HC Deb 07 March 2002 vol 381 cc493-520

[Relevant documents: Second Report from the Defence Committee, Session 2001–02, on the Threat from Terrorism, HC 348-I, and the Government's response thereto, HC 667; and The Ministry of Defence: Annual Report 2001, Cm 5109.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That further resources, not exceeding £2,058.352,000, be authorised for use during the year ending on 31st March 2002, and that a sum, not exceeding £1,636,556,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund for the year ending on 31st March 2002 for expenditure by the Ministry of Defence.—[Mr. Stringer.]

5.12 pm
Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

I very much welcome this short debate, which will be far shorter than I had expected. When the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) and I decided who would go first, in the time-honoured way of tossing a coin, I had no idea that the Environmental Audit Committee would get almost three hours and the Defence Committee would get an hour and a half.

I am sorry to begin my speech on a sour note, but I certainly want to avoid any other Committee that spends a great deal of time producing a good report being pushed into a time corner because of some ridiculous procedures in the House. This place continues to baffle, bemuse and anger me. We have just listened to an important debate, but the time constraints on us are truly unfair given what we are now discussing, although I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's fine gesture in forgoing his winding-up speech.

I should certainly like to thank the Liaison Committee for agreeing to this snippet of a debate on the threat from terrorism. We in the Defence Committee have produced an excellent report, which deserves to be considered in a much longer debate. The events of 11 September shocked the world, and the effects of those atrocities were felt around the globe and will continue to resonate for years to come.

Al-Qaeda seemed to turn a new page in the long and bloody history of terrorism, presenting us with a new threat that is global in reach and ruthless in scale and horror. Its ambition and technology are unsophisticated, yet sophisticated; it is able to adapt to new circumstances, and I am not certain whether we will be able to adapt to new circumstances as effectively. As we say in our report, there is now a danger that a new benchmark in horror has been set.

In the course of our inquiry, we took evidence from a number of experts in the field; from the MOD, the Secretary of State and officials. We are grateful to them and to our advisers for their contribution. In my remarks, I will address two principal issues. The first is the nature of the new threat. In fact, is it new? How is it qualitatively different from those that we have faced in the past? Secondly, I want to look briefly at what steps we—and particularly the MOD and the Government—might take in response.

I see myself being ever more like Victor Meldrew as I go on, but, before I talk about the issues, I would like to comment on the Government's reply, which was excellent. However, we published our report on 18 December last year and we might have expected a reply by 15 February. In fact, the Defence Committee received the reply on the late afternoon of the day before yesterday. We published it this morning, before our Committee has had a chance to read it properly and, I presume, before hon. Members on both sides of the House would have read it. I ask the Minister, with due deference, to try to persuade his Department to produce responses in the time allotted and certainly to give the Government's response prior to a debate on the report, to allow hon. Members a chance to read it.

The threat is the substance of today's debate. The first question to be posed is how we face this new and qualitatively different threat from a new breed of terrorist. This is the question we ought to answer. The attacks of 11 September were not al-Qaeda's first terrorist outrage. There were several previously; in Saudi Arabia, at US embassies in east Africa and the attack on the USS Cole. Many people forget that there was a dummy run at the World Trade Centre by al-Qaeda in 1993, when a van packed with explosives was detonated in an underground car park—six people were killed and hundreds injured—in an attempt to topple one tower on to the other with massive casualties.

The events of 11 September stand out as unique in their appalling nature. Having examined all the previous attacks, our conclusion was that a threshold has been crossed in terms of scale and level of casualties. We were concerned that it is not only al-Qaeda that is a threat; other terrorist organisations would try to exceed the carnage of 11 September.

The Committee pointed out the dangers from weapons of mass destruction, and we looked into this in detail. The Government's response was that there was a risk of such attacks on the UK, but that it "remains low". That may be so. It may be a low risk, but if there were an attack using weapons of mass destruction, God forbid, the consequences could be catastrophic. One only has to imagine what would happen if an aeroplane were crashed into Sellafield, or if a biological agent were released on the tube, or if a chemical tanker were blown up in an urban centre. The Committee has received evidence and information on each of those scenarios and others, and they were, frankly, terrifying.

The Committee and the Government need to think seriously about how we plan against such threats, which are deemed to he "low risk" but which, if they did occur, would have overwhelming and potentially catastrophic consequences. Such threats are the hallmark of asymmetric warfare. We need to prepare much better. To put it simply, in the past we have graded threats by combining an assessment of their potential severity with an assessment of their likelihood. We would expect to take action where a threat scored highly under each assessment.

Now, with new asymmetric threats—especially where they involve unconventional weapons such as chemical, biological or radiological weapons—they may not score highly in terms of likelihood, but that must not be used as an excuse for inaction.

The second theme is countering the threat. How can we do it? The threat seems to be amorphous and ill-defined and, even after the recent events in Afghanistan, we must not underestimate the continuing capabilities of those who would choose to attack us. The threat comes not just from al-Qaeda, which has a presence in 60 countries, but from other militant Islamic groups and states that sponsor terrorism. In addition, there may be other threats of which we are unaware. I do not want to be over-alarmist, but we have to think long and hard—indeed, short and hard—about the problem. The Americans do not underestimate the threat. It established an Office of Homeland Security and, as we all know, increased its defence budget by $48 billion for 2003, which puts the figures in our spring supplementary estimates into perspective.

The Government are working on a new chapter to the strategic defence review and will publish their findings, I presume in July or thereabouts. We hope that resources will match any new threats that emerge. The Select Committee is closely monitoring that and will report on it.

The Committee is examining the defence and security of the United Kingdom, which goes beyond its traditional scope. It is important to bring together the work of the Ministry of Defence, the Treasury, the Cabinet Office, the intelligence services, the private sector and the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. All those must be calibrated to produce an efficient response.

No doubt my colleagues will want to give their impressions of our major inquiry so far. I am not at liberty to disclose the details of the work that we have done on the substantive issues, but there is an urgency to it.

Resources are not an issue in the United States in its war against terrorism. We asked a senior official about that, who replied, with a shrug of his shoulders, "We're a rich country." We are not a poor country, and money must be spent. The protection of our citizens must be one of the first priorities—if not the first priority—of any Government. The spring supplementary estimates show that the Government have not shirked their responsibilities. Our report on the threat of terrorism demonstrates that the commitment must not be short term. That report, which we published in December, said: Whatever the outcome of the present action in Afghanistan or the fate of Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda, we cannot expect to neutralize the new threats easily or quickly. The campaign against terrorism has been described as three-pronged in that it includes military, diplomatic and humanitarian initiatives. This three-pronged campaign must be pursued both legitimately and relentlessly. We must not lose our sense of the urgency and importance of this task in the months ahead. We must not hesitate to take the necessary steps to protect the UK and our interests overseas.

5.22 pm
Mr. David Laws (Yeovil)

I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the debate. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) and his Committee colleagues on the excellent contribution that their report of last year makes to our deliberations. I shall endeavour to follow his lead by being brief so that others can speak.

It is clear from the context of the atrocious terrorist outrage on 11 September that we could vastly increase our defence expenditure on military forces and still not protect ourselves from similar terrorist attacks. It is notable that that attack took place in a country that spends a greater proportion of its gross national product on the military than any other. It is clear that in the United States and the United Kingdom alone there are thousands of high-profile targets, including public buildings, military establishments and individuals, all of which could be the target of a terrorist attack. It would be impossible to provide an increase in military presence that would afford them all protection, even if we could find the resources.

The Committee's report puts the problems in context. It asks how we can tackle the causes of terrorism, disrupt terrorist networks in the short term and ensure that they cannot carry on their work, and, in particular, avoid running the risk of a catastrophic terrorist event as highlighted in the report. I should like to draw out a couple of points from the Select Committee report and raise a number of issues with the Minister on those specific subjects.

