6.46 pm

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, the earlier policies of Her Majesty’s Government on Syria, where we have intervened politically against Assad from the start, thus fuelling the conflict, and today’s proposals for unspecified British military intervention in a civil war between deeply antagonistic Muslim sects in the heartlands of Islam are so ill considered, confused and risky that I believe that in due course it may be necessary to set up an inquiry to discover why our policy-making process on Syria has failed so badly.

In the mean time, I ask the basic question: what is the essence of a foreign policy? First, it is to know and understand what has happened and what is happening. Secondly, it is to make a well informed judgment of what may happen. Only then can one construct a policy that puts British national interests first; as far as possible, takes into account the concerns of other nations, particularly those of our allies; and has full regard for the security, prosperity and peace of the world. On these simple tests, I believe that the British foreign policy on Syria has been and is dangerously flawed, and that is why so many on all political sides have little confidence in what the Government are suggesting.

Last night, I received an e-mail from someone whom I much respect in New York, an American who has been a long-term observer of the political process in the United States. He wrote: “It seems that the British Government’s finger is closer to the trigger, at least for the moment”. I find that very disturbing.

6.48 pm

Lord Brennan: My Lords, the Parliament that we sit in, when it considers military intervention in another country, is undertaking one of its highest duties and one of its most anxious tasks. That we should be asked to consider intervention in a civil war in the Middle East with a religious background that has gone on for years and is likely to end only with the defeat of one side or through exhaustion beggars belief. I am sorry to be so blunt. It is fraught with difficulty and danger, particularly in terms of the law. We in this country and the world at large will not accept the intelligence assessments of this event to justify action. That will no longer be the way to persuade people. They will want evidence.

On 23 August, CBS ran a news item suggesting that the US had been tracking chemical weapons movements in the days prior to 21 August. Whether that was right or wrong does not matter. It shows the kind of evidence that people will want to see. At the weekend, as other noble Lords may have heard, a retired Mossad officer proclaimed his confidence that recordings would exist of conversations illustrating the movements of these weapons and the associated decision-making. That will have to come out if we want to persuade not only this country but the world of the legality of action.

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Humanitarian intervention depends on a substantial number of countries supporting it, not just we in the West who know best. The substantial number is bound to include countries in the Arab world. Are they in favour of what will happen if we have military intervention? I very much doubt it.

There is a greater difficulty. Why do we talk about punishment? Punishment should be reserved for the people who have committed these war crimes, not for states. What the law expects at this stage is not punishment but the elimination of chemical weapons if it can be achieved, and, if not, deterrence. I have seen nothing that indicates that this action will achieve either. We will bomb Syria and the chemical weapons will continue to exist there. These are serious difficulties. When we talk about “we”, it should refer to a substantial part of the world, not just the West.

There is danger. Let us be frank about it. When we consider Hezbollah, Iranian-backed jihadists and al-Qaeda’s terrorist networks around the world, do we seriously think that they will lie dormant if we bomb one side in Syria? That is a most dangerous judgment to make when our people will be at risk. As the most reverend Primate said about Christians, do we seriously think that if this action is taken, there will not be reprisals and advantage taken of the weakest people who will be associated with the West? These are terrible consequences that will be as great if not greater in their volume than the recent use of chemical weapons in Syria.

This is a terrible state of affairs. Going into Syria with bombs will make it worse. We should not do it—and we should certainly not do it until we have taken every step along the route map that my party set out in the amendment tabled in the other place. Lastly, we certainly should not take this step unless it expresses the majority view of our nation.

6.53 pm

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, talked about the elimination of all chemical weapons. It is a chilling thought that the Syrian Arab Republic is one of only five states that have neither signed nor acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1992. The others are Somalia, North Korea, Angola and Egypt. Two states have signed but not ratified the convention: Myanmar and Israel. So there are two countries in close proximity, one of which has not signed or ratified the convention—Syria—and the other, Israel, that has not ratified it.

The prohibition of chemical weapons was not novel, even at the time of the Geneva Convention of 1925. The Brussels Convention of 1874 prohibited the employment of poison or poisoned weapons and the use of arms, projectiles or material to cause unnecessary suffering. Its aims were restated in 1899 in the Hague Convention, whose parties declared their agreement to abstain from the use of projectiles the sole object of which was the diffusion of asphyxiating or deleterious gases. Of course, that convention proved futile in the First World War, which resulted in 100,000 deaths and 1 million casualties from gas.

The 1925 convention was more successful. Many of us in this House may remember the constrictions on the cheeks and the smell of rubber from the wartime

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infant gas masks, some of which were bizarrely made to look like Mickey Mouse. We had cause to be thankful that gas, although expected, was not widely used—or used at all in the Second World War in the European theatre. But it was used by the Italians against the Ethiopians in 1936, by the Japanese against the Chinese in 1938 and of course, as many speakers have mentioned, in the Iraq/Iran war in the 1980s. There must be the gravest concern to ensure that it is not used in any Syrian conflict.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, posed the question: what happened? We must find out not merely whether chemical weapons were used but exactly what happened. There are assertions in the document produced as the UK Government’s legal position which can be challenged. For example, it is said that the large-scale use of chemical weapons by the regime in a heavily populated area is a war crime, and it is likely that the regime will seek to use the weapons again. The question that must have occurred to your Lordships when we had news of these terrible events was why on earth would Assad, the president, use poison gas of some form or another when the United Nations investigators were actually there? Why would he do it?

The only solution I can think of is that somewhere below him in the chain of command some commander, maybe of a relatively junior rank to whom responsibility for guarding these weapons or using them had been delegated, had taken leave of his senses and employed them in the shocking way that we have heard. If that is so, what is our response to be? Is it without further investigation simply to bomb and shell or strike at targets in Syria with the inevitable consequence that innocent civilians would be killed?

I have heard Ministers, the Prime Minister and others say that it is all a question of judgment. But judgment normally follows the evidence. Judgment does not come first. A great deal more investigation must be undertaken into what happened to ascertain the facts before we can inflict on the population of Syria that which is proposed.

The responsibility to protect doctrine, which it is suggested was a cloak for the Government in earlier conflicts—and I will not go into that—is not a new idea. It has been at the heart of United Nations General Assembly discussions since 1946. The International Law Commission spent more than 70 years before the 2005 United Nations conference discussing the principles that should be applied. But it concluded, even after all its considerations in 2005, that the Security Council is still the only means through which a state can legally intervene in the affairs of another state. It is essential that, when the evidence is clear, the matter goes back to the Security Council because I believe that if the evidence is clear to the world all members of the Security Council will unite in their condemnation of something that has been recognised as abhorrent for getting on for 150 years.

7 pm

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my namesake. The army of Thomases in this House is not quite as large and impressive as it used to be in the days when we were led by

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Lord Tonypandy and supported by Lord Thomas of Gwydir, but all the same we have one or two cards left to play, I believe.

This is a very well educated and well read House, so I need not apologise for recalling Kipling’s novel, Kim. Noble Lords will remember that the hero, Kim, looks through the windows of an officers’ mess in Punjab and hears the colonel saying to the adjutant, “Remember, this is punishment, not war”. I suppose we are now seeing Colonel Obama dictating a similar statement to Major Cameron, who is clearly the adjutant at this present time. Punishment is something that Colonel Obama has mentioned on several occasions, and plainly it is an important matter for him.

I have one suggestion that I hope will commend itself to your Lordships. It is a new diplomatic approach. Once we have discovered or confirmed that President Assad was responsible for the use of these weapons, we should go back to the United Nations, certainly to the Security Council. Like my namesake, I think that in those circumstances it is conceivable that even Russia and China will support us if the evidence is not controversial. We should then adopt a procedure that was characteristic of what happened—and I think the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, will confirm this—during the Korean War. At that time, in 1950, the Russians were known not to be likely to support the idea of a task force sent by the UN to Korea, but the Governments of the time got round that by having something called the “uniting for peace” procedure, whereby the General Assembly was asked to take action by a two-thirds majority and, indeed, it did. The Korean War was fought by the UN under those circumstances. After that, having established ourselves well with the UN, we should then dispatch a mission of various representatives to President Assad. As this is a House of bishops, why not include in the delegation a number of churchmen? That might inspire the Syrian leaders to realise that at least we are capable of novelty, if nothing else.

I have many other suggestions to make, but unfortunately my four minutes are up.

7.04 pm

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Thomas. I confess to speaking in this debate with some apprehension. My knowledge of foreign affairs is limited to a short period when I was the parliamentary private secretary to Geoffrey Howe, now the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon. I remember that the noble Lord, Lord Wright, was the Permanent Secretary and the patience with which he chose to educate me.

This debate is an object lesson for people who say that the House of Lords is a waste of time and a waste of space because if any of us was unsure, the quality of the speeches we have heard has been very compelling. I find myself very much in sympathy with what the noble Lords, Lord Wright, Lord Kerr and Lord Dannatt, said.

I do not know how many people were listening to the “Today” programme this morning, but Nick Robinson opined that we were in a period of great uncertainty and difficulty because it appeared that Parliament was dictating to the Government—shock, horror. Not even

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the BBC seems to realise that the Government are accountable to Parliament. I hope that the Government will have listened to the debate and the points that have been made in this House. It shows how far things have gone.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I cannot resist just very briefly telling the noble Lord that I met Nick Robinson coming in and I did say to him, “How on earth did you get through that programme without mentioning that we were having a debate in the House of Lords as well?”.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: Clearly he thinks that that is not as much of a crisis. I very much doubt that any of the speeches that have been made today will be featuring on the “Today” programme tomorrow.

I think that my noble friend Lord Howard, who is not in his place, was a little unfair in describing the leader of the Opposition as playing party politics. When I heard on the radio that the Prime Minister and President Obama were going to launch an attack, I was filled with dismay. The contributions that have been made by the Opposition—which is their duty—have helped to make us all think twice about the issues. Of course, I absolutely agree that the use of chemical weapons is a moral question. But it is also a moral question to use high explosives to destroy women and children and inflict pain and suffering—all the events that are going on in Syria. Surely the moral question is: what can we do to bring this to an end and to end the suffering? For the life of me, I do not believe that bombing Syria is going to make things any better or any easier or advance that cause. The consensus that we have heard today has been very much along these lines.

Of course, I accept the intelligence that has been given. I was actually against the Iraq war. I could not understand why, if Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons, he would not produce some of them and say, “There you are. Take them away and destroy them”. I think he got himself into a position where he claimed he had them but could not save face by then saying, “Actually, I was lying”, so we got into a position where everybody believed he had them and we went into a disastrous war with him.

If your Lordships will permit me to tell one story that had a heavy influence on my opposition to the Iraq war, I went to climb a mountain behind K2 in the far north-east of Pakistan on the borders with China and India. We had 40 Sherpas. They came from a village without television or radio; they were carrying 20 stones at 19,000 feet; they had no education and an average life expectancy of 35. Their hostility to the Americans astonished me. They thought that the Americans acted only in their own interests and took more than their fair share of the world’s resources. I thought, “Where is this coming from?”. This was in the summer before 9/11. When we had shock and awe, I kept thinking, “Thank goodness they do not have televisions”, and, “How many people around the world are going to be radicalised by this action?”.

It defies common sense to say that if we were to bomb Syria it would not result in radicalisation. I do not know where the Joint Intelligence Committee gets its view that this would not happen. We have considerable Muslim populations in this country and elsewhere

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in Europe. It would be an act of supreme folly. By the way, we have not got any money to be spending on these missiles. If we have the money, let us spend it on providing aid and support to the victims of this conflict and in trying to get agreement.

I have one final point. It worries me that we are getting so far away from the Russians and Chinese. I read in the newspapers that the Russians are describing us as “monkeys with hand grenades”. This is deeply worrying. This thing is not going to be resolved without Russia being on board. As has been repeatedly said, the Middle East is in an explosive situation. We need to make friends with the Russians or at least find a way of working with them. If we fire these missiles, we will make that absolutely impossible.

7.09 pm

Lord Dubs: My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, and I think that I agree with every word that he said. Having listened to this debate, it seems that there are really no good options. Every one has its downside. Despite the horror of 100,000 killed, 1 million refugees and the victims of terrible chemical warfare, the right course of action is still not clear—except that the case for armed force, for bombing, has not been made. Certainly, we would need more evidence. We have to wait for the weapons inspectors. We need more intelligence information that is in the possession of our Government and others than we have seen so far. Above all, we need evidence of Assad’s responsibility for the use of chemical weapons. It has already been suggested that the decision to use them may have been made at a lower level in the Assad military. It will be hard to prove—it will be difficult to get the evidence for that—but if that is the case, certainly if there is a hint of it, we cannot take action against the regime quite as has been envisaged.

My question is this: what is the hurry? For heaven’s sake, why are we in such a desperate hurry? Until a day ago, the view was that both Houses were being recalled today in order that there could be an attack at the weekend. That has been allayed a bit, thanks to many voices including that of the Official Opposition in the Commons. I cannot understand what the hurry has been. Why do we have to rush into something so difficult and so sensitive?

Another question has not been answered despite having been put. What are our aims in this? Yes, we can shell, bomb and attack various installations in Syria, but what are our aims? Having destroyed some of the assets there, if we go down that path, what happens then? Suppose we destroy one or two command-and-control centres? Surely they could be replaced, and then where would we be? What progress would we have made? I am not clear how we can contemplate doing anything unless we know clearly what our aims and objectives are. Frankly, I think the Government do not have those and we are not going to get very far.

In any case, any decision that we make surely has to take account of the interests of the Syrian people. I am not convinced that military intervention would bring benefits to the Syrian people, however one looks at it. It is widely accepted that military force cannot make things better in Syria. The question is how much worse military force might make things in that country.

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Of course, as has already been said, we are not just talking about Syria. We must have concern for the stability of the region as a whole. I shudder to think what will happen in the region if there are massive attacks by Britain, the United States, France and perhaps other countries. There will be revulsion at this and we will lose the moral high which we have been trying to claim all along.

Then again, it is possible to attack some of the installations in Syria without effectively taking sides in a civil war. We cannot say we are not doing so; we are bound to be doing it. We are taking action on one side against the other. How many of the people in the Syrian opposition are actually jihadists? How many of them would represent a type of Government which, if they controlled Syria, would be pretty inimical to anything in which we believe? If we have taken action to bring them into power, we will have a lot to answer for.

There are clearly large stockpiles of chemical weapons in Syria. I note that Syria is one of several countries that has not signed or ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention. I wonder whether it would not be possible to resume diplomacy with Russia and Iran and say, “Look, we are not going to attack but Assad has got to get rid of these chemical weapons. There has to be a clear and publicly demonstrated policy of removing those chemical weapons from the soil of Syria”. Surely even the Russians might just listen to that and say, “If nothing else changes but those weapons have gone, we will not have lost out but the people of Syria might benefit because they could not be used again”.

Finally, we need to think hard about the refugees. There is a desperate crisis, whether it is in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon or Iraq. We need to finish our discussion on this by saying that we must commit ourselves as the West to doing more to help those countries to deal with these many millions of refugees.

I finish as I started: at this stage, I am simply not persuaded of the case for military intervention. There would have to be a lot of interesting evidence before I changed my mind.

7.15 pm

Lord Empey: My Lords, it is with a heavy heart that we assemble here today. As a result of the welter of political posturing during the past 24 hours, I believe that the UK’s international credibility has been badly damaged. We are seen to be blowing hot and cold over Syria and proposing military actions that are supposed to be surgical and non-invasive, yet we say that Assad must be punished. We are very late in the day to start to punish him after 100,000 people have been killed.

Our credibility in the Arab world is at an all-time low. As the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, said, we do not do the Middle East very well. Our reactions to events in Egypt last month, where, whatever way you want to describe it, a military coup took place and more than 900 people were killed, are seen as hypocritical on the Arab street. Having failed to act 18 months ago in Syria when we could have influenced events, we now have a full-blown crisis with Russia, Iran and their satellites pouring money and weaponry, as well as manpower and technical assistance, into the mix.

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All this reminds me of the sad story of the Marsh Arabs, whom western Governments encouraged to rebel against Saddam. When push came to shove, we scarpered into the distance and we left the Marsh Arabs to take Saddam’s punishment. When our rhetoric does not match our capability, are we not sucking these people into something that we cannot deliver?

We recognised rebel groups 18 months ago as the legitimate Government of Syria, but we have not followed that through and given them assistance. Now assistance has come from outside. The Russians thought that Assad was finished and were repositioning themselves more than a year ago, but, with Iranian and Hezbollah support, Assad’s position has been strengthened. In no way is Putin going to back off; he has us now precisely where he wants us.

We are moving to a point where the humanitarian crisis in Syria may no longer be the dominant factor in determining how the UK and the West in general react, but the credibility of western leaders and Governments could be a growing consideration. I regret President Obama’s red line, because it said that up to that point Assad could do everything he liked with impunity, and he did. That was a mistake that President Obama will regret.

When I hear phrases such as “no boots on the ground” or “limited response” being used by Governments, it reminds me of the language that was used at the outbreak of the First World War: “The boys will be home by Christmas”. How many times have we heard that? When troops were deployed in Northern Ireland, they were there for 40 years in the longest operation that the Army ever had.

We cannot tell what will happen if we are convinced to act militarily and it is futile to say that we can use only limited force. What does that mean? No plan ever survives contact with the enemy. We have no idea what will happen. If the military is deployed to attack Assad, the aim must be to overcome him and win; you cannot go in for a draw. By saying that we will confront him with one hand tied behind our backs is counter- productive. I do not envy the Prime Minister the decisions that he must take in the coming days given that ignoring a chemical attack poses great risks for the future, but if we are going into a mission only half-heartedly, there can be no successful outcome.

The trumpet has sounded an uncertain note and military action against that background is dangerous. The advocates must be convinced and convincing in proposing such measures. It is clear that we will return to these matters shortly, perhaps for a definitive decision. At that stage, all of us will have to declare a final verdict based on the case then presented, but in the mean time can the Minister tell the House whether measures have been put in place to protect our bases in Cyprus from missile and air attack? Can he also tell us whether the right mix of vessels is deployed in the Mediterranean to ensure the maximum protection for Navy personnel and assets?

7.19 pm

Lord Bilimoria: My Lords, in the summer of 2003 my late father, Lieutenant-General Bilimoria, was here in the UK on a visit. It was his last visit to the UK

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because he passed away a couple of years later. At an event he was approached by a prominent journalist who said: “General, do you think that we should have intervened in Iraq?”. My father, without blinking, said: “No. Intervention should only have taken place with the authority of the United Nations”. My father spoke from experience because as a young captain he had served with the United Nations in the Congo.

The Joint Intelligence Committee report says that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons 14 times since 2012, and yet the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, in a brilliant speech, said that with 100,000 lives lost and 2 million refugees, we have not intervened, but now we want to do so. The noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, in another brilliant speech, said that we have held back all these years from intervening in Syria but now, this week, the drums of war have been banging. So what has happened? This awful chemical attack is the straw that has broken the camel’s back.

We have not intervened so far but there is a point to consider which nobody has raised yet. Although we are expected to intervene, in 2010 the Government, in the SDSR, cut our Armed Forces. They got rid of our aircraft carriers. I was in India just recently. India has aircraft carriers. It might be getting new ones, but it has kept its old ones until it gets the new ones. We have cut our Harriers. We have cut our Nimrods. We have cut our troops. We are reliant on reserves, and yet now we are expected to intervene. I said in 2010, three years ago, that we did not know what was going to happen next. What happened next? Libya. What happened after that? The Arab spring continued. What happened after that? Mali. What happened after that? Oh, the Olympics. We needed our troops in the Olympics.

We do not learn. We feel that we can just call on our troops. As the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, said, we expect our troops just to perform—“Switch, go, fight: give up your lives. Make the ultimate sacrifice”. But what about the nation; is it behind us? We know that the country is completely not behind intervention in Syria.

We are caught between a rock and a hard place. We feel that we have to do something. We have our allies, the Americans, who for a century have stood by us and saved this country. We feel that we have to support them. However, in Iraq the biggest mistake in 2003 was that we had not thought through what would happen afterwards. We imagined that everything would be fine. We had not thought of the aftermath, we had not planned it. As the noble Lord, Lord King, asked, did we plan on the retaliations that would take place? I was an ambassador for the London Olympics and we were celebrating on the steps of Trafalgar Square on 6 July 2005. We all know what happened the next day, on 7/7.

We know that if there is a clear strategy, it is very effective. In the first Gulf War, in Kuwait, we were in there and then out of there, mission accomplished. My father fought in the liberation of Bangladesh, when there was an East Pakistan and a West Pakistan. India waited and planned for over a year. The Prime Minister was putting pressure on the army chief but he said, “No. When I’m ready we’ll go in”. They went in and the job was done in two weeks. Here, however, we go and intervene. We say that we will do it in a

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proportionate manner. As we have heard, however, what about Russia, what about China, what about Iran, what about Lebanon? What about all the domino effects? We will take proportionate measures but will we get a proportionate reaction? Just yesterday the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said:

“The Middle East region is like a gunpowder store and the future cannot be predicted. If President Obama gets stuck in this trap, he will certainly leave behind bad memories of his presidency. The intervention of America will be a disaster for the region”.

Those are threatening words. President Obama says that a red line has been crossed. But I question the Government’s judgment. They have cut our budgets, cut the Armed Forces and then want to rush in and intervene without even waiting for the UN inspectors’ reports. I do not understand it. Yet we have this wonderful House, with the brilliant speeches that we have heard, one after the other, and we are not even to have a vote today. The other place will have a vote but we will not. The expertise of this House is 100 times that of the other place and we do not even get a vote.

Every day we delay action, we feel guilty. A humanitarian crisis is getting worse every single day. It is only natural that we want to intervene, but we should only do that when we have exhausted all other opportunities and have a proper strategy that we have thought through. Then we can do it. In conclusion, I have always been taught that a fool makes a mistake, makes a mistake again and does not learn. A sensible person makes a mistake, learns from it and does not make it again. A wise person learns from other people’s mistakes and does not make a mistake in the first place. It is too late for us to be wise, but let us at least be sensible. Otherwise we will be foolish and the consequences will be disastrous.

7.25 pm

Lord Waldegrave of North Hill: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. I personally accept that legal justification for a proportionate action can be found. If Geoffrey Robertson QC agrees with the Attorney-General, that range of legal advice is enough for me.

I accept what the Prime Minister, the JIC, the Foreign Secretary and their advisers say: that the great likelihood is that last week’s chemical weapons attack is the work of Assad’s forces. However, that is not the end of it. The Government argue that the action which they contemplate is not an intervention in the Syrian civil war but an exercise in deterrence, President Obama issued a deterrent warning against the use of chemical warfare by Assad and was ignored, and action must therefore be taken against Assad or deterrence will have failed.

Two things seem to me to be wrong with that argument. First, deterrent theory works by being clear and understood by both sides. Some of us sat at the feet of the great Michael Quinlan on these matters. Mutually assured destruction at the time of the Cold War worked because two players who understood each other understood the risks and knew what the consequences were. I am sorry to say that President Obama issued unclear threats, and we do not know

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whether there is in Syria a rational opponent playing the same game by the same rules. Nor do we see a clear read-across to other situations. What would we do if, say—and I hope it is unimaginable—China, used chemical weapons in a local war, or Russia herself? The deterrent argument seems to me to be more like that deployed at Suez: that if one dictator nationalises things, all dictators will nationalise things; or at Vietnam: that if one domino falls, all the other dominos will fall. Those were not good arguments then. You can paint yourself into corners with red lines.

Secondly, if we accept the deterrent theory argument for a moment, action in pursuit of it is inevitably also an intervention in the Syrian civil war, the consequences of which we cannot predict. Here is one—not implausible, it seems to me—scenario. We fire rockets that degrade Assad’s command structure and perhaps damage identified chemical weapons stores. In the ensuing chaos, the toughest anti-Assad fighters, the al-Qaeda affiliates, gain momentum and capture one of the chemical weapons stores. We observe them, from satellites, taking material away. What do we do then?

An action in defence of deterrence that makes things worse on the ground for the people of Syria will not be justified. We had one literary allusion from the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton; I beg your Lordships’ indulgence in giving one more. In Conrad’s great story Heart of Darkness, Marlow, the narrator, is sailing around the coast of west Africa on his way to the Belgian Congo. He comes across a French battleship that is firing shells into the continent of Africa. Conrad tells us:

“In the empty immensity of earth, sky and water, there she was, incomprehensible, firing into a continent … There was a touch of insanity in the proceeding”.

We are in danger of getting ourselves into a position where young Arabs and Muslims think that our policy in the West towards their part of the world is a little like that of Conrad’s French battleship, firing into a continent—and there is a touch of insanity about it.

7.30 pm

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, first, I am grateful to the Leader of the House for the statement at the beginning of the debate today, and I particularly welcome the indications from the Government that they have slowed down their approach and will take more time to deal with this issue. That has been welcomed by the House and the country generally. Secondly, I urge that we ensure that as we slow down and examine this issue carefully, we do it to our own timetable and are not responding to the timetable set down by others, such as the USA.

I come at the Government’s proposal with a degree of scepticism. I am sure that I am in line with many of the population. This is not because of a lack of sympathy or abhorrence about what has happened to the Syrian victims. There is concern for them and the Syrian population as a whole, and there is concern for the wider implications of the consequences that might arise from any military action on which we embark. I can be quite honest that my scepticism is based to a degree on the fact that, like others who have spoken

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today, I gave full support to the intervention in Iraq and subsequently going into Afghanistan. As time has gone by and I have seen what has happened, I have come to regret the decisions that I took at the time. I am very anxious to ensure that as I approach this issue, we do not repeat some of the errors of the past and what has happened in the recent past. I say this in a week especially when more than 50 people were killed in Baghdad and after a report from the United Nations that last month alone more than 1,000 civilians were killed in Iraq. This continues to escalate on a worrying scale.

The test that we ought to be exercising increasingly, even though people say that we should not be conditioned by what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan is: have we improved the quality and safety of life for the people in Iraq? A number of our ambassadors have posed the same question indirectly. We should also be asking whether our actions have improved the quality and safety of life for our citizens here in the UK. I read Mr Blair’s article in the Times and went through the barricades that now surround this building, which were not there 10 years ago. When I look at our public buildings around the country and our utilities and see the extent to which they are surrounded and guarded, which was not the case a decade ago, and I look at the cost and burden to the public, it is not difficult to understand why this time round the public are extraordinarily against what is being proposed by the Government. It behoves us to take account of that and to pick up the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, that we cannot ignore the knock-on effect on our troops if we decide to move forward without the full support of the people. I hope that we will not rush headlong into further action.

It is 10 years since we went into Iraq and it is high time that the public and we ourselves saw the Chilcot report. When can we expect to see it so that we can start to learn some lessons that we might apply in the future? The public and Parliament are entitled to know all the evidence about the use of chemical weapons, which it is now indicated we will get. Who is responsible for ensuring that every effort at UN and diplomatic levels will be made and will continue to be made? The public will be looking for that more than perhaps Parliament has expressed they will.

I am not going to repeat some of the points that have been made about the UN, but more work needs to be done at that level and on an international basis. We have had quite a remarkable debate today, and I should like to suggest to the Minister—I put this in a positive way—that so many suggestions and proposals have emerged, which I sense have not been addressed by the Government in their full respect, that he should ask his officials to take the debate away and draw up a document in which we can see those suggestions and proposals. We will learn about where the Government have taken appropriate action, or think they have, or where no action on the lines that some people have suggested has been taken. This should be drawn to the attention of the Foreign Secretary and he should be required to report back to us on the actions to be taken, with a full report then placed in the Library of the House.

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7.36 pm

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, 10 years ago, several of us who are in the House today took part in the Iraq debate, for which there were 115 speakers. I remember in particular the contribution of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. It has been reflected in today’s remarkable debate by the noble Lords, Lord West and Lord Dannatt. There is no doubt that our military heroes have a rooted practicality in their view of these intensely difficult foreign affairs issues. I also recollect that on that occasion there was opposition to our going into Iraq at roughly two to one among those who contributed to the debate. This afternoon, at a rough reckoning, it is more like eight to one or even 10 to one against the notion of unilateral intervention—by “unilateral”, I refer of course to America and France as well.

As a lawyer, the legality issue is one that I cannot avoid, and we have heard some plain speaking on it. I put it to the House that the justification for humanitarian intervention depends, because it is a common law justification, on that unilateral intervention being reasonably likely to lead to less violence, death and destruction and to more chance of a resolution of the deep, underlying issues. Many other speakers have alluded to the fact that the likely consequence of a unilateral attack on the chemical weapons installations in Syria will be precisely the reverse. It will intensify the extremism, radicalise even more, and undermine the tender shoots of reconciliation within Syria. Indeed, I am not thinking of Syria alone because the whole region is unbelievably unstable, staggeringly fragile and frighteningly liable to internal explosion. One must look very carefully at the Government’s case for saying that the action they may eventuate would be justified by international law. I doubt it.

The reason why the consequences of such an intervention would be wholly counterproductive is again one that other speakers have referred to: that, sadly, the United States and the United Kingdom in particular are not viewed in the region as being honest brokers. We have form and we do not have clean hands. We are regarded as being very far from even-handed. I make these remarks having travelled extensively throughout the Middle East over the past 12 years, and that is the message I get again and again. Of course we act with sincerity and try to do our best. However, for example—I am sad to have to raise it, but one cannot avoid it—if one considers what is happening in Israel and Palestine, the fact remains that Israel is colonising the West Bank by military force and has been doing so for more than 20 years. The colonisation goes on and on, and Gaza is under siege. What happens? We go on supplying arms and America goes on giving financial support. There is no way in which the average Muslim who is interested in the politics of his country and region can view what we are doing as remotely justifying our intervention in Syria in the way that is now being contemplated. Look at our support for Saudi Arabia, which is scarcely a model state in terms of democracy and progressiveness. Look at what has happened in Iraq and Iran, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lady Williams and other noble Lords.

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Iraq is a very striking example. As the noble Baroness said, in 1982 we supported Saddam Hussein when he invaded Iran. We supplied his weapons, and he subjected the Iranians to gas and chemical weapon attacks for some considerable length of time. What did we do about it? I cannot recollect that we did anything. Now we have the current attitudes. I emphasise that for us to go in, however good our intentions, would be potentially fatal.

Finally, I want to ask, what do we do? I liked the phrase “ferocity of diplomatic action”, which the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, used. That is just what we need, and imaginative action at that. Through the UN and through our work with Russia—and, I hope, with Iran and everybody else—we will maximise what chance there is for a peaceable resolution, not just in Syria but across the whole Middle East.

7.41 pm

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, no doubt many noble Lords will have read the claim in yesterday’s Times that weapon strikes against Syria following the chemical weapon incident on 21 August were legitimate—one of Thomas Aquinas’s conditions of a just war. The use of the word “war” seemed typical of a media-induced frenzy, on the back of which the Government appeared to be proposing that moral outrage justified unilateral military action, whatever the consequences. Thankfully, the measured introduction to today’s debate by the Leader of the House suggests that Mr Miliband has succeeded in introducing a degree of common sense into the situation, which appeared to be getting rapidly out of control, revved up by unsubstantiated assertions such as Mr Hague’s public statement that President Assad was responsible.

All this reminded me of my thoughts about the invasion of Iraq. In December 2002, I wrote to Mr Blair on behalf of a group that had met at the Royal United Services Institute to discuss non-military alternatives—those intermediate steps mentioned by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury—pointing out the damage that unjustified military action would do to the United Kingdom’s national interests by undermining the relationships that we had built up in the Middle East over many years, encouraging extremist Muslim organisations such as al-Qaeda to take retaliative action against the West in the West, and by causing us to be seen in the Muslim world as a warmonger rather than a peacemaker. Any international action should demonstrate a clear balance between long-term objectives and short-term gains, with regional issues paramount.

What particularly concerned the military members of the group was that this was the first time that we could recollect our Armed Forces being sent to war without feeling that the public was behind them, a point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, and my noble friend Lord Dannatt. Needless to say, we were not listened to, and in March 2003 I wrote in the London Review of Books that,

“perhaps our involvement in such a deliberate breach of international law will so change the world order that much wider rethinking will anyway be required”—

hence my concern about what our Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary seem to be proposing. What is its aim? What evidence is there about exactly what chemical

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agent was used, and by whom? What moral or other authority do we have that justifies taking unilateral action against one side in another country’s civil war before United Nations inspectors have completed their work?

The United States, and by implication its allies, ought to be very careful about claiming the moral high ground in the chemical weapons era. Although Syria remains one of the five countries that has not ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, neither America nor Russia destroyed their declared stockpiles by the 29 April 2012 as required.

Do the Government not recognise the irony of us appearing to support al-Qaeda, which is so strongly represented in the so-called rebel forces? Finally, do the Government think that members of our Armed Forces are impervious to public opinion? Much as I deplore the use of chemical weapons by anyone, with the long-term consequences of our recent short-term interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan staring us in the face, I simply cannot imagine why the Government do not recognise that taking unilateral action is bound to inflame an already burning situation. In terms of national self-interest let alone common sense, I say yes to humanitarian and diplomatic assistance and a contribution to a legal, proportionate and considered international response, preferably under the auspices of the United Nations, but a resounding no to unilateral military action.

7.46 pm

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, at this stage in this extremely good debate, I want to concentrate on just one set of questions. Where is the rest of the world on this matter? Why is it coming out as just an American and British-led western affair, maybe with France tagged on the end? Where is the wider international support that the Motion in the other place this afternoon refers to? Where are the other great rising powers in the new global order? Where, in fact, is the coalition of the willing—eastern, western and southern—that we need?

The spreading use of chemical weapons is just as much a threat to the huge modern megacities of Asia, rising Africa and emerging Latin America, many of which have higher incomes than we do, as it is to the USA and the United Kingdom. The citizens of Changchun, Shanghai or Nanking are just as much in danger as we are. In fact, one could argue that the threat from Middle East regional devastation and from missiles flying around the area is greater for China than for America. Half of China’s soaring oil imports of about 5 million barrels a day come from the Middle East, quite aside from the soaring price of crude oil itself.

Most of Japan’s oil and gas imports come from the same source. As Japan’s deep troubles with nuclear power continue, so will its colossal and rising imports from the Middle East region. Some 75% of all gas and oil imports from the Middle East go not westwards to America, us or Europe, but eastwards to Asia, much of it through the Strait of Hormuz. That is predicted to rise to 90% by 2020. Very little flows west and to America almost none at all—in fact shortly it really will be none at all.

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So where are all these great nations—the new powers in the new landscape in this crisis? I understand that the Arab League seems to be onside, at least verbally. But where are the other great powers which have demonstrated all the economic growth and which have most to lose from more chaos in the Middle East? Where are India, South Korea, Brazil, Australia, Indonesia or Malaysia? Where are the new super-rich ASEAN nations on which we increasingly depend for our own investment? Where are the new alliances such as the Shanghai Cooperation group or the Trans-Pacific Partnership or the increasingly connected and modernised Commonwealth network that is of increasing importance? Even the Russians, who take a totally different view on how to handle Syria, as we know, are just as much threatened by chemical weapons spreading as we are—as indeed is even Iran, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, reminded us.

My biggest fear is that this is all emerging not as a global issue, but as a purely American-led western action. The USA is a great ally and friend, and a great nation, but too many of its policymakers have a misapprehension about America’s role in a now-transformed international landscape. Nobly but wrongly, its leaders speak about superpower leadership but, nowadays, in this network world, the role has to be partnership not leadership. America’s partners all over the world—a coalition of the willing, as I say—need to address the chemical weapons horror and make the chemical weapons convention hold or be strengthened, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, rightly suggested.

I know that Ministers have tried in vain to get a wide and constructive response through the United Nations. However, if we cannot get this together through the outdated machinery of the UN—if the UN cannot unite—then we have to try other routes. At all costs, that should not mean ending up with a West-only initiative. Power now has to be shared between the old West and the new East and South. With power goes responsibility and the duty to co-operate. Governments and diplomats now have to learn to play the network. It is a new game in which our skilled diplomatic forces, our fabled diplomacy, can help lead us and guide us. A new constellation of powers, alliances and influences across the whole world has already taken shape, and the sooner we recognise that in facing this issue the better.

7.51 pm

Lord Desai: My Lords, I have always been a liberal interventionist. If you live in a globalised world, you intervene if you think that something is wrong. When we debated this issue on 1 July I said that the question in Syria was not whether we were going to intervene but when. We could have intervened long ago, as the noble Lord, Lord Empey, among others, has said. Many hundreds and thousands of people have been exiled and killed, including women and children. We had perfectly good cause to intervene under the “responsibility to protect” doctrine. We did not intervene. We now face another opportunity for intervention, but I think that we are not going to intervene. It is quite clear that the mood of the House and the country is, “This is terrible, it should not happen and it is a moral outrage, but we are not going to intervene”.

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However, we are going to intervene sooner or later because this war is going to last for much longer than we think. It is not just a Syrian civil war. As I said last time, this is part of a 40-year crisis of the Muslim Middle East and will go on. It is not just a Shia-Sunni war; it is a sort of rehearsal, like the Spanish Civil War, for the bigger conflagration that is about to come. We should therefore dread the possibility that the UN inspectors will find evidence and that perhaps the UN Security Council will co-operate. Then we will intervene. All the consequences that people have mentioned regarding what will happen if we intervene—all the side-effects and responses—will happen, even if there is full legitimacy for our move. In war, there are no clear, clean outcomes. The Second World War, which was the last, as it were, just war, was full of mistakes on all sides. There were the most God-awful tragedies, but we still respect that war because the end result was better than when it started.

What has finally come out in Iraq is a Shia majority and democracy—the only one in the Middle East. We got that regime change. In that debate, I said that I did not care about weapons of mass destruction; I cared that Saddam Hussein was a danger to his own people. That was why I wanted us to go into Iraq. I am a liberal interventionist. The whole problem is that the US and UK have created this structure for international order, which we have been embellishing by duties such as the “responsibility to protect”. We have now lost the will to sustain it. We may have also lost the power to sustain it, but we have certainly lost the will to sustain it. Red lines can be drawn, but red lines will be withdrawn and then drawn somewhere else.

We have now perhaps to rethink our entire doctrine. International order is a global public good. Do we have the strength and resources to provide it and protect it? We will have to come to the conclusion very soon that, even together with America and France, we do not have the will or the power to sustain the global public good we created. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, asked why the eastern powers are not intervening. They did not create this order; they do not care for this order; why should they defend this order? It is our responsibility, but we will not defend it. It is clear to me that the poor Prime Minister, on holiday, when the blood rushed to his head, thought, “My God, I must intervene”. I think that he should not go on holidays and then we may have a better world.

What we are facing now is that we are chickening out and that we will intervene the next time when circumstances will be much more against us. That will happen when this general war in the Middle East touches Israel. When Israel is under threat, that is the final red line that America will draw. That is when it will go and then we will be in a much worse circumstance than we are in right now. We will have another debate then.

7.56 pm

Lord Greaves: My Lords, it might be better if some leading politicians went on much longer holidays and never came back.

I do not support military action against Syria, and I hope the Government will listen to the overwhelming balance of views in your Lordships’ House today,

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which range from people who are cautious, do not want to go ahead very quickly and think that the Government have not quite got it right, to people who take the view that I do: it is likely to be a disaster at any time.

I am sorry to be speaking against the policy of my leader, the Deputy Prime Minister and other of the leading members of my party, including my noble friend Lord Ashdown, for whom I have great admiration, but when my noble friend says that the choice is between action or no action, to act or not to act, the problem is that his view of action is military action and nothing else. As various noble Lords have said, military action ought to come after everything else has been tried. The other point about action or no action is that if you take no action for the time being, you can always go back to act in future; once you have taken military action, there is no going back whatever. If it turns out to be disastrous, you are lumbered with the consequences for ever.

The pulling back by the Government in the past few days has been a good thing. It has clearly been in response to public opinion; I think that it has been a response to an opinion in the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats as well. It has also been a response to what has been happening in the House of Commons among the politicians. Of course, the press will always try to personalise it and say that it is a big victory for one side or the other. I think that it is a victory for the House of Commons which, as a body, has been responsible for this being pulled back. In recent times, people have said, “Parliament is a waste of time, the House of Commons is toothless and not like it used to be”, and so on, but from time to time we get events and crises when the House of Commons, in particular, can rise to say, “Thus far and no further; we want a change”. I think that this is a victory for democracy as much as anything else.

As for public opinion, we should be concerned about it not just in this country but in the world—in the Middle East and the Arab world. The Minister, in introducing the debate, said that the Arab League was all on board. Yes, the Arab League stands for the Sunni establishment, by and large, in the Middle East; it certainly does not speak for some other countries and, in particular, I am not sure that the leaders of the Arab League speak for the Arab street.

One problem is that while Sunni opinion throughout the world may be watching and may be not too concerned about things at the moment because there is an evident dictator, a brutal sectarian dictator who is a version of Shia, once it goes wrong, if only 1% of the hundreds of cruise missiles that may be launched lose their way and hit a hospital or a residential area, the television pictures will be around the world within 24 hours and opinion can change very quickly indeed.

