§ [Relevant documents: The Seventh Report from the Defence Committee of Session 2002–03, Draft Civil Contingencies Bill (HC557), the Sixth Report from the Defence Committee of Session 2002–03, A New Chapter to the Strategic Defence Review (HC93 I-II), and the Third Special Report of Session 2002–03, A New Chapter to the Strategic Defence Review: Government Response to the Committee's Sixth Report of Session 2002–03 (HC975).
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Derek Twigg.]1.26 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)
Before moving to the specific subject matter of this debate, I would be grateful for the opportunity to respond directly to the criticisms of the Intelligence and Security Committee's report which was published earlier today. I ask the House to allow me the opportunity to set out in full what I have to say on this issue, but I will certainly take interventions at the end.
The ISC report is measured and detailed. First, it clearly finds that there was no attempt by anyone in Government—whether in Downing street, the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office or elsewhere—to sex up the dossier published on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction in September last year. Secondly, it finds that the dossier was a fair and accurate summary of the intelligence. Thirdly, it finds that, in respect of the so-called 45-minute claim, no one in Government interfered with the intelligence assessment, though the Committee finds that the Joint Intelligence Committee could have put the wording of that particular piece of intelligence in a different and more detailed way. I appreciate that the ISC was concerned about the initial approach of the Ministry of Defence, and I want to make it quite clear that I had no intention whatever of being other than open and straightforward with the Committee. I regret any misunderstanding that may have arisen.
So far as my own position is concerned, the Committee states fairly that I did inform it of the dispute within the defence intelligence staff about the way in which the 45-minute claim was described in the dossier. In fact, I volunteered the information in my first evidence session on 22 July that there were people in defence intelligence who had made proposals for amendments and who indicated that they thought that the language in places could be tightened up. I outlined the substance of the dispute as to whether the intelligence showed or indicated particular conclusions, and how this was resolved before it ever reached the Joint Intelligence Committee, let alone any Minister.
The essence of this debate was set out by two DIS staff, who took the view that the wording on three points in the dossier—including on the 45-minute claim—should have been expressed differently. The disagreement was resolved by the then Chief of Defence Intelligence and his deputy, who concluded that the dossier wording was sound. It cannot be stressed too strongly that even the two DIS members who took the view that they did were not against the inclusion of the 45-minute claim in the dossier. They simply proposed different wording, reflecting the intelligence that they had seen.
492 The Committee, however, believed that the failure to disclose specifically that the views of the two DIS staff had been recorded in writing was unhelpful, and that it could potentially have misled it as to the seriousness of the dispute. Given the focus on these issues, I recognise that it would have been helpful to the Committee if I had mentioned specifically that the dispute was recorded in writing. I did not say specifically that points made by the two staff members had been put in writing, since these were detailed drafting points on the language of the dossier which were seen at the time as contributions to the normal healthy debate in the DIS about assessments. It did not seem so unusual for such suggestions or amendments to be made in writing.
The Committee also comments on my decision not to have a letter written to it outlining the concerns. The Committee has had the advantage in this case of seeing a briefing note prepared for me by officials before my appearance. It suggested that a letter should be sent to the Committee if the matter did not arise during the session on 22 July. As I had raised the dispute in the DIS voluntarily at that session with the Committee, I judged that there was no need to write subsequently.
I hope that the Committee accepts that I did not, in fact, mislead it. I note that the Committee finds in the final words of its report that it agrees with the conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Committee report thatMinisters did not mislead Parliament".
I believe that this is a fair assessment of the issues, and I thank the Committee for what its Chairman said this morning.
§ Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)
It would be churlish of the House not to recognise the contrite way in which the Secretary of State has approached it this afternoon, but it should be noted that a Committee of this stature has written that, in giving evidence to the Committee—evidence of which he personally took charge—his Department was unhelpful and potentially misleading. Does he regard that as a ringing endorsement of his reputation for departmental competence, or should he not do the honourable thing—accept responsibility and resign?
§ Mr. Hoon
I have accepted that the Ministry of Defence—and I am not in any way avoiding my personal responsibility—could have been more helpful. I have made that clear. The essence of the criticism, however, is this. The Committee is saying that, having indicated or volunteered to the Committee the information that there was a dispute, that amendments had been tabled and that the process had been followed through in the DIS in the assessments made about the intelligence, I should have indicated to the Committee that that had been recorded in writing. That seems to me to be the difference between us.
§ Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford)
The Secretary of State is a football fan, so he will understand what I mean when I say that I intend to play the ball, not the man. In the context of the other important aspects of today's report, however, may I ask him some questions?
493 Does the Secretary of State believe that if the Prime Minister's original foreword had not been taken out of the dossier, if the intelligence showing that there was no connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein had remained in the dossier, if the dossier had contained intelligence that war with Iraq would increase the threat to the United Kingdom because of the dispersal of weapons of mass destruction, and if it had been made clear in the dossier that the claim about 45 minutes related to battlefield rather than strategic weapons, the Government would still have won the vote on 18 March?
§ Mr. Hoon
I do. The hon. Gentleman has asked a series of hypothetical questions which I believe the ISC dealt with properly in what I have described as a fair and balanced report. I do not intend to take up more of the House's time by discussing the matter in detail, as I am sure there will be further opportunities for us to do so in the future.
§ Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)
Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to tell us why he thinks Dr. Kelly died, given that Dr. Kelly was a member of his staff? I think it would help the Secretary of State to give Parliament his view clearly today, as he has been the subject of so much adverse briefing and comment—often, probably, from his own friends and colleagues—which has done a lot of damage to his reputation in the press.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Does the Secretary of State agree that the picture would be fuller and clearer if he indicated that he did of course volunteer the information he has described properly in response to a question, but that the report records that after he had left the room his staff were pressed further on the matter, and we still did not discover the names or the nature of the two people involved?
Has the Secretary of State noted the recommendation in the report that the DIS needs an arrangement whereby people who have minuted dissent know what procedure to follow, and the fact that they have done so is recognised and communicated to the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee?
§ Mr. Hoon
During the further discussions we had when I attended the Committee on a second occasion to consider these matters, the right hon. Gentleman made a number of telling points about procedures that needed to be adopted in the DIS. I assure him, as I assured the Committee, that those points will be taken fully on board.
