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Volume 608: debated on Monday 18 April 2016

11. What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on progress in the campaign against Daesh. (904487)

14. What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on progress in the campaign against Daesh. (904491)

15. What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on progress in the campaign against Daesh. (904492)

My next regular meeting with my counterparts in the coalition is on 4 May. The campaign against Daesh is making progress. With coalition support, Iraqi forces hold Ramadi, are clearing Hit, and have begun preparatory operations for the retaking of Mosul. In Syria, Daesh has been driven from al-Shadadi, cutting a key supply route from Mosul to Raqqa.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. With the advent of a new unity Government in Libya, does he believe that they are preparing the ground to request military assistance from the UK, and does he think that, as part of that request, they will require assistance with airstrikes against Daesh targets in Libya?

It is early days. The Foreign Secretary visited Tripoli this morning in support of the new Government, and I and fellow European Union Defence Ministers will be meeting in Luxembourg tonight to hear directly from Prime Minister Sarraj as to how he thinks we can best help stabilise that new Government. We urgently need to engage with them, not least to help close down the very dangerous migration route that is seeing so many lives lost in the Mediterranean, and to help that Government tackle the spread of Daesh along the coast.

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that contrary to its propaganda, Daesh has lost much of the territory that it held a year ago, and that now is the right time to back the Iraqi security forces in taking the fight to Daesh?

My hon. Friend is right. With coalition support, Iraqi security forces have retaken around 40% of the populated areas that Daesh once held in Iraq, including Tikrit, Sinjar and Ramadi, and as I said, Hit is in the process of being cleared. We are continuing to provide vital air support, as well as specialist training and equipment.

Experience tells us that unless we get civil institutions up and running quickly after a conflict ends, we can end up with a failed state. What steps is my right hon. Friend’s Department taking to make sure that that does not happen in Syria once Daesh has been driven out?

Following the Syria conference held in London in February, there is now a stabilisation plan for Syria that we are working to deliver with our international partners. We are already working with existing Syrian institutions to try and restore stability, and we are working with communities on local government and civil defence, but stabilisation in Syria depends on a sustainable peace deal that protects communities from attack either by Daesh or by the regime. We are supporting that peace deal through the International Syria Support Group.

Tomorrow the Mayor of London will unveil in Trafalgar Square a reconstruction of the arch of the temple of Bel from Palmyra, as the symbol of our defiance against Daesh and also of our commitment to protect culture in war zones when it is reasonably possible to do so. In December my right hon. Friend announced that he was commissioning a group within the armed forces of modern-day “monuments men” to lead this agenda and to bring the UK into compliance with The Hague convention, and I hope that will be in the Queen’s Speech shortly. Will he update the House on that?

Yes, the Government have announced that they will ratify The Hague convention at the earliest opportunity. That includes the establishment of a military cultural property protection unit, and my Ministry is already engaging with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the stabilisation unit to further develop plans for that capability to help better protect such important monuments in future. It is also important to deny Daesh the revenue that it has earned from selling artefacts and coins from archaeological sites.

Does the Secretary of State believe that it is possible to stabilise Libya only by having ground forces there? Does he accept that that may include British forces?

It is up to the new Government of national accord being established in Libya with our support, led by Prime Minister Sarraj, to make it clear what assistance he needs. A number of countries, including ourselves, have already indicated that we will be part of a Libyan international assistance mission, but it is far too early to speculate about what form that assistance might take, whether it is training, advice from the Ministries, or other support.

22. My right hon. Friend will be all too aware of the evidence of atrocities being committed by Daesh against religious minorities and the destruction of antiquities in the areas that it controls. What specific actions have been undertaken in the military campaign against Daesh to prevent both of those? (904500)

We have to continue to degrade and eventually defeat Daesh to bring to an end the horrific attacks that we have seen and the persecution of those of other faiths that we have witnessed, particularly the persecution of the Yazidi minority. In the end, Daesh has to be defeated so that we can have a tolerant and comprehensive settlement in Syria that protects all minorities.

Let me begin by sending my sincere best wishes to the Royal Regiment of Scotland, which will celebrate its 10th birthday on Friday with a celebratory service at Canongate kirk. I am sure that the whole House will join me in passing on our congratulations.

Libya is increasingly becoming the focus of a campaign by the international community to defeat Daesh. Given that the UK’s last intervention in Libya was by any measure a catastrophic failure, what plans do the Government have to ensure that we have clear, stated objectives, an exit strategy and a coherent and transparent policy for rebuilding the country afterwards?

I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in wishing the Royal Regiment of Scotland a very happy 10th birthday and acknowledge the enormous contribution it makes to the military tradition in Scotland.

Let me be clear that no decisions in respect of any involvement in Libya have yet been taken. We are waiting to hear from the new Government of national accord what kind of assistance they need. We have a very strong interest in helping them rapidly stabilise the country, not least because of the spread of Daesh along the coastline, which is a direct threat to western Europe and to ourselves.

It has been widely speculated that the Government are considering sending ground troops to Libya. Can the Minister give us a cast-iron guarantee that any such deployment would be discussed on the Floor of this House and voted on by this House?

First, let me be very clear that no such decision has been taken, and we are not contemplating at the moment a commitment of that kind. What I can say is that if we are, in future, to deploy military forces in a combat role into a conflict zone, we would of course, as the Prime Minister has made clear, come to this House first.

This is a very important constitutional issue, as I am sure the Secretary of State understands. How can it be that we read in the media that the Government have already drawn up plans to send 1,000 troops to aid the Libyan unity Government in fighting Daesh? When asked whether or not they would be deployed in hostile areas, a defence source told the Daily Mail that that was not yet clear. Surely it is important that the Secretary of State, instead of briefing the media, commits to coming to this House and answering questions directly. I am very concerned that in a written answer published today he has said that he reserves the right to take military action without parliamentary approval. Does that mean that we will not have a proper debate on proposed deployment, or will he come to the House, allow us to have a proper debate, answer questions and allow us to have a proper vote?

First, let me caution the hon. Lady against believing everything she reads in the Daily Mail. Secondly, let me make it very clear that we are not currently planning a deployment, as reported in that newspaper. Thirdly, I am always prepared to answer questions in this House, as indeed I am doing at the moment. Fourthly, the written answer published today makes very clear the circumstances in which we would of course come back to Parliament for its approval. However, I should also emphasise that the Prime Minister and I have to take decisions about the deployment of ships, planes and troops, and we do not want, as the House will understand, to be artificially constrained in action that would keep this country safe. We will keep Parliament informed and we will of course seek its approval before deploying British forces in combat roles into a conflict situation.