. I met Ahmed from Raqqa and 10-year-old girls working in the fields as agricultural labourers—their childhoods stolen from them—after ISIL had taken over their town, although that is still better than staying in Raqqa and being enslaved there.

There is a massive humanitarian crisis in Syria: 250,000 people have been killed, there are 4.7 million refugees outside the country and 6 million have been internally displaced.

George Kerevan: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mary Creagh: I will not. I want other Members to have the chance to speak, as we have all been waiting to do.

The UK has given aid to Jordan and Syria, but aid is not the answer to the problems of Syria. Peace is the answer, and we need a fresh diplomatic effort to bring peace to that country. The Vienna talks offer real hope of that, with Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran all around the table for the first time.

We voted against action in 2013, after the sarin gas attacks—a vote I regret and now believe to be wrong. We now have the largest refugee crisis since world war two. The war in Syria has no end and no laws, and ISIL is expanding its caliphate there. We have had no strategy for Syria, and now we have no easy choices. We need a ceasefire, a political settlement and a path to democratic elections, which is why I shall support the Government tonight.

7.18 pm

Helen Whately (Faversham and Mid Kent) (Con): May I pay tribute to you, Mr Speaker, for your incredible stamina this afternoon, which I have been unable to match?

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) for her impassioned speech. Like her, I have recently visited refugee camps. A few weeks ago, I was in Gaziantep, talking to refugees in a camp near the border between Turkey and Syria. There were rows of containers converted into two-room dwellings, a school and a clinic. It was basic, but sufficient. Without exception, however, every refugee I spoke to was desperate to leave, desperate for an end to the chaos and desperate for their children to grow up to live a decent life. There are millions of people who share that plea in countries around Syria and within it, and who want us to help bring about peace in Syria.

Compelling though that may sound, it is not a case for war. The justification for airstrikes in Syria is, first and foremost, that Daesh is a threat to our national security. It and its affiliates have targeted British people

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on holiday in Tunisia; through social media, where they incite young people to leave their homes and fight in Syria; and here in the UK, although their plots have been foiled so far.

As other Members have said, targeting Daesh in Iraq but stopping at the border does not make sense. If we are serious about reducing its ability to attack us, we have to degrade its capabilities in its heartland in Syria.

Secondly, we should stand by our allies. If we do not stand with France after the Paris attack, when will we? What confidence can our allies in the middle east have in us if we sit on our hands now? For months, they have called for us to play a leading role in the coalition against Daesh. We cannot ignore that call any longer. We have to restore their faith in us as an ally.

Of course there are concerns, and we in this House are right to raise them. Is this another Iraq? My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng) spoke sagely on that point. I am reassured that we have learned the lessons, but we should be carefully that the mistakes of the past do not mar our judgment in the present.

Airstrikes will degrade Daesh but not defeat it, so what will happen next? Some boots on the ground will be needed and one group of terrorists must not be replaced by another. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan) said, we may search in vain for certainty. One thing that I believe for certain is that the coalition, with Britain as part of it, must commit to seeing this through.

Ian Blackford: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Hon. Members: No.

Helen Whately: My colleagues are keen to speak, so I will press on. I am sorry.

This action needs to be part of a serious and long-term commitment, not only to Syria, but to the region. We must use our influence to promote stability and legitimate Governments there, for there are many fragile states in the middle east. As I heard time and again on my recent visit to the region, stability in almost any form is better than chaos. We will need to be pragmatic, because democracies take generations to develop.

This action is just one part of the battle we need to wage against Daesh and Islamic extremism. It is a battle that we must wage culturally, ideologically, economically and militarily. It is the battle of our generation and it is imperative that we win it.

Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Helen Whately: I am just wrapping up.

We must commit. For that reason, I will support the motion tonight.

7.22 pm

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): I begin by paying tribute to the RAF and its men and women, many of whom will have done their training in my constituency. They are part of my community. Many of those who are posted to RAF Valley stay in the community. They are a source of advice to me. They are measured and do

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not always, as the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) said, think as one. They think as individuals and I have listened to what many of them have had to say over the past few weeks.

I listened also to the Prime Minister last Thursday and agreed with a lot of what he said. However, I do not think that he had a coherent plan for the action that he is asking us to take tonight. I believe that it is flawed on the grounds that we do not have sufficient ground forces. I did not come to that decision lightly. I listened when we debated taking action in Iraq and I supported it then because the Prime Minister convinced us that the very reason we were taking that action was that there were solid troops on the ground and a solid Government. We do not have those things in Syria. Those who say that it is just the same and there is an artificial boundary should listen to what the Prime Minister has said.

I will quote the Prime Minister, but unlike you, Mr Speaker, when you were on these Benches, I have to read the column because I do not have your memory. In column 1257 on 26 September 2014, in an answer to the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), who suggested that airstrikes without ground forces would be just gesture politics, the Prime Minister said:

“To be absolutely direct, I am not claiming that by air strikes alone we can roll back this problem. What this problem requires is a comprehensive strategy, including a well formed Iraqi Government and well formed Iraqi armed forces, because they in the end will be the ones who have to defeat this on the ground.”—[Official Report, 26 September 2014; Vol. 585, c. 1257.]

The lack of that in Syria makes it unfortunate and wrong for us to proceed with the proposed action, and for that reason I will not support the Government motion. I believe in consistency, and the Prime Minister is not being consistent, given his arguments at that time and what he is saying today. External factors have changed, but practical ability on the ground has not.

Let me ask the Foreign Secretary a direct question. I intervened on the Prime Minister early in the debate, but I believe that the Foreign Secretary can answer this question directly. My constituent’s son was killed in an accident as a trainee pilot in 2012. His father has asked me to ask the Government whether all the Tornadoes and Typhoons now in Iraq will have a collision warning system. When we are sending people to war, it is important that they have the correct kit, and we have argued for that for years.

I wanted to hear the Prime Minister come up with something today—perhaps a move towards a UN resolution that includes chapter 7 status. That does not exist today, and I therefore do not think that there is a comprehensive strategy. I voted for action in Libya, and I am certainly not a pacifist. I did not vote on Iraq because I did not think the case was made, but my colleague, Peter Kilfoyle, tabled that motion, and he is no woolly liberal.

7.26 pm

Antoinette Sandbach (Eddisbury) (Con): In his response to the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition quoted part of an email from Abdulaziz Almashi. I would like to go on and read some of the rest of it:

“We have driven ISIS out of our towns before, but it is becoming impossible to do so while we are facing the relentless bombardment of the Assad regime and Russia. The territory that

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ISIS controls is crucial to their growth, their capture of resources, and their ability to conduct terror attacks abroad. We need help in order to keep them out of our town.

The Syrian regime has killed 7 times more civilians than Isis this year. No, it is not as Julian Lewis says, that Assad is the lesser of two evils. Assad and Russian airstrikes have been focused on our hospitals and schools and homes, and much less so on Isis assets. As their bombardments continue, our towns are weakened. Isis comes in to fill the void, and amidst economic collapse, provides services and the promise of steady salaries, beefing up their recruitment and their hold on the land.

Make no mistake, however, Syrians are resisting. Just last week in my own hometown of Manbij, women were kidnapped, an activist was tortured to death, and protesters were shot for trying to keep Isis out.

These people deserve your support—and supporting them is the only way to defeat Isis.”

I was not present in the Parliament that refused to take action against Assad and his regime, but as Edmund Burke said, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to walk by. This has not been easy, but my decision to support the motion is based on a clear plan that was agreed in the Vienna process, support from the UN to tackle the barbaric operations of Daesh, and the commitment of the United Kingdom to action that is focused on diplomatic, humanitarian, military and national security issues. I have read every email from my constituents on this matter. I agree wholeheartedly with the speeches made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) and the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett).

I have asked myself this question: if an attack masterminded from Raqqa happened in Chester and my constituents were caught up in it and I had voted no to further intervention in Syria, would I have acted in their best interests, or indeed in the interests of the civilian populations under the devastating rule of Daesh? I believe the answer to that question is no. I will be voting with the Government tonight.

7.30 pm

Mr Roger Godsiff (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab): As has been said on many occasions during the debate, everybody agrees Daesh is a threat to us all, to our way of life and to our liberties, and that it has to be destroyed. However, I am not convinced that dropping more bombs on Syria will add anything to the defeat of this organisation. There are already a lot of bombs being dropped by Russia, America and France. Apart from not destroying Daesh, they are creating terror among the population, resulting in the mass displacement of the Syrian population. This, in turn, is causing huge problems for European Governments who are trying to cope with the flood of refugees.

We in this country should of course support France. We should provide that support and solidarity in various other ways. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) outlined some of them. Other Members have outlined other ways in which we can assist. We should provide logistical, intelligence and special forces support to the Kurds and the elements of the Free Syrian Army who are actually doing the fighting on the ground. It is only ground forces—Arab ground forces—who will eventually bring about the displacement and defeat of Daesh in Syria.

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The Prime Minister has said that there are 70,000 Syrians ready to fight. I take him at his word and we shall have to see. I suspect, however, that this assertion will come back to haunt him in the same way that the assertion made at the very same Dispatch Box, that the UK was only 45 minutes away from a nuclear or chemical attack by Saddam Hussein, has continued to shred the legacy of a former Prime Minister.

