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House of Lords

Monday, 1 July 2013.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Truro.

Lord Hope of Craighead took the oath.

Leveson Report


2.36 pm

Asked by Lord Soley

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will publish, on a regular basis, the number of times since the publication of the Leveson Report the Prime Minister or other Ministers responsible for bringing forward legislation on its recommendations have met editors, owners or senior executives of newspapers, and what was discussed on each occasion.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, as was made clear in the Written Answer given to the noble Lord on 6 June, details of Ministers’ meetings with editors, proprietors and senior media executives are published on a quarterly basis and can be accessed on departmental websites on gov.uk.

Lord Soley: I am not sure whether I am grateful for that Answer. I tabled my Written Question in early May. It took four weeks to get an Answer, which came only after I had tabled this Oral Question. I cannot imagine how that happened.

I put it to the Minister that what is being suggested about looking at Cabinet documents is not in either the spirit or letter of the Leveson report, which says very clearly in recommendation 83 that these ought to be published on a quarterly basis and details given—not intimate details—of what was discussed and so forth. They are not there, nor are they likely to be. Frankly, more and more of us are taking the view that the press is so powerful that it can defy the will of Parliament.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I have that section of the Leveson report in front of me. I note how much the fact and general nature of any discussion of media policy issues at these meetings raises questions of how far we go in that direction, including—as is discussed in my briefing—whether the exchange of text messages ought to be included in that. As the noble Lord will know, so far we have included the existence of meetings and the record of meetings between January and the end of March this year, which should be published within the next week.

Lord Fowler: My Lords, is not the position on Leveson that almost four months ago, in March, Parliament overwhelmingly agreed a way forward that protected the freedom of the press but also protected

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the public from the abuse of press power? Is the Minister aware that many people are suspicious of the long delay in implementing those proposals? We believe that we have had the debate and that, basically, we should now just get on with it.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the Government are well aware of the strength of feeling on all sides. Some elements of the agreement of 18 March have now been implemented, as the noble Lord will know, including within the Crime and Courts Bill and the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill. The noble Lord will also know that on 13 April the Press Standards Board of Finance petitioned the Privy Council with its own draft royal charter, which is now being considered. When it has been considered, the conclusions will be published, and the question of the submission of the Government’s own royal charter will come up again.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara: My Lords, the Minister will be aware that there is a meeting of the Privy Council on 10 July. On 18 March, as has just been said, Parliament agreed to send the royal charter to the Privy Council in time for the May meeting. Could the Minister confirm that Parliament’s Leveson-compliant royal charter will be submitted to the Privy Council for approval on 10 July?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, my briefing says that it is not appropriate for the Privy Council to consider more than one royal charter at a time on the same issue. The noble Lord may consider that the Press Standards Board of Finance has therefore been extremely clever in what it has done and may draw his conclusions from that—and that accounts for some of the delay.

Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve: My Lords, in March, in the debate to which the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has referred, there was an understanding that there was a cross-party agreement about the way forward on the Leveson recommendations. What is the state of that agreement now?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, there is a cross-party agreement on the way forward. However, as those who have lived through this debate in even more detail than I have will recall, we are attempting to build a much tougher self-regulatory principle of regulation for the press with the support of a royal charter. This is a very delicate process. Pulling the press along with a tougher system of self-regulation is not proving as easy as it might.

Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: My Lords, since the DCMS consideration of consultation responses to the royal charter sponsored by the Press Standards Board of Finance has finished, when will my right honourable friend the Secretary of State publish her advice about whether that royal charter should go forward to the Privy Council? I should point out that no less a person than Sir Tom Stoppard has said that a free press needs to be a respected press. It is about time that that was so.

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we are well aware of the battle between the press and politicians, with deep and entrenched mistrust on both sides, which is not doing much good either for the reputation of the British press or that of British politics. I have to admit that the subtlety of the process whereby the Privy Council considers royal charters is something that I ought to have dug into much more deeply in preparing for this Question. I shall have to write to the noble Baroness on the timing of the consideration of both these royal charters.

Lord Grocott: May I gently suggest to the Minister that if he sees this as essentially a problem between the press and politicians, he misrepresents or misunderstands where the whole genesis of the Leveson inquiry came from? It came from a profound mistrust between the press and the public. Surely, the job of democratically elected politicians is to do their utmost, preferably on an all-party basis, to reflect the wishes and concerns of the public.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the Government well understand the strength of feeling among the public on the misuse of press freedom in recent years. We have not yet reached the end of the story—we are still moving and there are some hiccups on the way.

Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, what is the procedure for determining the precedence as between the two royal charters which are going before the Privy Council?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the Press Standards Board of Finance submitted its petition to the Privy Council before the Government had presented their own royal charter. My understanding is that that therefore gives it precedence over the Government’s royal charter, but that the consideration of the draft royal charter nominated by the Press Standards Board of Finance should shortly be finished, and at that point we will consider how we move further.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, will my noble friend explain how the Government got behind in the queue on the presentation? Will he also explain how they ended up second in the queue to the Privy Council on a matter of this importance?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I suspect that it was the result of some very fast footwork by the press board.

Lord Richard: My Lords, is the noble Lord seriously telling the House that the order in which the Privy Council considers these matters is that in which they are submitted to that body? If that is so, it is the most incredible position. Anybody could submit an application sharpish, which would then hold up consideration of all the major issues which might be submitted by other people. Is there no way in which the Privy Council can draw up a list of priorities of what it wishes to consider first, or is it solely bound by the fact that whoever gets his head through the door first is considered first? That is ludicrous.

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the noble Lord expresses his amazement extremely well. I am very willing to take back the strength of opinion in this House and ask in more detail exactly what the procedure should be.

EU Treaties: Justice and Home Affairs Opt-Outs


2.45 pm

Asked by Lord Foulkes of Cumnock

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they expect to make a decision regarding Justice and Home Affairs opt-outs under Protocol 36 to the European Union treaties.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, the Government are carefully considering the block opt-out available to us under Protocol 36 to the treaties. On 15 October last year, the Home Secretary announced that the Government’s current thinking was to exercise the opt-out and then seek to rejoin measures that are in the national interest. Further information will be made available to Parliament in due course.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Government have been carefully considering this matter for months and months and that the all-party European Union Select Committee unanimously said that the proposal would be a danger and a threat to national security and would undermine our fight against international crime? According to the leaked memo to the Daily Telegraph, it is a fight between his party and the other party in the coalition. They cannot make up their minds. Surely the question of national security and the fight against crime should rise above these party differences. Will he use all his influence to get the members of the Government to think again about this important issue?

Lord McNally: My Lords, the passion of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, is explanation in itself of why the Government are taking such care and time to look at matters that he himself has acknowledged relate very much to national security and the national interest. That is precisely why the Government are taking their time in making these decisions.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, does the Minister recognise that the Government have already overrun the two-month period in which they are meant to respond to reports from your Lordships’ committees —in this case, the European Union Select Committee? If he does, can he say when they are going to respond? Will he perhaps reflect on the possibility that the national interest might be served best by following the advice given by the committee: namely, that there was no convincing case for triggering the opt-out at all?

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Lord McNally: I agree with both noble Lords that the European Union Committee’s report was, as one would expect, extremely thorough and thought-provoking: hence the fact that the Government are studying it very carefully. We have written to the noble Lord to beg for a little more time to produce a response. Perhaps I may therefore give him a response with which I am sure he is well familiar: the response will be coming shortly.

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames: My Lords, in the event that the Government were to exercise the opt-out, what improvements to the European arrest warrant system in particular would in their view be desirable in order to opt back in, at least to the arrangements for combating serious cross-border crime?

Lord McNally:My Lords, that is a good example of why we are giving careful thought to this array of measures. The European arrest warrant has played an important role in speeding up extradition arrangements between countries and represents the type of practical co-operation that we should all support. However, despite its success, the use of the warrant for trivial offences has damaged its reputation with many, and lengthy pre-trial detentions have also caused problems in some cases. It is those areas of proportionality and practicality in using the warrant that we are trying to address, both in discussions with our European partners and in looking at the process as it affects our own dealings with this warrant.

Baroness Corston: My Lords, does the Minister accept that it does not require what he calls “careful time” to consider the European arrest warrant? Criminals are not fools. If we opt out, they will go and live in Spain, the way they used to years ago, beyond the reach of British law. Given that there is much greater pressure in view of international terrorism, why does it take any time at all to consider this issue?

Lord McNally: It takes time because it is part of a range of issues. Nobody is talking about jettisoning all these measures, but some of the proposals in the Protocol 36 decision were written when reference to the European Court of Justice was not in mind. There is a variety of technical reasons why careful study is warranted. I assure the House that the Government will continue, as they have done right through their period of office, to address opt-ins and opt-outs on the basis of national security and national interest. When we have our package to bring before the House, we will ask your Lordships to make decisions on that basis.

Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, opting out of Protocol 36 means, as we have heard, opting out of the European arrest warrant. Last week, the Government had to make a Statement significantly revising their figures for the number of criminals who have successfully been returned to the UK under the European arrest warrant agreement. The figures have been wrong for the last three years. Does the Minister believe that we will be more successful or less successful in bringing criminals to justice if we opt out?

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Lord McNally: Quite frankly, no. As I indicated in my answer to my noble friend Lord Marks, our assessment is that the European arrest warrant has many many benefits, which we want to profit from. However, in practice, in some places it has shown a lack of proportionality and in other places it has imposed on British citizens long periods of pre-trial detention. It is those matters that we are dealing with. This is not just a tick-box issue; it is a matter of carefully examining a range of proposals. We are greatly indebted to the Lords committee for its analysis, which will play an important part in the decisions that we make.

Baroness O'Loan: My Lords, if we do exercise the opt-out from the European arrest warrant, one consequence will be that we will have no extradition arrangements with a huge range of states, most of which have repealed the original extradition legislation. If the Government are contemplating an opt-out, are they currently in negotiation with those Governments to see whether their legislative programmes would enable the passing of legislation either to allow us to go it alone or to allow the lengthy period of negotiation that would be necessary to enter into another arrangement on an arrest warrant?

Lord McNally: The noble Baroness puts forward one of the very real problems of a total opt-out: that we would be left with a whole series of bilateral negotiations and no guarantee of success. The more this question has unfolded, the more we see the wisdom of the Government’s considered discussion and thought about what to bring forward to both Houses and that it is fully justified.

Iraq: UN Special Adviser


2.53 pm

Asked by Lord Maginnis of Drumglass

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the United States, other allies, and within the United Nations, regarding the successor to Martin Kobler as UN Special Adviser in Iraq, and about that individual’s responsibility for Camp Ashraf.

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): My Lords, officials in New York and at our embassy in Baghdad have had informal discussions with international partners about the appointment of a new special representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq. The UN has a critical role to play in helping the Government of Iraq to address the challenges facing the country, and we hope that a new United Nations Secretary-General special representative will be appointed as soon as possible.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, I do not know whether to be heartened or disheartened by that Answer. The reality is that Martin Kobler has been an absolute failure. He has been compromised by the fact

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that his wife is an ambassador to the Iraqi Government, and it appears that effectively no one—not the United Nations, the United States or the United Kingdom—is concerned about the sequence of attacks on Camp Liberty, condoned, it would appear, by the Iraqi Government. After moving people from Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty, when are we going to see some compassion for the 3,000-plus Iranian refugees?

Baroness Warsi: I understand the strength of the noble Lord’s feeling on this matter, which is one on which we have had discussions in the past. We do not accept the criticisms of Martin Kobler. Indeed, in his latest report on Iraq, the United Nations Secretary-General made specific reference to and paid tribute to the work of Martin Kobler. We believe that a new representative needs to be appointed quickly and that a huge range of issues needs to be dealt with by the head of the UN once that appointment is made.

In relation to his comments on Camp Liberty, the noble Lord is aware that the UNHCR is overseeing Camp Liberty. It is its intention to ensure that various countries around the world accept these individuals from Camp Liberty. I understand that some countries have now come forward: Albania has offered to take 210 and Germany is relocating about 100. Of course, we are assessing certain individuals who in the past have been given refugee status in the United Kingdom.

Baroness Turner of Camden: Is the Minister aware that the residents who have been transferred to Camp Liberty from Ashraf have been subjected to missile attacks and other pretty awful conditions, which are so bad that they are seeking a return to Ashraf? The influence of Mr Kobler has not been exercised on their behalf and something should be done to assist these very unfortunate people.

Baroness Warsi: I am aware of two specific attacks; namely, one that took place in February of this year, which resulted in, I think, nine deaths, and one that took place in June of this year, which I understand resulted in the deaths of two residents. However, on both occasions, Iraqis outside the camps lost their lives as well. We have to see this in the context of, sadly, the rising level of violence in Iraq: for example, in May, 1,000 people lost their lives. I am also aware that responsibility for the attacks has now been claimed by the Mukhtar Army, which is an individual militia group and not the Government of Iraq.

Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, surely we cannot accept the context to which my noble friend was referring as any form of justification for what has been taking place in Camp Liberty. Is there not ample evidence that there has been widespread abuse, violence and killings over a long period? How much longer will this go on before action is taken by the two Governments concerned—the United States and the United Kingdom—the United Nations and the Government of Iraq? Is it not to be condemned that the word of

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President Maliki is not to be trusted at all? He gave commitments, which he has not honoured. When will that happen?

