Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Conservative)
My Lords, in debating the Motion before your Lordships today, I will set out the Government’s position on developments in Iraq. The question before the
House of Commons today, and the debate for us to contribute to, is how we keep the British people safe from the threat posed by ISIL and, in particular, what role our Armed Forces should play in the international coalition to dismantle and ultimately destroy what President Obama has rightly called “this network of death”.
There is no more serious issue than asking our Armed Forces to put themselves in harm’s way to protect our country. I will set out today why the Government believe that that is necessary. If we are to do this, there is a series of questions that must be answered. Is this in our national interest? In particular, is there a direct threat to the British people? Is there a comprehensive plan for dealing with this threat? Is the military element necessary? Is it necessary for us to take part in military action? Is it legal for us to take part? Will we be doing so with the support of local partners? Will doing this add up to a moral justification for putting the lives of British service men and women on the line? Above all, do we have a clear idea of what a successful outcome will look like, and are we convinced that our strategy can take us there? I will address each of these questions head on.
First, on our national interest, is there a threat to the British people? The simple answer to that question is yes. ISIL has already murdered one British hostage and is threatening the lives of two more. The first ISIL-inspired terrorist acts in Europe have already taken place, with the attack on the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels. Security services have disrupted six other known plots in Europe, as well as foiling a terrorist attack in Australia aimed at civilians, including British and American tourists.
ISIL is a terrorist organisation unlike those with which we have dealt before. The brutality is staggering: beheadings, crucifixions, the gouging out of eyes, the use of rape as a weapon and the slaughter of children. All these things belong to the dark ages, but it is not just the brutality. ISIL is backed by billions of dollars and has captured an arsenal of the most modern weapons. In the space of a few months, ISIL has taken control of territory greater than the size of Britain, and is making millions selling oil to the Assad regime. It has already attacked Lebanon and boasts of its designs right up to the Turkish border. This is not a threat on the far side of the world. Left unchecked, we will face a terrorist caliphate on the shores of the Mediterranean and bordering a NATO member, with a declared and proven determination to attack our country and our people. This is not the stuff of fantasy. It is happening in front of us and we need to face up to it.
Is there a clear, comprehensive plan? The answer, again, is yes. It starts at home, with tough, uncompromising action to prevent attacks and hunt down those who are planning them. We are introducing new powers. These include strengthening our ability to seize passports and to stop suspects travelling, stripping British nationality from dual-nationals and ensuring that airlines comply with our no-fly list. In all this, we are being clear about the cause of the terrorist threat we face. As the Prime Minister has said, that means defeating the poisonous ideology of extremism by
tackling all forms of extremism, not just non-violent extremism, so we are banning preachers of hate, proscribing organisations that incite terrorism and stopping people inciting hatred in our schools, universities and prisons.
Of course, some will say, “Any action you take will further radicalise young people”. That is a counsel of despair. The threat of radicalisation is already here. Young people are leaving our country to fight with these extremists. We must take action at home, but we must also have a comprehensive strategy to defeat these extremists abroad. This involves using all the resources at our disposal: humanitarian efforts, which Britain is already leading to help those displaced by ISIL’s onslaught; diplomatic efforts, to engage the widest possible coalition of countries in the region as part of this international effort; and, at the United Nations, leading the process of condemning ISIL, disputing the flows of finance to ISIL and forging a global consensus about preventing the movement of foreign fighters.
This strategy also involves political efforts to support the creation of a new and genuinely inclusive Government in Iraq and to bring about a transition of power in Syria that can lead to a new representative and accountable Government in Damascus who can take the fight to ISIL. Yes, there is one part in all this activity in which we believe our military has an indispensable role to play, so I will turn to the question of why.
Why is the military element necessary? A military conflict is already taking place. ISIL has taken territory and is butchering people in Iraq. Iraqi, including Kurdish, security forces, are already fighting ISIL. We have to decide whether we will support them. This Government believe that we should. If we are to beat these terrorists, it is vital that the international community does more to build the capability of the legitimate authorities fighting extremists. Along with our European partners, Britain has already been supplying equipment directly to Kurdish forces. We are strengthening the resilience of military forces in neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan, and our Tornado and surveillance aircraft have already been helping with intelligence-gathering and logistics to support American strikes on ISIL in Iraq. However, the Iraqi Government want more direct assistance. Earlier this week, the Iraqi Foreign Minister wrote to the United Nations Security Council requesting military assistance to support his own Government’s actions against ISIL. When the Prime Minister met Prime Minister Abadi in New York on Wednesday, he reiterated that request to him. In Iraq, the real work of destroying ISIL will be for Iraqi security forces, but they need our military help and it is in our interests, and theirs, to give it.