We can also share with the French and our allies our expertise in monitoring and breaking up terrorist cells, because we have long experience of doing that in the UK. Furthermore, we should go to the UN and seek support for safe havens to be created within Syria. This would be in our interests and in the interests of other European countries. It would also be humanitarian in helping not to force the population out of Syria.

There has been one voice, among the many that have been raised today, that has not been heard: a voice from somebody who has experienced Daesh and been a hostage of that organisation. I refer to the French journalist, Nicolas Henin. In a recent article he wrote:

“I know for sure that our pain, our grief, our hopes, our lives do not touch them. Theirs is a world apart…Central to their world view is the belief that communities cannot live together with Muslims”.

But he went on to say:

“They came to Paris with Kalashnikovs, claiming that they wanted to stop the bombing, but knowing all too well that the attack would force us to keep bombing or even to intensify these counterproductive attacks.”

He ended by saying:

“I know them: bombing they expect. What they fear is unity.”

We must have unity of purpose in speaking out and destroying Daesh. The Prime Minister will have his majority tonight and he will win the vote, but I do not believe he has won the argument.

7.34 pm

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): I first pay tribute to the brave pilots and crew of the RAF who are already flying in operations over Iraq. As always, they do our nation proud, and we are indebted to them.

Let me start by quoting from the great man himself, Winston Churchill:

“Never, never, never believe that any war will be smooth and easy or that anyone who embarks on a strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realise that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.”

That is a cautionary observation and one that runs through all the speeches I have heard tonight. The Government’s laudable aim is to safeguard the peoples of this great nation, to stand with our allies and to degrade Daesh. Members should please note that I did not say “destroy” Daesh, as bombing alone will not achieve that aim. What, then, does success look like? The only way Daesh can be truly destroyed in Iraq and Syria is by a large-scale multinational ground offensive, for which there is no appetite for a multitude of reasons—not least the ghosts of the past, which clearly stalk this Chamber tonight. But if we truly intend to tackle this problem, destroy Daesh in its lair and follow through on UN resolution 2249, a ground offensive is the only practical and logical conclusion.

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Bombing will degrade Daesh, kill its operatives and give heart to those fighting this organisation on the ground, but it will not destroy it. The Government have made it clear that they have no wish to put boots on the ground, which today’s motion specifically excludes. I suspect, however, that that is exactly where it might lead, as one consequence of a bombing campaign. We are a major player and must play a prominent role, standing up for values that are envied across the globe.

Islamic fundamentalism is, regrettably, our generation’s scourge, and it is not going to dissipate in the short term. Could this be our Thirty Years war? The current threat is real and present: it can and must be fought. So let us not discard the idea of boots on the ground—no matter whose boots they are—but explore that option in the eventuality. As Churchill indicated, conflict subjects us to forces outside our control. Subsequently, every eventuality needs to be examined.

Bombing alone will not solve this vexed question, which has divided the House and will do so again later, but it will demonstrate to the world that we will defend our island and her people, stand by our allies and meet our international obligations. As I said here on Monday night, evil thrives when good men and women do nothing. Tonight, I shall go into the Lobby with the Government. I am with the Government, our allies and the thousands of innocent victims who are looking to us for help.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I am sorry to say it, but a three-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches will now have to apply.

7.37 pm

Douglas Chapman (Dunfermline and West Fife) (SNP): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for the huge advance notice of that.

Despite many of the good and measured speeches we have heard today, the drums of war are still beating in the background. I know that that does not always make for good, rational decision making. We do not disagree that Daesh is a wicked and evil group, who must be defeated. I am not a pacifist, and I do not doubt that military power may play a part in the defeat of Daesh at some point, but I am utterly unconvinced by the case the Prime Minister has made here today.

Those speaking in favour of this motion seem to be deploying three main arguments for the necessity of British action in Syria. The first is that we should do so to help our allies; the second is that the UK has special capabilities vital to the completion of coalition aims; and the third is that doing so will make us safer at home. Such arguments may be seductive, but I caution the Government to ask themselves whether this bombing campaign will bring us any closer to a solution or stability in the region.

The most emotive argument is the one about helping our allies, particularly France, which had to endure horrific attacks that struck at the heart of its capital city just over a fortnight ago. I followed Scotland’s First

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Minister––and I was the first MP to sign––in signing the book of condolence in the French consulate in Edinburgh, so I and my SNP colleagues beside me here take our duties to France, and indeed our other NATO partners, extremely seriously. Our determination to go after the financiers, the planners and the enablers of that terrible attack will never cease; it just so happens that I think bombing Syria will not bring justice any closer.

The Prime Minister has, I believe, made a terrible mistake in forcing the issue through the House despite the extreme unease of many people, in this place and outside, about the efficacy of airstrikes. Why has he not focused instead on the many other ways in which the United Kingdom could help Syria militarily? UK bases in Cyprus have already been offered, UK logistics and support forces are in the area, and intelligence-sharing has increased. At a time when it is widely accepted that the UK has lost its strategic edge, the Prime Minister’s attempt to make up for that is to say, “There is a fight somewhere; why is Britain not in it?” There is so much more that we could do to help our allies. Churchill once said that jaw-jaw was better than war-war. I think that we need to reinvent that tonight, and say that jaw-jaw is not bomb-bomb. Let me end by saying that my party will support the amendment tabled by the Scottish National party.

7.40 pm

James Heappey (Wells) (Con): On three occasions, I left my family and boarded a plane bound for Afghanistan or Iraq. As the plane went through the clouds, I took what could have been my final look out of the window at this country. When you do that, you cannot help wondering whether the people who have stood in this place have made the right decision, whether the nation is with you, and whether what you are going to do is worthwhile.

Today, I rise to contribute to that decision-making process, and I can tell the House that the responsibility weighs heavily on my shoulders. However, I am certain that the motion should be supported. It clearly states that the continuation of airstrikes in Syria is just one part of the solution that is required to defeat Daesh, and to secure a peace both there and in Iraq. Bombing, diplomacy, aid, and countering radicalisation at home and abroad are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, we have surely seen that they are utterly interdependent. Today, we must decide on whether to take military action, and I want to speak briefly about four themes in support of that action.

First, we are being asked to join a coalition—a coalition of our closest allies and some of our most important partners in the region—and we must answer their call. Secondly, our contribution does enhance the capability of the coalition. Difficult targets present themselves only fleetingly, and prosecuting those targets requires constant air cover involving highly skilled pilots and deadly accurate munitions. Our Royal Air Force offers that. Thirdly, there is the necessity for indigenous ground manoeuvre. In Basra, my battle group was fighting an insurgency that existed almost entirely because we were there. The 70,000 Syrians and 20,000 Kurds under arms could, and should, become a cohesive and capable force, but the bombing campaign will buy the time for

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them to be manoeuvred into the place where we need them to be, so that we can co-ordinate their efforts in support of the airstrikes.

It is, of course, important to note that those airstrikes degrade Daesh in the meantime. They have a military effect of their own. It is clear to me from today’s debate—this is my final point—that the House agrees on the ends that we seek to achieve, and that most of us agree on the means by which we seek to achieve them, diplomatic, humanitarian and military. The disagreement is on when, and in what order. I say from personal experience that when we are trying to buy time in a combat zone, we need to suppress the enemy. We need to keep their head down, and deny them any freedom of action. Nothing in a combat zone is perfect—the timing is never right—but we must get on with this, because we are required to do to help the Syrian people.

7.43 pm

Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): I think that I speak for the whole House, Mr Speaker, in expressing my admiration for you today.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friends the Members for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) and for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson). I agree with what they said. We come to this House to choose. Yes, we come here to criticise and, at times, to express our anger, but we do not come here to commentate. The purpose of our debate is not entertainment, but education: the education that we need in order to choose. The choice that we must make today is not, as some have implied, on a grand new strategy. It is a relatively narrow choice between a motion that extends our involvement in our existing battle and a vote for the status quo.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): Does not this choice involve risk? The risk involved in doing something has to be balanced against the risk involved in doing nothing, which equally carries great risk for this country and for the world.

Alison McGovern: I could not have put that better myself.

I have to confess that, not for the first time, I am angry with the Government. I am angry because I believe that they have turned their backs on vulnerable refugees from the conflict in Syria, to whom we should have held out our hands. The process that will take in 20,000 refugees by 2020 is too slow. The Government could have demonstrated to the world what it means to be British, but they have not done enough. I know we must put party politics to one side, but that is hard when the Prime Minister tells us we must do our bit and then does his part too late.

What relevance does this have to the choice in front of us today? The answer is trust and commitment. If I vote for airstrikes today, I need to be able to believe that the Prime Minister will stand beside those in the world who will need him tomorrow. Part of the justification for the strikes is to show our commitment to the coalition against Daesh and show that we are truly part of the fight, but if the Prime Minister wants my support, he will have to show his commitment to the bigger fight ahead of us.

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The biggest recruiting sergeant for vile extremism is want. It is the dissatisfaction with the chances the world is offering, whether in the back streets of Britain or the cities of Africa and the middle east, where young people find that the powerful in our world forget them far too quickly. It is this pervasive want that creates fertile ground for the blame and resentment that extremists cultivate.

