2015 12 – Parliamentary Notes

Parliament Notes

by Dick Barry

G20 and Paris Attacks

On 17 November David Cameron presented a statement to MPs on the attacks in Paris and the G20 summit. Jeremy Corbyn replied for Labour. 15 Labour MPs made a short contribution. Only David Winninck supported Corbyn. The remaining 14 Labour MPs made no reference to Corbyn’s speech and more than half supported Cameron, directly or indirectly. And no one commented upon Corbyn’s statement that “President Obama has said that ISIS grew out of our invasion of Iraq.” Nor did any MP refer to the reported statement by one of the Paris terrorists that the attack was a response to Hollande’s decision to interfere in Syria.

The 14 Labour MPs who spoke were Yvette Cooper, David Winnick, Gisela Stuart, Keith Vaz, Chris Leslie, Emma Reynolds, Pat McFadden, Mike Gapes, David Hanson, Chuka Umunna, Sarah Champion, Jack Dromey, Ian Austin, Richard Burden and Anne Coffey. The comments of those who gave unqualified support to Cameron are published below.

The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron):

With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the terrorist attacks in Paris and the G20 summit that took place in Turkey over the weekend.

On Paris, the Home Secretary gave the House the chilling statistics yesterday. We now know that among the victims was a 36-year-old Briton, Nick Alexander, who was killed at the Bataclan. I know that the thoughts and prayers of the whole House will be with the families and friends of all those affected.

On Saturday, I spoke to President Hollande to express the condolences of the British people and our commitment to helping in whatever way we can. After our horror and our anger must come our resolve and our determination to rid our world of this evil, so let me set out the steps that we are taking to deal with this terrorist threat.

The more we learn about what happened in Paris, the more it justifies the full-spectrum approach that we have discussed before in the House. When we are dealing with radicalised European Muslims, linked to ISIL in Syria and inspired by a poisonous narrative of extremism, we need an approach that covers the full range: military power, counter-terrorism expertise, and defeating the poisonous narrative that is the root cause of this evil. Let me take each in turn.

First, we should be clear that this murderous violence requires a strong security response. That means continuing our efforts to degrade and destroy ISIL in Syria and Iraq, and, where necessary, working with our allies to strike against those who pose a direct threat to the safety of British people around the world. Together, coalition forces have now damaged over 13,500 targets. We have helped local forces to regain 30% of ISIL territory in Iraq and we have helped to retake Kobane and push ISIL back towards Raqqa. On Friday, Kurdish forces retook Sinjar. The United Kingdom is playing its part, training local forces, striking targets in Iraq and providing vital intelligence support. Last Thursday the United States carried out an air strike in Raqqa, Syria, targeting Mohammed Emwazi, the ISIL executioner known as Jihadi John. That was a result of months of painstaking work in which America and Britain worked hand in glove to stop this vicious murderer.

It is important for the whole House to understand the reality of the situation that we are in. There is no Government in Syria with whom we can work, particularly in that part of Syria. There are no rigorous police investigations or independent courts upholding justice in Raqqa. We have no military on the ground to detain those preparing plots against our people. In this situation, we do not protect the British people by sitting back and wishing things were different. We have to act to keep our people safe, and that is what this Government will always do.

Secondly, on counter-terrorism here in the UK, over the past year alone our outstanding police and security services have already foiled no fewer than seven terrorist plots right here in Britain. The people in our security services work incredibly hard. They are a credit to our nation and we should pay tribute to them again in our House today. But now we must do more to help them in their vital work. So in next week’s strategic defence and security review, we will make a major additional investment in our world-class intelligence agencies. This will include over 1,900 additional security and intelligence staff and more money to increase our network of counter-terrorism experts in the middle east, north Africa, south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

At the G20 summit in Turkey this weekend, we agreed additional steps to better protect ourselves from the threat of foreign fighters by sharing intelligence and stopping them travelling. We also agreed for the first time to work together to strengthen global aviation security. We need robust and consistent standards of aviation security in every airport in the world and the UK will at least double its spending in this area.