The next question is: does Britain, specifically, need to take part in this international action? Again, the answer is yes. The international coalition needs our help, in particular with the vital work being done in terms of air strikes. Britain has unique assets that no other coalition ally can contribute: the Brimstone precision missile system, which minimises the risk of civilian causalities and which the US does not have; our unique surveillance and intelligence capabilities; and our highly professional forces, which are well used
to working with their US counterparts. Those are some of the reasons why President Obama has made it clear to the Prime Minister that America wants Britain to join the air action in Iraq, which has been under way for several weeks now. But it is also our duty to take part. This international operation is about protecting our people, too, and protecting the streets of Britain should not be a task that we are prepared to subcontract entirely to the air forces of our allies.
I turn now to the question of legality. The Attorney-General has given his advice on the action that we propose to take. There is a clear legal base for UK military action to help Iraq defend itself from ISIL. A summary of this legal position is being placed in the Library.
The Iraqi Government have requested our help and given their clear consent for UK military action. There is no question about this. We have the letter from the Iraqi Government to the UN Security Council, to which I have already referred. We have the public statements from Prime Minister Abadi and President Masoum. We have the personal request made to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the full UN Security Council by Prime Minister Abadi in New York on Wednesday. There is no question that we have the legal basis for action, founded on the request of the Iraqi Government.
The next question is whether we will be acting with the support of local partners. Again, this is clearly the case. We have a substantial international coalition in place, including Arab nations, committed to confronting and defeating ISIL. Sixty countries are acting in some way to help tackle ISIL. Of those, 10 are Arab states. Five have already taken part in air strikes with the Americans in Syria. Even regional powers such as Iran are publicly condemning the extremists. Yesterday in New York, President Rouhani said that parts of the Middle East are,
“burning in the fire of extremism and radicalism”,
and expressed deep regret that terrorism has become globalised. Of course, our differences with Iran remain. Iran’s support for terrorist organisations, its nuclear programme and the treatment of its people all have to change, and we will not back down on those things. But if Iran’s political leaders are prepared to help secure a more stable and inclusive Iraq and Syria, we should welcome their engagement.
We have a comprehensive strategy for action, with the political, diplomatic, humanitarian and military components that it needs to succeed over time. We have a clear request from the Iraqi Government for assistance; a clear basis in international law for action; a substantial international coalition, including many Arab partners; and the need to act in our own national interest to protect our people. It is morally right that we now move to a new phase of action by asking our Armed Forces to take part in international air strikes against ISIL in Iraq, and we must do so now.
We are very clear about what success would look like. We would see a stable Iraq and, over time, a stable Syria as well; and ISIL will have been degraded and then destroyed as a serious terrorist force. However, we should not expect this to happen quickly. The hallmarks of this campaign will be patience and
persistence, not shock and awe. We are not deploying British combat troops but providing air power in support of local forces on the ground. No British or western troops will occupy Iraq, and many other elements will be needed for long-term success: the need for an inclusive Iraqi Government and for the Sunni tribes to rise up against ISIL; and the need for a Syrian Government who represent all their people. Even after ISIL has been dealt with, we should be in no doubt that future Prime Ministers and future British Governments will stand at this Dispatch Box dealing with this issue of Islamist extremism in different forms and in different parts of the world.
ISIL has sprung up quickly, and around the world we see the mayhem caused by other groups: Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabaab in Somalia and al-Qaeda in Yemen. We are dealing here with a generational struggle caused by the perversion of one of the world’s great religions—Islam—but I have no doubt that it is one that this country is more than equal to.
I will say a few words about Syria. Syria is where ISIL has its headquarters and large numbers of its fighters, and where it holds British hostages. People will rightly ask why we are taking military action against ISIL in Iraq but not in Syria. Let me be clear about the Government’s position on this: there is a strong case for the UK joining in international action against ISIL in Syria. ISIL must be defeated in both Iraq and Syria. We support the air strikes being conducted by the United States and five Arab nations against ISIL in Syria but today we are discussing only the action that the UK proposes to take in Iraq. The Government will return to the House of Commons for a separate decision if we propose to take military action against ISIL in Syria.