We are right to be sceptical of our own capacities, but we should not be sceptical about the Syrian people. Rather, we should offer them refuge now, and our backing tomorrow. Whatever choice we make tonight, we will have to live with it. I will have to face my constituents and explain my decision to them, but that is absolutely nothing compared with what the Syrian people have faced. Too often in the past five years, we have we seen people in need and we have turned away. We must not do that now.

I might not trust the Prime Minister that much, but in the end the solution to that mistrust is in my hands. I want him to know that, if I vote for his motion today, I will be here every week holding him to account. We have Back-Bench motions now, and if I do not believe that he has lived up to the trust of the British people, I will waste not a moment before using them. Any support I give to him is conditional, and we will return to this question again and again. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) said so well, if our job is to work for peace, we will do it with scrutiny. We will scrutinise the Vienna process to make sure that it happens.

We are voting today on just one tactic in this greater struggle, and I see the limits in the choice in front of us. My party, the Labour party, has a bigger task, and it is one that I will never just leave to the Prime Minister. The end to the extremism that we face today will come with a decent and fair society, and we must not waste a moment in fighting for that.

7.48 pm

Wendy Morton (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): The first duty of a Government is to protect their citizens and their country, and the decision on whether to use military force is one of the toughest and most significant that a Government, and we as individual MPs, have to take. That is especially so for me, as a new Member of this place. Much of what I have to say has already been said, with far greater eloquence, by hon. Friends and other Members. However, this is a serious matter, and one that my constituents take an interest in, too.

In recent months and weeks, we have been watching an already fragile and serious situation in Syria further unfold and deteriorate. We have heard statements here in the Chamber and listened to debates, and we have rightly been able to ask questions. We all agree that we are appalled by the crimes that ISIL commits daily against Syrian civilians, and we cannot fail to be deeply moved by the plight of the millions of Syrian refugees forced to flee their homes for safety, and of the many more who are displaced in their own country.

The events in Paris have brought the seriousness of the situation even closer to home. As we have heard and as we see, this is a complex situation needing a complex and comprehensive response. The UK, through DFID, is already providing humanitarian aid to the region.

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Like others in this place, I have visited a Syrian refugee camp—on the border of Turkey—albeit two years ago, and I saw for myself the work being done there.

A political solution is also required, and I welcome news that this process is beginning with the Vienna talks. Working towards transitional government will be a key step towards long-term peace and reconciliation and establishing democracy, but there comes a point when humanitarian, political and diplomatic responses alone are no longer enough. As the direct threat posed by ISIL to the UK increases, so too does our responsibility to protect our country and our citizens. ISIL is extreme and must be isolated. We need military action, not inaction.

What message would it send if, as the Prime Minister said, we subcontracted our responsibilities out to others? It is time to stand with our allies. It is not logical for our planes to have to stop at the Iraqi border with Syria. ISIL does not recognise the border; it does not stop there. Its headquarters are not in Iraq; they are in Raqqa. Our RAF is already in the region, operating precision airstrikes. I believe British action can and will make a difference, and I will therefore support the Government this evening.

7.51 pm

Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton). She is right that this is a serious debate. It is one I have considered, too, and I am sorry, but I have come to a different conclusion from her.

I speak against this motion, and I speak with a great sense of frustration. I am frustrated because I agree with the Prime Minister that we are at war; we are under attack, and we face an enemy the like of which we have never faced before. We are fighting against shadowy networks and nebulous states. Today’s debate is about the theatre of Syria, but we all know there are other theatres. We know there is conflict that we may need to come to in Yemen, on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, in the Khorasan region, in Libya and in parts of Nigeria. The enemy we are debating tonight is Daesh, but we all know there are other enemies. We know there is the core of al-Qaeda still present somewhere around Afghanistan and Pakistan. We know there is al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. We know there is the Khorasan group at work against us. We know there is Jabhat al-Nusra in Iraq, and its allies.

What this reveals to us is that this will be a long march. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr Godsiff) said, we must maintain solidarity and unity of purpose at home for what will be a very long fight. That is why we cannot afford in this House to put forward strategies that we think carry too great a risk of failure, as I am afraid the Government strategy does.

I was grateful to hear the Prime Minister put such emphasis on this being a joint struggle for both western and Islamic freedom. We can see that in the refugee camps of northern Iraq. We know that Daesh has acquired the capability to plan attacks here in Europe. That is why what I wanted today was sustained, short-term action to take out that external planning capability of

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ISIS, whether that needs air cover or boots on the ground. In the longer term, like the Chair of the Defence Committee, I want to see an overwhelming coalition brought to bear, to smash Daesh into history. That needs Vienna first, not Vienna second.

We dare not risk defeat. That would hand our enemies a propaganda victory that we would hear about for years to come. However, victory means bringing together air cover, ground forces and politics—and, heavens above, if we cannot sustain that combination to take back Mosul, how on earth will we take back Raqqa in Syria? That is why I was disappointed that the Prime Minister was not able to specify this afternoon just what the ground forces are that will help us take back Raqqa under the air cover of the RAF. That is the difference between Iraq and Syria. In Iraq, there are ground forces; in Syria, frankly, there are not. I do not want a half-hearted fight; I want a full-on fight, and we did not have a plan for that from the Government today.

7.54 pm

Mr Ranil Jayawardena (North East Hampshire) (Con): I have considered this matter very carefully. I respect the views of other Members, including the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne), and, indeed, the views of my constituents, whatever side of the debate they find themselves on. Having listened to the arguments, I rise to support the motion. It is absolutely imperative that Britain and her allies work together to eliminate the so-called Islamic State: a group whose continued existence is an affront to humanity; a group responsible for unparalleled brutality over recent years; a group that loathes freedom and democracy, and despises every value we hold dear.

At around the turn of the fifth century, St Augustine laid out his preconditions for a just war, among which were a desire for peace, and for it to be the final decision when all other means had failed. I believe that his words remain pertinent in the 21st century, as negotiating with the so-called Islamic State would be both impossible and abhorrent.

I am glad that the motion proposes to target the so-called Islamic State exclusively, for it is that group of terrorists who have attacked us and who pose a danger to our people. They hate us for who we are, not what we do. They must be stopped.

Although we may not approve of the actions undertaken by the Assad regime, our overwhelming priority must be to protect the United Kingdom and support our allies. To do that, we must stabilise Syria, avoiding the creation of further ungoverned spaces in which terrorism will thrive.

Had the motion mandated a complete overthrow of the Syrian regime by force, leading to the destruction of the apparatus of government, I would not in all conscience have been able to support it, for we would not have learned the lessons from past conflicts; we would not have been helping to stabilise Syria; and we would not have been making Britain safer. Under the motion, however, I believe we have, we are and we will.

7.56 pm

Natalie McGarry (Glasgow East) (Ind): I admire your fortitude, Mr Speaker, in sitting in the Chair for so long. I am very pleased to be able to speak, because I

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visited Rojava in north-eastern Syria for eight days in October, to speak to the commanders of the YPJ and the YPG, who are fighting Daesh directly on the frontline, and to the leaders of democratic non-confederalism about the democratic revolution happening in that part of the world.

The Kurds I met were very clear that they were working to protect areas and to retake areas taken by Daesh, such as Kobane. They are limiting their actions to those areas inhabited by the Kurdish population. They are not expansionist. If they are to be considered as part of the alleged 70,000 moderate ground forces put forward by the Government, their geographic limitation must give us all pause for thought. They told me that, in the first instance, they want a democratic solution to the ongoing civil war. Daesh exists and thrives in the vacuum and chaos of the uprising, and the continued instability of Syria lies in a fractured, multifaceted, multi-layered and multi-factioned response to Assad’s brutality and suppression.

Dr Lisa Cameron: Does the hon. Lady share my concerns that the allies involved appear to have conflicting goals and outcomes that they wish to achieve in Syria, and that we would simply be adding to the chaos and destruction of Syria?

Natalie McGarry: I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. I will come to it later; I completely agree with her. Syria will continue to be unstable until the world realises that the only solution is democracy. When will the UK understand that “shoot first, repent later” is the wrong strategy? Indeed, Harry Patch, the last Tommy, who died in 2009, wrote:

“All those lives lost for a war finished over a table. Now what is the sense in that?”

The Prime Minister refers to allies such as the French, the Russians, the Turks and the Kurds, but the Turks recently exploded a Russian military aircraft, and they continue to bomb the Kurds who are fighting Daesh in north-eastern Syria and in the Kurdish Regional Government area of northern Iraq. They are also accused of closing the trade border, necessitating a pontoon bridge that is subject to intermittent trade embargoes—the only relatively safe trade and transport route from the KRG. Turkey is making it harder for the Kurds to tackle Daesh.

The Russians were accused by the Syrians, while I was there, of bombing moderate opposition to Assad. Meanwhile, I spotted Hezbollah fighters in the Assad-controlled parts and streets of al-Qamishli. There are already too many agents in this conflict. The French, the Americans, the Russians, Israel, Turkey and others are already destroying Syria and deploying airstrikes there, with no strategic plans and little success. How can we proceed when we are not even sure who our allies are and who they are allied to? Why would the UK think that repeating the same mistakes could lead to a different conclusion?

