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Gifting of Equipment (Syria)

Volume 575: debated on Thursday 6 February 2014

The conflict in Syria remains catastrophic, with over 125,000 people killed and more than half the Syrian population in need of humanitarian assistance. The UK will continue to do all it can to end the conflict through a political settlement, while also alleviating humanitarian suffering and protecting UK national security.

The UK is committed to working with the moderate opposition to help develop their capacity to meet needs on the ground and to reduce suffering and to save lives, thereby also helping reduce the space for extremists to operate. In line with this approach, on 23 January, I laid before Parliament a departmental minute which set out our plans to expand a UK-funded pilot project to train and equip local council civil defence teams, enabling them to provide search and rescue, fire fighting and first aid services in areas under attack. I am pleased to present a further UK contribution of practical support to the moderate opposition, aimed at improving community policing.

The UK intends to work with international donors to provide training, technical assistance, maintenance funds, and basic equipment to the Free Syrian Police operating in opposition-controlled areas of Syria. The UK also intends to support the development of greater community oversight and monitoring of the police to help ensure that police are responsive to local needs. Through this support the UK is aiming to help improve humanitarian conditions, meet basic needs and build community resilience to counter the threat from extremist groups. If this initial phase is successful, developing the capacity of community policing could become a core aspect of the UK’s ongoing support to the opposition.

The departmental minute laid today sets out in more detail our plans to gift office and communications equipment, uniforms, and non-armoured vehicles to the Free Syrian Police. The goods will be procured, distributed and delivered by a carefully selected implementing partner. The total cost of the proposed gift is £910,000, which will be met by the Government’s Syria conflict prevention programme. Other donors, including the United States of America and Denmark, are also contributing on a similar scale and the UK’s assistance forms part of a co-ordinated approach that will help deliver the best value for money.

The gift forms part of a comprehensive UK programme of training and technical assistance worth approximately £2 million, which will be delivered by implementing partners. The training aims to build the capacity of the Free Syrian Police including through developing their strategy, planning and management mechanisms and enhancing co-ordination between Free Syrian Police units, as well as strengthening the relationship between police actors and local communities.

There is a strong need to support the Free Syrian Police, who are responsible for providing basic civilian policing in large areas of opposition-controlled territory. Police actors, local administrative councils and the National Coalition’s interim Ministers have all underlined to us the need to improve policing and security, and we have worked closely with Syrian partners and other donors to design a comprehensive programme of support.

The gift has been scrutinised to ensure that the provision of this equipment is consistent with export controls and complies with our international obligations. Recipients have been carefully selected to prevent equipment being given to those involved in extremist activities or human rights violations. All our assistance is carefully calibrated and legal, is aimed at alleviating human suffering and supporting moderate groups and is regularly monitored and evaluated. We have assessed the project for human rights risks, using the overseas security and justice assistance guidelines established by the Foreign Secretary in 2011 as part of ensuring these risks are effectively mitigated.

The Treasury has approved the proposal in principle. If, during the period of 14 parliamentary sitting days beginning on the date on which the departmental minute was laid before the House of Commons, a Member signifies an objection by giving notice of a parliamentary question or a motion relating to the minute, or by otherwise raising the matter in the House, final approval of the gift will be withheld pending an examination of the objection.