Defence in the World

– in the House of Commons at 2:04 pm on 17th October 2002.

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[Relevant document: The Fifth Report from the Defence Committee, Session 2001–02, HC914, on the Future of NATO.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Jim Murphy.]

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence 2:07 pm, 17th October 2002

This is the fourth of five themed defence debates planned to take place in the House in the current parliamentary Session. The title today is XDefence in the World". The House will have an opportunity at the end of the month to debate XDefence in the United Kingdom".

Any debate about defence today must begin with the appalling events of 11 September last year, echoed again by yet more innocent deaths, this time in Bali. The unprovoked and devastating attacks in New York and Washington, and the fourth, failed hijack, have dominated policy and thinking across the world and across this Government. They were clearly the most significant drivers in the work of the Ministry of Defence in the last year.

We are still dealing with the consequences of those events. They have included the deployment of British combat forces to Afghanistan and a review of our security and defence plans. I should like to take this opportunity to reaffirm to the House our appreciation of the way both our armed forces and the civil servants within the Ministry of Defence responded to those considerable challenges.

We were faced with two immediate tasks in the wake of those attacks: first, we needed urgently to respond to the direct threat facing the United Kingdom and its interests; and, secondly, we needed to re-examine our policies and planning to deal with al-Qaeda and other international terrorist organisations.

The Government's defence policy was set out in the strategic defence review of 1998. It was rightly acclaimed at the time, and the past four years have demonstrated its resilience to events. The 11 September attacks, however, required us to undertake an urgent re-examination of our stance. They showed us that what might previously have been seen as potentially dangerous but distant developments now posed a direct and immediate threat. It also involved finding new ways of dealing with those threats.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary set out the Government's wider counter-terrorist strategy in the House on 16 October last year. It embraced both immediate campaign aims and longer-term objectives. In the immediate aftermath of 11 September, we sought to prevent al-Qaeda from posing a continuing terrorist threat, and to deny it a base in Afghanistan. We also made it clear that we were determined, as part of our wider strategic goals, to bring the leaders of that evil organisation to account. More widely, we sought to do everything possible to work for the elimination of international terrorism as a force for change in the world.

Last month, we published a progress report on the campaign against international terrorism, setting out the United Kingdom's contribution to the campaign. But we all know that international terrorism demands an international response. No one nation can defeat the many, disparate and well-hidden threats, of which al-Qaeda is only the principal. Moreover, no one nation is threatened in isolation. As last weekend's awful bombing in Bali demonstrated, we are in this together and we need to act together.

It is in that context that we are dealing with Saddam Hussein. At the end of last month, this House had the opportunity to debate the Government's response to the threat of Iraq and from its weapons of mass destruction. That Saddam Hussein is a brutal and cruel dictator is not in doubt. What has been at issue is the nature of the threat that he poses to us and to the middle east region, and what we need to do about it.

Saddam Hussein has spent years trying to build up his stores of weapons of mass destruction; he certainly strives to add nuclear capabilities to that arsenal. If we cannot ensure his disarmament, he will eventually succeed. If we were to underestimate the threat and fall for more of his duplicitous trickery, or simply do nothing, we would be guilty of a profound abdication of responsibility. Saddam Hussein must disarm.

Photo of Mr Llew Smith Mr Llew Smith Labour, Blaenau Gwent

Will the Secretary of State explain to the House in what circumstances he would consider the use of nuclear weapons?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I have set out to the House on a considerable number of occasions that it has not been the policy of this or any Government to set out the precise circumstances in which a nuclear weapon would be used, not least because the purpose of retaining nuclear weapons is to deter. To set out precisely the circumstances in which we would use such a weapon would eliminate the effect of the deterrence. I am sure that my hon. Friend was aware of the answer that I was likely to give to him, as he has asked me that question before. However, for the avoidance of doubt, I am grateful for the opportunity of repeating it.

Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen Labour, Nottingham North

On a slightly different matter, my right hon. Friend underlines that action should take place, if possible, in an international context—if, indeed, action is to take place in Iraq. Will he allow the House to be privy to the legal advice that the Attorney-General has given to the Government, some of which appeared in The Guardian last week? It would be helpful for colleagues in the House to understand the legal context and the legitimacy of any action that may or may not take place.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

My hon. Friend is a very experienced Member of the House and I am surprised that, after so long here, he still believes what he reads in The Guardian. I can assure him that there was not advice from Her Majesty's Law Officers. Moreover, he well knows that it is a long-standing convention that Ministers do not disclose the legal advice, or other advice, that they receive.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Labour, Hampstead and Highgate

Perhaps my right hon. Friend might clarify for me the Government's view at this moment, in this context, of an international community. He referred to the need for the international community to act together to tackle international terrorism. On the issue of a strike against Saddam Hussein, it would seem that the international community has reduced to two sovereign states, namely the United Kingdom and the United States. Is he saying that this now constitutes the international community and that we will engage against Iraq if the rest of what I understood to be the international community stays where it is, firmly saying no to a pre-emptive strike?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I am sorry that my hon. Friend takes that view of the international community. Even a superficial reading of today's newspapers—[Interruption.] I did say Xsuperficial." A superficial reading of the newspapers would demonstrate that the international community is engaged in a discussion in the United Nations and, probably as I am speaking, efforts are being made to produce a new Security Council resolution. That is involving the Security Council and other members in trying to establish the clear view of the international community. With the greatest respect, I disagree with my hon. Friend.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

I do not often make common cause with Mr. Allen, but on this question I do. The Opposition have previously called for a proper explanation of the legal basis on which pre-emptive action against Iraq might be taken. It is not usual for the Government to publish their legal advice, but there are precedents, and I submit that in these circumstances the precedent is a valid one. The new Bush doctrine on pre-emptive strikes is an important development in security law. The question of pre-emption is touched upon in the Government's defence policy document on the new chapter to the strategic defence review, and it is incumbent on them to establish that what they are proposing or contemplating has a clear basis in international law.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I am surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman suggest that this is a new development. If he checks carefully the use of the word Xpre-emption", he will find it first referred to in the 19th century. I realise that that may be new for some Conservatives. However, the hon. Gentleman will find that there is a well-established 19th century doctrine of pre-emption based on the concept of self-defence, which allows a sovereign state to take action to protect itself in the event of an imminent threat. The document that he refers to, published by the United States Administration, is based firmly on that tradition.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

I am delighted to hear the Government agreeing with the Bush national security strategy. However, the question is not whether pre-emption is a new concept but whether we are adjusting what we regard as an imminent threat in the new security climate. It is very difficult to establish what is an imminent threat. We want to be sure that what we judge to be an imminent threat is securely founded in international law.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

If the hon. Gentleman reads carefully what he has just said, he will realise that he is arguing in a circular manner. He is now asking me to apply the principles of international law to a situation that has not yet arisen. In those circumstances, he will understand perfectly well why it would not be sensible for me to answer his question.

Photo of Paul Keetch Paul Keetch Liberal Democrat, Hereford

The Secretary of State referred to the debate that we had on the recall of Parliament, but of course there was no vote on that occasion—[Interruption.] Well, there was no substantive vote on the deployment of British troops. The Leader of the House has suggested that there should be a substantive vote on the deployment of British troops. Indeed, the President of the United States has sought and received support from both Houses of Congress. Does the Secretary of State believe that there should be a vote before British troops are deployed into action?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House have both set out the Government's position in this matter. It will obviously be resolved when and if that time comes, but as the time has not yet come, it is not necessary for me to answer that question at this stage.

Photo of Mark Prisk Mark Prisk Shadow Financial Secretary

The Secretary of State seems to be suggesting that moving from the historic basis of our defence in the past 40 years—namely the principle of deterrence—to a principle of pre-emption is a minor step that does not need full explanation. Surely to goodness we need to have that debate, whether we agree on the principle or not; it is no good trying to tiptoe past it.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

On the contrary, I was not suggesting that there had been a change. I was suggesting that for the past 40 years we had lived perfectly comfortably with the concept of pre-emption and deterrence. If I did not communicate that clearly to the hon. Gentleman, I sincerely apologise, but that is the position.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the main cause of the acts of terrorism that we have witnessed is a belief—almost certainly a mistaken belief—among Muslim communities throughout the world that they have been badly treated by the western Christian communities? Is not the worst way to deepen that suspicion and encourage more acts of terrorism to invade Iraq before there is a just settlement in Palestine?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I simply do not accept what my hon. Friend says. If he thinks very carefully about al-Qaeda and the appalling attacks that it has perpetrated over very many years, many of which have seen Muslims as its victims, he will realise that he is talking nonsense, if he will forgive me for saying so.

Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South

How confident is my right hon. Friend that he will get the support of the United Nations? My colleagues and I receive many letters from constituents expressing their concern that we go through the United Nations.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

That is the Government's position and we are trying to achieve our policy on that. As I said when answering an earlier question, we are using all our efforts to secure that international consensus behind our position.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

If hon. Members will forgive me, I wish to make a little progress. I shall give way again in a moment.

We want to achieve that end through the United Nations, without recourse to military action, but we must show Saddam Hussein that we have the resolve to act. Recent history demonstrates that he will not give up his ambitions out of the goodness of his heart. We have to show that we are prepared to back our words with action, however reluctantly. It is for Saddam Hussein to avoid conflict by agreeing to abide by United Nations resolutions, granting genuinely unfettered access to weapons inspectors and obeying international law. The Government have the resolve and the will to act if he is so mistaken as to put the world's determination to the test.

The issue remains a difficult one for all of us. No one takes these decisions lightly or without careful consideration of all the options. That is why it is so crucial that we have a clear policy underlying those options.

Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Govan

President Bush has made it abundantly clear that if the United Nations does not act to punish Iraq, the United States will act alone, with or without UN backing. Does the Secretary of State agree with him? Secondly, does my right hon. Friend agree with me that unilateral action against Iraq will fracture the international coalition? Now is the right time to stop using the words Xinternational community", because only three heads of state support this war: Ariel Sharon and President Bush supported by our Prime Minister.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

Let me make it clear that there is no war and that the Government's policy has been consistently set out by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. It is that we will go through the United Nations and work within it to achieve that international consensus. Today, I have emphasised that that effort will be far more successful, and that efforts we make through the United Nations are more likely to be successful, if Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime are aware that we are prepared to back that determination by the use of force if it becomes necessary.

Photo of Mrs Alice Mahon Mrs Alice Mahon Labour, Halifax

I draw the attention of the Secretary of State to a United States Congressional Budget Office document, which clearly states:

XPresident Bush has been guaranteed that Britain will send troops to fight a US-led war."

It continues:

XThe report, finalised on September 30th, says Britain is the only country that has said it will commit troops".

The document also gives a figure of #5 billion for our costs. When the Secretary of State was recently in Washington, did he discuss that report with the Congressional Budget Office? Has he seen it, has he got a copy of it and can he share it with the rest of us?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I did not see that report and I have not read it, but I know that my hon. Friend understands the way in which the constitution of the United States operates. It is important that I emphasise to the House that the report is based on the planning assumptions of the Congressional Budget Office; it is not a document of the United States Administration. I must make it clear that any reference to, or suggestion of, any specific offer of forces by the United Kingdom is simply wrong. That office is an organ of Congress; it is not part of the United States Government. Therefore, my hon. Friend and the House should not take what it states as truth because it is based on an assumption that that office has made.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

If the international community says clearly that under no circumstances will there be military intervention in Iraq, why should the Iraqi dictator agree to the weapons inspectors coming back? Is it not clear that after four years—that is when they were thrown out—the only reason that he has agreed in principle now to the return of those weapons inspectors is the threat of possible military action? If there is war, the responsibility will lie with him.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I tend to agree with my hon. Friend, who puts the point more forcefully and effectively than I did.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Defence)

Opponents of the war have alleged that we may face a war on two fronts—one against al-Qaeda and one against Iraq. Will the Secretary of State share with the House his view of the extent to which the resources that one uses in a war against terrorists and those that one uses in a conventional war against a military power like Saddam overlap?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I am about to deal with the development of our policy in the wake of the events of 11 September. It is clear that the basic assumptions in the strategic defence review were right—the need to be able to get forces quickly into a crisis, whether it is provoked by a conventional armed force or by terrorism. Clearly, we have refined those assumptions in the light of what took place on 11 September—the hon. Gentleman and I have debated this matter before—and I intend to deal with that in a moment.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

Is it not important to look behind the supposed agreement of my hon. Friend David Winnick with the Secretary of State? The history is that the weapons inspectors were not thrown out; they withdrew. The basic trouble was that they were abusing their position as inspectors. They were reporting back to Washington. Some, although not all of them, were spies. In Operation Desert Fox, areas were targeted that the inspectors had recently visited. That is the cause of much of the bad blood and trouble.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

Whatever the precise circumstance of their withdrawal from Iraq—I do not think that we need detain the House long on that—the reality is that the inspectors were prevented from doing the job mandated for them by the United Nations. That is why it is so important that we secure a new resolution that will allow the weapons inspectors unfettered access to any site and any place in Iraq. Otherwise, we risk repeating the mistakes that led to their withdrawal in 1998.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

Will the Secretary of State explicitly clarify to Congress that the Congressional Budget Office document is a fiction and that there has been no agreement on the scale of troop involvement? Also, as this relates to the cost of any war against Iraq, will he publish the figures for the scale of the costs of certain levels of engagement? For example, what would be the cost of 10,000 or 20,000 troops per week over a period of engagement? Furthermore, what would be the cost of the occupation of Iraq afterwards?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

Although I have not seen that document, as I made clear a moment ago—I am not suggesting that the document is fiction—I can assure my hon. Friend and the House that no specific decisions have been taken on any commitment of British forces and that the document is based on an assumption that has been made by the Congressional Budget Office as to the likely scale of effort and its cost. I see no advantage for the House or anyone else in publishing the sort of statistical information that my hon. Friend requests.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Croydon Central

How important is it to have a simple resolution of the United Nations, not only to gain its acceptance, but to ensure that its terms can be delivered by Iraq credibly? If the resolution refers to persecution, accounting for the 600 people missing, oil smuggling and so forth, and includes clauses that could trigger a war, other members of the United Nations will not accept it and we will not get to the core of the issue, which is to get unfettered access for the inspectors and the decommissioning of weapons.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

My hon. Friend is right. As someone who spent much time in a previous ministerial position in the Foreign Office negotiating resolution 1284 at exhausting length and in exhausting detail, I recognise that a simple statement of the international community's position is necessary today, as well as an indication of the consequences in the event of that position not being satisfied.

Across Government, we have been set new challenges by international terrorism. We have set in train work to re-examine our defence policy and plans in the light of the terrorist threat demonstrated on 11 September. We consulted widely and openly. We published two discussion documents and ideas from individuals and organisations, including many valuable contributions from hon. Members and the other place. As a result, we published a new chapter to the strategic defence review on 18 July. It shows that the strategic defence review's emphasis on expeditionaryoperations working with allies was right, but demonstrates—crucially—how best to use our forces against a different sort of enemy: one that is determined, well hidden and vastly different from the conventional forces that we might have expected to face in the past.

One key area that we identified as needing urgent investment was what we call network-centric capability. I honestly wish that we did not call it that, but we did. Essentially, it involves linking our intelligence, analytical and offensive forces together, so that we can strike quickly when fleeting opportunities arise. This means that we will invest more in airborne sensors such as unmanned aerial vehicles, and more in the networks that assemble and process the data from the sensors. The precision systems that will hit the targets identified could include Tomahawk or Storm Shadow missiles, or special forces, or the Apache attack helicopter, depending on what is the most militarily effective. This is already costing the country money. We have therefore addressed not only the adjustments that were needed to policy and capabilities, but the resources needed to implement them.

The results of the spending review announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in July represented the largest sustained increase in defence spending for 20 years. By 2005–06, the defence budget will be some #3.5 billion higher than it is this year. That constitutes real growth of 3.7 per cent. over three years—3 per cent. in the year 2003–04 alone. That spending is to be focused on accelerating the modernisation and evolution of the armed forces in response to the changing strategic environment.

I have already heard grumbling from the Opposition about defence spending, but it is worth noting that the Opposition spokesman cannot undertake to match our spending pound for pound. When the rhetoric is stripped away, the facts are simple: one cannot defend the United Kingdom with waffle, as he has sought to do. It is only this Government who are prepared to put their money where their mouth is on defence. That money is not for investing in the status quo. It will be used not only to procure cutting-edge technology for the armed forces, but to modernise the way we work as a Department, improve efficiency, and enhance living conditions for our armed forces. We may have more to spend, but we need to spend it better.

Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Liberal Democrat, Colchester

Will the Secretary of State advise the House as to the current strength of the British Army, and whether its being under strength is affecting its capacity to undertake all its duties?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are still slightly short of the target set, but in recent months a record number of recruits have entered basic training. Although we still have some ambitious targets to satisfy, I am confident that we are taking the right decisions to enable us to move toward the manning totals for the Army and the other two services.

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson Conservative, Ruislip - Northwood

The right hon. Gentleman will know that, under the headline goals established to make the European security and defence identity effective, significant force improvements are required by all the participating countries. The United Kingdom is not doing too badly, and the French are doing exceptionally well through their five-year defence review. Will he therefore recommend to other European allies that they follow the French example, and if necessary bust the criteria of the stability pact to achieve the headline goals?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I think that I heard the hon. Gentleman say something nice about France—there is hope for us all. I shall deal briefly with European defence matters in a moment, but he is right: it is vital not only that countries spend more on defence, but that they spend the money better. I do not know whether his question betrays support for the headline goal process, but I shall not push him too far, given his previous admission. We have strongly supported that process in part because it is concentrated on capabilities—on a process of persuading our partners in the European Union to spend more on defence, and to spend it better.

It is important that our service men and women are equipped with reliable and effective weapons that are up to the demands that we place on them. Obviously, they should have full confidence in the equipment that they use. The House will be aware of the decision to retain in service the SA80 A2 weapons system. Modifications to the system have improved its reliability and made it among the best in the world. Those findings have been confirmed in a series of stringent trials. I want to reassure the House that Defence Ministers and senior members of the military have looked at the issue closely. I am fully satisfied that we have taken the right decision, that the SA80 A2 is up to the job, and that, as our service personnel see its capabilities properly demonstrated, their confidence in this vital equipment will be retained.

Of course, it is not just at our own national level that we need to organise our defence capabilities to meet the threats and demands of the new strategic environment. NATO is on track with its transformation programme, which will be the key element of next month's Prague summit. The alliance's command structure will be reshaped, and new capabilities and the proposed NATO response force will provide the cutting edge. As I said, we continue to work with our European partners to strengthen European capabilities under the European Union's headline goal, which we aim to have delivered by the end of next year.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

As a former, albeit extremely junior, member of 7th Armoured Brigade, may I ask about the Challenger tank? Those of us who were tank crew in previous eras are understandably concerned at what we read about the problems with the Challenger 2, and the filters that might be required in the desert.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

My hon. Friend refers to one of the lessons learned from a major desert exercise in Oman. It clearly demonstrated that, whatever the prevailing sand conditions, the Challenger 2 needs appropriate modification if it is to be deployed in such circumstances. I can assure the House that, in the event of so deploying a Challenger 2, it will be appropriately modified.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Labour, South Dorset

Is my right hon. Friend aware of evidence taken by the Defence Committee yesterday from Simon Webb, director of policy at the Ministry of Defence? We got the impression that Challenger 2s were sent out not to learn lessons about filters and how deployable they are in deserts, but to test whether they could get out there.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

There is no doubt that they got out there, but I am not sure that it is wholly sensible to draw the distinction that my hon. Friend draws. I doubt whether the House would regard it as particularly satisfactory for me to set out only those lessons learned that we intended to learn; the truth is that we have to learn a range of lessons from that experience, and I can assure the House that we have done so.

Our work over the past 12 months has been focused on one simple proposition: the need to defend the people of the United Kingdom, their interests and their allies. We face many threats in an increasingly unpredictable world, but above all else we have to deal with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The recent admission by North Korea that it has a nuclear weapons programme illustrates how critical that is. The terrible nature and power of these weapons in unscrupulous hands is such that there can be few more important challenges than protecting ourselves and our friends and allies from their potentially devastating impact.

Let us make no mistake: there are people who are more than willing to use such weapons against us. I have spoken of Iraq, but the possibility of any one of a range of terrorist groups acquiring a chemical, biological, radiological or even nuclear weapon is far from fantasy. They are trying to acquire such weapons, and we cannot be certain that they will not succeed. In terms of the death and destruction that they can cause and the strategic effect that they can achieve, many of these weapons are neither costly nor even complex to manufacture.

Linked to the threat from weapons of mass destruction is that of ballistic missile proliferation. Such missiles pose a threat in themselves, but it is their capability to deliver WMD warheads that make them still more of a concern. Right hon. and hon. Members may therefore find it helpful if I say a few words about the work in the United States on the development of ballistic missile defence systems, and this Government's position on such systems.

The United States' withdrawal from the anti-ballistic missile treaty took effect on 13 June. Contrary to some commentators' expectations, that did not prove to be the prelude to a new strategic arms race. In fact, it coincided with the negotiation and conclusion of the Moscow treaty, under which the United States and Russia agreed to steep reductions in the numbers of their deployed strategic nuclear warheads. The US missile defence programme is gathering momentum, as Monday evening's successful test illustrates. In particular, the United States has plans for a test-bed in the Pacific, to be used to develop and evaluate options for a basic missile defence system capable of addressing the full range of missile threats. Developing effective ballistic missile defence is a hugely challenging task. Any system will inevitably have to develop on an evolutionary basis, as understanding increases of the technological and other risks and opportunities involved.

During the summer, US officials visited London and other European capitals, as well as NATO headquarters in Brussels, to set out possible approaches to missile defence and to repeat US willingness to offer protection to friends and allies. It is right that we recognise the potential contribution of missile defence to a comprehensive strategy to deal with the threat from ballistic missiles—a strategy that also includes non-proliferation and counter-proliferation measures, diplomacy and deterrence.

