Skip to main content


Volume 745: debated on Wednesday 22 May 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what circumstances they consider would justify an escalation of action by external Governments in Syria.

My Lords, we have continually escalated our involvement in Syria in response to the deteriorating situation. The conflict has now reached catastrophic proportions: 80,000 people have been killed, and millions have fled their homes. In response, we have committed an additional £30 million for humanitarian assistance and doubled our support to the moderate opposition to £20 million. We strongly support the US-Russia plan to convene an international conference with both the opposition and the Syrian regime.

My Lords, with respect to the Minister, that does not answer my Question. Does she agree that lifting the arms embargo would be the first dangerous step towards military intervention, which could only worsen the situation and would not solve the problem in Syria? Will she urge the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary to redouble their efforts for a political solution and, above all, to do nothing that would jeopardise it?

I agree with the noble Lord that the only way in which this matter will eventually be resolved will be through a political solution. It is important that we bear in mind the change in circumstances. As the noble Lord is aware, we have at stages changed the way that the arms embargo has been applied. We started by providing very basic equipment such as cameras and satellite phones, and training, with a view to making sure that the abuses that were being committed in Syria were documented. We then stepped that up: we supplied generators, water purification tablets and other items of humanitarian support. However, after January of this year, when the arms embargo was amended, we stepped up support again and this time provided protective gear and protective armoured vehicles. We are seeking a further amendment to increase the pressure on the Assad regime to say that, at this stage, no options are off the table.

My Lords, let us hope and pray that the Russian-American conference will be successful. We should give it every possible support. I suggest to my noble friend that one of the things we might do at the upcoming G8 discussions is to try to recruit as many people as possible to commit themselves to funding the huge refugee problem in Turkey and in Jordan. She will be well aware that Jordan is almost breaking under the strain. Sadly, in the past few days, for the first time, we have seen refugees from Syria being turned back because Jordan, which is a well intentioned state, is simply unable to deal with them. Will she consider suggesting that Ministers at the G8 make the best pitch they possibly can to get multilateral support for the refugees in Turkey and, even more, in Jordan?

I always listen with great interest to my noble friend’s comments. She comes to these matters with great expertise. Of course, I share her concerns. There has been the largest humanitarian aid appeal ever, of $1.5 billion—71% of that has been funded, but it is still tragically underfunded. The latest Friends of Syria meeting, which took place in April, was about making sure that donor countries that had pledged actually put their money on the table. We have seen an increase, and we continue to push for that increase. The Foreign Secretary is today in Oman, again at a core group of the Friends of Syria meeting, to build the basic foundations for a political solution to be more likely at the Geneva meeting. Of course, the issue of humanitarian aid will be discussed there, as it will be at the G8 meeting.

My Lords, I respectfully put to the noble Baroness a question that I have raised previously, with regard to the recognition given to the opposition by Her Majesty’s Government. Was it de jure recognition, which is the fullest category, or was it de facto? Or was it recognition as a belligerent status? All these matters are governed by strict rules of public international law, as the noble Baroness will know. If I am right, and it was in fact a de facto recognition, is there any intention on the part of Her Majesty’s Government to escalate to a de jure recognition?

I will probably have to write to the noble Lord in relation to the specific legal recognition. The recognition at this stage is because we feel that the transitional national coalition represents a broad coalition of the views of the Syrian people. However, I will write to the noble Lord about the specific legal parameters within which that recognition can be defined.

We hope that we will get peace. Lebanon is also at breaking point. Even more importantly, under Security Council Resolution 1325, it was agreed in 2000 and further in 2010 that women—both women from the country and women from outside—should be at the peace table to resolve the conflict. Furthermore, parties committing sexual violence, as is happening in this conflict, should be prosecuted, including Members of the Parliament of that country who are allowing it to happen and not speaking out against it.

I think that the short answer to the noble Baroness is yes on her first point—the national coalition is broadening its base, which includes women—and yes on her second point. We already have teams looking at the specific issue of sexual violence in conflict in Syria.

Would my noble friend agree that it rather looks, announcement by announcement and step by step, as if the Government are moving perilously close to agreeing with some form of intervention in this matter? Before taking any further steps, will they apply as strictly as they can what seems to me to be the essential criterion: that, as a result of any intervention, the people concerned—the mass of the population in Syria—will be better off? Unless the Government can be assured that they would be better off as a result of intervention, it is much better to leave it alone.

What I would say to my noble friend is that there are no no-risk options. Every option on the table and every potential option carries with it risks. That is why we firmly stand by the position that a political solution is the way to resolve this matter. Of course, at the same time, we cannot just stand by and allow a situation that has led to 80,000 people being killed, half the population of Syria being displaced and abuse happening on a daily basis, and say that the best option is to do nothing. That is why we have developed our policy on an incremental basis. We will continue to do so, and I assure noble Lords, including my noble friend, that I will continue to come back to this House and ensure that its views are fully taken into consideration in developing that policy.