As far as Muslims in Britain are concerned, I have no doubt that British action in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Pakistan have played a central role in radicalising people. There are two aspects to this. Most of the ordinary Muslims in Britain come from the south Asian subcontinent. They are mainly Sunnis and mainly attend the mosques of a moderate variety of Islam. People I have spoken to recently in my own

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area in Lancashire have commented that what is going on in Syria is dreadful, the chemical attack was appalling and Assad is a bad man, but that when western countries go in to try to sort things out, they almost always seem to make things worse. I do not think that there will be lots of people out on the streets in demonstrations, like there were 10 years ago when a lot of us went on the big march. I do not think a lot of Asian people will do that at the moment, but the problem is the small number of individuals who for various reasons—their contacts, their psychological disposition or whatever—are subject to radicalisation. I have no doubt that if the missile attack on Syria takes place, it will almost certainly contribute to serious radicalisation and possible future serious incidents in this country.

8.02 pm

Lord Singh of Wimbledon: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. I see no rationale whatever in the UK attacking the Assad regime on the grounds that chemical weapons may have been used. We are all horrified by TV pictures of the suffering of innocent civilians in the civil war between different religious factions, but those on the receiving end would probably say that innocent men, women and children being killed or maimed by chemical weapons is no worse than their being killed, maimed or wounded, or having the limbs of those near and dear to you blown off, by more conventional means of mass killing. The use of even more weaponry, however tactical, will simply increase that suffering.

I understand President Obama’s wish to be seen as a strong and decisive world leader with his talk of red lines that must not be crossed, but the strength of a world leader should not be measured solely by the flexing of military muscle. There is even greater strength in looking to and promoting solutions to underlying religious conflict in Syria and surrounding countries and, importantly, in working to make the UN truly effective.

The USA is doing its image immense harm by constantly seeking to bypass the UN and act as the world’s policeman. It has no moral authority to do so. It is the only country in the world to have used atomic weapons. It used chemical weapons, including Agent Orange, to devastate and impoverish vast areas of Vietnam, which led to hideous deformities in the unborn. We have heard today that its use is prohibited by the 1925 Geneva convention. It has used napalm and cluster bombs. Today, it uses drones to invade the sovereign territory of other countries to kill, main and destroy those it does not like. Such behaviour does not go unnoticed in the Middle East and the rest of the world. It is wrong to pretend that the USA has a moral right to lecture the rest of the world on ethical values. I understand our historic special relationship with the USA, but a good friend should act to deter such behaviour.

We know that President Assad is a cruel dictator, but he is not mad. It is difficult to believe that he would deliberately try to provoke America into going to war against him. It gets even murkier if we look at Saudi Arabia, America’s Sunni ally in the Middle

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East. It was a Saudi-owned news channel, Al Arabiya, which first broke the story of the supposed chemical attack. The Saudi Government, with United States approval, have been supplying arms to the rebel groups. The use of chemical weapons can only strengthen the hand of the Sunni factions, both inside and outside Syria. These include al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. It is not in the West’s interests to strengthen their hand. For these reasons, I oppose military action.

8.06 pm

Lord Naseby: My Lords, I ask the House to note that I have written a number of letters to the Prime Minister expressing my deep reservations about why we are involved in Syria at all. It seems to me that it is not in this country’s interests and never has been.

I also frankly do not approve of our policy in north Africa and the Middle East and have said so clearly. This crusade of western-type democracy to be imposed upon others with significantly different cultures from our own seems to have resulted in the chaos that we see now in Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan and the subject of today’s debate, Syria. If you look at Syria, a relatively young country created after the First World War, you will see that this is its fourth civil war. The war is not new to that country; this is just the current, awful manifestation.

As I look at the situation and the media coverage of the past few days, and the idea that we are going to launch a strike at any moment, I ask myself—my noble friend Lord Howell raised this—who in the world today believes that the United States, the United Kingdom and a couple of other countries should be policing the world? That is not what the vast majority of the world believes; it looks to the UN to provide that. We must work with the UN to make sure that that happens. However difficult it may be to deal with the Russians, the Chinese or anybody else, we have to find ways to work with them and to make that succeed.

Turning to the chemical weapons issue, on the last incident—I am amazed to hear that there were 14 other occasions; certainly I was not aware of them and would like to know why they were not more broadly publicised—we frankly still do not know who did it. We know that it happened. The House knows that I have had deep involvement in Sri Lanka and I know that evidence can be and is fabricated by rebel groups. I have seen it with my own eyes, with the Tamil Tigers’ accusations about certain of the actions of the Sri Lankan Government. Frankly, I do not believe that al-Qaeda is totally innocent in Syria; it may be and it would be wonderful if it was, but I wonder. If it was the Government, what was their motive? Was it a central government decision that there should be a sudden strike on a suburb of Damascus? Far more likely is the suggestion of my noble friend on the Liberal Benches that it was probably, possibly, a rogue element in the Syrian army. Let us reflect on what happened on our side in the Second World War. We had a number of rogue actions taken against government orders; that is not unusual in war and we should never forget that. That was, to a degree, the implication of what the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, said.

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Should there be any military intervention? Frankly, those of us who have done a bit of gardening recently know that the worst possible thing you can do to a bonfire is to put petrol on it. The Middle East is a huge raging bonfire at this point in time. If we send in missiles of any sort—I speak as a former RAF pilot, as is my noble friend to my left—however good the pilot, the radar and the homing device may be, they can go wrong. As others have indicated, that could be catastrophic. For me, there should be no military intervention.

However, the West should do something. We have to do more in terms of diplomacy. I was privileged to go out and try to help in Sri Lanka and the Maldives immediately after the tsunami. I was amazed at the amount of support and help that was given to millions of people in Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives in a situation that killed well over 100,000 people overnight. There was a wonderful reaction by the Disasters Emergency Committee and equally wonderful reactions by numerous Governments. With all the experience that this country has in providing great NGOs, why on earth can we not take the lead on the humanitarian front and forget all about any military intervention?

Although he has just left the Chamber, I shall finish by saying how grateful I am to the Leader of the House, as well as to the Leader of the Official Opposition, for sitting through almost every speech. My only request is that, having done so, they should both make sure that the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition know the strength of feeling in this House.

8.11 pm

Lord Judd: My Lords, I very much doubt whether any of us will be able to forget the harrowing television pictures of the children and their look of fear and bewilderment as they literally choked and writhed to death. This was a heinous crime, for which those responsible must, sooner or later, be brought to account. But as this debate has made very clear, the issue is how that is done without punishing the innocent, exacerbating the future costs and dangers, and proving to be totally counterproductive. We have to listen to the advice and wisdom of men and women with considerable military experience, such as in the speeches that we have heard in this debate from my noble friend Lord West and the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt.

As we grapple with our abhorrence at the cruelly poisoned children and, indeed, the adult victims, we must never forget the 1.8 million refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and elsewhere. We can do something about their plight and face up to the future destabilising effect of so many refugees across the Middle East—just think of the story of the Palestinian refugees and how that is being compounded by this situation. As the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, has just said, we should be at the forefront of the humanitarian battle, and indeed we should support the people of Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and elsewhere who have provided so many with a home.

Here in Britain we are very good at persuading ourselves that the world will automatically see things as we see them. As someone who has spent most of my

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life travelling the world in international work, I ask how many people we really think will believe that this is just to deal with chemical weapons. Of course they will not believe that. They will see it as an intervention in a civil war and as us punishing the regime in Syria for the terrible things that have happened.

The other thing of which we sometimes persuade ourselves is that somehow Syria is self-contained and that we can clinically look just at Syria and take appropriate action. Syria is intimately involved with Egypt, Iran, Iraq and the whole Middle East situation. Military action would have great implications for any prospect of a Middle East settlement and peace between the Palestinians and Israelis. In this context, we are foolish if we imagine that anything that we do will not have implications far wider than Syria.

I also suggest that we should look at our own credibility. This is not an easy thing to do. The peoples of the world do not necessarily see us as self-evident champions of the rule of law and arbiters of justice. They look at us and see rendition, Guantanamo Bay and torture. As we have heard, they see the story of arms sales to reactionary and oppressive regimes. They see us insisting that our nuclear arsenal is essential to our self-defence. They see our allies in the past as having not altogether clean hands on chemical warfare and they see us believing that somehow, if we are to make a contribution, our possession of these things must be taken for granted.

There is resentment in much of the world—we must face this—about being managed by the traditional great powers. This resentment plays into the hands of extremists and al-Qaeda. That is why the UN road is so important. If action is to be taken, it must be in the context of the widest possible global international consensus, not just among the traditional powers but among the deprived and excluded people of the world as a whole, because the world is seeking a change in the power balance. All this is absolutely central to how we approach the situation that we are debating.

Of course we must go on in the Security Council. We must not be fatalists but must keep at it. We must also think of the UN Uniting for Peace Resolution 377 of 1950 in the Korean context and make sure that whatever is done has widespread global endorsement and not just that of the traditional powers.

8.17 pm

Lord Wigley: My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Judd, whose stance on these matters over many years I have come to respect. I join the many others who referred to the excellent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt. I hope that the Government will listen very carefully to his wise words.

I speak on behalf of my party, Plaid Cymru, as well as for myself, in opposing any question of military intervention in Syria on the basis of the information—or rather, the lack of it—that we have at present. I would oppose military intervention in any circumstances without a specific United Nations mandate spelling out the legal basis for intervention, the parameters of any military action and the outcome that it was meant to secure.

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I will address briefly three dimensions of the issue: the facts relating to the use of chemical weapons, the potential methods of intervention and the possible knock-on effects in the Middle East. We all condemn without reservation the use of chemical weapons. They can be just as gruesome as nuclear weapons—which, if we are consistent, we should also ban in the name of humanity. In the case of Syria, three questions arise. Have chemical weapons been used? The answer to this will be provided by United Nations investigators. Secondly, if chemical weapons have been used, who used them, and can be we certain of our facts in this regard? If we are, can we be equally certain about who ordered their use, and that they were not used on the orders of loose cannons using them for Machiavellian purposes?

With regard to intervention, we must surely be clear as to the specific effects of any proposed military intervention and whether any new scenario after such military action is sustainable. Frankly, when I heard American officials talking of lobbing in 100 cruise missiles—at which targets we were not quite sure—and of Obama talking about a rap across the knuckles, I was driven to the conclusion that the US does not know what it is trying to do. When I heard the Liberal Democrat leader on a BBC programme this morning being cornered into accepting that there may be many further steps, I shuddered to think where mission creep may take us.

Thirdly, there is the whole tinderbox of the Middle East regional fragility into which we may choose to fire those warning shots. One elects to throw a match into a powder keg at one's own peril. There are many extreme elements in that region who are just itching for the opportunity or excuse to fire their own warning shots or massively more at Israel. Goodness knows, there are those in Israel who would be only too glad to fire their own ultimate weapons of mass destruction as a lesson to their hostile neighbours. That scenario does not bear contemplation. One thing is certain. We should not fire random shots into a powder box. We should avoid that in order not to escalate to Armageddon.

Humanitarian considerations drive us to ban chemical weapons—and rightly so. Therefore, should not humanitarian dynamics also guide us in the way in which we respond to such weapons? Will not the course being pursued by the Government make it less likely, rather than more likely, that we can move towards political action and reconciliation? Will it make the Geneva II agenda more or less likely to progress? Will such action not escalate the humanitarian crisis, with a flood of refugees becoming a tsunami, which would cause the aid agencies immense difficulties? The NGOs just could not cope. Those humanitarian factors must surely also come into the equation. Should not any action which we take lead to the greater likelihood of a coherent road map towards negotiations? Do the Government seriously believe that firing cruise missiles as shots across the bow will increase the chances of such a road map emerging?

A child being slaughtered by chemical weapons or by cruise missiles is equally distressing for that child's father or mother. One random catastrophe triggered by a missile intended as a shot across the

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bow can have cataclysmic consequences, as did one shot in Sarajevo, a century ago. Have we learnt nothing from our mistakes?

8.22 pm

Baroness Deech: My Lords, I yield to no one in my horror at the use of chemical weapons; and at the deaths so far in the Syrian war of more than 100,000 innocent persons; and at the 1 million or so refugees displaced, whose situation in the desert with no basic facilities for their children, such as education, will reverberate across the region long after Assad has gone from the scene. Where, incidentally, did those chemical weapons come from? Can we cut off the supply? How fortunate it is that Syria’s nuclear reactor was knocked out a few years ago. It might otherwise have been used.

What, then, do we do? Punishment and reaction there has to be. That is easy enough to say, but what should it be? I have given up any hope of referral to the International Criminal Court; that cannot happen. In brief, it seems to me that the arguments against any military intervention outweigh the arguments, moral and political, for military intervention.

My first reason is that the consequences could be irreversible and incalculable: not least, more terrorism on our streets. This we have learnt from previous incursions into the Middle East—although I must say that fear should not shape our foreign policy.

The second reason is that the public are against it both in the US and the UK as shown by the opinion polls. We will have a repeat of the demonstrations that we had against the Iraq war and it is surprising that there have not already been more demonstrations on our streets of the revulsion felt against Syrian actions.

The third reason is that it is too late. As Kissinger said in relation to the Iran/Iraq war,

“It is too bad they both can't lose”.

There may have been an earlier time when the west could have intervened, but to do so now is to take sides without the real possibility of achieving anything. Regime change will not happen. Civilians will undoubtedly be caught up and there will be retaliation.

Fourthly, we cannot afford it. Thousands of UK Army personnel were made redundant very recently. Defence cuts have left us weak and we seem to have different priorities for spending. I heard recently that we had spent three times as much on welfare, rightly or wrongly, as on defence.

Fifthly, I have not heard what our strategy is. Do we have an exit plan? How long will the intervention last? When can it be said to have been successfully accomplished? What if Assad or whoever the culprit is has more stocks of chemical weapons and is able to import more? What will our reaction be if the slaughter spreads to neighbouring countries? Since Russia is involved, this possible exercise will not be like the one undertaken in, say, Kosovo. If the US and the UK did not finish what they started and Assad survived and continued, American credibility and our own would be damaged and Iran, for example, will see that the West is impotent in relation to its collection of nuclear material. In the mean time, we are taking our eyes off the Egyptian situation, Iran and Iraq.

