As many noble Lords have said, the UK Government must continue to urge the international community to fulfil their pledges of support for refugees and their host countries. Without more funding the Syrian Arab Red Crescent warned that 150,000 people might have to go without food in October. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, acknowledged earlier this month that the Government would clearly have to work extremely hard to make sure that the pledges to which countries have committed themselves are delivered. While she expressed pleasure that the figure had reached the £1 billion mark, she also acknowledged that aid to Syria is a question not only of funding but of humanitarian access and respect for international humanitarian law. NGOs have repeatedly raised concerns about support reaching all areas of the country in both government and rebel controlled zones. As the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, said, my noble friend Lady Kinnock referred in the same debate to the MSF view that the Syrian people are now presented with the absurd situation of chemical weapons inspectors driving freely through areas of desperate need while ambulances, food and drug supplies are blocked.

Despite Security Council agreement on access for humanitarian aid, there has been little progress. With most aid being channelled through regime controlled Damascus there is a huge risk that relief is not being provided impartially on the basis of need. As my noble friend Lady Symons said, humanitarian access from Damascus is also being impeded by bureaucratic procedures imposed by the Government of Syria, including delays in issuing visas and lengthy customs procedures, multiple checkpoints on the road and fighting and insecurity which put many brave aid workers at risk, as we have heard. Will the Minister indicate what further action the Government are considering, in concert with the international community, to encourage the Syrian Government to grant those rights of passage for humanitarian reasons?

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The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, also referred to the efforts being taken to bring forward the peace process with talks planned in November, as we have heard tonight, with the UK Government focusing efforts on bringing the opposition coalition to the talks. It is vital that these talks are carefully constructed to navigate the most likely path to peace. As we have heard, many NGOs are concerned that without a clearly planned process of moving towards ceasefires the conflict could intensify as the sides seek to establish or gain territorial advantage. Initial areas of focus should concentrate on creating openings for looking at reinforcing locally defined ceasefires, as so ably expressed by the right reverend Prelate, and creating opportunities for wider ceasefires and humanitarian causes. As the right reverend Prelate said, Geneva II should seek to establish a process of negotiation and efforts towards building the foundations of peace through inclusive talks, civil society engagement and establishing conditions for ceasefires in a much broader context.

Of course, a political solution is urgently needed to stop the fighting and to bring an end to the humanitarian crisis. However, until agreement is reached we cannot afford to stand idly by as the tremendous suffering of men, women and children continues.

9.45 pm

Lord Bates (Con): My Lords, I am pleased to answer this Question for Short Debate, and would like to thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry for raising this very important issue and giving the House a timely opportunity to view what is currently being done and what needs to be done. In his introduction he used the term “catastrophe”, which pretty well sums up our view of what is happening there.

If noble Lords will bear with me I should like to update the House briefly on what Her Majesty’s Government are doing on the ground and then devote the vast majority of time to responding to as many of the questions as possible that have been raised by noble Lords. The Government are gravely concerned about the situation in Syria and across the region, and the UK has rightly been at the forefront of the humanitarian response. I would like to highlight three aspects in particular: our comprehensive funding approach, our efforts to improve the effectiveness of the international response, and our ground-breaking work to help avert a lost generation of Syrian children.

The UK’s total funding to Syria and the region is now half a billion pounds. Our support has reached hundreds of thousands of people across all 14 governorates of Syria, as well as Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. It is providing food for almost 320,000 people, improved water and sanitation services to more than 1.2 million people, and medical consultations to more than 315,000 people. We are working with partners to ensure that our own and the international response addresses the immediate and longer-term development needs of Syrians and host communities. The UK has taken a leading role on the international stage. Following UK lobbying at the G20 and the UN General Assembly, $1 billion in new funding has been pledged by the international community. The UK also spearheaded efforts to improve the leadership and co-ordination of the humanitarian response and to improve humanitarian

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access into Syria. It is unacceptable that humanitarian organisations are deliberately prevented from reaching those in need.

The UK also lobbied strongly for the recent UN Security Council presidential statement which aims to secure safe, unhindered access inside Syria. We will continue to work with the UN and others to implement the actions set out in the presidential statement.

The UK has recognised the disproportionate impact that the conflict has had and continues to have on Syria’s children, to which many noble Lords referred. More than 3 million Syrian children have been affected by the fighting and 1 million Syrian children are now refugees. The UK will not stand by while a whole generation is lost to the conflict, which has now been going on for more than two years. That is why we have put in place a new £30 million lost generation initiative to provide education, protection and trauma care to children affected by the crisis. We are working with UNICEF and others on a comprehensive strategy to meet the needs of children in Syria and the region.

I turn to the remarks initially made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry. He raised a number of specific issues and I shall try to respond to as many of them as I can. He referred to the importance of ensuring that people honour the commitments made at the G20 and the UN General Assembly. It is imperative that that happens, but what pressure can we put on them other than leading by example? Many noble Lords referred to the commitment of this Government of $784 million in aid, which is the second largest donation. Several noble Lords asked what other countries were doing in this regard. It may be of interest to the noble Lord, Lord Empey, who mentioned Russia, that it has provided $32.8 million. My noble friend Lady Berridge referred to France, which has provided $69 million. We will come back to the point that much more needs to be done, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said. Although vast sums are being poured in, the need is far greater, and only 40% of the pledged total has been reached so far.