The close access to the US research programme that we already enjoy will be essential background to inform any decisions that we may wish to take on missile defence for Europe or the United Kingdom. Against that background, I want to make two points that I and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary have made many times before. The United States Administration have made no specific decisions about the precise future architecture of a United States missile defence system. No formal request has been made to us for the use of RAF Fylingdales as part of the US programme.

If a US request for the use of Fylingdales—or any other UK facility for missile defence purposes—is received, we will consider it very seriously. The Government would agree to such a request only if we were satisfied that the overall security of the UK and the alliance would be enhanced. Since this subject is highly complex and one of considerable interest to the House, I have asked for some detailed analytical work to be completed on the implications of missile defence and its relationship with other elements of a comprehensive strategy against the ballistic missile threat. We welcome parliamentary and public discussion of the issues involved. I therefore intend to make available in the coming months further analytical and discussion material as our work progresses, and we will be ready to discuss these issues in the House at the appropriate time.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Has the Secretary of State not just made a coded statement that Britain will take part in missile defence and will support the United States in this costly disaster—the proposed star wars in the sky—which will cost this country dear, and line us up ever more closely with the United States and all its interests, against the rest of the world?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I do not recall saying that. I am sure, however, that if my hon. Friend has the opportunity to read carefully what I said, he will see that there was no code but a clear statement of the Government's current position.

Photo of Mark Prisk Mark Prisk Shadow Financial Secretary

As the Secretary of State will recall, I have asked him about this issue repeatedly over the last year, and I am pleased that we are finally achieving a little parity. May I tease out a little more from him on what he described as the close access that the Government have enjoyed? Over the last year, in answering questions from me and others, he has said that there has been no direct involvement. Is he now saying that there have been links? Can he confirm that a Royal Air Force officer who is already operating and working at NATO is participating in the programme there? I welcome the progress, but I hope that he can be clear on the matter.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I assure the hon. Gentleman that at no stage have I misled the House on these matters. In answer to parliamentary questions, we have made it clear that a research programme has been continuing in the Ministry of Defence for some time on the technical matters to which I have just referred. The material to which I have referred and the co-operation that is enjoyed by the United Kingdom with the United States is about basic research principles. That has been disclosed to the House on many previous occasions.

Photo of Paul Keetch Paul Keetch Liberal Democrat, Hereford

I am glad that the Government will, effectively, produce a dossier on Britain's potential involvement in national missile defence, and that there might be a debate. Can the Secretary of State tell us when it might be? Will he assure the House that, if there is to be a dossier and a debate, we will have more time to look at it than we did in relation to the dossier on Iraq?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

The fair answer to that is that it will take place when we are ready.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Labour, South Dorset

I have yet to make up my mind on missile defence. Does the Secretary of State agree that, when we have the debate, it is important to move away from the nonsense about star wars—with every respect to my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn—and recognise that there are three phases to a missile? Only one of those phases would involve interception in space, and I understand that that is the most difficult and the most unlikely to be developed. If we want a sensible debate so that people can make up their minds, let us do that, and not get wrapped up in strange media myths such as star wars.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his common-sense approach. Perhaps he might assist in advising some of my other colleagues on the circumstances in question.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Defence)

Will the Secretary of State at least agree that those of his Back-Bench colleagues who are so opposed to taking action against Saddam Hussein, and who feel that Saddam should be left at liberty to go on developing ballistic missiles, should at least experience a belated conversion to ballistic missile defence? That might make their other recommendations a little more credible.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I am sure that my hon. Friends heard the hon. Gentleman's observations.

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Conservative, Newark

Ballistic missiles apart, can the Secretary of State guarantee that, as, when and if our troops are deployed into harm's way—from people such as Saddam Hussein—theatre missile defence will be in place to protect them in the same way that American, Italian, French and German troops have that protection?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

The hon. Gentleman and I have debated the matter before. I have answered that question on several previous occasions, and I am not sure that we will take the matter further. I will not give guarantees of anything, as, clearly, it would not be appropriate at this stage to make the kind of assumptions that he is making. I want to make progress, because I have detained the House longer than I should have done.

Away from the policy issues, our armed forces are involved in a considerable number of active deployments around the world. The Ministry of Defence has been extremely busy over the past year. However, given the draw-down in Afghanistan, and with major reductions in prospect in the Balkans, there is now a healthier balance between our standing commitments and the resources available. Our armed forces have done, and are doing, excellent work. Afghanistan is now a significantly different nation from the one that existed a year ago. Freedom of expression and education has replaced the arbitrary authority of the Taliban regime. None the less, there is much work still to do in that country and, as the Prime Minister recently said, we will not abandon our newest ally until that work is completed. I am pleased to say that the Defence Minister of Afghanistan, Marshal Fahim Khan, will pay a visit to the United Kingdom shortly.

In the Balkans, we continue to support the international community's efforts to create new European states from the ruins of Yugoslavia. Our work in Sierra Leone has been a model of how the determination and professionalism of our forces can change lives. When we arrived there, the elected Government were close to collapse, rebels were carrying out terrible atrocities almost at will, and the nation faced a bleak future. Today, Sierra Leone is rebuilding. We have put a great deal of effort into security sector reform, together with the Department for International Development, to reinforce democratic control of the armed forces. Similar efforts have been made with the Sierra Leonean police. There is now peace, increasing economic success, elections and real hope for the future.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

Does my right hon. Friend recall the ferocious opposition to military intervention in Kosovo and Afghanistan? Is it not the case that, had we listened to the critics, Milosevic would not be in the dock but would have continued in power in Belgrade—ethnic cleansing would have continued to a worse degree than had already happened—and the Taliban would still be in power in Afghanistan? Have the critics, to my right hon. Friend's knowledge, apologised and explained that they were wrong at the time?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. It is clear that, in all of the examples that he has given, the international community initially sought a diplomatic and political route to achieve those ends. Clearly, there have been occasions when a diplomatic and political route has been successful in avoiding conflict and bringing about a peaceful and sensible resolution. Equally, he rightly points out the occasions on which it has been necessary to back that diplomacy with a threat, or, ultimately, with the use of force. On occasions, that has also proved successful.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

To be fair to the House, I should make progress, but I shall give way to my hon. Friend Mr. Barnes.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes Labour, North East Derbyshire

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some Labour Members who gave support in connection with Kosovo in particular, and also in relation to Afghanistan—although there was criticism of how the action took place—do not support in any set of circumstances the planned military action in connection with Iraq? Different arguments operate in different cases.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I accept that proposition entirely. It is for each and every Member of the House to reach his or her conclusion on these questions. I accept that, in different circumstances, there will be different approaches.

Photo of Mrs Alice Mahon Mrs Alice Mahon Labour, Halifax

Having recently visited Kosovo, not for the first time, may I ask my right hon. Friend, who claims that the action there was a success, when nearly 250,000 people from ethnic minorities who were expelled from Kosovo will be able to return there? The report that we received was not very positive. When will there be a report to the House on what happened to the 1,300 people who have disappeared since the NATO bombing?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I, too, have been regular visitor to Kosovo since British troops first went there. All that I would say to my hon. Friend is that clearly there are problems. No one pretends that it is easy to move from a situation in which tens of thousands of people were losing their lives or were threatened with losing their lives and in which the most appalling atrocities were committed. I accept that there are still significant difficulties. The Government and I have argued consistently that we would like the Serbs to return to their homes and work in Kosovo.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

Indeed; and the other minorities, many of whom have left Kosovo. However, that aim will not be achieved without the restoration of confidence in the political structures available in that part of the world. As my hon. Friend knows, that process takes time, but it is not helped by running down the efforts that the international community has made so far to avert the type of humanitarian catastrophe that was so long a feature of Kosovo at the hands Milosevic.

Against the successes, we must not forget the many continuing challenges around the world, not least the tension between India and Pakistan. I visited both countries at the beginning of July in an effort to maintain the diplomatic momentum. There are issues on both sides, which must be resolved. Full and substantive dialogue between the two countries must be the ultimate goal. Defence diplomacy, an initiative launched in the strategic defence review, has an important part to play therefore.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

No, I must finish my speech.

Defence diplomacy involves building key relationships with military and diplomatic personnel in countries across the world, sharing our experience and expertise. Those relationships give us rapid and direct access to decision makers in questions such as over-fly rights or forward basing. In some cases, we are building relationships with states that supported terrorism in the past, helping them to join the international community as full partners. The Ministry of Defence is greatly aided in this by support from other Departments, such as the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

This has been—and continues to be—one of the most challenging times for defence in recent years. We face difficult choices. We will need to show resolve, but we will not be deflected from pursuing our strategic goals, forming new alliances and demonstrating the professionalism, dedication and determination of Britain's armed forces as a force for good in the world. 2.52 pm

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

I welcome the Secretary of State's announcement on missile defence. Although it does not constitute a change of policy or involve a marked shift in expenditure or a commitment to a particular programme, it marks a considerable shift in his tone. I did not come to the Chamber today with the intention of majoring on the subject of missile defence, because I took the view that, after the Bali attack, to carry on highlighting the absence of ministerial commitment to missile defence would do nothing but add to public anxiety. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman's timing is well chosen. The public require reassurance on this issue. Weapons proliferation continues and we know that investigation into possible programmes has continued in the right hon. Gentleman's Department and that the NATO working party, in which the UK is a prime facilitator, has continued its work on missile defence, so it has become increasingly ridiculous for the Government to insist that Xno decisions have been made."

I very much welcome the movement that the Secretary of State has made today, but I must point out that Her Majesty's Opposition have been pleading with the Government on this issue for some time; my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition raised the issue of missile defence long before the last election, and such a statement from the Secretary of State was long overdue. I welcome it unreservedly and look forward to seeing the papers that he will lay before the House and to engaging in the debate that he says he will now welcome.

I stress a point made by my hon. Friend Patrick Mercer. At a recent conference that I attended on missile defence, it was noticeable that Britain is virtually the only country in Europe that is not well down the track of developing a deployable theatre missile defence system. I have no desire to set hares running as I have no doubt that whatever is required to protect forces in theatre will be provided, but my hon. Friend deserves a fuller answer in the fullness of time than the Secretary of State felt able to give today. As we embark on this debate, I see nothing to be gained on the Government's part unless there is absolute openness. At a time when public anxiety about terrorist attacks and weapons of mass destruction is running high, surely we should do everything that we can to reassure the public and give them confidence in what we are saying and doing.

I also welcome the Secretary of State's statement about the SA80 A2, and I am grateful for the notice that he gave me earlier today of his intention to raise this matter. He has put an important statement on the record. It is one thing for senior military officers to stake their reputations on this matter, but it is also right that the Ministers who are responsible for taking the decision put their views clearly on the record. I very much welcome the fact that that has happened today. I am grateful to the Government for the briefing that I received on the SA80 A2.

The decisive factor will be the confidence of soldiers and the Royal Marines, and it is their judgment that I will trust. I believe that the Government have every right to think that the soldiers and Royals Marines will have confidence in the weapon when the new arrangements and the necessary equipment are issued and the further modification is carried out. However, we will not let the matter drop if soldiers do not show confidence in the weapon on which they might have to stake their lives.

The background to the debate is the dreadful atrocities committed in Bali last weekend. The facts are stark. The initial evidence suggests that this was a highly practised and skilful attack. The blast was directed at the Sari nightclub and reminiscent of the expertise of the most skilful terrorist organisation in the world, the Provisional IRA.

It has further come to light that Jemaah Islamiyah has a long record of sending young Islamic scholars to the same fundamentalist Islamic schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan as bin Laden's al-Qaeda. Jemaah Islamiyah is embedded in the bloody concept of jihad, and its sister terrorist organisation in Indonesia, Ngruki, has had terrorist training in Afghanistan. Can there be any doubt that this attack is at least associated with al-Qaeda and should definitely be included in the war on terrorism?

We must ask ourselves where such groups are next likely to strike. There have already been further bomb attacks in the Philippines and we must be prepared for, and expect, a constant stream of attempts to cause terrorist atrocities anywhere in the world. That means our own country. The message that came out of 11 September last year is that we live in a far less predictable world than we thought. I am afraid that the Bali attack does nothing to allay those fears.

Photo of David Burnside David Burnside UUP, South Antrim

Does the hon. Gentleman, on behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition, agree that predictability depends on intelligence? Her Majesty's Government set an example when we were recalled in the recess to debate Iraq. They created a precedent by providing intelligence information, including from MI6, on the threat from Iraq. Does he agree that that precedent should be followed? Should not information from the intelligence services on threats from any terrorist organisation, domestic or international, be placed before the House in the way that it was in September? That was an example of open government.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, but I do not feel qualified to give him a full and frank answer. That would require deep consideration. He is trying to take me down a path that I do not want to follow, certainly not today. However, his point is well made and I have no doubt that Ministers have listened, so perhaps they will respond at the end of the debate.

The point about the Bali bombing is that it confirms the nature of the security environment in which we now live. As Lord Robertson, the Secretary General of NATO, has predicted, we can look forward to more instability, more conflicts spilling over into neighbouring countries and regions and more terrorism. It is appropriate that we pay tribute to the security services for the number of attacks that they have succeeded in foiling since 11 September. There will be more failed states, both rogue states and those with essentially benign or good governments struggling against the odds that we have seen in Indonesia, and more proliferation, as we have seen today with the US Administration's confirmation about a nuclear weapons programme in North Korea. The question that we must ask ourselves, which lies at the heart of everything we do as we consider defence in the world, is how we counter that.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Obviously I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the terrible nature of the Bali bombing and the terrible loss of life there. Is he concerned, however, that the Indonesian armed forces, which may receive support from western Governments in future, have a poor human rights record? Their activities in West Papua and Aceh are deplorable, as are those of the Indonesian militia. Is not this the time to encourage the Indonesian Government to have civilian control of their armed forces rather than the virtually independent state that they now enjoy?

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

I shall turn to how we should help Indonesia later in my speech, and I promise the hon. Gentleman that I will address that point.

The next question is how the Bali bombing affects our attitude to Iraq. First, I entirely concur with the Prime Minister that there is, as he explained so eloquently to the House on Tuesday, a connection between terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. As he put it, both issues are threats and,

Xthe same type of fanaticism and extremism is driving both threats."

He continued,

Xif we allow unstable states—with oppressive and dictatorial regimes—to develop weapons of mass destruction and also allow the terrorist groups to operate, we can be confident that the two threats will . . . at some point come together."—[Hansard, 15 October 2002; Vol. 390, c. 186.]

There is therefore no question of our adjusting policy towards Iraq in light of what happened in Bali.

Furthermore, let us not be squeamish about considering the likelihood of terrorist connections with the Saddam Hussein regime. Shards of evidence are constantly emerging which all point in the same direction. Recently it was announced:

XMansour Thaer has been charged with conspiracy of involvement with criminal association and is under arrest in Germany. Thaer has been investigated . . . for his links with a terrorist cell, and for participation in criminal conspiracy to traffic in arms, explosives, chemical weapons, identity papers, receiving stolen goods and aiding illegal immigration."

Mansour Thaer is an Iraqi national, born in Iraq and probably operating under the control of the Iraqi Government.

Photo of Mohammad Sarwar Mohammad Sarwar Labour, Glasgow Govan

Eleven of those involved in the attacks of 11 September—in fact the majority of those involved—were Saudi nationals. The hon. Gentleman is accusing Iraq; is he saying that Saudi Arabia has links with terrorism?

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

I do not think that the Saudi Government have willing links with terrorism, but if the hon. Gentleman is referring to the origin of some of the money for terrorist organisations, I certainly share his concern. The difference between the Iraqi Government and the Saudi Government is that the Saudi Government recognise that this is a problem but the Iraqi Government make it their policy.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Croydon Central

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of a report released today by the Council on Foreign Relations, written by a group headed by the former heads of the CIA and the FBI, which complains about Saudi Arabia's intransigence on the subject of providing al-Qaeda with access to funding sources in Saudi Arabia, and indicates that George Bush is not using the USA's full power and influence to combat terrorism funding from Saudi Arabia? Is the hon. Gentleman concerned about that?

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

I will not be sidetracked on to that subject. We all know that there are problems with a number of regimes in several regions, and we can bounce them all off the problem of Iraq. The fact is that Iraq is the most immediate threat and the one that we must deal with as a priority.

A recent letter to Senator Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, from George Tenet, director of central intelligence, made it clear that

Xthe likelihood of Saddam using W.M.D. for blackmail, deterrence or otherwise grows as his arsenal builds."

George Tenet confirms:

XWe have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda going back a decade. Credible information indicates that Iraq and Al Qaeda have discussed safe haven and reciprocal nonaggression . . . we have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of Al Qaeda members, including some that have been in Baghdad. We have credible reporting that Al Qaeda leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire W.M.D. capabilities."

The letter goes on. Should not we trust the representatives of democratically elected Governments rather than the word of an evil dictator such as Saddam Hussein?

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Labour, Newcastle upon Tyne North

Will the hon. Gentleman concede that the same person said in the same communication with Congress that Saddam Hussein was not an immediate threat to the United States and that his greatest threat to the US would be from the use of chemical weapons in retaliation to a pre-emptive strike?

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

The corollary of that point is that the hon. Gentleman would not support even UN-sanctioned military action against Iraq. If we are to be deterred by the possibility that Saddam Hussein might retaliate, we had better pack up and go home now. I do not think that that is the hon. Gentleman's policy. Furthermore, I think that he is misconstruing George Tenet's letter, which was occasioned by some people in the United States trying to misconstrue the evidence provided by a witness. The letter said:

XIn the above dialogue, the witness's qualifications—'in the foreseeable future, given the conditions we understand now'—were intended to underscore that the likelihood of Saddam using W.M.D. for blackmail, deterrence or otherwise grows as his arsenal builds."

Would the hon. Gentleman like to let the arsenal of weapons of mass destruction grow, along with the threat that they represent, or would he prefer to deal with them now?

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Labour, Newcastle upon Tyne North

Will the hon. Gentleman consider that the question whether a threat grows as an arsenal grows is different from the question whether Saddam Hussein's current arsenal is a threat to the United States in the absence of any awareness by Saddam Hussein's regime that Iraq is likely to be the subject of a pre-emptive strike?

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

The hon. Gentleman is going to the heart of the matter, which is why I invited the Secretary of State to join in the debate about how we assess an imminent threat as we consider our self-defence in the new strategic environment. Again I invite the Secretary of State to join in. This is an important debate, and to gloss over it and pretend that there is nothing new in the philosophy of our defence in the new environment is not reassuring. We should be seeking openly to debate it and provide reassurance. There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein constitutes an imminent threat, and that may be the difference between him and me.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Defence)

Surely, the point of even considering pre-emption is that it should be undertaken before the threat becomes so severe that we dare not take any action. On the very important passages that my hon. Friend read out about possible links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, if such links exist, is there not a strong possibility at this very moment that the wave of al-Qaeda atrocities that is building up is designed precisely to try divert the west from attacking Saddam Hussein?

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend on that last point. That is why I am appalled that some people argue that we are fighting two different problems and say that the problem of Iraq is in a separate box. Such people argue that we should leave the Iraq problem—this is Liberal Democrat policy—and fight the war on terrorism. That is exactly what Mr. Campbell said and I have debated the matter with him. The idea that those problems are completely different is mistaken. They may be different theatres, but they are the same war, and in practice, the idea that we should allow two bombs in Bali to be an excuse for allowing the United Nations to let Saddam off the hook would be a disaster. What an invitation to terrorism that would be. The bombs in Bali must stiffen our resolve to confront threats wherever they emerge in the new security environment, and we should not be listening to the likes of the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Photo of Paul Keetch Paul Keetch Liberal Democrat, Hereford

The hon. Gentleman is falling into the same trap as the Leader of the Opposition did when my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Campbell rightly destroyed him during the recall debate. We will take no lessons from his party, which did not support the Government's deployment of British troops to Sierra Leone or East Timor. We have said that we would be prepared to entertain the idea of military action against Iraq as a last resort, but only if it is consistent with international law and is supported by the House. We would also take into account the consequences of such action on the coalition of the campaign against terrorism that the Prime Minister and the President have so successfully brought together.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

I am amazed that the hon. Gentleman should have the arrogance to believe that the Prime Minister and the President of the United States would use military force except as a last resort. The idea that our democratically elected Prime Minister would rush into war when it is not a last resort is extraordinary. I am afraid that those who express such views are playing on people's false fears instead of trying to reassure them, which I think is the job of politicians in this House.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

With all due respect, I imagine that I am about the last person on the Labour Benches who would come to the defence of the Liberal Democrats. It happens that my views are very much the same as those expressed from the two Front Benches. However, when we debated the same subject on 24 September, much to my disappointment, a number of Opposition Members expressed views resembling those of Labour and Liberal Democrat critics. It is as well to bear in mind that, although the three main parties seem to be divided, a large majority fortunately seems in favour of the sort of action that may well be necessary to deal with somebody whom the hon. Gentleman rightly described as the very evil mass murderer and war criminal who continues to rule in Iraq.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

I entirely accept the hon. Gentleman's point. It is sad that anybody should try to score political or personal points in respect of such a serious matter instead of trying to debate the substantive issues.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

Does my hon. Friend agree that the essence of a threat to the Iraqi regime is that it can be substantive only if we are united? Any Liberal Democrat cracks in that coalition will be exploited by the very people who we least want to exploit them.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

I believe that unity is an advantage in an international coalition and at a national level, but it should never stifle debate. Although I disagree with what some hon. Members say in the House, I will do my damnedest to ensure that they have the right to say it. We must never forget that right, but I do not think that we should seek to score personal points on this matter.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

I think that we have spent enough time on this topic. Will the hon. Gentleman forgive me for continuing, or does he wish to move on?