§ Mr. Michael Portillo (Kensington and Chelsea)
I am trying to put myself quite sympathetically in the position of the Secretary of State, because it is a position that I held. I am trying to understand. Perhaps the Secretary of State can help.
494 Given the allegation that some dissenting elements in the intelligence services had objected to the 45-minutes claim being in the dossier, and given that that was central to the Andrew Gilligan accusations that have been given such tremendous publicity, I cannot quite understand how the Secretary of State reached the judgment that he would not make a full disclosure that there had been written correspondence from intelligence officials which, on the face of it, clearly matched the accusation that Andrew Gilligan had made.
§ Mr. Hoon
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the fair way in which he put his question, but I invite him to look again at its a premise. As I said a few moments ago, the suggestions from the two individuals in the DIS were not that the material should not be included in the dossier. They constituted, essentially, a linguistic analysis of what the intelligence either showed or indicated. In each of their proposed amendments they wanted, in effect, to draw a distinction between the intelligence showing that Saddam Hussein's regime had the ability to deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes and the intelligence indicating that.
As I suggested earlier, there was no suggestion from those individuals that the material should not be included. It was simply a case of the placing of the emphasis in the assessment. Given an indication of that kind, I judged that it was not necessary to provide the ISC with the specific amendments in writing; but I did give a very full account of the fact that there had been amendments and discussion, and that these particular linguistic discussions were resolved by the Chief of Defence Intelligence.
§ Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North)
I have had a look at the report, and I watched the Committee's press conference. I see nothing in the report that is either a resigning issue or a sacking issue, and I believe that that view was confirmed by the Committee's members at the press conference. Unfortunately for my right hon. Friend, that does not fit in with what the Opposition wanted to be in the report, or what the media, in their feeding frenzy, wanted to be in it. The media will continue with that feeding frenzy, baying for my right hon. Friend's resignation or sacking. And may I say—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The intervention is too long. I think the Secretary of State has got the drift of the support that he is being given.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I hope the hon. Gentleman is not going to criticise the Chair. He had better not do that, or he will be in trouble.
§ Mr. Mates
The Secretary of State has given way to me, Mr. Speaker.
495 Is it not the case that when anyone comes to the House and says that a mistake has been made which he regrets, and that he will see that it does not happen again, the House is generous? The real answer to all this is that, ultimately, the Committee was not misled. There will be plenty of opportunities to debate this matter, because the Government are required to respond to our report, and there will then be a debate about it. I suggest that that is the time when we shall be able to go over this ground again.
§ Mr. Hoon
If I may, I shall turn to the subject of today's debate: defence in the United Kingdom. It is timely that this debate should take place today, 11 September, since it was the tragic events of that day in 2001 that caused us to re-examine, together with other issues, the United Kingdom's ability to respond to a mass-effect terrorist attack. Our thoughts today are with the families and friends of those who died on that tragic occasion. The re-examination was set out just over a year ago with the publication of the new chapter to the strategic defence review, which dealt with the defence contribution to the Government's wider consideration of their strategies and their preparedness to deal with disaster, in the light of the events of two years ago.
Our conclusions in the light of the 11 September attacks have been the subject of rigorous scrutiny by the Defence Committee. Its reports on defence and security in the United Kingdom and the SDR new chapter, together with the Government's responses, provide a sound backdrop to today's discussion. It is entirely right that the House should take a keen interest in defence activity in the United Kingdom, but in doing so our debates must avoid perpetuating an outdated understanding of the role of the armed forces. By that I mean that the armed forces alone do not ensure the security and defence of the country; nor can we secure and defend ourselves independently of events in the wider world.
Our interdependence with the rest of the world is self-evident. We do business with the rest of the world, we go on holiday all over the world, and the rest of the world comes here for the same reasons. Fifty-one British citizens died in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre, 26 died in Bali and two died in Saudi Arabia. Our national security and prosperity is dependent on international trade and the flow of materials and services, which in turn rely on international stability.
§ Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon)
My right hon. Friend is giving a timely reminder of the British victims of the 11 September tragedy and of other tragedies. Will he join me in condemning the conference being held today by al-Mujaharoon, known as "the magnificent 19", which purports to praise the "heroism" of those who committed those despicable crimes? Is it not about time 496 that firm action was taken against these people, who have nothing whatsoever to do with the British way of life, and who should be rightly condemned throughout this House and throughout the country?
§ Mr. Hoon
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, and I could not put the criticism more strongly than he has. He is quite right.
We have responsibility for our overseas territories, including the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, the South Sandwich Islands and Gibraltar. Some 10 million Britons live as expatriates across the globe. Millions more are vulnerable as they travel overseas for business or pleasure. Our diplomats and armed forces, and a range of United Kingdom non-governmental organisations and charities, operate around the world, often in tough environments. In short, wherever terrorists strike, the effects are likely to impact on UK citizens or on their interests. It is right, therefore, that we play a leading role in the international community through the United Nations Security Council, the Commonwealth, the European Union, NATO and coalitions of the willing. The defence of the United Kingdom must involve operations overseas as much as at home. There is no isolationist option for the United Kingdom.
The 1998 strategic defence review set out that analysis in detail. Its conclusions helped us to deliver armed forces to meet the challenges of recent years: the Balkans, Iraq, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. Last year, the new chapter focused on the consequences of the 11 September attacks for us and our friends and allies, and, indeed, for our adversaries. The scale and nature of terrorism shocked the world that day, and the world certainly seemed to change.
§ Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford)
Two years on from the dreadful events of 11 September 2001, can the Secretary of State tell the House which Minister is in charge of defending the UK?
§ Mr. Hoon
I shall explain that in some detail in a moment, but it has always been the case that, essentially, responsibility for security in the United Kingdom falls to the Home Office and therefore to the Home Secretary. However, I shall point out the way in which the armed forces, especially in light of the challenges raised by 11 September, can make a particular and distinctive contribution.
§ Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup)
The Secretary of State has set out the scale of operations that the forces under his control are involved in, which everyone accepts and respects, but he will be equally concerned about overstretch of the armed forces. Will he tell the House what he plans to do about the 6,000 shortfall in manning levels and its effect not only on morale but on overstretch and training, as I gather that recruitment is currently frozen?
§ Mr. Hoon
I am delighted to be able to repeat to the House that there is significant progress in recruitment, and I shall deal with the general issue of the impact on our armed forces towards the end of my speech.
