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Volume 756: debated on Wednesday 15 October 2014


Asked by

My Lords, we aim to degrade and defeat ISIL and reduce the threat to the United Kingdom and our interests. At home, the focus is on preventing attacks and countering ISIL’s ideology; abroad, we work with coalition partners to support moderate forces fighting ISIL and tackle ISIL’s access to funds and fighters. We are pressing for political reform in Iraq and for a political transition in Syria to isolate ISIL politically; and we provide humanitarian aid to those most affected.

My noble friend has mentioned co-operation with partners, so she will undoubtedly be aware that the United States is moving to a strategy—if you can call it that—of using more drones in armed warfare in Syria. Given the experience that it has had with Pakistan, Yemen and several other countries, where more than 60,000 civilians have accidentally been killed as collateral damage, can she tell the House whether the United Kingdom is contemplating such a move? Can she also tell the House whether the Government have had any conversations with the United States about the pursuance of that strategy?

My Lords, I hope that my noble friend will understand that I am not in a position, and nor would the House expect me to be, to comment on United States military operations. However, I understand my noble friend’s concern about drones and their use; Members of the House have expressed that concern in relation to other matters previously. I can say that our military efforts are intended to help defeat ISIL on the battlefield. We are going to use our military capabilities in Iraq to achieve that objective while working to support political reform in Baghdad to ensure inclusive governance; while in Syria we are engaged in training and providing non-lethal equipment.

My Lords, having clarified that the objective of Her Majesty’s Government is to defeat ISIL on the battlefield, can the Minister confirm that they are ruling options neither in nor out, and that all options remain on the table for future engagement if required?

My Lords, when we had the recall of Parliament, the Leader of this House and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made it clear that the security of this country is our first objective; that we had come to Parliament to seek agreement that we should engage in airstrikes in Iraq; and that if there were premeditated action which we needed to take elsewhere because of extreme danger to our humanitarian provision, we would return to seek the approval of Parliament.

My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that cutting off finance to these people will result in them being less of a danger? Would she care to go on the record in the House and disclose who the financiers of these evil people are? What have the Government—or the American Government—done to discourage those who are financing these people?

My Lords, ISIL finance comes from a variety of sources, as the noble Lord will be aware. There are allegations of funding from overseas countries. I do not have proof of that so I am not able to reveal it to the House, because it would not be factual. What is a fact, of course, is that ISIL has been engaged in taking oil production facilities and selling that oil illegally on the black market, and wherever it has rampaged with its evil regime it has seized banks and Iraqi security forces materiel. It has significant amounts of money.

My Lords, does the Minister recollect that, some time ago, Her Majesty’s Government gave blanket recognition to all the military forces that were fighting President Assad in Syria? Although ISIS was not specifically mentioned, does it not seem clear that there were kindred military forces, which now form part of ISIS, that were operating at the time? What have we done, if anything, to derecognise those forces?

My Lords, there is continuous evaluation of the variety of forces to which the noble Lord refers: how they operate and what they call themselves. The difficulty is that as soon as one lists one, it changes its name and becomes something else. Noble Lords will have watched very carefully over the summer and seen that what can apparently be ISIL or ISIS, and the different ways of referring to that, can suddenly form a breakaway group. We therefore have to refer to all of these groups that are trying to create havoc as ISIL.

I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s recent visit to Baghdad, but can the Minister disclose Her Majesty’s Government’s strategy towards the greater involvement of Turkey, which is, after all, fundamental to the security architecture of the region, of Europe and of the wider NATO circuit? What is happening in our relationship with Turkey? We are primus inter pares in our pressure for Turkey to enter the European Union; surely we have a unique position.

My noble friend is right to draw attention to the important role played by Turkey. It is clearly ISIL’s ambition to grab enough land so that it has an enormously long boundary with Turkey. As an important player in the European and east European field, Turkey has a vital role to play. It does that. It plays its role in the coalition effort, particularly through its humanitarian support in the region and through its support to the Syrian moderate opposition. We welcome Turkey’s support for the air strikes in Syria and Iraq and the President’s affirmation that Turkey is willing to play its part in the military campaign. We are now continuing to discuss with them what form that contribution might take.

The Government have already spent around £25 billion training the Iraqi army. Many would question whether that money was well spent. Can the Government explain what further steps can be taken to develop the resilience of the Iraqi army and what the Iraqi army can do to command support from the different communities within Iraq?

The noble Baroness draws attention to an important fact—that in the early days of ISIL’s advance, the Iraqi security forces were not able to withstand it. The noble Baroness is alluding to the fact that it was felt that the security forces did not have the support of local communities, and they then fell back. We are engaged—the Foreign Secretary has made it clear on his visit to Iraq this week—in providing support to the Iraqi security forces in the form of training and guidance. I know that they value the surveillance help that we give them; we can give them the confidence, and then the people whom they are trying to protect will have confidence in them.