Baroness Warsi: I hear the point that my noble friend is making. Noble Lords may be aware that there is a long history to this matter. The particular group, Mujaheddin e Khalq, which originally was in Camp Ashraf and was moved to Camp Liberty, is being assessed by the UNHCR for relocation. Concerns have been raised about the conditions within the camp—concerns about water, sanitation and electricity. This is not to justify the conditions in those camps but they are similar to, if not sometimes better than, some of the conditions that people face in Baghdad. It therefore has to be viewed in the context of the country in which we are operating.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, I am sure the Minister is aware that ever since the evacuation of people from Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty, which I suppose is the most misnamed camp in the world— I have often described it as a concentration camp—we have had reports of these goings-on and the conditions that have been mentioned. The Minister just said that the Government are trying to advise the Iraqi Government so that they get credibility. Would they not get more credibility if they were to allow the media, lawyers and doctors to go into the camp, which has been denied to outsiders? There is no confidence in Kobler, whatever the Minister may say today. People outside who have been watching this situation know that the United Nations has been pretty poor. Will she please use her best endeavours to get the doors open to the outside world so that we can see what is going on and hear the truth?

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, because of noble Lords’ concerns I have raised this matter with officials, who I understand are currently in discussions with members of other embassies. This is a UN lead and it is important, therefore, that whatever we do we do in conjunction with other countries. I understand that they are now looking at potential dates when members of various embassies could go together to the camp. However, this has to be done in conjunction with the security concerns that there are in Baghdad at the moment.

Roads: Road Safety


3 pm

Asked by Lord Colwyn

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to improve road safety in the United Kingdom.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, we are taking forward the measures set out in the Strategic Framework for Road Safety. Parliament has approved a new drug-driving offence and we will consult on the relevant limits shortly. We intend to publish a Green Paper on young

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drivers later this year. Additionally, subject to parliamentary approval, we will introduce fixed penalties for careless driving such as poor lane discipline and tailgating.

Lord Colwyn: I thank my noble friend for that informative Answer to a wide-ranging Question. He talked about a new drug-driving offence. Does he have any information on the approval and availability of the new testing devices? May I tempt my noble friend to comment on safety for cyclists? I declare an interest as a regular cyclist and a member of the All-Party Cycling Group. I have been knocked off my bike by a white van and have had a near-death experience with a falling 12-foot plank when cycling under scaffolding at Millbank House. In view of the fact that cycle journeys are increasing, what more can be done to improve safety and what progress has been made with the introduction of cycle superhighways?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am pleased to say that, at last, the Home Office has approved the drug testing equipment which will enable the police to move on to requiring a blood sample to be given. This is in accordance with recommendations from the North report. The Government are extremely concerned about cycle safety. We are pleased to see the increase in the amount of cycling taking place. However, the difficulty is that we are seeing an increase in the number of casualties and we do not fully understand why that should be. There is an increase because of the rise in the number of cyclists and the amount of cycling, but the increase in casualties is still too much and we are working hard on it.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, in the announcement that the Government made last week regarding the infrastructure, I could find nothing to help with the safety of cyclists. Did I miss anything or was there something in that announcement?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I do not think the noble Lord misses much at all. We have recently launched a Think Cyclist safety campaign and have made £35 million available to tackle dangerous junctions for cyclists across the country. The £35 million is part of the additional £107 million of investment in cycling that the Government have announced since February last year.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, in 2004 this House passed the Traffic Management Act, Part 6 of which was designed to enable local authorities to take action against matters such as cycling on the pavement, jumping traffic lights and all manner of moving traffic offences. That part has not been implemented by the Minister’s department. It languished under the party opposite and continues to languish now.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Colwyn said, this is quite a wide-ranging Question. I am afraid that I am not aware of that particular difficulty. However, I shall write to my noble friend about it.

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Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, in the light of the 10% increase in deaths and the 4% increase in serious injuries in the past year in cycle accidents, will the Government consider a 20 miles per hour limit in certain urban areas? What are the Government doing to work with border agencies on the issue of drivers coming from outside the UK whose mirrors are positioned so that they cannot see cyclists on the road? I refer in particular to the drivers of lorries coming from Europe.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, the department has made it simpler for councils to put in 20 miles per hour zones and limits and to install so-called Trixi mirrors to improve the visibility of cyclists at junctions. One of the problems is that sometimes a lorry driver cannot see a cyclist. I do not think that the problems with cyclists in London involve foreign trucks. There are issues with left-hand drive trucks causing accidents, particularly on motorways, but I have not been told that they cause problems for cyclists.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, taking into account what has just been said about the increase in casualties, will the noble Earl take a view on the fact that, so far as I know, cyclists are the only road users who do not have to undergo any kind of compulsory test? Would it not be in the interests of all road users, but particularly cyclists, if more effort was put into ensuring that those who go on to the roads on bicycles are properly trained?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, there is the Bikeability programme, the full details of which I do not have before me. The difficulty with a compulsory scheme is that it would probably have a negative effect on cycling. As the benefits of cycling are so great and far exceed the risks, we would not want to go down that route.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House how many cyclists have been prosecuted in the past year for going through red lights, for ignoring pedestrian crossings and for exceeding the speed limit?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am afraid I do not know the answer, but I know that it is a matter of great interest to your Lordships. It is for local police forces to decide how they police cycling offences.

Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

Order of Consideration Motion

3.06 pm

Moved by Baroness Stowell of Beeston

That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:

Clauses 1 to 4, Schedule 1, Clauses 5 to 10, Schedule 2, Clause 11, Schedules 3 and 4, Clause 12, Schedule 5, Clause 13, Schedule 6, Clauses 14 and 15, Schedule 7, Clauses 16 to 19.

Motion agreed.

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Syria and the Middle East

Motion to Take Note

3.07 pm

Moved By Baroness Warsi

That this House takes note of the situation in Syria and the Middle East.

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): My Lords, I would like to start by thanking the House for hosting this important debate on Syria and the wider Middle East. I am aware that Syria is a topic which comes up regularly both in the Chamber and, indeed, with noble Lords outside the Chamber. It is an issue in which people have a deep interest and on which many noble Lords have specific expertise. The debate is therefore timely and important.

The conflict in Syria continues to worsen. As we speak, the people and the city of Homs are being subjected to a renewed and brutal onslaught. The humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate by the day, and the gulf between the regime’s priorities and those of the Syrian people grows ever wider. It is also clear that the murder, violence and repression with which demands for democracy and accountability have been met have serious implications not only for the country’s future, but also for wider regional and international security.

At least 93,000 Syrians have been killed, more than 1.6 million are refugees in neighbouring countries and 4.25 million, almost a fifth of Syria’s population, have been displaced within Syria itself. A year ago, 1 million people inside Syria needed humanitarian aid; the figure now is nearly 7 million. The UN assesses that, by the end of the year, some 15% of Syria’s population will have become refugees in other countries. Ordinary Syrians are facing an increasingly desperate plight at the hands of a brutal regime that has committed an ever-growing number of war crimes: from sieges on towns and cities across Syria to forced displacement and the use of chemical weapons.

All of this is having a profound impact on regional stability. The growing burden on Syria’s neighbours, above all Lebanon and Jordan, both of which are playing a vital humanitarian role in hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees, is becoming increasingly unsustainable. The intervention of increasing numbers of foreign fighters on the side of the regime has escalated the conflict and increased the risk of regional overspill. Individuals with links to the UK as well as from across the Middle East and well-known terrorist organisations have also been travelling to Syria to fight the regime and push their own agenda. Those organisations increasingly view the chaotic situation as an opportunity to further their own causes.

It is in the UK’s interest that these challenges to regional peace and stability are addressed, and our priority remains achieving a negotiated political solution to bring an end to the violence. Our efforts are therefore directed at actively supporting the US-Russian plan to convene an international conference in Geneva with

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both the opposition and the Syrian regime to seek a peaceful settlement. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made clear, we are determined to overcome diplomatic differences and agree a way forward to help the Syrian people achieve the change they want. We used our G8 presidency to underline that efforts must be focused on the ultimate goal of a political resolution. That has not changed. This built on previous contacts between the Prime Minister and President Putin in Sochi, and with President Obama in Washington. They agreed that all our efforts must be focused on the ultimate goal of a political resolution. Strengthening an inclusive, credible and capable opposition is an important step towards laying the groundwork for a negotiated settlement. It can also contribute to saving the lives of ordinary Syrians and to ensuring accountability for human rights abuses.

The UK has been at the forefront of the international community in providing non-lethal support to the Syrian opposition, committing £20 million to date. Our assistance to the moderate opposition includes vehicles with ballistic protection, body armour, trucks and forklifts, solar power generators, and equipment to search for survivors in the aftermath of shelling. This has helped enable the national coalition to develop structures that allow it to operate more effectively on the ground and to deliver assistance to Syrians in need as it develops into a credible alternative to the Assad regime. Our practical assistance has also included training human rights activists to document human rights abuses and violations for a future accountability process, as well as building capacity for Syrian civil society.

At Lough Erne, we agreed with our G8 partners $1.5 billion of new money for humanitarian support for Syria and its neighbours in response to the recent UN appeal for $5.2 billion. We are committed to doing all we can to aid the millions of civilians in Syria in desperate need of humanitarian assistance and will continue to urge our international partners to do likewise. At the G8, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced an additional £175 million in humanitarian assistance, making this the largest single funding commitment ever made by the UK in response to a humanitarian disaster. Our total contribution now stands at £348 million.

This will build on our existing support, which is providing food for thousands of people, water purification supplies, repairs to infrastructure and medical consultations for the critically ill and sick. Over £100 million of this has been committed to addressing the needs of Syrian refugees and host communities in the neighbouring countries of Lebanon and Jordan, both of which have seen over 400,000 refugees cross their borders. The influx is increasing the political, economic and security pressures on both countries. There are now more than half a million refugees in Lebanon, equivalent to more than 10% of its population. In Jordan, the refugee camp at Zaatari is one of the largest in the world and is now equivalent to one of Jordan’s biggest cities.

Along with our international partners, including Russia, we continue to press for access for neutral humanitarian agencies inside Syria, including through

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assistance across battle lines and borders. This is important because the regime has shown that so long as it entertains hopes of military victory it is willing to accept any level of loss of life in Syria. We, along with other nations, are dedicated to halting the bloodshed, restoring international peace and security, bolstering those resisting the regime and promoting a transition in the process.

The agreement to lift the EU arms embargo for the Syrian national coalition sends a clear signal to the Assad regime that it has to negotiate seriously and that all options remain on the table if it refuses to do so. We are encouraging the national coalition to engage with the Geneva II process. We strongly welcomed the Syrian national coalition’s declaration on 21 April setting out its commitment to a free and democratic Syria and condemning all forms of extremism.

Let me be clear that no decision has been taken to provide lethal support to the opposition. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has made clear, if we were to pursue this, it would be in co-ordination with other nations, in carefully controlled circumstances and in accordance with our obligations under national and international law. He has also made clear that Parliament would be engaged before any such decision was put into action and that the House would not be denied an opportunity to make a decision on the issue.

As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and Secretary of State Kerry agreed in Washington on 12 June, the situation in Syria demands a strong, co-ordinated and determined response by the international community. Our priority remains to see a diplomatic process in Geneva that succeeds in reaching a negotiated end to the conflict. However, we have to be prepared to do more to save lives, to pressurise the Assad regime to negotiate seriously and to prevent the threat of extremism and terrorism if diplomatic efforts are to succeed.

We are deeply concerned by the recent intensification of fighting on the ground, not least in al-Qusair, where the Syrian regime, backed by foreign fighters, launched a military offensive against the town, which, according to UN reports, led to 90% destruction of its infrastructure and the displacement of most of its civilian population.

Continued support to Assad’s regime, which allows it to kill and repress the Syrian people, is continuing to directly undercut the peace initiative that was announced by Secretary of State Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov. We condemn the intervention of militias and fighters from Iran and Iraq, who are escalating the violence and supporting repression by the regime.

We welcome the UN Human Rights Council’s resolution, adopted on 28 May, which strongly condemned the violations of international law by Syrian authorities and government-affiliated militias, in particular the regime’s use of ballistic missiles and other heavy weapons against the people of al-Qusair.

As events in Sidon in southern Lebanon last week have shown, Hezbollah’s intervention in the conflict has already had a detrimental effect on Lebanon’s peace and security. An escalation in the conflict is entirely contrary to the interests of Lebanon, which must not become another victim of this conflict.

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The House is well aware that we remain deeply troubled by the growing body of persuasive evidence that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including sarin. The process of gathering more information is ongoing, and we have been working tirelessly with others to get more and better evidence. We agree with the recent US assessment that chemical weapons, including sarin, have been used by the Assad regime. Samples tested in France have also added to the body of evidence.

However, we recognise that there is more work to do. As part of the G8, we called on all parties to,

“allow access to the UN investigating team mandated by the UN Secretary-General, and drawing on the expertise of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and World Health Organisation (WHO), in order to conduct an objective investigation into reports of use of chemical weapons”.

Given the experiences of the past, it is important to have as independent a view as possible. We therefore welcome the UN Secretary-General’s decision to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria, and we support the work of the UN Human Rights Council’s commission of inquiry, which continues to gather evidence of human rights violations and abuses.

The commission’s latest report, published on 4 June, highlighted the new levels of brutality in the conflict, including documented cases of the use of chemical agents, enforcing sieges on ordinary Syrians trapped in cities and towns, in desperate need of humanitarian aid. The report also notes human rights abuses undertaken by armed opposition groups. We are deeply concerned by these reports and continue to urge the opposition to abide by international human rights obligations. This is why we welcomed the national coalition’s compact, announced on 20 April in Istanbul, in which it set out clear commitments on reaching out to minorities, guaranteeing the rights, interests and participation of all components of Syrian society and adhering to international human rights conventions.

We have continued to call on the Syrian regime to allow both the UN investigation into allegations of chemical weapons use and the commission of inquiry immediate and unfettered access to investigate all violations of international law by all parties. The UK remains at the forefront of international calls for the situation in Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court.