Fundamentally, our security priorities remain as set out in the strategic defence review, although the balance of the armed threats has shifted. The new chapter 497 concluded that the primary capability required of the armed forces to respond to armed threats remains expeditionary operations overseas. The United Kingdom needs strong defence to help protect our own interests, to support the promotion of human rights and democracy the world over, to be a reliable and powerful ally, and to be a leader in Europe and the international community. We are preparing a White Paper, which I hope to publish towards the end of the autumn, setting out in more detail how we see continuing change and the consequent continuing adaptation of the armed forces' and Ministry of Defence's contribution.
§ Mr. Beith
On a completely different matter from the one I raised earlier, in the context of the review of priorities, does the Secretary of State note that the correspondence sent to Members and local authorities about four RAF stations has caused considerable anxiety, probably in all four locations? At RAF Boulmer, in Northumberland, there is certainly huge appreciation among personnel of that station's strategic value and various functions. There is also enormous support in the local community for its remaining there.
§ Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon)
As the Secretary of State says, the cornerstone of our defence policy is the expeditionary capability—I have spoken to him before on this matter—so it is surely time that we send another helicopter carrier to join Ocean. She is overstretched and cannot always be on station because she frequently has to go into refit.
§ Mr. Hoon
I do not accept that Ocean frequently goes into refit; indeed, it is a remarkable ship that I have had the privilege of visiting on several occasions, most recently last week. If I may, I shall take the hon. Gentleman's observation as a direct submission to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I turn to the specific theme of today's debate: home defence or home security? The old military paradigm of home defence addressed the threat of a sustained attack by conventional military forces on the United Kingdom itself. It is fair to say that the threat of military invasion by a hostile nation has probably gone. The focus is now on a different sort of threat: that of the terrorist. The focus is on home security, rather than on the old concept of home defence. The armed forces cannot and do not provide that security for the people of this country on their own. They contribute widely and in a number of important ways, many of which are unique, but they do not do that job on their own.
That is especially true of responding to terrorism. There is no simple military solution to terrorism—no simple application of armed force that will achieve the Government's goal of removing international terrorism as a force in world affairs. It is essential that in considering defence in the UK today, the House take account of this fact. The Government's strategy is wide ranging, but it recognises the importance of tackling the causes of terrorism, as well as of seeking to bring 498 terrorists to justice, denying them the capability to operate freely in the UK and overseas. It recognises that the international community must tackle this problem collectively and co-operatively.
We acknowledge the difficulty of ever achieving absolute security, but the core of the strategy is to make the United Kingdom a harder target through better protective security at home, and through measures to enhance our resilience, should we fail to deter or otherwise prevent attacks from taking place. In doing this, the Government remain committed to the principle that the United Kingdom's civil authorities are responsible for crisis and consequence management, under the ministerial direction of the Home Secretary. The police and the intelligence services are the front line against terrorism at home. Terrorism is a crime, and it is entirely right that we treat it as such.
§ Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)
I have pointed out before in this House, to the Home Secretary, the total absence of a police profile in the vast majority of our sea ports. Can the Secretary of State tell us what discussions he has had with the Home Secretary, who undertook to reconsider this issue? Can I urge him, together with his ministerial colleagues, to recognise that there is a compelling need for a dedicated police force along the lines of the British Transport police—or comprising the British Transport police—in our sea ports? Currently there are no immigration officials, no police, no Customs and Excise in our ports. We really need a front-line, high-profile presence in order to combat crime and, above all, combat terrorism.
§ Mr. Hoon
I shall certainly refer in a few moments to the contribution of the armed forces to the problem that my hon. Friend identifies. I shall ensure that my hon. Friend's words are passed on to the responsible Ministers. As he suggested, more than one Minister is involved in the matters that he raised.
It is a matter of regrettable necessity that we in the UK have had to develop considerable expertise in fighting terrorism. While the events of 11 September 2001 and more recent attacks have focused minds on international terrorism, it is vital to remember that we still face a threat from domestic terrorists. Even with the ceasefire in Northern Ireland, there remains a threat from dissident terrorist groups. Consequently, for as long as the Chief Constable there requires it, we will provide support to the police in Northern Ireland. However, as I have already acknowledged, we must respond to the changing nature of the threat from elsewhere. Our arrangements are constantly reviewed to ensure that they take account of that change. Those reviews include the contribution that is made by defence assets in support of the police.
More widely, the Government attach a high priority to being prepared to deal with a major terrorist attack. We have re-examined and refined the machinery for managing the central elements of a crisis response and have put in place a wide range of practical civil protection measures to build capabilities.
The Government issued for public consultation a draft civil contingencies Bill on 19 June. In line with Government practice, the consultation period was 12 499 weeks. Coincidentally, that ends today, on 11 September. The draft Bill proposes the way forward for civil protection in the UK, by providing a single statutory and regulatory framework, designed to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
A Joint Committee of both Houses has been established to examine the draft Bill. It is due to report at the end of November, having taken into consideration the results of the public consultation and evidence from its own witness sessions. The Select Committee on Defence has already published its observations on the draft. The Bill has been largely and generally welcomed by the wide range of organisations that will be affected by its provisions.
The draft civil contingencies Bill will, in particular, improve the UK's ability to deal with the consequences of incidents by improving the planning process at local level, by improving the linkages between local areas and the centre, and by building up a regional civil protection tier. That new regional tier will draw together activity already organised on a regional basis as well as providing a strong bridge between the centre and local levels. It will be a key point of contact for the armed forces in the future.
Against that background, the armed forces are shaped to make their distinctive contribution. At home that means that they provide the capability to detect, deter and ultimately destroy a determined attack by a renegade aircraft. We have made no secret of the fact that we have that air defence capability and will use it if necessary.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
The House has been informed and many Members are delighted to hear about the order for 20 new Hawk aircraft to train interceptor and other fast jet pilots for the future. However, does the small size of the order mean that the number of aircraft in the front line, particularly interceptor squadrons, is to decrease in future?
§ Mr. Hoon
No, it does not. The hon. Gentleman anticipates a point that I shall make in a few minutes. If he has further questions after I have made my remarks, I will certainly give way to him again.