Following 11 September, how is the Ministry of Defence working with other parts of government with security responsibilities, particularly MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, to identify terrorist threats worldwide and disrupt such activities? I know that that is not the Minister's direct responsibility but we understand from the newspapers that there has been an increase in their resourcing since 11 September, and it would be interesting to know how the MOD is working with those agencies to disrupt terrorist networks. If those agencies are to be increasingly important in dealing with the threat of terrorism, there should be more visibility and more accountability to this place for their expenditure.

The right hon. Member for Walsall, South mentioned the catastrophic threats identified in the Select Committee report. Although it would be impossible to defend ourselves against the wealth of risks to our country by increasing protection of all our key sites, it is clear that investment in protection of the UK and our allies from nuclear, biological and chemical attacks is immensely important. We would be grateful to hear from the Government today what action they are taking to remove from circulation the stockpiles of such weapons around the world and reduce the risk that terrorists might use such deadly weapons against civilian and military populations, with catastrophic effects.

On those specific threats, the Committee report considers how the MOD integrates with the civil contingency agencies that have a prime role in leading our response to certain events. It is understandable, as the Committee said, that civil agencies should lead the response to flooding, foot and mouth and riots, for example, but, importantly, it noted that it might be appropriate for the MOD to play a clearer role in responding to the more serious threats—nuclear, chemical and biological—that we might face from terrorist organisations.

It would be inappropriate to end without saying something about Iraq, which is very much on the agenda at the moment and which the US Administration have portrayed as part of their continuing battle against the threat of international terrorism. I shall not repeat, particularly in this short debate, the comments that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) made yesterday in the Westminster Hall debate that attracted considerable public and press attention. Suffice it to say that he laid down clearly and precisely our party's concern about the noises coming out of the US Administration.

The Government must be well aware of the risks of mounting a serious attack on Iraq, especially the risk to the coalition against terrorism. Although I understand why they are keen to continue the close alliance with the United States, which has existed not just since 11 September but, fortunately, over many decades, they have a responsibility to use their special position to convey to the US Administration some of the concerns expressed in this place, and no doubt among members of the Government as well as on the Government Benches. In that way, we may avoid the worst excesses that could be possible if some of those in the US Administration get their way.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

I endorse what the hon. Gentleman said about the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). It should be read. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there are great qualms in the United States itself about the proposed course of action?

Mr. Laws

The Father of the House is right to point out that there is concern in the United States as well as in Parliament. Let us hope that the time available before serious military activity is contemplated is sufficient to enable wise heads to prevail. The Government have an important part to play in that respect.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that Saddam Hussein has for some years defied the requirements of the international community that he open his territory for inspection, and that the reason for those requirements is the belief that he is trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction? Is he saying that it is Liberal Democrat policy that if adequate evidence emerges that Saddam Hussein is acquiring weapons of mass destruction, we should do nothing to stop it?

Mr. Laws

On terrorism, the hon. Gentleman is well aware that no information available so far links Iraq to the 11 September events. My party takes extremely seriously the prospects of all countries that do not currently have nuclear weapons acquiring them, and we hope that the current situation can be used to give us the leverage necessary to get inspectors back into Iraq, so that we can find out whether such weapons are being accumulated. That would be our preference over short-term measures that use military action without first going down those paths.

Because of the short time available, I shall not speak much longer, but let me say that although it would be naive in the extreme to pretend that the short-term threat from terrorism can be dealt with through longer-term measures to deal with poverty and injustice throughout the world, or that such measures would have any great effect in the short term, I hope that in the spirit of that appalling and overused phrase "joined-up government" the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development will work far more closely together to deal with the sources of discontent that lie in poverty and injustice. That, in the longer term, offers us the hope of dealing with international terrorism at source.

Although the Government are to be praised for the progress made since their election in 1997 to put overseas development assistance back on the political agenda, I ask the Minister, even though it is not his responsibility, to pay heed to the large number of Members of Parliament who now want the Government to set a time scale on the delivery of the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent. of gross national product going to overseas aid. I hope that that and some of the other measures in the Select Committee report will enable us to tackle the causes of international terrorism, and remove and destroy the seeds of future terrorism.

5.32 pm
Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh)

The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) will understand why I do not take time to respond to his remarks.

I welcome this opportunity to discuss how we deploy our resources in the light of the threat of international terrorism. Our requirements of our armed forces since the end of the cold war have changed immeasurably. On taking office, the Government launched the strategic defence review, the conclusions of which were published in 1998. It made it clear that the Government wanted this country to be a force for good in the world.

The Government are to be congratulated on recognising the need for a strategic overhaul of our defence capabilities to ensure that we could meet the challenges of the new environment following the end of the cold war. However, no one could have predicted our armed forces becoming involved in the many and diverse actions in which they have become involved, including those in East Timor, Sierra Leone and Kosovo. It is a long time since our armed forces conducted so many concurrent activities abroad.

The events of 11 September mean that we need to refocus our military policies and capabilities. The Government are right to draw up what they call "The Strategic Defence Review: A New Chapter". I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has launched a public discussion paper to influence the work and the final conclusions.

The world changed on 11 September 2001. The attacks raise important issues, such as weapons of mass destruction, a subject touched on by the Chairman of the Defence Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) I pay tribute to the work done by him and his Committee. There is no doubt in my mind that if the terrorists responsible for those atrocities had had the capability to use weapons of mass destruction, they would have done so. I have no doubt that they will do so if they ever acquire the materials and the skills necessary. We must urgently address the threat of weapons of mass destruction.

As I have said before, it is no secret that the international measures to contain the development of weapons of mass destruction leave a lot to be desired. Indeed, the Select Committee report identifies some of the weaknesses in that regard. We must step up our efforts to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction. We do not want to regret not having done so.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister and the Ministry of Defence on the discussion paper, which is open for public responses until the end of next week, and the proposed new chapter.

There are additional or enhanced roles for our reserve forces, both in home defence and security and in overseas operations, but because of the pressure of time, I shall not set out the arguments for them.

Equally briefly, I welcome the announcement—there is one press report to this effect, which I trust is accurate—that the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, DERA, will not be floated on the stock market. I hope that the Government will put the privatisation option behind them and that we can move forward. We can discuss that later, on the basis of defence research being carried out in the public sector.

Angus Robertson (Moray)

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Government should also reconsider the prospective privatisation of the defence fire service?

Dr. Strang

I certainly do.

In the light of 11 September, we must take another look at the resources that we devote to our defence. What military resources are we talking about? I shall consider intelligence. Signal and human intelligence will play a crucial role in our fight against terrorism. Unlike two armies lining up against each other, a terrorist threat is not in the public domain. The Government are providing additional money for intelligence.

Co-operation with other countries, especially the United States, will be extremely important, but because of our colonial past some European countries have a particular relationship with communities and countries that are relevant to the fight against terrorism. The United Kingdom and France in particular come to mind. As a result, there are circumstances in which we may be in a better position than the US to get intelligence.

Once we have acquired and analysed the intelligence, we must respond. If military action is required, we need the most modern equipment practical and the highest calibre personnel available, with all the back-up that they require.

I understand that the finances announced alongside the strategic defence review were tight, but adequate and that defence chiefs and Ministers thought that they could just get by, but no more, on the amounts allocated. That is appropriate: the Labour Government had other key priorities and there was no scope for giving defence more than was justified. I think that it was Aneurin Bevan, the architect of the national health service and the Minister for Health in the 1945 Labour Government who said that government was the language of priorities.

Since the publication of the strategic defence review, our armed forces have had to do far more than we could ever have expected, and to their credit, they have done it. We must adequately fund our military to enable them to do what is required of them. To put it starkly, if we do not, our service men and women will be killed and we will lose.

When the strategic defence review was published, the judgment was that Britain no longer faced a significant direct external threat to its security. That assessment may no longer hold. With the new challenges before us, we must give our military increased resources to enable them to do what we ask of them, or change what we ask. It is not fair on our service people to do otherwise.

We need more money to fund our service people and ongoing associated costs, but a range of vital procurement programmes must also be adequately resourced. We must ensure that they are not delayed for financial reasons. That would affect not only our capability in terms of military hardware, but the morale of our service people.