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The struggle in Syria will not be ended by air strikes or even the delivery of arms to acceptable rebels. There will be a showdown with Russia and reverberation across the Middle East and at home. We have never taken the moral action that maybe we should have in relation to, say, the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the protection of North Koreans, with as many horrors, because of the strength of Russia and China and their presence on the United Nations Security Council. Our morality is selective.

Is intervention better than non-intervention? I am afraid not. Would intervention prevent a repeat? I fear not. Is there a less bloody act of retribution? I cannot think of one. I am disappointed at the failure of action of the United Nations due to its structure and indeed the failure of the European Union in this foreign policy area. There has been a low-key call from Europe for a diplomatic push. I would have expected a stronger voice of leadership on this issue. If there is a failure of our international organisations, we will have a resurgence of the strength of individual nation states and religious sectarianism and violence. That is because we do not have the strong international organisations that we need at this moment.

8.28 pm

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, as a follower of events in Syria and an occasional contributor to discussions about it in this Chamber, I always find that the noble Lord, Lord Wright, expresses my views more clearly than I can myself and I have not been disappointed this afternoon. Like everyone else, I am aghast at what has been happening in Syria and especially horrified by the use of chemical weapons. I, too, am very frustrated and distressed by the way in which this wonderful country and its splendid population has been caught up in the much wider volatility in the Middle East of which it is now an integral and unfortunately inseparable part. We know that the Assad regime and the Ba’ath Party have behaved appallingly and appear to have used chemical weapons, but the rebels who line up with the Salafists and who indiscriminately murder Christians and Muslims are no better.

In the circumstances of now, I believe that it is naive, as my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell pointed out, to imagine that it might be possible to intervene neutrally or impartially between the protagonists in this civil war. It is bound to benefit one side or the other, and then we have become a protagonist ourselves. The beneficiary will soon forget our help and blame us for neo-colonial intervention, and the loser will hold us responsible for their setbacks. By then, we are completely involved.

Obviously, the use of chemical weapons is both unacceptable and illegal, but it does not follow that we, or for that matter anyone else, must intervene militarily even if it is legal to do so; it is merely an option. What is legal is not necessarily wise; indeed—and I speak as a lawyer—often it is not. Furthermore, recent history shows that the criminal perpetrators of mass atrocities can run but they cannot hide indefinitely from international law and its processes and enforcement.

Like many other speakers today, I am glad that the Government have toned down their bellicose stance of the weekend. We must not adopt a stance of macho

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belligerence; rather, we must proceed carefully within the framework of law in a manner which is pragmatic and practical in military, diplomatic and political terms. Equally, it is important that we do not allow Britain to become, or to be perceived to have become, a kind of global vigilante. We should not feel that it is necessary in any way to race to the front of the queue to join a posse, even if it is led by one of our closest allies. I find myself recalling with approval, and to my own surprise, Harold Wilson, who I believe did this country a great service by keeping this country out of the Vietnam War.

Of course, it goes without saying that we must strive in every way to contribute to the humanitarian needs of Syria and that part of the Middle East and, equally, work for the cessation of the use of chemical weapons both in Syria and anywhere else. We must also recall Bismarck’s comment that the Herzegovina treaty was not worth the bones of a Pomeranian fusilier. I see no evidence now that persuades me that Syria is worth the bones of a British service man or woman. That is the likely consequence of the kind of military intervention currently under discussion to respond to the use of chemical weapons in that country.

8.32 pm

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, this has been a very well informed debate. It is not to be unnecessarily partisan but rather to get my one party point out of the way first that I say that it has been a great strength to the Labour Party’s position that it has thought through many of the questions which have been posed for answer today. That was in effect set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, in opening from our Front Bench.

The speeches by the noble Lords, Lord Wright of Richmond and Lord Dannatt, reflected great diplomatic and military experience. It is perhaps not often recognised by people who have not been in the military that the logistics involved in anything that is being talked about are very considerable. If you do not have Brize Nortons scattered around the eastern Mediterranean, you have to get the stuff to Cyprus first and so on. It was with some incredulity that I kept reading that something was going to happen on Sunday, leaving aside the point, also made very tellingly, that the chemical weapons dumps are apparently spread around Syria and that to take them, or to do anything to make sure that they could not be used again, you would have to have thousands of boots on the ground. I ask the Minister to comment on that particular point in his reply. That rather suggests to me that that is probably true. We have a few days to reflect on where we are trying to get to. As the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, said, regime change is now not apparently our objective. If it is not, I do not quite follow the logic of some of the speeches that have been made.

I will pick one example from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, who can correct me if I am wrong. Why, I ask myself, can we not arraign the President of Syria before the International Criminal Court and charge him with offences which, if proven, would cause him to spend the rest of his life in The Hague? I thought he meant by his argument that because that is very difficult

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we do not have to go through a process of jurisprudence. The noble Lord is a lawyer—I do not understand it. Who will take the President of Syria to the International Criminal Court, or does he not believe that we have a procedure other than a military one, which clearly is not a juridical procedure?

Lord Carlile of Berriew: How does the noble Lord propose to get President Assad to the International Criminal Court physically?

Lord Lea of Crondall: Indeed. The question about what we did in Yugoslavia, et cetera, comes up. The noble Lord is shaking his head as if to say, “Therefore we should assassinate him”. I am sorry—I have given way once, and the noble Lord did not give way to me.

Lord Carlile of Berriew: Justify your accusation.

Lord Lea of Crondall: I am just putting the point that if we think that some surgical strike can stop his authority being exercised to do these things, why do we not make more of the procedure? If we think he is guilty of an offence under the chemical weapons convention, should we not give more thought to how we bring him before the International Criminal Court, and would that not be a productive way of engaging with the Russians, perhaps, as someone has suggested, with a conference of the parties signatory to the convention on chemical weapons?

The Foreign Secretary is fond of using a sort of metaphor in this debate that if the Security Council fails to do what we want—I think this is how the argument runs—we should ask what we call the international community to act. That has been said so many times. I ask the question: what, in this context, is the international community supposed to be if it is not just the less than 10% of the world who are our friends in this regard?

8.38 pm

Lord Boyce: My Lords, my interests are as declared in the register.

I should like to focus on the proposition that military action should be taken if it is clear that Assad has used chemical weapons. I believe that there is a need for a far greater clarity about the thinking behind such proposals before we can have a sensible discussion about its merits. If military action is not backed up by a UNSCR, what is the legality of such a step in this case? Why is it thought that a limited strike would prevent further humanitarian disaster? I will return to that point in a moment. It is that—not the breaking of the chemical warfare convention; the legal advice we have had this afternoon is silent on that—that is the only real justification here for military action.

I pick up the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, and the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, about the need to reassure our servicemen taking part in this proposed action. The legal case needs to be explained and made particularly clear to them.

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What will be the objectives of such an attack? The noble Lord, Lord Wright, provided us with a list of examples earlier on. Let me concentrate on just a couple. Is it to punish Assad and thereby deter him from the further use of chemical weapons? If so, what is the assessment of how this can be achieved against a man and a regime hardened by years of brutal civil strife? Why on earth do we think that he will care? Are we judging that he has the same standards and morals that we have?

Is the objective to target chemical warfare dumps? If so, how convincing is the evidence that we know where they all are and whether they are in penetrable bunkers? What will be the measure of success? Chemical weapons are extremely difficult to destroy completely. The most common method is incineration at very high temperatures over a sustained period in contained systems. Munitions used by the military almost never reproduce such effects, especially the ones designed to penetrate hardened structures. Another problem is the sheer volume of material. Estimates put Syrian stockpiles in the hundreds of tonnes of various types. What considerations have been given to collateral damage from chemical weapons released by a strike, possibly generating a worse humanitarian problem? The fact is that chemical weapons are extremely difficult to destroy. It can be done effectively only by having boots on the ground.

Assuming, therefore, that we are furnished with some sort of clear objectives, where is the lay-down of the consequences of an attack? I believe that the Government have said that this will not be about regime change. But what happens if Assad is killed? We have normally failed to kill the leaders of unpleasant regimes in the past. This time, accidentally, we will probably kill Assad.

Notwithstanding the opening comments of the noble Lord the Leader of the House, we can be absolutely certain that within the region we will be judged as having taken sides in a civil war and that the attack by us will be seen by many as giving succour to the opposition. How is it intended that we will handle the view that we have allied ourselves to some extremely unpleasant actors playing for the opposition in Syria?

We can also be pretty certain that any attack will have collateral damage in which innocent civilians will be killed. What is the Government’s view on the proportionality of such an eventuality? In other words, what number of civilians killed will be deemed acceptable in, say, the punishment of Assad?

What estimates have been made of the likely reactions of Syria’s neighbouring states and Hezbollah, and how will these be managed? The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Baglan, made some telling points here. Especially, what is the estimate of what might be the nature of any retaliation from Syria or surrogates? For example, there is evidence today that Syrian-inspired cyberattacks are already escalating. They are very competent at this. Are we ready for a full-scale cyberattack? Should there be any post-strike analysis? How will this be achieved, given the sophistication of Assad’s air defences?

Do the Government have an exit strategy for any military adventure? If Assad brushes off the attack and uses chemical weapons again, what will be the

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next move? A “shot across the bows” implies sinking the ship at the next shot. Will the Government say whether it has been determined what will be the nature of that follow-on shot? If it is going to involve serious commitment of our Armed Forces, I hope that the Prime Minister will reflect on the damaging and strategically dangerous cuts that he has made to our defence capability over the past three years.

Finally, if the inspectors’ report leads to the conclusion that—contrary to what we have been told today—it is in fact the opposition in Syria who have deployed chemical weapons, what will be the Government’s course of action?

8.44 pm

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I think we can be confident that we would all agree that the Government have got one thing absolutely right today: they put down a Motion on which there could not be a vote in this House. I think that was a very wise move. We are all familiar with the expression “mission creep”, but we should also be aware of language creep. I notice that, in ministerial language, what was the Assad Government has now become the Assad regime. When the dog is given a bad name, it knows what to expect next. When I read the JIC assessment, I noticed that it said,

“it is highly likely that the regime was responsible for the CW attacks”,

but when I heard the Prime Minister speaking in the other place today, that had morphed in his words into the “certainty” that it had done so. I think this is almost certainly an unconscious act of creep, but it displays a lack of intellectual rigour which unhappily is characterised in so much of the development of policy on more than this one matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, rightly questioned the exaltation of chemical weapons above even nuclear and biological weapons. Others have also questioned that. Indeed, as many terrorist victims in this jurisdiction, let alone in Syria, might say, being battered to death with a hammer or a gun butt is not a pleasant way to go, but we have no moral objection to the people who did that, procured it or ordered it to be done taking their place even in government in this country.

I find myself in the somewhat unnatural position—it is certainly an unusual position—of agreeing completely with the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond. It does not often happen; we should celebrate this matter. Indeed, there were so many others whom I agreed with that I cannot list them all in my allocated time, but notably my noble friend Lord Hurd and the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, expressed many of the concerns that worry me. Like them and many others, I am not satisfied that Ministers have adequately thought through the likely, let alone the possible, consequences of the course of action to which they seem unnaturally attracted. We in this country may think that the use of force against the Assad Government will be seen in the way that we would like it to be seen, but in the Middle East, and perhaps in Moscow too, it will be seen, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, suggested, as an intervention against President Assad and in favour of the rebel forces. I ask myself whether that is what the Government intend. Do they really intend to intervene on behalf of

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the rebel forces or for it to be seen in that way across the Middle East? I am far from convinced that if Assad were to be brought down it would any more bring peace to Syria than the fall of Mubarak has brought it to Egypt. I think we are now all becoming convinced that the Arab spring did not last very long and that a deep and long winter has now set in instead. I wish that my friends in government will really think before they drift into places where they never intended to go, but I doubt that they are in any mood to do so.

8.49 pm

Lord Soley: My Lords, the decision on whether or not to intervene has become an increasingly difficult problem over recent years and will continue to do so given the current state of the Middle East. It is a profoundly difficult decision. If you do not intervene, lives will be lost and, if you do, lives will also be lost. The lesson of Iraq is not necessarily “Do not intervene,” but, “If you intervene, make sure that you have thought through the post-conflict situation”. That is where those sorts of things go profoundly wrong.

My problem is not whether we should use force. I am prepared to see force being used in this situation. However, I cannot see what the object would be of using force now. I could see it right at the beginning, but what is the purpose of military intervention of some type now? There is a case for intervention to prevent weapons of mass destruction from being used again. I understand that; it is laudable and proper. My problem is that I do not know how you would achieve that end. What military actions would you take to prevent weapons of mass destruction from being used again, whether in Syria or in the immediate neighbouring areas by agents of the Syrian Government? I believe that the Syrian Government used them. If it was the opposition, the Syrian Government would be in a position to show us the various stores that the weapons came from; they have never attempted to do so, nor claimed that they had lost any to the rebels.

If the purpose of intervention is to stop weapons of mass destruction being used, I need to know how it would work. That is where I get worried, because Barack Obama’s use of the word “punishment” comes from the idea that you can prevent these weapons from being used if you impose enough force on the regime to make it think twice. That is a dubious proposition.

The one area in which it could work would be if it were combined with a diplomatic initiative, which might involve reaching out to Iran. A couple of speakers have made the point that Iran has strong views about weapons of mass destruction, not least because Saddam Hussein used them against the Iranians, who saw the sheer horror of them. If Iran could be persuaded to come on board in putting pressure on the Syrians not to go on using them, the threat of force might be useful. Once you have used that force, however, there is no going back. I do not know where that would lead.

The only other purpose of using force would be to try to pressure Assad to go to the negotiating table and to persuade Russia to put pressure on Assad to go. I have made the point to the Leader of the House in previous exchanges that I do not see that either

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Russia or Assad has an interest in going into serious negotiations while they see that they have a chance of winning more on the battlefield. The general approach is not to negotiate if you are winning. If Assad can go on using weapons of mass destruction, he will win.