Thirdly, to defeat this terrorist threat in the long run we must also understand and address its root cause. That means confronting the poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism itself. As I have argued before, that means going after both violent and non-violent extremists—those who sow the poison but stop short of actually promoting violence; they are part of the problem. We will improve integration, not least by inspecting and shutting down any educational institutions that are teaching intolerance, and we will actively encourage reforming and moderate Muslim voices to speak up and challenge the extremists, as so many do.

It cannot be said enough that the extremist ideology is not true Islam, but it does not work to deny any connection between the religion of Islam and the extremists, not least because the extremists themselves self-identify as Muslims. There is no point denying that; what we need to do instead is take apart their arguments and demonstrate how wrong they are, and in doing so we need the continued help of Muslim communities and Muslim scholars. They are playing a powerful role and I commend them on their absolutely essential work.

We cannot stand neutral in this battle of ideas. We have to back those who share our values with practical help, funding, campaigns, protection and political representation. This is a fundamental part of how we can defeat this terrorism both at home and abroad.

Turning to the G20 summit, there were also important discussions on Syria and on dealing with other long-term threats to our security, such as climate change. Let me briefly address those.

On Syria, we discussed how we do more to help all those in desperate humanitarian need and how to find a political solution to the conflict. Britain, as has often been said, is already providing £1.1 billion in vital life-saving assistance—that makes us the second largest bilateral donor in the world—and last week we committed a further £275 million to be spent in Turkey, a country hosting over 2 million refugees. In February, the United Kingdom will seek to raise further significant new funding by co-hosting a donors conference in London together with Germany, Norway, Kuwait and the United Nations.

But none of this is a substitute for the most urgent need of all: to find a political solution that brings peace to Syria and enables millions of refugees to return home. Yesterday I held talks with President Putin. We reviewed the progress made by our Foreign Ministers in Vienna to deliver a transition in Syria. We still have disagreements—there are still big gaps between us—but there is progress.

I also met with President Obama and European leaders at the G20, and we agreed some important concrete steps forward, including basing some British aircraft alongside other NATO allies at the airbase at Incirlik if that is the decision of the North Atlantic Council, which meets shortly. These would be in an air defence role to support Turkey at this difficult time. We also agreed on the importance of stepping up our joint effort to deal with ISIL in Iraq and Syria—indeed, wherever it manifests itself.

This raises important questions for our country. We must ask ourselves whether we are really doing all we can be doing—all we should be doing—to deal with the threat that ISIL poses to us directly, not just through the measures we are taking at home, but by dealing with ISIL on the ground in the territory that it controls. We are taking part in air strikes over Iraq and have struck over 350 targets. Significant action has been taken in recent hours. ISIL is not just present in Iraq; it also operates across the border in Syria, although that border is meaningless to it—as far as ISIL is concerned, it is all one space. It is in Syria, in Raqqa, that ISIL has its headquarters, and it is from Raqqa that some of the main threats against this country are planned and orchestrated. Raqqa is, if you like, the head of the snake.

Over Syria we are supporting our allies—the US, France, Jordan and the Gulf countries—with intelligence, surveillance and refuelling. But I believe, as I have said many times before, that we should be doing more. We face a direct and growing threat to our country, and we need to deal with it not just in Iraq but in Syria too. I have always said that there is a strong case for our doing this: our allies are asking us to do it, and the case for doing it has only grown stronger after the Paris attacks. We cannot and should not expect others to carry the burdens, and the risks, of protecting our country.

I recognise that there are concerns in this House. What difference would action by the UK really make? Could it make the situation worse? How does the recent Russian action affect the situation? Above all, how would a decision by Britain to join in strikes against ISIL in Syria fit into a comprehensive strategy for dealing with ISIL and a diplomatic strategy to bring the war in Syria to an end? I understand those concerns, and I know that they must be answered. I believe that they can be answered. Many of them were expressed in the recent report by the Foreign Affairs Committee.