We all understand why the defence budget has gone down as much as it has—by 29 per cent. in real terms since 1989–90. There was a consensus among all parties that the end of the cold war justified a peace dividend. That is another way of saying that we have cut our armed forces significantly under both parties.

Historically, we are not an isolationist country. Most hon. Members supported the Government's aim of being a force for good and their commitment to deploying military resources to that end. We are rightly proud of the achievements of our armed forces, including, for example, the ongoing operation in Sierra Leone. We must now recognise that if we are serious about rising to the challenge of 11 September, we must provide significant additional resources. As the Select Committee said: If we are to add a new chapter to the SDR, we must add the money to pay for it.

5.40 pm
Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling)

I applaud the report of the Select Committee on Defence and join the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) in criticising the way in which this debate has been truncated. It is perhaps still open to the Leader of the House to come to the Chamber and table a business motion restoring to the debate the three hours that had been envisaged for it.

Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I want to refer in particular to the implications here in the home base of the United Kingdom of the threat from terrorists. Before dealing with the United Kingdom, however, I should like to highlight a particular overseas deployment from which there are some valuable lessons to be learned. I refer to that which has occurred since 11 September to Tampa, Florida, where United States Central Command—CENTCOM—and United States Special Operations Command—SOCOM—are located. I visited Tampa last month as a member of the Defence Committee of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. There is little doubt that the success that British and American forces have had in working together co-operatively—they have done so with a remarkable degree of success on the ground in Afghanistan—was materially aided by the rapid and effective tri-service deployment to CENTCOM after 11 September.

There is a very valuable lesson to be learned from what happened. The ambit around the world of US Central Command's territorial command by no means includes all countries that might be future sources of al-Qaeda terrorist activity. I hope that the Ministry of Defence is now preparing for the possibility of making similar deployments should they become necessary at any time to US Pacific Command, which has responsibility for most of the far east and part of the Indian subcontinent, and also to US European Command, which is responsible for a number of the African states. There are very valuable lessons to be learned from the success of the deployment to US Central Command.

The Ministry of Defence made an astute judgment in choosing to position as the senior British officer in CENTCOM a three-star general who has a strong background in special forces operations and ranks equally to the American deputy commander of CENTCOM—the deputy to General Tommy Franks. That, too, was a very good judgment by the Ministry of Defence.

There is no doubt that the war against terrorism will be very protracted. I suspect that it will continue for years rather than months and involve a considerable number of countries. We know that the United States has already identified the countries that are dubbed "the axis of terror", but perhaps even more significant is the action that it has taken—rightly, in my view—to identify friendly Governments who face terrorist threats inside their own countries, as well as seeking to reinforce those Governments' ability to deal with such threats.

I was struck by a report in Tuesday's Evening Standard, which said: Money, arms and US advisers are earmarked for Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Nepal, Jordan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgystan". As chairman of the Nepal all-party group, I welcome the inclusion of Nepal in the list. That young, genuinely free multiparty democracy faces a serious threat from Maoist terrorists. As hon. Members know, in the past two or three weeks, the worst murderous Maoist attack has occurred in western Nepal. In it, 129 people were killed, including 76 police officers and 48 members of the Royal Nepalese armed forces.

It is perhaps a pity that the Nepalese look to the United States for support in their war against terrorism, given our long and close military connection with Nepal and the enormous sacrifices that Gurkha soldiers made in two world wars and most recently in the Balkans. It is therefore disappointing that the British armed forces are perhaps too stretched to give material help to Nepal in its hour of need. I hope that the Ministry of Defence will reflect on that.

Mr. Dalyell

As vice-chairman of the Nepal group, I endorse the right hon. Gentleman's comments.

Sir John Stanley

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and vice-chairman of the group.

Let us consider the United Kingdom. The Government made two significant statements in the immediate aftermath of 11 September. The right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang) echoed one of them. The first was the Prime Minister's statement on 14 September. When he spoke of the al-Qaeda terrorists, he said: We know, that they would, if they could, go further and use chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons of mass destruction."—[Official Report, 14 September 2001; Vol. 372, c. 606.] The second statement was contained in the paper, "Responsibility for the Terrorist Atrocities in the United States, 11 September 2001", which the Government placed in the Library on 4 October. It states: The clear conclusions reached by the government are: … the United Kingdom, and United Kingdom nationals are potential targets". I do not believe that there is ground for revising either statement in the light of subsequent events in Afghanistan. Indeed, we would be seriously deluded if we believed that the overthrow of the Taliban regime has diminished the threat from al-Qaeda to the United Kingdom, the United States and possibly other countries. That organisation remains intact in many countries; as we have witnessed in recent days, it is far from finished even in Afghanistan. We do not know whether Osama bin Laden is still alive and operating, but if he is not, there is little doubt that he will have a successor.

The threat remains, and we must take it seriously. I am worried about whether we are doing that. The United States takes it extremely seriously; the Secretary of Health and Human Services has announced that his Department will procure sufficient smallpox vaccine to immunise the entire American population in the event of a smallpox attack. When I was in the United States at the end of last year, coast-to-coast television broadcast a full-scale exercise in one state, showing the civil and the military emergency services—the National Guard—responding to an anthrax attack.

In this country, so far as I am aware, we have had no statement whatever from the Secretary of State for Health on the availability of smallpox vaccine, or any others. To the best of my knowledge, no exercises involving military and civilian personnel have taken place in any part of the United Kingdom—on the ground, as opposed to paper exercises in offices—to ascertain how we would respond for real in dealing with an attack on this country using weapons of mass destruction.

I appreciate that the Ministry of Defence is not in the lead on civil contingency planning, but there is one question that has to be asked of the Ministry, and answered by it. It is simply this: in the event of an attack on the United Kingdom using weapons of mass destruction—particularly chemical or biological weapons—and a request being made by the civil power for military assistance from the Ministry of Defence, probably in hour one of day one of such an attack, will the Ministry be able to give an adequate response to that call for assistance? That is the key question, and one which, I trust, lies in the in-tray of the Secretary of State for Defence. I have a strong feeling that, if that question were asked today in such circumstances, the answer would be, "We are wholly inadequately resourced to supply the degree of military assistance that would be required."

The threat—and the effect of the threat—is widely known and has been well publicised by the Ministry. In 1999, the Ministry published a document entitled "Defending against the threat from biological and chemical weapons", which has lain largely uncommented on and unreported in the Library of the House of Commons. To my knowledge, no previous Government had ever published such a document, and I believe that the Conservatives would have done well to publish one when we were in government.

Much of this debate is conducted in general terms, and I can see why, because I understand the public's sensitivities. Occasionally, however, it is necessary to get into specifics, and I want to give just one illustration from the Ministry of Defence's document. It describes the various chemical and biological agents that might be used, and gives details of the effects. I shall refer to one, the biological agent of plague, which I imagine we all remember distantly from our history lessons at school. The document describes the effects of plague thus: Following 2–3 days of incubation, fever, coma and respiratory failure occur, leading to death in 48 hours. That, by and large, would be the impact of a biological weapon attack on any population centre.

In those circumstances, there will be two absolute imperatives. The first will be to bring such medical help as can be made available to those who have been caught in the infected area and who have the infection. The second imperative will be to try to contain movement so as to prevent the infection being spread more widely—conceivably, right across the country. That will be the critical role for the Ministry of Defence. I have to ask the Minister whether anyone believes that the resources of the police will he sufficient on their own to prevent the movement of large numbers of very frightened people. That is a real question that the Ministry of Defence has to face and to answer, because that will be the nature of the military assistance that will be required.

I want to put three proposals to the Minister. First, I hope that the Government will now update and revise this public document. It needs revision post 11 September, and it needs addition in the key area for the Ministry of Defence to which I have referred.

Remarkably, when the document reaches the section that is euphemistically headed "Managing the Consequences"—the consequences of a chemical or biological weapon attack on this country—the role of the MOD is described in just six words: The Armed Forces assist as required. That is a wholly unsatisfactory and insufficient response to the situation. It begs fundamental questions about that response. How many members of our armed forces will be required and on what time scale—I suggest that the answer to that is instantly—which units and which formation will those forces come from, how sufficiently will they be trained and how adequately will that training be exercised? Those are among the key questions, which I hope the Defence Committee will pursue on behalf of the House, getting access to whatever classified information is required.

Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk, West)

With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, he is making a long speech, and quite a lot of Members want to speak.

Sir John Stanley

I shall conclude my remarks.

The second proposal that I want to put to the Minister is that the MOD's contingency planning in this area should be updated and implemented fully. Thirdly, contrary to what is said in the Government's response to the Defence Committee's report, I believe that it is imperative that they reverse the serious reduction in the Territorial Army that has taken place since they came to power.

5.57 pm
Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East)

The decent people of the world were horrified by the events of 11 September, not because they were in sympathy with the United States Government, but because they felt for the American people. The atrocity carried out on that shameful day involved the murder of members of the general public. We must remember that it was an act aimed not at the Government or the military, but at everyday people from countries throughout the world who were unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were firefighters, office staff, cleaners, maintenance people, tourists and even small children sat on their parent's knee.

I am not convinced that the world changed completely on 11 September, because the threat from terrorism had been growing for decades. The asymmetric threat had developed alongside the possibility of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons becoming increasingly available to unscrupulous and even unhinged political and religious extremists. What changed on that day was that al-Qaeda, clearly supported by the Taliban regime, showed its readiness to commit such an act without fear of the consequences. Until then it was assumed that no one would be mad enough to detonate a nuclear weapon in one of our cities because of the consequences for their own cities.

What was also very different was that there were no negotiable demands: it was an act based in hatred and evil. When faced with such anger, the Americans had little choice but to respond with all their considerable might. What also changed was that the Americans felt justified in their determination to take conclusive action, not just in revenge but to defend themselves and to ensure that there would be no repeat of the events in New York, Washington and Pittsburgh.

The long-term reality of the effectiveness of defence may, of course, be different. There can never be complete and absolute protection for our homeland from that type of attack. When suicide extremists are involved, and have the support of one or more state regimes, defence becomes an entirely different and much more dangerous business. The Americans are entitled to do their best to protect themselves at home. That is their duty, just as it is ours to increase security in an increasingly pluralist world.

However, it cannot be possible to cover every eventuality. The nature of our enemies' tactics will be to attack what we do not cover. What happened last September in America shows that they will have no scruples about who they kill, or where or how they do it.

The harsh and unpleasant truth is that if we do not deal with the source of the infection, we are doomed to failure. That is why an attack on Afghanistan after a period of negotiation with the Taliban was fully justified. The Americans considered their action, and took their time. They were right to do what they had to do, and the British Government were right to support them.

The Americans recently increased their defence budget by $48 billion. That is nearly one and a half times the total of our defence budget, and it puts in perspective the increases proposed in the estimates today. Clearly, we must provide our forces with the resources that they need.

It gives me no pleasure to speak in favour of war, but we cannot and must not allow individuals and organisations freely to prepare for the destruction of our entire way of life. It is critical that we do what is necessary as peacefully and responsibly as possible.

Patrick Mercer (Newark)

Is the hon. Gentleman speaking in favour of war, or in favour of a wholly rational defence?

Mr. Crausby

I hesitate to speak in favour of war, but I accept that war is the last resort in defence. I therefore agree with the implication in the hon. Gentleman's question.

However, we must involve the rest of the democratic world in what needs to be achieved. We have seen what has happened in the middle east when a policy that is based exclusively on an attempt to crush the opposition is employed. Questions of poverty, freedom and equality will inevitably play a part in the resolution of the world's differences, as will the way in which we deal with the trade in drugs.

Terrorism feeds on poverty, and is very often funded by the illegal drugs trade. Our efforts to eradicate world poverty and end the trade in heroin, for example, must be at the forefront of what we do. However, in the end, we must deter those who consider action against our people, and we must be prepared to take pre-emptive strikes against those who threaten us. To achieve that, the roles of the Royal Marines, the Parachute Regiment and special forces should be enhanced in any future strategic defence review.

The threat facing us is entirely different from the threat posed during the cold war. Attacks on our nation will no longer come across the English channel. We need to plan the location and nature of our defences with that in mind.

One of the most important challenges involves the development of ballistic missiles by hostile regimes.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South)

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the possibility of exercising our right to mounting a pre-emptive strike. Before we put people in harm's way, is he satisfied that the intelligence agencies of this country and our allies are co-ordinating their approach? Are they prepared to share all available information at the appropriate time to safeguard the deployment of our troops?

Mr. Crausby

I think it is naive to expect that the intelligence services would share information with everyone concerned, but I am happy enough that the country has a sufficiently good relationship with America for that to be possible. Whether it would extend to other nations is for them to deal with.

The problem of missiles must be tackled before it is too late, and we witness, for example, the destruction of a European city. If that happened to London or Manchester, many of our constituents would demand the most vicious revenge. They would expect the most extreme action to be taken against the perpetrators. The Government have a serious responsibility to prevent such a scenario, by whatever means, and they are entirely justified in taking whatever action is needed in the cause of sustainable peace and security.

6.6 pm

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent)

I am advised by the Registrar that I should start by drawing attention to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests. I am a member of the Regular Army Reserve of Officers, and of the regimental council of my old regiment.

I want to register, also, my dissatisfaction at the fact that such an important debate has been confined to such a short period at the end of the parliamentary day—I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House agree about that. I have sat here for nearly eight hours, and after sitting through two debates I have been asked to limit my speech to five minutes. I will certainly do that so that others can speak, but it is not very satisfactory when such an important matter is being discussed.

It is appropriate to pay tribute to the Chairman and members of the Select Committee for their excellent report, and—as in any debate of this nature—to our excellent armed forces, both those deployed in the fight against terrorism and those performing other tasks throughout the world. They are the best possible advertisement for the United Kingdom, and they deserve our thanks, support and admiration.

I think that it is fair to pay tribute to the Government, both for their decision to deploy resources in the war against terrorism and for the success of what has been done so far. Much has been achieved, although, as I am sure Ministers will be the first to admit, a great deal remains to be done.

I had intended to mention some of the things that I thought had worked well in the war against terrorism, and some that had worked less well, but because of the time constraints I will simply identify a few equipment issues that I think the Ministry should address. It is probably unsurprising that these gaps have appeared, given the new and immediate nature of the threat we now face.

The first equipment issue relates to ISTAR—intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance. It is crucial, for two reasons—the need to target terrorists accurately, and the need to avoid collateral damage and civilian casualties. Much has been achieved since the strategic defence review, but much more needs to be done if Europe and the United Kingdom are to match United States capabilities. Those who want a practical example need only consider the success of the United States Predator unmanned spy plane, and the technology gap between that and our equivalent, the Phoenix.

Strategic air transport also gives cause for concern. The United Kingdom's long-range heavy-transport aircraft are currently leased from the United States, while the Airbus 400M is bogged down in political difficulties. Those difficulties must be resolved.

Our lack of a deep-strike capability is also important. It is important not just to the expeditionary warfare in which we are currently engaged, but to the sustaining of humanitarian operations away from the UK base. It is, in fact, a large, secure floating base for our troops. I welcome the decision to order two new aircraft carriers —60,000 tonnes rather than 20,000—but we must recognise that there is a gap in our order of battle until they arrive.

Following 11 September, it is also important that we address the deeply worrying lack of an integrated, land-based air defence system in the UK homeland. Without such a system, our country has no means of enforcing air exclusion zones around key points such as nuclear power stations, the City of London and transport hubs. In the short term, we clearly need to redeploy fighter aircraft to protect those points, but the issue must still be addressed.

The other lesson that immediately emerges from 11 September is the need to broaden the scope of defence policy. If the war against terrorism is to be successfully prosecuted, military, humanitarian, political, diplomatic, financial and legal resources must be provided. Afghanistan is a particularly good example. If we had deployed timely economic aid after the Soviet invasion, there is a good chance that the current conflict would have been prevented.