People sometimes say to me, “Saudi Arabia is pouring in arms”, and so on, but there is a difference. Russia’s aid is that of a sophisticated power with a lot of ability right across the range. That is not true of the armaments going to the opposition, so I am not at all convinced that that is equivalent. If you use the threat of military action to get Assad to negotiate, that might be of benefit. Apart from that, I cannot see how military intervention would work at this stage. That is not to say that we should rule it out for all time, but those are currently the only two points where there might be an advantage and I cannot see how they might be achieved.

My final point worries me deeply. Russia is in a strange position on this. President Putin sounds like someone who is obsessed with the United Sates, almost as though he feels inferior, has had his nose put out of joint by it and wants somehow or other to gain his revenge. The United States is no longer the dominant power that it was for the first 50 years after the Second World War. Other powers are coming up. That makes this very dangerous. When you get that sort of instability, you get bigger wars.

Finally, this is the Middle East. We are into something that will last for decades. The Foreign Secretary was right. Unfortunately, a lot of it is between those who believe either in the Sunni/Shia struggle or, more seriously, it is about whether you have religion as a central part of government or separate from it. That will be an important question, not only for the region but for the rest of the world.

8.55 pm

Lord Watson of Richmond: My Lords, according to the Order Paper, the purpose of this seven-hour or so debate is to take note of the use of chemical weapons in Syria. One thing that is quite clear from this debate is that the Government should take note of what has emerged in it. What has emerged is something very close to consensus and, among certain categories of Members of this House, I think, unanimity. The emerging consensus clearly is that people are absolutely unconvinced that the case has been made. Unanimity has come from Members of this House who come from the diplomatic profession and those who have served in the military. I may have missed one or two speeches, but I have not heard anybody from either of those two backgrounds state any support for what, in effect, we are really debating. If the Order Paper asks us to “take note of”, what are we actually debating?

I have spoken this afternoon to a number of Members of this House who in recent days have come back from holiday abroad where they have not been reading English newspapers or listening to the English media. Without exception, they have been absolutely startled by what they have been confronted with the moment that they landed at Heathrow or arrived back here: a virtual media assumption that war is about to occur and an aggressive, even macho tonality that would

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be delighted—that is the implication—were we to be the first to press the button on any action. That is extraordinary. What has happened in the past 24 hours has broken that momentum and mood, and thank goodness for that.

Many Members of this House were here on 18 March 2003, when we debated this situation before the military action in Iraq. I participated in that debate. I remember the grave reservations that I felt and, I hope, expressed at the time, that the case had not been made. Many Members of this House felt the same thing. It is clear that the case is not being made.

Let us just look at the criteria that would be crucial and decisive in making the case. Clearly, there has to be an element in which it is explained that our national interest is somehow involved in this outcome. We are, after all, committing our own people and would be committing our own Armed Forces. That case is not made. We have to be convinced that there is an exit strategy. There appears to be none and, indeed, not much thought about one.

We have to be persuaded that we are hitting the right targets and that, above all, it would act as a deterrent. I find interesting the phrase from President Obama: “a shot across the bows”. It is of course clear that a shot across the bows is not meant to hit anything. A shot across the bows is a warning. The second shot is the one that is meant to register. What would the second shot be? I think that it is clear that the majority view in this Chamber is that if you send off the first warning shot, other shots will follow, so one has to think very carefully about it.

I shall be followed in this debate by the noble Lord, Lord Birt. I spent three decades of my life as a television journalist and in the television profession. I have to say that one thing that has fuelled the momentum of the debate is the ghastly photographs that we saw of the victims of chemical attack. However, if you are in television journalism, you know that what matters is not just the pictures that you see but the pictures that you do not see. For example, in the Iraq war, there were pictures of appalling damage that was done, which, although our media received them, were never transmitted because they were thought to be too repulsive. These pictures were sickening and tragic but they were transmittable, and because they were transmittable they were in a sense latched on to as a justification for the military action and they fuelled the mood. I think that we have now pulled back from that mood and our approach is much more considered. I finish by urging that part of that consideration should be about what this country and our allies could do to alleviate the appalling refugee crisis that is now enveloping the entire region.

9 pm

Lord Birt: My Lords, throughout history, nations have taken military action out of self interest, but they have increasingly acted with the good of others prominent, or at least present, among their motives. As many have mentioned, we intervened in Sierra Leone to prevent an elected Government being deposed by gangsterism. We deterred a possible massacre in Kosovo and we helped to throw out Saddam after his unlawful invasion

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of Kuwait. Out of common humanity, I am one who strongly supports the fundamental notion of using military force to avert barbarity. I regret, as does President Clinton, that in Rwanda we failed to stop the worst massacre of modern times, and that we stood by in Bosnia.

However, the consequences of military action cannot easily be predicted. It can be quick and decisive in pursuit of a clear goal, as in the Falklands, but it can also spiral out of control, as in our second venture in Iraq. Military action is not only unpredictable, it is never cost-free. It will always involve sacrifice and pain. In World War II, the United States had to transform its economy, mobilise millions and suffer massive loss of life to save a continent an ocean away from totalitarianism.

The issue before us, that of the use of chemical weapons in Syria, is heinous and grotesque. As the noble Lord, Lord Watson, has just mentioned, the sight of those bodies—men, women, children and babies—in neat serried ranks enshrouded in their kafans was heartrending. So what, as many have asked, should our objective now be; what our response? A civil war of great complexity is raging within Syria with a multiplicity of groups and their supporters defined by faith, politics and other national interests—the splits within splits that were graphically described by the noble Lord, Lord King. I can see no immediate prospect of any military or diplomatic intervention that would bring an early end to that tragic conflict, although the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, among others, credibly delineated a pathway that might draw in Russia and Iran.

The reasonable objective of a finite, limited and clinical military strike could be, as many have said, to deter the further use of weapons of mass destruction in Syria and even elsewhere in the world. But for all the aforementioned reasons, before picking the military option, there must be a reasonable expectation, as the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, suggested, that more good than harm will flow from such an action. It is not clear that it will. The situation in Syria is unusually tangled. We have a ruthless regime in place with advanced weaponry, which is fighting for its life with few options open to it. Moreover, Syria is located in the most troubled and unsettled part of the world—the “powder keg” described by the noble Lord, Lord West—riven by rivalry, history and hate. Syria is itself sponsored and supplied by a nuclear superpower.

We can all be genuinely united in our sense of outrage and repugnance. We will all want the whole world to signal that the use of such weapons is unacceptable. We will all agree that those involved must in due course and when possible—and it will be possible—be brought to justice before the international courts. However, like most who have spoken in this excellent, informed debate, I am not yet persuaded that military action is the right course in this particular set of circumstances.

9.05 pm

Lord Cormack: My Lords, I am of the gas mask generation. I remember the gas mask I had as a little boy in the war. My horror of chemical warfare was brought home when I read for the first time that extraordinary poem by Wilfred Owen, which will be

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familiar to many of your Lordships, “Dulce et Decorum Est”, which tells in the most graphic language of a gas attack in the First World War. So I completely understand the revulsion and horror of the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and others. Of course, they have seen this and they want to do something about it.

However, let us remember that before the 350 who died last week—terrible as that incident was—100,000 had been slain in Syria. Was not each one of those deaths as much a blot upon the escutcheon of those responsible as the others? As I have listened to this remarkable debate, and thought of the inexact prescription of Ministers for what should be done, I could not help but think of “King Lear”:

I will do such things—What they are yet I know not; but they shall beThe terrors of the earth.

We have to be more exact and prescriptive than that. A theme that has run through this debate is the need for a proper diplomatic offensive.

In a couple of years’ time we shall be marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. The United Nations is far too toothless. We should be using all our best endeavours to bring together Russia and China. China will increasingly dominate the world as this century progresses. As has been pointed out by a number of contributors to this debate, we should also be looking at Iran and opening up dialogue there. In doing these things, we should of course be seeking to put pressure on Syria and other rogue regimes and doing it in a way that can have them tested at the bar of world opinion.

International law has to be internationally enforced. The concept of a shield, that there should be a United Nations force permanently established, would not be realisable in the immediate future. But there is no reason why we should not seek to work towards it. I very much hope that we would. Our own nation is not able to play a full and vibrant part in any military, naval or air bombardment of Syria—nor should it. Someone quoted Bismarck and the Pomeranian soldier and it is right.

It is truly vital that this country’s endeavours should be on the diplomatic front. That does not mean that we should never intervene anywhere. As colleagues who were in the other place with me will know, I was almost alone on the Tory Benches arguing for intervention in Bosnia. I am glad I did and I am glad that eventually we did, although sadly it was after Srebrenica. But that was a very different, European conflict. We do not have specific interests in Syria, save the interest that the Middle East should cease to be a powder cauldron. The noble Lord, Lord Reid, in a remarkable speech, said that we were talking about a regional war. He likened it to the Thirty Years’ War, and it could last for 30 years. Even the Foreign Secretary talked in terms of decades.

In the past two or three weeks while we have been off, I have been reading a very remarkable book about July 1914. What comes across is that nobody in Vienna, London, Petrograd or Berlin wanted a world conflict. However, because of diplomatic bungling and ineptitude, and an unwillingness to acknowledge mistakes, the world moved forward inexorably over a six-week period into a conflict that transformed it for ever.

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The noble Baroness, Lady Cohen, talked about Pandora’s box. I will leave your Lordships with a quotation from one of the greatest Foreign Secretaries of the second half of the 20th century, Ernie Bevin, who said, “If you open that there Pandora’s box, you don’t know how many Trojan horses will come out”.

9.10 pm

Lord Winston: My Lords, I always seem to find myself in tandem with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. It is a delight to follow him. The House is very grateful to the Leader for introducing this important debate and putting on record what in general we feel in the House of Lords. It reflects extraordinarily well on the House.

I will make five brief points. The first is on the question of trust. Some 10 years ago I gave a speech on the proposed invasion of Iraq. I remember saying in that debate, in one of my many very poor speeches in this House, that while I was against the invasion of Iraq, we had to trust our leaders, who had information that we did not have. I now feel in complete disagreement with the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, who argued that we have to trust our leaders. The value of this House is that we are independent and that we do not entirely trust our leaders. Part of the reason we are here is to offer an alternative, non-political view. The value of that has been shown greatly today.

Secondly, it is very important that we see leadership. That was shown extraordinarily well by two speeches. One was from the noble Lord, Lord Wright, who started the debate. The other was from the noble Lord, Lord Hurd. Both noble Lords showed the experience of age. I am afraid that one issue that can be clearly seen is that in general the leadership of all parties is pretty inexperienced. This is an issue that we face, and why the House of Lords in its present state is so valuable.

I will also address the issue of certainty. It is very difficult to deal with uncertainty, but one thing that we must do in a mature world is just that. What worried me very much about the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, was his certainty that by going for military action we would do something, while the experience of our military leaders who spoke in this debate—my noble friend Lord West and the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt—clearly showed that we will have to live with uncertainty and balance it in a much better way.

The next issue is that of humanitarian concern. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said everything that I wanted to say but much more eloquently. He pointed to the humanitarian issue. If we really want to be of any account and to be humanitarian, rather than lob shells into Syria, why should we not open our borders to refugees and help the other countries that they are going into? That is very unlikely to happen, but it shows the curious situation that we are in.

The last question is that of psychology. Do we really consider that by lobbing shells into Syria we will soften Assad’s heart? It is worth looking to the Book of Genesis and the question of Pharaoh. Again and again, he is threatened with attack. Finally he suffers the most targeted strike of all, which is the killing of

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the first-born, who are particularly targeted as Egyptians. It does nothing but affect Pharaoh’s pride, which is what would happen with Assad as well: it would be the same sort of thing.


newspaper, which is part of a free press in Israel that is reporting very fairly on the situation, yesterday argued very clearly that it is not only Assad who commits atrocities; the other side are quite capable of doing so as well. It pointed out that if we start lobbing shells into the situation, we may cause not merely a mess but a quagmire. That is what it said in its reporting yesterday.

It said one other thing, which I thought was rather pertinent. It argued, for example, that the issue to some extent is that we have the perception—it has been said in this debate, somewhat unfortunately—that somehow Israel is responsible for this situation in some way. The problem, rather opposing what the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, said, is that Israel sees itself surrounded by Syrias. It is surrounded by nations that are not likely to take democratic action in the way that we would expect. It is inevitable, therefore, that it hardens its heart and appears to be a great deal more intransigent. We have to be extremely careful how we handle the whole issue of the Middle East.

9.16 pm

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, it is a privilege to be taking part in this excellent and well informed debate and to listen to so many expert speeches. Perhaps by this time, the Government understand that there is no support for their policy—in this House, anyway.

The second thing I want to say is that there has been some criticism of the Opposition for their attitude to the Government’s original position. I do not believe that that is right. I think the Opposition should be praised for the action that they have taken to ensure that both Houses of Parliament are having a proper discussion of this very important matter, not only to this country but to the rest of the world, and, indeed, to prevent this country being bounced into military action, led by the United States, over this weekend.

The general public here are fed up to the teeth with the United Kingdom getting involved in wars in faraway countries that are not to protect our vital interests. They resent money being spent on these conflicts while their living standards and services are being squeezed. They also understand that military interventions increase the risk of retaliation by extremists on this country and, indeed, others. Why the rush to take military action even before the United Nations inspectors have reported? That has been remarked on by many noble Lords this afternoon, and perhaps the Government should explain in more detail why they are so anxious to rush to military action. I am completely opposed to military intervention in the Syrian conflict, especially since it is being rushed into being without having clear objectives and without considering the long-term implications of such action.

