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Volume 615: debated on Tuesday 18 October 2016

I spoke to Dr Riad Hijab, the general co-ordinator of the Syrian High Negotiations Committee, on 6 October and again on 13 October. We discussed the importance of the Syrian opposition’s continued commitment to the political process.

What importance does my right hon. Friend attach to countries in the region in bringing together the Syrian opposition?

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend. As the House may know, on 7 September we had a meeting in London, together with the High Negotiations Committee led by Dr Riad Hijab, of the interested parties in the region. He set out what I think was a very compelling case for a post-Assad Syria with a broad-based Government and pluralist democracy. I think they have a plan for 30% female representation in their politics, which is perhaps better even than the Labour party. He answers one of the key questions: is there a future for Syria after Assad? There most certainly is—and a great one, too.

Order. I am saving the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) up. I call Alison McGovern.

It is not just the Syrian opposition but Syrian civil society and non-governmental organisations in this country who are calling for our Government to lead on a comprehensive strategy to protect civilians, including a no-bombing zone. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that our Government will now take a lead in considering this strategy?

I pay tribute to the forcefulness with which the hon. Lady has advocated this course. I must say that I wish that, three years ago, the then Labour Opposition had been as resolute in wishing to see that kind of engagement to protect the people of Syria. A critical decision was taken then, as the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) well remembers, which has made things much more difficult for us today. I want to see the will of this House clearly expressed in support of what the hon. Lady has said.

The fact of the matter is that with America increasingly absorbed by a sometimes surreal presidential election, France and Germany facing elections of their own next year, Secretary Kerry soon to leave office and a change of leadership at the UN, a degree of paralysis has entered into the negotiation process on Syria—

Order. I rather thought that the right hon. Gentleman had finished. That was a fairly long inquiry, but if he has a short sentence, will he please blurt it out?

I thought my right hon. Friend’s question was excellent. It goes to the heart of what is happening at the moment. As I said earlier, the space vacated by western powers has been occupied, I am afraid, by the Russians. We need to do whatever we can now to put pressure on the Russians—through sanctions, through the threat of the International Criminal Court—[Interruption.] Indeed, and through measures such as the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) suggests from a sedentary position. These measures are already in place in this country.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that although many people in Syria and in the aid agencies can understand the sort of bombastic bluster that he is so good at, the fact is that serious diplomacy will require a calm, rational approach if we are to secure peace in Syria?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman but, alas, I think that what is really needed at this stage is a tough approach, because the primary cause of the suffering of the people of Aleppo is the Syrian regime. That is overwhelmingly responsible for the deaths of 400,000 people in the conflict so far. That regime is backed by its Russian puppeteers, and it would be a fatal mistake if we were now to lose sight of that priority, and to give up on applying the pressure that is needed on Russia and its Syrian clients.