What are the lessons for the future? We must increase defence expenditure. The question is one of credibility. The Government tell us that the threat is very real, and I wholly believe them. If the UK is to meet that threat in concert with the United States, more money must be spent. The United States has recognised that fact—its defence spending has risen by 14 per cent. There are also signs that it may turn inwards, which would increase the burden on Europe. The European rapid reaction force has identified 150 basic defence capabilities, 40 of which—a considerable number—will remain outstanding by the end of next year. It is now a matter of record that our Prime Minister has ambitions for Africa. They will inevitably cost money, and troops will be required to carry them out. We must he honest: meeting this threat—if we are serious about it—will simply cost us more money.

It is also important to tackle overstretch. We in this House argue about the exact figures, but we agree that overstretch exists. It is vital that sufficient numbers of troops be ready for immediate deployment, and that they have time to train and to recover. That can be achieved in two ways: through recruitment and retention—my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) has much to say on that, and I urge the Government to listen—and through reducing our commitments elsewhere. A role clearly exists for other European countries in that regard, particularly in the Balkans.

It is vital to reorganise the Territorial Army to meet the extra commitment of homeland defence. I shall not go into the details, but the TA is ideally suited to the task, and we should look to the example of the national guard in the United States.

It is also crucial to remember the importance of conventional warfare. The Gulf is a good example of how such warfare can arise rapidly, particularly in this era. Conventional warfare is also the best preparation for our troops taking part in expeditionary warfare. Expeditionary warfare situations are broadly similar to those associated with conventional warfare, and conventional equipment—particularly tanks and helicopters—can also be used in the war against terrorism.

As I have said in previous such debates, it is easy to start a war but difficult to bring it to a successful conclusion. The Government and our armed forces have made a good start in tackling the threat of terrorism, but many more challenges lie ahead. We in the United Kingdom are lucky to have the finest armed forces in the world. It is surely incumbent on us as politicians to ensure that they are deployed as effectively as possible to meet this new threat.

6.13 pm
Jim Knight (South Dorset)

Given the time, I shall restrict my comments to the resourcing of the armed forces. There is no doubt that, in defence as much as anywhere else, one gets what one pays for. The events of 11 September had an enormous impact, and as others have said, the reverberations will be felt long into the future. On that day, the strategic defence review's omission to treat seriously the asymmetric threat was exposed as a fundamental flaw, and I support the Government in committing to a new chapter for the SDR. I would strongly argue, however, that a new chapter requires a new tranche of money.

In September, the Prime Minister spoke of a three-pronged approach—humanitarian, diplomatic and military, as the Chairman of the Select Committee reminded us—in response to the terrorist attacks on the United States. It is highly appropriate to continue that approach. Our diplomatic efforts are assisted by the stick of the military and the carrot of development assistance.

Indeed, the ability of our armed forces in peacekeeping and peacemaking is unrivalled in the world. They are currently deployed in 80 different countries, including in some substantial peacekeeping roles. That is certainly placing a considerable strain on them and it is not sustainable indefinitely.

I am a strong advocate of the United Kingdom fulfilling its international responsibilities to the full. I support the Prime Minister's lead, but if it is to continue, it needs more resources. One use of such resources—apart from expanding capability, which I shall come to briefly at the end—would be an expansion of the reserve forces, as others have mentioned, not to recreate the home guard, but to give some slack to the armed forces and to enable them to perform some specific tasks which more knowledgeable people than I would want to specify. I am particularly attracted to giving the Territorial Army, with its military command and control skills, the expertise and equipment to support the civil power in dealing with nuclear, biological and chemical attack threats in the United Kingdom homeland.

We also need more resources to increase capability. We cannot hope to catch up with the United States' capability and in many ways it would not be appropriate, but there is a real question over the future development of NATO. It would appear that the experience of action in Kosovo has led the United States to become increasingly wary of joint action. The invoking of article 5 was significant, but it was not followed by significant NATO action in Afghanistan.

There is no time now to rehearse the arguments around the expansion of NATO or the European security and defence policy, but, clearly, efforts towards capability improvement by the NATO capability conference and the European Union's Helsinki goals have to succeed. We do not want or need a European army to rival the United States, but we need more burden sharing and more coalition action, particularly in Europe's backyard. It would also help to alleviate the strain on UK armed forces if our European allies were sharing our burden. In turn, if we improve our contribution in NATO, I would hope that we could gain more leverage in persuading the United States to increase its development aid and peacekeeping commitment and capability. Recently, when in the United States with the Committee, I consistently raised the point with politicians and others that they should increase their role in terms of international development. I am afraid that I did not come away desperately reassured.

In summary, there is no greater duty on Government than to ensure the defence of their citizens. In the post-11 September world, it is a much more uncertain environment in terms of homeland and international security. Therefore, we need more resources for our military: for an expansion of the reserves, for a better co-ordinated capability and for the use of the military in harmony with our diplomatic and humanitarian efforts.

6.18 pm
Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South)

I am delighted that we are having the opportunity of this debate, but we are all disappointed that it has been cut short. With the modernisation of the House, we should have a Standing Order that allows the House to suspend its Standing Orders to extend a debate for an hour on a night like this, to allow hon. Members to speak. The inability of the managers here to contemplate what would happen is mind-boggling incompetence of the worst order. I am delighted to speak and I will respect the time.

Many hon. Members have spoken about the events of 11 September and how things have changed and will possibly never be the same again. The real change was that for the first time America's homeland was hit and Americans in real horror faced what many countries have been facing for decades. It brought to the attention of the American people the fact that nowhere was safe from people who will make a determined effort and will respect no one and nothing, least of all their own lives, but will get the greatest satisfaction only from killing as many people as possible in the most horrific circumstances.

The American response was predictable and natural for most human beings. They had to respond as they did and they have committed us all to a war on terrorism. It has to be a worldwide war on terrorism, not just against those who threaten the American homeland. Terrorists are active right across the world. This war will never end until we respect the democratic and human rights of human beings everywhere. Nations arid individuals have a right to play a part in that.

Many members of the Select Committee on Defence have listened with great interest over the past seven months to what will be done and what has already been done. In all honesty, some of us are disappointed that more has not been achieved in those seven months. The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir John Stanley)—sadly, he has left the Chamber—spoke about several great threats that most reasonable people would say it is impossible to defend ourselves against. All we can do is hope that the country would have enough of the machinery of its infrastructure left to respond to them. Unfortunately, we would not be in a position to do that at the moment.

The Defence Committee report exposed clearly that not enough finances are earmarked for the defence of this country and to support the original concept of the strategic defence review, let alone to meet the financial implications of this new chapter. The Government must tell us where they intend to find the money that is needed, and over what period. Great issues are involved, and the consequences of inaction will be grave for the whole nation.

One other thing occurred on 11 September—a new benchmark in terror was set, as our report readily identifies. Sadly, when benchmarks are set, others will aspire to top them or compete with them. We must look beyond the threat of out-of-control—or much-controlled but out-of-contact—planes crashing into places such as central London or other European capitals. Many of those who gave evidence to the Defence Committee said that we must start to think like the terrorists. Not many rational people can think like terrorists. Nobody in the House would conceive of doing away with their own lives and taking several thousand others with them. It is very difficult to put oneself in the mind of a terrorist and thus to understand one's opponent. It is not comparable with fighting an opposing army who might be subject to the same disciplines as we are.

We do not even know about these terrorists—their organisations are still in the building stage. However, we know that they have an ability to deliver weapons of mass destruction. Whatever weapons those might be—they are on the shelf in some instances—those involved are just months, if not weeks, away from being able to put them together. Some of those who gave evidence to the Committee stressed how easy it would be to make a cheap, low-grade nuclear weapon. Chemical weapons could easily be deployed once people had the materials to put together the mechanics. We must be eternally vigilant.

When the Select Committee visited the United States, it was obvious that one of the big deficiencies that allowed its back door to open was that the intelligence agencies were not talking to each other effectively. They all claimed some sort of knowledge but it was not universally shared. There was no real co-ordination of the material being gathered. It is no good saying, after the event, "He over there knew a bit, she over there knew a bit, and somebody in another country was putting together parts of the jigsaw."