My firm conviction is that we need to act against ISIL in Syria. There is a compelling case for doing so. It is for the Government, I accept, to make that case to this House and to the country. I can therefore announce that as a first important step towards doing so, I will respond personally to the report of the Foreign Affairs Committee. I will set out our comprehensive strategy for dealing with ISIL and our vision for a more stable and peaceful middle east. This strategy should, in my view, include taking the action in Syria that I have spoken about. I hope that, in setting out the arguments in this way, I can help to build support right across the House for the action that I believe it is necessary to take. That is what I am going to be putting in place over the coming days, and I hope that colleagues from across the House will engage with that and make their views clear, so that we can have a strong vote in the House of Commons and do the right thing for our country.

Finally, the G20 also addressed other longer-term threats to global security. In just two weeks’ time, we will gather in Paris to agree a global climate change deal. This time, unlike in Kyoto, it will include the USA and China. Here at this summit, I urged leaders to keep the ambition of limiting global warming by 2050 to less than 2° above pre-industrial levels. Every country needs to put forward its programme for reducing carbon emissions. And, as G20 countries, we also need to do more to provide the financing that is needed to help poorer countries around the world to switch to greener forms of energy and adapt to the effects of climate change.

We also agreed that we should do more to wipe out the corruption that chokes off development, and to deal with antimicrobial resistance. Corruption is the cancer at the heart of so many of the problems we face in the world today, from migrants fleeing corrupt African states to corrupt Governments undermining our efforts on global poverty by preventing people from getting the revenues and services that are rightfully theirs. And if antibiotics stop working properly—the antimicrobial resistance issue—millions of people in the world will die unnecessarily. So these are both vital issues on which the United Kingdom is taking a real lead.

Let me conclude by returning to the terrorist threat. Here in the UK, the threat level is already severe, which means that an attack is highly likely, and it will remain so. That is why we continue to encourage the public to remain vigilant. We will do all we can to support our police and intelligence agencies as they work around the clock. The terrorist aim is clear: it is to divide us and to destroy our way of life. So now more than ever we must come together and stand united, carrying on with the way of life that we know and love. Tonight, England will play France at Wembley. The match is going ahead. Our people stand together as they have done so many times throughout history when faced with evil. And once again, together, we will prevail. I commend this statement to the House.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab):

First, I thank the Prime Minister for his statement, a copy of which he kindly sent me earlier. May I also thank him for the measured and careful tone of his public statements since the dreadful events of last Friday in Paris? In the face of such tragic events, and the horror, anxiety and sorrow that have caused the British public to stand up in solidarity with the people of France, it is right that we take an approach of solidarity with them.

The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have talked of the importance of achieving consensus in our response to the attacks and a common objective in trying to defeat ISIL. I agree with him, and the Opposition stand ready to work with him and the Government towards that end. May I also thank him for arranging for the National Security Adviser to brief my Opposition Front-Bench colleagues last weekend? Will he assure me that the Opposition and other parties will continue to be briefed about developments as they emerge?

On behalf of Labour Members, I want to express my condolences to and solidarity with the people of Paris in the wake of the horrific and unjustified attacks on the people who suffered in that city last Friday night. That solidarity extends to all victims of terrorism and conflict, whether they be in Paris, Beirut, Ankara or Syria itself. Absolutely nothing can justify the deliberate targeting of civilians by anyone, anywhere, ever. These contemptible attacks were an attempt to divide Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus and peoples of all faiths and none, as was tried in London some years ago. They will fail.

Secondly, I wish to take a moment to praise the efforts and work of emergency service workers, in Paris and elsewhere, who spring into action in these dreadful and very difficult situations, and help to save life. It is easy to forget the extraordinary heroism of those involved in simply going to work, not knowing what will happen. It is not easy to drive an ambulance not knowing what you are going to find when you arrive at the scene.