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

I only want to ask the hon. Gentleman why he does not agree with the CIA, which says that Iraq would be most likely to use weapons of mass destruction and to collaborate with terrorists not in the current situation or without an invasion, but if, following an invasion, Saddam Hussein saw himself as defeated, became hopeless, suicidal and desperate and let loose his biological and chemical weapons in an act of vengeance or allowed them to be used by al-Qaeda. Is not that the greatest danger that we face?

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

The greatest danger that we face is to do nothing and allow the danger to grow. How much harder it will be to confront the threat if, in five or 10 years' time, Saddam Hussein has a nuclear weapon or a long-range missile system that can deliver chemical warheads to European cities. That is the threat that we must confront and debate as Ximmediate" in the context of self-defence.

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire Conservative, East Devon

I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that we are not talking merely about the possibility of Saddam using the weapons, as we know that he has already used them and continues to do so, not least to attack his Kurdish population.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

Indeed, the CIA, to which Paul Flynn referred, did no more than confirm exactly what happened in 1991 when Saddam Hussein attempted to use chemical and biological weapons and tried to deliver missiles on to neighbouring countries in order to deter the liberation of Kuwait. We did not allow that to deter us then and we must not do so now.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I shall move on.

Of course, the long-term objective on Iraq is disarmament. If that means regime change, our objective must be to create a stable and safe Iraq as a foundation for stability in the middle east—not a haven for suicide bombers. Do the Government look forward to a democratic Iraq? Iraq should be the second wealthiest country in the region and one of the principal world suppliers of crude oil. What provisions are the Government making for a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq? The Prime Minister himself said that he heartily desired regime change. In Washington, there has been talk of a post-Saddam occupation plan and the establishment of an American-led military Government in Iraq if the United States topples Saddam. The Government should be engaging in a similar debate.

Have the Government met representatives of opposition groups? I asked that question when we last debated this subject, but we have not had an answer. Are they involved in discussions about long-term transition to a stable Government? What level of diplomatic, economic and military commitment would the allies need to make in the event of the collapse of the Saddam regime? What is their assessment of the domestic opposition in Iraq and the question whether it would be hampered by internal divisions predating the Saddam regime?

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The hon. Gentleman is asking the Government about their policy on a future for Iraq after Saddam Hussein. What is the policy of the Conservative party, especially with regard to the right of self-determination of the people of Kurdistan in Iraq?

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

Our view is that it would be undesirable for Iraq to break up. I have had meetings with representatives of the Kurdistan Government and meetings with representatives of the Iraqi opposition. However, the Conservatives are only the Opposition, and it is incumbent on the Government to have discussions, form a view and make proposals. In answer to the hon. Gentleman's specific question, there is a danger of embracing an overtly federalist constitution that might reflect the current de facto self-rule of Kurdistan but cause alarm in the Turkish Government. The Turkish Prime Minister, Mr. Ecevit, has reacted angrily to the publication of such a constitution. We should be using our influence to ensure that whatever constitutional settlement might emerge in the event that the Saddam Hussein Government fall is likely to be stable and sustainable. With our influence in that region, Britain has a great role to play in that respect.

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing yet another intervention. Surely the future set-up of a post-Saddam Hussein Government should be up to the people of Iraq, and nobody else.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

The international community, as in Afghanistan, has a big role to play in facilitating the self-determination of the Iraqi people. At present they do not have self-determination in any meaningful or democratic sense. I would heartily embrace anything that we could do to improve that situation.

Indonesia, however, is not a rogue state. Unlike Iraq, the situation there is not something that might be helped by anything that could be construed as western military interference. Indonesia is a country that would benefit from as much hands-off support as possible. What are the Government offering to help the Indonesian Government to reform their armed forces and to increase their effectiveness? Jeremy Corbyn raised the matter earlier. There is no doubt that the Indonesian military is still emerging from the Suharto era, and needs better equipment, better communications, and a much stronger system of command and control and accountability. With our skills, Britain has a great deal to offer Indonesia in that regard, and I hope that we will offer positive help, rather than just criticising.

Will the Government offer Indonesia access to the UK's unrivalled expertise in anti-terrorist operations, in particular for forensic investigations and intelligence gathering? Those who have been watching, as I have, the scenes of devastation in Bali on our television screens have not seen the careful control of the evidence that lies on the streets and in the rubble of the buildings, as we would expect to see in this country. We have seen people laying wreaths on what might well constitute evidence to be used against those who perpetrated the bombing. That is the sort of expertise that I hope we could offer.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

I must stop giving way, as so many hon. Members want to speak.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again and allowing me to intervene again on the subject of Indonesia. Perhaps he could address now the point that I raised earlier, concerning political control of the military, the apparently close relationship between the military and the militia, and the most appalling human rights abuses taking place in West Papua, where there are oil and many other mineral reserves that multinational companies wish to exploit, and in Aceh. Some of us were in East Timor at the time of the referendum. There is concern that the military and the militia are one and the same thing, and until that is resolved, any relationship with the military is extremely damaging to the human rights of ordinary people in that country.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern. I raise the matter in my remarks because I believe that that is the sort of issue on which the British Government should be offering assistance to Indonesia.

What advice can we offer to help the Indonesian Government bring in the necessary legal reforms, like our anti-terrorist legislation? They are certainly behind what we would expect in other countries. We should bear in mind the fact that we are discussing one of the largest countries in the world, with a population of 220 million people—almost the size of the population of the United States, and comparable to the size of the European Union.

Given that tourism comprised up to one third of the Indonesian gross domestic product before the Bali atrocities, do the Government agree that there will need to be international action to stabilise the Indonesian economy, so that progress on economic and military reform and progress towards democracy in Indonesia can continue? One of the hallmarks of al-Qaeda's terrorist activities is to cause precisely such economic dislocation in order to damage the interests of the west, destabilise Governments and create fertile ground for more terrorism. Surely it should be one of our priorities to confront that.

Does not the example of Indonesia underline the fact that terrorism cannot be defeated by military means alone? I shall spend a few minutes arguing for a more comprehensive doctrine which we have heard enunciated against international terrorism. The principles of counter-insurgency warfare are not new. We have been practising them in Northern Ireland and on the British mainland against Northern Ireland terrorism for the past 30 years. They originate in the wars of the north-west frontier in the previous century and the Indian mutiny.

Those principles are, first, to secure one's own base and implement one's home defence; secondly, to deny the enemy a secure base—we have dealt with pre-emption, and I hope that we will discuss it further. The next principles are to generate best human intelligence, to remove underlying political grievances, to co-ordinate all one's actions to a strategic plan, and to remember that the battle is for hearts and minds, and that conflict is about willpower, not just physical force. A further principle is to remember that actions and words, including the technical, can have political and strategic consequences. Finally, it is important to stay within the law and to use proportionate force only as a last resort.

Winning hearts and minds must be the central theme of everything we do in the war against terrorism. Winning the war against terrorism is as much an act of persuasion as of coercion. Our actions must prove that we stand for all those human values that we are defending. We must not allow organisations such as al-Qaeda to create a pervasive state of war between the west and Islam, or between the west and the Arab world. We must address the political challenges and conflicts that serve as the feeding ground for terrorists. We must provide the humanitarian relief that shows that we are committed to the well-being of humanity throughout the world. We must develop the ability to help failing countries satisfy their people's social and economic needs. We must support and partner moderate Islam. We must open real dialogue and have real diplomacy with as many countries as possible around the world in the war against terrorism. I am shortly to visit Egypt, where I hope to learn as much as possible about the problems in the Gulf.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether there are any other rogue nations against which it will be necessary to take pre-emptive action in the near future, such as North Korea?

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

No. Of course, diplomacy can function in the war against terrorism only if it is ultimately backed by the threat of military force. Both diplomacy and military action depend on broad international support and unity. I am surprised that the Secretary of State made little reference to the upcoming Prague summit. It is the drifting apart of the Atlantic alliance that is by far the most dangerous diplomatic development since 11 September last year. That could be seen as a principal objective of rogue states and terrorist organisations. How they must rub their hands with glee when they see Europe and the United States falling out about how to deal with the problem of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. I remind the House of one of the principles of counter-insurgency warfare: to co-ordinate all one's actions to a strategic plan. How can we achieve that unless we have an active and sustainable transatlantic alliance? That is why the NATO summit in Prague next month is a defining moment in the war against terrorism and for NATO itself.

There are three issues that need to be addressed. The first is to reform the structure for developing a joint understanding of threats and how to deal with them. That is what NATO did during the cold war. At the beginning of the cold war, NATO was a shadow of what it is now. It did not have the integrated command and military structure allowing senior military officers to sit down and discuss what the threats are, what the necessary responses are, and what national defence policies are needed to deal with those threats. That process in NATO must be revived.

Secondly, we need to develop military capabilities relevant to the modern threats. The Prague capability initiative will be a vital part of bringing the west together in the war against terrorism. Thirdly, we need to find the political will to act as an alliance to deal with those threats.

The Government should welcome the Rumsfeld proposal that there should be one or many NATO rapid reaction forces. We need forces—NATO forces, coalition forces—that are fast, lethal, superior to anything that they are likely to encounter and deployable way beyond our traditional borders. The UK, which developed the expeditionary concept in the defence review of the 1990s and in the strategic defence review, should be leading the initiative. Our armed forces are the best example of that initiative.

What will be the UK's contribution to the debate? The dangers that we face stem from the growing disparity between the United States' and the rest of NATO's military capabilities, which threatens NATO cohesion. For example, the United States currently provides 100 per cent. of NATO's standoff jamming capability, 90 per cent. of the air-to-ground surveillance and reconnaissance, and almost 80 per cent. of the air-to-air refuelling tankers necessary to conduct operations. There are 250 long-range transports available to NATO from the United States, while the rest of the alliance can provide merely 11. The United States has no more fighters and bombers than the European NATO members, but only a tiny fraction of the European fighters and bombers have precision-guided weapons while 100 per cent. of American fighters and bombers have such weapons.

Therefore, we fully support and welcome what the Foreign Secretary said in Chicago yesterday about the disparity between the United States and the rest of NATO:

XA relationship where one side of the Alliance disproportionately shoulders the military burden is a recipe for resentment."

That is a priority for the European countries of NATO to address.

The third issue that needs to be addressed is finding the political will—that is the other threat to cohesion in NATO—and how that will has been sapped by the European security and defence policy! How sensible it would be if we could get back to the XBerlin plus" arrangements that were approved in 1996 to create a European security and defence identity within the NATO alliance. The final communique of that Washington summit is littered with references to a European security and defence identity within NATO. It was to provide

Xthe use of separable but not separate military capabilities in operations led by"—

Europe

Xand the participation of nations outside the alliance in operations such as IFOR".

Why did we depart from that formula and allow the creation of autonomous capabilities outside NATO?

The St. Malo declaration specifically departed from the XBerlin plus" proposals. It said that

Xthe Union must have the capacity for autonomous action".

This is the ESDP, not the ESDI.

The Nice treaty annexes provide for EU military forces that are independent of and autonomous from NATO. They provide for planning for military operations outside NATO; that the EU will decide on military operations and only Xconsult" NATO; and that the EU will retain full political and strategic control throughout any operation independent of NATO.

Since then, the EU has established an EU Political and Security Committee outside NATO, and an EU Military Committee, exactly mirroring and duplicating the NATO military committee, outside NATO. It has replicated the NATO military staffs in the EU military staffs and other organisations outside NATO, with a membership approaching 200 in a brand new building in Brussels. Finally, there is the commitment to a European rapid reaction force outside NATO, an embryo European army.

I noticed the Secretary of State muttering through all that. Does he deny it? Will he address it at the NATO summit? We know that the four non-NATO EU members will be attending the NATO summit. When will the disagreement between NATO and the EU that the Government have created be resolved?

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Conservative, Huntingdon

Is it not surprising that, although we are on the eve of the NATO conference, the Secretary of State did not even mention the new European defence proposals?

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

Yes—particularly when it is an increasing source of anxiety in the American Administration and in NATO.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Defence)

My hon. Friend gave us a long list of new offices and institutions that have been created on behalf of the EU rapid reaction force. Has the new EU rapid reaction force led to the addition of a single soldier, warship or aeroplane to Europe's defence capability?

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

I do not think so, but no doubt someone will try to tell us that it has.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Labour, South Dorset

But surely that is the point. The notion of a European army is a fallacious misinterpretation, as we are not talking about creating a new set of soldiers and capability; we are talking about existing capability. If, for example, the United States does not want to act in our back yard, the EU is capable of doing so. If a European army is a way of bringing France into the fold—it is currently a little semi-detached from NATO—that is a good thing. If it is a way of giving us a capability and cranking up European capability that has been so slow to develop under NATO, surely the hon. Gentleman must welcome it.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

All those things could have been achieved within the XBerlin plus" framework. The ESDP adds nothing to that framework; it only creates capabilities outside NATO. I shall tell the hon. Gentleman why it is a bad thing. First, it is wasteful of resources. It duplicates institutions and creates extra offices and ambassadors, more chauffeur-driven cars and more waste when we should be spending that money on additional military capability and not on bureaucracy.

Secondly, in times of crisis military planners provide options to political masters, which is what they do at SHAPE. Options a, b and c have certain sets of forces with certain risk factors. That is what they do in NATO. Why do we need to replicate and duplicate that capability when it is so dangerous to do so?

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

I shall finish, if I may.

Thirdly, we do not want the European Union to decide that it wants battalion x when D-SACEUR has already assigned battalion x to another operation in another theatre. If there is to be military planning, it should be conducted under a single organisation—NATO. I am quoting liberally from the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Joseph Ralston, so these are not problems of my imagining; they are real problems. I have met General Dieter Stockman, the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, and he is deeply concerned about the potential for conflict in the event that there are conflicting objectives between the EU and NATO. It should be for NATO to deconflict that military planning. We are not against increased European capability and we are not against European capability being used independently of the United States. What we are opposed to is the EU creating a rival to NATO that will undermine NATO at a crucial point in the history of our world when we need Europe and the United States to work together.

Finally, I want to address the new chapter of the strategic defence review that reiterates the Government's commitment to the expeditionary concept for our armed forces—a concept to which we are fully committed. I shall not dwell at length on overstretch, nor shall I engage in cheap political claptrap about increased expenditure in which the Secretary of State indulged. He will not admit the truth, which is that, even after three years, real terms expenditure will still be #1 billion a year less than the Government inherited from the previous Conservative Government. There is an anxiety that we are trying to obtain the same defence from less capability. I note that he skilfully timed the announcement of the decision about the short take off and vertical landing carrier capability just half an hour before he addressed the Labour party conference in Blackpool. The letter that he sent me told me that he was making that announcement for Xcommercial reasons". I shall not inquire what those reasons were, but it was awfully convenient for the right hon. Gentleman to be able to make such an announcement at such a time.

Why did the right hon. Gentleman not also announce the plans for the existing surface fleet? Why did he not tell the Labour party conference that difficult choices had to be made? He has now written to me, a week later, to say that HMS Sheffield is to be withdrawn from service. I do not know whether he has plans to reduce the surface navy by 10 ships, but we get a stream of documents from the Government that tell us the good news but not the bad news. At least when we produced defence reviews, they were full of bad news and good news. That may have been unwelcome for the armed forces at the time, but at least it was honest. Why do not the Government give us the good news and the bad news? Why do they not let us have a proper debate about how we should spend the limited resources that we have for the armed forces, instead of smuggling out announcements as though these things were not really happening?

We have the best armed forces in the world. They have a significant role to play internationally, particularly in the war against terrorism. Judging by the way in which the arguments tend to be conducted, however, it is small wonder that so many armed service men have become so cynical about politicians. The least that we should promise them is a proper debate. Moreover, the capabilities required for our defence and our national security, and to fulfil our international commitments, should be fully funded, and that is a commitment that we will continue to make.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

May I remind right hon. and hon. Members that Mr. Speaker has imposed a 12-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches?

Photo of Mr Malcolm Savidge Mr Malcolm Savidge Labour, Aberdeen North 3:41 pm, 17th October 2002

I wish to concentrate on the prospect of war with Iraq, but may I first briefly comment on the statement that the Secretary of State has just made about missile defence? He commented on how successful the recent tests had been, but he did not mention the fact that there had been considerable suspicion in the US media when it was announced that the tests carried out in recent months were to be conducted in conditions of much greater secrecy, and that it was suspected that that was because of a certain lack of realism. I realise that rogue state dictators are supposed to be irrational, but it is just conceivable that they would not phone up in advance to ensure that the interceptors knew about the timing and the trajectory of the missile, that there was good weather for the interception, that the quantity and quality of decoys was small and, in one case, that there was a signalling beacon on the front of the warhead.

It should also be remembered that the Ministry of Defence's own White Paper, looking ahead 30 years, suggested that missile attack was a low risk, and that the US national intelligence estimate gave a series of cogent reasons to Congress why the method likely to be used by any so-called rogue dictator or terrorist trying to deliver weapons of mass destruction would be to smuggle them in, rather than launch a missile attack.

It has been asked whether missile defence should be seen as similar to the star wars system. Of course it should not. The proponents of star wars were Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Perle, whereas the proponents of missile defence are Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Perle. The aims of star wars were ultimately to get complete military invulnerability for the United States on a unilateral basis. The aim of the new missile defence system is, as Donald Rumsfeld has said, ultimately to build towards full-spectrum dominance. Indeed, the connection between star wars and the war on Iraq is that they are both part of the same frightening, unilateralist agenda that we saw spelled out in the national security strategy.

On the prospects of war with Iraq, the Prime Minister asked what was surely the most pertinent question: why now? We now have the dossier, the report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies and the report from the director of central intelligence in the United States. Looking at them, it is perfectly clear that they find no evidence of a link between Iraq and the events of 11 September. In fact, there is no cogent evidence in the reports of any association between Iraq and al-Qaeda.

In the British document, human rights are mentioned. Undoubtedly, when we consider the atrocities that have been committed in Iraq, regime change has been vitally necessary for more than two decades. But what has changed since the 1980s, when Donald Rumsfeld was supplying aid and arms to Saddam Hussein, to convince him that it is now imperative for us to have a war with Saddam Hussein? Most of the atrocities occurred in the 1980s.

What about the reports on missiles? It is suspected in the different reports that Saddam Hussein might have retained somewhere between two and two dozen al-Hussein missiles, and that he has probably developed a limited number of other missiles that might be able to go as far as 200 km. It is clear, however, that his missile forces are massively depleted compared with before the Gulf war, and that his missile strength is weak compared with that of many other countries.

On biological and chemical weapons, the presumption is that Saddam Hussein has restarted his programmes and that he has probably managed to retain some biological and chemical resources from before the end of the inspections regime, and to develop more since. Again, however, it is believed that his stocks are vastly smaller than they were in the 1980s, when all five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—including the United States and the United Kingdom—were busily helping him with supplies for missile technology and for biological and chemical weapons.

Photo of Mr Malcolm Savidge Mr Malcolm Savidge Labour, Aberdeen North

Exactly.

What about nuclear weapons? Again, the reports are in agreement that Saddam Hussein does not yet have them. They also agree that he is several years away from getting them unless he obtains weapons-grade material.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Defence)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way; he is typically generous.

Surely the point is that Saddam Hussein was within two years of getting a nuclear weapon before the last war against Iraq, and that suicidal terrorist movements have grown up recently that might work in conjunction with him to undertake actions that were not so great a threat in the intervening years.

Photo of Mr Malcolm Savidge Mr Malcolm Savidge Labour, Aberdeen North

The CIA was asked to produce a report on whether it thought that Saddam Hussein was co-operating with terrorist organisations to supply them with weapons of mass destruction, and it came up with the conclusion that he was not.

Photo of Mr Malcolm Savidge Mr Malcolm Savidge Labour, Aberdeen North

I must be careful, because every time I give way I lose time. I will see whether there is an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to come in later.

On the supply of weapons-grade material, there is obviously a major proliferation problem, not least because of the risk that terrorist organisations could obtain it, and we need to work together on non-proliferation. Would Saddam Hussein have the intention to use weapons of mass destruction if he obtained them? He has undoubtedly used them in the past—he used poisoned gas against both the Iranians and his own people. Can he be deterred from using them again? The assumption of the US hard right is that he cannot, because they define him as a rogue state dictator, and they say that all such dictators are irrational and could not therefore be deterred by the thought of nuclear annihilation. That is the danger of trying to fit people into nice ideological definitions. The real Saddam Hussein may be—and, indeed, is—a homicidal maniac, but there is no reason to suppose that he is a suicidal maniac. In fact, he has had a murderous obsession with preserving his own life. During the Gulf war, Saddam was deterred from using chemical or biological weapons by the threat of overwhelming retaliation.

There are concerns that there might be some new element of secret intelligence that is not being shared with us. I suspect that the evidence suggests that that is not the case. The main proponents of this war—Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle and Bolton, for example—were advocating this war in 1998, when they were in opposition and not in receipt of the best military intelligence. They have been advocating it for years; it is not something that they have just thought up.

The Prime Minister stated last month that we should not underestimate the extent to which

X11 September had made a difference to the way that America views such things"—[Hansard, 24 September 2002; Vol. 390, c. 22.]

It naturally had an immense effect on US public opinion, and we all respect that. However, we should contrast the Prime Minister's comments with the words of Condoleeza Rice in an interview with The New Yorker on 1 April. She said that shortly after the events of 11 September, she called together the leaders of the National Security Council and asked:

XHow do you capitalise on these opportunities" fundamentally to change US policies? The US hawks have shamelessly exploited 11 September to promote a predetermined agenda.

We should remember that project for the new American century, with which so many prominent people in the US Administration are closely involved, argued in the month of Bush's inauguration that if neither weapons of mass destruction nor Saddam Hussein existed, it would still be in the US strategic interest to invade Iraq. Surely that is the answer to the question, XWhy now?"

Does anyone suppose that if Al Gore had been recognised as the winner of the presidential election we would now be considering war with Iraq? Does anyone believe that we would be contemplating such a step if George Bush had not chosen to appoint several extreme hawks to key posts in his Administration? Those hawks have advocated pre-emptive war against not only Iraq but various other countries.

