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Bishop Christopher opens debate on Syria

The Bishop of Coventry has opened a debate in the House of Lords on the humanitarian crisis in Syria. "Despite the admirable diplomatic activity of recent weeks", Bishop Christopher began, "the humanitarian costs of the ongoing conflict in Syria show no sign of abatement. As violence expands exponentially and cruelty abounds, no one can fail to be moved by the scale of the crisis, which is nothing short of a catastrophe."

In his opening speech, Bishop Christopher continued:

"This debate seeks neither to underestimate the efforts of Her Majesty’s Government to rise to the challenge of humanitarian support, nor to question their resolve to work towards a political resolution of the civil war.  Rather, I hope that it will give an opportunity for your Lordships’ House to focus its expert attention on the humanitarian costs of the conflict and the humanitarian imperative of bringing the conflict to an end, and, in so doing, of checking that every stone is being turned in the cause of compassion and the pursuit of peace.

I am honoured that the noble Lord, Lord Bates, whose personal commitment to these issues is an inspiration to your Lordships’ House, will be replying on behalf of the Government.  The Government are to be applauded for orchestrating the UK’s largest ever response to a humanitarian crisis.  The United Kingdom is at the forefront of the humanitarian battle, leading others in the provision of strategic, targeted humanitarian aid.  Such decisive, compassionate action is an important step towards healing the wounds of history that many of our past interventions in the Middle East have caused, which were powerfully explained by the noble Lord, Lord Bates, in a previous debate.

However, are we content that the humanitarian battle is being fought with the ferocity, skill, determination, sense of urgency and application of resource that are necessary in order to win this war on human suffering?  I ask the Minister, therefore, for his views on how other Governments can be most effectively pressed to commit to the pledging conference that the United Nations Secretary-General has called in January 2014, and then to fully and speedily honour their commitments?  Syria needs more than the current 50% return.  The cost of the humanitarian aid to which we are committed is high, but it is a great deal lower than the cost of military intervention would have been."

The full text of Bishop Christopher's speech can be downloaded by clicking here.  He concluded with the following words:

"If the existing humanitarian costs of this conflict are shamefully terrifying, the humanitarian costs of not reaching a political settlement at Geneva II would surely be intolerable for the moral conscience of the world.  Even with a political solution, the scars of this conflict will take many generations to heal.  It will require the continued generosity of the international community in a sustained and strategic humanitarian commitment.  I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will continue to take a courageous lead and make this not the last business of a long day but the priority of every morning until the holy land of Syria is healed."