Typhoon, our next generation high-performance fast jet, will serve as the cornerstone of the Royal Air Force's air defence capability in the future, replacing our current Tornado F3 aircraft, which will be phased out between 2006 and 2009. The project achieved a major milestone this June with delivery of the first of these highly capable aircraft to the UK.
It is in part to meet the new demands of training pilots for front-line service for Typhoon that I have selected the BAE Systems Hawk 128 as the next advanced jet trainer for our armed forces. Subject to the successful completion of contractual negotiations, we intend to make an initial purchase of 20 of the new training aircraft, with options to buy up to another 24. The value of a full order for 44 aircraft is expected to be worth some £800 million. It will enter service from 2008. It is the right choice for training pilots for our future advanced fighter jets. It is also the right decision for our 500 defence industrial capability; for BAE Systems and its employees at the Brough factory on Humberside, where Hawk 128 will be designed and built; and for the several hundred people involved in the UK supply chain for the aircraft.
Hawk 128 is an excellent aircraft. More than 800 are currently in service with some 17 customers. In a highly competitive global market, Hawk variants have won the last three advanced jet trainer competitions and have demonstrated their status as one of the UK's finest exports. The future sales prospects for Hawk are extremely bright, as demonstrated by the recent news that the Indian Government have selected Hawk as their new advanced jet trainer.
§ Annabelle Ewing (Perth)
The Secretary of State alluded a moment ago to the supply side, which also poses repair issues. Given that he appears to have faced a summer of uncertainty about his own job security, he will no doubt sympathise with the uncertainty faced by the loyal and skilled work force at the Defence Aviation Repair Agency, Almondbank. In the light of the impact of the interim review, will the Secretary of State give an assurance today that the Ministry of Defence will not pull the rug from under DARA?
§ Mr. Hoon
My right hon. Friend the Minister of State with responsibility for the armed forces visited the facility only two weeks ago to open a £5 million facility. I hope that that demonstrates our commitment. I understand that the hon. Lady was present, so she could see that for herself.
The armed forces are also ready to play a key role, should the need arise, in countering terrorism at sea. The Royal Navy can act in several ways to support the police and Customs and Excise, the most visible of which will be intercepting a renegade ship or ships suspected of carrying terrorist-related materials, as we demonstrated with the MV Nisha in 2001. We remain prepared to undertake similar operations, should it become necessary, both within UK territorial waters and elsewhere. The reach of the RAF's Nimrod patrol aircraft and the capability of the Royal Navy's surface fleet are undoubtedly a significant deterrent to terrorism.
The armed forces also represent a hugely flexible resource for the Government in times of emergency. They provide a pool of trained, disciplined, organised and highly capable personnel who can and will assist the civil authorities when necessary. The overt presence of service personnel at Heathrow in February this year represented an excellent example of that. Such a visible presence, in response to credible intelligence about a specific threat, demonstrates not only the ample deterrent effect that military assistance can have, but that we are able to respond quickly and very effectively when circumstances require it.
It is wrong, however, to underestimate the capacity and capability of the civil agencies. As they so ably demonstrated in last weekend's exercise, the civil agencies have a significant and well practised capability to respond to a wider range of disruptive elements. The emergency services will be at the front line of responding to emergencies. The police will take the lead in 501 responding to a terrorist incident, drawing on the expertise of other agencies as demanded by the precise details of the event.
As part of the new chapter assessment we considered both the nature and quantity of military assistance. We did not do so in isolation, but in consultation with other Departments and in parallel with their own work on improving the mechanisms that deliver security and resilience. The conclusions drew on the lessons of previous emergencies, particularly foot and mouth and the fuel crisis.
We decided to invest in three main areas: command and control arrangements, specifically to allow the armed forces to engage fully in local contingency planning and undertake 24/7 operations; communications equipment, which will be compatible with that used by the police; and giving existing members of the volunteer reserves an opportunity to volunteer to serve in civil contingency reaction forces.
The enhanced regionally based planning and command capability will make it easier for the authorities dealing with civil contingencies to get rapid support from the armed forces, both regular and reserve. That reinforces what exists already: it does not create a new or separate civil contingency chain of command.
§ Mr. Hoon
Before I give way to the hon. Gentleman, I am about to talk about civil contingency reaction forces, which I anticipate might be the subject of his intervention. There will be 14 CCRFs, each comprising some 500 volunteers drawn from among existing reservists. Each will be based on a Territorial Army infantry battalion, and new posts have been added to each battalion to support the CCRF role directly. Their establishment increases the likelihood that we will be able to meet requests for support, but we are not creating a separate or self-contained force for this purpose. The volunteers will retain their existing military roles and CCRFs are not intended to be the first or only source of assistance we can provide locally.
§ Patrick Mercer
The resource that has been created for the CCRFs is slender; only 7,000 from all ranks are to be drawn together for it. Why has it taken so long to draw together the force? Why are the CCRFs not yet operationally effective? How hard hit have they been by crucial members being called up to help the overstretched regular Army in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq?
§ Mr. Hoon
I agreed with most of what the hon. Gentleman said until he reached his conclusion. I do not believe that any assessment of the role of reserves in recent times suggests that they are there to relieve so-called "overstretched" regular forces. At the time of the strategic defence review, we developed a concept that built on work previously done in the MOD to ensure that our reservists were usable and trained for a specific contribution in the time of conflicts of the kind that we have seen in Iraq. They were being used for that purpose.
502 I recognise and accept the first part—or, at least, the implication—of the hon. Gentleman's observations; inevitably, during a period in which we are calling on reservists to the extent we have seen in Iraq, there must be implications for the kind of reorganisation that I have just set out. I am not pretending that Iraq has not had an impact on that change. It must have and it has.
§ Patrick Mercer
Unfortunately, the Secretary of State misses my point. When we need forces here to defend this county—people who are dedicated to this task—no provision seems to have been made among the reserve forces to prevent them from being called to operational theatres such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Surely that is a contradiction?
§ Mr. Hoon
I am tempted to describe this as a new role for reservists, but many with longer memories than mine will say that it is a return to a more traditional role. The role recognises the new kind of threat that we face, which was my theme at the start of my remarks. I accept that with the challenges of Iraq and the mobilisation of large numbers of reservists, it has been harder to carry out the reorganisation than it would have been but for that commitment. That is an inevitable consequence of the times in which we live.