The UK needs to support the creation of a safe no-bomb zone in Syria in the first instance to protect ground troops, such as they are, in tackling Assad and Daesh, and to protect internal refugees. We need to support Vienna, and a more comprehensive strategy aimed at a democratic solution to the civil war. Key to defeating Daesh is stopping the money flow. Contrary

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to some impressions, Daesh operates extremely strategically, closing supply routes and controlling infrastructure. Serious money props that up. Where is it coming from? Who supplies the arms? Who is purchasing the oil? Cutting the funding will kill Daesh more effectively than gesture airstrikes.

The people I spoke to in Syria stayed in Syria because they want to fight Assad and Daesh. We owe them better than treating them merely as statistics, and their country as a casualty of perceived international obligations.

8 pm

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): None of us comes lightly to the decision we make today, but one thing that I am sure of is that at the forefront of all our minds is the safety and security of every one of our constituents. In coming to my decision today, I have read all my constituents’ letters and emails. I have also asked myself a number of time-honoured questions about whether a conflict is just. Will this military action promote a just cause? Are our intentions right? Is there legislative authority? Is this a last resort? Is there a probability of success? Is the action proportionate?

Time prohibits a detailed response, but although in an ideal world no right-thinking person would advocate military action, we do not live in an ideal world—far from it. We and our constituents live with the very real, present and vicious threat of the evil ideology of ISIL, whose ultimate aim is nothing less than to destroy civilised society as we know it. The motion asks for authority for military action—airstrikes—

“exclusively against ISIL in Syria”

in order “to defend the UK” and

“prevent terrorist acts by ISIL”.

Can anyone doubt that that is a just cause?

Do we have the right intentions? Just as the UK is compassionately motivated in seeking humanitarian efforts in Syria, supporting refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan and welcoming refugees here, I believe the support for this motion in many parts of the House is born out of the same compassion for the suffering Syrian people—children raped, Christians tortured, aid workers beheaded, and whole families dispossessed, having been given three choices by ISIL: submit, leave or die. If our end goal for them is successful post-conflict stabilisation, and we want protection for them in the meantime from an evil and barbaric oppressor that threatens not only their peace and security but ours, I believe that we have the right intentions.

Do we have legitimate authority? If this House supports our Government, it will note that we have a clear legal basis for defending the UK under the UN charter.

Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the unanimous nature of the Security Council resolution? There can be no question but that the Russians and the Chinese are with us in standing against this dreadful threat.

Fiona Bruce: I do indeed. The wider international community, through the Security Council resolution, says that ISIL constitutes

“an unprecedented threat to international peace and security”

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and called on states to take “all necessary measures” to prevent terrorist acts by ISIL. We note, too, the request from other sovereign states, including our allies, France and the US, for military support. The next question is whether this is a last resort. Ongoing diplomatic, humanitarian and political endeavours are continuing, but airstrikes, while not enough in themselves, will be an essential component if we are to degrade and defeat this terrible force.

Finally, what of the probability of success? That is the hardest question of all. There can be no guarantees, as we have been told, but yes, I believe that there is a probability of success, in terms of degrading ISIL; weakening its capacity to attack our citizens; preventing the spread of its hideous caliphates in Syria; reducing its training bases, with their allure to those at risk of radicalisation; attacking ISIL’s control centres in Raqqa and elsewhere, from which jihadists are sent out to other lands; and reducing the spread of its terrible ideology. Considering all of that, I have concluded in good conscience and good faith that supporting the Government’s motion tonight and the action proposed is both right and just.

8.5 pm

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): We have heard some excellent and thoughtful speeches today. Deep issues are involved in this debate, but I want to touch on a matter that many right hon. and hon. Members raised earlier: the Prime Minister’s use of the abusive term “terrorist sympathisers” to describe those Members who vote against the Government’s motion tonight as they believe that he has not adequately addressed concerns that have been raised. ISIL/Daesh struck and deeply hurt the Eccles community through the savage murder of my constituent Alan Henning. That community came together—Muslims and Christians—to mourn our loss and to celebrate the life of our local hero. If I choose to vote against airstrikes in Syria today, as I will do, it will be deeply offensive to me and to that community for me to be labelled a terrorist sympathiser for my decision. Not a single person in Eccles or the rest of my constituency has said to me that we should authorise airstrikes in Syria because of the hurt caused to our community by the savage murder of Alan Henning.

I have listened carefully to the arguments in the debate. The issue about the 70,000 troops the Prime Minister says we can work with has been raised many times. Those at the briefing MPs were given heard that actually only 40,000 of those troops are open to western influence, with 30,000 being more strongly Islamist and only potentially open to political participation.

This is a key question and we did not hear many answers. The Prime Minister says that the troops are “not ideal”, the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) has called them “mythical” and the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) called them “bogus battalions”. It is important to be clear not just about the numbers; as has been said, the strategy does not address what can stop the moderates splitting into many separate militias, given that they are already splintered. It would have been better to work

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through the issues relating to the possibility of co-ordinating action with those ground troops before this decision had to be taken.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) gave his reasons for not supporting the motion, describing the military action the Prime Minister asks us to support as a “gesture” and not “effective” military action—a gesture that would not get rid of Daesh and would not get rid of Assad. I agree with my right hon. Friend, and I also agree with colleagues who say that we must be sure we are taking the right action, the justified action and the action that will be effective. I am not convinced about the proposed action and I will be voting against the Government’s motion.

8.7 pm

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): We can often have too partial a view of parliamentary history when dealing with issues of military intervention. I believe the relevant history is not so much the votes on Iraq in 2003, but those on Iraq in 2014. The motion on 26 September 2014 was agreed by a majority of 491, so should we now be extending it and extending RAF operations from Iraq to Syria?

It should not surprise us that my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) opposes the extension to Syria, because he opposed the motion on operations in Iraq. The same is true of the hon. Members for Newport West (Paul Flynn) and for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), the right hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) and the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), who have all spoken against today and all voted against operations in Iraq. It particularly should not surprise us that the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), opposes extending operations to Syria, because not only did he oppose that September 2014 motion, but he was a teller in the No Lobby. He made it very clear then, as I am sure he would have done if he had had more of an opportunity to respond to my intervention, that he, seemingly in principle, opposed the operations in Iraq.

By implication, that means that those Members do not support what has been happening in Iraq, doing good there and regaining 30% of the territory held by Daesh. They are going against the context of our operations in Iraq. I remind the House that those operations sought to go to the aid of Iraq and support people’s right to defend themselves. We were seeking to support them in their efforts to defend themselves against those ISIL genocidal jihadists who were going against Muslims, Christians and Yazidis. We should not forget that context, because that is what led us to vote in favour of action by such an overwhelming majority. The history behind this vote is as much about Kosovo in 1998 as it is about Iraq in 2003. When we look at the liberation of Sinjar, which was brought about because of the support of RAF pilots and our allies, we should remember that it was opposed by the Leader of the Opposition. We saw the horrors of Sinjar.

Mr Robin Walker: My hon. Friend is making some powerful points. Does he agree that crucial in our intervention in Iraq to date has been the fact that there have not been civilian casualties from the RAF action?

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That shows that we have the capability to take incisive action against terrorist targets without putting civilian lives at risk.

Mr Burrowes: That is right. The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (John Nicolson) described as a disgrace the operations that are taking place. However, it was not a disgrace to liberate Sinjar. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] The action has been effective, proportionate and is not leading to the loss of civilian lives. The grim reality, the horrors in Sinjar were revealed: the mass graves of older women who had been butchered by ISIL.

We should stand four-square behind these operations, which should be extended. Along with the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), I wanted the motion in 2014 to go further. Like him, I recognise the important international principle of a treaty to protect people from genocide. That is what we were seeing in Iraq and Syria. The duty to authorise force extended logically both to Iraq and Syria. So I wanted us to go further then. To be consistent with the decision in 2014, I want us to extend our operations to Syria. As I said to the Prime Minister then, the genocidal actions of ISIL jihadists have no borders. We need to understand that ISIL has the same intent now as it did in 2014. The right to defend Iraqis and the right to defend our UK citizens means that there should be no border in our operations between Iraq and Syria.

We have heard many Members offer their expert opinion about the effectiveness of the operations. We must be careful that we do not become armchair—or Bench—generals. Surely we should accept the evidence from the armed forces, security services and the Joint Intelligence Committee that we have a very clear and imminent threat to our citizens, and that we have a proportionate response to it. My question to my constituents is this: if one of those seven planned attacks on the UK in the past 12 months had not been thwarted and had got through, what would I have done? I would have had to look my constituents and their families in the eye and say that we must tackle the threat by going—

Mr Speaker: Order. I call Ruth Smeeth.

8.12 pm

Ruth Smeeth (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): There is no more solemn or important duty of this House than the decision to authorise military action, and it has weighed heavily on me in recent days. To risk putting our servicemen and women in harm’s way is a great and heavy burden, as indeed it should be.

In recent months, we have seen the horror of the attacks in Paris, Tunisia, Lebanon and Turkey committed by Daesh. Even those acts of terror fail to tell the story of the full scale of the threat that faces us and the fact that it is growing. In 2014, there were 15 global attacks perpetuated by Daesh. This year, we have seen 150 so far.

Angela Smith: May I add to my hon. Friend’s list by pointing out that seven potential attacks in the UK over the past year have been prevented by our counter-terrorism services? Will she take this opportunity to put on the record our appreciation of our intelligence services and the role they have played in preventing terrorism here in the UK?

