FOREIGN AFFAIRS – SYRIA – 18 June 2013
Mr Peter Hain: I hope Iran is included, because it is a key player, but whether or not it is included, can the Foreign Secretary say to the House in absolutely crystal clear terms that, if the Government decide to send arms to Syria, there will be a vote – I choose my words precisely – on a substantive motion before that decision is executed? Within that, I define as arms British planes policing a no-fly zone and possibly bombing anti-aircraft installations of the Syrian Government, and training, which could be training on the ground. Will he confirm a quote in The Sunday Times on Sunday:
“One senior Tory source said…‘The bottom line is that we will avoid at all costs a vote as we don’t think we can win it’”?
This is a cross-party matter.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): It is a cross-party matter. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have made the position clear, so I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman needs to look at “a senior Tory source”. There is no Tory more senior than the Prime Minister. [Interruption.] Occasionally, one or two might think they are, but there are no Tories more senior than the Prime Minister and he has made it clear that the Government have a strong record of holding votes in the House of Commons on these issues when it is necessary to do so. We certainly would not want to pursue any aspect of our policy on this issue against the will of the House of Commons. That is neither feasible nor desirable, so of course we have made clear that there would be a vote. I have also made it clear that we would expect it to be before any such decision was put into action.
Mr Speaker: Order. We are deeply obliged to the Foreign Secretary, but we have quite a lot to get through and we need to be a bit sharper.
Dr Julian Lewis: I would like to think that I heard the word “yes” in that answer, but I am afraid I did not. Nevertheless, and notwithstanding the unholy alliance between Iran and the Assad regime, how does it help the interests of this country to change yet another Arab dictatorship into another Islamist state, complete with weapons of mass destruction for al-Qaeda to use against us?
Mr Hague: My hon. Friend must bear in mind that the change happening in Syria is not one that was activated here in the United Kingdom – it started in Syria. It came from the people of Syria themselves, as it has in many other countries, where many people want economic opportunity and political dignity for their own countries. The situation we face now is that the crisis is getting worse. We need a political solution and we will not get one if the more moderate and pragmatic parts of the Syrian opposition are exterminated over the coming months.
Ms Gisela Stuart: I hope the Foreign Secretary can help simple folk like me to understand things a little bit better. My right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain) asked a specific and precisely worded question on a substantive vote under a certain set of circumstances. Was his answer to that yes?
Mr Hague: I do not know many other ways of having votes in this place on a specific issue than having a motion that talks about that issue. I was expanding on the right hon. Gentleman’s question to try to cover all eventualities. Of course we have a vote on an issue of that kind in the House of Commons. [Interruption.]