We must be relentless in focusing on those issues on which we can deliver. As many hon. Members have said, we must have armed forces of whom we can be proud, but they are over-stretched, and they need further financial and human resources. Intelligence services need to be beefed up and have more money spent on them, but we must make sure that they are not so jealous of the resources at their disposal that they are not prepared to share them early enough to allow a properly measured reaction. As at least one hon. Member has suggested, on some occasions the best form of defence is the pre-emptive strike. Sadly, I am sure that in the next decade or so we will, as a nation, have to come face to face with the fear and the consequences of having to take those decisions.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead)

When a pre-emptive strike is made against another country, it implies an absolute disregard for international law. Is the hon. Gentleman in agreement with such a disregard?

Mr. Hancock

No; I am not, but there comes a time when it can be necessary to make a pre-emptive strike, as a measure of last resort. If it had been possible to prevent the attacks on New York because intelligence told us that a group of individuals were prepared to carry out those attacks and were being shielded by another nation, there is a legitimate argument that they could and should have been taken out before they could unleash their doom and gloom on the whole world.

We must appreciate that we in this place have a duty to protect our nation, and that that protection has a cost: a human cost and a resource cost. The Government owe it, not just to the Defence Committee and its report, but to the nation, to ensure that the defence of the nation is properly financed and resourced over a period sufficient to allow us all to have confidence that we shall not ask the men and women who defend our country to do it on the cheap.

6.26 pm
Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)

I shall simply mention three subjects; the first is homeland defence.

The Defence Committee said in its report on the strategic defence review that it was worried that the review might be too foreign-policy-led, which could lead to a neglect of the level of insurance needed for home defence. The events of 11 September have made us all think again about that statement, without wishing to arouse undue public concern. However, it is clear, from the report that we are debating tonight and the evidence that we have heard, that more needs to be done, and that although it would be wrong to rush ahead and engage in all sorts of measures of homeland defence without debating and considering them properly, there is a concern that some aspects have not been given sufficient priority in the months since 11 September.

Remaining on the subject of homeland defence, much has been said about reserves and the national guard. I admit to the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) that I have still to be persuaded that we should take the national guard route. I prefer to be more traditional, and to consider and debate instead how we may increase the size and role of the reserves. I believe that many hon. Members, especially Labour Members, recognise that with hindsight the strategic defence review should not have made its recommendations to reduce the reserves, and I would or will welcome far more debate on the exact role that they can play.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh)

I thank the hon. Lady for her courtesy in giving way. I shall be brief. The SDR took away many Territorial Army infantry battalions. I speak as an ex-TA infantry officer. Does the hon. Lady think that what happened on 11 September gives the Government a legitimate reason to revise that mistake and to restore the number of those TA infantry battalions that could be optimised for home defence?

Rachel Squire

I certainly think that it gives, and should give, the Government the opportunity to revise the conclusions that they reached in the strategic defence review, but I will not commit myself by saying how many additional battalions there should be. I do not know enough to do so.

Secondly, like other hon. Members I welcome the additional money that has been set aside in the spring supplementary estimates for the Ministry of Defence, but I fervently hope that it will not be the last. During the Defence Committee's visit to the United States recently, we were continually reminded that the US defence budget increase was bigger than our entire Budget. I believe that we all recognise that it is crucial to the future of NATO that the European allies increase their financial commitments to that organisation, and that it is crucial to the standing and role of our armed forces that we give them the necessary resources.

The third issue, which I shall touch on briefly, is the current discussion about Iraq, which goes to the heart of the strategic issue of how the United Kingdom can and should support the United States and how we can contribute most effectively to the fight against terrorism. The Select Committee has been very clear in our view that terrorism cannot be defeated by force alone. Reference has already been made to Iraq, and I shall not go into the possibilities on this occasion, but I want to refer to my concern about our armed forces' existing operational commitments.

Frankly, we should not consider committing our armed forces to any additional operation unless we consider reducing their existing commitments. Many hon. Members share the concern that they are already stretched, and it does not seem as though they will be able to hand over the lead of the interim force in Afghanistan in three months' time. It has become clear this week, with the deaths of members of the American armed forces, that the situation in Afghanistan is far from stable.

We are also concerned about Macedonia and whether it, too, could turn into a tinder box. We should remember what the Chief of the Defence Staff said in a lecture at the Royal United Services Institute in December: Quite simply, we cannot be *all seeing' all the time—we simply do not have the resources. I look forward to fuller and more regular debates on the many issues that we need to address.

6.31 pm
Patrick Mercer (Newark)

May I start by declaring my interest as a member of the Regular Army Reserve of Officers and a trustee of my former regiment's association? I shall be as brief as I possibly can and will try not to iterate the strategic points that have been made by so many hon. Members before me. The whole thing comes down to a question of money. However, it is not a question of just increasing the amount of money dedicated; it is a question of spending that money cleverly and in a wise and measured fashion.

I draw the Minister's attention to an excellent organisation that used to exist—the Home Service Force. In many ways, it was laughed at and called, "Dad's Army", but it was extremely cheap, extremely effective and perfectly organised for key-point protection. The Territorial Army may not want to undertake that task. If we were to consider arming the Home Service Force with weapons such as Rapier or Blowpipe, perhaps it could become a real force multiplier. Before I am laughed out of court on that point in terms of technology, hon. Members should bear in mind the fact that Yeomanry soldiers are expected to man the Challenger 2 fleet, so there is no reason why the Home Service Force should not take up the role that I suggest.

I shall make the point again about the very welcome introduction, or conversion, of 2 and 52 Brigades and draw attention to the excellent points made by the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Crausby) about the training of our conventional regiments to the same standards as those that we have come to expect from the Royal Marines and the Parachute Regiment. Our conventional regiments are fine and excellent organisations and changing 2 and 52 Brigades to infantry brigades makes that point entirely. I urge the Minister to look hard at equipping those brigades with a proper headquarters, and with organic artillery and sappers, to make them deployable so that they, too, can take their place in the order of battle in the field.

I shall move on quickly to the use of intelligence. We have seen how the 3rd Military Intelligence Battalion has played its part in this battle, but I ask the Minister to consider the flexibility of our intelligence reservists.

Last and perhaps most contentiously, I should like to draw attention to the activities of our Special Air Service—a handful of men whose activities are rarely talked about. I do not intend to intrude into their modus operandi or exactly what they have been achieving in Afghanistan. I would say this, however; currently, some of the hardest fighting of the Afghanistan campaign is going on. As far as I am aware, there are no British forces involved at the cutting edge of this campaign at the moment. Without letting too many cats out of the bag, I strongly suspect that that is because the tiny numbers of our special forces involved over there are exhausted.

I draw the Minister's attention to the operations of R Squadron of 22 SAS and the flexibility that that organisation provides. I would like him to look also at the operations of 21 and 23 SAS, the two Territorial regiments that support 22 SAS. It is entirely feasible that we should expand both the Territorial and reserve base of the SAS. There are any number of ex-Territorial soldiers of regular battalions, the parachute regiments or even the Royal Marine Reserve who are ready and willing to serve in an expanded Territorial or reserve capacity inside the SAS.

I would also suggest—I may be preaching the unpreachable—that we expand the SAS. "It is not possible," I hear the Army cry. It has been done—most effectively, for the campaign in Northern Ireland, where an adjunct was added to the SAS precisely for that campaign. The laurels of that organisation are very infrequently polished but, by golly, they are there for all to see.

The SAS, rightly, has high standards, as anyone who saw the programme recently that asked "Are you tough enough for the SAS?" will know. I strongly suspect that I am not, but there we are. The fact remains that there are lots of people who are willing to give it a go. If the mentality of "many are called but few are chosen" can be expanded, and if flexibility can be given to the Army's style of recruiting its select and best soldiers, I believe that it would be more than possible to expand the SAS, perhaps by 100 per cent. I urge the Minister to look at that idea in some detail.