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Ruth Smeeth: Absolutely, and I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention.

The threat to us is not theoretical. Our friends and allies across the world have to live with the consequences, and now they are asking for our help. We must not forget the murder and mayhem being visited on the people of Syria and Iraq. When Daesh began pushing north from Mosul to capture Yazidi villages, the men and women were separated. First, the Yazidi men and boys were taken out to the countryside and machine-gunned en masse. After that, the women were separated by age: those who were too old to be kept as slaves for Daesh were shot, and the rest were rounded up as spoils of war. The mass graves from those killings are beginning to be unearthed following the liberation of Sinjar by Kurdish forces, which was supported by us.

The sheer barbarism of this organisation is difficult to comprehend, and I cannot look myself in the mirror every day if I know that we are allowing this evil to thrive. Members across the House have rightly pointed out that recent events across the middle east must give us pause for thought whenever and wherever we consider any further intervention. I agree, but my country and my party have a proud history of standing up to tyranny and intervening to protect people from poisonous ideologies and evil despots.

That began with the fight against fascism in the 1930s. If you were to visit the town hall in Stoke-on-Trent you would find a plaque commemorating the veterans of the international brigades. The men and women of that movement risked their lives for their commitment to internationalism and solidarity, standing against an ideology that posed an existential threat to our way of life. Daesh poses no less a threat. For the Opposition, the spirit of internationalism, humanitarian intervention and solidarity with people across the world is one of the longest and proudest traditions of the British left, which is why we must not fall into the mindset of isolationism.

We must recognise that issues of war are never clear-cut. There is a cost of inaction, as much as there is a cost of action, and if we allow atrocities to go unpunished and unrestrained we will bear the burden. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, we have a duty to come to the aid of our allies in times of war. As a liberal democracy, we have a duty to stamp out the evils of religious fascism wherever it rears its head. As an outward-looking internationalist nation we have a duty to play our part against a global threat.

Rebecca Pow: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ruth Smeeth: It is too late, sorry.

If we grow to fear the responsibility of our actions, we will find ourselves incapable of meeting our obligations to the country, to our allies and to our values. We will all enter the Division Lobbies tonight with a heavy heart, knowing that there are consequences to our vote, whichever way we choose to act. I am making the difficult decision to vote for extended action against Daesh. No one seeks war, but I genuinely believe that this is the best way to support Syrians and protect our citizens.

8.16 pm

Dr Tania Mathias (Twickenham) (Con): May I say that I value greatly the speeches by my hon. Friends the Members for South Dorset (Richard Drax), for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), and for Plymouth,

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Moor View (Johnny Mercer)? I also value all the constituents who have contacted me. I also value constituents who I know have been praying.

I believe that Daesh has effectively declared war on us. I believe that Tunisia and the seven thwarted attacks are effectively acts of war. In my constituency, I am incredibly grateful for the services of the security forces and the police. During the rugby world cup most of the blood spilled was on the rugby field. Of course, today and tomorrow, I am concerned. I am amazed by the RAF and the work that it has done in Iraq. I am amazed that we have made airstrikes and that there have not been any civilian casualties. It is right that we should allow our forces to cross that border, which the enemy does not recognise, but I am also aware that airstrikes in Syria may result in civilian casualties. Whether I walk through the Lobby to your right, Mr Speaker, or to your left, I believe that civilians will die.

I am pleased, however, that in the motion the Government have linked military action with humanitarian and diplomatic action. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for International Development and to the Under-Secretary of State for Refugees, as I have asked them not to forget the refugees in this area who were there before the crisis. I am reassured that all our action will be for those refugees as well—the Palestinian refugees in the camp provided by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Syria.

Over 10 years ago, I marched with 1 million other people against the war. Today, I believe that it is different: there is a United Nations resolution and there are Arab countries that will align with us. When I go into the Aye Lobby, it will be for the refugees and it will be for the security of Twickenham.

8.19 pm

Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP): I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr Mathias). We overlapped slightly in Gaza, where we both served. I served there as a surgeon for a year and a half, having started my career in Belfast, where I grew up, so I have seen the human results of violence, whether it is due to terrorism or to bombing. It is not pretty and it is not something that any of us would wish.

Having grown up in Northern Ireland—obviously, there are Members on these Benches who are based there—I wonder how we would have felt if someone thought we could have solved that problem by airstrikes. We are talking about a situation that is complex. We have heard all the objections to military intervention. I will not go over them again as I have only three minutes, but the chance of chaos is high. Russia wants one thing, Turkey wants another. Has anyone informed the Kurds, to whom we are all paying great tribute, that no one has any plans to give them a homeland at the end of this? A hundred years on, yet again they are being allowed to fight, but we are promising them nothing.

Going into any military action, it is important to understand the basics. Who are our enemies? Who are our friends? What is the goal? How will we define victory, and what will our exit strategy be? We have had a complex, fairly tragic and incoherent approach to the

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middle east for decades. When I worked in Gaza, people described to me death falling from the sky all the time—sometimes directly from western powers, sometimes from regimes that we either supported or created, all the way from the Shah of Iran to Saddam Hussein. We have supported militias and rebels when we thought they could be of use, but what have they turned into—the mujaheddin becoming the Taliban; the rebels and chaos in Libya.

We hear about a patchwork of 70,000 boots on the ground in Syria. What will they become? Are they our next problem? It is not that anyone here supports Daesh, despite intemperate comments. It is the fact that we do not believe airstrikes will work. The two points that were raised were national security and stability in the middle east. We will recruit extremists there; we will radicalise people here.

We all have sympathy with Paris, but that will not make bombing any more effective, so for those who have been struggling with their consciences and how to vote, I beg them please to think again and vote against the motion.

8.22 pm

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): Following the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford), I am struck once again that on the one hand in this debate we are grappling with what is no more than a minor tactical correction in the conduct of the air war against ISIS, and on the other hand we are trying to judge an overall strategic plan which has been formulated among a rather disparate and disunited coalition and which is necessarily chaotic, fluid and bound to change. That is in the context of a 14 or 15-year campaign that we have been mounting since 9/11 against a global Islamist insurgency, and we have not yet begun to get the measure of that campaign.

In Northern Ireland, to which the hon. Lady referred, we spent 10 or 15 years getting it wrong. The west is now faced with a far more complex international problem. We are learning, we are discussing, and this debate is perhaps part of that process, but we have not yet got near the full and comprehensive understanding that will win us this campaign in the long run. Mistakes will continue to be made, but that does not mean that we can turn our back on the present situation. There are risks whichever way we turn.

Another aspect that we have heard periodically in this debate is that what is now visited upon us is somehow our fault; that we are being punished for our own mistakes and errors; that the terrorist attacks on our own country are something that we have provoked. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the terrorist threat. The west is omnipresent in the Muslim world. We are beamed in by satellite. The people there are challenging their own outdated religious power structures. Women want equality. Young people aspire to be educated at western universities. That is challenging the whole structure of the Muslim world, and the extremes of the Muslim world are striking back at us. They are not going to leave us alone if we disengage, so we have to engage with the problem. We might go on getting it wrong and making mistakes, but that is the nature of warfare.

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The attacks in Paris were an act of war. We have been suffering such acts of war against our country since 9/11, and even before. The west is going to have to become more coherent and more united in its response. Perhaps the most significant strategic effect of this decision is that we will be joining our coalition partners and helping to create that diplomatic and political process.

8.25 pm

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): In 2013 I voted against military action in Syria, and I was happy to do so, because I did not think that the case had been made or that a plan was in place. I thought that through extraordinarily carefully, because I was very conscious of what the Assad regime was doing, and is still doing, to civilians in Syria. In all the sound and fury and rhetoric around that debate and this debate, it is absolutely vital to cut through and get to the heart of what we are actually discussing. I am very much taken with what has been said about this being an extension of existing action. This is not about starting a war or carpet bombing civilians, as one person has suggested to me; it is about extending military action against a barbarous regime that threatens our own citizens.

Like the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), I believe what is proposed meets the criteria of a just war. It meets the criteria on legality, proportionality, prospects of success and last resort. We also have a clear UN resolution. The idea has been put around that we somehow need a chapter 7 resolution, but that is simply not the case. The House of Commons Library has set out the situation carefully, stating:

“Phrases such as ‘all necessary measures’, as used in UNSCR 2249, are usually code for the use of force in other Security Council Resolutions… It is immaterial that they do not mention using force.”

It then points to a number of examples of different ways in which the UN has argued for that.

There is a case for self-defence in international law. There is also a case for operating against a non-state actor that threatens us when the sovereign state in that area is unable or unwilling to act against it. We have a call from our allies, from France and others, including Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, and the Germans are getting involved as well. There is also the military practicality to consider, with this imaginary border on which we can only operate on one side.

Then there is the direct threat to the UK and our citizens. I say that carefully, because of the individuals who were recruited from my constituency and went to fight in Syria. They communicated with people in this country and may well have been involved in plots against this country. That is a very serious thing to consider, because dealing with Daesh’s ideology will require more than a military strategy. We also have to tackle it here, for example by disrupting its communications methods, and in terms of security, tackling ideology, community relations and local policing. As long as that regime remains a beacon in the region, inspiring, recruiting and directing people, we will continue to have a problem, even if we meet all the other criteria.