Why not try peace? Why are we not peacemongers rather than warmongers? Why do we want to rush into war every time something with which we do not agree goes wrong? Why not drop the absurd policy of refusing to allow President Assad to attend peace negotiations? Why do we allow rebels, including al-Qaeda, to dictate

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the terms of negotiation? Negotiations are the only way forward if the civil war is to end and a stable Government established. Any other way will lead to complete and utter disaster. Of course, like all other noble Lords, I deplore the use of chemical weapons in any circumstances, but I also deplored the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam and the use of napalm on innocent civilians. Etched on my memory is the picture of that naked little girl running down the street flaming from being enveloped in napalm, so I am certainly opposed to weapons of that sort and to the use of depleted uranium in Fallujah. It also killed and maimed countless people and destroyed huge areas of property, but I am afraid that the British Government sat idly by when such atrocities were being carried out.

Finally, we now understand that the Chilcot report is to be delayed until 2014. That is a complete and utter disgrace. Indeed, the report should be published forthwith so that it can help us to understand how to deal with this crisis, which has so many implications and can lead to so many more lives being lost, people being maimed and property being destroyed.

9.21 pm

Lord Hunt of Chesterton: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the trenchant remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. The framework of this debate about government action has been the 1920s international convention about chemical warfare and the practice of intervention by foreign countries for humanitarian purposes, but in the 1920s there were no satellites or internet. One of the important changes is the role of communication, to which I shall return.

Chemical warfare was one of the heinous methods deployed by Saddam Hussain. There was plenty of evidence for it in his attack on the Kurds, but it was not so clear, as the noble Lord, Lord Reid, reminded us, whether he was planning to use those weapons in 2003. There was, however, enough suspicion that the allies intervened. I voted to support the Government. Scientists were particularly doubtful at that time about the estimates of the range over which his weapons could endanger other countries and about how rapidly they could be deployed. No United Kingdom or United States scientific report was produced before, during or after that conflict. The Chilcot report may have some evidence of that sort.

In the case of Syria, as the excellent Joint Intelligence Committee report stated, toxic chemicals were discharged last week with a devastating impact on thousands of people. The timings and location of some of the releases have been reported and intelligence has identified which weapons were used, but we must now have much more open scientific data, which should be produced by several countries. Unlike in previous conflicts, this information is now available in near real time. For example, complex chemicals can now be detected though satellite measurements in the urban areas where this conflict is taking place, and the gases that enable these chemicals to be dispersed can also be computed so that it is possible to make predictions.

This work is going on in the United Kingdom and European laboratories of space and environment companies, and if more of this information were made available, particularly in collaboration with Iran, Russia

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and China, which all have these instruments and can make these measurements, it might be possible through the much wider distribution of information for us to understand what is going on and particularly for people to see what is going on. As we now know, people are much less suspicious of data in real time. Any report, such as the report of the United Nations inspectorate, excellent as it is, may take several weeks to be produced and people then wonder what has happened in the report.

My first point is that it would be very important to enable people on both sides in Syria and in the Middle East to have more information about what is happening. I believe it will make more likely collaboration with other countries with which we want to negotiate, which has been a theme of this afternoon. Ultimately, this may be the most powerful way to put political pressure on parties, and this will surely support other organisations in their humanitarian efforts.

I should like to make a final remark. Perhaps the government chief scientist, the chief scientists at the MoD and other organisations, and people with military and political experience might consider in some detail how we could distribute more information on the internet and broadcast generally—in all countries and produced in collaboration with countries—whereby it might be possible to have confidence in what is happening. At the moment, there is little confidence because the information comes from different countries. We might enable wide populations across the Middle East and other areas in conflict to track and communicate the illegal use of weapons.

9.25 pm

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, in deference to noble Lords’ patience after more than five hours of debate, I am not going to repeat what has been said by many who are more experienced than I. Hence, I want to look not exclusively at Syria but at the United Kingdom in relation to the current Syrian provocation. I would suggest that we as a nation have for the past 16 years become an abject follower rather than an incisive leader of world opinion. How sad. I do not believe that the United Kingdom can, from this point in history, take a military initiative that will benefit us or the various people in the Middle East, including Syrians, who are daily the victims of sectarian warfare and sectarian oppression.

We should not evaluate the situation in the Middle East on the basis of the United Kingdom’s Christian-based values—although, I suppose, this Government have largely abandoned those, too. Of course one deplores that there are several hundred victims of chemical weapons, and we have a responsibility to identify and cite before a war crimes court those who have ordered or executed these outrages. I heard a debate between the noble Lords, Lord Lea of Crondall and Lord Carlile, about the effectiveness of that. Citing leaders before a war crimes court would, from the moment we did so, cause the perpetrators and those who follow them to recognise that whatever they may achieve in the short term they have become internationally irrelevant and international pariahs until the day they die. Why do we imply that the hundreds who died as a result of the use of chemical weapons are any more to be

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regretted than the tens of thousands who have died equally horribly, up to this moment? Will we, however accurately we target whatever we identify as appropriate, add one iota of justice to the situation?

I have lived with sectarian conflict for many years. That was where religion was used as an excuse for terrorism. However much we may take so-called appropriate action in Syria, will it produce other than justification to those who regard religion as a cause—who are willing to become human bombs—whether in Iraq, Syria or here on the streets of London? I will not even venture into the capacity of Syria or Iran to attack our sovereign bases in Cyprus.

Moreover, we are in danger of deluding ourselves that if we can minimise deaths arising from our intervention and concentrate on Assad’s armaments Russia would not resupply? Russia will do so. We must know that the ineptitude of the United Nations as an arbitrating organisation would be even further neutralised by any direct provocation that led to a greater schism between the western powers, Russia and so on. Nor do we need provocation such as the preordained red lines, or was it lines in the sand? What a presidential own goal that was. I listened to President Obama this morning. He sounded so implausible that I cannot help but wonder why we British, with hundreds of years of diplomatic experience, appear almost blasé about tagging ourselves to his coattail. Let us just pause at this point and examine where we have failed and where we could have more effectively intervened diplomatically but failed to do so. I am not going to give the House a long list, but I think of Zimbabwe, where for years we virtually ignored the plight of the Matabeles; of Cyprus, where we have long and carelessly abdicated our guarantor responsibilities; and of Northern Ireland, where we subsidise ex-terrorist prisoners at seven times the rate that we compensate the victims of their terror. That is where our Government have failed for so many years now.

I conclude by expressing the hope that my contribution might just help bring a degree of reality to the questions we face. Perhaps at another time we can develop opportunities rather than, like today, trying to build justice on the sands of hopelessness that we would import from Washington.

9.31 pm

Baroness Murphy: My Lords, I have never before spoken about foreign policy in this House. I have been here nine years, and whenever I felt the urge to do so, I looked around at the experts in this House and thought better of it. But when I was listening to the messages coming from the Government a couple of days ago, I thought I should come in, stand up and at least be counted and express a view.

The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, said that he was talking for the man on the Clapham omnibus. Today, I am the woman on the Clapham omnibus. I am not convinced that any military intervention would be to the benefit of the people of Syria, the ordinary people who are suffering in Syria, and I believe that most people in this country feel the same way. I have listened with enormous care to the debate today, and I found it enormously heartening because

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there were so many moving speeches. I want to mention particularly the noble Lords, Lord Wright of Richmond, Lord Jay of Ewelme, Lord Hurd, Lord Tebbit—I never thought I would say that—and so many others.

I particularly want to pick up on something the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, said about the mood music—he used another phrase. It has been getting worse in the past two or three years. Every time Syria has been mentioned by the Government there has been a sort of worsening approach to talking about it, which has made me feel deeply uneasy. I do not know what the outcome of the Syrian civil war will be, but I do know that at this point a blow against that regime is going to be a blow for the opposition. The House of Lords notes give me a list of 15 organisations in that opposition, and half of them I would not want to support. It therefore seems to me that the international community has got to think very carefully about what it does. We say that we cannot allow people to use chemical weapons with impunity and that it is illegal to use them, but in fact we have let other regimes use other weapons with impunity without too much difficulty.

The other words that people use about what the meaning of the strike would be—“retaliation”, “showing them they can’t get away with it”, “punishment” and “vengeance”—form no moral basis for escalating the conflict. It is fanciful to think that the regime will not continue to attack rebel civilians through other means. It would contribute to less safety and less security in that region. We know very well that we cannot change this regime; only the Syrians can do that for themselves. Civil wars have to be sorted out by the community in which they occur. The regime cannot be changed by us—we have demonstrated very clearly that we do not know how to do it in this very difficult region, and we should not be trying to do so in any way, or making any move to support action in that direction. Therefore, I say no to any form of military intervention. Sometimes not to take a legal, offensive way to express our views is the moral thing to do. Sometimes it is more difficult to sit on our hands and say, “No, we must not act”, but that is what we should do.

9.36 pm

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, I agree with the vast majority of the opinions that have been expressed in this House tonight. Noble Lords will therefore hope, silently thinking, “Why doesn’t she sit down, then, and we can all go home a little bit sooner?”. Sadly, I am not going to do that. However, I will try to emphasise some of the questions that have been posed to the Government by other speakers and perhaps add some questions of my own. It will be a sort of aide memoire for the Minister when he comes to sum up at the end of the debate.

First, why did the Foreign Secretary immediately attribute the chemical weapon attack on civilians in Damascus to President Assad when no evidence had been presented? Are we to assume that as with the previous Government, conclusions have been drawn and acted upon without the evidence first being gathered and made public? I hope not. Is the intelligence source for recent events in Syria the same source that was used for the allegation that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction? What is the significance of the large

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delegation of Israeli security officials in Washington this week, having talks all week with US National Security adviser Susan Rice? I merely pose the question.

What guarantee can the Government give—many noble Lords have made this point—that they will not make the situation in Syria far worse, without dealing with the stocks of chemical weapons held there? What extra assistance will the Government give to countries surrounding Syria which have already received more than 1.9 million refugees? If we have money to burn, literally, why are we not helping those refugees and spending money within Syria, if we can get it in there, on all those displaced Syrians who have been driven from their homes?

What retaliation is anticipated from Syria and its allies, such as Iran and Hezbollah? What would we do as a country if Israel was attacked? People in the Government of Israel, some of them in the present Government, make Mr Netanyahu look like a pussycat. There are some quite difficult characters there. Is it true that Israel has missile systems supplied by the USA which could deliver nuclear weapons? The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, who is not here at the moment, reminded us of the potential for nuclear war starting in the Middle East, and my noble friend Lady Miller always takes every opportunity to point out the danger of nuclear weapons.

Why has the Geneva II conference not taken place, especially after Russia persuaded Syria to accept the weapons inspectors, and what efforts have been made to reopen communications with George Sabra, the Syrian National Council leader? The noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, said that we need ferocity of diplomatic action. We do indeed. What efforts have been made to penetrate the Assad regime and try to separate the factions within it? Has any consideration been given to some reports that the chemical attack was misjudged or went wrong in some way? Did President Assad even know that it was taking place? I do not actually share the view that he is a very, very bad man. He may be a very weak man, for all we know. But we do not seem to know.

Finally, I must commend the Government for their determination to take action against a country which has broken international law. We did not do so when Iraq attacked Iran with chemical weapons. We did not do so when Iraq attacked its own people in Halabja. But this time they want to take action. Can we then hope, from now on, that the Government will call to account every country that breaks international law in the future whether or not they are our friends or allies?

9.41 pm

Lord Dobbs: My Lords, there is little fresh to be said after so many wise words this afternoon, but sometimes in the retelling an argument gains strength. I hope that the Government will listen carefully to the mood of the House today.

There is a ghost in the room. No one can reread Prime Minister Blair’s speech of 10 years ago without recoiling in despair and disbelief. The damage done by that policy makes our current Prime Minster’s task far more difficult. Sadly, our word is no longer accepted in many parts of the world, so if we claim to be acting

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on behalf of the international community we need to make very sure indeed that the international community believes us.

That brings me to the point made by my noble friend Lord Hill, our Leader, in his very fine opening speech this afternoon. He said that a strike would be solely about chemical weapons, nothing more; we would not be intervening in a civil war. But I fear that that is not how much of the world would see it. We are scarcely a disinterested party in Syria. We have stripped recognition from the Assad Government—or regime, as my noble friend Lord Tebbit would have it. We have openly talked about arming the rebels. No matter what we said, we would be seen as taking sides yet again. If we intervene in the civil war in Syria, we would be stepping ever more irrevocably into that bloody swamp of religion and political and cultural rivalries that, so sadly, is so much of the Middle East.

I do not accept that it is a choice of mounting this air strike or doing nothing. There are non-military alternatives that we really have to explore. We have heard a lot of that this afternoon. There is a new Government of sorts in Iran, and in China. The leaders of the world next week are gathering in Moscow. The weapons inspectors in Syria have not even finished their job. The world would swoon in disbelief if we attacked Syria before any of those other alternatives had been fully explored.

What happened in Syria is truly hideous, but we must resist the temptation to do something simply so that politicians can sleep soundly in their beds having done battle with their consciences. We must be cautious. Remember the lessons of the past that go back not just to Blair but to Suez and before that. I wonder whether our moral compass has been steady enough over the years so that when we drag our consciences through the sand we can expect others to stand up and salute.

We might just spend a little time in sober reflection of the fact that—as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, were talking about earlier—it was we in the West, Britain and the United States, who were the prime military suppliers to the Saddam Hussein regime when he was mounting appalling chemical attacks on Iran. I wonder whether, if we at least acknowledged that fact, it might open some of those closed doors in Tehran. While we are talking about Iran, I also wonder whether, if we strike Syria because of its chemical weapons, it means that we have to support Israel if it strikes Iran because of its nuclear capabilities. The consequences of what we do in Syria can never be confined to Syria.

I have spoken before in this House about Syria. It is late in the evening. I commend the Government for their caution and want to see very much more of it. I wish the Prime Minister and his advisers wisdom and patience and I wish the people of Syria peace.