In my letter to François Hollande this weekend, I said that we stand united with his country in expressing our unequivocal condemnation of those involved in planning and carrying out these atrocities. The shocking events in Paris were a reminder to all of the ever-present threat of terrorism and indiscriminate violence. In this House, we also have a primary and particular duty to protect the people of this country and keep them safe. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) pledged our support for the Government in their efforts to do that, and that we reiterate again. We welcome the sensible measures to make more funding available for our security services, so that they can gather intelligence and expose and prevent plots, but can the Prime Minister confirm that those will be balanced with the need to protect our civil liberties, which were so hard won in this country and are so stoutly defended by many of us? They are part of what distinguishes us from many other regimes around the world—indeed, regimes from which people are fleeing.

My right hon. Friend said yesterday that in the forthcoming spending review there should be protection of the policing budget and policing services, which clearly will be playing a vital role on the ground in ensuring that our communities are safe. Will the Prime Minister now confirm that he is willing to work with us to prevent cuts to our police force and ensure that they are able to continue with the protective work they have to do? Does he agree with the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Lord Blair, that it would be “a disaster” to axe police community support officers, as they bring in vital intelligence from communities to help prevent attacks? As a Member of Parliament for an inner-city community, I fully understand and appreciate the great work that safer neighbourhood teams and community policing teams do.

As for community cohesion, we in Britain are proud to live in a diverse and multi-faith society, and we stand for the unity of all communities. There are more than 2 million Muslims living in Britain, and they are as utterly appalled by the violence in Paris as anybody else. We have seen after previous atrocities such as this that there can be a backlash against the Muslim and other communities. Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and far-right racism have no place whatsoever in our society or our thinking, and I hope there will be no increase in any of that degree of intolerance as a result of what has happened in Paris.

Will the Prime Minister set out in more detail the steps his Government are taking to work with representative organisations of all our faith communities to ensure that we achieve and strengthen community cohesion during these very difficult times? We must also ensure that those entering our country, whether they be refugees or visitors, are appropriately screened. Will he confirm that the Home Office will provide the border staff necessary to do that?

It is also important in these circumstances to maintain our humanitarian duty towards refugees. The Syrian refugees are fleeing the daily brutality of ISIL and Assad and it is our duty—indeed it is our legal obligation—to protect them under the 1951 Geneva convention. I hope the Prime Minister will confirm that our obligation to maintain support for that convention and the rights of refugees will be undiminished by the events of the past few days.

At a time of such tragedy and outrage, it is vital that we are not drawn into responses that feed a cycle of violence and hatred. President Obama has said that ISIS grew out of our invasion of Iraq, and that it is one of its unintended consequences. Will the Prime Minister consider that as one of the very careful responses that President Obama has made recently on this matter? It is essential that any military response that might be considered has not only consent, but support of the international community and, crucially, legality from the United Nations. I welcome the Prime Minister’s comments at the G20 yesterday when he said:

“I think people want to know there is a whole plan for the future of Syria, for the future of the region. It is perfectly right to say a few extra bombs and missiles won’t transform the situation.”

I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to respond personally to the Foreign Affairs Committee report, which has been so carefully presented to the House and the country. Will he confirm that, before bringing any motion to the House, he will provide answers, as he has indicated that he will, to the seven questions raised by the Select Committee report? Will he also say more about the particular contribution that Britain has made to the Vienna talks on the future of Syria? The talks possibly provide a basis for some cautious optimism that there could indeed be a political future in Syria that involves a ceasefire and the ability of people eventually to be able to return home.

Finally on this matter, will the Prime Minister also say what more can be done to cut off supplies of weapons and external markets to ISIL? Weapons are being supplied to some of the most repressive regimes in the region. What is being done to ensure that they do not end up in even worse hands, including those of ISIL and some of the extremist jihadist groups in Syria? What more can be done to bring to account those Governments, organisations or banks that have funded these extremists, or turned a blind eye to them? We need to know the financial trail by which ISIL gets its funding and indeed sells its oil.