We cannot understate the severity of the crisis in Syria. We are faced with the prospect of, on the one hand, an ever more savage conflict and military stalemate, producing an even bigger humanitarian disaster, greater radicalisation and deeper sectarian divisions, further massacres, and even the collapse of the Syrian state and disintegration of its territory; or, on the other hand, and what we must strive for, a negotiated end to the conflict that ends the bloodshed and leads to a new transitional Government, enabling refugees to return to their homes and extremism to be contained.

There are no risk-free options, but we remain convinced that the best way to end the violence and resolve the conflict must be through a negotiated political settlement. To maximise the prospects for success, we must continue to support the moderate opposition, increase the pressure

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on the Assad regime to make clear there can be no military solution and challenge extremists who do not represent the desire of the majority of Syrians for a more democratic and peaceful future.

I welcome this debate on the situation in Syria and the wider Middle East. It is vital that this House continues to discuss and examine this issue of critical importance to regional and international security. I value the opportunity to hear your Lordships’ views in this debate and I am keen that we in the Foreign Office should benefit from the considerable expertise and experience of Members of this House as we continue to make every effort to end the bloodshed, minimise the risks to the region and protect the security of the United Kingdom. I beg to move.

3.20 pm

Lord Wood of Anfield: My Lords, I thank the Minister for this opportunity to debate the situation in the Middle East and Syria in particular. I pay tribute to her continuing concern for and commitment to the issues in the region, which I think is evident to everyone in the House.

I want to focus my remarks on Syria and the immediate region around it, and to look at four related issues: the state of the conflict; the case for arming the Syrian rebels; the spillover of the conflict into the wider region; and where the international community’s efforts should be focused.

The basic facts of this conflict make for grim reading: two years of violence and civil war; more than 90,000 people dead, with 5,000 now being killed each month; suggestions that chemical weapons have been used; 4 million people internally displaced; and 1.5 million refugees in neighbouring states, about half of whom are children. It is a situation that appals us all and demands our attention and engagement.

However, a response must start with an understanding of the country, of the region and of the conflict. It is a recent conflict, but one with deep roots. Thomas Friedman has gone so far as to say that what is happening in Syria, as in other Middle Eastern countries, is,

“the long-delayed consequences of the end of the Ottoman Empire”.

Syria, like Iraq, is an artificial state that was born after World War 1 inside lines drawn by imperial powers. The communities of Syria—Sunnis, Alawite/Shia, Kurds, Druze and Christians—were forced to live together under rules agreed by others, not by their own consent. As Assad’s authoritarian rule collapsed, Syria now looks more like Lebanon in the 1975-90 period: a fragmented, sectarian country, with continuing violence between communities, and a central state that has neither the might nor the legitimacy to bring order to the whole country. This is a conflict whose resolution demands some fundamental reconceiving of the kind of country that Syria is and the social contract that underpins it.

The conflict is marked by three dominant features. First, the civil war is becoming more entrenched, with no prospect of decisive military victory for either side. Optimism about the prospects for a victory for the Syrian rebel forces has subsided in recent months.

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Assad’s forces have better armoured equipment and significant air power strength. They have gained confidence from recent captures of rebel strongholds, and have successfully consolidated in recent months the main population centres and the routes that connect them—from Homs to the coast, from Damascus to the Jordanian border. They have stopped the flow of senior defectors, and have trained a militia of 60,000 to guard positions formerly held by the Syrian military. Any strategy based on a prospect of military defeat for the regime at this point looks highly unrealistic, to put it mildly.

Secondly, the conflict is characterised by the involvement of multiple foreign powers on all sides, the overwhelming preponderance of which is escalating violence. The regime is benefiting from weapons, technical assistance, surveillance drones and help in monitoring internet traffic from Iran. Hezbollah and Iran have built a 50,000-strong militia to support Assad’s forces. On top of this, Assad benefits from significant Russian assistance, with multiple active arms contracts between Syria and Russia, and an S-300 air defence system about to be delivered to Syria from Moscow—the announcement of which was made just after the Foreign Secretary vetoed the EU arms embargo.

On the rebels’ side, foreign fighters are coming from a range of Arab countries through the Jordanian and Turkish borders to fight Assad. Extensive support continues to be provided by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the latter having allegedly spent $3 billion funding the rebel forces and offered $50,000 to every Syrian army defector and his family. Qatar has sent 70 military flights to Turkey with arms and equipment. According to American intelligence sources, and despite the expressed concerns of the Obama Administration that such weapons may fall into the hands of militant Islamists, Qatar has shipped Chinese-made shoulder-fired missiles to be used against Assad’s air force.

Foreign power intervention in Syria on both sides not only makes the conflict more entrenched but makes the securing of peace more complex. The outgoing head of the Syrian national coalition, Moaz al-Khatib, said shortly before leaving his post:

“The people inside Syria have lost the ability to decide their own fate. I have only become a means to sign some papers while hands from different parties want to decide on behalf of the Syrians”.

I would be interested to know what conversations with the Qataris and Saudis, in particular, the Government have had about the extent and form of support which they are providing to the rebels, and whether the Minister shares the concerns of many about the effects of that support.

The third feature of the conflict that stands out is the fragmented nature of the rebel movement. One expert described it as a “bewildering array” of groups: defectors, Kurdish groups, volunteers, local militias, Islamist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra, foreign fighters and the official Free Syrian Army brigades. Many of them are fighting for a reformed, democratic Syria, but some of the Sunni militias are becoming increasingly radicalised, aligning with groups such as al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, who have called for a jihad against the Alawites and want an Islamic state. At least one al-Qaeda-affiliated group, the Islamic State of Iraq, has proclaimed

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an affiliation with the Nusra front and in April, al-Qaeda in Iraq boasted that it was reinforcing al-Nusra with experienced fighters and about half of its budget.

The rebels are brave and committed to ending Assad’s cruel rule, but they are a diverse, fluid and unstable collection of groups whose agendas and interests compete with one another as well as reflecting the interests of foreign powers. The character of the rebel movement becomes a crucial consideration when we turn to the question of the wisdom of the UK collaborating in supplying it with lethal military support. I note that, following the lifting of the EU arms embargo in May, the Foreign Secretary said:

“We haven’t taken any decision about funding”—

arming the rebels—

“but we don’t rule any option out”.

I understand that, but it is a statement that raises the question: what exactly is the justification for arming Syrian rebel forces? Is it that it would help bring a decisive victory? If so I fear that that is heroic given the facts on the ground. Would it level the playing field? If so, it does not seem a strategy likely to reduce violence, but rather to prolong it. As the Foreign Secretary himself said:

“There is no purely military victory available to either side without even greater loss of life”.

Is the case that tilting the balance would be more likely to lead to a military stalemate so that Assad would agree to come to the negotiating table? If so, how realistic is that, given that Assad seems to be doubling down in his military strategy, given that he continues to receive extensive support from other countries, and given that the insistence that Assad cannot be part of a post-conflict transition—whatever the wisdom of that position—is unlikely to make him want to put his weapons down? Or perhaps the case is that arming the rebels makes a palace coup in Damascus to depose Assad more likely? If so, that is a highly speculative basis for such a consequential strategic decision.

Given the state of play of the conflict, I am not convinced that arming the rebels can plausibly be thought to be part of a strategy that reduces violence rather than fuels it. There is a second consideration: what assurances do we have that any weaponry given would stay in the hands of moderate rebels rather than Islamist rebels? The Foreign Secretary has said that non-lethal equipment has already been given to the rebels and that there is no evidence it has got into the wrong hands. With respect, that is insufficient reassurance, for many reasons. There are reports of clashes between rebel groups over resources such as oil already. The market for lethal equipment is significantly different to that for non-lethal equipment; and the consequences of it falling into the wrong hands are much more severe. The absence of systems of monitoring is therefore considerably more concerning in the case of lethal assistance. The Minister alluded to the possibility of Syria becoming a failed state. How do we know that the weapons will even stay inside the borders of Syria?

There is also concern about the compatibility between a strategy of opening up the possibility of arming rebels and the credibility of a commitment to a negotiated solution. Does the Minister agree in retrospect that it was perhaps short-sighted for the Government to use

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the run-up to the G8 summit spending so much time talking about the case for arming the rebels, rather than how to secure a start date for the Geneva II conference? Is there not a danger that offering more weapons might encourage the rebels to seek a military victory rather than resolution in a negotiated settlement?

Overall, concerns about the coherence of the rebel forces, the security of the destination of weapons, the improbability that making more weapons available would bring a quick end to the conflict and the tension between moving towards Geneva II and making more arms available all combine to suggest that arming the rebels would not be a move likely to help to reduce violence and promote stability.

I turn to a further reason why we should be reticent about increasing the supply of arms inside Syria. The conflict is fast spilling over into the wider region; in Iraq, for example, it is having a seriously destabilising effect. Sectarian tensions are growing as Sunni minority protests in favour of reform combine with growing Shia angst that a pan-national Sunni counteroffensive is mobilising across the region. In Turkey, border incidents such as the bomb that killed 50 people on 11 May reflect the porous frontier across which insurgent groups pass every day. Turkey’s relations with Iraq, Syria and Iran have degenerated spectacularly, while domestic political unrest is increasing.

Lebanon is perhaps of most immediate concern in the fallout zone. It is the country that is first in line for contagion, but also a metaphor for the fragility of the entire region. Although it has a population of only 8 million it has taken more than 500,000 refugees. It is divided internally on Sunni-Shia lines and has a weak central state and porous borders. It is very close to major population centres in Syria, and Hezbollah operates as a state within a state. In recent months Lebanon has delayed elections and lost a Government, while in June, fighting between the Lebanese army and radical Sunni groups and Alawite-Sunni tensions have led to violence and death in different parts of the country.

Given Lebanon’s fragility and importance as a nexus of conflict for the entire region, it deserves our attention, even though it has traditionally fallen into the francophone area of influence. Will the Minister explain what we are doing to support the Lebanese Government and their army at this crucial time? What more could we do directly to ensure that some sort of stability is maintained in the crucial coming months? In particular, is the Minister alive to the perception some in Lebanon have that the West talks only to Sunni and not Shia groups, and to the destabilising potential that such perceptions may inadvertently have?

The danger that the Syrian conflict will trigger conflicts among neighbours with porous borders should make us think twice before embarking on a strategy of providing more weapons. However, contrary to what is sometimes suggested, the alternative to supporting military action is not inaction. Although we are a long way from being the major influence on the region, there is much we can and should be doing or even leading on in the international community to improve the situation. In the short term we can prioritise working with Governments in the countries most at risk of spillover, to shore up the legitimacy of internal

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state structures. We should prioritise ensuring that G8 countries honour their commitments to supporting humanitarian assistance to refugees, and should lead the case for pressing for greater and safer access for aid agencies. We should focus our engagement with the rebels on unifying them, rather than arming them, and should spend diplomatic capital on urging other actors in the region not to take action that escalates the conflict from either side.

However, we should also make it a priority to think about the format, structure and terms of the negotiations that—one day—will be the only means to a stable solution. A central issue is to understand whose participation will be needed in those negotiations if their outcome has a chance of ending the violence. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Baglan, who has considerable experience and wisdom in matters of international diplomacy, has remarked:

“Negotiating with friends and allies is never the challenge. The real diplomatic challenge has always been negotiating with those with whom we are diametrically opposed”.

The question of whether any stability can be secured in Syria without engaging with Iran in particular is a serious and very difficult one. We stand side by side with the Government in their stance towards Iran, on both the nuclear security issue and in condemning their sponsorship of violence and terrorism outside Iran. However, the election of President Rouhani last month seems to offer tentative grounds for some cautious optimism about a change of stance in Tehran. Of course, it is very early days, but to hear President Rouhani promise “constructive interaction” with the world through a moderate policy, pledge that Iran is,

“ready to show more transparency”,

and that it will build a new relationship with the international community marks at least a rhetorical departure from his predecessor’s posturing. In light of this, and with the genuine full understanding that we must wait for change to become more than a promise, will the Minister tell us whether there are plans to engage in a different way with Iran under President Rouhani, and whether she thinks that Iranian participation in any Geneva II conference is either possible or desirable?

The sad truth is that an end to the Syrian civil war seems a long way off. Only by facing up to the fundamental facts of the conflict—that there is no prospect of decisive victory, that the conflict has started to destabilise the wider region, and that a number of external powers have become actively engaged—will we gain a proper perspective on the likely consequences of any further intervention of our own.

3.34 pm

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for giving us the opportunity to debate this important issue today. In his book A Choice of Enemies: America Confronts the Middle East, Professor Lawrence Freedman comes to a bleak conclusion:

“The continuity in many of the problems facing the Middle East suggests that they must be managed or endured; they are too rooted in the institutional structures, power balances, and cultures of the region to be solved”.

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Freedman is a historian who can see the weariness of US policymakers over a span of half a century when power, politics and events conspired to defeat well intentioned forays into the Middle East. It is not surprising that we in the United Kingdom see events in a similar light; after all, it is nearly 100 years since the Balfour Declaration and the suffering of the Palestinian people still sits alongside the insecurity of the Jews. Ironically, both still look to the West for a solution, to a greater or lesser degree.

It is our responsibility to the people of Syria that I want to concentrate on today, as this is our most urgent priority. In so doing, I put on record my gratitude to Professor Nigel Biggar, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at the University of Oxford, who has proved a most thoughtful sounding board. However, before I set out my own personal position, it is important to acknowledge two things. First, the brutality of the civil war and the suffering that endures today are of concern to those on all sides of the House. We on these Benches have regular and constant discussions about the way forward. Today, I suspect that we will be coming from different perspectives on the way to proceed. Secondly, our different perspectives on how best to bring an end to the suffering of the Syrian people do not diminish from our common goal, which is for a negotiated and speedy end to the civil war and an outcome that brings an end to the armed conflict so that solutions to the coexistence of the different sides can be explored and developed. Whether that is though an international conference or through the UN Security Council finding the unity and the will to stop the carnage, we are united in believing that our country must do what it can to end the suffering.