Lord Empey: I am sorry to interrupt, but we should perhaps have mentioned the Chinese. I would be very interested to know what they are doing, as they are making plenty of money out of us and everybody else at the moment.

Lord Bates: I thank the noble Lord for his comment. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, referred to the importance of Asian countries doing much more in this area. That is absolutely right—not just with aid but in the UN Security Council. The point is well made.

The right reverend Prelate talked about the impact on neighbouring countries. Several noble Lords referred to that and to the special pressure that it puts on those countries. Host Governments and communities have generously welcomed refugees. This has produced huge strains in neighbouring countries on services such as water supplies and education as well as on labour and rental markets. The UK is providing £167 million to meet the needs of refugees and host communities. We are working closely with the UN to support the development of an integrated approach to ensure that neighbouring countries continue to get the support that they need.

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The right reverend Prelate and my noble friend Lady Berridge referred to the impact of refugees and asked whether Her Majesty’s Government would consider hosting refugees. The UK currently has no plans to resettle or offer temporary protection to Syrians at this time. The UK believes that the immediate priority should be to provide humanitarian assistance to displaced people in partnership with neighbouring countries and the UNHCR. With more than 2 million people now having been displaced from Syria, regional protection is the only realistic means by which the rights of the vast majority of displaced persons can be safeguarded. Accordingly, that should be our focus.

The right reverend Prelate also talked about the bureaucratic complexity faced on the ground. That is a big challenge. On the one hand, there is a sense of urgency—one wants the aid to get where it is needed as fast as possible—but it is also important to ensure that there is accountability for the funds that are being spent, and that there are robust systems. That is a very difficult balance to maintain but it is one that is certainly being pursued.

Noble Lords asked what percentage of the UK effort is directed to meeting emergency needs. All the UK’s humanitarian assistance at the moment is directed towards alleviating the emergency humanitarian crisis.

The right reverend Prelate asked about the recent comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Amos. We fully support the UN Under-Secretary-General’s call for reinvigorated efforts to find an end to the conflict and all that she is doing to seek to provide safe access. It is right for the House to pay tribute to one of our own—I think we can still say—who is doing such an immensely important job on the world stage at present.

My noble friend Lady Jenkin, who makes a significant contribution in her role as a trustee of UNICEF UK, raised the issue of sexual and gender-based violence. The UK is supporting survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, for example by providing clinical care and case management for 12,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan. We are also providing support to affected households and strengthening confidential support networks for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. We work to ensure that the needs of women and girls are specifically factored into humanitarian programmes and urge others to do so. When we make great policy statements of this nature, my noble friend Lady Jenkin, as she so often does, reduces the macro down to the micro. Her recounting of the story of Alma brought home the horror of this type of violence.

It is important that in the refugee camps there is greater resourcing and training, particularly for the Jordanian police, to enable them to take a greater role in the camps. There are also some fairly simple solutions, such as ensuring that we have proper lighting in the latrine areas and on routes and pathways.

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As a distinguished former Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, has a great deal of understanding in these areas. She specifically mentioned Archbishop Yohanna. I know that my honourable friend Alistair Burt, the former Minister, did a lot of work in this area and was in contact regularly. Officials are in contact with the office of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, seeking to negotiate the safe release of Archbishop Yohanna and other clerics, who are now routinely being taken hostage.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, referred to Iran. He asked whether NGOs would be able to attend the Geneva II negotiations. I am afraid that there are no plans for that at the moment. But if the work of Geneva II is to be sustained on the ground, it is vital that it is a partnership.

The noble Lord, Lord Empey, said that the West does not do the Middle East well—to which we might all answer that nobody does the Middle East well. If there is to be a lasting, peaceful solution, it will be for the people of the Middle East, who understand the Middle East, to find it.

My noble friend Lady Berridge mentioned child protection. We are supporting the regional protection programme but UNICEF is in the lead on these matters. Reconciliation seems a long way off at the moment but it is right to keep the focus on it. Before there can be reconciliation, there needs to be truth, as well as justice for those who have perpetrated these crimes against humanity.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred to hospitality and asked whether enough was being done. The answer is no, enough is not being done. Much more needs to be done.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, who has immense expertise in this area, talked about the problems that are being faced. I note his endorsement of Special Envoy Brahimi and his potential to offer a breakthrough at the Geneva II negotiations next year.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, gave a moving speech. When he recounted how Justin Forsyth, the head of Save the Children, who must have seen so many horrors around the world, found himself shocked, that brought home to all of us the catastrophe in the region.

In conclusion, the British Government are committed to continuing to support the needs of those affected by the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the region. However, in a country where more people are now displaced than any other, where it costs $30 million a week to meet the food needs of those affected, and in a crisis where the appeals remain chronically underfunded, the international community needs to do much more. That is the message of this debate, which is wholeheartedly echoed by Her Majesty’s Government.

House adjourned at 9.59 pm.