I do not doubt that the British Government regard war as a last resort or that they want inspections and disarmament, but I have grave doubts about whether all the members of the Bush Administration view war as a last resort. We are supposed to take comfort from George Bush's statement that going to war is not his first choice.

The Prime Minister asked us to take comfort from the speech in Cincinnati, in which the President stated that disarmament was one of his objectives. However, that speech contained some worrying elements. The President said that Saddam was preparing to send unmanned aerial vehicles to attack the United States with biological and chemical weapons. I would have hoped that the President of the United States might have been aware of the existence of the Atlantic ocean and the US Air Force.

The President also suggested that Saddam Hussein might be trying to supply nuclear weapons to terrorist organisations. First, his intelligence reports state that Saddam Hussein does not yet have nuclear weapons. Secondly, the report that George Tenet was reluctantly forced to release after he had been interviewed by the Senate made it clear that he estimated that Saddam was not supplying weapons and would not wish to do that. The circumstances under which he might use his weapons of mass destruction or supply them to terrorists or agents would be precisely if he was attacked and faced the possibility of his extinction.

The President apparently ignores his intelligence advice to pursue a domestic political agenda. Worse, he is engaging in dangerous scaremongering. That can far too easily be the prelude to warmongering.

We should recognise the dangers of war, as defined by former President Clinton in Blackpool. We should acknowledge that we need a United Nations resolution, but that it should be fair. There should be a second element to such a resolution. We should leave it not to the United States but to the United Nations to decide whether compliance occurs and whether there is a need for force.

I am rushing rapidly to a conclusion—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman's time is up.

Photo of Paul Keetch Paul Keetch Liberal Democrat, Hereford 3:54 pm, 17th October 2002

I associate Liberal Democrat Members with the Secretary of State's words about members of the armed forces and the civil servants who work at the Ministry of Defence. I have been privileged to get to know them in recent years and they are a fine bunch of people.

The events of recent days add a timely significance to today's debate. International terrorism has touched our lives again and continues to threaten world security. As we remember those who died last weekend from this country and elsewhere, and the appalling events of 11 September, we must redouble our efforts to root out the scourge of international terrorism.

As the Secretary of State rightly said, we can effectively combat international terrorism only if we co-operate with other nations. The coalition that the Prime Minister and President Bush assembled so successfully last year remains our strongest weapon for defeating that threat. We live in an interconnected world where intelligence and police co-operation in third countries can save lives at home. No single nation can prevent all attacks against its citizens, but together we can isolate and defeat terrorist networks.

The nature of the international terrorist threat has added to the tasks of our armed forces, not changed them. Deterrence, coercion or find-and-strike operations have not replaced the existing roles of the armed forces but simply added to them. The major defence tasks identified by the strategic defence review remain valid. Stabilisation, peace enforcement, defence diplomacy and commitments in the Balkans, Afghanistan and elsewhere demand our continued engagement.

The Secretary of State said outside the House that prioritisation of capabilities will be necessary. That process clearly began with the series of cuts that were announced over the summer. We were told that the new chapter was supposed to rebalance, not replace the SDR in the light of a growing terrorist threat. However, I fear that it is being replaced.

A steady stream of leaked documents and unannounced Government publications revealed a picture of cuts, revised targets and shortfalls. Many SDR requirements now appear unrealistic. The revision of the SDR seems to have been forced on the Government. Less than five months ago in May, we were assured that HMS Sheffield would be held in extended readiness until September 2004.

Moreover, the SDR commits the Government to maintaining 32 warships until 2007. With HMS Nottingham probably beyond repair, and HMS Sheffield due to be withdrawn in two weeks, the number is down to 30. I know HMS Sheffield well; I spent 10 days on her as part of my time with the armed forces parliamentary scheme, with which many hon. Members have been involved. The ship was in the Caribbean carrying out anti-drug-running activities. It is neither the first nor the last ship to do that.Only 10 days ago, HMS Grafton seized $100 million of high-grade cocaine. That ship plays an important role in the defence of the United Kingdom. Yet the Government have cut our West Indies guardships.

Is the Secretary of State prepared to take a hard look at items that no longer add to our capability and prioritise in favour of critical capabilities? What exactly does he consider to be critical capabilities?

The Liberal Democrats welcomed the announcement that confirmed the designs of the future aircraft carrier and the joint strike fighter aircraft. It was a wise decision to choose a design that offers greater operational flexibility for the future. However, it is less encouraging that the decision may have been made to meet an in-service date of 2012. Procurement policy should not be made in that way.

If the Government had not been in such a hurry to retire the Sea Harriers, the urgency of the capability gap would have been less pressing. Are there other imminent cuts about which the Secretary of State would like to inform the House? Is there anything else up his sleeve?

We view Britain's defence role in the world as undiminished. The responsibilities are many, at home and abroad. If we are to fulfil the role outlined by the SDR, we must commit the necessary resources to our military. If we cannot provide the armed forces with the equipment, pay and conditions that they need to do the job that we ask of them, the UK must accept greater limitations on the defence tasks that we undertake.

We must improve recruitment and retention rates in our armed forces. We must stem the loss of critical staff from organisations such as the defence medical services. We must reach a position where we no longer need to waste money on temporary housing or temporary doctors. We must ensure that our armed forces and their families are well looked after, with fair pay and equitable pension rights. Failure to fix the nuts and bolts of our armed forces will put future operations in jeopardy.

What role should Britain play in the world? The SDR acknowledged the consensus that has been supported by Opposition parties in recent years. It envisaged a role for Britain as a major military power with a duty to contribute to NATO, UN and EU tasks, commensurate with our position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. That role has grown in ways anticipated by the SDR, which emphasised the global nature of Britain's interests, of the 10 million British citizens living abroad as well as Britain's overseas territories. The SDR said that a global capability remained necessary. We believe that it is necessary. We believe also that the SDR represents a broad consensus. It set targets for policies and the implementation of objectives. However, if the foundations of the SDR remain valid, the policies in place to implement it need to be revised.

With procurement dates continuing to slip, with retention rates dropping and with what appears to be an ad hoc announcement of cuts in aircraft and warship numbers, the SDR is parting from our armed forces in terms of day-to-day reality. We must be assured that the commitments made by the Government at the time of the SDR—they were broadly supported by both sides of the House—can be sustained.

I shall say a few words about arms exports. Our troops are deployed abroad to control instability and to contribute to peace. We must ensure that our actions in other spheres—for example, arms exports—do not undermine our troops' efforts. I agree with the Secretary of State's recent comments that competition over time should be a consideration in defence procurement decisions. However, in his exhortation to the defence industry to export more and in committing the taxpayer to facilitating market access, the Government may be focusing on domestic concerns that are related to global security. Even today, we have seen Lord Bach and Prince Andrew promoting British arms exports with taxpayers' money in the middle east. That was at a fair attended by Iraq. Am I alone in feeling a need for caution?

Arms exports are a major source of global instability when they are diverted from their intended destination and use. Therefore, rigorous end-use monitoring of British exports is vital. I believe that the only true way to minimise the damaging consequences of irresponsible arms transfers, such as the arms-to-Iraq issue, which was discussed earlier, is to have prior parliamentary scrutiny on a case-by-case basis.

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson Conservative, Ruislip - Northwood

The hon. Gentleman is making a most important point. Does he not agree that it is infinitely better for British interests and for the promotion of the values that our armed forces have sustained that British companies should sell weapons to states that require them for their self-defence, rather than that those states should turn to other suppliers such as Belarus, Iraq and rogue regimes? The training and support that our personnel provide in the continued collaboration that follows an arms agreement is most useful in the longer term.

Photo of Paul Keetch Paul Keetch Liberal Democrat, Hereford

I agree entirely. However, the hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that in the past the problem has been that we have sold arms to regimes that have come back to bite us. We know, for example, that arms were sold to Argentina and were used against the taskforce. We actually supported and supplied arms to Saddam Hussein. We even supplied in the past to Osama bin Laden. We must be careful about the company that we keep. We need to continue to examine carefully the issue of arms exports.

Let me move on to alliances. We maintain our forces for the defence of the nation. However, we also have commitments to our allies in NATO, the EU and the Commonwealth. The SDR acknowledged that Britain's

Xeconomic and political future is as part of Europe" and that

XBritain's security is indivisible from that of Europe."

I agree. However, the integration of European defence capabilities has not been progressed far enough. The UK has indeed led the way in raising defence expenditure, and we have been told that France followed suit. However, progress on meeting the Helsinki headline goals has been painfully slow. Co-operation within Europe on research, procurement, logistics support and even on intelligence could promise increased effectiveness and cost savings. It is long overdue.

Next month's NATO summit in Prague will discuss precisely the same issues that face Europe: a NATO response to terrorism, the creation of a rapid response force and the standardisation of equipment for interoperability. Those are sensible goals for NATO and for the EU under the framework of the European security and defence policy.

During my recent trip to NATO headquarters, all the officials whom I met, including the Secretary General, stressed the importance of the ESDP to NATO. Lord Robertson also stressed the importance of resolving the dispute between Greece and Turkey over the European use of NATO assets. What does the Secretary of State have in mind? Will he ensure that the disagreement does not lead to progress on the ESDP faltering?

I turn to Iraq and the comments of Mr. Jenkin. We must accept that there is a diverging range of opinions among all parties in the House. Indeed, many former senior Conservative Members—for example, Lord Hurd, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and John Major—have said that they disagree with, or have some concerns about, the current Conservative party leadership on Iraq. It is not only those people, who the present leadership of the Conservative party have tried to airbrush out of history; in the debate that took place on 24 September, many Conservative Back-Benchers made eloquent speeches that did not fully echo the approach taken by those on their Front Bench. I have in mind the hon. Members for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor), for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) and for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), and there were others.

Mr. Wiggin, who sadly is not in his place, criticises Liberal Democrat Members for asking questions at a time when British troops might be committed. I say to him that it is exactly at the time when our troops are committed that we should be asking questions. That is what opposition is. Had Opposition parties in 1940 blindly followed the Government of the day in military expeditions, the House would not have challenged Neville Chamberlain in the way that it did and his Government would not have been replaced by the coalition Government who were led so wonderfully by Winston Churchill. Now is the time to ask important questions.

If the UN or the international community request British help in neutralising threats to global security, we must be there. However, to be consistent with international law, every other reasonable political and diplomatic option must be exhausted before military action commences. It is not correct to posit a choice between dealing with Iraq and dealing with al-Qaeda. They are linked. Any action in Iraq must be seen in the context of a wider campaign against terrorism.

The question that we must ask, as my right hon. Friend Mr. Kennedy did so eloquently on Wednesday, is whether possible action in Iraq will increase or decrease the likelihood of further terrorist attacks throughout the world. Whether to use force in the absence of an immediate terrorist attack is one of the most difficult decisions that this country may be asked to make for a generation. We must be sure that any decisions reflect the will of the people.

Let us have a new constitutional innovation. Let us have, perhaps, a new war powers Act. Let us abolish the Prime Minister's power to use the Royal Prerogative to send Britain's forces to war without having to seek parliamentary approval. The President of the United States has sought and gained a mandate—

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Defence)

May I give the hon. Gentleman a scenario to consider? Let us suppose that the Prime Minister is in possession of top-secret intelligence information that he cannot share with the House. What would then happen in the situation that the hon. Gentleman has described?

Photo of Paul Keetch Paul Keetch Liberal Democrat, Hereford

I know and understand that some Members believe that it should be the Government's responsibility. However, I believe that in normal circumstances—certainly those that we are discussing in terms of Iraq—there should be a substantive vote. If top-secret intelligence were available to the Prime Minister suggesting that an attack might be imminent, surely he could discuss it under normal Privy Council terms with members of the leading Opposition parties and then seek their approval. In circumstances where we are deploying British forces, I do not see why there should not be a substantive vote in the House.

When we send our forces into the field they have the right to be confident that the country backs them. It is important that they fight with the knowledge that it is Parliament that has asked them to go, and that it is we who bear the responsibilities. The President of the United States has sought and received such a mandate from Congress; I do not see why our Prime Minister should be any different. As elected Members, we are answerable to the people of Britain. A new war powers Act would lay the mantle of accountability where it correctly lies: with Parliament. It could only enhance our democracy and people's faith in our democratic institutions.

Photo of Mr Nigel Beard Mr Nigel Beard Labour, Bexleyheath and Crayford 4:09 pm, 17th October 2002

If two antagonists both deploy military forces for attack, the military balance is unstable because either side might gain an advantage from striking first. That was the nature of the balance of strategic nuclear weapons during the cold war. The concept of mutually assured destruction is still the basis of the strategic balance of offensive weapons between the old cold war antagonists. However, a missile might be fired in error or a malicious or deranged officer may become convinced that the circumstances are right for first strike to gain an advantage. Either possibility could trigger a devastating response that no Government intended. To address those and other problems, Presidents Bush and Putin, to their credit, recently agreed to cut their strategic nuclear weapons by two thirds, but that still leaves 2,000 nuclear missiles on each side, plus weapons owned by the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and so on. When the use of any one of those weapons would be a disaster for the world, that remains a frightening arsenal.

Let us imagine a notable success in arms reduction negotiations so that both sides have no more than a few hundred nuclear weapons each. How do they get below that number? Any move to reduce towards zero will raise suspicions that side A will secretly retain a capability and so leave side B exposed if it complies by reducing to zero. The inevitable suspicion will mean that neither side will ever voluntarily reduce weapons to zero. It was because of similar suspicions that mutual and balanced forced reductions of conventional forces could not be agreed in the past.

The nuclear non-proliferation treaty was intended to limit the spread of such weapons outside the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China. It has not succeeded. India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea all possess nuclear weapons. That encourages states with which they may come into conflict to acquire them too. Containment is a vain hope, especially when both nuclear and ballistic technology are transferred between states or by the migration of experts from the Soviet Union.

A missile defence system, such as the one under discussion, may provide a solution to those problems. First, it would enable a strategic balance to be achieved by means of defensive weapons that is essentially stable, unlike the inherent instability that goes with a balance of offensive weapons. Secondly, the risk of a nuclear exchange being triggered in error by an insubordinate or maverick custodian would be eliminated. Thirdly, a missile defence shield, available to both sides, would provide a climate for safe negotiation towards zero arsenals of nuclear weapons. Fourthly, it would give direct protection against the malicious acts of rogue states. Fifthly, if countries can be offered a place under a missile defence umbrella, they have everything to gain from signing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

What then are the obstacles to all that becoming a reality? A major objection is that the missile defence system proposed today is no more than a rehash of President Reagan's star wars concept. Not only was star wars technologically impossible to achieve, it would have made the world a more dangerous place. It would have nullified the deterrent effect of the Soviet Union's strategic weapons, so creating the possibility of a pre-emptive strike against the star wars system or of an arms race. Those objections were, and remain, valid, but that is not the missile defence system that the United States now proposes. The concept is of a system that could withstand an attack of up to 100 missiles at most. It could not therefore wipe out Russia's ability to respond to a United States attack, so it would not upset the current strategic balance. On that basis, the Russian Government have agreed to it being an exception to the anti-ballistic missile treaty between themselves and the United States of America.

An anxiety that prejudiced opinion against missile defence proposals in Britain and the rest of Europe was that missile defences would apply only to north America. Even though Fylingdales radar station in Yorkshire would be essential to US missile defence, it was thought that the UK would not be under the umbrella and would be vulnerable to whatever attack the US feared. The United States Government have since made it clear that they envisage any missile defence system extending to NATO, Europe and, potentially, to Russia. Thus those anxieties are overcome.

The outstanding question now is what diplomatic and technological conditions are required to achieve the various benefits of missile defence in practice. Diplomatically, there must be agreement from the beginning that protection will be given to north America, Europe and Russia. Any scheme designed solely to protect north America would divide and possibly destroy the NATO alliance. Unless Russia is included, there would be no incentive for Russia to negotiate strategic arms reductions below currently agreed levels, and the stability of Russian democracy and European security could be threatened.

The second diplomatic requirement is a willingness to extend the protective umbrella to any state that has signed and adhered to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

China is a special case. With an estimated 20 or so ballistic missiles available soon, China has a credible deterrent against attack by either the USA or Russia which would be eliminated by the missile defence system envisaged. There would therefore be an incentive for China to continue building nuclear missiles until it was sure that it could break through missile defences. The whole of Asia would then be under threat from China, and Asian countries would be induced to retain or acquire nuclear weapons. A way of recognising China's strategic interests would be to offer it the protection of the anti-missile umbrella on condition that it did not expand its nuclear arsenal further and on the understanding that it would join strategic arms reduction talks between Russia and America at the same time as Britain and France.

The ultimate obstacle to the missile defence concept could be the difficulty and expense of developing reliable technology. Some commentators have pronounced the proposed scheme to be technologically impossible to achieve. No doubt they draw some of that certainty from the abandonment of star wars because the technology proved too difficult to develop. But that system, which aimed to intercept several thousand missiles at once faultlessly, had an infinitely more complex task than intercepting 100 or fewer. Some of the technology, such as sensors, radars, computing, communications, is not new. Some research and development is needed, but given clear objectives for the development programme, experts, such as the RAND Corporation, who have assessed what is needed, do not see the technology as out of reach.

The important question is how development and production will be organised. If the whole missile defence system were to fall under the technological hegemony of the USA, then the strategic concept would most likely be rejected by European countries and Russia on that ground alone. Co-development and co-production by NATO countries and Russia, under American leadership, must spread the technological and economic benefits equitably and, at the same time, build confidence. Negotiated co-operation in design, development and production will be as essential to the success of the project as co-operation in deployment.

I urge the Government to persuade the United States Government of a strategic role and purpose of missile defence similar to the role that I have attempted to outline; to persuade other NATO allies of that role and purpose and to engage their active commitment to the project; and to join the United States in establishing arrangements by which NATO allies and Russia may co-operate in designing, developing and producing the required technology. The British Government have a pivotal role to play in achieving all that, which I hope will become a new dimension of United Kingdom foreign and defence policy. If we can achieve a missile defence system on those terms, it will be an infinitely more precious legacy for future generations than a world littered with nuclear missiles that might be used at any time.

Photo of Hugh Robertson Hugh Robertson Opposition Whip (Commons) 4:20 pm, 17th October 2002

As I drew my remarks together for today's debate, I realised with some horror that it was 21 years last month since I joined the services. A number of issues of huge strategic importance face the defence world today, including the reform and future structure of NATO and the whole question of defence procurement. However, I shall look at the immediate threat that we face, the way that it has evolved and the possible responses to meet it.

In 1981, when I joined the Army, and for much of the following 10 years, defence policy was governed by the threat of a Soviet onslaught on the central front. As adjutant of a tank regiment in 1989, I overflew the positions that our tanks would occupy during a Soviet invasion. Against this certain backdrop, other conflicts occurred, generally as a result of the decolonisation of European empires at the end of the second world war. Very occasionally, the two superpowers came close to collision. The Berlin blockade in 1948, the Korean war, the Cuban missile crisis and the Vietnam war are a few examples, but British defence policy remained governed largely by the certainties of the cold war.

The fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 changed all that. The hoped-for peace dividend failed to materialise and the new world order, stripped of the framework provided by the cold war, rapidly became a much more dangerous place. Sir Anthony Parsons, our ambassador at the UN, put it brilliantly when he described the transition as one

Xfrom Cold War to hot peace".

Great Britain and the west struggled to contain the fallout from the decolonisation of the Soviet Union, particularly in areas that the Russians refer to as the near abroad—those independent states that were formerly part of the Soviet Union, the former Yugoslavia and other parts of the world where nationalism took a hold. An analysis of this period reveals the origins of many of the problems that we face today. For the first time, the UN perceived the need to become more dominant, proactive and responsive. The United States, the one remaining superpower, began for the first time to examine whether it should go it alone, whether it should act as the world's policeman or whether it should react only when its own territorial integrity was threatened. We saw the first challenges to that previously most sacred of cows: the integrity of states within their existing frontiers. As a consequence of that and developments in the world of media and communications, a number of shadowy organisations looked beyond and across their own borders for the first time. We also saw the first signs of the doctrine of pre-emptive action, which was first trailed in the form we understand it today in the UN agenda for peace in 1993. Questions of command and control of forces in the field allied to other countries and of course money also began to rear their heads.

Although many of the defence issues that we face today had their origins then, the events of 11 September probably mark the start of a third post-war defence era in which shadowy terrorist movements and rogue states pose asymmetric threats to established democracies. If that were not complicated enough, it has also become clear that this new threat is itself changing and evolving. The horrific events in Bali this week have shown how the threat posed by al-Qaeda and its associates has itself evolved since 11 September and the war in Afghanistan.

How are we to combat this new threat? The first unpalatable truth must be that we have to increase defence spending. I was much taken by a quote from Major-General Fulton published in the October edition of the RUSI Journal, which said:

XIf the question becomes what do we not need to do as a result of 11 September, operations in Afghanistan and the publication of the new chapter, the answer is that we have not found it yet."

The United States has recognised this and increased defence spending by 14 per cent. However, before 11 September there were signs that the United States may eventually turn inwards and that will surely place a larger burden on Europe. As has already been said, the European rapid reaction force has identified 150 basic defence capabilities, but estimates are that 40 of those will be outstanding by the end of next year. Our own Prime Minister has very proper ambitions for Africa that will inevitably involve troops and more money. Increasingly we as a nation are starting to deploy troops not because our vital interests are threatened, but because we choose to do so, as we did in East Timor and Sierra Leone. There is also the question of credibility. We all agree that the threat from international terrorists and weapons of mass destruction is very real. If we are serious about confronting it, it will surely cost money.