My own views are coloured by my long engagement with and affection for Syria. I first went there in 1973 and, 40 years later, I can only be grateful that I saw again and again the history, culture and dignity of the people in better times. Were I to adapt John Rawls’s “veil of ignorance” to this kind of conflict situation—that is not what he intended it for but nevertheless I think it applies—I do not believe my views on where we are today and what we should be doing would be any different had I never set foot in Syria. With 93,000 dead and many millions displaced internally and externally, living in the most appalling conditions, it is only right that here in the United Kingdom the Government have sought to prepare for a future arming of the Free Syrian Army through the lifting of the EU arms embargo on Syria. This decision has, rightly, been debated extensively within government and, indeed, in both Houses—“rightly” because, if arms are supplied, it presages an intervention by our country that many will doubt can lead to any good.

There are those across this House who will argue that adding more arms into an armed conflict cannot possibly reduce the killing; indeed, we have heard that case from the noble Lord, Lord Wood of Anfield. I can only envy him his certainty. There are also those who feel that in arming the opposition we cannot know with whom we are dealing, who these people are and where our weapons will end up. Then there are those who might believe that we have no business taking sides—that it is a sectarian struggle between

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Shia and Sunni, and we are best out of it. Finally, there are those who believe that the mere act of arming one side will suck us into a full-scale intervention, with our own troops in the line of fire. All are perfectly reasonable questions, but I would seek to answer them differently.

I shall start with the view that where there is killing, providing more arms cannot reduce the killing. If this view was a morally held one which applied to all times and all eventualities, it could not stand the scrutiny of our own history. Leaving aside for now the First and Second World Wars, again and again, the United Kingdom has intervened in other conflicts after killing has commenced in order to stop the killing. We have done so in recent times in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Libya.

Specifically with regard to lifting the arms embargo, we have the example of the Spanish civil war. In the 1930s, Britain and France maintained an arms embargo, while the USSR gave support to the republicans, and fascist Italy and Germany supported the nationalists. Russian support enabled the communists to dominate the divided republicans and fascist support enabled the nationalists to defeat the divided republicans and win the war, with the fate of the Spanish people under Franco all too well known and still, to some extent, unatoned for in modern Spain.

It is also true that we can have no cast-iron guarantee that the arms we deliver to the Free Syrian Army will remain in its control through the exigencies of running combat day to day. There is no guarantee that were we to give weapons they would not end up in the hands of Assad’s forces, or indeed with Jabhat al-Nusra and its al-Qaeda fighters. However, the test that one should apply here is whether by arming the forces of the Free Syrian Army to the point that Assad is brought to the negotiating table, we are likely to succeed. If the answer—after assessing the risks properly as to what arms we should supply, to whom and with what level of training—is a likely yes, we should take the risk that some of our weapons might fall into the wrong hands. At the moment, we have a situation whereby the Free Syrian Army is suffering from shortfalls even of rounds of ammunition. If we can bring more symmetry into the equation, alongside the assurance from General Idris of the Free Syrian Army that his men will account for the weapons delivered and will seek to return them to us when all is said and done, then when we feel more secure in those assurances, we should move to arm it.

It may also be true that we do not know the different factions well enough or understand their motives to be able to make judgments as to who we might befriend. If that is the case, I am all for holding back, but as this war progresses, we know more and more who we do not trust. It is clear to me that Assad cannot any longer be part of the solution. I suspect that there would be consensus in this House that al-Qaeda in the form of Jabhat al-Nusra will not be a force for good in Syria, her neighbours or indeed the West. Our engagement must be based on our assessment of which side best reflects our interests.

Since our interests are reflected in freedom, the defence of minorities and their rights and upholding human rights in a future stable, peaceful and pluralist

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Syria, I feel that we are capable of working though which of the different factions can best deliver those values. Ultimately, this has to be an assessment that is laden with risks, but there are risks equally in turning our backs. There is a strong view, and has been for nearly a century in the Middle East, that the West engages with the region only in its own interests. What good then will western passivity have in this situation? What will we have demonstrated other than cold moral relativism? To the young Arab, it will simply prove the jihadi/al-Qaeda narrative that we do not give a damn about the suffering of Muslims because they are the other.

I am equally clear that a Government who use biological and chemical weapons against their opponents and are as ruthless as we have witnessed in the past two years cast themselves open to international action under the norm of responsibility to protect. If we have not arrived at that situation today, we may nevertheless have to prepare to do that in the future. Existing international law may impose that obligation upon us, through the Geneva conventions, if not the responsibility to protect. Given that the Labour Party has so clearly sets its face in opposition today, what would it do then, I wonder?

In conclusion, I reflect that we need to be clear about what the doctrine of non-intervention holds for us today. We cannot argue for multilateralism on the one hand, when the forces of globalisation, climate change or international terrorism call for us to work with others to solve problems, yet turn away when the most fundamental crisis arises: that of significant human death and destruction. In saying this, I am not saying that we must intervene. It is possible that our intervention, limited as it might be to supplying arms, might not succeed in our objective to bring Assad to the negotiating table. If we are clear that intervention at this stage will not achieve that objective, we should not do it. Whether we intervene or not, there will be consequences for us. Today affords us an opportunity to reflect on what those might be, although we do not have sufficient clarity. The Government are right to prepare for what might have to come.

3.46 pm

Lord Williams of Baglan: My Lords, I welcome the debate. It has been an extraordinary period in the history of the Middle East and this weekend was no exception, with huge demonstrations in Cairo pressing for a more inclusive Government less dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, and seeming progress in the Middle East peace process following talks between Secretary of State John Kerry and President Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine. We must hope that Prime Minister Netanyahu will respond positively in the coming days.

At the heart of the matter is the civil war in Syria, which threatens the fate not only of that nation but of the whole region. After more than two years of war and 100,000 dead, we are no nearer a solution. Despite the Prime Minister’s brave efforts at the Lough Erne G8 summit last month, all that could be achieved was a reaffirmation of the conclusions already reached in Moscow in the talks between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov in May. As things stand there

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seems little hope of progress until the UN General Assembly meets in the third week of September in New York.

To say the least, a more urgent diplomacy is needed, one that seeks an agreement on an immediate ceasefire, the deployment of UN observers, unimpeded access for the international humanitarian agencies and elections in the next six months, supervised by the United Nations. These are the elements that the international community should try to come together on. As the gaps between the P5 seem so substantial, the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, must assume the responsibility of seeking to make progress towards an agreement for the sake of the Syrian people and for the region, including engaging with the new Iranian Government, to be led by President Rouhani, who by the way was responsible for the only decisive freezing of Uranium refinement in 2003.

Wars can be won only in two ways: either through the victory of one party over the other or by a negotiated settlement. In the case of Syria, the former is neither desirable nor probable at this stage. I believe it was the great German statesman Otto von Bismarck who said that making peace was like making sausages; you do not want to look too closely at the ingredients.

There are some who reject any contact, let alone a potential agreement, with the Assad regime. Hateful and vicious as that regime is in many ways, there is no alternative. I remind the House that in the 1990s in Bosnia, peace came through the Dayton agreement, and that we negotiated with Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic. A few years later, we did so again with Milosevic over Kosovo. In the first UN mission in which I served, in Cambodia, the UN implemented the Paris peace agreement of 1991, agreed by the Security Council, which recognised the Khmer Rouge as a key party in the country’s future. Absent meaningful western military intervention, which we are ill fitted for after Iraq and Afghanistan, a negotiated settlement is the only way forward in Syria.

Despite temporary victories such as that at al-Qusair, President Assad cannot win back or reverse the erosion of his domestic and regional legitimacy. However, this cannot mean that his Government should not be a party to the talks that will eventually define the future state of a truly representative Syrian Government. Like it or not, his army remains the dominant military force. Moreover, it still has substantial domestic support.

The opposition, sadly, has lacked political and military coherence. Even if supplied with any amount of arms, it will not overcome these shortcomings. With notable exceptions such as George Sabra and the veteran dissident Michel Kilo, it is drawn almost wholly from the majority Sunni community. Not only the Alawite community but Christians, Druze and Kurds have not been drawn in any substantial numbers into the opposition.

I turn to Lebanon, where I served between 2008 and 2011 as UN special representative. Lebanon is the country most affected by the Syrian contagion, and one of its major political forces, Hezbollah—probably the most heavily armed non-state actor in the world—is substantially and overtly a party to the Syrian civil war. That reckless action cannot but have profound

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consequences for Lebanon and for the sectarian divisions that are now so raw throughout the Middle East. In Egypt only last week we saw the brutal lynching of four Shia villagers in a hamlet on the outskirts of Cairo.

What of the Lebanon? Sadly, the country is now an integral part of the geography of the Syrian civil war. The authority of its Government and institutions, never historically robust, has been undermined by the civil war in Syria. Hezbollah’s increasing involvement has inevitably raised sectarian tensions in Lebanon. This is seen most clearly in the second city of Tripoli, where the country’s only Alawite community has been involved in clashes with its Sunni neighbours, which have claimed tens of deaths over the past months. Even more serious were the clashes the weekend before last in the city of Saida between the army and an Islamist group, which claimed 35 lives.

I urge the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, to keep a close eye on the travel advisory for Lebanon. There are few exits from the country. In the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, most British and other foreign nationals were evacuated along the international highway to Damascus. Clearly, that option is no longer open. The one airport in Beirut is close to the Hezbollah suburb of Dahiyeh and is easily closed with one telephone call from Hezbollah. I am concerned that Lebanon could—I pray it will not—descend into widespread civil strife in a matter of hours.

3.53 pm

The Lord Bishop of Truro: My Lords, I, too, am very grateful to the noble Baroness for introducing this important debate. I thank her for her wide-ranging and helpful speech. The Foreign Secretary was right when he recently described the situation in Syria as the worst crisis affecting the world today. It is a truly wicked conflict. This wickedness is illustrated both by the scale of the human tragedy and by the complexity that has thwarted efforts to resolve it.

I am also grateful for the noble Baroness’s mention of the Prime Minister’s G8 announcement of a £178 million emergency package, which is very welcome. However, we should not deceive ourselves into thinking that it will suffice. As other speakers have mentioned, the crisis has so far driven more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees into neighbouring countries, and thousands more pour across Syrian borders every day. Sadly, as the noble Lord, Lord Wood, mentioned, around 50% of these refugees are children. This is a truly desperate situation, and I hope that the Minister will be able to say something more about the efforts to tackle the growing phenomenon in Lebanon, as we have just been hearing, where innocent and traumatised children are sold into prostitution through temporary marriages.

With every passing month, the conflict generates 200,000 new refugees that impact on Syria’s fragile neighbours. If current trends persist, we can expect that over 3 million Syrians will have left their home country by the end of the year. This situation threatens to become a Sword of Damocles hanging over the host countries and host communities, which lack the capacity to absorb increases of up to 10% of their local populations.

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Will the noble Baroness assure the House that the Government will continue to respond generously to this humanitarian disaster, which threatens to unsettle the delicate confessional and political balance of neighbouring states, not least Lebanon itself? I am sure the noble Baroness would agree that, even if obstacles have yet to be overcome in resolving this conflict, the international community should not shirk its responsibility in containing it. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that donors’ pledges are fulfilled without delay and that additional funds are provided to meet short-term and longer-term needs? I would like also to mention here the indigenous Syrian Arab Christians, who are especially vulnerable when outsiders from elsewhere in the region, who know or care little about the honoured place that Christians have held in the nation from earliest times, seem to be influencing events so greatly. All of us who are Christian leaders are extremely concerned about the two abducted archbishops from Aleppo, Boulos Yazigi and Mor Yohanna Ibrahim. We are all in solidarity with the faithful Christian communities of Syria.

The wickedness of this humanitarian catastrophe is matched only by the paucity of our political efforts to resolve the conflict. The absence of any real political progress on Syria at Lough Erne last month is a truly regrettable blight on an otherwise successful G8 summit. The Government have to date wisely resisted the temptation of military intervention, but it remains a real concern to members of this Bench that the Government hold to the assumption that only by correcting the asymmetry of military power can President Assad be cajoled into serious negotiations with the opposition. Is this right? Will arming the opposition—or it might be better to say “oppositions”, in the plural—make the situation for the Syrian people better, or will it merely lead to more bloodshed and accelerate spillover to the wider region?

I accept that there might be a time when it is necessary for the international community to police any peace settlement, but we are clearly a very long way from that point and, as it stands, the ongoing debate about the arming of Syrian rebels serves merely to distract attention from finding a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Surely now is the time to intensify our diplomatic efforts. Diplomatically, the West appears locked into a political mindset that assumes that a solution needs to be agreed by external powers and then imposed from outside without any consultation. Is this the right strategy? Even if the capacity and coherence of the Syrian opposition can be developed sufficiently ahead of Geneva 2, are the Government being fanciful in thinking that a group of Syrian exiles can be parachuted in as the opposition transition government implant to assume command of the army and security forces in Syria?

The Government need to move beyond the narrative that this is a liberational struggle against a nasty and brutish regime. This might have held true in the conflict’s early months, but it has long since mutated. It is high time that the conflict was analysed in its own terms rather than by reference to the transformations going on in other parts of the Middle East and north Africa. Will the Minister accept that the political position taken in the embryonic stages of this conflict—namely,

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that Assad must go—has now become an obstacle to resolving the conflict? Will she accept that Assad’s fate must be a question for the transition process and not a precondition, and that Iran, as has been said, must play a role in the diplomatic process?

This is a truly wicked conflict but, when all we see is good or evil, light or dark, we are in danger of overlooking the shades of grey that give this conflict its multilayered complexity. Unless we recognise this complexity, any intervention, military or political, is going to be bluntly ineffective and at risk of compounding the situation. That would be a tragedy, not least for the people of Syria and the surrounding region.

