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Baroness Angela Smith of Basildon, Shadow Leader of the Lords

Response to Prime Ministers statement on Syria
House of Lords, 26th November 2015
My Lords I am grateful to the Noble Lady for repeating the Prime Ministers
statement; and also welcome the publication of the Prime Ministers response to
Foreign Affairs Committee. Both are of necessity, detailed and cover a range of issues
which all members of Your Lordships House will wish to consider and reflect on.
The first duty of any government is the safety, the security and the wellbeing of its
My party does not take an isolationist or non-interventionist position, and we have
never been reluctant to use force when it has been deemed necessary.
I understand and appreciate how difficult it is when making such judgements to
ensure that decisions are right and fair and actions justified.
Our interventions as a Labour Government in 1999 to protect Muslim Kosovo
Albanians from genocide by Milosevic and in Macedonia in 2001 were central and
crucial to the protection of citizens and supporting peace.
We used military action in Sierra Leone to bring order and stability and we still have
British citizens there playing a central role in building and maintaining that stability.
And we have provided military support in times of humanitarian crisis for example
fighting Ebola across West Africa.
My Lords Your Lordships House, Parliament as a whole and indeed the general
public are convinced of the evil and brutality of ISIL. They are very aware and well
informed of the atrocities. Paris brought it so close to home that not only are ISIL
willing and apparently rejoicing in causing death, terror and mayhem but that they
have the capacity to do so.
And if anyone has any doubts that such attacks will continue you only have to look at
the videos and messages posted on line as recently as last night they are chilling,
frightening and must increase our determination to protect our citizens.
Our efforts must focus on a comprehensive strategy to tackle not just the actions of
ISIL but also the environment which encourages such views to develop. And we have

to support the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the UK who themselves

challenge and reject such violent interpretation of their religion and culture.
That is why any strategy to defeat ISIL has to be so much more than military action
My Lords, as we know the UK is already engaged militarily, providing intelligence and
logistical support to our allies, who are flying missions over Syria. We are directly
involved in targeted military bombing in Iraq. And we must judge any proposed
extension of UK involvement by the wider support it can gain, by the contribution
that it would make to the chances of success, and by the additional capacity it would
Any proposals brought forward must also be judged against how it contributes to the
future transition towards peace and stability, and the protection and security of our
citizens in the UK. But there are also broader issues. There is not just a war to be won
there is also a peace to be won.
The issues raised by the Foreign Affairs committee are focused on the issue of
extending military operations, and identified seven challenges to the Government
that should be addressed before the Prime Minister should ask House of Commons
to consider this.
When the Report was published a month ago, the Foreign Affairs Committee was not
convinced that the Government would be able to provide convincing answers to the
points raised. Of course, we will all want to consider the Prime Ministers answers
and the Committees response.
The conflict in the region is not straightforward. Indeed, it is complex. The civil war
in Syria hasnt just meant the physical collapse of a country, its also meant the
absolute collapse of society. The skills and the commitment to peace of those who
have been forced to leave their homeland and become refuges will be needed to
build the future.
So when the extension of air strikes on strategic targets to Syria is considered it must
be as part of a political, diplomatic, humanitarian and economic strategy.
We will seek reassurances that the Government fully understands and will be
engaged in and committed to working closely with countries in the region to work
towards the reconstruction and peace process. The Vienna talks are vital. Whatever
the difficulties, that framework and bringing together so many countries provides
some movement toward political and diplomatic progress.

I have just a few questions for the Noble Lady that I hope she can address
Can she say what assessment has been made of any direct threat to British citizens
from ISIL?
Can the NL be clear about the additional capacity British participation would bring
militarily, given the support that is already being provided?
Has any assessment been made of the impact of UK involvement in terms of the
success of the objectives of military engagement?
Can she confirm whether the Service Chiefs of Staff been able to participate
directly in the decision making process by providing expert strategic advice?
My Lords, she will understand the concerns about any possible unintended
consequences of increased military action, particularly regarding civilian casualties.
Can she also say something about the impact of military action in Iraq, and civilian
casualties in Iraq as a result of UK actions?
The Governments response says that a political solution to the Syria conflict is
finally a realistic prospect following the establishment of International Syria Support
Group and the Vienna talks. This is going to be a difficult process. The statement
rightly states that this issue must not be reduced to a choice between Assad and ISIL.
But can she say something more about the longer terms future of Assad and how
the British Government can achieve its objectives, given the atrocities that he and
his government have been responsible for?
Finally, can she say something further about the legal basis for military action
following the UNSC meeting on 20th November?
My Lords todays statement will obviously be considered carefully over the coming
days before the Prime Minister brings any motion before Parliament. These are not
issues on which Your Lordships House has a vote, but I do hope that given the
experience and wisdom here in the military, diplomatic, political and humanitarian
areas, that we will have an opportunity for an early debate. Can I urge that the
Prime Minister consults with those in this House whose expertise will be of great