Turning quickly now to other G20 issues, did the Prime Minister have a chance to congratulate the new Canadian Prime Minister? He did not mention it, but I am sure that he has. Is he also aware that the current slowdown in the global economy is causing concern? What discussions has he had with his Chancellor about the dangers of more demand being sucked out of the economy at this time?

In conclusion, the Prime Minister mentioned the climate change talks that will be going on in Paris over the next few weeks. They are very, very important indeed. I welcome the commitment he made in relation to the problems created by epidemics and antibiotic resistance. I ask him also to consider this: the cuts that have been made to renewable energy in this country run directly counter to everything he and his Government have said they want to achieve at the climate change talks. We must combat climate change globally, internationally, and here in Britain.

The Prime Minister:

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the genesis of ISIL. The so-called Islamic State is one of the branches of this violent Islamist extremism that we have seen in our world for more than 20 years—I am talking about Boko Haram, al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab. It is worth making the point that the first manifestations of this violent Islamist extremism, not least the twin towers attack, happened before the invasion of Iraq. It is important that we do not try to seek excuses for what is a death cult, which has been killing British citizens for many, many years. He rightly asks about the process in Vienna. We are a key part of that, with our Foreign Secretary playing a very strong role. Indeed his work was commended by Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned what I said yesterday about additional bombs and missiles only being able to go so far in Syria. Yes, that is right, Britain can do more, and because of our expertise and targeting, we could cut the number of civilian casualties when that action is taken. It would make a difference, but, alongside that, we also need a process that delivers a Government in Syria who can represent all of the Syrian people. We cannot defeat ISIL purely by a campaign from the air; we need to have Governments in Iraq and in Syria who can be our partners in delivering good government to those countries and in obliterating the death cult that threatens both us and them. Those things go together.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab):

Is the Prime Minister aware that those of us who are not persuaded, at least at this stage, that air strikes should be extended to Syria have no less hatred for the mass murderers who have carried out so many atrocities, the latest in Paris? We are not persuaded, not because we are pacifists or semi-pacifists—I am certainly not so and never likely to be—nor because of the internal politics of the Labour party, but because, as the Foreign Affairs Committee concluded, there does not seem to be a strong case for extending air strikes, and it will achieve little or nothing and simply make us feel good that we are doing something as a result of the atrocities.

The Prime Minister:

I do not agree with that view. I respect the fact that it is for the Government to bring forward the argument, to make the case and to seek to persuade as many Members of this House as possible that it is the right thing to do. People who oppose that have to answer the question why it is right to take out ISIL in Iraq, but wrong to take out ISIL in Syria, particularly as the headquarters of ISIL are in Syria and it is from Syria that the attacks on this country have been planned and, for all we know, continue to be planned. That is the question that colleagues will have to answer after reading my response to the Foreign Affairs Committee. If we can get to the situation where it looks like Britain can come together as one and say, “It is right for us to take this action”, I am not asking for an overwhelming majority; just a majority would be good enough.

Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab):Does the Prime Minister agree that full responsibility for the attacks in Paris lies solely with the terrorists and that any attempt by any organisation to somehow blame the west or France’s military intervention in Syria is not only wrong and disgraceful, but should be condemned?

Hon. Members:

Hear, hear.

The Prime Minister:

The response right across the House shows how right the hon. Lady is. Those who think that this is somehow all caused by Iraq should remember that France did not take part in the Iraq war. Indeed, it condemned it. The fact about these ISIL terrorists is that they hate our way of life. They want to kill and maim as many people as possible. They also do that to Muslims with whom they disagree. That is why we have to confront and defeat them, not compromise with or excuse in any way this vile organisation.

Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab):

May I ask the Prime Minister to reject the view that sees terrorist acts as always being a response or a reaction to what we in the west do? Does he agree that such an approach risks infantilising the terrorists and treating them like children, when the truth is that they are adults who are entirely responsible for what they do? No one forces them to kill innocent people in Paris or Beirut. Unless we are clear about that, we will fail even to understand the threat we face, let alone confront it and ultimately overcome it.