3.59 pm

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, more than a year ago, Lakhdar Brahimi said that the choice for Syria was between his plan, which at that time was for some kind of transitional government, and hell. His plan was completely rejected and now we have hell. Syria is descending into total fragmentation, with a hideous death toll and oceans of human misery, as we have heard in several very eloquent and penetrating speeches. The costs to date are estimated at anything between $50 billion and $100 billion, perhaps far more: one can hardly put a price on these things. Prices in Syria have risen 100% in the past year and are heading for hyperinflation and the point where money dies. Unemployment has quadrupled and many feel that the country is getting ready to split up, possibly with an Alawite statelet, as under French rule in the 1930s.

Meanwhile, in Jordan, Hashemite rule is under pressure. As we heard in the eloquent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, the state of Lebanon is threatened, although I am not quite as gloomy as he is about the miraculous way in which that state has somehow survived so far, given the amazing pressures since its own civil war. Even Turkey is destabilised, and there is clearly a feedback into a worsening situation in Iraq, which we sometimes overlook as being one of the world’s biggest oil producers.

Meanwhile, on the ground, the rebels seem to have captured Deraa and have plenty of anti-tank weapons. Every day, Qatar and Saudi Arabia run arms runs with massive supplies of weapons, and while these are perhaps not all the rebels want there are a great deal of them, so there is a stalemate already. There is no hope of a new force arising—as someone said the other day, a new Zenobia—to unite Syria. Nothing of that is in sight. It was a non-sectarian battle to start with and could have been handled much more wisely, but it was not, and now all sorts of jihadists have joined in, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Wood. It is now becoming a civil war between Islamic sects. The pessimists could say that when we had a similar religious division in Europe, it lasted 100 years and involved unbelievable atrocities.

It is hardly surprising that in all this appalling scene, where terrorist-inclined organisations are fighting each other on both sides, we are all very reluctant to intervene. That is understandable, but—there is a “but”—we cannot do nothing when not merely a whole house but a whole neighbourhood is on fire,

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and the fire is spreading. This kingdom is supposed to be a responsible and powerful contributor to the network of world peace and stability, and I believe that we are as long as we do not lose confidence in ourselves. We live in a totally interdependent world. Even those who sometimes hanker after different versions of independence when we talk about other issues do not seem to understand that the whole system is now totally connected. Interdependence obliges us to proceed on certain courses. In this case, we simply cannot opt out. However, in not opting out and deciding how to proceed, we must not allow this to turn into an old-fashioned Cold War, East/West issue, which I am afraid it is rapidly sliding towards. Indeed, that is my worst fear of all. We hear more and more talk of line-up and the West must do this and Iran, Russia and China must do that. That is the stance that many of us thought we had seen for the last time with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the old world of the divided Communist Cold War. To bring it back and to act as though it had never gone is a great mistake.

I concede that there are enormous hurdles to proceeding in any direction at all. Diplomacy has become decoupled from the facts on the ground. There is a weak and divided Syrian national council, now the national coalition. It is very hard to know who is in charge. The Russians, although they have talked big about legitimate regimes and remaining behind Bashar al-Assad, have totally failed to influence him. Their diplomacy, which they proclaim very loudly, has not been a success. The mechanism of dialogue is extremely unclear and the past aspiration of all nations to develop the concept of responsibility for moving in and protecting against hideous atrocities and killings has been blocked at the United Nations by Russia and China.

In these circumstances, we have to be completely realistic and recognise that China and Russia are the key to any change. Without them, any measures taken will produce counter-reactions and escalate the problem. There should be a common responsible global approach, without which there will be no effective approach. The good news in all this gloom is that the UK has very recently mended its fences with China, and that positive move is understood and welcomed on both sides. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has held detailed talks with the Russian authorities and Mr Lavrov. Of course, my right honourable friend and the Prime Minister have had sessions with Mr Putin in the past few days at Lough Erne and no doubt elsewhere.

If one were to look for a third chink of light in this otherwise horrific situation, there could be some change, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams, suggested, now that Mr Rouhani is in charge in Iran. However, it is much too early to say anything on that. It is only in the new global context that one can start carefully to decide what kind of intervention can be pieced together, whether it is arms, assistance on the ground or any other kind of assistance to one side or the other.

What can be done to bring the two giant powers, Russia and China, to a more responsible and constructive position? In a way, China is in need of much more discussion and dialogue. The Chinese talk about intervening only peacefully, and have used the phrase

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the “peaceful rise” of China. That is questionable because the Chinese have not always been peaceful. However, the plain fact facing them is that the bulk of their country’s oil imports now come from the Middle East. Most oil resources from there go eastwards, not westwards. It is estimated that by 2030 95% of all oil and gas will go east to China and the great rising powers of Asia. Syria and Iran are therefore China’s problem, and there is no future for China in stoking the Syrian conflict.

The reality that even the Chinese must face is that power now lies as much in the networks of the street and the totally connected world system as it does in the hands of any individual country. We have only to watch what is happening in Brazil, Turkey or Egypt, where digital network power and the street are challenging the traditional tools of government, to see where the real forces lie. We should therefore engage with these great powers that think that they can play superpower politics in the age of the networked world. We have to engage much more closely with China’s think tanks and continue our discussions with the Russians to make them realise that in the end we all share the same responsibility and that the dangers of failing to combine together will affect us all, whether it be the Chinese, Russians, Europeans or Americans.

We have no choice in this age of total connectivity but to make a firm contribution to the common cause of trying to halt the Syrian horror. However, there must be a genuinely common cause to which to contribute, and this, frankly, does not yet exist, so the prime task is to establish this common approach. I believe that we in Britain are well placed to make a contribution in seeking that goal, and we should strongly support my right honourable friend William Hague in his efforts in that direction. That is where the solution, if there is one, to this horror lies: in a common global approach. Without a common global approach, any attempt unilaterally or on behalf of the so-called West will fail.

4.10 pm

Lord Turnberg: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, for introducing this debate in her usual balanced way.

The complexity of the situation in Syria is such that the seemingly simple question of whether to arm or not to arm cannot be answered without the prospect of provoking more harm than good. What sort of arms are we talking about and whom should we give them to, given that there are over 100 different factions from Islamic extremists to small local militias? And how do we in the UK fit into the grand scheme in which Russia and Iran, together with Hezbollah, are busily arming the ruling party and Saudi Arabia and Qatar are pouring in weaponry for various Sunni groups? It sounds to me like a situation we would be better off keeping out of, apart from offering humanitarian aid, frustrating as that might seem. Needless to say, I agree with my noble friend Lord Wood of Anfield, and I resonate very much with the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford.

I should like to focus my remarks on a slightly different area: the impact of what is going on in the Middle East in the Israeli-Palestinian so-called peace

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process. There is little doubt that Israel is regarded as the number one enemy across most of the rest of the Middle East, and the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric in those countries is sometimes pretty horrific.

However, the problems that those nations face now are clearly nothing at all to do with Israel or the Palestinians. In most of them, what starts out as a popular uprising of oppressed people seeking to topple a dictatorial regime and gain a better life, and perhaps democracy, ends up with a vacuum rapidly filled by a vicious Sunni-Shia conflict, fuelled by clerics each denouncing the other as infidels. This is the case in Syria, in Lebanon and in Iraq, while in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood has taken a shaky power in a struggle with the more secular elements. In Iran, as they spin their centrifuges and their leaders spin their web of deception, their primary objective is to become the dominant force in the Middle East, leading to the prospect of an arms race with Saudi Arabia and Turkey. I find it difficult to imagine that any of what is going on in those countries can be laid at the door of Israel. Israel is a useful scapegoat, but using it as a reason for their miseries does not bear close examination.

Of course, a peaceful, secure two-state solution is desperately needed by both Israelis and Palestinians, but even if we reach that nirvana it will make not a jot of difference to the struggles elsewhere in the Middle East. However, it is the influence on those two of what is going on elsewhere that is a major barrier. There is of course strong pressure from the USA in the shape of John Kerry to restart negotiations, as well as his offers of billions of dollars to Mahmoud Abbas for West Bank developments. Furthermore, surprisingly, if somewhat belatedly, Mr Netanyahu has recently reiterated several times his offer of talks without preconditions. He is even rumoured to have offered to stop settlement-building and the release of Palestinian prisoners as inducements to the Palestinians to resume negotiations. One hopes that that may be true. Mr Abbas has so far remained resistant and there is no doubt that there is considerable mistrust and cynicism on both sides, despite the fact that the outline of a potential two-state solution is not too difficult to make out. However, it is events elsewhere in the Middle East that might determine progress in the peace process.

Israel is distracted by the Iranian threat and events in Syria. It is hardly comforting for it to see what is going on in Syria with a potential change from one implacable enemy to another. At least with Assad it knew what it was getting, so it can hardly be a comfort to know that a change to an opposition possibly dominated by Islamic jihadists is in the offing.

However, it is the effect of those developments on the Palestinians where the most significant impact may be felt. Mr Abbas is likely to be very concerned that any move to reconcile his differences with Israel, the sworn enemy of the rest of the Middle East, will earn him few friends there. He will be looking over his shoulder at what impact a peace deal would have on his relationship with Hamas at home and on Hezbollah, Syria and Iran in his neighbourhood. He may see that his arm could be strengthened by a victory for either Assad or the opposition in Syria and so will feel that he is better off delaying any deal. He could hope that

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one or other of these victors could turn their attentions to attacking Israel with or without the threat of nuclear force from Iran. It might seem to him like signing a suicide note if he makes peace with Israel and at the same time makes enemies out of Hamas and much of the Arab world. He might feel that, just now, procrastination is the best option. Against this background of instability elsewhere his reluctance to negotiate could be more understandable.

Of course, events might turn out differently: a moderate power might take over in Syria, Hezbollah might go home with its tail between its legs as it loses Syrian support, Iran might become more conciliatory or more isolated and weakened, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt might become less dominant, all of which might give greater courage to Mr Abbas. However, despite American pressure and support from Saudi Arabia, he might think that the buzzing, angry wasp’s nest to his north makes it preferable to wait than to gamble. He has, of course, the additional task of dealing with Hamas in Gaza and in the West Bank. Its hard line of non-collaboration in any peace deal means that he can speak for only a proportion of Palestinians. Furthermore, his stability is further compromised by the recent resignation of two Prime Ministers in quick succession, and that cannot help either. A strong leader is needed in any negotiations, so it is difficult to remain optimistic for the immediate future as so much depends on events elsewhere. There are little glimpses of hope here and there, but that depends to a very large extent on what happens in the rest of the Middle East.

4.17 pm

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, with many of whose views I profoundly agree. I also join others in thanking the Minister for giving us the chance for this debate. Who among us would not wish to seek to stop this bloody Golgotha of the innocents in Syria? I am not sure whether you can use the word Golgotha in relation to an Islamic country but I suppose it is appropriate here. Who among us would not wish for something to be done, if it can be? But here is the question, the paradox: what if the thing you want to do does not make things better but makes them worse? That is the conundrum to which we must now seek an answer.

It is not the case that I am against intervention—far from it. I suppose I was one of the first to push for intervention in the Balkans, in Bosnia and again in Kosovo. When I returned I wrote a book, which is still available no doubt in all the best bookshops at a remarkably cheap price, about how we might intervene more successfully than we have in Iraq and Afghanistan. I happen to believe that, in an increasingly turbulent world, the capacity of the international community to intervene to preserve the wider peace will be one of the instruments that determines whether the decades ahead are more or less turbulent and more or less bloody.

However, it is sensible to intervene only when it is sensible to intervene. When it is not sensible to intervene, it is very stupid to intervene indeed. For reasons I shall explain, I am afraid it is not sensible if by intervention

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we mean either military force taken by Britain or the West, or the provision of arms. The case is so difficult, so tragic and so potentially catastrophic for the wider peace that it behoves us to try to put forward a suggestion other than intervention which it might be possible to follow. I shall seek to do that, too.

There are two departure points on which we can agree. First, we desperately hope that Geneva II succeeds. Frankly, I rather doubt it will. We must all hold hands, cross our fingers, wish it a fair wind and hope for the best. Secondly, until President Obama decides to announce what he wants to do, we ought not to say that what he wants to do is foolish until we discover what it is. He has been remarkably timid in following up the statement one felt that he was dragged to some weeks—or was it months?—ago that he wanted to assist the rebels. He may want to do something which is largely humanitarian. He may want to create a humanitarian corridor or a humanitarian safe zone. Those options, too, would not be without their complications and dangers. As we saw in Bosnia, safe zones can easily become safe zones for the rebels, for those who do not want peace and prosecute instead violence and war. Safe corridors can easily become corridors for more arms, with more activists, rebels and fighters coming in. However, until President Obama announces, we all should wait and listen with interest.

There are things we could be doing—I shall touch on them in a moment—but, in my view, lifting the arms embargo is not one of them. Let me explain why. The Government have got themselves into a difficult spot having been so enthusiastic towards that proposal. It was put forward first by François Hollande and we followed the French in saying to the European Union, “Let us lift the arms embargo”. I sense they would now like to withdraw from that position. I hear it in the weight of opinion in your Lordships’ Chamber today.

There are four basic reasons why, in this instance, lifting the arms embargo would not be a wise move. First, the rebels do not need arms. It is an unchallenged fact that 3,500 tonnes of arms have been shipped in by way of Croatia with the assistance of—the noble Lord, Lord Wood, mentioned the Americans—the CIA. That, too, is unchallenged. This is funded by the Saudis and the Qataris and is going almost exclusively to the more jihadist groups, the Wahhabists and the Salafists, who, though they do not love each other, are fighting together in Syria.