§ Mr. Hoon
The hon. Gentleman must forgive me; I must make progress. I have given way on a number of occasions.
The principle of military assistance remains that regional commanders will advise Defence Ministers of the best means available to meet a particular request. This may involve the use of regular or reserve personnel or it may require deployment of some more specialised capability. Nor is it the case that CCRFs will only be used when regular manpower is not available.
The CCRFs are an important strand of the assistance that we are able to provide in an emergency and have the potential to bring very useful qualities to a deployment, such as local knowledge. They will also boost our ability to sustain a longer-term operation by adding to the pool of resources available to regional commanders. Recruiting and training for the CCRFs is proceeding well and we are on track to achieve our target of full operating capability by the end of this year.
Although I have addressed defence in the UK in the context of the armed threat from terrorism, the principles that I have set out apply across the whole spectrum of resilience. If an aircraft crashes into an oil refinery—whether that is caused by a terrorist bomb or by mechanical failure—the consequences are the same and the mechanisms for providing support from the armed forces are the same.
§ Mr. Hoon
I have given way a great number of times and I recognise that a considerable number of right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak in the debate.
We can draw on the armed forces in response to any emergency, national or regional, that goes beyond the normal capacity of the emergency services. We did so in 503 the foot and mouth outbreak, and we did so during the firefighters dispute. But there was a penalty. The personnel involved—some 19,000 at the peak—had to be withdrawn from their primary military duties. Training and preparations for Iraq were disrupted. Some ships were unable to go to sea.
An extra burden was placed on the individuals concerned. Even though the strikes themselves were not continuous, personnel involved in providing the cover remained on standby to deploy. That meant that they could not take planned leave and, in some cases, post-operational tour leave had to be cancelled. Because we could not predict how long the dispute would continue, training and other normal military activities could not be planned while the possibility of further strikes remained. Nor could the commitment have been maintained indefinitely. At the outset, we recognised that the effort necessary to provide emergency cover would impact upon other military operations and training activity. But the increasing level of military commitments during the early part of this year meant that in order to meet the demands of other operations—most notably Iraq—we had to progressively reduce the number of personnel engaged in the operation. Ultimately, it would have become impossible to maintain the same level of cover as had been provided during the early strikes.
The success of the operation is an excellent example of the flexibility and commitment that our armed forces bring to any operation they undertake, but it also serves to remind us of the limitations of working within what is essentially a finite resource.
We recognise explicitly in our planning that earmarking units for more than one contingency imposes limitations. When a contingency unfolds—whether it is an operation in Sierra Leone or a fire strike in the United Kingdom—any forces committed to that contingency become unavailable for other operations. This applies to the CCRFs and reserve units as it does to regular units. Simply put, no one can be in two places at the same time. It is not possible to act and still be able to meet every possible contingency. That is the core challenge of managing our commitments. It applies at home and overseas and is ultimately a matter of a decision on the priorities of particular circumstances of the moment. It cannot be any other way, principally because our human resources are not unlimited.
This works because of the hard-earned flexibility and commitment of our armed forces. That flexibility and commitment flow from the time and effort spent in the training of the highest quality of the men and women who make up our regular and reserve forces.
I am confident that we have put in place the capabilities and structures that will allow our armed forces to make an effective contribution to maintaining the defence and security of the United Kingdom, whether that is through responding to a terrorist incident here or conducting expeditionary operations overseas to prevent a threat materialising as an attack on our home territory.
§ 2.7 pm
§ Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)
This is not a good day for the House of Commons. The Secretary of State may have observed the letter of the procedures of the House, but he has abused the spirit of the House by effectively making a statement about a Committee report that was published this morning without advertising it in advance and without giving Members an opportunity to learn in advance that he would be making a statement. To debate a Committee report so soon after its publication is a most unusual procedure for the Government to pursue. It was also discourteous for the Foreign Secretary to make a statement about the contents of the report outside Downing street, instead of to this House.
At the outset, the Government have shown little respect to this House, certainly to those who might disagree with them on this question. This situation underlines how elaborately the spin operation has worked in relation to the publication of the report. It is now clear that there has been briefing from Whitehall officials on the contents of the Intelligence and Security Committee report in advance of its publication, precisely to enable the Secretary of State to manage this occasion. It remains to be seen whether the effect he feels he has created in this House is sustained in the media tomorrow and in the commentary that will undoubtedly follow. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman's attempt to brush aside the question of his conduct will in the end serve him ill.
What it would be most appropriate to concentrate on today, the second anniversary of the terrible attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on 11 September, are those terrible attacks, those who died on that terrible day and those who displayed such heroism. Here in this House of Commons, it would be appropriate to concentrate on the Government's defence policies and the responses to 11 September 2001 in the context of the title of today's debate, "Defence in the United Kingdom." The Government should remove anything that distracts us from that vital task.
We take this opportunity to pay tribute to the UK's overstretched armed forces and intelligence services for all that they have achieved since that terrible day. They have worked harder than ever. They have performed superbly, despite shortages of manpower and equipment, despite cancelled leave and unduly long separation from families and loved ones, and despite the risks and dangers that they face. Indeed, we have seen conspicuous acts of gallantry and bravery that are the hallmark of all three armed services. And there have been sacrifices. I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to our armed forces on this occasion.
This should be an occasion on which to concentrate on the Secretary of State's policy failures: I would wish to explore the failure to provide a more coherent policy for the security of our homeland; the failure to appoint a single Minister responsible for homeland security—as we have appointed an Opposition spokesman to shadow that task; the failure to deal with the erosion in the numbers of the Territorial Army and the reserves; and the failure to create an effective and operational civil contingencies reaction force, which my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) has just pointed out.
505 The Secretary of State has also failed to recruit effectively for all three of our armed services. How can he tell us that all is well, when the armed forces are more challenged and more overstretched than ever before and when he has cut the target size of the armed forces by 3,500 from April 2001 to 1 July 2003 so that he can claim that we are less under-recruited than before? Not only has the right hon. Gentleman failed to meet his recruitment targets: he has cut the target size of the Army. He has signally failed to fulfil the promise in the strategic defence review to increase the size of the Army to 108,500. The spending crisis in the Department is an open secret in Whitehall and among defence contractors. Other problems include the state of the accommodation. I visited Blandford camp last Friday and saw accommodation not fit for a student, with mould on the walls—[Interruption.] I saw bedsits not fit for students, where we expect 40-year-old senior NCOs to live for two years while on a training scheme at the Royal College of Signals.