I have my doubts about ground troops and the hopes being placed in the political process, and I have concerns about the Government’s failure to follow through on

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reconstruction in the past. However, we cannot let perfection be the enemy. I have had to consider whether those concerns outweigh the reasons I outlined at the beginning of my remarks. My answer is no, which is why I will be supporting the Government’s motion tonight.

8.28 pm

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), because I agree with virtually everything he said. The key point is this: something dreadful and totally unacceptable is happening, and we have to act. UN resolution 2249 gives us the scope to do something. It sets out the reason for urgency and the reason why we have to take action.

We have to remember that Daesh is operating in a state that is broken in Syria, and in a state that is almost broken in northern Iraq. We are extending the same treatment from Iraq to Syria. It is not a huge expansion; it is simply a question of moving to Syria because there is a need to do so. That need is about ensuring that we really strike at the heart of this dreadful regime.

It is also imperative that we do a series of other things. We cannot avoid the need to operate through the Vienna process, for instance, because we need our allies. The key point about resolution 2249 and the request from France and from the United States is that we are wanted—we are actually needed—in this fight. By demonstrating resolution and commitment, we are strengthening the cause of the allies generally to deal with this problem.

Roger Mullin (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (SNP): Does the hon. Gentleman think it is rather perplexing that more effort has not been made by the Government and others to deal with the arms trade in the middle east, to close the Turkish border, which is so fluid, to the terrorists, and to tackle the problem of funding from Saudi Arabia?

Neil Carmichael: The Prime Minister made it very clear in his speech, as he has done previously, that we are taking those steps. Of course more needs to be done, but things are happening, and with rigour and appropriateness to the challenges ahead. Absolutely we need to do more, and more will be done.

The battle of ideas is absolutely crucial. It is a fact that our way of life is being challenged—it is under attack. Our democracy, our internationalism and our tolerance are under attack. That is what we have to defend, and that is why it is important that we stand up and fight against what is absolutely awful. It is important that we state those three things, among others, because that is how we remind moderate Muslims that it is important to value those things too.

Dr Whitford: Does the hon. Gentleman not see a danger in Saudi Arabia being given such a huge role? The Saudis do not share our way of life—women are not well treated there—and yet we are giving them a huge role in the region.

Neil Carmichael: That is an important intervention. However, the danger I see is one where we do not participate and do not apply our values, our skills and our leadership in this cause.

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The difference between now and before is that we need unity on this more than ever. The interesting thing about the vote we had on Syria last time is that we should have acted then, because the chaos that has raged in Syria since has made it possible for Islamic State to do so well in developing its infrastructure and reach. We have to bear that in mind. We do not want to make the same mistake again. That would be fatal to our interests in the western world and to our ambition to create a new middle east where good governance thrives, the economy is successful, and the culture is great. My hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) hit the nail on the head when he talked about that future, that ambition, that desire for the middle east.

As I have said so often in this House, this is about working together as nations, sharing our capacities, our policies, and our willingness to make a difference. That is why I am voting with the Government tonight. I do so on the basis of considerable thought and considerable discussion with people in my constituency. Ultimately our responsibility is to stand firm with our allies, defeat a terrible scourge on our globe, and make sure that we can rebuild, as rebuild we must.

8.33 pm

Keir Starmer (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab): Following the horrifying attacks in Sousse, in Ankara, over Sinai, in Beirut, and most recently in Paris, no one should be any doubt about the capability and intention of Daesh to carry out further acts of terrorism across the globe. There has to be a strong international response, and the UK should be part of that. Enough has been said about comments the Prime Minister may have made last night. For my part, having prosecuted some of the most serious terrorist plots in this country and worked with a number of members of the Prime Minister’s Front Bench to thwart terrorism, I hope the House is clear about where my sympathies are on this matter.

The question is whether there is a lawful, coherent and compelling case for airstrikes. So far as lawful is concerned, much has been said about UN resolution 2249. In and of itself, it does not authorise force, but I accept it implies a reference to self-defence, which would be a lawful basis for action that has been taken and that may be taken in future.

For me, the question is whether, if lawful, the action is none the less compelling and coherent. The argument that there is no logic in taking military action in Iraq but not in Syria is seductive and powerful, but in the end unconvincing. The situation in Syria is very different from the situation in Iraq. The civil war has a different dynamic, the opposition forces are differently constituted and Russia is of course more heavily involved in support of the Assad Government.

That does not mean that there should be no response in Syria, and there is much in the Prime Minister’s motion—in relation to the Vienna process, the talks for a transition to an inclusive Syria and humanitarian suffering—with which I would agree, but whether there should be airstrikes is another matter. I am not against airstrikes per se, and I accept that it is difficult to see how territory can be taken from Daesh without them. In my view, however, airstrikes without an effective

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ground force are unlikely to make any meaningful contribution to defeating Daesh, and there is no effective ground force.

Graham Evans: Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Keir Starmer: I will not give way, because lots of people have been waiting to speak.

The Prime Minister’s reliance on what he calls “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters” on the ground is wholly unrealistic. They are a disparate group of individuals with varying motivations and capabilities. By definition, they are oppositional, and it is hard to see how we could honour and protect them without being drawn into conflict with Russia. On that basis, I will vote against the motion tonight. I will, however, say this: I respect Members from both sides of the House who hold a different view, and if the Prime Minister’s motion is passed, I will support our forces in action.

8.36 pm

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): Tonight’s motion on Daesh or ISIL is a defining moment of this Parliament. I follow the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), who made a typically thoughtful speech, and outstanding speeches were made from the Labour Benches earlier by the right hon. Members for Derby South (Margaret Beckett), for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) and for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), and the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh), all of whom highlighted the seriousness of the threat to our nation, the powerful United Nations Security Council resolution and the urging of regional Governments and our closest neighbour, France, for us to take action.

Many other Members have argued—rightly, I believe—that tonight’s motion covers a logical extension of what we have already voted overwhelmingly for in Iraq across a boundary that the terrorists do not recognise. However, some have argued that the RAF would make no difference to what our allies are already doing, and that the risks to civilians in Syria are too great. If either were true, why would our allies want us in Syria and why would the Iraqi Government want us in Iraq? If the House felt it was true that we were achieving nothing in Iraq, we would surely be criticising the Government and calling not just for debates, but for the return of our armed forces. If it was true, the right hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) would surely be calling for no airstrikes at all from RAF Lossiemouth. He is not and we are not, and I believe that there is a good cause for saying that we have made a difference in Iraq.

Tonight, I believe we can find much common ground across all parties through supporting a close European partner and our closest ally, through the umbrella legitimacy of the UN, through the competence of the RAF and through the logic of extending our operational boundaries. To those of my constituents with doubts, I say that it is important to remember that we are not invading Syria, that we are not waging war against Islam or Muslims and that, as the motion says, this is one part of a broader political strategy.

Our Government’s big challenge is to defeat ISIL so that a peace settlement can have meaning on the ground. It will be unbelievably difficult, given the blood under

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the bridge and the political, tribal, religious and war-scarred differences of those around the table in Vienna. However, as with Dayton a generation ago, a difficult settlement and transition is the eventual key. Unlike with Dayton, we have a role to play in the peace making and subsequent regeneration. That agreement and the governance that follows are what Syria needs. Its success or failure will determine, a generation on, whether we are seen to have played a positive role.

I did not enter this House with any enthusiasm to commission our armed forces to take lives and risk their own, but we have a duty to protect our constituents and the threat is real, so I will vote for the motion and I urge colleagues from all parties to do so, for a decision not to do so would send the wrong message to friend and foe alike.

8.40 pm

Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab): Like other Members, I have struggled to work out what is the right thing to do this evening, faced with a very difficult decision, as I have done with every decision regarding military action since I have been a Member of this House. In the last Parliament, I voted in favour of action in Libya and in Iraq in 2014, and I voted against action in Syria in 2013. I know how hard it is to vote both in favour of action and against action. I have learned in the five and a half years that I have been a Member of this place that it is almost impossible to say, with the benefit of hindsight, which of those decisions was 100% right or 100% wrong. Having weighed up the arguments on tonight’s motion, I will be voting against it.

Before I explain my reasons for that, let me say that, as the House knows, I am a Muslim. Those who know me well know that my belief in God and in my religion is not just a small part of my identity or simply a box that I tick on the census, but the defining characteristic of my life. I am a Sunni too—Sunni born, Sunni raised and, since I have been old enough to make my own mind up about these things, a Sunni by choice.

Although there is a wide variety of opinion and practice within Sunni Islam, we can all agree that ISIL is not representative of our faith and not representative of Sunni Muslims. They are Nazi-esque totalitarians who are outlaws from Islam, who engage in indiscriminate slaughter and who murder any Muslim who does not agree with them. If you are different or if you disagree, you die. I am well aware that under ISIL, a Muslim like myself would be killed, so please believe me when I say that I do not simply want to see ISIL defeated; I want to see it eradicated.

However, I believe that the proposed action will not work. That is why I cannot vote for it. I fear, primarily, the chaos that might come from a vacuum or ungoverned space. Many Members have said that airstrikes alone will not work, and I agree. We cannot simply bomb the ground; we need a strategy to hold it as well. On that point, I have listened carefully to the arguments about the 70,000 moderates. Normally, we believe that our enemy’s enemy is our friend, but in this case I believe that our enemy’s enemy will turn out not to be our friend. There are too many different groups, with too many shifting allegiances and objectives.