I know where those weapons are coming from. I have seen them stacked up in the underground arms factories in Bosnia. Tito created those arms factories precisely because he did not know who was going to attack him—would it be the West or the East? They are the weapons left over from the Bosnian war. They are being shipped out in large measure through Croatian ports and airports, and they are making vast sums for the corrupt forces in the Balkans who are used to these things.

They do not need more weapons; they have more than enough. They have been provided with the assistance of the CIA and, above all, funded—foolishly in my view—by the Qataris on the one hand and rich

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businessmen in Saudi Arabia on the other. The arms may not be provided by the Saudi Arabian Government, but they could stop it if they wished. Noble Lords may wish to reflect on the fact that the rich businessmen who are funding the supply of weapons are the same rich businessmen who, by and large, funded Osama bin Laden in the early days for reasons which, as we discovered later, were not to our advantage.

The second reason for not lifting the arms embargo is that the so-called rebels in Saudi Arabia are not fit and proper people for us to provide arms to. Some—maybe even a majority—of this fractured, diverse, uncontrolled group are as casual about killing and disregarding human rights as those they oppose. There is not much to differentiate between the revolting acts committed by both sides. I am not happy that we may well be contributing to that process and that we may provide weapons which we give to the right people but which end up in the dominant faction, as weapons always do in times of conflict, who are the wrong people.

Thirdly, with great respect to my noble friend Lady Falkner, I know of no case anywhere where the provision of external weapons has created more peace. I was opposed to it in the Bosnian war for exactly the same reasons. There are occasions, of course, when the West can intervene, and Bosnia/Kosovo is an example of that. We were prepared to come in and suppress the conflict using our weapons and our forces, but handing over weapons, supplying them to a chaotic situation run by rebels, is different. Frankly, I know of no occasion when one of the routes to peace was to provide more weapons. In fact, it almost always seems to point in the other direction.

The biggest and most powerful reason for not doing this is that Syria is not what we think it is. Syria is not the conflict; it is the front line in a wider conflict that is no longer about the great Satan of the West but is now about the great heretic in Tehran. What we are seeing being built up now is a determined attempt, funded by the Saudis and the Qataris, to create a powerful, radicalised, jihadist Sunni element that can capture the community of the Sunni as a preparation for a wider war against the Shia. I do not say that that will happen, but there is a risk of it doing so. That is the intention behind the provision of these weapons. What we see in Syria is connected to what we see in Lebanon in ways that have been very well described. It is connected to what we see in Egypt, it is connected to what we see in Tunisia, it is connected to what we see in Libya and it is connected to what we see in Mali. As I say, this is not about the great Satan of the West; this is about the preparations that some are deliberately making to have a wider regional religious conflict, just as my noble friend Lord Howell said earlier. Do we really want to stimulate that?

In this, it is important that we understand the position of Russia. We believe that Russia is in favour of Assad because he is Russia’s last man in the Middle East. However, there is a deeper reason that we should understand. The Russian Islamic republics of Dagestan, Chechnya and so on are being infected by exactly the same movement. They know that the jihadisation of the Sunni umma is affecting their stability. If they are

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not very careful, it is in danger of dividing the Russian Federation, or at least causing great instability. So we have this terrifying situation of the West being instrumentalised on one side in favour of the Sunnis, and the Russians being instrumentalised on the other side in favour of the Shia in what runs a grave risk, although not a certainty, of widening into a much broader religious conflict that will engulf the Middle East. Mao Tse-Tung once referred to the Second World War as the European civil war. Perhaps it was a civil war but it had global connections, and those global connections in today’s interconnected world mean that a regional war can have much wider consequences.

Our policy in the Middle East has been attended by the law of unintended consequences. We piled into Afghanistan and provided weapons for Osama bin Laden because our enemy’s enemy is our friend, is he not? However, he turned out to be our primary and most potent enemy. We piled into Iraq because we wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein. We supported a Shia majority and now we find that the border of Iran has effectively moved 400 miles to the west. The law of unintended consequences is likely to apply in Syria more than in any other recent circumstance and I really do not believe that this would be a wise step forward.

However, there is one thing we could do. Why do we want to pursue the issue of arms when there is an issue of diplomacy still open to us? I repeat the question I asked the Minister the other day. If it is the case that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are today funding the very jihadism against which we are fighting—the jihadism, by the way, that has killed French troops in Mali—why are we not using international pressure in the form of the United States and the European Union to persuade Saudi Arabia and Qatar to stop and thus prevent this? The moment we do that, we will create the circumstances in which the Russians may well have common cause with us. We will begin to create a diplomatic space that can be widened and we will be assisting the rebels in another way. I do not understand why we are rushing to lift an arms embargo when there is a serious diplomatic route that would take the steam out of this conflict by persuading our friends in Qatar and Saudi Arabia to stop providing the money that is spreading the very jihadism that we know is the greatest threat we now face. We should not stumble towards arms when there is diplomacy still to be played out.

4.30 pm

Lord Hylton: My Lords, stop the killing in Syria. I follow the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, at least on that. The need is obvious but we must work at it until it happens. Surely the past 27 months have proved beyond possible doubt that none of the many sides can achieve military victory. A complete ceasefire is therefore in the interests of all, whether they are combatants or neutrals. One hundred thousand lives will have been lost in vain if efforts are not made now to prevent more deaths. A ceasefire would give space for local, national and regional negotiations and would allow some at least of the displaced people to return to their homes.

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How may we reach a comprehensive ceasefire? A conference, whether in Geneva or elsewhere, is probably the most likely means. We should take heart from the 2012 conference on Somalia held in London. That has not, I agree, resolved all problems, but at least the situation there is very much better than it was. We should note that some British jihadis were fighting in Somalia, just as they are now in Syria. It is therefore in our interest that fighting should stop and, even more so, in the interest of the beleaguered civilian population. Meanwhile, will Her Majesty’s Government allow the hospitals in our sovereign bases on Cyprus to treat urgent cases from Syria?

If a ceasefire can be achieved, it would need to be verified. Satellites, drones, manned aircraft and ground observers should all be used. The machinery of war should serve the cause of peace. All existing or potential suppliers of arms should be involved in preventing further violence. That means Russia, Iran and the Gulf states in particular. A ceasefire must not become just a pause before war begins again. Every effort should be made to involve the religious authorities and leaders, first in securing and upholding a ceasefire and then in negotiations for permanent peace.

I turn now to Iran, which I once visited for a holiday in 2010. I disclaim all special knowledge, but I do commend to our Government the article by Major-General Shaw in the Tablet of 29 June. He writes with authority as a former Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff and as a former commander of the Multi-National Division in Basra. He rightly points out that Iran is the only major Shia state in existence and that Britain has never suffered a terrorist attack from Shia Muslims.

I would go further and suggest that the recent Iranian elections and the reported release of some —or maybe all—women prisoners give grounds for re-examining our policy towards Iran. Will our Government restore at least low-level diplomatic relations? Full relations could be tied to co-operation over Syria, the treatment of minorities everywhere and progress on nuclear issues. Iran should not be seen as a necessary enemy or as part of any axis of evil. The United States has understandable memories of the kidnapping of its diplomats. Saudi Arabia and Israel, for their different reasons, are likely to wish to prevent detente between the United States and Iran. I trust that we will be more statesmanlike than that, as was suggested by my noble friend Lord Williams of Baglan. We should also remember that Iran could be constructive over Afghanistan and that it has its own Kurdish minority population.

There is a theory that Syria is a purely Arab matter. The Arab League, alas, has not been able to bring peace. Non-Arab states such as Turkey, Iran and Israel are inevitably involved. Israel could help enormously in at least two ways. First, it could declare its willingness to negotiate peace and the future of the Golan with a Syrian Government ruling with the consent of its people. Secondly, it could indicate that it is satisfied to own some 78% of pre-war Palestine, without coveting complete control over the remainder.

If international guarantees are necessary, they must be given. Israel, however, should prepare to take its place alongside its neighbours and to play the part in the whole region for which it is uniquely qualified.

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Decades of hostility and mistrust have to be overcome. To do so, Israel should work its passage and prepare its own citizens for peace. Is that in line with Her Majesty’s Government’s policy? I hope so.

I conclude with a brief mention of Palestinian refugees in Syria. There were half a million of them. They tried at first to be neutral but, alas, Syrian government forces have destroyed two camps: at al-Ramleh, near Latakia, and Deraa, near the border with Jordan. Many have now fled into Lebanon and Jordan. Will Her Majesty’s Government earmark specific funds for the urgent needs of those Palestinians?

4.36 pm

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I welcome this debate but I am extremely regretful of the circumstances that have triggered our discussions. I thank my noble friend the Minister for introducing the debate.

Today we are focusing on the Middle East as a region but there is no doubt that the appalling situation in Syria is currently taking centre stage. I am horrified on a daily basis at the news reports of both the escalating conflict and, more importantly, the humanitarian crisis resulting from it. Tensions were high at the initial outbreak of violent protests in 2011 but few could have predicted that two years later 93,000 people would have lost their lives and that the death rate would still be accelerating.

The potential for a large regional sectarian war between Sunni and Shia Muslims is now dangerously high and the bloodshed and political divide could spiral even further out of control. I am very worried about the rift between the Sunnis and Shias, which unfortunately is growing. As a Muslim, this disturbs me, but I feel that everyone should be concerned about how the situation is developing.

I share the wider desire to see President Assad’s regime brought to an end, and was excited at the increasing prospect of such an outcome late last year. About three years ago I visited Syria with other parliamentarians and we spoke to President Assad at some length. He seemed a reasonable man at that time but his attitude and behaviour are now totally unacceptable.

However, as we should have learnt so very well by now, true victory will not be won for the people of Syria, or indeed any country, if the overthrowing of evil is not accompanied by a good and stable substitution. I know that many colleagues share my concerns at the rather fragmented make-up of what we sweepingly refer to as the “opposition forces”. I appreciate the efforts made with the formation of the national coalition last year, but we must acknowledge that the coalition is beset by its own problems, perhaps most notably the resignation of its own leader in March, and remains generally fractious and divided. It is also unable to assert proper command over many of the rebel groups and has been unable to develop or offer any substantial support in respect of the humanitarian crisis.

What I find of great concern is that its principle is not to engage in any dialogue or negotiations with the regime. In reality, this illustrates a continued desire to fight this battle through sheer physical force, despite

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the incalculable pain and suffering that the conflict has already caused to millions of people. While I abhor the grotesque practices and governance of President Assad, I also find myself unable fully to support a group which exists by this philosophy.

With the coalition’s ideologies for the future of Syria so varied, in some cases even contradictory, and with no will to engage in negotiation with its enemies, it simply cannot be right for us or any other country to pledge unyielding support to it in the wider sense unless the various factions can get together and be a more cohesive force.

I am very supportive of the non-lethal assistance that we have so far provided. Such technical advice, training and basic equipment will help the opposition forces better to protect themselves and other civilians. I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister commit to doubling this assistance by the end of this year.

However, the decision that some are calling for—for us to put our own powerful weapons, designed to cause maximum damage and often death, in the hands of people lacking a true unified ideology—carries with it many concerns. It would be dangerous, costly and, frankly, a substantial risk to both the Syrian people and the opposition members themselves.

We also cannot be sure where such weapons will actually end up once distributed on the ground. I know that the Foreign Secretary has made it clear that, if arms were provided, they would not be allowed to fall into the hands of extremists, but I would like a little further clarity on exactly how we can guarantee such a claim.

In addition, we must consider what will happen to such arms when the conflict finally comes to an end, whatever the outcome. One has only to cast one’s mind back to the Libyan crisis and the subsequent, exhaustive efforts made by the West in sourcing and retrieving the plethora of weapons that were lost in the post-war chaos. Supplying arms would seem to be a slightly contradictory move, in that it poses a threat to the very long-term stability that some believe we can achieve by arming the rebels in the first place. We are making these decisions in the interests not just of the conflict’s outcome but also of the safety and security of the Syrian people, who continue to suffer so greatly.

In May this year, I was privileged to be invited by His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan to visit his country with a party of British politicians. Back in April and before our visit, I spoke briefly in your Lordships’ House on the subject of refugees fleeing Syria, in particular those who have crossed the border into Jordan and are now settling there. I should like to make a reference to this once more.

During our five days in Jordan, our delegation had the opportunity to discuss many of the political, social and financial challenges facing that country. One of the most significant impressions that we were all left with was that of the plight of refugees fleeing across the border from Syria. About 400,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Jordan and, of those, nearly half arrived in the first quarter of this year.

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As the crisis in Syria deepens, the pressure on neighbouring countries such as Jordan becomes ever harder to address. For example, Jordan anticipates a large number of Syrians seeking refuge there during the remainder of this year. Refugees in dedicated camps, as I was able to witness during my visit, are being well looked after and cared for in the circumstances. The Zaatari camp alone provides home for 140,000 refugees, and the total refugee population at present makes up about 6% of the entire Jordanian population. The situation will be aggravated by the influx of other refugees.

Jordan is a country which has experienced a slowdown in economic growth, and its budget deficit is already creating a challenge. Jordan’s ability to address that fiscal issue is hampered by the chaos in Syria; it needs more help to address the costs of the crisis.

In the medium term, there are also grave implications for public services in Jordan. Jordan is allowing Syrian children to register in schools at no cost, and 80 new schools are anticipated to be needed in the coming year. Similar pressures are to be found in healthcare: there is a crisis of resources and hospital expansions will be necessary to provide for the needs of a growing refugee population.

Last year, the crisis cost Jordan about $251 million. The cost this year is projected to be a staggering $851 million. Jordan is an impressive country, but it is finding it difficult to cope with the situation, and there are severe pressures inflicted on the country. As an international community, we have a duty to see that more should be done so that the costs are not born by Syria’s neighbours alone.