§ Mr. Jenkin
It is an absolute disgrace. There should be nothing distracting us from that and other issues, yet we are being distracted. What is the point of conducting such a debate with a Secretary of State who is now so widely expected not to be in office for very much longer? How can the Secretary of State be capable of conducting his Department with regard to defence in the UK if he is so obviously being hung out to dry by his own Prime Minister? How is he meant to command the confidence and respect of the armed servicemen and women in his care, whose whole command philosophy is about taking control of and accepting responsibility for those answerable to them, when he never accepts responsibility for anything?
How can the British people or the armed forces have trust in the conduct of the Secretary of State's Department after he told the Hutton inquiry that he was not aware of key events taking place in his own Department? He was apparently not even aware of the discussions taking place at meetings at which his special adviser said he was present. That compounds his record in the Ministry of Defence.
The Secretary of State never takes responsibility for the shortcomings in kit and equipment for the armed forces. Whenever things go wrong in his Department, like the sudden need to send reinforcements to Iraq, he hides behind his military advice, as though he is simply a messenger for the chiefs of staff, yet he was ready to overrule his permanent secretary when his political reputation was on the line.
§ Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)
Is not the hon. Gentleman being inconsistent in criticising the Secretary of State for referring to the report published today but now doing the same thing himself?
§ Mr. Jenkin
It was the Secretary of State who raised the issue of the report. I shall not debate the 45-minute issue or discuss the breadth of the report, but the Secretary of State has brought his personal reputation to the fore in this debate and I simply point out what is at stake.
§ Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)
Will my hon. Friend deal with this issue? The Prime Minister told the 506 House on 4 June that he would produce all the evidence for the ISC, yet paragraphs 96 and 97 of the report make it clear that the Secretary of State deliberately and wilfully suppressed vital evidence that the Committee wanted.
§ Mr. Jenkin
I shall come to the question of whether the ISC can really fulfil the function the Prime Minister promised it would.
Now the Secretary of State disclaims any responsibility for the ISC's finding that he and his Department were "unhelpful and potentially misleading" in the evidence given in the recent inquiry. The report continues:We are disturbed that after the first evidence session, which did not cover all the concerns raised by the DIS staff—the defence intelligence staff—the Defence Secretary decided against giving instructions for a letter to be written to us outlining the concerns.The Secretary of State says that he does accept responsibility, but he thinks that he can carry on regardless. However, that severe criticism is yet another nail in the coffin of his personal reputation. Would the Committee have recalled him to give evidence for a second time to set the record straight unless the Hutton inquiry process had exposed the initial failure to give a full and frank account of his evidence? Even if we were to give the Secretary of State the benefit of the doubt, it would be to conclude that he may not be malign but he was at least incompetent. In any case, he has lost the trust of those who need to trust him most.
The Secretary of State knows the real reason why he is being sustained in office on a life support machine. He knows that he will not survive beyond a few more weeks. He knows that he is to be the scapegoat, tethered to the stake until all the sins of this Government have been heaped upon him, before he is cast into the wilderness in a symbolic but insincere act of contrition. Is it really in the national interest for the Secretary of State to allow himself to be used in that way? Is it in the interests of the men and women of the armed services? Would it not help the right hon. Gentleman's reputation and integrity if he accepted ministerial responsibility for all the problems and mistakes for which he is ultimately responsible? Would it not be better for his own integrity, for the Government and for the general reputation of public life? Paradoxically, there is an example that he could follow: Alastair Campbell has resigned and so should the Secretary of State.
The Intelligence and Security Committee has had an extremely difficult task, but I fear that its report will only fuel the debate about the handling and presentation of intelligence material in the run-up to the war in Iraq. I could elaborate on the contradictions between the Committee's report and the earlier report by the Foreign Affairs Committee. Then there are the far more detailed and public testimonies given to the Hutton inquiry, which expose the weakness of the processes of both the Committees that have reported. That is not to cast any aspersion on the Committees' work or integrity, but no Committee of this House can carry out the kind of impartial and forensic cross-examination that we have seen in Lord Hutton's inquiry. No Committee of this House can reach impartial conclusions that are properly 507 insulated from the party political battle, in order to command the public confidence that is so necessary in this case.
§ Mr. Jenkin
I shall not give way.
The fundamental truth remains that the only way to establish the truth about these matters in a manner that will command public confidence, which is so necessary for the defence and security of our country, is for Lord Hutton to be given the wider remit for which we have always argued, or for a new independent judicial inquiry to be established for that purpose. In the meantime, the Secretary of State should insist that the Prime Minister accept his resignation, so that his Department can get back to the business that it should really be about—the defence of the UK.
The Secretary of State is discredited and, with all respect, he should go.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)
Order. I remind the House that Mr. Speaker has imposed a 12-minute limit on speeches from the Back Benches. I call Mr. Bruce George.
§ Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the Opposition defence spokesman to open the debate for his party without making any reference to the subject on the Order Paper?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
The content of the shadow Secretary of State's speech is his responsibility, not mine.
§ Mr. George
Madam Deputy Speaker, I hope that the clock began ticking off my 12 minutes 10 seconds ago, not when you actually called me.
I applaud the fact that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State came to the House and made, if not a statement, at least remarks about the Intelligence and Security Committee report. Had he not done so, the Opposition spokesman would have used plan B, turned over a page of his second-rate speech, which was like an impersonation of Sir John Gielgud—
§ Mr. George
The hon. Gentleman's speech was indeed third rate. Under plan B, he would have attacked my right hon. Friend for making no comments on the presentation by the ISC.
508 Secondly, the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) spoke about overstretch. I am sorry to go on about this again, but the Opposition Front-Bench defence team is so overstretched that half of them have to double-hat as members of the Defence Committee. I find that appalling, and I shall be writing to the Liaison Committee and to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on the matter. It is very important for Opposition Front-Bench Members to decide whether they are able to function as a politically motivated group in one environment while adopting a more consensual approach in another. That dichotomy is something of which I am very critical.