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Imran Hussain: Does my hon. Friend agree that many British Sunni Muslims and other British Muslims would agree with her sentiments on this evil sect of Daesh?

Shabana Mahmood: I agree with that point and believe that, on this matter, I am able to speak for the wider British Muslim and British Sunni community.

What of Russia? It, too, is acting against ISIL, but it is also bombing the very moderates that the Government will rely on to hold the ground following the airstrikes. I think back to the decision regarding Syria in 2013, when I feared that action against Assad without a more comprehensive strategy would create a vacuum that would lead to more militancy, for which we would be responsible. Now I believe that an ISIL-first strategy risks strengthening Assad and creating another deeper crisis, for which we would also be responsible.

As for our own security, my instinct tells me that the threat to us will probably be the same whether we act or do not act. ISIL will not give us a free pass if we vote against action, but we will not be any more in its sights if we vote in favour of it.

It has been suggested in the last day or so that when the time for the apportionment of blame comes, those who vote in favour of the motion will have to step forward and there will be nowhere to hide. The implication is that if Members vote against it, as I will, they can avoid the blame. To those who think that way, I say this: if only the world were that simple. There will be consequences and innocent people will die from action or inaction. Whatever we decide tonight, we will all bear a measure of responsibility.

8.44 pm

Mary Robinson (Cheadle) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) who spoke from personal experience and conviction, and with great passion, even though she has come to a different conclusion from me.

Matters of war and peace, and the security of the United Kingdom, are the primary responsibility of the Government and this House. This is the first time in my capacity as a Member of the House that I have been asked to vote on committing the UK to military action, and I assure fellow Members, as well as my constituents, that this is not a vote I take lightly.

I have carefully considered the arguments made by the Government, and it is clear that Daesh poses a direct threat to the UK. Recent attacks in Tunisia, Turkey, Lebanon, the downing of a Russian passenger plane above Egypt, and more recently the horrific attacks in Paris, show that Daesh is capable of truly international terrorism. Clearly, it is a terrorist group that does not respect borders, and the people of the United Kingdom are in its sights too.

Every day when I come to this House I see the notification telling me that the threat level to this country and its people is severe. That means that a terrorist attack is highly likely. Indeed, we have heard already that seven terrorist plots have been foiled this year, and those were either linked to or inspired by Daesh and its deadly propaganda. I pay tribute to our intelligence services on whom we rely to keep us safe.

As Daesh grows in strength and audacity, our security is increasingly under threat. In my view, when a UN Security Council resolution calls on member states to

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take “all necessary measures” to prevent terrorist acts by Daesh and eradicate its safe haven, we have a responsibility to answer that call.

Over recent months a number of my constituents have contacted me about the situation in Syria and the plight of its people. Along with others, I recently visited the Zaatari camp, which is the largest in Jordan and just 14 miles from the Syrian border. People in those camps live in the most basic conditions, and their only desire is to go home to Syria. Peace in the region depends on us reaching agreements in Vienna, and that process is crucial.

Destroying ISIL, bringing peace to Syria and Iraq, and rebuilding the shattered lives of their populations will be hard and will require a multi-layered approach by a broad coalition of nations. In my view the UK has a moral obligation to assist our allies in that fight, and ultimately to help return Syria to its people. For that reason, I will be supporting the Government and voting for the motion.

8.47 pm

Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op): I have held the Prime Minister’s proposal to the fire with experts, academics, people from the region, and military personnel. I have read more than 2,000 communications, and on Monday night I had a meeting in my constituency with more than 400 people present. More than 99% of those said no to the Prime Minister’s plans.

Daesh exhibits the most heinous and murderous ideology, but how will precision weapons find their target without co-ordination on the ground? We have heard how important ground forces are, but Daesh integrates into local populations. Local people work for Daesh to avoid being murdered—they do not share its ideology, but they do so to save their lives. Without a concrete military force, people will be put at risk and there will be serious casualties.

We have heard about the Free Syrian Army. On 20 October the Foreign Secretary came to the House and said that it was 80,000 strong, and on 26 November the Prime Minister said it was 70,000 strong. Yesterday I heard that there are 40,000 moderates, and today I hear that there are 15,000 people with whom we can work. In reality, those fighters are a disparate group. We have heard about the shifting sands, and many groups are co-ordinated under an umbrella. We do not know whether they will jump to western orders. They are fighting another, more conventional war, and will they move to fighting a more difficult conflict and a different enemy? People have fought against Assad to protect land. Will they be willing to move across the country to fight in a different area and give up the land that they have protected or tried to gain? We must ask such questions before we proceed. To take more time is not to admit defeat. It is about us being politicians and scrutinising what is before us. There is no loss of face in stepping back in order to step forward.

We must also listen to the people living on the ground who have said no to this action. No one in this place has the wisdom of Solomon, but it is clear that this strategy is weak and the sequencing is wrong. I will be voting to reject the motion. I ask the Government to come back

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with a more comprehensive ground plan, which we would be able to scrutinise. Hopefully, we can move forward to deal with Daesh and its evil plot.

8.50 pm

Marcus Fysh (Yeovil) (Con): Yesterday, while preparing for this debate, I was accused by certain people on social media—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. There is quite a lot of really rather disconcerting and discourteous chuntering from Members on both sides of the House, including from the Foreign Secretary, whose hon. Friend has the floor and will be heard. If Members wish to conduct an argument they will do it outside the Chamber, be they ever so high. Let us be clear about that.

Marcus Fysh: Yesterday I was accused by certain people on social media of having no care for my children and no thought for people in Syria. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our families and our children, and those families and children from the middle east and north Africa, whether in their homes or displaced, are the future of our world. We want them to play and grow without fear in that world, to see good and beauty in it, and to see the point of trying to make it better. When they ask what I did today, I want them to know that I stood up for them.

We want to make life on the ground better for people, and to protect them from indiscriminate and summary injustice. We want to allow humanity, to restore normal life and to offer better ideas. Our involvement can make a positive difference and we must not shirk it. Militarily, we can take out targets that threaten us, or those on the ground, with more precision, so saving lives. We are not bombing Syria in the way that some allege.

Diplomatically, our involvement will give us the best chance to shape efforts towards a lasting political settlement. If we want to be able to negotiate sometimes very firmly, as we should, with Russia, Iran, the Syrian establishment and our allies in the Gulf states and beyond, we have to be credible. We cannot expect to have influence with them and to shape our world if we are unwilling to use the powers we have, when asked, to make the transition to a political solution less painful than it otherwise might be.

We want the civil war in Syria to end and for hope to return. I am persuaded that there is right here, in Vienna and in our firm diplomatic strategy backed by action tonight a real chance that we can help that to happen politically. I commend what is, in fact, a comprehensive strategy to the House.

8.53 pm

Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): I will be voting against the Government tonight, but I will not be doing so with any certainty that what I am doing is correct. I envy all those Members who are certain about what the right decision is today. I envy those who have contacted me on Twitter. I envy my constituents and party members who contacted me and said it is a no-brainer, that it is obvious what we should do. It has not been obvious to me. It has been very, very difficult indeed.

I listened to a number of contributions from hon. Friends who will be in a different Lobby tonight, voting with the Government, and I agreed with a great deal of

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what they had to say. It has been incredibly difficult to come to a decision. I agree that Daesh is a peril that must be defeated and that it is an evil scourge that inflicts misery on huge numbers of Muslims. It has killed far more Muslims than westerners. I also agree that we should not lightly turn our back on our allies. We should have tremendous solidarity with the people of France, upon whom such misery and carnage has recently been visited. As an internationalist, it is not easy for me to turn my back on the United Nations resolution, and I agree that the proposed action has a strong legal basis.

Why, then, will I not support the motion? Because I believe that sometimes the kindest thing one can do as a friend is to say to that friend that the direction they are taking in their moment of torment might not be the resolution to the problems they face. I listened with great intent to yesterday’s briefing from the Foreign Secretary and others, which I thought was incredibly professional, but it was not able to answer the central point about the ground forces.

When people say, “We are doing it in Iraq, so why are we not doing it in Syria?”, the simple answer is that we are doing it in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi Government and with the support of the Iraqi ground forces. I believe that the political process—a fledgling process—which has the promise of nations working together in the International Syria Support Group, must be given a chance to work. If we have an international transition plan and this fledgling stage starts to lead to something, we will then have the possibility that these ground forces will turn away from Assad and towards ISIL, and we will realise the potential of our actions actually to deliver what we all desperately want—the end of ISIL and a better and more promising future for the people of Syria.

8.56 pm

Byron Davies (Gower) (Con): There can be no graver or more serious topic for us to debate than the use of military force. I have had a great deal of correspondence from my constituents, and I have read every bit of it. I listened to what my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Marcus Fysh) said. We are asking young men and women to go fight and potentially die while engaging in the use of force in another land.

The Prime Minister and the Government have set out serious and powerful arguments for airstrikes against Daesh. It is clear from the motion that it is Daesh exclusively that will be targeted. Equally, I have heard thoughtful, sincere and forensic arguments from Members on both sides of the debate.