The UK is one of the largest bilateral donors to the Syrian crisis. We have provided £171 million on vital assistance for refugees who have fled the Assad regime. That includes £26 million for support to Jordan. The Prime Minister announced at the recent G8 conference that further amounts will be provided. Our funding is providing food, as well as clean drinking water. The UK has also provided clinical care and counselling to the refugees. I commend our Government for the valuable support and help that we have provided and continue to provide to the countries affected by the Syrian crisis.

It is clear that a long-term solution to the conflict is some way off. The Government are to be congratulated for what they have done to seek to engage diplomatic pressure for an effective international response. The Secretary of State has shown real leadership and the Prime Minister has worked really hard.

I welcome the Government’s efforts to achieve peace and bring various parties to the negotiating table. I hope that we will see the proposed Geneva II conference taking place. In my opinion, the only solution will be a properly negotiated political settlement, one that involves Russia and, if possible, Iran. Only by bringing the interests of everyone to the table will we be able to make progress that is comprehensive enough to make a difference that will actually endure.

I feel that military action alone will not resolve the crisis in Syria. I also fear that if we increase military support to the opposition forces, Russia will augment its support to President Assad, and the crisis will

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spiral further. Different parties must talk to one another and arrive at an acceptable solution. We achieved the right results in Libya by military intervention, but circumstances are very different in Syria. We would of course all like to see a freer, more accountable Middle East with Governments who are more democratic and engaging with their people.

4.49 pm

Lord Morris of Aberavon: My Lords, last Thursday the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, to whom I am grateful for opening this debate, was asked point blank by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, whether—I paraphrase—given the assurances of the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, there would be a vote prior to any decision to give arms to the Syrian opposition, and what would be the arrangements in the Recess. I regret to say that the briefing of the Minister of State did not deal adequately with the situation. She said that the House of Commons would,

“have the opportunity to discuss the issue”—[

Official Report

, 2706/13; col. 859]—

and that she would consult on what would occur if Parliament was not sitting. Today she was much clearer. She said—if I have the words correct—that Parliament “would be engaged”, and I think she said that Parliament would have to agree.

On 19 June the Prime Minister said that we have,

“a big commitment to come to the House, explain, vote and all the rest of it, but obviously Governments have to reserve the ability to take action swiftly on this or other issues”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 19/6/13; col. 909.]

Of course, in the development of what I believe is now a convention for parliamentary approval, there has to be such a reserve power for speedy action if the country is in danger. However, this is not that kind of situation. The Government must make abundantly clear their commitment to a vote of approval—I hope that they already have, but perhaps they could repeat it—and spell out what will happen in the Recess.

It used to be said that going to war did not need parliamentary approval. Technically, for a whole host of legal reasons, we have not declared war since declaring it against Siam in 1942. The most usual scenarios today are armed conflict or the commitment of troops. In the past, Governments were able to act under the royal prerogative—what Churchill deemed “the people’s prerogative”—but all that is changing. Parliamentary approval for the war in Iraq broke new ground.

If one couples that with a report of your Lordships’ Constitution Committee in 2006—to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, and I gave evidence as former Attorney-Generals—one sees that the convention on the need for parliamentary approval is firmly developing. I find it difficult to visualise a situation short of an extreme crisis where armed conflict would be undertaken without parliamentary approval. I would argue that the supply of arms, with the possibility of mission creep, comes very near to engaging in armed conflict, and that there is a need there, too, for parliamentary approval. Indeed, I would like to hear the argument for why it would not be covered by the growing convention.

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Not for the first time, the Security Council is paralysed. There is no Security Council resolution that I know of that would permit the supply of arms. Arming the rebels could be seen as an illegal use of force contrary to Article 2(4) of the UN charter. I note that in May 2013 the European Union lifted its arms embargo, which means that the transfer of arms, subject to certain conditions, could be legal under European law. There could be at least five legal objections to supplying arms after the lifting of that embargo. Even the arms trade treaty signed in June of this year, which is yet to be ratified, requires states to abide by the UN charter.

I would counsel a close examination of the United Kingdom’s vulnerability at international law if it implemented the European Union’s lifting of the ban. Much as we are enjoined and have a duty as Ministers, politicians and the Armed Forces to obey international law, there are precedents in certain circumstances where there is an overwhelming humanitarian disaster for acting in the absence of an appropriate Security Council resolution.

In 1991 my predecessors as law officers enunciated the germination of, and indeed blessed, the doctrine of intervention in the absence of a Security Council resolution to provide for a no-fly zone to protect the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs in Iraq. As the Attorney-General, I was faced with a similar impasse in the case of Kosovo, where I had to hone and develop that doctrine and provide what I believed in those particular circumstances was a legal basis for Ministers and the Armed Forces to act. Representing the United Kingdom, I had to defend our stance for five long days in the International Court of Justice at The Hague. It is possible, whatever my views about non-humanitarian intervention at all, that it may have to be prayed in aid in the circumstances of Syria if parliamentary approval is obtained.

I shall set out briefly what I believe are the necessary requirements following Kosovo. First, there has to be convincing evidence, generally accepted by the international community as a whole, of extreme humanitarian distress on a large scale requiring immediate and urgent relief. I have no doubt that this is satisfied. Secondly, in all the circumstances there is no practical alternative to the use of force, if lives are to be saved. This is much more difficult; it depends on the action proposed, and judgment has to be exercised. Thirdly, the proposed use of force—in this case, the supply of arms—is necessary and proportionate to the aid proposed, which is the relief of humanitarian need, and is strictly limited in time and scope to that end; that is, it is the minimum necessary to achieve that aim. I argue that the supply of arms could be deemed to come under what might be called the rubric.

The doctrine is not without controversy. Some distinguished academics, perhaps from the comfort of their ivory towers, find the doctrine unacceptable. I respect them. They did not have to face the overwhelming humanitarian disaster that I had to face, or to advise my colleagues. Others take the same view. Having set out what I believe are the legal grounds that might justify acting, given the history of intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, I would nevertheless counsel against any intervention until we were satisfied that

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there was very wide acceptance of whatever action we took and we were confident that our actions both were right and would work to bring peace to these long-suffering communities.

Wars used to last for five years; now 10 years, and more, go by very quickly. As a relatively small nation in economic terms, is it in our national interest to embark on such interventions without much broader unanimity across the world?

4.58 pm

Lord Alderdice: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, began his intervention by quoting the question that my noble friend Lady Falkner of Margravine asked the Minister quite recently about whether, if the Government were minded to provide weapons to the opposition in Syria, your Lordships’ House would have an opportunity to express a view. As the noble and learned Lord has made clear, the Minister was unable to give a full and clear reply. She seems to have moved things forward a little today in her introductory speech. I thank her for that, as have other noble Lords, and for the opportunity for today’s debate. However, it seems clear even at this stage in the debate that there is very strong resistance to the idea that the Government should arm the rebels or should participate in arming the rebels, so I seek specific assurance from my noble friend that were the Government at any stage minded to move in that direction, today’s debate would not be regarded as an appropriate calling in of advice from your Lordships’ House and that there would be a subsequent debate, as has been undertaken for the other place, whether or not your Lordships’ House is in recess.

This is a major issue, and I wish to say why I think it is so. When the Berlin wall came down and the Cold War drew to a close, we all rejoiced at the opportunity for a change in the world order we had grown up with, a world order in which it seemed clear that there were the good guys and the bad guys and we were the good guys. In a very interesting and important speech, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro advised us against regarding foreign policy as best conducted on the basis of good and evil, and when a right reverend Prelate tells us to be careful about regarding things on the basis of good and evil, we would be wise to pay attention.

I think the right reverend Prelate was right because at that time the possibility arose of a new world order constructed on a different basis, a multipolar world where there would be various kinds of arrangements and engagements, but we failed to achieve that. We paid attention to a long-term intervention in Afghanistan when perhaps something much shorter and sharper would have been appropriate, if anything was. We got ourselves embroiled in Iraq in a completely inappropriate way. I supported the intervention in Libya, but we must accept that there have been untoward consequences in other countries apart from the situation in Libya. The most important thing is that in failing to create a multipolar and robust new world order we left a vacuum of power structures, and nature abhors a vacuum, so when the Arab awakening arose, it arose without any kind of structure that could

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enable people to move forward in appropriate ways and we find something much more destructive, regressive and chaotic.

Borders no longer provide a structure, not only because the people who live in those countries do not regard them as borders that they created but because they see themselves principally not as members of nation states but as people whose responsibilities and relationships are far outside the nation state and depend much more on tribal, religious and other transborder responsibilities and relationships.

When I look at the situation in Syria, I fear that having had the opportunity of moving to a new world order that was not based on one side and the other—good and evil, black and white—we are falling back into precisely that, perhaps with many of the same actors. It does not seem to me that it is simply a question of Mr Assad and his colleagues against the Syrian rebels. I see Russian warships in the eastern Mediterranean lining up and saying to Mr Obama, “I’m sorry. We draw a line”. Although it is the case, as noble Lords have said, that Mr Assad is seen as Russia’s man in the region, Mr Putin is saying to the United States, “Stop recurrently operating without Security Council resolutions; stop taking it upon yourself to decide what you and a coalition of your willing colleagues will do. That is not international law. That is not an international order that we will accept, so we are drawing a line, and we are going to support Mr Assad, whether he is a good guy or a bad guy, because there is a bigger question here of whether you are going to respect some kind of order or whether you will be the determinant of order”. I think Mr Obama realises that and is a little cautious. It would not be a good thing for this country to be liaising with Senator Kerry to push President Obama into some kind of intervention.

It is easy to pillory President Assad. I remember the first time that I went to Damascus, some years ago, specifically because I felt that Syria was an important area and I wanted to meet the Foreign Minister to see whether there was any possibility of an agreement between Israel and Syria at that time. There were indications that there was a preparedness to engage. Indeed, the Syrians said, “Yes, we would like to find a way of engaging and finding a peace agreement, because we believe that peace in the region would be worth while. Are the British Government prepared to engage?”. Well, the British Government did engage, but they did so with a finger-wagging diplomacy which said, “If you do not do what we say, it will be worse for you”.

I returned again, this time to meet President Assad. Unfortunately, his brother died just the day before I arrived, so I went again to meet with Walid al-Moallem, the Foreign Minister. Still there was a preparedness to engage. That opportunity was not taken up either.

We therefore find ourselves with everything deteriorating and much blood being spilt. People can say with ease, “These are the good guys and this is the axis of evil”. In truth, however, some of those whom we regard as our allies have been contributing to some of the difficulties in the region. My noble friend Lord Ashdown has pointed out that weapons are coming, if not from the Saudi Arabian Government, then at least from Saudi Arabian businesses’ pockets, and from the Qataris.

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We need to be cautious, but not about engaging; on the contrary, we need to be energetic. When a problem of this kind threatens to blow out all over the place, we need to help to create some security in the region. We need to be more energetic in helping to sustain the stability of Jordan and Lebanon. Certainly, when I was in Lebanon recently, I was much more disturbed when I came away than before I went. It was clear that things were deteriorating very quickly indeed. Even Turkey, which we thought was a relatively stable country, is no longer as stable as it was on its eastern borders; even within the country itself, difficulties are arising. Of course, we have not contributed to an entirely stable Iraq; that much is clear. I do not say that we should be staying out of the problem. We have relationships and an understanding of the region which is substantially greater than many other countries. We should use that relationship and that understanding of the history of the region.

Secondly, we should be doing all that we can to encourage others to assist in the stability of countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. Their humanitarian problems are enormous—by the way, not all the refugees arriving there are unarmed; let us bear that in mind. We must understand that the outcome in Syria may or may not leave Mr Assad in place. We do not know. I have often heard Governments, including those in London, saying that they would never negotiate with this, that or the other rascal—only to find themselves doing exactly that five, 10 or 20 years later. I remember saying that we would have to talk with the Taliban, and was told I was a naive fool who was on the wrong side. Well, now we are negotiating with the Taliban when it is far too late, when it knows perfectly well that it has only to sit tight for a few more months and watch us depart, tails between our legs. Had we negotiated with it at the right time, there might have been some possibility—I put it no stronger than that—of a different outcome.

We must be a little careful, but we should be energetic, not sitting back or avoiding getting involved. We should not be providing weapons in a situation where there are more than enough, but be energetically involved in trying to persuade our allies, and those with whom we differ, that the future is to be found in trying to stabilise the region. If not, I fear that my noble friend Lord Ashdown is right: we may be looking at the beginning of a bloody Sunni/Shia civil war across the whole of the region. By the way, it will affect us here. I have already had colleagues at the other end of the Building telling me about Shia constituents who are worried about what is going to happen when some of their Sunni counterparts in London constituencies start to take these things on to the streets here. This is not just about far away places, or far away problems. We should therefore be energetic in our engagement in diplomacy, not in providing weapons.

5.09 pm

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, the opportunity to debate events in the Middle East could not be more timely or more necessary. I fear that this will not be the last occasion on which those words or their equivalents

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will be uttered, given the near certainty that we face a long period of instability in the Middle East region. The rumbles of thunder from Tahrir Square last night are a reminder of that.

While it may indeed be true, as a number of commentators have observed, that Britain’s capacity to wield influence in the Middle East is on the decline, and while it is certainly true that our capacity to exert influence there by acting alone has all but disappeared, we should not ignore the uncomfortable reality that the Middle East has a continuing and perhaps growing capacity to influence us, whether in respect of our energy security, the threat of terrorism, the rising flow of refugees and asylum seekers or the risk of spreading hostilities on Europe’s doorstep. Neither complacency nor hand-wringing inertia is likely to be the best way to promote and defend our national interests.