The Prime Minister:

It is that sort of moral and intellectual clarity that is necessary in dealing with terrorists. I know there is something deep in all of us that wants to try to find an excuse, an explanation or an understanding, but sometimes the answer is staring us in the face. With ISIL, that is absolutely the case.

Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab):

I agree with everything the Prime Minister said about Syria and terrorism. Does he agree with me that those who say that Paris is reaping the whirlwind of western policy or that Britain’s foreign policy has increased, not diminished, the threats to our national security not only absolve the terrorists of responsibility, but risk fuelling the sense of grievance and resentment that can develop into extremism and terrorism?

The Prime Minister:

The hon. Gentleman kindly said that he agreed with me and I absolutely agree with him. We have to be very clear to people who are at risk of being radicalised that this sort of excuse culture is wrong. Not only is it wrong for anyone to argue that the Paris attacks were brought about by western policy; it is very damaging for young Muslims growing up in Britain to think that any reasonable person could have that view. I agree with the hon. Gentleman 100%.

Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab):

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement, which I fully support. Does he agree that the multiculturalism of our country is more likely to be destroyed if we do not take every possible action to defeat these murderous terrorists?

The Prime Minister:

I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady, and as we do that, we need to take everyone in our country with us.

Labour’s Bombers

The following 66 Labour MPs supported the government’s motion to bomb Syria. Members of the Shadow Cabinet are marked* 152 Labour MPs voted against the government.

Heidi Alexander* (Lewisham East), Ian Austin (Dudley North), Adrian Bailey (West Bromich East), Kevin Barron (Rother Valley), Margaret Beckett (Derby South), Hilary Benn* (Leeds Central), Luciana Berger* (Liverpool Wavertree), Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South & East Cleveland), Ben Bradshaw (Exeter), Chris Bryant (Rhondda), Alan Campbell (Tynemouth), Jenny Chapman (Darlington), Vernon Coaker* (Gedling), Ann Coffey (Stockport), Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract & Castleford), Neil Coyle (Bermondsey & Old Southwark), Mary Creagh (Wakefield), Stella Creasy (Walthamstow), Simon Danczuk (Rochdale), Wayne David (Caerphilly), Gloria De Piero* (Ashfield), Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South & Penarth), Jim Dowd (Lewisham West & Penge), Michael Dugher* (Barnsley East), Angela Eagle* (Wallasey), Maria Eagle* (Garston & Halewood), Louise Ellman (Liverpool Riverside), Frank Field (Birkenhead), Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar & Limehouse), Colleen Fletcher (Coventry North East), Caroline Flint (Don Valley), Harriet Harman (Camberwell & Peckham), Margaret Hodge (Barking), George Howarth (Knowsley), Tristram Hunt (Stoke-On-Trent Central), Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central), Alan Johnson (Kingston Upon Hull West & Hessle), Graham Jones (Hyndburn), Helen Jones (Warrington North), Kevan Jones (North Durham), Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South), Liz Kendall (Leicester West), Peter Kyle (Hove), Chris Leslie (Nottingham East), Holly Lynch (Halifax), Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham & Morden), Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East), Conor McGinn (St Helens North), Alison McGovern (Wirral South), Bridget Phillipson (Houghton & Sunderland South), Lucy Powell* (Manchester Central), Jamie Reed (Copeland), Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East), Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West), Joan Ryan (Enfield North), Ruth Smeeth (Stoke-On-trent North), Angela Smith* (Penistone & Stocksbridge), John Spellar (Warley), Gisela Stuart (Birmingham Edgbaston), Gareth Thomas (Harrow West), Anna Turley (Redcar), Chuka Umunna (Streatham), Keith Vaz (Leicester East), Tom Watson* (West Bromwich East), Phil Wilson (Sedgefield), John Woodcock (Barrow & Furness).

Esme Geering

Esme Geering, writing from Texas, USA, claimed that the statement in the November editorial ‘the UK is the 5th richest nation in the world’ is factually wrong. This is a serious point and therefore a detailed reply will appear in the next (February 2016) issue of Labour Affairs.