In this Government’s view, the legal position is clear: there is a legal case for action in Syria, as there is in Iraq. However, the whole House is aware that there are a number of additional complications with regard to Syria. There is no legitimate Government there, a civil war is under way and there are regional and international angles that do not apply in Iraq. So the Government will return to the House of Commons on this issue if they judge it necessary to do so.
To conclude, it is inevitable that the shadow of the United Kingdom’s previous military involvement in Iraq hangs heavy over both Houses of Parliament today. However, the situation we face today is very different. We are acting in response to a direct appeal from the sovereign Government of Iraq to help them deal with a mortal terrorist threat to Iraq and to Britain. We are not acting alone, but as part of an international coalition of 60 countries, many of them from the region and all of them committed to rolling back ISIL, however long and difficult the task may be. This is not 2003 and we must not use past mistakes as an excuse for indifference or inaction.
We will play our part in destroying these evil extremists. We will support our Muslim friends around the world as they reclaim their religion. Once again, our inspirational Armed Forces will put themselves in harm’s way to keep our people safe. I pay tribute to their extraordinary bravery and service. I commend the Motion to the House. I beg to move.
Lord Stone of Blackheath (Labour)
My Lords, in medicine, as the noble Lord, Lord Sterling, pointed out, removing a localised, potentially lethal growth surgically will be good for the body only if, alongside that, the whole organism is nourished and cared for with love so that it recovers after the operation. We know from our own history that vicious tyranny in our own darker times was ended over a long period, not by interference from outside but the will of the people in the region.
My point is that surgical air strikes from outside alone will not work in the long term for the people we wish to help in the region. There needs to be, alongside the military strategy, a political, economic and social plan for the region, creating jobs and extending education, involving the key players and listening mindfully to all the people in that whole region. What do they want? By the whole region I mean both in the south, including north Africa and the Middle East, and all the way up to the north, including Syria and Iraq.
We know that within this region the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran have huge influence and, were they each to play a positive role for the people there, this would make a huge difference. So here, in three minutes, I will suggest two grand initiatives, alongside the proposed intervention, to settle the whole region within a year. The first in the south is an example of what happens after air strikes. I have been privileged to be in discussions over these past few months while I have been in Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Egypt. They have been developing a regional plan to end the war there in talks involving Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine and Israel, whereby the first four of those—the local Arab countries—agree to demilitarise Gaza, with the promise of, say, $50 billion from donors to reconstruct and heal the strip for the benefit of all the people there, and to link this with projects in the West Bank. Israel then feels safe, and Gaza is therefore able to have a sea port, airport and open access. Then the Arab peace initiative, first proposed by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, becomes a real basis for Israel to be recognised by 22 Arab countries, including Palestine; and for Israel to recognise Palestine.
Egypt is key in all this, as the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, described so well. President el-Sisi’s positive statement to the UN Security Council this week shows that it has an appetite to play a bigger role. Saudi Arabia is having a donor conference at which it hopes to raise $100 billion for Egypt. If it can follow it through a safe and secure mechanism, perhaps the Middle East Centre for Civic Involvement, MECCI—which I have earlier described in your Lordships’ House—could ensure that the funds for Egypt go into projects that will help its people. In the short and medium term, they could gain employment and training while, in the long term, they form institutions and infrastructure for the benefit of all Egyptian people.
The second project I suggest is focused on the north of the region and is about Iran. Yes, we must be firm with Iran on the nuclear question, but being firm does not mean ostracising it. America, France, Germany and others, at the same time as talking tough and negotiating hard, are now discussing and planning in Iran the type of constructive business and trade that could be done were Iran to comply with the requests made of its nuclear programme. Again, with the wise counsel of the noble Lord, Lord Alliance, together with a senior Iranian Ayatollah, we are in discussions with great, skilful, innovative companies here in the UK, which could be doing business with Iran and helping its people to be involved in the long-term growth and development of their own country and the region. I propose that we at least make a scoping trade visit to Iran this year, and work with it as partners in trade so that it can also help resolve the ISIL issue.
On the first proposal, about Saudi Arabia and the regional solutions for the Middle East and north Africa, we should support the World Economic Forum and its MENA team, as we did with its Breaking the Impasse project on Israel and Palestine. They will be discussing this plan next month, and taking it forward in their annual event soon. On the second proposal, about Iran and trade, I am asking Her Majesty’s Government to help facilitate, without breaking any sanctions, an exploratory trade visit to Iran this year.