I will focus my remarks on three topics: the civil war in Syria, the prospects for negotiations with Iran following its recent presidential election, and that well known oxymoron, the Middle East peace process. During the two and a half years since Syria began its slide into civil war, no party has emerged with any credit, and none has achieved any of its objectives in a sustainable way. While the regime of Bashar al-Assad has hung on by the skin of its teeth, it has lost all legitimacy and has committed horrendous war crimes, for which one must hope that it will one day be held to account. The insurgents, while controlling substantial parts of the country, have not yet rid themselves of the Assad regime, have not achieved a convincing degree of unity and have not reassured minorities that they would be secure in a post-Assad Syria. The insurgents have also undoubtedly committed a number of human rights abuses themselves.

The international community has been prevented by a series of Russian and Chinese vetoes in the UN Security Council from fulfilling its responsibility to protect Syria’s civilian population from a regime that has seen fit to bombard them with Scud missiles, cluster bombs and, in all probability, poison gas. It is frankly a sorry story, and one that should discourage us from thinking that more of the same policies will bring about results. Having listened to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro speaking about good and evil—about which I am sure he is a better judge than I—I still assert that what the Assad regime, father and son, have done to Syrian civilians is evil.

The longer the civil war continues, the worse the outcomes are likely to be for all concerned. Signs of regional instability spreading beyond Syria’s borders are there for all to see, in particular in the Lebanon. It is in that context of abject failure that one needs to judge the Government’s decision to prevent any extension of the EU’s arms embargo on Syria. I think that they were entirely justified in doing so. The analogy is not so much with Bosnia in the 1990s but—as the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, said—with the Spanish civil war of the 1930s, when the democracies, Britain and France, imposed an arms embargo while the dictators, Germany and Italy, poured in arms and soldiers. Now, Russia and Iran play that role, and Russia is preparing to send to Syria the S300 weapons system, which will have major regional destabilising results. The Spanish

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story did not end terribly well, and nor would an extension of the EU’s arms embargo on Syria have done so.

Since the decision was made to drop the EU arms embargo, a debate has raged in this country—and in this House this afternoon—over whether or not to arm the insurgents. The debate has focused on that issue almost to the exclusion of all other aspects of the Syrian crisis, when we should surely be taking a wider look at the challenges we face. Amid all the denunciations of arms supplies, the gold medal for hyperbole and opportunism must surely go to the Mayor of London. Not all the arguments deployed against supplying arms seem terribly convincing. Will refusing to supply weapons make us less vulnerable to terrorist attacks in future? I doubt it. Will the likelihood that some of the weapons will fall into the wrong hands put us directly at risk? Our soldiers in Afghanistan are not being killed by arms that the West supplied in the 1980s but by improvised explosive devices. Is enabling the insurgents to hold their ground better against Assad really contrary to our interests? I doubt that, too.

Here, then, are three elements of a wider strategy, which we might consider pursuing. First, we should put much more effort and emphasis into the earliest possible convening of a negotiating conference and seek to underpin that conference with a robust UN Security Council resolution based on the ideas of Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi for a transition. Secondly, instead of haggling with the Russians over whether Assad’s forces have already used sarin and other poison gases, we should concentrate on preventing any further use of it by tabling a UN Security Council resolution requiring Assad to admit UN chemical weapons inspectors and give them unfettered access to any sites where past or future allegations of use are made. Thirdly, we should seek to agree with the Russians and Chinese that none of the five permanent members of the Security Council would send any weapons or ammunition to Syria during the period up to and including the negotiating conference—a self-denying ordinance that could be extended if all parties were negotiating a transition in good faith. This would underline the crucial role of the conference in future decisions about the supply of weapons.

On Iran—I hope that the Minister will fill the lacuna in her opening statement about that country when she replies to the debate—it is no doubt wise to be cautious about overstating the significance of last month’s presidential election. We have yet to see what sort of negotiating hand the new President will be given by the supreme leader, but the fact that an election with genuine elements of democracy occurred and was accepted in place of the travesty of 2009 must surely be welcome, as must be the shift from the raucous populism of Ahmadinejad’s public pronouncements. So when negotiations with the 3 plus 3 resume, there could be a genuine opportunity—and it could be just about the last one on offer as Iran’s nuclear programme advances.

That grand master of modern diplomacy, Henry Kissinger, advocated that, in negotiations with obdurate adversaries—he was, of course, talking about the North Vietnamese—it worked better to put a substantial

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package of compromises on the table rather than to proceed with an incremental approach of small steps, which is what the 3 plus 3 have tended to deploy up to now. That would seem sage advice at the present juncture with Iran. Should we not now be ready to accept that Iran can continue with a programme of low-level enrichment so long as intensive international monitoring through the IAEA’s additional protocol, and probably other special inspection mechanisms, are put in place? Would it not be wise for us to encourage the US to open up in parallel a direct channel of communication with the new President of Iran?

In conclusion, and very briefly, I shall say a word about the Middle East peace process. However discouraging the auguries, this is surely no time to subject the new US Secretary of State, who seems to be rolling up his sleeves with a will, to a deluge of cynical disparagement, as so many commentators are doing. Rather, we, too, should be thinking of ways in which to help the process forward. Should we not be thinking of imaginative ways in which Israeli settlements on the West Bank could remain within a Palestinian state and Israeli Arab citizens could find a more secure place within an Israeli state? It is a long time since any new element was introduced into that longest running dialogue of the deaf, and I wonder whether it is not time to think a bit wider than we have done hitherto.

5.20 pm

Lord Bates: It is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who is always very thought-provoking. The only point with which I slightly take issue is more a moral one than a foreign policy one about the line between good and evil. Far too often we hear portrayed in public discourse, particularly in regard to foreign policy, that there are unblemished good people and despicable bad people. We align ourselves with the good but, when we intervene, we find out that they were not quite as good as we thought and the bad were not quite as bad as we thought. I am reminded of The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in which he reminded us that the line between good and evil runs not through religious groups or nation states but through each and every human heart. That is something we need to bear in mind as well.

I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Warsi for introducing the debate. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, reminded us that she was on duty in this House on Thursday last week, replying to a Question, and here she is again today. Over the intervening weekend, she was in Afghanistan, Pakistan and, I think, Kazakhstan. She has amazing energy and dynamism. If there was ever an award for value for money on the part of Her Majesty’s Ministers, she would come top of the list in my view.

Like most people, I have been deeply moved by the scenes we have seen every day in Syria. Last year, during the Olympics and Paralympic Games, I could not quite bring myself to celebrate this great party in London when many of the parties to it were actively engaged in a humanitarian disaster in Syria. Therefore, I went to Lebanon, probably fairly naively in many people’s view, to try to offer humanitarian assistance,

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and ended up in the Bekaa Valley, where I saw the wonderful work that organisations such as World Vision were doing.

One of the hopeful things which struck me was that I had expected to see mass refugee camps in the Bekaa Valley but did not do so. When I asked where they were, I was told that such is the generosity and hospitality of the people in that region that they had taken all the refugees from Syria into their homes and the humanitarian aid was being distributed to the people who had taken them in. I was moved to find out that they would literally give the refugees their last cup of flour or their last glass of water.

After a couple of days, we went to Zahlé, a Christian town overlooking the Bekaa Valley, where one evening I went to the home of a very gracious academic from Damascus who had been exiled to Zahlé with his family. As is the wont of politicians, I wanted to know what the quick fix was and what needed to be done. In a fairly heavy Arab accent, he said, “You need to understand history.” When I replied, “Tell me about it”, he said, “No, you need to understand your history in our history.” Again, I did not quite understand, so he patiently explained to me that the best thing I could do was not necessarily to be there in that situation but to go back and learn more about our country’s history in that region.

I did not go back to London but to Beirut. Thanks to a backstage pass at the American University of Beirut, I managed to get access to a comprehensive reading list and sat in café-bars in Hamra reading up on what had happened. I was frankly amazed because there was much of the history that I had not appreciated. It stretched back to 1798 and the Napoleonic invasion of Syria, which then led the British to consider that their line of supply to India, the jewel in the crown of the Empire, was potentially under threat. We immediately decided to invade Afghanistan and had the first Anglo-Afghan war because that country was to be a buffer state. We did not like the person in charge there, so we changed him and put in someone we thought was more favourable to us. They did not last long and we were back 30 years later, involved in the second Anglo-Afghan war, this time with a larger force to back up a despotic leader who mercilessly oppressed his people. However, in exchange, he allowed his foreign policy literally to be dictated by the British. That situation continued for a while.

The Russians also had interests in and wanted to make moves towards India, and expressed a desire for a greater stake in Afghanistan. That led to a carve-up between Russia and Britain—no Afghans were involved—along the Durand line. If history tells us one thing about British foreign policy, it is that the one area in which we are deficient is drawing lines on a map. We do not have a particularly good track record in that regard, whether it was Radcliffe in India, Pakistan and East Pakistan, Durand, or Sykes-Picot in Syria. We made those and further agreements that culminated in the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, which the noble Lord, Lord Wood, mentioned in his excellent speech. The area was also divided up under the Mesopotamia mandate. I read writers such as Gertrude Bell, TE Lawrence and Aubrey Herbert and my eyes were opened to what had been happening.

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I realised afterwards how important it is to understand how we are viewed in that region. Therefore, when we come in with thoughts about arming one group or another, or intervening in a particular area, it can be misconstrued. I have noticed that there are three historians in the Foreign Office, and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, as a historian, is keen to expand our historical access in the Foreign Office. The current historian there has remarked that some of the people of Helmand think that the British are there today to avenge the defeats of the first, second and third Anglo-Afghan wars—I forgot to mention the third. Therefore, understanding history is crucial to all this. It was Edmund Burke who said:

“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it”.

If we can understand more about how we are perceived, we might draw a few conclusions. The first is that we do not have the basis or moral authority to act alone in that region. Going back 200 years is one thing, but I have to say that the past 10 or 20 years have not been too distinguished either. We need to be very conscious of that. The only legitimate means by which we can engage in the Middle East is through the United Nations. The fact that we cannot do more through the United Nations is in many ways a result of what happened when the Chinese and Russians felt that they were duped by certain resolutions relating to Iraq and Libya. Therefore, the first thing we could do would be to repair those relations with China and Russia so that we get a unified voice.

I do not think there is any doubt that the future of the Middle East lies in the hands of the people of the Middle East. They have to resolve this matter themselves. Part of our contribution to that will be to acknowledge that, whether it was the Russians during their imperialist time, the French during their imperialist time, the Germans with the whole episode of building the Berlin to Baghdad railway before the last war, the British or, more recently, the Americans, far too often we have seen the Middle East as something of a plaything or an instrument to be tackled.

I end with a quotation from George Curzon, a British Foreign Office Minister who went on to become viceroy of India. He categorised that whole period of 19th-century intervention in the Middle East as the “great game”. He said:

“Turkestan, Afghanistan, Transcapia, Persia—to many these names breathe only … utter remoteness … To me … they are the pieces on a chessboard upon which is being played out a game for the dominion of the world”.

We have a history in that region that is part of the problem in that region. Being honest and open about that and seeking to engage with people, encouraging them to make their own future without foreign intervention, is the only way forward.

5.31 pm

Lord Judd: My Lords, it is always good to hear the noble Lord, Lord Bates, in our debates. He brings a real sense of deep humanitarian commitment, of learning and of analysis informed by human reality. Those are great assets in our deliberations, for which all sides of the House should be grateful.

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At the end of last week, I was in Israel and Jordan, where I had a wide range of very interesting conversations. As I listened to the noble Baroness introducing the debate, I thought that what she was saying related very well to the preoccupations in those conversations. However, what was telling during the few days that I was in that part of the world was the almost total preoccupation with Egypt. I think that this House must take what is happening in Egypt extremely seriously. If what is happening there deteriorates and things spiral still further out of control, it is not impossible that that will put a different perspective on our current preoccupations, because we will be absolutely consumed with the implications of what is taking place. Clearly, the issue is highly complex and it affects the stability of the whole region.

I was challenged by the very interesting contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown. I think that in future I shall refer to it as the “Ashdown analysis”. That, too, has to be taken very seriously. What is really going on and what really is the strategic situation in which we are caught up? It is worth looking at some illustrations of that: the pressure on Turkey and how that interplays with domestic politics within Turkey; the involvement, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, referred, of Iran, and the game that Iran is probably playing; the destabilisation, again, of Lebanon—just in the past 10 days there have been serious casualties in northern Lebanon, with the possibility of another collapse of order in Lebanon—and tension on the border with Israel.

A new factor is the expansionist ambitions of Hamas, which has been thwarted in its attempts to become part of the Middle East peace process and to have a presence in the deliberations on the future of that particular Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In my view, that has strengthened the militant elements within Hamas, which are leading it into dangerous expansionist experiments.

Only a few weeks ago there were great celebrations in the Foreign Office at the conclusion of the arms trade treaty. This was seen as a triumph of bipartisan, consistent work by a lot of officials and Ministers, who had brought about a satisfactory solution. However, I found it quite extraordinary that virtually at the same time the conversation was beginning to develop about the possibility of sending arms to the rebels in Syria. I just could not reconcile such a proposal with all the satisfaction that had been taken in concluding the arms trade treaty. Obviously, we all know that weapons are very dangerous, and central to that treaty is that weapons in the wrong hands are very dangerous indeed. Therefore, their use is a consideration that must always be borne in mind in relation to the export of arms. It is important to ask in whose hands the arms will finally end up, how they will be applied and what the objectives are of the people into whose hands they may ultimately land. Also central to the arms trade treaty is a preoccupation with human rights. How could we talk about exporting arms to people who—although obviously not on the scale of the Syrian Government—are too involved in the crude abuse of human rights? I have never heard those two contrary elements of our situation reconciled to my satisfaction, and I wonder whether we can hear more about that before the debate ends.

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