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Volume 586: debated on Monday 20 October 2014

Britain is making a significant contribution to the international coalition to defeat ISIL: training Kurdish forces and gifting and delivering more than 320 tonnes of weapons, ammunition and other military equipment. Since the vote in this House, the Royal Air Force has flown 37 combat missions, conducting 10 successful strikes, providing valuable intelligence and surveillance, and helping to halt ISIL’s advance.

I accept that there are no guarantees, but will my right hon. Friend assure the House that all measures will be taken to avoid civilian casualties from air strikes?

Yes, the United Kingdom seeks to avoid civilian casualties. All air strikes are conducted under UK rules of engagement, which I have agreed for this campaign in accordance with the law. Close observation, careful selection and approval of targets before a strike, and the use of precision weapons, such as Brimstone and Paveway, minimise collateral damage and the potential for civilian casualties, in stark contrast with ISIL’s complete disregard for human life.

The moderate Syrian opposition continues to fight a two-fronted battle against a brutal dictator on one side and the ISIL extremists on the other. Are the Government actively reassessing their refusal to support these boots on the ground with the weapons that they need?

The decision to authorise military action in Syria is a matter for this House, and we have made it clear that we would return to Parliament for that authority if we wanted to proceed there. We are already considering the assistance that we might be able to give to help to train moderate Syrian forces and Syrian communities in self-defence, and we are looking now with our allies in the region as to how and where that training could be provided.

RAF Waddington is in my constituency of Lincoln, and many personnel, some of whom I know personally, and assets of the RAF used in any international effort against ISIL are based or controlled from there. Will my right hon. Friend therefore give an update on the work to replace the runway, and will the base be fully operational as planned and well in time to see a return of the international air show at Waddington in 2016?

I certainly appreciated my visit to RAF Waddington earlier in the summer. Work on the runway has now begun, and it will be for the review of air shows early next year to decide where they can be supported, but I very much hope that the Waddington air show will be able to return in 2016.

The excellent work of our armed forces is being undermined by the number of British citizens who are travelling to Syria and Iraq to fight for ISIL. The numbers are now put at more than 500 from the United Kingdom, and at more than 1,000 throughout the EU. What steps is the right hon. Gentleman taking to work with our partners to try to prevent our respective citizens from travelling abroad to fight?

The right hon. Gentleman will know better than anybody the work that is being done by the Home Secretary and the Home Office in this regard, stepping up the number of checks that can be made and making sure that those here are deterred from making that journey to fight for ISIL, which as a proscribed organisation therefore involves a criminal offence.

I fully understand the need for democratic support expressed by the House for any military action, and furthermore I have no desire whatever to see our deploying troops either in Iraq or in Syria, but may I gently say to my right hon. Friend, while congratulating him on his relatively new position, that it is important in any military campaign not to rule anything out, because that gives away a great deal to our opponents?

I hope that it is clear to the House, as the Prime Minister emphasised during the debate, that ISIL can be defeated only in Syria and in Iraq. With the RAF and our own action in Iraq, we have plenty to do to help to check the advance of ISIL, but ISIL’s personnel, equipment and supply routes lie further back in Syria, and it is important therefore that it is countered there, which is why we welcome and support the US and other coalition air strikes that have taken place in Syria.

What is the Secretary of State’s assessment of the levels of Arab countries’ support for military action against ISIL, in equipment and troops that have been provided, and, equally as importantly, politically?

Political support for the coalition’s efforts is extremely important, particularly from the countries neighbouring Iraq and Syria, as I have stressed on my visits to the Gulf. Five countries have already participated in air strikes—the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar. It is very important that the action is seen not simply as British, American or western, but as a regional battle against the advance of ISIL.