Having used two of my 12 minutes on those matters, I turn to the subject of the debate. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has commented on what his Department has done by way of homeland security. My Committee has mirrored that process, and in our reports we have criticised the Government for doing the wrong things. We have produced four reports: "The Threat from Terrorism" in December 2001, "Defence and Security in the UK" in July 2002, and "A New Chapter to the Strategic Defence Review" in May 2003; our most recent report concerned the draft civil contingencies Bill, and it appeared in July 2003.
I am very proud to be Chairman of the Defence Committee. Our work goes beyond the terms of reference set for us. From what my right hon. Friend said, I took him to mean that this country's departmental structures are not reflected in reality. The Defence Committee has broken away from its terms of reference—with no complaints from anyone so far—to look at the roles of the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office, the civil contingencies secretariat, and a whole range of Departments. We have looked at how decisions are made, both horizontally and vertically. We have looked at regional and local government and civil contingency planning, as well as the roles of the NHS, the ambulance service and the private sector.
What is happening is patently obvious to everyone. As my right hon. Friend said, the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces are only part of the process of deterrence. The nation must realise that we must be engaged in what is called total defence. The term may not be exact, and indeed it is almost a contradiction in terms in a free society, but it involves the private sector and ordinary citizens as much as the armed forces. The armed forces' role is a narrow one, and the structure of the Select Committee system and of Government in general should reflect the changing world in which we live.
Terrorism does not fit neatly into any departmental structure. We must overcome departmentalism in the Committee system of the House of Commons as well as in central Government. If we do not, I fear that we will not be responding as effectively as we should.
In our report "Defence and Security in the UK"—the product of six months' work—we made a number of recommendations that did not go down a bundle with the Ministry of Defence or the Home Office. We touched on the question of whether there should be a director of homeland security for this country. We were not attacking the Home Secretary, but we thought that it might be better to have a senior Cabinet member who could devote all his time to the matter. At present, the 509 Home Secretary has to cover a vast range of subjects. I believe that the Committee remains of the opinion expressed in the report.
My right hon. Friend commented on the report entitled "A New Chapter to the Strategic Defence Review" and the establishment of a civil contingency reaction force, which I very much welcome. That force may not necessarily be the first available in a crisis, as that responsibility might well go to our full-time armed forces, assuming that they are available for deployment. I have a few concerns about the new reaction force, one of them being that five days' training may not be sufficient, even though it may not be doing everything if a major crisis happens. I hope that that matter will be addressed properly, and that we can be reassured in that regard.
Some matters need to be explained more fully. It is disappointing that the Ministry of Defence has not thought more innovatively about home defence. Is that because of a potential turf war with the Home Office? I was a little irritated—
§ Mr. George
I am sorry, but I shall give the hon. Gentleman a full response when next he attends a meeting of the Defence Committee. I am not sure who I am talking to today—an Opposition spokesman, or a Committee member. I shall be more prepared when that has been sorted out.
§ Patrick Mercer
I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He doubted whether the Home Secretary could devote all his energies to leading emergency planning. Is not that the central point in the demand that the Government appoint a Minister with sole responsibility for security? That would overcome not only the Home Secretary's difficulties but the turf-war problems that the right hon. Gentleman has just identified.
§ Mr. George
I shall work for that. Perhaps the Opposition spokesman on these matters will reciprocate by concentrating on one task, not two. There may be a parallel there.
There have been improvements in the way in which we deal with homeland security. I very much welcome the appointment of Sir David Omand. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government, Regional Governance and Fire and his staff do a truly excellent job. My concern about the draft civil contingencies Bill was not that a Joint Committee was set up but that the Defence Committee—the only one that had taken a serious interest in the subject—was bypassed. Only two members of my Committee were appointed to the Joint Committee.
I am a little concerned about how long it took to produce the draft Bill, and I have serious reservations about some of what it contains. The Defence Committee 510 has also expressed similar reservations, which include the fact that the draft Bill does not include provisions covering central Government's responsibilities for civil protection—nor does it place a duty on local agencies, including the emergency services, to work together. We are also concerned by the proposal to create regionally nominated co-ordinators. If legislative measures were to be taken, those co-ordinators would, in essence, mirror the concept behind having lead Government Departments. That would risk confusion about who to contact in an emergency.
The role of the private security industry—a point that might seem out of place in this debate—was not given much treatment in the draft Bill. I have no financial interest whatever in that body of men, but when one is searching desperately for people to be involved with the emergency service in the event of a major crisis, members of that industry, who are about to be properly regulated, trained and led, are potentially available in their hundreds and thousands. I hope that the Government will find a way to incorporate those individuals in the process of protecting society should there be a crisis.
I appeal to the Government to define the role of companies, heads of security and risk and consequence managers. As the State Department's recent report "Patterns of Global Terrorism" notes, business provides the overwhelming majority of targets for terrorist organisations. Far more than US embassies or military targets, business is being targeted. It would therefore be prudent to develop better relationships with the private sector to try to achieve better co-ordination and greater involvement. Businesses will not be able to rely on the police, emergency services and military if they are directly or indirectly targeted. Far more attention should be given to my suggestion.
In conclusion—[Interruption.] I must switch off my mobile phone, Madam Deputy Speaker, and apologise for that ringing endorsement of the Secretary of State; it was not quite delivered in the manner that he would expect.
On the powers of parliamentary oversight, the Bill contains sweeping powers for the Ministry of Defence to declare a state of emergency and introduce emergency legislation. I believe that there should be a greater role for the House in dealing with such circumstances. There is a question whether the Government need the powers that they are giving themselves in some respects. The definition of emergency is widely drawn in the draft Bill, and goes considerably wider, my Committee believes, than the existing definition in emergency powers legislation. I hope to hear some reassurance on that point.
Today is an opportune time to discuss the draft Bill and the role of the military because it is the anniversary of 9/11. It is unbelievable that people in this country believe that the United States deliberately sought an attack in order to justify its actions. Perhaps they are the descendants of those who said that the Americans deliberately ignored warnings of the Japanese attack at Pearl harbour. Let them provide some evidence. Perhaps some of those people argue that there is no real threat of terrorism and that the Government are playing it up for their purposes of their own agenda. No wonder the public are cynical if politicians can display such massive ignorance of the reality that we face.
