It is the normal practice when a government department proposes to make a gift of a value exceeding £300,000, for the department concerned to present to the House of Commons a minute giving particulars of the gift and explaining the circumstances, and to refrain from making the gift until fourteen parliamentary sitting days after the issue of the minute, except in cases of special urgency.
There is an urgent strategic and operational need to provide the gift outlined in this statement at the earliest possible opportunity. It has therefore not been possible to conform to the normal notification period for this gift. As a result, the window for parliamentary objections to this gift has been reduced to ten parliamentary sitting days.
The Government’s priority for Syria is to seek an end to the conflict through an inclusive political settlement by bolstering those who have a moderate and unified vision for the country and by putting pressure on the regime and its backers, and on ISIL, while alleviating human suffering through the provision of humanitarian aid. An important line of effort in achieving this strategy is the provision of non-lethal assistance to carefully vetted members of the Syrian Moderate Armed opposition.
This minute sets out the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) plans to deliver two packages of support to the Southern Front of the Moderate Armed Opposition in Syria through our Conflict, Security and Stability Fund (CSSF): a medical and a border force project.
The Southern Front is a coalition of moderate armed opposition groups operating in the south of Syria. They have had recent successes on the ground and provide a real, moderate alternative to extremists. The provision of non-lethal aid to moderate groups can directly increase their effectiveness and resilience. Ensuring that moderate armed groups are logistically self-reliant and able to provide for the welfare of their constituents can directly increase their legitimacy and help to prevent extremist groups from poaching fighters. Accordingly, we plan to provide training and non-lethal equipment to vetted members of the Southern Front, in order to significantly improve their casualty evacuation capabilities, and their capacity to control and defend a defined section of the Syrian-Jordanian border.
As part of these two projects, the FCO plans to gift equipment to the Southern Front to the value of £2.05m, funded by the CSSF. The proposed list of equipment includes medical supplies for a rear trauma facility and ambulance units, generators, 4x4 vehicles, communications equipment, observation cameras and binoculars, uniforms and other logistical equipment such as tents. There are some Controlled Items in this package, which have been assessed against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. These include radios designed to use encryption, observation cameras with thermal imaging technology, chargers and a low grade of protective vests. The total budget for these two projects has been set at £5m, which also includes the costs of training.
Equipment will be procured through two carefully selected implementing partners, with whom HMG has worked previously. It will be delivered to vetted members of the Southern Front at a regional training site, after the completion of certain training modules, including training on Human Rights and the Law of Armed Conflict. HMG closely monitors the situation on the ground in Syria, and has long-established links with members of the Southern Front. All recipients are carefully selected to ensure that they are not involved in extremist activity or human rights abuses. We will monitor these projects closely, halting support if we believe the equipment is being misused.
The Treasury has approved the proposal in principle and, given the urgency involved, has agreed to the proposal to reduce the period for parliamentary scrutiny. If, during the period of ten parliamentary sitting days beginning on the date on which this minute was laid before the House of Commons, a Member signifies an objection by giving notice of a Parliamentary Question or a Motion relating to the minute, or by otherwise raising the matter in the House, final approval of the gift will be withheld pending an examination of the objection.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords