Defence in the United Kingdom

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:00 pm on 11th September 2003.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Defence) 5:00 pm, 11th September 2003

The view of the Opposition and of the Government was that this country faced a serious threat. I, for one, never took the view that the United Nations was some sort of world Government, without whose imprimatur we could not act to defend ourselves if we judged it necessary. The Prime Minister did not take that view and he was right not to do so. We have not delegated the defence of this country to the United Nations, and heaven help us if ever we do. When the Prime Minister said that he might have lost his job and tearfully informed his family of the great risk that he was taking, I have to say that I began to lose a little sympathy with him, because, with the support that he knew he had from the official Opposition—doing what loyal Oppositions always do in such circumstances in times of national crisis—he knew that he could count on us. His job was not really in danger.

How wretched it is that, by unnecessarily exaggerating and manipulating intelligence, the Prime Minister has discredited himself, his Government and, most important of all, the prospect of taking similar action in similar circumstances in future. Suppose that Iran reliably proves to be in an advanced state of development of nuclear weapons. Suppose that Korea goes from bad to worse in respect of the threatening noises that it is making about the nuclear weapons that it already possesses. Who now will believe the Government when they say that we have to act?

I am going to touch briefly on the Intelligence and Security Committee report. I have only two things to say about it. The ISC has done itself, in my opinion, no favours with the report—and that will be seen to be the case when people look back on it in the fullness of time. I am most interested in the two annexes to the report, which I will briefly mention. The second annexe is interesting because it contradicts the report of the Foreign Affairs Committee at each and every turn. It is interesting to see what happens when two bunches of senior politicians try to cover the same ground and each pretends to be authoritative.

What interested me most throughout the post-Iraq campaign post mortem has been less the first than the second dossier. That was the one that was plagiarised and was, depending on whether one counts the cover sheet, 18 or 19 pages long. It is briefly referred to in the ISC report. That report quotes the Prime Minister as having stated on 3 February 2003:

"We issued further intelligence over the weekend about the infrastructure of concealment. It is obviously difficult when we publish intelligence reports, but I hope that people have some sense of the integrity of our security services. They are not publishing this, or giving us this information, and making it up."—[Hansard, 3 February 2003; Vol. 399, c. 25.]

Curiously, paragraph 133 of the report states:

"We conclude that the Prime Minister was correct to describe the document as containing 'further intelligence . . . about the infrastructure of concealment'".

Furthermore, paragraph 22 of the second annexe states:

"We believe that the Prime Minister was correct when he described the February document as"— and the next word is in italics

—"containing further intelligence."

The trouble is that, having checked Hansard for that day, I can say that the Prime Minister did not describe it as "containing" further intelligence. Had he done so, it would not have misled the House. He described it as further intelligence.

We can see from the first annexe that the intelligence document that the Secret Intelligence Service supplied, on which part of the report was based, was only five pages long, whereas the final report was 18 or 19 pages long. It has to be said that, as far as the second dodgy dossier was concerned, the ISC has engaged in a whitewash of what was actually presented to the House in a misleading way by the Prime Minister.

On the brighter side, it is extraordinary that so little has happened by way of terrorism in the UK so far. There are several reasons for that. The first is that there has been no significant support for al-Qaeda among the UK's 1.5 million Muslims. The second is the unsung successes of the security and intelligence services when they are allowed by politicians to get on with their jobs. Let us not forget the special branch officer, Stephen Oake, who was stabbed to death in January in the aftermath of the discovery of the ricin terror cell. Thirdly, there is the determination of the US and the UK to take the fight to the enemy in Afghanistan and to remove regimes with the potential to produce weapons of mass destruction, whether that threat is imminent or not.

Defence is indivisible; the country that adopts a purely reactive strategy will suffer. The front line in the defence of the United Kingdom is not at the gates of Downing street, nor is it on the concrete blocks in Grosvenor square and Parliament square. The front line is with our forces in the failed states and the rogue states. It is in the shadows with the secret intelligence services and our security services, in which our Muslim citizens have an important part to play. It is in the spirit of the British people—especially those who live and work near prestige targets—who will never give in to the threat of terrorism in the UK.