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Volume 602: debated on Tuesday 24 November 2015

I discussed the situation in Syria with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov at the two recent meetings of the International Syria Support Group in Vienna. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also discussed Syria with President Putin in the margins of the G20 summit in Antalya last weekend.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that when ISIL represents the most immediate threat to our national security, we should target its headquarters in Syria instead of leaving military action there to other countries?

I think my hon. Friend well knows my views and those of the Prime Minister on this issue. We believe that it is morally unacceptable to outsource to others an action that is essential to the defence of the United Kingdom and UK citizens around the world. That is why we are seeking to build a consensus in this House for taking military action against Daesh in Raqqa.

On the situation in Syria, has the Foreign Secretary seen the letter in today’s The Times in which nearly 200 Islamic scholars have denounced ISIS terror in the strongest possible terms? That is the sort of propaganda we should use, and the Foreign Office should use it in different parts of the world. Should we not make it perfectly clear, as those scholars have, that the atrocities in Paris have nothing to do with the wicked west? We went to war over Kosovo in order to protect Muslims—and we were right to do so.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Our position is a moral one. We are defending the right of people—whether they be Christians, Yazidis, Jews or Muslims—to practise their religion freely against a tyranny that imposes its view by beheadings, rapes and mass deportations. We must end this terror. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that a vital tool in our armoury is the very substantial body of thoughtful, moderate Islamic scholarship around the world. We need to ensure—and when I say “we”, I mean all nations of good will, as this has to be led essentially by the Muslim countries of the world—that that moderate view prevails. We need to help the Muslims of the world reclaim their religion from the extremists.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of this morning’s appalling news that a Russian bomber has been shot down by a NATO country, Turkey? Is that not potentially extremely dangerous, given that nothing like that happened during the whole of the cold war period? If we are to get a solution in the north of Syria and Iraq, we have to look to building a moderate Sunni regime there. We may have to go back at the end of the war to redraw the boundaries drawn up by Sykes-Picot.

Our view, and the strong view of, I think, all our partners and allies, is that we need to preserve the territorial integrity of Syria. I can promise my hon. Friend that if we start opening up boundaries in the region, we will prolong the agony.

As for the reports that have been coming in this morning of the shooting down of what was possibly a Russian air force jet near the Turkish-Syrian border, we are seeking further details urgently in both Moscow and Ankara. Clearly this was potentially a serious incident, but I do not think it would be wise to comment any further until we have more certainty about the facts.

Following its shockingly brutal attacks in Paris, no one doubts that we must defeat Daesh in both Iraq and Syria, and that that must be linked to the urgent need for a peace plan to end the Syrian civil war. When does the Foreign Secretary expect a decision to be reached on which opposition groups will take part in the talks that are due to start on 1 January, and what is his current assessment of the chances of securing a ceasefire during the discussions about the formation of a transitional Government?

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, both those issues—the ceasefire and the definition of the opposition groups who will take part in the talks—have been at the heart of the International Syria Support Group’s work. Working groups have been tasked with drawing up an agreed list of opposition participants, and I hope that when the ISSG next meets—we expect it to do so during the second week of December—we shall be able to approve a list. However, I should emphasise that there are still some differences among members of the support group. The Russians and the Iranians do not necessarily take the same view of who is an acceptable interlocutor as many of our other partners.

The unanimous agreement of United Nations Security Council resolution 2249 last Friday was a significant moment in the fight against Daesh, because the world community has come together to fight this evil using, in the words of the resolution, “all necessary measures”. What is the Foreign Secretary’s latest assessment of how Daesh’s base in Syria is contributing to and co-ordinating threats both to its neighbours and to the rest of the world, as we have seen recently and tragically in the killings in France, the suicide bombings in Lebanon and Turkey, the blowing up of the Russian airliner, and, of course, the killing of British tourists in Tunisia?

As the Prime Minister has said on many occasions, there is no doubt that the head of this multi-tentacled monster is in Raqqa in Syria. Its logistics, its controlling brain and its strategic communications, which are extremely effective, are all run from that headquarters. We will not destroy it by cutting off its limbs; we can destroy it only by going for the head and the heart. I should add that while some of the activity that is being conducted around the world in the name of ISIL is clearly directed from Raqqa, in other cases it is inspired by ISIL propaganda but not directly controlled from Raqqa, so it is a mixture.