9.45 pm

Lord Paul: My Lords, it is with a heavy heart that I rise today. As so many of your Lordships have remarked, the tragic situation in Syria deserves the most extreme condemnation from all nations. I am saddened by the willingness of certain groups in this country, the United

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States and Europe to advocate military action to punish whoever in their view is responsible for recent transgressions. To witness evil and not to fight is not credible, yet to set oneself up as judge, jury and executioner over another sovereign territory is to assume an arrogance that itself cannot be condoned. The notion that those who have the military power should intervene in others’ disputes at their own discretion could have potentially dangerous consequences, especially in regions such as south Asia. The defence of human rights, if it is sincere, is commendable, but it must be authorised by proper international procedures and sustained by wide international support if it is to be credible.

In this instance, even those who do not have an in-depth knowledge of the Syrian conflict are aware that layer upon layer of sectarianism, ethnic conflicts, tribal wars and other hatreds have been unleashed. Jumping into this turmoil seems at the very least to be lacking in wisdom and failing to recall the recent lessons of both Iraq and Afghanistan. Our international reputation is not enhanced by appearing to be trigger-happy. So many other western interventions in non-western areas since the Second World War have been disasters, such as in Vietnam, Algeria, Suez, Lebanon, Libya and Egypt, to name but a few. In these days of our own internal difficulties, we do not need more. There are many other methods—from sanctions and indirect assistance to evoking international law—that can be pursued. Let the cauldron boil if it must, but let us not voluntarily get burnt by plunging into it.

People to whom I talk, particularly in the developing nations, cannot understand why we keep taking it on ourselves to intervene in other countries’ issues. We must not forget the heavy cost in terms of those in our own armed services who lose their lives or suffer terrible injuries in these conflicts and whose families are so affected. I pay tribute to all the brave service men and women who sacrifice so much.

Finally, let us remember one sad message of history. There is no such thing as a short Middle East war. Once you are in it, you are in for a long and brutal ride. The proposed conflict fills me with a deep sense of foreboding. That is why I urge the Government to practise restraint and beware of becoming an instrument of the confrontational arrogance of others.

9.50 pm

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, it has been a privilege to hear the speeches that we have heard today, based on a rich variety of experience and introduced by my noble friend the Leader of the House: the military reality from the noble Lords, Lord Dannatt and Lord West of Spithead; diplomatic experience from the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond; and political sense from my noble friend the Marquis of Lothian. It is clear that we have cause to be thankful that Parliament was not invited today to approve direct military action against Syria, which, we are told, could have happened as early as this Sunday—in three days’ time. I am sorry to have to say this, but to me it is amazing and disquieting that until 36 hours ago the Foreign Secretary was speaking in just those terms—immediate action—and that the Prime Minister,

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apparently supported by the Deputy Prime Minister, was planning to move such a Motion today. How could this be, to vote on the issue before the United Nations weapons inspectors have even reported? We are, it seems, indebted to the leader of the Opposition that such a vote has been deferred until next week. To have voted now to unleash the missiles would have been a ghastly mistake with incalculable consequences, as a number of noble Lords have indicated. Let us be profoundly thankful that so far it has been avoided.

Have we in Britain learnt nothing? We conspired with France to generate the Suez debacle in 1956 and we invaded the wrong country—Iraq—in 2003 in the aftermath of the al-Qaeda attack of 9/11 on New York. Now it is proposed to bomb Syria to,

“restore international peace and security”,

to use the appropriate wording. Thank heaven that we have not yet done so, with the risk of total instability in the Near East and with the Israel/Palestine question never far from the surface.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, reminded us that the motivations of the United Kingdom do not always seem so noble to foreign eyes. My noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean pointed out that shock and awe do not always win friends. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, expertly explained how a legal case might be made for military action against Syria in the absence of a Security Council resolution, but is military action in the form of missile strikes what we really want? Surely now is the time for fresh diplomatic initiatives. If the Security Council is blocked by a veto from doing or discussing anything, what about the General Assembly of the United Nations? A number of noble Lords have referred to Resolution 377 in 1950 for Korea and the Uniting for Peace resolution, an approach that might be used more constructively than generating cruise missile strikes. There has to be a better way to make effective the world’s abhorrence of gas warfare and I hope that the Government can find it before the proposed second Motion in Parliament next week.

9.53 pm

Lord Shipley: My Lords, history is littered with examples of military interventions that did not work out as planned. We know from experience that things can end up worse than before. Experience also tells us that, if you have no strategy for what happens next, you should avoid intervening. The desire to respond to the atrocities in Syria is entirely understandable, but that response should be based on firm evidence, with international backing for action and with an outcome that can be predicted with a reasonable degree of certainty. The outcome of any intervention must be better, not worse, for the people of Syria. It has to save lives and shorten the civil war, not create a wider conflict in the Middle East. It is difficult to see how a military intervention will achieve any of these objectives.

The Leader of the House said earlier that the Government were right to be cautious, but I am not sure that they have been. I was puzzled earlier this week by the talk of the possible recall of Parliament, since the House of Commons is back next Monday anyway. What was the reason for the rush? We have to

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conclude that a decision in principle for imminent military action had already been made, without giving time for the UN to report. The timetable for such a course of action is very hard to understand. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will explain the timing when he replies. The UN inspection team needs a few days to complete its work and the Security Council needs the opportunity to consider its findings. What is the point of our involvement with the UN if we are not prepared to listen to its evidence and opinions? The UN Secretary-General said yesterday that we should give peace a chance. He is right. Military strikes will inevitably extend the conflict.

This debate has been constructive and detailed and has demonstrated that the reasons for intervention are unclear. Perhaps the Minister will explain in replying why the Government wish to intervene in the way that they propose. Is it just to punish the Syrian Government? If so, how will the action undertaken be a punishment? Is it to destroy chemical weapons stockpiles? It seems not. Is it to deliver regime change? It seems not. Is it to shorten the civil war? That might be the aim, but the danger is that it will lengthen it and extend its area. Is it simply a humanitarian intervention? If so, how will it prevent a further use of chemical weapons? Without people on the ground, which the Government have rightly ruled out, how will the humanitarian intervention work?

Unless the Government are much clearer about their aims and about the outcome that they want, military action will not help. It will make things worse. We should be influenced by the number of military experts, including noble Lords in this Chamber, who are counselling against intervention. We should be influenced by the fact that a majority of people in the UK are against intervention. We should be influenced by the need for the evidence of complicity by the Syrian Government to be irrefutable; we need better evidence than that it is highly likely that they were complicit at a senior level.

We also need to consider the potential role of the new Government of Iran. A number of speakers in your Lordships’ House today talked about this. Iranians have suffered the use of chemical weapons on their country and could play a much more central diplomatic role in the elimination of chemical weapons in Syria.

There is no consensus in the UK for military intervention and no consensus internationally, either. Yes, we have a duty to protect, but we also have a duty to think about all the possible unintended consequences. Many speakers today said that it was time to engage with Russia, China and Iran at a political and diplomatic level, and I agree absolutely. That is not an argument for doing nothing, but an argument for doing something that can build peace and security in Syria and in the wider Middle East.

9.58 pm

Baroness Uddin: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the very instructive contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. I speak today because I am deeply alarmed about possible military intervention in Syria. I am pleased to see that the Labour leader’s intervention has enabled a pause for us to consider further options and wait for the UN inspections.

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The pronouncement by our Foreign Secretary, William Hague, that a military strike could be allowed under international law without agreement in the UN Security Council has rightly been questioned in many quarters. The brutal and unjust war in Iraq must be echoing through the minds of many in our country and elsewhere in the world. It seems that we have failed to learn the lessons of our aggressive misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. We all witnessed the result of shock and awe. It meant that innocent men, women and children died. They were blown to smithereens by our own lethal weapons. The pictures of this were blanked out on our screens. We have surely caused evil to rise from every corner of the latent globe. The entire region is ablaze. This will cost the world economy dearly, and will leave Iraq and Afghanistan totally fractured and without any sign of stability, let alone peace and justice.

Our silence on many occasions is deafening to the cry for freedom of many oppressed people in the region. Many Muslim countries and communities I have visited say that it is all too clear to them where and why we have chosen to defend some regimes while turning the other way when demonstrators are crushed and military coups replace elected Governments. Many say that this belies any talk of protecting rights, freedoms and human life. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, that more military intervention will inevitably radicalise many.

There are three obvious bases for any military action: a UN mandate, self defence and responsibility to protect against crimes against humanity, assuming that all peaceful means have failed. In this case, a UN mandate may be blocked by the Security Council. On self defence, I have yet to hear a strong argument that Britain is directly at threat from Syria’s use of chemical weapons. Responsibility to protect requires clear and convincing evidence of what has taken place and who is responsible for what.

I ask the Government: where is that evidence? Where has it come from? What is the source? The UN Secretary-General said yesterday that we need to give diplomacy a chance and allow the inspectorate to produce its report. There seems to be an overwhelming consensus, at least in this House, to wait for that report. Can the Minister assure the House that the UK Government will await the UN report before any action is taken? The drive behind our proposed plans for a strike is focused on the responsibility to protect. That is hugely controversial, as has been said by the noble Lords, Lord Wright, Lord Jay and Lord West, among many other distinguished speakers. The arguments so far presented are flawed in their very inception. We need to allow the UN inspectors to do their jobs and to wait for their analysis.

Punitive strikes will have massive casualties. President Obama’s shot across the bows has clearly stated shortcomings. BBC reporter Jeremy Bowen remarked that a limited strike would represent merely a pinprick to the infrastructure of the Assad regime. Surely we already know the consequences of our attacks on the Iraqi civilian population.

Having heard today’s debate, I am confident that we will not allow our Government to add to the numbers of innocent children lying dead and dying. Furthermore, it would be likely to destabilise an already

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complex dynamic in the region. There is every possibility that such a strike could result in the unleashing of retaliation and counter-retaliation from a range of actors in the region: Iran, Israel, Lebanon and Hezbollah, as has been mentioned. As for further intervention to prevent humanitarian catastrophes, the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, and others have said that we are already too late. Any such move by France, Britain, the US or its regional neighbours will not stop the two-year ongoing civil war in Syria, but will certainly exacerbate it and lead to greater casualties on all sides.

Twice in the last century, after the First and Second World Wars, there was a major reshaping of the Middle East. This was done not in the interests of the people of the region but of the imperial powers and interests. The West’s ability to learn from those poor judgments has proved negligible, while the propensity to repeat those mistakes continues. Sobbing morality does not wish away the grievous and continuous impact on the present-day Middle East. We have watched Syria’s innocent dying for two years, and in a week that celebrates the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech I reflect on the line:

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”.

Today, our House has spoken. It is correct that we should do everything in our power to end the terrible suffering in the region. However, it is vital that our action must be legitimate, with clearly stated objectives. Those responsible for the poison gas attack of 21 August in Ghouta must be brought to justice sooner or later at the hands of a free, democratic Syria. I hope that we will take heed of the UN inspectors and their findings, and then return to Parliament to decide the next step.

10.04 pm

Lord James of Blackheath: My Lords, six and a half hours ago, my noble friend the Leader stood up to launch this debate and made a series of very interesting statements, of which four stuck in my memory at that time and have haunted me through the day.

First, my noble friend said that there were 3,600 hospital cases after the attack and 350 dead, but he did not say whether the 3,600 were all injured by the same condition that killed the other 350, because it was not defined whether all the injuries were caused by chemical attack or by blast bombs. He went on to say that there had been a series of attacks of artillery and mortar fire during the hours that followed but did not give an explanation.

Then we heard, thrillingly, from the noble Lord, Lord Watson, who I thought teetered on the edge of one of the most spectacular confessions in the history of television but then fell back from it. I thought for a moment that he was going to give us the reason for the artillery attack, which was of course to keep the television cameras out while they arranged the bodies of the children for the cameras to come in. I am sure that this is what has been going on.

My noble friend the Leader went on to say that there was no substance to any allegations made against the rebels for having done the attack because there was no evidence of any weapons. If my noble friend the Leader would like to put £20 on the table, I will match

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it with another £20 and we will toss which one of us goes to Waitrose tomorrow and which one to Sainsbury’s, and we will come back with the entire ingredients required to make enough ricin to wipe out the entire attendance in the House of Lords today, which reached a peak of 232—very similar to the 350 who were dead. He could always keep it of course and put it away in reserve for the day when he gets tired of his job and decides to abolish the House of Lords. This is a very easy construction; there is no massive secrecy about how to make this darned stuff. In fact, an author called Felix Francis, the son of the racing novelist, Dick Francis, has written a book in which he has very helpfully published the recipe for making ricin and provided the entire cooking instructions. It is available for about £2 and any terrorist can buy a copy of it.

I was first introduced to the whole question of this self-made device by Dr David Kelly when he was assigned to me by the SIS back in April 1989 when I had to research, identify and locate the components of the Iraqi supergun, which was initially thought to be for the delivery of poison gas. Dr Kelly explained to me very helpfully that it could not have been, because the diameter of the gun required what would have amounted to a 1 tonne shell. That was far too big for the successful and efficient distribution of nerve gas, which had to come in smaller shells because it dissipates so quickly after impact.

In these cases, we open up a whole host of questions which we need to urge upon the United Nations inspectors. We really need them to get this one put down. If we have 232 people in this Chamber today, they have been contained within an area of 3,400 square feet. We have been tightly packed but comfortable. If there were 3,600 injuries, as the Leader has said, we should be looking at 10 times that space to accommodate the gathering of people who were injured. However, if there were only 350 dead, it is inconsistent with the use of nerve gas across that whole level, because the whole impact of that nerve gas would spread out and kill most of the 3,600, so there are not enough dead to make sense in the figures that were given by the Leader.

We need the United Nations to provide us with a map of where the bodies were as accurately as it can. It could start off by buying 3,600 white-headed pins and putting one pin in the map of the area to show exactly where everybody was. After that, could it then please substitute red pins for the people who were killed by nerve gas and everything else so that we finally end up being able to see what has happened? At the end of the day, my money is very firmly on the fact that the rebels did it and not Mr Assad. We should pursue this one, otherwise we are going to be the biggest Pazzis in history in falling for this, and it is wrong.

10.09 pm