Our forces are, without doubt, the best in the world and I pay tribute to them, just as every other right hon. and hon. Member in the Chamber today has done. But the fact remains that, nearly six months after 11 September, we have seen the United States gird its loins for war, motivate and mobilise its reserve and dedicate $48 billion to expanded defence spending. Nearly six months on, this country has—a discussion document. Discussion documents do not stop bullets; discussion documents do not stop terrorists. We need deeds, not words.

6.37 pm
Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk, West)

I want to say something about a man who was born and educated in Britain, who attended a British public school and the London School of Economics and who is, as I understand it, still a British citizen. He stands accused of complicity in cutting the throat of and beheading a journalist and videoing the whole process for posterity. The individual, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, has not been tried and found guilty, I should stress—I suppose. But he has shown a marked reluctance to dissociate himself from the slaughter.

We also know, or suspect, that there are other individuals who live in the UK, or who have at times done so, who have, or may have, similar tendencies. There are no Scottish National party Members present, but I should point out that an incident in the past few weeks has shown that there are people at the low end of that spectrum who have a pretty low tolerance, too.

Sometimes a debate in the Chamber—not today, I hasten to add—reflects a reluctance on the part of some people to recognise the nature of the threat and the need to take decisive action to counter that kind of threat, not only in the UK but across the world. Sometimes questions raised, and the manner in which they are raised in the Chamber, are characterised by an unhealthy anti-Americanism. They suggest at times that people do not engage fully with the reality of the brutal mindset that characterises those who are prepared to engage in most horrible murder for their own aggrandisement, either on this earth or elsewhere.

That tendency, when it expresses itself, has the potential to miseducate people into thinking that it is possible to intervene in human rights abuses or violent breaches of security but always to do so bloodlessly. Well, it is not. The overwhelming majority of people in this country and, indeed, in the House, including Labour Members, support the Government's determination not to act precipitately on international terrorism and on threats to our security. We want them instead to act decisively when and if the situation merits it.

Harry Cohen

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Joyce) referred to Mr. Sheikh in Pakistan. I want to put it on the record that he and his parents are my constituents. The key consideration is that he get a fair trial.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

The hon. Gentleman knows that that is a matter of debate, not a point of order.

6.40 pm
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)

I begin by paying tribute to what the men and women of our armed services have done in the war against terrorism. They have carried out their roles well and we have perhaps not praised them enough. My hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) speaks from experience. He reminded us that everyone will be thinking of the troops in action at Gardez, and we offer our profound sympathies to the families of the Americans lost in the shootings at Kabul and of the Germans and Danes killed on bomb disposal duties yesterday.

The debate has been of a high quality despite, or perhaps because of, its truncated nature. As always, I greatly enjoyed the Victor Meldrew of the Defence Committee, the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George). I also enjoyed the contributions of the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir John Stanley). They all spoke with great knowledge of and passion for defence.

The debate comes at a crucial moment. Defence budgets are giving every sign of being stretched to, or possibly beyond, their limits. That has been the underlying theme of the debate. It was interesting to see how many Labour Members spoke about overstretched troops, underspending and people doing too much for too little. The hon. Members for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Crausby) and for South Dorset (Jim Knight) in particular mentioned those problems. The reality is that we appear to be doing too much with too little. That cannot go on for ever. I hope that the Minister listened carefully to the many Labour Back Benchers who made that point passionately.

Will the Minister clarify one or two technical details on the accounts? What was the out-turn of last year's spending? I understood that there was an underspend of £72 million, and was surprised to see a report in The Independent this week, with the headline "Brown calls in auditors to scrutinise spending", which said that the underspend was £500 million.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie)


Mr. Gray

If the Minister is right perhaps that is another example of the Chancellor briefing the newspapers in a certain way to win a particular battle. The Independent goes on to quote sources within the Ministry of Defence as saying that the Chancellor is squaring up for a battle with … the Defence Secretary. The article says that the Chancellor is deeply sceptical about MoD demands for extra funds to meet the new threat of international terrorism". The Minister says that the report is inaccurate, so he must tell us where it came from and assure us that the Chancellor is as enthusiastic as he is to spend the money necessary to win the war against terrorism.

There is another element to defence finances. In November, the Chancellor announced new money to pay for the campaign in Afghanistan. He said: I can report that for new equipment and immediate operational requirements an additional 1E00 million has been made available to the Ministry of Defence."—[Official Report, 27 November 2001: Vol. 375, c. 834.] In a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), dated 26 February, he said that there was a further £55 million, making a total of £155 million. Is that new money or does it partly come from the previous year's underspend, in which case it is another blatant example of new Labour's double counting?

What does the Minister intend to do replace the £250 million capital receipt that he may not now get from the botched privatisation of QinetiQ announced in that most embarrassing U-turn yesterday? Has the Treasury agreed to take the hit, or will the money have to come out of defence budgets? Is he planning to write off the staggering £15 million that he wasted on consultants on the botched privatisation? Guess who advised him on it? It was none other than new Labour's close friends, Arthur Andersen, to which the Ministry of Defence has paid £7 million so far. Is the money coming from our front-line capabilities?

The confusion over where the money to pay for the Afghanistan campaign is to come from is compounded by a letter from the Minister to my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Defence dated 27 February in which he says: we estimate the total extra cost in relation to Afghanistan in Financial Year 2001–2002 to be some £261 million. If that is so, will the Minister tell us how he has paid for it? Has it come from the previous year's underspend or the Chancellor's £155 million—if that is indeed new money—or has it perhaps been found by moving money from capital to current accounts? The spring estimates seem to confirm the latter.

There is a muddle, and the Minister needs to tell us today in words of one syllable how much has so far been spent on the war in Afghanistan, precisely how that has been funded, how much he intends to spend in the year ahead and how he will pay for that. The Opposition suspect that all this accountancy fudging is designed to cover up the reality of some deep and damaging cuts in defence expenditure in general. One or two worrying examples of that have been announced in the past few weeks.

The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire) and my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) talked about deep cuts in the Territorial Army as a result of the strategic defence review. I am proud to be wearing the tie of the Honourable Artillery Company today. On top of that cut, we have seen the moth-balling of 5 squadron of the Tornados and of the 32 Sea Harriers, and the decimation of the Fleet Air Arm.

A statutory instrument was sneaked through the House the other day under the guise of giving the Army base repair organisation greater freedom to operate commercially, whereas in fact it meant the cutting of 700 jobs in that organisation. We heard today—I hope that the Minister is listening and will answer this point—of the premature withdrawal of HMS Fearless, our last Royal Navy assault vessel. Let us hope that we do not need it in the troubles that lie ahead.

What is more, as my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) said, the long-feared "procurement bow-wave" in the MOD seems to be becoming ever more a reality, as evidenced by delays in the deployment of new equipment such as the A400M and the Nimrod MRA4. They are the latest examples, but there are of course many others. If, as it appears, Ministers cannot fund current operations without deep and damaging cuts in our defence capabilities, what hope have we of funding the challenges that might lie ahead?

In contrast to the hon. Members for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) and for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) and their party, the Conservative Opposition are proud of the fact that we have stood shoulder to shoulder with the Government in their fight against terrorism so far, and shoulder to shoulder with the United States Government in their war against terrorism—and we intend to continue to do so. If we are to do so—my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing warned us about this—and if challenges lie ahead, we need to know how the Government can say that they intend to do all kinds of things but appear, first, not to be funding them properly, and secondly and even worse, to be making some deep and damaging cuts in our defence capabilities. That simply will not do. They cannot have it both ways.

I was not the least encouraged by the Secretary of State's recent comment that I shall certainly be putting my case to the Chancellor, but I recognise it will have to sit alongside equally vigorous cases presented by my colleagues in health, education, public transport and so on. Unnamed defence sources have said: We are in the middle of a battle royal with the Treasury. Rumours abounded last year that the Chancellor was seeking up to £1.5 billion of cuts in the defence budget. The Minister owes it to the House to make it clear this evening that that is not what is about to happen.