We need to face the fact that one of our most crucial weapons in the war against terrorism will be intelligence. We in Britain first learned that lesson in the 1950s and 1960s in places such as Malaysia and Kenya, but it is truer now than ever. In the age of modern communication, the means of gathering and collating intelligence have changed beyond recognition and it is vital that our security services are fully funded and properly integrated with those of our allies. The development of our armed forces to meet the new threat will also place a heavy burden on the equipment budget. I do not propose to list all the areas where we need new equipment, but just to name a few. They include the C4ISTAR, the new deep strike capabilities, strategic air transport and, crucially, an integrated land-based air defence system for the UK homeland.

Clearly, to meet this new threat, the scope of defence policy needs to widen. Responses will no longer be exclusively military, but also political, diplomatic, humanitarian, economic, financial and legal. Legality is crucial. Everyone in the Chamber would surely agree that the UK Government must always operate within the remit of international law, despite the fact that our enemies almost certainly never will do. That clearly points to an even greater role for the UN. Its resolutions confer international legitimacy. The UN may not be perfect, but in this new era it is all that we have got.

We also need to develop our home defence plans. The threat from asymmetric attack is clear and we need to develop effective responses that integrate local government, health authorities, emergency services and the Territorial Army. However, throughout all this we must not forget the importance of conventional warfare. It remains the case that forces trained for high-intensity conflict can always adapt to low intensity, but never vice versa. Conventional warfare also arises very rapidly as we have seen recently in the Gulf and may possibly see in Iraq.

It would be wrong not to touch briefly on Iraq and I wholly support the Government's stance. They were right to support the US Administration at this early stage, not only to influence policy, but to create a believable threat of force in order to apply the maximum strategic coercion on the regime in Baghdad. I certainly agree that the correct channel is the UN, as it will confer international legitimacy on the operation. The resolutions on Iraq must be robust and enforceable, but if the UN handles the issue correctly, it will do its reputation a power of good and, in this new uncertain era, send a powerful message about the standards expected of organisations and states in the modern world.

I said earlier that I entirely supported the Government's stance on international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, but they must make clear the linkage between the two issues. I fully appreciate the need to protect scarce intelligence resources. Of course, none of us has access to that information. The Government must believe that if Saddam Hussein is allowed to develop weapons of mass destruction he will either use them himself or give them to terrorist organisations to use against us and that link needs to be made clearer.

I conclude with a few words about our service men and women. I have highlighted the enormous changes in the defence world in the 21 years since I joined and something of the threat that we currently face. One thing that has certainly not changed is the quality and commitment of the young men and women who serve in our armed forces. Our thoughts should always be with them and their families who give them so much support. After all, we will look to them first in the difficult and uncertain days ahead.

Photo of Mr Llew Smith Mr Llew Smith Labour, Blaenau Gwent 4:30 pm, 17th October 2002

A recent Ministry of Defence report revealed that the countries of the world now spend $772 billion on their so-called defences—or, more accurately, on preparing for war. The United States spends $400 billion of that on its war machine, and the United Kingdom spends #24 billion, the equivalent of $36 billion, for the same purpose.

One would have thought that, now that there are enough weapons to destroy the world many times over, the nations of the world would call a halt to such expenditure, but they have not done so. Indeed, the United States has announced that it will spend a further $30 billion a year. Do the people of that country, or its Government, feel that they are any safer in the knowledge that they can inflict even more destruction on this beautiful planet of ours?

Not to be outsmarted—if not outgunned—the United Kingdom has also decided to increase its so-called defence expenditure, by #3.5 billion by 2005–06. Not so long ago, the Prime Minister rightly reminded us that Africa is a

Xscar on the conscience of the world".

It will continue to be a scar as long as we continue to prioritise investment in weapons of war rather than investment in people.

Is it not ironic, or indeed obscene, that the Government can find money to increase the war machine massively, but cannot find money—or are unwilling to provide it—to compensate the victims of atomic tests in the Pacific in the 1950s? A letter sent to MPs by Ian Anderson, an American attorney at law acting on behalf of the American atomic veterans, said

XThe UK's policy of denial surely cannot continue indefinitely . . . the Queen has paradoxically approved of medals honouring the New Zealand servicemen who served at the Christmas Island nuclear tests with UK servicemen, yet no such recognition is accorded to her own troops."

That cannot be right.

The New Zealand and Fiji Governments have now recognised that compensation and, indeed, proper pensions are necessary for those who suffered radiation exposure during the tests. The US Government's department of veterans' affairs has announced that it will recognise five more cancers as attributable to exposures to atmospheric radiation for pension payment purposes. That brings the number of cancers recognised by the US Government as attributable to nuclear test radiation to 21. Why, on this occasion, are we not standing shoulder to shoulder with the United States in responding positively to what was a great tragedy?

I believe that we should do that, and I assumed that we would, because back in 1990 the present Prime Minister supported a private Member's Bill demanding compensation for the victims of the atomic tests. We now know from evidence produced in the past few weeks that the people affected—destroyed—by those tests were not just the soldiers involved but their children and grandchildren. Obviously they need compensation, as do those suffering from Gulf war syndrome.

I was brought up to believe that socialism was the language of priorities, but in this instance it seems that the Government are working on the basis of a different definition. They prioritise expenditure on developing weapons of mass destruction or war, yet cannot find a tiny proportion of that money to compensate victims of the creation of those weapons, or indeed victims of participation in wars.

Over the weekend, I had the privilege of addressing a national demonstration in Plymouth by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament against Trident and the refitting of that weapon at Devonport. We know that Trident has cost successive Governments some #15 billion. We also know that its annual operating costs are now some #280 million a year. We handed a petition to the Ministry of Defence protesting against Trident and its refit, and as we did so we thought of the many better ways of spending the money. It could be spent on health, education, better homes or responding to the tragedy of countries such as Africa.

The real cost, however, is not just financial; it also relates to all the skills, talents and creativity of the work force employed to produce Trident. My thoughts drifted from the financial cost to the cost in terms of the loss of skills that could be better used in the production of socially useful goods and services if we are to begin to plan for a world at peace rather than a world preparing for war—a world in which we really do begin to turn swords into ploughshares.

Yet the ultimate cost of weapons of mass destruction such as Trident consists not merely of the money spent and the skills wasted, but of the death and destruction that will follow its use. Is it not ironic that if Trident were ever used it would destroy not just the skills but the lives of the people who produced that weapon of war? I do not think that that is the reward that they would expect for their labours.

We are led to believe that President Bush and our Prime Minister are so opposed to weapons of mass destruction that they are willing to go to war with Iraq on the issue. Can the Minister explain this to me? If those Governments are so opposed to weapons of mass destruction, how can the United States maintain thousands upon thousands of nuclear warheads? Perhaps the Minister will also explain how the United Kingdom can maintain its vast nuclear arsenal. The Government should justify the number of nuclear warheads that they deploy and clarify the circumstances in which they might be used, because they have said that they are willing to use them.

Is it not an act of hypocrisy for us to oppose the possession by others of weapons of mass destruction, while justifying our possession of such weapons? Perhaps we do so because our weapons of mass destruction are nice, while those supposedly used by Saddam Hussein are nasty. Is it also true that the weapons that the west has sold to countries such as Iraq, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and India, to name but a few, are friendly weapons of mass destruction? If so, how is it that they are friendly weapons when the west sells them to such countries as Iraq, but become so nasty that we are willing to go to war over them when those countries threaten us with them or use them against us—or even when we believe that they possess the weapons?

While we are on the subject of Iraq, the House should not forget that this country is legally committed to nuclear disarmament under article 6 of the 1970 treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, most recently re-endorsed two years ago. If we expect Iraq to submit to its international obligations to get rid of its weapons of mass destruction, we should also respect our obligations to do so. As for the United States, it still refuses to ratify the chemical weapons convention or the comprehensive test ban treaty, to approve the creation of the International Criminal Court or to abide by the non-proliferation treaty. When it makes a gesture to abide by that treaty and reduce its nuclear arsenal, it invariably relates to weapons that are redundant. It then proceeds to replace those weapons with weapons that are more deadly and sophisticated.

It is acceptable for the west to sell weapons to other countries, no matter how evil their regimes. Those countries can then use them to gas their own people, as Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds, without the smallest of protests from the west. No matter how great the suffering, the Government tell us that arms sales are good for our economy. I invite the Minister to read the recent publication by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade called, XThe Employment Consequences of a Ban on Arms Exports". It demonstrates that at present only 0.3 per cent. of total United Kingdom employment is dependent on military equipment exports. Military equipment investment is capital, not labour, intensive. As always, the only people who gain are the arms manufacturers and dealers, and that has been true throughout our history.

Sadly, arms sales are also a corruption of democracy. That is clearly shown in a recent written reply by the Under-Secretary of State for Defence to Mr. Weir published last month, in which he stated:

XInformation held by the United Kingdom Government on companies and individuals involved in the export of military supplies is commercial in confidence and is withheld under Sections 13 and 14 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information."—[Hansard, 19 September 2002; Vol.390, c. 312W.]

Can the Minister justify this secrecy?

I shall conclude with something that, with a little help from Ministers, may have a positive outcome. We all know that 16 years ago Mordechai Vanunu was put in an Israeli jail. He has been rotting there and for 11 of those years in solitary confinement. On 29 October he comes up for parole. I want the Government to make all efforts to back this application from a brave man. It will not cost as much as two aircraft carriers or 150 state-of-the-art strike aircraft, but it would be worth so much more.

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson Conservative, Ruislip - Northwood 4:42 pm, 17th October 2002

I do not know whether you have noticed from the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, but the shorter your limits on Back Bench speeches, the more prolix those on the Front Bench seem to become. We were regaled with a wonderful example of the benefits of brevity by my hon. Friend Hugh Robertson, who demonstrated in an extremely thoughtful speech some of the challenges that face our armed forces and society in the global war against terrorism. He covered most of the points and I shall try to fill in some of the gaps.

We have all learned from the Bali experience perhaps more than any other, although we learned it to some degree from the horrendous events of 11 September in the United States, that this is genuinely a global war. We are all in it together. I know that some of my constituents are mourning at this very moment, and that will be replicated throughout the House. It is incumbent on us to ensure that the policies we promote will eradicate the tremendous evils of terrorism. There can be no compromise with terrorism.

The methods we use have to span a wide spectrum, including intelligence, police procedures, the justice system, the ending of money laundering and the evolution of military assets and tactics to match. On the judicial question, I am shocked that it would appear that some countries in Europe may not be willing to extradite terrorist suspects to the United States of America on the grounds that if they are found guilty of the charges that could be preferred against them, they would be subject to the US death penalty. We in the free world must all co-operate wholeheartedly. There can be no such inhibitions to our co-operation.

My hon. Friend Mr. Jenkin, who spoke at length and wisely, brought to our attention, as did the Leader of the Opposition at Question Time, the matter of proscribing Jemaah Islamiyah under the terms of the Terrorist Act 2000. The case is not unique. I have had cause to bring to the attention of the House the situation in Colombia. Our armed forces, the special air service regiment, to a small but significant extent has given advice to the armed forces of Colombia who are fighting a desperately important war against a vicious guerrilla movement, FARC, and to some degree the ELN. There have been more casualties in the conflict there than ever have been caused to date by al-Qaeda. FARC is using the drugs trade to finance its operations and to acquire its weaponry. Yet our Government do not proscribe FARC, and nor does the European Union. Nor, to my knowledge, do they proscribe any Latin American terrorist organisation, apart from the self-defence groups in Colombia. Those groups would not operate if the terrorists who are threatening democracy and the rule of law were made inoperative. It is important that we show a united front—we and our European Union colleagues, who are just as bad as we are in this matter. FARC, ELN, in Peru the Sendero Luminoso and in Chile the Frente Manuel Rodriguez should all be proscribed organisations, as should Jemaah Islamiyah.

I must refer the House to certain aspects of European policy vis-a-vis Iraq and the implications of the divisions to which my hon. Friend alluded: the divisions that exist within what should be a wholly united coalition of western democracies. The United Kingdom says, XYes, we are prepared to take military action against Iraq". There is not too much conditionality in our response. The Federal Republic of Germany appears to say, XNo, in no circumstance whatever are we prepared to undertake military operations against Iraq". The French position is more nuanced as they are hoping for a United Nations resolution, or in their case resolutions, which will have widespread support and which they can back. If a European security and defence policy is to have any import, any meaning, and if the European members of our alliance have such disparate positions over such a crucial issue as the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, what future is there for the more complex situations in the Balkans, the near east and elsewhere? We have to work on concerting our position.

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson Conservative, Ruislip - Northwood

I will not because time is short.

In this regard I am concerned by the duality of responsibility between the European Union's so-called High Representative, the former Secretary General of NATO, Javier Solana, and the External Affairs Commissioner. The Front-Bench spokesman rightly reminded us of the dangers that can exist to the effectiveness of our response in a crisis, if the respective staffs of the European Union and of NATO come up with different views and options. That could confuse what is already probably a difficult situation to respond to. If there are to be differences of opinion between the External Affairs Commissioner and the High Representative, it bodes doubly ill. If the European Union is to pursue this path, I urge that it must do so under the stewardship of the High Representative because at least he will be answerable to the Council, and it is the Council who are the representatives of national Governments, and the national Governments who are providing the armed forces and making the decisions about any European military response.

ESDP must have a responsibility to combat terrorism—something that has not been spelled out in the Petersberg tasks. I spelled it out in my report to the Assembly of the Western European Union on the military means to combat terrorism, which was passed by the Assembly in June. I earnestly hope that if ESDP is to be significant, this nettle will be grasped. Par excellence, if the ESDP is about peacemaking, those who are in the business of brutal murder and imposing their will by terrorist methods should be enemy number one.

We—the national parliamentarians who vote the funds and supply the Defence Ministers who have to make the decisions—should provide the scrutiny of ESDP. This has been discussed in the convention and my earnest hope is that because of the crucial link that we represent between the people whose taxes provide the resources that we allocate to defence, we will have the duty of scrutiny. In so doing, we should take the crucial decisions about mobility and, for example, the tankers that we need, as well as the A330/200, and other decisions in relation to the ability to project power and to be more flexible and effective.

In conclusion, I repeat the wise words of my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent, who said that the quality of our armed forces in these enterprises is crucial. I ask the Government to come to the House and say why, at Deepcut, there seems to be a fundamental breakdown in discipline. Officers' heads should roll and there should not be such a succession of scandals and suicides. It indicates to me that something is fundamentally wrong. Elsewhere our armed forces do us credit. This episode does not.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West 4:52 pm, 17th October 2002

In June, a group of scientists from America packed a container with uranium, loaded it on a train in Austria and sent it through Turkey and across the sea to America. They landed it on the American coast, and it is now lodged in the heart of New York. They did that to make the point that although the container went through border controls and tests—it was active uranium, so it should have been detected—no one detected it.

We should ask what is the greatest risk. There is no safe course ahead, but we must find the least perilous course. We all felt a chill of fear when we saw the pictures of the chemical weapons protection suit that has now been issued to frontline health service workers and when we heard that they have had smallpox injections.

One of my worst experiences during my 15 years as a Member of Parliament was when someone from the city of Newport came back from the Gulf war in a body bag. As a supporter of the Gulf war and of all the other military actions taken by the present and previous Governments, I find myself deeply unhappy with the present proposals because we are taking the wrong course.

What frightens me, as I am sure it frightens everyone, is the terrible nature of biological weapons, which make no distinction between warrior and civilian, young and old, Christian or Muslim. There could be terrible destruction, with diseases that have been dormant since medieval times being unleashed. We know that Saddam Hussein has biological and chemical weapons, but what is the risk? I believe that the greatest or only risk—the only conceivable situation in which he is likely to use the weapons—will arise if there is a military invasion of his country. We have heard today that he is a wicked, evil man. He is indeed, but he is not a suicidal maniac.

Every time that Saddam Hussein has attacked a group of people, he has done so in the certainty in his own mind that he was going to win. When he attacked the Kurds in Halabjah, he knew that the rest of the world was not interested and would not help them. When he attacked Iran, he was again certain that the Ayatollah was a weak leader whose country was in chaos, and he was sure that he would have an easy victory. He attacked Kuwait in the belief that the American ambassador had given him an assurance that the Americans would not intervene. Under what circumstances would this man, the great survivor, attack another state? Under what circumstances would he use his weapons of mass destruction?

I do not know of any plausible scenario except one, and it is the one that we are walking straight into. If he is defeated and is in one of his palaces, like Hitler in the Berlin bunker, he might use his biological weapons—not by using his ramshackle missiles, which are useless and cannot be sent far, but by doing a deal with his ideological antithesis, al-Qaeda. In those circumstances, he might well do that, and the horror that we all dread might take place.

The change in the world situation resulted not from what happened on 11 September but from the election of George W. Bush. We should examine the right-wing fundamentalists who are now in government in America and their plans for a new American century, which were drawn up before they took office. They are now fulfilling those plans, which did not start last September. They started when Bush was elected, with a rogue state creation programme.

When Bush took office, the situation between North and South Korea was one of rapprochement. It was going very well, but George W. Bush immediately cancelled a meeting that had been arranged by Madeleine Albright. He tried to turn that rapprochement into antagonism. A mythology was spread about the danger of missiles from North Korea hitting Seattle, when the North Koreans had great difficulty in targeting its missiles on South Korea. He made sure that the situation deteriorated.

The position in respect of Iran was an improving one over many years. There were visits from representatives from western countries, but President Bush has made sure that the situation has grown far worse. With Iraq, there was stability for almost 10 years. Iraq had been contained by the bombing programme, which I fully supported. The inspectors left because they were fed up; they believed that they were close to finding significant weapons, but left because they believed that there was going to be bombing of the sites that they could not inspect. There might have been some justification for action then, but there is no justification now.

The plans from PNAC—the project for the new American century—make alarming reading. They were drawn up not last year, but in 2000. One of them speaks of the American armed forces as

Xthe cavalry on the new American frontier."

The blueprint supports a document written by Wolfowitz and Cheney—Pearl and Rumsfeld are also involved—that says that the US must

Xdiscourage advanced industrial nations from challenging our leadership or even aspiring to a larger regional or global role."

They talk of regime change not only in Iraq but in Syria and Iran. However, their greatest target is China, which they see as the next state that might challenge them as a new world power.

In an extraordinary speech, Mr. Wilkinson suggested that we could become a vassal state of America by abandoning a dearly cherished policy of this country, and of almost all Council of Europe countries—our opposition to capital punishment. Suddenly, we should accept that.

The Americans have said that they regard the United Kingdom as

Xthe most effective and efficient means of exercising American global leadership."

That was and is Bush's policy. He has used the dreadful events of 11 September to accelerate that policy. Most people have forgotten the events that occurred before then.

The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood made an interesting point, although we would take his expert views on South America a little more seriously if he had not been an apologist for certain aspects of Pinochet's actions. The hon. Gentleman referred to Colombia. The United States' attempt to impose its failed policies of drug prohibition on a vassal state had dreadful results, leading to continuous chaos and at least three armies, two of which were funded by drugs. What if we apply that policy to Afghanistan? We went in because the Taliban were protecting al-Qaeda. That was a justified objective, and it was successful up to a point. However, another objective was to eliminate the drugs trade from Afghanistan. At the time, as the United Nations has reported, the Taliban had reduced by 92 per cent. the growth of poppies in their areas, whereas the Northern Alliance had increased by 300 per cent. the growth of poppies in their areas.

Our victory in Afghanistan, if that is what it was, did not decrease the use of drugs and the growth of the drug trade, but if we had gone in with the same policy as the Americans pursued towards Colombia, the drug trade would have expanded in Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and the country formerly known as Burma, now Myanmar. The worry is that by following the policies of the United States we will see the Colombia-isation of a whole area of mid-Asia.

I have another concern that is discussed only rarely. We have heard of star wars, but other weapons are being planned and may exist. A very interesting one is HAARP—the high frequency active auroral research programme. The Americans view it as having innocent intentions, but it terrifies the Soviet Union and many other countries because its effect has been described as boiling the ionosphere. Terrible weapons might exist beyond the ones of which we are aware.

It is significant that the document on the project for a new American century refers to combat likely to take place in new dimensions, in space, cyberspace, and perhaps the world of microbes. It says that advanced forms of biological warfare that can target specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool. The people who wrote that and believe that it is the future are in charge of the only superpower in the world. It is a tragedy that we have not taken a more critical stance and challenged them in the way that leaders of other European countries have done.

Finally, I thought that the best speech that I have read, possibly in my life time, on how to deal with the world, how to deal with the third world and how to guarantee peace was made by the Prime Minister at last year's Labour party conference. I urge him to take some time off to read his own words. We should take the least dangerous course, not the most dangerous one.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Conservative, Huntingdon 5:04 pm, 17th October 2002

In listening to the debate, what first comes to mind is that we live in a more dangerous world than ever before. The weakened grip of the old Soviet bloc has unleashed a multitude of regional power struggles, with dictatorships and nascent democracies fighting for influence and recognition within their own continents or, as in the case of Islamic extremism, against anyone who speaks in favour of secularism, liberty and democratic values.

Instead of rogue states spending less money on arms, more money than ever is being spent on more powerful weapons, and nuclear proliferation is now a reality of regional power building. Sanctions, for the main part, have had a laughable effect, except of course on the civilian populations of the countries concerned. Be it diamonds in Africa or oil in the middle east, these reserves are not like bank accounts, which can be frozen. Even if Saddam were to allow in the inspectors, his access to 10 per cent. of the world's oil reserves means that he can afford whatever weapons he wants, whenever he wants. Last year, for instance, it is estimated that he earned some $2 billion from oil, despite sanctions and a bad oil market. In this regard, I note how the Government always seem ever so wary of mentioning oil when discussing the possibility of war against Iraq. That, in my view, is wrong, as the effect on world trade of organised market manipulation or embargoes is clearly a significant matter of national interest.

Some people argue that a kind of post-cold war international vacuum has been created, thus undermining the now central role of the United States. Others more blatantly accuse the United States of warmongering or of getting involved only when it suits them and even isolationism. Such arguments are deeply flawed and very dangerous.

What is the ultimate weapon of defence? It is certainly not nuclear weapons or anything to do with the military. It is the growing understanding within most of the developing world of the value of individual liberty, democracy, free enterprise and the liberalisation of domestic and world trade. This message has not been lost on America's enemies, many of whom predicted that the terrible events of 11 September would lead to increased US isolationism and even the end of the world globalisation process. How wrong they have been. The process has been accelerated rather than slowed. In the face of the common terrorist defence threat, developing countries and western countries are seeing more than ever how their common defence interest lies in the development of trading relationships between them and the resulting higher living standards for their peoples. The best example of that was the agreement to move ahead on the World Trade Organisation trade round at Doha, which, prior to 11 September, was on the verge of collapse. However, within two months of 11 September, it suddenly happened because it made people think about the problem.

I mention trade because it is key to understanding the reasons behind the new worldwide, American-led resolve to counter terrorism and to deal with national defence in the new global context. States that were once blacklisted by the United States, such as India and Pakistan, are now back at the table. Relations with China are improving. It is no coincidence that, only a few months ago, China joined the World Trade Organisation and now wants to expand its commercial base.

Diplomatic ties between Russia and the west are increasingly strong, with exchanges of security information and a co-ordinated, albeit different, approach forming. Once again, trade is playing its part in that. Russia, with its significant investments in Iraq, has every interest in retaining interest and dialogue with the United States in preparation for the possibility of a post-Saddam Iraq.

The United Kingdom can also see how, working closely with the United States, we can have an influence—for example, in encouraging the US to work with the United Nations, or having a continued involvement in the post-war reconstruction in Afghanistan.

The message is that by standing together we will defeat common threats to world security—that is the message of 11 September and, indeed, of Kuta beach. That has been the basis of our recent successes in putting Saddam Hussein on to his back foot and of NATO's successes in recent decades. Standing together without the ability and ultimate intent of using force will lead to failure. Let us suppose that we took NATO or the United States out of the picture. Consider the prospect of Europe acting alone, with France soft-pedalling on the one hand, and Germany hostile to a firm answer to Saddam on the other. Where would we be now? I would say, XNot very far". How quiet the Government have been recently on the Nice treaty's European security and defence policy—a toothless dead duck of a proposal if I ever heard one. The lesson is clear: we stick with NATO, we do not cut out our allies, such as Turkey, and we do not alienate the United States.

It is refreshing that the Government have stopped talking about a peace dividend—of course, there never was one. Now, we should stop wasting our time on European Union defence and going it alone, with its inherent risk of splitting NATO, we should stop running down our regular forces, stop decimating our reserve forces and put more money into our military so that they can cope with their ever-growing number of operations.

In that regard, November's Prague NATO summit will be very important—not only in terms of the enlargement of NATO and the related reorganisation that that involves, but in providing us with the opportunity to disown the disastrous European defence experiment and to reaffirm our support for NATO and US involvement.

In fairness, the Government talk of supporting NATO, but can they deliver, given the way in which we are heading? While Europe is spending its time fretting about from whom its ever-smaller forces will take orders, America has been spending money on its defence. The problem is that, since 11 September alone, America has spent $48 billion more than Europe, Russia and China combined on its defence. Some people complain about the US unilateralist approach. Indeed, they say that the US has been unwilling to work within NATO in relation to Afghanistan or Iraq. The fact remains, however, that Europe's forces are now so weakened that US unilateralism is becoming increasingly inevitable, even if we say that we are going to support the US with men or indeed just with words.

To that extent, America is fully justified in saying that Europe should be paying more for its own defence—not only to up our game in absolute terms, but even if just to support a keyhole-surgery type approach of targeted rapid reaction and mobility. Let us not forget that the more that we rely on specialist forces, the more that technology comes into play. Here more than anywhere US research investment means that the US is pulling away from us so quickly that arms compatibility within NATO is becoming an ever more serious issue.

On equipment, the Government seem concerned about maintaining competition within the arms industry. Some people believe that Europe should jealously guard its manufacturing capability. That may sound attractive, but frankly we have missed the boat, as Europe's historic unwillingness to invest in research now means that we have a great and ever growing reliance on US technology. Why waste time fighting the inevitability of market consolidation? We should actually be prioritising European and US arms compatibility—that is, if we are going to have any sort of industry in Europe at all in future.

The Government also need to be more upfront on the realities of our and Europe's weakening position. Why, for instance, have they been sitting on the fence with regard to America's national missile defence proposals? Earlier today the Secretary of State moved towards a positive position on the issue, but not quite. Surely it is in our best interests that America feels safe from attack. Why not help it to feel safe in a way that would enable us to receive the benefit of the missile shield against nuclear proliferation? Given our overall relationship with America, surely it is highly unlikely that a missile threat against America would not also pose a threat to us.

Effective defence measures do not begin and end with star wars projects. Indeed, our civil defence capability is widely seen as inadequate and underfunded. How many terror incidents must there be before we sort out our civil defence?

Finally, the Government need to appreciate that if we are to maintain our severely stretched operational capability and improve the technical capability of our military, we will simply have to increase spending on our armed forces.

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Labour, Newcastle upon Tyne North 5:14 pm, 17th October 2002

President Bush said last week that the

Xcampaign against Saddam Hussein is not a distraction from the fight to destroy the al-Qaeda movement."

That is clearly a political statement, and I believe that it is fundamentally flawed. Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda are not the same; even if there is sometimes similarity in means, there most certainly is not in nature.

This issue arose as a major point in today's debate, and the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman made much of the argument that Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda are the same. However, those who say that there is a difference are not a small minority—whether in this House, in the country at large, or internationally. Last week, the Democrats in the United States Congress voted by a clear majority against the proposal to allow President Bush to do what he wanted in relation to any form of terrorism. It would be tragic and awkward for the Labour party if we were to be nearer to President Bush's position than that of the Democrats and many people in this country and the United States.

I regularly read American opinion polls, which show fluctuations in the level of support for action against Iraq. The message that is coming through is that the public do see a distinction. They sometimes forget about it, as a poll this week indicated. People were appalled at the aftermath of what happened in Bali, but when they begin to think, they see a clear distinction between what Saddam Hussein is—the threat and the theatre—and what the international terrorist is. Political error will generate error in military policies as well—in this country and in the United States. Once that began to show up in any conflict, the public opinion that supported dealing with the two theatres as one would melt away. Leaders in this country, the United States or elsewhere who argued that position would be seriously isolated from international public opinion.

The global terrorist is a relatively new phenomenon. In the past, there have been national terrorists and even international terrorists, as has already been alluded to, but the global terrorist is a reflection of the politically and economically global society that we now live in. The global terrorist is well informed, well trained, well equipped, determined, works under the cover of urban or rural society, and is often prepared to give his life. It might be cowardly to coerce a young militant into giving his life, but it is fanatical and brave and the ultimate sacrifice to be that young militant and to give one's life. My fear is that, by dealing with the two threats as one and further isolating the young Muslim international community from the rest of the world, we will create a breeding ground for more fanatics and more young men who are prepared to be brave and threaten democracy in a much wider forum.

Defending democracy and maintaining a stable society needs a completely different approach from that used in the cold war and post-cold war eras to deal with a conventional threat. We might as well recognise that now in our foreign policy and defence policy, and in the way we allocate public expenditure. If we do not do so, we will be back here again after further atrocities and a further failure to deal with the global terrorist. We will then have to commit ever-increasing resources to deal with an ever-growing situation.

To counter the global terrorist, we primarily need better intelligence. We need a dramatic increase in the existing intelligence provided by the various intelligence agencies, and perhaps we should bring such agencies together in a more co-ordinated way. I give credit to the Government for increasing expenditure on intelligence services. However, #15 million extra out of a combined Foreign Office and defence budget of about #24 billion will be shown to be inadequate. Some members of the Government will probably feel that too, and those who do must fight for better resources for that capacity and for a reallocation of existing resources.

Of course, we also need political association and political understanding, without which there is no point in having more intelligence. We will never be prepared to exchange 100 per cent. of our intelligence information—and we never should—but we need to be prepared to exchange intelligence to tackle a situation, whether in Indonesia, Afghanistan or wherever. We will not be able to share that intelligence, however, unless we share more of a common political platform. We must be able to have a relationship with the moderate states in the middle east, in the far east and in the area around Malaysia and Indonesia. If we do not have a common political cause, there is no way that our intelligence services will be able to share intelligence to track down the terrorist, who is as much of a threat to those societies as he is to the western societies that we inhabit.

We need a completely different approach to Saddam Hussein. If he is a threat, and if his arms are about to be used, the measures that I would advocate for countering the individual terrorist and the small terrorist group will not work—more conventional forces, including tanks, air power and so on, will be needed, and we must retain that capacity. At the moment, however, I do not believe that Saddam Hussein is as serious a threat as he is made out to be. One might have thought, listening to the Front-Bench spokesmen in the debate that we had on the matter two or three weeks ago, that the Government really had evidence, apart from the dossier, that convinced them that he was a threat. At that time, I began to think that perhaps they had such evidence, as they displayed such determination and unity. I was in the United States last week, however, and one sometimes gets a different picture. The perspective there is different—apart from the situation with the Democrats, to which I have referred—and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency is saying in his advice to Congress, XThis guy is not an immediate threat, but he will be a threat if you guys let him believe that you are going to attack him." That is a serious flaw in the doctrine of pre-emptive strike. I believe that any pre-emptive strike would be extreme folly.

I do not know what will happen at the United Nations in the debates that follow. I hope that the debate today with members outside the Security Council is informed, and that it takes the United Nations down a route that will allow the situation in Iraq to be resolved, which means the return of the inspectors. It would be wrong, at this stage, to pre-determine what the United Nations reaction should be if the inspectors fail. Let us give them a chance. When they come back, if they say, XWe've been obstructed," or XWe've failed," it is incumbent on the United Nations to come forward with a further response. However, to argue—as has been argued by people such as President Bush—that our response should be pre-determined, and that everybody should know that Saddam will be attacked whatever happens, is a completely wrong strategy.

That kind of strategy, combined with a failure to understand the distinction between Saddam Hussein and the international terrorist, will lead many young Muslims worldwide into the hands of those who are prepared to commit atrocities. I do not believe that such people want to commit atrocities; I do not believe that they are any different from us as human beings. I believe that their political system has driven them into a situation in which it becomes honourable, as it was in the crusades, to commit one's life for a cause. That is highly dangerous for the developed world and for the world that wants to be based on democracy. That is why we must counter it.

I wanted to make one or two further comments, but I am mindful that other colleagues also want to speak. I am grateful for having been given the opportunity to contribute to the debate.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Defence) 5:24 pm, 17th October 2002

Mr. Henderson said that he thought that there was a new phenomenon of international terrorism. I recall that phenomenon some time ago in the shape of Carlos the Jackal, a rather successful international terrorist, the Baader-Meinhof gang and the Red Army Faction. I recall something else about all those terrorist groups. It was always denied that anyone else was behind them and it was denied that they were covertly funded, supplied and supported by the enemies of western democracy. Do you know what happened, Madam Deputy Speaker, at the end of the cold war when the wall came down and the secrets were exposed to public view? It turned out that those groups had been funded by the conventional enemies of western democracy and many of them were dug out from their boltholes in the former Soviet Union and the disgustingly named Xsocialist democratic republics" of its evil empire, which we were so lucky to defeat.

How did we defeat that evil empire? It was by having what Llew Smith, who I was sorry to see leaving the Chamber as soon as he had finished his speech, called the US war machine and the British war machine. The funny thing about machines is that they are as good or as bad as the purposes to which they are put. I think that the nuclear weapons of the US and British war machines have rather a lot to their credit. Post-Hiroshima and post-Nagasaki, in all the time that they existed, they never killed anyone. However, weapons, such as the knives and the machetes that were used in Rwanda, killed a great many people. Therefore, to generalise about weapons without reference to the nature and track record of the people who possess them and to the intentions of the people who might use them is to miss the whole point of the debate.

We have heard some interesting remarks about how brave it is of these young men to sacrifice themselves. I do not think that it is very brave to sacrifice oneself in a cause when one has been indoctrinated with blind hatred and with a belief that, if one sacrifices oneself in the cause, one will go to paradise and have a much better existence after one's death than one has now. Far from being brave, it is the essence of cowardice to demonstrate one's so-called bravery by taking it out not on people who can hit back but on those who are going about their lawful business, whether at work in an office building or at play in a discotheque. With due respect to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North, who knows I like him very much as an individual, it is very foolish to say such things in the House of Commons because it encourages people who are misguided at best and downright evil at worst.

I referred to the contribution of the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent, but the speech of Mr. Beard was a stark contrast. He made one of the most original and thoughtful speeches in the debate when he referred to ballistic missile defence. I believe that I am right to say that he spent much of his working life before he entered Parliament in the Ministry of Defence.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Defence)

I am glad that I got that right. The work that he did in the Ministry of Defence with many people from many other political parties probably did a great deal more for peace, security and freedom in this country than the blatherings of those who think that getting rid of our weapons, while allowing dictators such as Saddam Hussein to keep or to acquire them, will lead us to a promised land of peaceful international relations.

The Americans' determination to get rid of Saddam Hussein this time has, of course, something to do with 11 September 2001. Even if there were no direct link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, it would be relevant for the Americans to consider the fact that, when they dealt with al-Qaeda before 11 September, they knew that it was a highly dangerous organisation that might pose a deadly threat at some unspecified time in the future. They did not act against it, probably because they felt that international and domestic opinion was not strong enough to enable them to act against it. We know what happened—3,000 people were killed. I believe that people at the heart of the American planning machine take the view, and they would be right to do so, that they are not going to make the same mistake with Saddam Hussein.

People say that there is no immediate threat from Saddam Hussein, but what is the converse of that proposition? Surely we are not supposed to wait until there is a threat so close to us that it would be much more dangerous to act against him than it is now. If the truth be told, and I say with no sense of undue pride that I mentioned this in debates dealing with the bombing of Iraq two or three years ago—long before the events that we are now considering—the real mistake was made by the Americans and the British Conservative Government in 1991, when they failed to finish off Saddam Hussein. They were concerned that a coalition might break down, leading to adverse consequences in the political set-up of the middle east. Because they ducked that decision then, we now face a harder decision. That was a mistake; we must not make the same mistake now and store up even greater trouble for ourselves in future.

Paul Flynn, who I am sorry to see is not in his place, asked about the circumstances in which Saddam Hussein might use nuclear weapons. He said that the most likely circumstance is that of an attack on Iraq, when Saddam would have nothing to lose. That over-simplifies matters, because Saddam may have nothing to lose, but the military infrastructure around him will still have a great deal to lose. They will know that if they carry out any order from Saddam Hussein in the course of an overwhelming military attack from a western coalition, which is what it will be if it happens, they will face certain annihilation. The best way to deal with the matter is to deal with the threat before it gets more and more certain that Saddam Hussein will acquire more deadly weapons of mass destruction than he already has and be able to hold the region, if not the world, to ransom.

One of the strange things that Saddam and al-Qaeda have in common is that they were too impatient. Both wanted to act but they did not want to wait. As we now know, if Saddam Hussein had waited two years to invade Kuwait, the scenario would have been very different. If he had waited that long, he would have had a nuclear bomb, so the west's response would have been more cautious and indecisive, and that would have shifted the balance of strategic considerations, possibly decisively, against what still deservedly carries the name of the free world.

Make no bones about it, hon. Members should be aware of the fact that there is no disgrace in referring to the strategic importance of the resources of the middle east; there is no disgrace in referring to the oil-richness of the middle east; and there is no disgrace in recognising that Saddam Hussein wanted to go into Kuwait precisely because he wanted those resources and, above all, to deny them to states that he regards as enemies.

I want to cut short my remarks because I know that other Members wish to speak. I shall conclude with the briefest of references to NATO's upcoming, vital summit in Prague on 21 and 22 November. When that event occurs, there will be an enlargement of NATO. Nobody knows yet how many countries will join; it could be up to six or seven. That enlargement will involve a significant increase in NATO's obligations. If that occurs and it works—I think that it will do so—NATO will once again have triumphed in showing international society that it is possible to work together co-operatively in matters of vital national and international significance without undue loss of individual sovereignty. I think that the Americans put up with the idea of a rapid reaction force outside NATO because they thought that it might help the Europeans to contribute more ships, aircraft and soldiers. That is not going to happen and they know it. Thank goodness they are now setting about creating a real rapid reaction force that is inside the structure of NATO and is not futilely placed outside it so as to confuse, weaken and undermine all that NATO has achieved in years gone by.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow 5:35 pm, 17th October 2002

Before posing certain questions of a technical nature of which I have given notice to the Ministry of Defence, may I express a passionate view? A country cannot ask its service men and women to put their lives at risk in circumstances where it is not the overwhelming settled conviction of the country that the cause is legitimate, just and sensible.

Whether I like it or not, I opposed the Falklands war, but I recognise that the overwhelming view of this country was that action should be taken. Yes, I opposed the Gulf war, but I recognise that the overwhelming conviction of the country was that something should be done about the invasion of Kuwait. Yes, I opposed what happened in Kosovo and Afghanistan, and what a mess they are turning out to be. Nevertheless, there was again a very strong feeling that something should be done.

On this occasion, it is far from the settled conviction of Britain that there should be a pre-emptive strike against Iraq without an updated and unmanipulated United Nations decision. Therefore, I agree with the former commander of 7th Armoured Brigade, of which I was once a very junior member, Major General Patrick Cordingley, and many other military people—this is not just the usual suspects—on the very widespread view in this country that we should not take military action without United Nations authority. When one sees all the unaligned countries lining up to express doubt, when President Putin, frankly, puts our Prime Minister in a very humiliating position, and when France and Germany are against such action, we should have no truck with it.

I should like to ask certain questions of a technical nature. Will the Minister state categorically that the WE177 tactical nuclear bombs have not been returned from storage for deployment in the middle east? In that regard, it is not appropriate to use the Xneither confirm nor deny" formula. That does not apply to those weapons, as it is this Government who went on the public record to say that they had been withdrawn from service.

I should like also to ask about the weaponry on the British territory of Diego Garcia and particularly the B61-11 tactical nuclear earth-penetrating weapons for destroying bunkers. Again, it is not good enough to give a Xneither confirm nor deny" answer. We are heading for a war in which an opponent may, if cornered, use chemical and biological weapons. A potential nuclear response would, first, be the first use since Nagasaki 57 years ago; secondly, break the most important threshold in modern war; thirdly, put Britain at risk of a terrorist response with chemical, nuclear or biological weapons; and, fourthly, make the world a much more dangerous place. In those circumstances, the House of Commons has every right to know exactly what is happening on the British territory of Diego Garcia, which is, incidentally, the biggest American base outside the continental United States.

Finally, and at a little length, I ask Ministers for a response to information from the autumn 2002 issue of XDefence Review" on contamination. There could be a chemical and biological weapon counterattack. In those circumstances, British forces, superbly trained, along with American forces would probably press home their attack and Iraqi troops would surrender. But the UK and US weapons systems might be covered with sarin, soman, ebola or VX, which could spread death for decades. The successor Government to Saddam Hussein, if that were the case, might well refuse to decontaminate them.

We are faced with real problems of noxious agents. Kuwait would certainly refuse to accept them. One would have to dismantle the facilities, or bring them home. Bringing home such equipment would involve very considerable difficulties, so there would have to be sealift. There would be problems for the shipping companies—decontaminating shipping is extremely complex. Few ports would accept contaminated nuclear material or material contaminated by biological agents. Royal Navy ships might well not want to risk, at best, a long time in dry dock, or, at worst, being scrapped after bringing CBW home.

For the sake of time, I shall quote directly from XDefence Review", which states:

XEven this shipping scenario is based upon a big assumption: that the decontamination at source is judged to be 100 per cent. successful. The difficulty with decontaminating military platforms is that they all have moving parts. While the outside may be clean, agents may have penetrated parts of the vehicle, such as bearings, and be impossible to reach unless the whole vehicle is taken apart and each piece cleaned. Biological agents have a fixed life in the open, but in the dark, warm sheltered parts of some vehicles they could have their life extended exponentially. This raises the question of how clean is clean?

Ministry of Defence vehicles undergo regular routine maintenance and, if the experts are not 100 per cent. sure that they are clean, then all mechanical and electrical engineers will have to be enclosed in full IPE. This imposes a huge physiological and physical burden and makes basic tasks onerous."

That is the kind of difficulty that we will have to face if Saddam Hussein is cornered. What is the Government's response?

We are up against a situation in which there has been a coup in the United States—a very American coup. As some of my colleagues have said, a narrow group of neo-Conservatives around Bush have taken control of US security policy. They are not true representatives of that great country and they are dangerous to us all. We should exercise every caution about following American policy, given the leadership of the United States in 2002.

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 5:44 pm, 17th October 2002

The issue of global terrorism is clearly at the top of the agenda following the tragedy in Bali, and I associate myself, the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru completely with the condemnation of that attack by right hon. and hon. Members during the debate. As has been pointed out by many, including Vice-President Al Gore, the recent increasing concentration on Iraq should not detract from the challenge posed by terrorism and al-Qaeda. However, I shall focus my comments not on geostrategic or tactical questions posed by the campaign against terrorism or on whether or in what form there should be military intervention in Iraq, but on preparedness for any eventualities.

The Scottish National party position against unilateral military action by the UK and the US is clear and unambiguous, and we hope to see the start of weapons inspections soon. Nevertheless, should it come to pass that our service personnel have to take part in multilateral or unilateral action, I am keen to seek reassurance from the Government on a number of fronts.

The Minister will be aware of my constituency interest in the matter, as many of the current air operations over the middle east and Afghanistan involve personnel from RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Kinloss in Moray. I was pleased to meet many of them in theatre recently while on a visit to bases in the region, together with the hon. Members for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) and for Workington (Tony Cunningham). I put on record my thanks to the RAF and the Ministry of Defence for the excellent tour, which was valuable for learning the views of men and women in the UK armed forces in the region. It is those service people who are at the front line of any potential offensive against Iraq.

Initial reports suggest that any eventual UK military operation in Iraq will also involve an enlarged armoured brigade and air support. Two Scottish regiments—the Scots Dragoon Guards and the Black Watch—are currently assigned to the Desert Rats and they could play a part in any deployment. In addition, Scottish-based Tornado and Nimrod squadrons are expected to be involved.

For that reason, there is a particular interest in Scotland about how those service personnel, either recruited or stationed north of the border, are likely to participate in any eventual action, and whether worries about equipment and Gulf war syndrome have been fully addressed. Bearing in mind the experience of the UK's Operation Granby as part of Desert Storm in the last Gulf war, there are still serious concerns about Gulf war syndrome and how those afflicted have been treated since the conflict.

Can the Minister confirm whether the same mixture of vaccines used to inoculate our troops the last time is likely to be used in the future, and what monitoring procedures are in place for theatre operations to detect emerging symptoms similar to those suffered the last time that troops were involved in offensive action? Those are concerns that have been articulated to me and other Members by service personnel, and they deserve an answer.

Military sources also show that the UK is likely to be asked to produce a force at divisional strength of around 25,000 men. Ministers will be well aware of the problems highlighted by the National Audit Office about the most recent military exercises in Oman. Operation Saif Sareea II highlighted how essential military equipment failed to deal with the extremes of desert warfare. Soldiers' boots fell apart and armoured vehicles, guns, helicopters and heavy lifting equipment could not deal with the heat.

UK armoured regiments will use the same Challenger tanks that were used in Oman, despite the discovery that that desert dust clogged up the tanks' air filter so that they could operate for only four hours. Quite apart from interoperability difficulties with the United States, the filter issue is key. I was glad to see that assurances were given to the Select Committee on Defence yesterday that contingencies have been arranged to deal with that. Can the Minister confirm how long it will take to fit filters on more that 200 Challenger tanks? Have the filters already been constructed?

Following on from the NAO report, further questions remain unanswered. Have modifications been made to the plastic air filters on AS90 artillery pieces, which melted in operation Saif Sareea II in Oman? What improvements have been made for radio communication? Given that the Bowman system is not expected until 2004 at the earliest, will UK troops still depend on Clansman, which is not secure, or will they have to depend on mobile phones, as they did in Kosovo?

In addition, there are the questions that continue to surround the SA80 rifle. There is no doubt about the weapon's accuracy and balance, but it has been prone to a long list of defects that have been debated often in the House and which the Government assure us have now been dealt with by the Heckler and Koch upgrade. Nevertheless, there has been a profound lack of trust in the weapon's reliability, and many service men tell me that they would far prefer to see the SA80 replaced by the M-16 or M-4 carbine.

Is the Minister confident that, with the upgrade and new cleaning guidelines for the SA80 A2, we will not see a repeat of the experience of 45 Commando during Operation Jacana in Afghanistan? Are there any contingency plans to replace the SA80 at short notice if the realities of desert combat show that the weapon is still not reliable?

All those questions are legitimate and have been posed by members of the service community. I hope that the Government will take the opportunity to answer them without claiming that plans are not being drawn up by the MOD for future eventualities in Iraq. Plans are being drawn up, strategies are being developed, assets are being ring-fenced, spares are being cannibalised and service men and women have been told when they can expect leave to be cancelled.

All this also has a potential domestic impact. The call-up of reserve and Territorial Army medics would have an impact on the national health service, and account must also be taken of the impending industrial dispute involving the Fire Brigades Union. Until recently, the Black Watch and the Scots Dragoon Guards were reportedly on stand-by for firefighting duty, but they have now returned to normal military training. While the ring-fencing of combat units based in Germany may be prudent in military planning terms, it raises questions about how domestic fire cover could be optimised if there were a strike. Similar manpower shortages are also likely to be highlighted in other areas, should there be a substantial additional deployment.

In the RAF alone, there are significant shortages of motor transport drivers and cooks following the increase in contractorisation. That puts an enormous strain on those serving in those blue-suit roles who already seem to be on the permanent detachment rotation. What contingency plans are being made to diminish the pressures on those and other key roles in the services? I am certain that, in his reply, the Minister will rightly praise the professionalism of the armed services, and I agree with that wholeheartedly. Nevertheless, the questions that I have posed have been raised by service men and women, and the issues are vital to the future of operations that may take place sooner rather than later.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Croydon Central 5:51 pm, 17th October 2002

Saddam Hussein polled 100 per cent. of the vote in a recent referendum not because of his telephone canvassing and popularity but because the main hope in life for most people in Iraq is to die a natural death—there is so much torture and execution there. He is not only evil but dangerous. He has invaded his neighbours in Iran and Kuwait, sent missiles to Israel, and killed hundreds of thousands of Kurds and Marsh Arabs. Indeed, he killed his own son-in-law, Hussein Kamal, in 1995—after he had disclosed plans for the manufacture of nuclear warheads—along with some 40 members of his family.

Since the weapons inspectors left Iraq in 1998, we have faced a threat that means that if we do not act, Saddam will acquire nuclear weapons, at which point it will be too late to use military force to decommission them. Many Members have pointed out that if we do anything to Saddam Hussein, he will unleash weapons of mass destruction such as biochemical weapons. Surely the argument must be that the longer we wait, the worse the threat of unleashing mass destruction becomes, particularly when he equips himself with nuclear weapons. That is why it is imperative that the United Nations act to enforce the decommissioning of his weapons of mass destruction.

The United States has not helped itself, because its attitude towards world affairs is demonstrably one of self-interest rather than world interest. We have only to look at Kyoto, in relation to the environment, or the effect of steel tariffs on free trade. There are also question marks over human rights in relation to the United States' lack of support for an international court. Indeed, the situation in Camp X-Ray is not altogether acceptable. One of my own constituents has been incarcerated there for nearly a year without any rights and without being charged. He should be either charged and punished or repatriated. Nevertheless, action must be taken before it is too late.

As I said in my intervention on the Secretary of State, it is important that we obtain a United Nations resolution that is simple and achievable, and that commands the respect of the rest of the United Nations. It is unacceptable to couch a resolution in terms of requiring 600 prisoners of war to be accounted for, or requiring the end of persecution and oil smuggling, or the provision of US armed guards. Such a resolution would not be accepted by others, and would inevitably trigger a war if implemented.

The Bali tragedy underlines the value of united action on world affairs. America has the economic and military might to act unilaterally to bring about regime change. However, that would be to attack individual countries rather than combat terror. Unilateral, pre-emptive action would open Pandora's box. It would legitimise an attack on Taiwan by China, continuing attacks on Chechnya by Russia, and an attack on Pakistan by India. Legitimising unilateral pre-emptive action would encourage the use, rather than the control, of weapons of mass destruction.

People have asked whether the Iraqi threat can be separated from combating terrorism. Despite what has been alleged, Saddam is a secular tyrant who has killed various mullahs and he is not a friend of al-Qaeda. It is a shame that people confuse the issue. However, managing the Iraqi threat has an impact on the war against terror. As the report by the Council on Foreign Relations disclosed today, the Saudi Arabians are not helping us much in gaining access to the funding streams for terrorism. George Bush's policy is not to use full United States power and influence to combat funding from Saudi Arabia to terrorist organisations. I presume that the reason for that is his short-term preoccupation with success in dealing with the threat of Iraq.

Clearly, we must balance our objectives. I hope that the focus and noise from the United States will change slightly after the 3 November congressional elections, when the political focus in America will be on world affairs rather than the awful state of the economy.

The United States needs to build trust in the world by using its diplomatic and economic power to create a better world. That does not simply mean neutralising the threat in Iraq, but using its strength to enforce peace in Palestine. The US is the only nation with the power to do that. In the opinion of many Arab states, unless it sends the right signals to Ariel Sharon, who is not a friend of peace, it will not demonstrate an even-handed approach to world affairs.

We have a historic opportunity not only to neutralise the Iraqi threat but to move forward on Palestine. Britain is the only voice to which the United States listens; it simply dismisses everyone else. We should say that we want a resolution, decommissioning and to avert war, but that decommissioning will occur only with the threat of war. We should also say that we want delivery on Palestine and the rebuilding of Afghanistan. If the global community witnesses solutions emerging in Palestine and the rebuilding of Afghanistan, it is more likely to support a collective ambition to sort out matters in Iraq.

We have an opportunity to make major headway and I hope that the British Government will take the lead in putting other issues on the agenda and in producing a simple, clear resolution about unfettered access and decommissioning. There could then be progress on neutralising the Iraqi threat without necessarily having to resort to war.

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire Conservative, East Devon 5:58 pm, 17th October 2002

The debate bears the all-encompassing title of XDefence in the world". It is therefore unsurprising that contributions have been made on a variety of subjects, not least on the US missile defence programme. I welcome the Secretary of State's statement that that vital subject will receive full consideration on the Floor of the House.

Compared with 15 or 20 years ago, the world is a more dangerous place. I have always been sceptical about the concept of a peace dividend. The day the cold war ended and the iron curtain was raised, the world became a less predictable and more dangerous place.

Only today, we have had reports of nuclear proliferation reaching North Korea. I wonder how many other countries are more advanced than we think in obtaining weapons of mass destruction.

We are paying the price for letting our guard down in the aftermath of the cold war and allowing rogue states to poach technicians and technical know-how. I hope that the Minister can reassure us that every necessary resource is being made available to monitor the whereabouts of those scientists and those with technical know-how to stop the spread going any further.

The entrenched positions of the two superpowers during the cold war years had a certain in-built safety. Both sides knew that ultimately the price of conflict would be too high. That created a safety valve, as evidenced by the Cuban missile crisis when the world stood at the brink of a precipice. That has now been replaced by asymmetric threats and a proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. As a result, any threat will be non-discriminatory and non-proportional. There is no longer any division between conventional or legitimate targets and innocents as we understand them, the recent tragic events in Bali being just such an example. We must therefore learn to adapt our military capabilities and our ability to respond quickly and effectively to match the changed nature of these threats.

I wonder whether recent events have changed the support of the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister for a European Union rapid reaction force. There is a real probability that the Prime Minister, by identifying himself so closely with America, has inflicted untold damage on his relations with both the French and the Germans. What if the United States, backed by the United Kingdom, goes it alone in Iraq, with or without the requisite UN Security Council resolution? Where would that leave dreams of a rapid reaction force?

We know that the United States is pressing NATO to constitute a special unit to combat terrorism, with 21,000 soldiers to be ready at short notice. We know also that the United States expects to participate in such a venture, but that Europe is to provide most of the soldiers. It is said that the force would be operational by October 2006. Perhaps most intriguing of all is that NATO would take decisions about when and where the force would be used.

The report that I read went on to suggest that Donald Rumsfeld was using talk of a rapid response force to test the commitment and readiness of Europeans and our desire to spend our own money. As America increased its defence budget by $48 billion in the aftermath of 11 September—one-and-a-half times the French defence budget and twice the German budget—the Americans may be guilty of optimism. I would welcome the Secretary of State's comments.

Our immediate domestic concerns must be for those soldiers, sailors and airmen who may be about to be committed once again to a theatre of war. Their equipment must be of the highest order, and I was reassured by the Secretary of State's comments on the SA80 A2 rifle. Their families must be properly looked after. Any assessment of overstretch must take into account the long periods of enforced separation for those families. We must not denude one area of commitment to shore up another. I have Northern Ireland in mind, where the suspension of Stormont may mean that the police force needs even more, not less, support from the Army.

We need a guarantee that our troops will be properly prepared to meet any chemical or biological attack. Can the Minister give us an assurance that the Government are 100 per cent. happy this time about the inoculations that our troops will have to have? Finally, there should be a guarantee that recruits who are attracted to join the forces by the possibility of conflict will be subject to the same rigorous training and standards as normal entrants and that the process will not be accelerated to fill gaps that have been created by undermanning. Nothing must stand in the way of our armed forces and their training, their discipline, their equipment and, ultimately, their professionalism, on which over the coming months we may well come to rely upon once again.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Labour, South Dorset 6:04 pm, 17th October 2002

Any debate on this subject must address the twin threats of international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. The attacks of 11 September, and now in Bali, have shown the deadly and ruthless nature of the threat that we must defend against. Despite the success of the action in Afghanistan in removing al-Qaeda's command, control and training, it is clear that dangerous cells remain scattered throughout the globe. Action against those cells requires international co-operation not just on military action, but on finance, intelligence and so on, and that must happen. There is an international will to have an international response to terrorism, but there is not the same will to act against rogue states with weapons of mass destruction, in particular Iraq, which will form the main part of my contribution.

It is clear from constituents who have contacted me that there is still considerable concern about such action. The public need to be convinced about the threat. Intelligence information has convinced me that Iraq is capable of delivering warheads equipped with weapons of mass destruction to targets in the middle east. Coupled with Saddam's past record on Iran and his treatment of his people, that capability constitutes a threat to the middle east, including our NATO allies.

The threat must be taken seriously because if Saddam is left as he is, the threat will grow, and with it his power over his neighbours, over whom he can exercise the power of a bully and the power of fear. I would not rule out military action as a means of dealing with the threat, but to justify taking such action now requires a belief that a failure to do so carries risks so great that they outweigh the dangers inherent in such action. It would be dangerous in the extreme to take military action without at least the tacit support and agreement of a significant majority of nations in the region. Although the vast majority of middle eastern states clearly do not support Saddam, it appears that the prospect of military action attracts even less backing. It is similarly vital that we guard against inflaming radical Islamic elements. We must minimise the likelihood of sparking terrorist outrages akin to those in Bali at the weekend.

The public need the reassurance that the UN is sufficiently convinced by the case made by the Bush Administration and, to some extent, our Government. They do not trust the United States and bilateral action with it would isolate us in the world in the way that we want Iraq to be isolated. I would be equally wary of military action that promised to achieve a regime change. It would be great to see the back of Saddam and it may be necessary to end his regime, but that must not be the end in itself. Any military action must focus on the outcome of dismantling Iraq's destructive capabilities, not on regime change for its own sake. Furthermore, any military approach needs to be achievable while minimising the loss of civilian life. Previous experience has shown us that Saddam positions many of his key installations close to heavily populated areas, and military strategy must take that into account.

In simple terms, I could support action if it is backed by the UN, but it should not be seen as giving in to the ambitions of the United States. This country places little trust in the Bush Administration. The same is true of Europe and across the world. A year ago, they had the world's sympathy. Sadly, it appears that they have lost it. Prior to 11 September, the US was retreating from the world and withdrawing from international commitments such as Kyoto. After the attacks, it showed great restraint and responded with broad international support in Afghanistan. However, in the past six months we have had the US steel tariffs, the Farm Acts, the blocking of progress in Johannesburg and the refusal to sign countless international treaties. The Administration's promises to rebuild a civil society in Afghanistan are yet to materialise. Meanwhile, President Bush pursues his axis of evil and, as a result, countries such as Iran worry that they may be next. There is also the lack of US sanction against the Israeli Government, which has been well discussed in the House. For those reasons, it has been a struggle for many to understand why our Government appear to remain so close to the Bush Administration.

We are beginning to see beyond that public face, however. We are a constraining influence in Washington. Our voice has more than once tilted the balance of arguments between hawks and doves in the White House. There have been several instances in which our Government's quiet influence on US policy has resulted in a more measured approach to conflicts around the world. If a shoulder-to-shoulder public stance allows a small nation to wield a moderating influence in private over a dangerous belligerent superpower, it is a price worth paying. There is also a clear justification in maintaining pressure on Saddam. He needs to understand that there is no alternative but to co-operate with the UN. The prospect of military action must focus his mind. It may be right to act now with force, but only with the international authority of the UN, not with the imperial authority of the US.

We must tackle our threats robustly but in an environment of a globalised threat. The response must be global, based on international co-operation with other Europeans, NATO allies and former cold war enemies, so that we have a legal, principled and justifiable response to the rogue elements that constitute the threat.

Photo of Mark Prisk Mark Prisk Shadow Financial Secretary 6:10 pm, 17th October 2002

About an hour ago I was hoping that my speech would take a gentle trot through the issues of NATO missile defence, Iraq and so on, but I am afraid that the House will now be treated to a hectic gallop. In the short time that I have available, I shall focus on the issue of pre-emption, which was raised at the beginning of the debate but which has not been touched on in detail by other hon. Members.

I briefly preface my remarks with a comment about the parliamentary armed forces scheme. Mr. Keetch mentioned HMS Grafton. In August I was fortunate enough to be one of four hon. Members to be on HMS Grafton. The scheme is excellent and well organised and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the dedication and professionalism of that tremendous crew and its captain. According to recent reports they secured a #60 million drugs haul and that is very much to their credit. Since then, there have been reports that the patrol may be part of a possible range of cuts of 10 surface ships. I hope that at the end of the debate the Minister will be able categorically to deny that.

I now turn to pre-emption. Just a month ago in September, the United States Government published their national security strategy, setting out their aims and ambitions quite clearly. In many ways it is clearer than many documents produced by our Government. At its heart is a clear change in defence strategy from the doctrine of deterrence to that of pre-emption. It states:

XWe will not hesitate to act alone if necessary, to exercise our right of self defence by acting pre-emptively against such terrorists, to prevent them from doing harm against our people and our country."

As hon. Members will appreciate, the US Government are effectively basing their doctrine on the principle of national self-defence. Indeed, they refer to article 51 of the UN charter. Whether or not we agree with that point, such a doctrine poses fundamental military, political and diplomatic questions. In military terms, for example, what forces will we need in future? What balance will we need between regular and special forces? What effect will pre-emption have on the existing distinction between military action and law enforcement agencies—a distinction that is becoming increasingly blurred. Politically, does pre-emption require greater international collaboration, especially in terms of intelligence agencies, as Mr. Henderson said? What does this mean for our civil rights? Is there a danger that in trying to defend our freedom, we could snuff it out in the process? In terms of NATO, will the principle of pre-emption mean that we now need to review the very heart of the Atlantic treaty, in other words the principle of collective self-defence in article 5?

All those questions need to be considered and debated, and sadly I do not have the time to do that. I have looked for a detailed analysis from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and a detailed analysis and assessment from the Ministry of Defence as to whether, why and how the Government intend to replace deterrence with pre-emption, but aside from the odd unscripted comment from the Prime Minister and the slightly inadequate comments from the Secretary of State at the beginning of the debate, the Government still seem unwilling to consider fully the implications of pre-emption and then to allow us to participate in such a debate.

I conclude with a few questions for the Minister, and I hope that he will respond to them at the end of the debate. What studies have the Government commissioned to consider the military, political and security implications of the pre-emptive doctrine? What discussions have taken place between Departments on this issue and what opportunities—as have been cited for missile defence—will be provided for the House to consider the policy and make sure that we understand it and can work out the implications of it. This is a vital issue that shapes the whole of our defence, and I hope that the Minister will address it fully in his reply.

Photo of Rachel Squire Rachel Squire Labour, Dunfermline West 6:15 pm, 17th October 2002

Like others, I hope for another opportunity to say something about the new chapter of the strategic defence review, which deals with network-centric capability, defence diplomacy and NATO enlargement. Only a few minutes are available to me, however, and I know that another Member has been waiting to speak. I shall therefore concentrate on the theme of partnership and co-operation.

As a nation, we cannot go it alone. We are an island, but if we are to defend our homeland effectively and protect our interests across the world we must co-operate on a global basis. An effective UK defence policy must take the world as its backdrop. International terrorism takes the lives of British citizens wherever they are on the planet, as we have seen again this week so tragically in Bali. I know that all Members will extend their deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those who were killed or injured there.

We cannot hope, as a nation, to have soldiers stationed in every part of the world where there are British citizens. We must co-operate with Governments and allies to share intelligence, and to detect and then deal with terrorists. We must also co-operate to tackle the causes of terrorism and promote international development, peace and stability, and law and order. I believe that the United Kingdom has played a vital role over the years, especially since 11 September. I pay tribute to the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State, the Government and all involved for what they have achieved, and to our armed forces for maintaining their excellent reputation for professionalism and skill in all parts of the world.

I shall concentrate on Iraq in the time that remains to me. All alliances have their tensions, and never is that more so than in the case of the United States. We as a country must constantly assess what we consider to be in our interests. When we encounter real or potential disagreement with the United States, where do we draw the line?

For me and, I think, for my constituents, these are the key questions that should decide the extent to which we should support US policy on Iraq and be prepared to take military action without United Nations approval. Why now? What is unique about Iraq? In particular, what is unique about North Korea, given today's news? What type of military action would be effective, and what will it achieve, given that Operation Desert Fox seemed to have little or no effect? What price will be paid by our troops, by the Iraqi people and by the global coalition if we go in without UN approval? And what next for the nation of Iraq?

XWhy now?" is the question that I am constantly asked by my constituents, meaning XWhy didn't we finish him off in 1991?", to put it bluntly—and also meaning XWhy now, when there appears to be no evidence of a clear link between Iraq and al-Qaeda and 11 September?" I have to say that the dossier, horrifying as it is, does not present to me sufficient new evidence to support a pre-emptive strike without UN approval.

Let me end by suggesting to President Bush and his advisers that they should read the first paragraph of our MOD's XThe Future Strategic Context for Defence". Under the heading XA Lesson from History", it says

XIn 546BC, Croesus King of Lydia was considering the possibility of mounting a pre-emptive attack across the River Halys against his increasingly threatening Persian neighbours. Undecided how to act, he consulted the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi on his prospects for success. 'Croesus, if you cross the Halys you will destroy a mighty empire' came the divine response. Delighted, Croesus proceeded to launch his attack, only to suffer a shattering defeat. His empire was annexed by the Persians."

It then says at the bottom:

XAccurately predicting the future course of military events is a tricky business."

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Conservative, Newark 6:20 pm, 17th October 2002

It is a pleasure to follow Rachel Squire with her usual trenchant common sense—something to which we are used on the Select Committee on Defence. It is also a pleasure to attempt to follow the Father of the House. I, too, was a member of the 7th Armoured Brigade, albeit at a rather different stage. One or two of the hon. Gentleman's remarks bear further examination.

I, too, feel passionately that our men and women under arms should be committed to battle understanding the legality and rectitude of their course. It would be wrong for our forces to go into action without that being fully explained and without the country behind them. I hope to ask the Government to make it clear why our men and women, to borrow a phrase from President Bush, should put themselves in harm's way and with a clear conscience.

My hon. Friend Mr. Jenkin spoke about the lines of operation for counter-insurgency and counter-terrorist tactics in future. At the Prague summit the biggest challenge that will lie ahead of the reforged and regrouped NATO will undoubtedly be creating a force that is sufficiently light on its feet to do this sort of operation. As my hon. Friend Mr. Swire pointed out, the 21,000 soldiers are likely to be earmarked for counter-terrorist operations. They will have to carry out political, economic, psychological, humanitarian and military lines of operation. The theories of counter-insurgency that have served us well for 30, 50 or perhaps 100 years are now looking a bit dated. NATO's challenge will be to adapt to a doctrine of pre-emption that may involve an early deployment of food aid rather than Tomahawk missiles. Our forces have to be capable of dealing not just with policemen—that point was made eloquently earlier—but with non-governmental organisations, and of dishing out food and, if necessary, violence. That will be difficult. Not many nations can handle that correctly. I think that our forces can. NATO will find it difficult and it will be a challenge.

Moving swiftly on, the Government should point out that the nature of al-Qaeda and in particular the fundamentalists whom we are seeing now operating in Indonesia is wholly different from anything that the papers would lead us to believe. Headlines such as, XTerror is Back" after the Bali bomb are wholly misleading. It is a tribute to the security and intelligence forces around the world that attacks like that on the French tanker came to not very much. It succeeded, but it did not kill—I believe it killed one man. There are a host of other operations mounted by such terrorists that are not successful and do not make the headlines. We must understand that the potential for violence is always there and that the devices such as we have seen in Bali are just around the corner.

It is not helpful either to compare al-Qaeda or any of their cohorts with the IRA. We can understand the IRA. It even had platoons, battalions and companies. Al-Qaeda and this style of fundamentalism is more a philosophy than a military force. Until we get our heads round that, we shall see continuing the ludicrous headlines that we have seen this week and we shall be unprepared for the next strike.

Reference has been made to the Prime Minister's Bali statement, in which he made a clear distinction between weapons of mass destruction and global or international terrorism. Many of the eloquent statements that we have heard tonight have come from Members who believe that those are two distinct themes; they may be complementary but, at the moment, they are not merging. They are separate and although they may feed off one another, they do not require pre-emptive action to stop the two becoming one. However, the Prime Minister has made the point clearly that the two might merge, with horrific consequences.

I urge Ministers to answer this question: why in the dossier was there no section concentrating on international or global terrorism? Why was the famous link not made between Baghdad and al-Qaeda? I understand the argument, which has been well made tonight, about source protection, but the fact remains that, from open sources, we have heard about the operations of people like Ansar al-Islam; groups operating in Iraqi Kurdistan that are armed, equipped, paid and trained by Baghdad, partially manned with al-Qaeda members and with every intention—if what the papers tell us is true—of operating against western targets. There are any number of other indications of the connection between the two.

Mr. Rumsfeld has made it clear in America. His defence on this point has been to say, XLook. We are the Government. We have access to excellent intelligence. Believe us and trust us." I have not yet heard that argument deployed by the British Government. I believe that it would be effective and persuasive. I challenge Ministers to convince us—to convince the doubters—of the rectitude of their cause. I challenge the Government to make sure that our fighting men and women are ready and properly motivated to fight, and know that they go forward with a just cause behind them.

A few days ago, it was Bali. Next week, next month or next year, it could be Basingstoke. Next time, however, it will not be several hundred pounds of plastic explosive. It could so easily be a nuclear warhead. Let us operate before we become victims in the way that other unfortunates have.

Photo of Keith Simpson Keith Simpson Shadow Minister (Defence) 6:27 pm, 17th October 2002

We have heard a series of powerful speeches from Members on both sides of the House, representing different opinions and mainly focusing on the threat from Iraq and from international terrorism. As a former Whip, I can say that, without exception, all speakers have been volunteers; no speakers have been dragged in to fill up the debate.

We should distinguish between those colleagues who, despite the evidence produced by the British or American Governments, remain unconvinced of the threat from Iraq, and many other colleagues—who I suspect reflect public opinion—who are still not convinced but would like to be. This debate is not the end of the matter and we will see it continue over the next two or three weeks.

I was disturbed that some Members tried to make a distinction between President Bush and members of his Cabinet, and the American people. They suggested that President Bush is some form of demented lunatic who is about to lead the world into world war. I remember similar accusations being made in the 1980s about President Reagan. Whatever President Reagan's faults and whatever issues he got wrong, he was broadly correct in his assessment of the international scene.

The United States of America is a superpower, a large and powerful one that ultimately underpins the United Nations. If we want the will of the United Nations to be enforced, it is the United States, for all its many faults, to which we look to deliver the UN's security principles. I therefore caution colleagues who merely wish to make devils out of the present American Administration: we have the ability to talk to them and to influence them.

I suspect that historians will look back on the 1990s as a decade in which we in Britain felt generally safe. I exclude from that statement the people of Northern Ireland and the terrorist threat within the United Kingdom. However, we would probably have to go back 100 years to look for a direct external threat. Most of us who are over 40 know only too well what it is like to live in decades in which we have felt the possibility of direct threat against the United Kingdom. The 1990s was a decade in which, under successive Governments, we were able to think about reducing the amount of defence expenditure and changing what we expected of the military. I believe that that decade is now seen as a period of political transition with, as a number of hon. Members have pointed out, increased political instability in every region and proliferation in weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. That was highlighted very eloquently by my hon. Friends the Members for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) and for East Devon (Mr. Swire).

The Secretary of State rightly pointed out that the strategic defence review was designed to establish a framework for United Kingdom defence and security over the next 10 to 15 years, including an expeditionary force capability, power projection, working within coalitions and a new generation of equipment. I remember the debates that we had on that from my time as a Front Bench defence spokesman. In some respects I see that the arguments have not changed, but in others they have changed quite dramatically.

The Secretary of State and Ministers will disagree with me, but there is no doubt that most people in the Ministry of Defence, while welcoming and actively participating in establishing the SDR, believe that it was underfunded. I welcome the increased money that has been given to the Ministry of Defence, although I think that many people in it believe that it amounts to little more than a standstill budget. Before Ministers say that this is merely party politics, I should point out that I think that this is a challenge for all the political parties. The nature of the threat that has been laid out by the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Defence and others is on such a scale that it will be challenging, to say the least, to meet our defence requirements, even with our current budget. That will pose many political problems for all the parties.

I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State effectively said that, under the old SDR, the cut in our volunteer reservists was too great. Colleagues on both sides conducted a great campaign, as a result of which there was a reverse by the Ministry of Defence. There is now a greater requirement than ever before for our reservists.

The debate on defence in the world includes not only power projection and expeditionary force capability but is directly linked with defending the UK against weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism. One of the bases of the strategic defence review of three years ago, which most defence opinion believed, was that there was very little direct threat to what the Americans would call the homeland. That has changed quite dramatically. One of the awful ironies of the world in which we live today—the new strategic environment—is that civilians are more likely to be casualties than the military and are certainly more vulnerable, as Paul Flynn said.

This debate has shown four key areas where we need to think ahead and, I hope, have future debates. A number of colleagues flagged up the assumption that we are now in an era of pre-emptive strategy and regime change, in particular my hon. Friend Mr. Prisk, who did so very eloquently. We seem almost to have drifted into that. In the time available, I will not enter into a theological military debate on that subject, but it is an important step change. There are arguments for and against, but I look forward to hearing either the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary or the Secretary of State for Defence enunciating that strategy and why they believe that it is the strategy for the future.

Who am I to gainsay Professor Sir Michael Howard, who, as retiring president of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, challenged the IISS to do some serious thinking on the subject? That is, first and foremost, a major strategic debate that we need to have. It is not only an academic debate; from it will flow many issues connected with policy, budgets and defence organisation.

A number of hon. Members commented on the second area, which is the development by the United States of a technological war-fighting capability on a mind-boggling scale. The hon. Members for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) and for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Beard) and my hon. Friend Dr. Lewis and others touched on this matter, not only in terms of a pre-emptive strategy but also the development of a ballistic missile defence.

Like my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, I warmly welcome the statement made by the Secretary of State. However, the House will recognise that once again the development of a ballistic missile defence has enormous strategic connotations and will be challenging for the defence budget. It also means that we in Britain are just about keeping up with the United States of America in its military technological advances. Most of our European neighbours are way behind, with the exception of France. Unless we are very careful, we are likely to see a two-tier NATO, with the USA on one tier, Britain somewhere in the middle, and the rest of Europe on the other. Within the next two or three years, the difference will be like that between an old horse-drawn, foot-mounted infantry division and a mechanised armoured division. That will mean that the ability of the European members of NATO, including us, to participate in American-style operations will be extremely limited.

The third area, on which once again there was considerable consensus, was the business of reforming NATO. My hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State and my hon. Friends the Members for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) and for Newark (Patrick Mercer) pointed out the major problems that NATO has in dealing with the new strategic environment and, in particular, the failure of a number of European countries to reverse the cuts in defence budgets, which the Secretary of State flagged up. We have enormous military potential in NATO to meet the sort of threats that we now face, but we really have to do more in that area.

Finally, I shall say a brief word on homeland security. Following 11 September, the Government have begun to take steps to co-ordinate the response to threats against the United Kingdom. I warmly welcome the appointment of Sir David Omand as the security and intelligence co-ordinator in the Cabinet Office. He is a man of tremendous experience of the defence and security world. As far as the Ministry of Defence is concerned, the military are in support of the civil power and in most areas the Home Office appears to be the lead Ministry.

In the new chapter of the SDR, we learn that the MOD is establishing a reaction force of reservists—some 6,000-strong—to be capable of a rapid response. May I ask the Minister what progress has been made in establishing this rapid reaction force? What is its organisation? Is it being newly equipped? How is it trained, and to whom is it responsible?

In commenting on the Government's response to the threat of terrorist attack in the UK, the Defence Select Committee's report, XDefence and Security in the UK", stated that the Government were Xconfusing activity with achievement". That may be unfair as only a year has gone by, but the thesis that I am advancing is that defence in the world is not just about facing threats overseas; as many hon. Members have said, it is about the direct threat to the United Kingdom. That threat will involve deterring terrorists in the belief that, if they try to get weapons of mass destruction or to carry out terrorist acts within the UK, we stand a fair chance of preventing them through intelligence, through our armed forces abroad, and with our allies. Secondly—this is very important in terms of public confidence—if something like that were to occur, we must have the ability and the resources to cope with the aftermath.

Our armed forces bring immense experience to everything from war fighting to humanitarian operations. They are one area of the public sector by which, on every occasion, the Prime Minister knows that he will not be let down. They expect not only our general support, but the resources to enable them to achieve the objectives we set them. In the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and international terrorism, the distinction between military and civilian has become blurred. There are no quick fixes in this area; as both President Bush and the Prime Minister said, we are in for a long haul. I believe that what the Government are doing is correct, and that they are doing it for the right reasons. In addition, they are doing it because they believe that the threat is so serious that, if we do not take action now, we will bear the consequences on a most horrific scale.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence 6:42 pm, 17th October 2002

I begin by thanking hon. Members for their wide-ranging contributions to today's debate. I was going to say that this was the first outing of Mr. Simpson as a defence spokesperson, but he reminded us that he has done it before briefly.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

In opposition, that is. I want to congratulate him on his new role, and I look forward to further debates with him. I wholly agree with the sentiment that he expressed—powerful contributions have been made in this debate, and we all learned from them. Let us hope that that is a two-way process.

Defence in the world is certainly a broad topic, and the contributions to the debate reflect that fact. The hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk asked about homeland security and defence in the UK, and I should remind him that we will have a full debate on that subject in two weeks' time, so it would be inappropriate to presage it, or even to enter into such a discussion. There will be more time then to deal with that issue in greater depth, and I look forward to his contribution. I will read what he has said, because it has given us heads-up on the possible responses.

Some 20 Members have contributed to the debate, and the issues raised have been wide-ranging: missile defence, the vexed issue of the threat of international terrorism and its relationship to the debate on what we do about Iraq, defence policy, deterrence and pre-emption, Army manning strength, Challenger 2 tanks, and the recent Saif Sareea training exercise. We also touched on the future of NATO, on UK and international defence budgets, and on UK defence sales—indeed, they are just a few of the issues that were raised.

I listened with interest to the contribution of Mr. Weir. Although the Scottish National party has recently launched its new policy document, he did not mention it. I hoped that we would get some explanation of it, but I think that it involves Scotland looking inwards, rather than outwards. It is a very interesting policy document running to many pages. What is interesting about it is that it completely fails to mention NATO. We know that the SNP is an anti-NATO party, but the hon. Gentleman missed the opportunity to set out his arguments in relation to this matter. Bearing in mind that he would campaign to rip Scotland out of the United Kingdom, creating uncertainty in an alliance at a time when there is growing threat, we have not had the benefit of his thoughts. Perhaps he disagrees with his party's policy, but he did not tell us that either.

As hon. Members have observed, these are challenging and testing times for defence. We face new threats, and we must urgently seek new ways to protect ourselves, and our interests, from them. That has meant that our armed forces, and the all too often unsung civil servants who support them, have spent the last months working extremely hard as we have tried to update our defence plans and postures. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to that hard work, from which we all benefit. I recognise that Mr. Jenkin and Mr. Keetch paid a similar tribute to staff and frontline forces on behalf of their parties.

The al-Qaeda attack in the United States on 11 September last year has been called many things, from a Xnightmare" to a Xwake-up call". It has certainly instilled a new urgency and a new focus on how best we deal, nationally and internationally, with the increased and continuing threats posed by groups such as al-Qaeda and by rogue states such as Iraq. In opening today's debate, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made a number of important points on which hon. Members have alighted, such as his remarks on weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile defence.

On missile defence, my hon. Friend Mr. Savidge, who, I think, has left the Chamber, made his usual case against the development. As I said earlier, debate is a two-way process, and if he is trying to persuade us, perhaps he should wait and allow those who argue against his case to develop theirs, and he may learn something, too. If he reads Hansard, however, he should read the comments of my hon. Friend Mr. Beard, who made a very thoughtful contribution on what is becoming an increasingly important issue.

On that point, I have nothing new to add to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already said. I can only reiterate that the United States Administration have taken no specific decisions about the precise future architecture of a United States missile defence system. My right hon. Friend made it clear that if we were to receive a request from the United States to use Fylingdales, or any other UK facility, for missile defence purposes, we would consider it very seriously. The Government would agree to such a request only if we were satisfied that the overall security of the UK and the alliance would be enhanced. My right hon. Friend also clarified how this debate will be progressed in the future, and how we will proceed to examine the issue as it develops.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State also spoke of our belief in taking the fight to the enemy militarily, and of acting proactively on the diplomatic front to help to defeat terrorism. We are investing heavily in new systems to allow us to do the former, such as the Apache attack helicopter, Eurofighter, the joint strike fighter, the new aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy and a host of cutting-edge technology that will better link up such systems in real time.

On the diplomatic front, we are striving to secure and reinforce friendships across the world, offering help in strategic terms and on a humanitarian basis to help destroy the roots of terror before they can grow.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I would prefer to reply to the points that my hon. Friend raised in the debate. If I have time to take an intervention, I shall do so.

Several points were raised about the suitability of some of our equipment, not least the SA80 personal weapon system. I welcome the comments made by the hon. Members for North Essex and for East Devon (Mr. Swire) accepting the assurances given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on the matter. The hon. Member for North Essex was, of course, given a full opportunity to examine what testing had been carried out on that weapon system. General Sir Mike Jackson was not at that event, but he is one of the most respected military officers of his generation and the next Chief of the General Staff. He is undoubtedly a soldier's soldier. He has joined the marines and paratroopers who have fought with the SA80 A2 in making it clear that, in their professional opinion, the rifle is among the best available. Those who know General Jackson are aware that he is not a man to be trifled with, and, to those who still have doubts, I say that his judgment and that of other professional experts should be listened to. Politicians and Ministers have a role to play, but the soldiers who use the system will be the best judges at the end of the day.

In the time available, I shall try to deal with some of the issues raised in the debate. My hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn in an intervention and my hon. Friend Mr. Henderson referred to the recent comments made by the head of the CIA to Congress that Iraq does not pose an immediate threat to the US. This issue is not just about whether there is an immediate threat to the US or to the UK but about the unique threat that Iraq poses to the middle east and beyond. It is about the increasing threat that Saddam will pose if he is left unchecked. It is about Iraq's clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions and international law. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear that the purpose of any action that we might take should be the disarmament of Iraq. Let me make it clear that Iraq's disarmament is in our national interest as a responsible member of the international community. It is right to make it the primary purpose of our international efforts.

The hon. Member for North Essex talked about the future of NATO and said how much Saddam Hussein must rejoice at Europe and the US falling out about how to deal with Iraq. The United Nations is clearly there to examine the issue and to try to iron out differences, and not all European countries take the same approach to this issue. Therefore, it is wrong of the hon. Gentleman to lump Europe as a whole together and to say that we have fallen out with the US. Such an assertion is wrong. Europe stood united against Osama bin Laden and international terrorism after 11 September, and Europe stands united on the evil nature of Saddam Hussein's regime. The hon. Gentleman's obsession with—probably more accurately against—Europe distorts his judgment on these important issues.

The hon. Gentleman used the phrase XEuro army", but there is no such thing as a Euro army any more than there is a NATO army or a UN army. Nor indeed is there a European rapid reaction force. National forces will come together for specific EU-led military operations as part of the European security and defence policy.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

Why does the force have to be outside NATO? Why is it not inside NATO, as originally agreed in the Berlin-plus arrangements?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman fully understands the proposal. The force will not be outside NATO in the graphic way that he described.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I shall not take a pantomime approach, but will write to the hon. Gentleman to set out the relationship between NATO and the emerging EU approach and the way in which there will be a connection between NATO assets in command and control terms and the EU.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

No, because I had promised to deal with the point made by my hon. Friend Mr. Dalyell.

The hon. Member for North Essex made a 50-minute contribution on behalf of the Conservative party and, given his fears and concerns, I wish to ask him who said this:

XThe risk to NATO, to the transatlantic link and to the Euro-American relationship does not stem from what Europe is building. This risk could only come from Europe not doing it."

That was said by Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman's central charge that the US and Europe have fallen out does not appear to be borne out by that statement.

The hon. Gentleman also talked about HMS Sheffield coming out of service and the question of naval strength. For the benefit of the House it is worth pointing out that between 1992 and 1997, under the Tory Government, 43 surface fleet warships were taken out of service. There are particular reasons for taking HMS Sheffield out of service early, one of which is the new cycle of maintenance, which means that ships can be on the surface for longer. We therefore believe that we can operate with 31 ships, rather than 32.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow asked several questions, and I shall deal with two of them. He asked how the UK would respond to the contamination of British forces' equipment with a biological agent, and he referred to a recently published article on the matter. I assure him that we take very seriously the threat to UK armed forces personnel and equipment of contamination by chemical and biological hazards. I am not prepared to comment on the capabilities of specific equipment because it could have operational implications. We would see any use of CB weapons as extremely serious and treat it accordingly. It would be wrong to speculate on our response because there are so many scenarios.

The UK adopts a multi-layered approach to defence against the use of CB weapons. That includes being able to detect a chemical or biological threat, warning of a hazard, providing physical protection for personnel, managing any subsequent hazards and having available appropriate medical counter-measures to protect people. Primarily we would seek to avoid the contamination of UK forces through the avoidance of direct exposure. However, the contamination of some equipment could be unavoidable. In the events of troops and/or equipment becoming contaminated, decontamination would be undertaken using equipment issued to each unit. The precise nature of that activity would depend on the tactical situation and the level of contamination. The aim would be to enable the unit to remain operational.

My hon. Friend also asked about the WE177 tactical nuclear bombs. That particular weapon has been out of service for some considerable time, and all bombs have been dismantled. I think that my hon. Friend has asked that question before, and been given that answer. I hope that my reply will lay the matter to rest.

I genuinely like the contributions by Mr. Wilkinson. He weighs his words carefully and he is very passionate and committed. I rarely agree with him, but I still value his input. However, he made an unfair attack on the staff at the Deepcut depot. The matter must be set in the context of the ongoing police inquiry, which inhibits what I can reasonably say at this stage.

We recognise, however, that deep concerns have been expressed. As a responsible employer, we have in place mechanisms and procedures to examine those concerns. We are therefore looking thoroughly at our internal practices, with a special, in-depth appraisal of initial training of non-officer recruits of all three services. That work is being conducted independently of service and commands, and is directly reported to Ministers. In the spirit of openness the findings will be made public.

I am mindful of the fact that the Defence Committee is due to conduct its own inquiry into this most important of areas early next year, and as ever I look forward to a constructive, critical report. I ask hon. Members to wait for the facts to emerge—many can be speculated on—before reaching judgments on the matter.

Bob Russell, who is also not in his place, asked about Army manning levels. The current manning requirement is 106,978. That figure was decided on as a result of a review of the Army's future manpower requirement.

As of September 2002, the whole Army's strength stood at 101,665, so there is a significant shortfall, but recent performance has been particularly encouraging, with strength increasing by 1,361 personnel in the past 12 months. I hope that that will lay to rest that hoary old chestnut, which keeps coming back time after time.

It being Seven o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.