There are many questions, and the answers to them need to be crystal clear. We cannot make the mistakes of the past by failing to have a plan for all ethnicities and sects to have an equal place in a post-conflict Syria. If we fail in our solemn duty to do this, we will be doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past—the mistakes whose shadow covers the middle east, and the consequences of which are deeply rooted in some of the current conflicts and proxy wars that are taking place in the region.

From numerous reports from people who have escaped the dreadful regime of Daesh in Syria, it appears that its statehood project is failing. We must ask ourselves

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whether British airstrikes will help that effort further to weaken and eventually bring about the destruction of Daesh in its stronghold. Our intelligence therefore has to be highly dependable and accurate.

Furthermore, we must ensure that our allies in the middle east are playing their part in this battle. According to a Department of Defence official in the United States, Saudi Arabia has not flown a mission against Daesh in three months, Jordan in four months and the United Arab Emirates in nine months. We need to ensure that there is no political void within the coalition of countries that need to be part of any serious solution to this conflict.

Let me deal with my decision on how to vote on the issue. I am sure that we all feel the weight of history and understand the position of others who have had to vote on issues of war in this House. There can never be absolute certainty about the outcome of any military action, despite the fact that we are all certain of the need to destroy Daesh.

While we have heard very clear arguments about the dangers of acting, there are equal dangers in not acting. Let me quote a former US President, General Dwight Eisenhower:

“Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him.”

I, of course, do not profess to be wise or brave, but I support the Government in this matter. Should we wait for another Paris situation to happen here or should we act now? We should act now.

8.59 pm

Brendan O'Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP): I congratulate the Foreign Affairs Committee on producing this excellent and thoughtful report. I commend it to any hon. Member who has not had a chance to read it. I hope that the Prime Minister takes cognisance of the fact that the Committee reported last night that it was not convinced that the concerns contained in its report had been met.

Just three or four weeks ago, the Committee said that the

“extraordinary complexity of the situation on the ground”

meant that there were “few reliable counterparts”,

and that

“There appeared to be little chance of a legitimate and functioning ally emerging from the chaos”

any time soon. Now, miraculously, we are expected to believe that some 70,000 “moderate” troops are ready to fight on our behalf.

Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP): Members on both sides of the House have rightly made much of the professionalism and dedication of our servicemen and women. Do they not have a right to know alongside whom they will be fighting in any conflict in which they are set to take part?

Brendan O’Hara: One can only conclude that the 70,000 figure is a convenient arithmetical creation that adds together a multitude of people from different cultures and factions and with widely differing ambitions for the future of Syria, and I agree that people should be told exactly who they are. I fear that the 70,000 claim will define this Prime Minister’s drive for military intervention in the middle east, just as the claim that we

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were only 45 minutes from attack defined a previous Prime Minister’s justification for earlier misadventures in the region.

Crispin Blunt: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way—and, given that he has been so kind about the Foreign Affairs Committee, the least that he deserves is another minute. May I draw his attention not only—obviously—to the Prime Minister’s statement, but to the work of Charles Lister, who is a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Centre? In a blog on the Spectator site, he broke down the 75,000 figure with reasonable accuracy. The key issue, however, is the change that has taken place over the last month in Vienna.

Brendan O’Hara: I certainly commend the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report, which is a first-class piece of work. It also said that any UK involvement in airstrikes was unlikely to constitute a war-winning intervention. Sir Simon Mayall told the Committee:

"This is not a war-winning air campaign, by any stretch of the imagination.”

Even the most enthusiastic cheerleader for UK airstrikes in Syria would have to agree that very few planes will actually be involved and that our contribution will be extremely small. At the same time, however, the Prime Minister was telling us that a major military plank of the argument for airstrikes was that we had a “unique contribution” to make. That “unique contribution” was the Brimstone missile. Indeed, he went on the record as saying that those missiles were “unique assets” that the RAF could contribute, and that he had been lobbied by our coalition partners to bring them to the theatre. As I pointed out to him, the Royal Saudi Air Force has been using Brimstone missiles since February this year.

Let us be honest, Mr Speaker. The UK Government’s desire to take part in the bombing of Syria is less a military contribution than a political statement. Since 2013, the Government have felt that they have been left on the sidelines, and have been itching for a piece of the action. As with so much of the UK’s thinking, this has more to do with how the UK will look to others than with our asking what good we can do. After decades of military intervention in the middle east, we do not have a success to show for it.

There are more than enough people dropping bombs on Syria. We do not have to add to the chaos, the misery and the inevitable casualties by doing so as well. Yes, Daesh is evil; yes, it must be defeated; and, yes, we have a contribution to make—but dropping bombs from 34,000 feet is not the way to do it. Let us not repeat the mistakes of the past. Let us not embark on another middle eastern misadventure. Let us go in with a credible plan to win the peace and secure the future in Syria.

9.4 pm

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): It is a pleasure to have the chance to speak straight after the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara). He has given us a range of problems, but he seemed somewhat lacking in potential solutions. The one thing I agree with the Scottish National party on is the change that the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh) was pushing for—namely, that we should call

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those people Daesh. They are neither true to Islam nor a recognised state, and we should not give them credence by calling them anything other than Daesh.

For me, this is not about making some political statement. If there is a statement to be made, it is about the fact that when one of our allies is attacked, we will come to their aid. The bedrock of our defence is article 5 of the NATO treaty—the NATO that the SNP still wants to be part of—which deals with mutual defence. We will respond to an attack in Europe.

Callum McCaig: The hon. Gentleman mentioned the solidarity that we must show with our allies. Would he apply that to the Kurds, and to our NATO allies in Turkey?

Kevin Foster: We stood with the Kurds a year ago. This Parliament voted to intervene when the murderous thugs of Daesh were on their way to overrun the Kurdish Autonomous Region, which could have resulted in a massacre on the same level as that of Srebrenica. Members of my party—and, to be fair, members of other parties—wanted to do something about that. Some of the arguments we have heard today have been in favour of pulling away the air support that has helped to prevent Daesh from massacring the Kurds. It is the air support that represents solidarity, not warm words.

In approaching the motion, I have asked myself a number of questions. What specific objectives do we have for our involvement, along with our allies? Is there a clear legal basis for the action? What will a post-civil war Syria look like? Who or what will be the Government there, and how will our intervention assist in bringing that about? The question of legality is now much easier to answer. There is a pretty clear UN Security Council resolution. Had that resolution not been passed, we would have been hearing today about how we needed such a resolution. Now we have one, we are hearing that it is not quite enough. The reality is that no resolution would be enough to satisfy some in this Chamber, despite the clear wording of the one that we now have. The action is definitely legal.

What are our specific objectives? The ultimate objective is to clear Daesh away from the territory it controls, which gives it its power base.

Ian Blackford: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Kevin Foster: The hon. Gentleman has had plenty of interventions. I will not take this one.

This is about ensuring that we can assist our allies. It would be ludicrous if our allies were fighting a Daesh unit and they reached an invisible line in the sand that happened to be the Syrian border—which Daesh does not recognise—and our allies had to say, “Sorry, you’ve gone one foot over the border. We’re not going to do anything more.” This is about being part of a coalition. [Interruption.] It is ironic that I am being shouted at by Opposition Members for not doing enough. The present situation is an argument to do more, not less.

I want to talk about what a post-war Syria would look like. That is what the Vienna process is there for. It is a negotiated agreement to deliver a stable Government in Syria for the future. [Interruption.] I must say that I always love having—

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Mr Speaker: Order. Stop the clock. The hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) must be heard with courtesy. I say to one hon. Gentleman, whose loquacity has been notable today, that he is perfectly entitled to seek to intervene but he must not seek to deny the hon. Gentleman a courteous hearing. Let us be fair and decent to each other.

Kevin Foster: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I was about to say that it is always a pleasure to have an accompaniment.

Whatever comes out of the Vienna negotiations, the one solution that would be unacceptable is that Daesh should carry on to have a role in the future Government of Syria. Daesh will not be cleared out by warm words or by hopeful diplomacy. Part of the solution is a military intervention, and it is right that we should start to degrade Daesh now while we work to build up the coalition that will clear it out permanently. We cannot just say that this is too difficult.

9.9 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), and I thank him for his comments.

With the US adding manpower and Germany and China yesterday announcing they are joining Russia, France and Jordan to name but a few, we need today to enlist in the coalition of the civilised in the campaign against Daesh. It is still hard to fathom the utter brutality, the inhumanity and the sheer disregard for human life that Daesh shows. Today, we can join in the efforts to confine such evil to the history books and show we will not sit idly by while innocent people are beheaded, maimed, tortured, raped and massacred and fear is struck into the population.

The difference between ISIL’s so-called army and us is this: they behead and rape innocent people as if the only law is the law of the jungle. We know our enemy and we decide how to target them and when to target them through the democratic process—the decision of this House.

Sitting back has left us watching the situation spiralling further and further out of control, the law of the jungle prevailing and that jungle spreading. The time for restoring order and containment was over long ago. We have all seen that Islamic State is not happy to merely confine its horrendous caliphate to one nation or one corner of the globe. Of course, we all know by now the ultimate consequences of appeasement: terror and the threat of terror on the streets of Europe and beyond, a consequence we are only too aware of in Northern Ireland.