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Volume 762: debated on Thursday 2 July 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the level of threat posed by ISIL to the United Kingdom.

My Lords, we remember particularly at this time the victims of the attack in Tunisia last Friday. We now know that at least 29 British nationals were killed. My thoughts, and, I am sure, those of the whole House, are with the victims and families caught up in this terrible attack. The threat to the UK from international terrorism, including from ISIL-linked terrorism, is severe: an attack is highly likely.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Although dire, that does not sound like an existential threat or a threat to the existence of our nation. I am looking more externally. In military terms, it makes no sense not to have air attacks in Syria, which means talking with Assad. Also, we need information from Chilcot, because there is now an operational imperative not to make the same mistakes that we made in Iraq. My Question is: what do we see as victory over ISIL? Is it pushing it out of Iraq—that will not be victory; it will still exist in Syria—or finally to defeat it? That will need ground operations in Syria. The prospect of what that means for the whole region is enormous. What do the Government see as “victory”?

Clearly, it is the defeat of the poisonous ideology behind these attacks. On the territorial point, the noble Lord will be aware of our activities in the airstrikes. The RAF has flown 1,010 missions in support of the coalition activity in Iraq. The result of that is that ISIL’s advance has been stopped, and it has lost, according to American sources, some 700 square kilometres of land. Clearly, the point about Syria is pressing. We are providing some training and support there. The Prime Minister said on Monday that there must be a “full-spectrum response” to deal with ISIL,

“at its source, in places like Syria, Iraq and Libya”.

British aircraft are delivering the second-highest number of airstrikes over Iraq. Our surveillance aircraft are already assisting other countries with their operations over Syria and British forces are helping to train the moderate Syrian opposition. That is our response, but we are in no doubt whatever as to what the task is: to defeat ISIL.

My Lords, does my noble friend share my sense of incredulity at the reported comments of the director-general of the BBC, who says that the BBC should remain neutral between Islamic State and the West? Is not this an utterly incomprehensible statement? Did the BBC remain neutral when we faced the Nazi threat? Is not this threat, in its way, as vicious and as evil?

As a Conservative politician, I am on sensitive ground here in being invited to remark on the BBC and feelings of incredulity. This is the serious point behind the Prevent strategy: if ISIL is to be defeated, it requires everyone to speak up for what British values are, to stand firm for them and to speak out against those who seek to undermine them.

My Lords, would the Minister accept that when the Defence Secretary said on the “Today” programme this morning that MPs need to rethink attacks in Syria, he did not define a legal basis for those attacks if President Assad is still considered the foe, as was repeated by his colleague the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, only last week in my debate on Syria? Secondly, would the Prime Minister’s “full-spectrum response”, very clear sighted though it is, entail going into Afghanistan and Pakistan when ISIL is dislocated from the Middle East into those countries, or further still?

Clearly these are very fast-moving situations. National security is the principal responsibility of Her Majesty’s Government. Therefore, they will have to take these factors into account and respond accordingly. I read out a very precise statement of what the Prime Minister said. That remains the Government’s position on this issue at this time.

My Lords, in the light of reports on the news this morning that the Defence Secretary was considering launching air attacks against Syria, subject to a vote in the other place, could the Minister please give us two reassurances, or at least seek two reassurances from his colleagues: first, that any debate in the House of Commons on this subject will be accompanied by a debate in this House; and secondly, that the Government will consider the need, however difficult, to co-ordinate any attacks against ISIL with the Government of Syria?

The noble Lord is clearly very experienced in these matters, in the workings of the Civil Service and in giving advice to Ministers. If he will forgive me for saying this, he will be aware that at present we are actively engaged, along with 60 other countries, in the activity in Iraq. We are providing technical support in Syria. That remains our position. If there is any change, clearly the House will want to reflect on how it handles that.

We on this side associate ourselves with the Minister’s words about the victims of the atrocity in Tunisia and their families. Will he reassure the House that no requests for additional resources—whether human, equipment or financial, from our intelligence organisations, police or Armed Forces—to address the threat posed by ISIL to this country have been declined or not answered?

The Government—and, indeed, the previous Government since 2010—are very clear that we have protected the budgets for counterterrorism police work and of the security services. The Prime Minister announced last November, in response to developments in Iraq and Syria and the ISIL threat, that there will be a further £130 million. We continue to keep that under review but let there be no doubt whatever about our commitment to providing the resources that are needed.

My Lords, has the Minister seen the speculation in the press recently that the Turkish Government may be about to intervene in Syria to create a safe haven and prevent the creation of a Kurdish-controlled area? If he has seen that speculation, would he like to comment on it?

I have not seen the speculation and therefore I trust that my noble friend will allow me not to comment on it, but I note the point.