SNP spokesperson on International Development Patrick Grady MP has urged the UK Government to rethink its military startegy in Syria and focus on desperately needed humanitarian aid for the region.
Speaking in an emergency debate on the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo on Tuesday 11 October the Glasgow North MP stressed that the people of Syria need "bread, not bombs" and that chaos in the region has only increased since the commencement of UK airstrikes.
"Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am aware that a lot of colleagues want to get in. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) on securing the debate, and thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting the House leave to hold it. It is an emergency debate in every sense of the word; it is urgent and necessary for us to have the debate, because the situation in Aleppo and across Syria has dramatically worsened from the already nearly catastrophic state that the conflict has brought about.
"As others have said, the turning point in recent weeks seems to have been the bombing of the UN aid convoy on 19 September. If that and other atrocities are called out as being war crimes, they should be investigated, and the perpetrators must be brought to justice. That event ended the tentative ceasefire; hostilities, particularly by Russia, have increased since then. Some 275,000 people in eastern Aleppo, over 100,000 of whom are children, face daily bombing. The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, described the situation as "worse than a slaughterhouse", and others, including rebel groups inside the city, effectively see the enactment of a scorched earth policy by the Assad regime. Over 1 million people have been killed since the conflict began in 2011, so we should not be surprised at the comparisons with Rwanda and Srebrenica. It was absolutely right to make time for today's debate.
"I want to consider briefly responses so far from across the UK and the world, and the options available to the UK Government and the world community. The Scottish National party has consistently been opposed to military action, and has consistently called for a negotiated settlement and significant humanitarian intervention. When this House debated whether to join the bombing campaign, we warned that becoming a party to the conflict would reduce the UK's ability to be an arbiter in any resolution, and so it has proved. We welcome the response made, led by the Department for International Development, in terms of humanitarian support, but there is further to go. We have consistently said that what people in Syria need is bread, not bombs. If we have the technology to drop bombs, surely we have the technology to drop or deliver bread and aid.
"The Scottish Government, with their limited power and resources in this area, have played as active a role as they could. In March 2013, they donated £100,000 to the Disasters Emergency Committee, and they later doubled that to £200,000. Earlier this year, the First Minister accepted an invitation from the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, to host an international women's summit in Edinburgh, focused on supporting Syrian women, so that they can engage in communication, negotiation, and post-conflict planning, and become a key part of the peace process.
"The Scottish Government have continued to try to play a role. They announced in August 2015 that they would contribute up to £300,000 to the 1325 Fellowship programme facilitated by Beyond Borders Scotland—another initiative that trains women in prevention and resolution of conflict. It was set up in response to UN resolution 1325, which reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts. We in Scotland and the Scottish Government have been keen to make a positive contribution wherever possible. Of course, many people across the country have joined in the efforts to welcome refugees, especially from Syria, who have come here seeking stability and peace.
"Peace in Syria seems as far away as it was at the start of the conflict. Russia and the United States have completely different aims for the region, particularly as regards President Assad's role, or otherwise, in the country's future. There is a worrying risk of the situation becoming a proxy for broader tensions between the two countries, and indeed of further backsliding in international relations more generally. That is why the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield is right to question the stalemate's impact on the role of the United Nations. It has never been more necessary for the UN to play a role, yet in this area at least, it seems that the impasse has never been more difficult to breach.
"There have rightly been calls for the General Assembly to be more outspoken where the Security Council cannot reach agreement; that would be a start, but the GA still lacks the teeth of the Security Council. The UK's seat on the Security Council is supposed to be one of the great defining assets of the Union, putting the great into Great Britain. While I welcome the strong words of the UK representative at recent meetings, strong words are increasingly not enough. It is for the United Nations and the International Syria Support Group to facilitate a peaceful settlement, and the United Kingdom Government should seek to make sure that the UN has the mandate and the support that it needs.
"In the meantime, there must be more that the Government can do, either independently or with allies. I have already said that if we have the technology to drop bombs, surely we have the technology to drop aid, but we also need the ability, stability and permission to provide aid, especially to areas controlled by the Assad regime. Negotiating a safe space for that ought to be part of the UK's diplomatic efforts. If that means that a no-fly zone could help, then that should be explored, but it needs to be properly enforced.
"Getting aid—medical, food and non-food relief—into the country, and into Aleppo in particular, should be the No. 1 priority for humanitarian agencies in the country. If the big and multilateral agencies are having difficulty with that, more support should be given to local actors, especially those coming from faith-based or community-based organisations. I join in the tributes paid to the White Helmets, who are thoroughly deserving of their Nobel prize nomination. If there are practical ways that the UK Government, through partners, can support that work on the ground, they should be acted on.
"Support also has to be provided in the refugee camps, both in Syria and in the surrounding areas. I was visited last week by a former constituent, Tony Collins, who now lives in Lebanon, where he assists the aid effort on the ground—in the camps. He describes the situation as no longer an emergency, but endemic, and as having a major impact, as we have heard from Members, on the future of Lebanon. UK humanitarian support has to provide emergency relief, but also look at long-term economic development, and the impact that these profound movements of people are having.
"The Minister of State, Department for International Development, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) is still here; the Secretary of State for International Development has left. I sound notes of caution about DFID's role and response. I have said many times that while conflating some aspects of security and aid spending may be permitted under OECD rules, it is not what people expect to happen when the Government say that they are meeting the target of giving 2% of gross national income to NATO and the 0.7% target for aid spending. These targets should be met and accounted for separately; the situation in Syria in particular shows why that is necessary.
"DFID also needs to think about the longer-term impacts of its policies, and consequential effects that might not be seen at the time. The withdrawal of programme partnership arrangement funding from many organisations is leading them to withdraw from areas, or wind up altogether, and that has a long-term impact that might not be seen at present, yet need is vastly increasing. Of course, support for refugees here needs to increase as well. The UK is committed to taking 20,000 over five years, but that is nowhere near our fair share.
"I agree that persecuted minorities need to be given special attention. The House as a whole has given the Government a mandate to act on the genocide of the Yazidi community. The support provided for refugees needs to go beyond simply meeting physical requirements. I have constituents who are traumatised by their experiences in Syria and elsewhere, and mental health support will be increasingly important.
"I am conscious of time. The Government say that they are leading the humanitarian response, but that does not mean that they cannot go further. They must rethink their military objectives. We were told in December last year that UK air strikes would cut off the head of the snake, but the chaos has only increased, and the people of Aleppo are paying the price. The UK urgently needs to rethink its military strategy, and it needs to commit to working across borders and interests to find a sustainable and lasting peace. While that goes on, the aid effort must be stepped up for the sake of people in Aleppo, Syria, the region and, indeed, around the world."
You can read the transcript of the full debate here.