This debate is the Minister's opportunity to reassure us that he and, perhaps more importantly, the Chancellor are resolutely determined to fund our excellent armed forces properly in the ever more challenging tasks that lie ahead. If we are to defeat international terrorism—we are as determined as the Minister to do so—the effort in that direction must be properly funded.

6.48 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr.Lewis Moonie)

One of the misfortunes of defence debates is that, irrespective of their title, we always seem to cover all defence matters. I shall do my best to reply to all the points that have been raised.

This debate takes place against a background of continuing activity and danger for our armed forces in Afghanistan. The Taliban and the al-Qaeda terrorists whom they harbour have been reduced to scattered remnants, but that is not to say that they are no longer a threat, as we see from current operations against Gardez. Like the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray), I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the courage of all coalition soldiers fighting there, and to offer my condolences to the families of those—American and Afghan—who have died fighting to free Afghanistan and the world from the threat of terrorism.

On the subject of time, let me point out that we have at least four more days of defence debates in which hon. Members will be able to speak about anything they fancy. Defence gets a fairly generous allocation of time: we have had at least three full days, perhaps four, on the war against terrorism since it started. We have adequate time to debate defence issues. Although it is disappointing that we did not get our full time today, the environment is considered equally important by many hon. Members, and it does not get the same amount of time as defence.

As for the timing of our reply, I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) for the time it took. A balance has to be struck between speed and helpfulness, and we tried to make our reply as helpful as possible on this occasion.

As this is an estimates day, I had better say something about the estimates, if only to correct the misapprehensions of Opposition Front Benchers. In the current financial year, we shall incur £261 million in additional costs through our operations in Afghanistan. The bulk of that—some £115 million—is attributable to Operation Veritas, our contribution to the global coalition's operations against international terrorism. That figure covers operating costs—fuel, transport, stores and so on—that we would not otherwise have faced. We also expect to generate another £80 million in similar costs for Operation Fingal, the United Kingdom's element of the international security assistance force that we currently lead in Kabul. The bulk of the remainder—some £57 million—represents capital costs for urgent operational requirements. The final £9 million represents "non-cash costs". That is all new money.

In addition to that, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State announced on 26 February that the Treasury had agreed to add a further £55 million to the £100 million already made available for capital costs arising from urgent operational requirements. That gives a total of £155 million in new money of which, as I have said, we have so far spent £57 million on capital costs. The subject is complicated, but I assure the House that the money involved is new money.

Turning to the privatisation of QinetiQ, I was involved in that issue yesterday, and despite my best efforts some of the newspapers appear to have picked up my remarks wrongly. Only an idiot would have proposed that we continue on the preferred course of a stock market placing, even though, at the time that it was made, the proposal was perfectly reasonable. Although—with apologies to hon. Members from the minority parties—I can imagine a few idiots on the Opposition Benches continuing blindly on that course, we could not do so. We have decided to go for a trade placement instead, which is by far the safest course of action. We will get the money that we require from the sale, and QinetiQ will get the freedom that it needs to grow and to develop its business.

I cannot go into detail in response to some of the points made by the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws), save to say that extensive work is being done on co-operation among our security forces. I shall discuss the action we are taking on CBN—chemical, biological and nuclear—risks later. Active civil contingency links exist and are being strengthened. It has been possible to do quite a lot along those lines.

Conflict prevention is at the centre of our efforts, especially in Africa. We are already working cross-departmentally. The three Departments that the hon. Gentleman mentioned—the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development—are doing a great deal of work on conflict prevention and resolution in that continent. In addition, extensive work is being done in eastern Europe and central Asia. We are very active in that respect.

As for the calls to increase reserve forces, we have spent a great deal of time and effort trying to bring our reserve forces much closer to the front line. I do not want that effort to be diluted by attempts to add roles that are well beneath the capabilities in which we now train our reserves to participate. We are using our reserves and integrating them into our forces. To be frank, that is by far the most cost-effective way in which to provide surge capability in many of our units. The House will be aware that in a parliamentary answer today I pointed out that a further compulsory call-out of 49 Royal Auxiliary Air Force personal will be made to assist air transport movements in support of our ongoing work in Afghanistan.

I shall try in the limited time available to respond to the specific points made without repeating myself. My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South was right in his introductory remarks. The same point was made by the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir John Stanley) and others. The risks from many chemical and biological threats are low, but the consequences are indeed terrible.

The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing might be interested to know that, as a specialist in public health, I have independently come to the conclusion that plague is an exceptionally dangerous organism, as he might well have expected. However, there are two positive aspects. One is that we are developing what appears to be a very effective vaccine, which will be available in the next two years. That will be the first time that a reliable vaccine has been available. Secondly, plague is an exceptionally difficult organism to grow and certainly to deliver. Therefore I would assess that the threat still involves a combination of opportunity and means, and as the product of the two is so difficult to achieve, the threat of plague remains very low, compared with other biologically active agents.

We have decided that Fearless will be stood down at the end of its current engagement, instead of going on until January or February next year. Any Department must make decisions about the most cost-effective way to use its resources, and it would not have been cost-effective, in my opinion and that of my colleagues, and according to the advice of our senior staff, to have continued a 37-year-old vessel, excellent though its service has been, for the next six months, given the extra resources that would be required. Fearless is our last steam-powered ship, and I am sorry to see her go. Her service and that of her crew has been sterling, and the crew will give us further good service on Albion and Bulwark when they come into service in 2003

My right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang) spoke cogently about the language of priorities and of the need to fund the level of activity that we wish to carry out. I agree with him. I cannot predict the outcome of discussions on the Budget, much as the hon. Member for North Wiltshire might wish me to second-guess the process. It is still going on and we will defend our corner vigorously, but there must be an exact match between the commitments that we give and the resources that we offer up to meet them.

In passing, I should point out that we are partly the victims of our own success. Smart procurement has worked. Programmes are now on time and the slack in the system, which was available in the MOD budget year after year, sadly—or perhaps gladly—is no longer with us. That makes things much more difficult.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham)

With reference to the new chapter of SDR, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital that finances are not an obstacle to our doing what is necessary to fight the war against terrorism?

Dr. Moonie

I entirely agree that resources must be made available to meet any new commitments, unless those commitments turn out to be substitutes for things that we do at present and we find that they are not necessary. I am not trying to suggest that we have yet been able to find anything like that, but any rational being must admit that there is at least a logical possibility that we would be able to do so. Should major new requirements come along, we will have to consider the matter closely.

I am interested in the possibility of the home defence service being re-activated, with considerably greater numbers of teeth than it ever had or were ever envisaged for it. If we think that static guarding is the answer for certain installations—I remain to be convinced of that—we will have to find some way of implementing it.

The right hon. Member for 'Tonbridge and Mailing was the only person whom I have heard in any of the debates so far mention the effectiveness of our co-ordinating officers in Tampa, Florida. That has proved itself, just as the permanent joint headquarters in the UK has done. It has shown how effective it is to co-ordinate on the ground, right at the centre of operations. Its value has been proved time and again, and I pay tribute to the officers who serve there. We shall have to do that in future, although rather than regularise it we will probably have to do it on an ad hoc basis.

There were other thoughtful contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Crausby) and the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson), who made a good point about ISTAR. We are identifying ways of identifying friend and foe, and we will continue to do so as quickly as possible.

It being Seven o'clock, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER, proceeded to put forthwith the deferred Question relating to Estimates which he was directed to put at that hour, pursuant to paragraphs (4) and (5) of Standing Order No. 54 (Consideration of estimates).

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That further resources, not exceeding £3,020,000, be authorised for use during the year ending on 31st March 2002, and that a sum, not exceeding £3,020,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund for the year ending on 31st March 2002 for expenditure by HM Treasury.

It being after Seven o'clock, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded to put forthwith the Questions relating to Estimates which he was directed to put at that hour, pursuant paragraphs (1) and (3) of Standing Order No. 55 (Questions on voting of estimates, &c.) and Order [20 November 2000].