511 I hope that we can create a structure giving our armed forces, police and intelligence services the right powers with the support of the people. The people are not simply observers of the competence of our official figures and military personnel, but are directly involved. The public must realise that there is a massive threat to our society and the role that they will have to play. Unless there is better liaison between the private sectors of our society, who control and own most of our critical national infrastructure, we shall fail—
§ Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford)
This is an important debate, and it is always a pleasure to follow the Chairman of the Select Committee. Other members of that Committee, including my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock), will hope to speak.
The title of the debate—"Defence in the United Kingdom"—perhaps goes broader now than it has ever done. We no longer live in a country in which defending our nation means stationing the Royal Navy in the channel or keeping the Royal Air Force flying over Kent. Defence of the UK today means many different groups of people, from our armed forces to our diplomats, intelligence services and others, working all across the globe. We should all join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to those who do that job for us. In particular, the debate is relevant today, the anniversary of the events of 11 September. Our thoughts should go to the British victims and those from all other countries who died on that terrible day two years ago.
I join the Secretary of State in congratulating those members of the civil forces and armed forces who took part in last week's exercise in London. I pay tribute, too, to those members of our armed forces who undertake other roles in civil support, particularly those involved during the firefighters' strike. Like many other MPs, I have visited armed forces based in my constituency—from the RAF in my case—who provided essential cover during those weeks. They did a superb job with equipment that was not the most modern. Their role was vital.
Today, UK defence policy faces in several directions at once. The Ministry of Defence, not for the first time, is trying to play many roles at many levels, and it sometimes struggles to meet the responsibilities that it has set itself. On one hand, the Government would rightly like to play a role at the high end of combat operations with the United States. On the other, we have responsibilities to the European Union, NATO and the United Nations in peacekeeping and peace-building operations in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Congo, among others. Finally, we have the role of defending our nation against terrorism at home.
All those are appropriate tasks for the Ministry of Defence. In order, however, to do each of them well, we must strike the right balance. If the Ministry of Defence fails to strike that balance, the planning gap will fall on those so frequently asked to implement policy—the men 512 and women of our armed forces. When that observation is made in the other place by as experienced and informed a commentator as the former Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Bramall, the Government must take note. He said:When will the Government—which of course means the Treasury—match resources in manpower, material and money to commitments? Alternatively, when will the Government deal with our far-flung commitments more circumspectly?"—[Official Report, House of Lords, 8 September 2003; Vol. 652, c. 53.]Lord Bramall has identified the key problem with defence in the UK—imbalance and overstretch. Operations in Iraq have made that overstretch worse. In spite of that, I saw, when I accompanied the Minister for the armed forces and the shadow Defence Secretary to Iraq, the great work that our forces are doing there in difficult situations. As well as direct combat operations, British forces have worked hard at peacekeeping and civil reconstruction. They have been helping to deliver aid and even opening schools. I did not support the war Nor did my party. But we must make sure that a difficult situation improves, and British forces in Iraq and elsewhere across the globe are doing a wonderful job.
If we ask more and more from fewer and fewer members of our armed services, some of them will be reluctant to continue to serve. The Minister will have heard the rumours spreading throughout the summer about increasing outflows of men and women returning from Iraq—not just in the regular forces, but among the Territorial Army. Will he confirm whether that is so? If it is, how can the Government deal with it? If it is not, we must stop the rumour because it is spreading fast.
That rumour must be set against the forthcoming White Paper, which may again involve cuts in infantry numbers—cuts among the very people we need in Iraq and here to defend our homeland. Network-centric capabilities and maintaining interoperability with high-tech US equipment are important, but they cannot come at the expense of cuts in manpower, pensions or accommodation. The Ministry of Defence must strike a balance. I have said time and again that the best bits of kit in our armed forces are the men and women who serve.
I shall say a quick word about procurement, particularly carriers. Again, there have been rumours throughout the summer about the future carrier programme. I believe that the future carriers will be an essential part of the defence of the UK. They are an absolutely essential part of our expeditionary strategy. The Government were right to procure them, but recent reports on the progress of the project are deeply concerning. We have heard about possible cost increases and delays in the in-service date. and even that the carriers may be made smaller.
The Government cannot cut corners on a project of such importance to the United Kingdom. To do so would be to compromise the success of the whole endeavour. When they announced the last-minute coalition of BAE Systems and Thales to produce the carriers, I and others warned that this shotgun marriage might mean an increase in costs and could lead to the carriers not being delivered on time. That approach should be given a chance to work, but the early signs are not good. I hope that that decision has not jeopardised the future of the programme, and that the Navy will get the carriers that it richly deserves.
513 Many other hon. Members wish to speak, so I shall be brief. If defence expenditure is to remain at present levels, a careful balance must be struck between capabilities that address the needs of the United States at the high end of the spectrum—our ability to work with the US—and those needed to promote peace in troubled areas in the aftermath of major conflicts. That is the lesson of the second phase of operations in Iraq. It is likely that we will fight in combat operations alongside the US in the future. It is equally likely that we will conduct peacekeeping operations with our Commonwealth and NATO allies. The pursuit of one role should not undermine the other. Britain cannot afford to have a defence policy that tries to face all ways but ends up facing none.
§ Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)
As today is the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, may I too express my deep sympathy for all those who so tragically lost their lives and for those who have suffered as a consequence? This is very much a time for reflection—on the actions that we have taken since that fateful day in September 2001 and on what action is still required to prevent further atrocities.
Sadly, there have recently been terrorist attacks in Iraq, Indonesia, Morocco and elsewhere. They demonstrate in the most visceral way the devastation that terrorists continue to inflict. The recent black-outs here and in the United States, although they were not terrorist related, demonstrate how strikes against vital infrastructure can bring cities to their knees not only for hours but for days, and possibly months. Cancelled flights, factories at a standstill and grid-locked streets would cause chaos and large-scale economic losses.
Clearly, al-Qaeda and transnational terrorism continue to be active and I pay tribute to the timely and brave actions of our police and security forces and those of our allies, which have at least prevented some further outrages from occurring. As has been said, the need for vigilance backed by action has never been more apparent throughout all levels of society and involving every citizen. I too welcomed the introduction of a draft civil contingencies Bill earlier this year, in spite of the reservations expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George). We all hope to continue to work on that legislation.
Like the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch), I welcome the exercise that took place in the London underground last weekend and I hope that there will be more such exercises. There is an urgent need to increase the protection of businesses and key infrastructure from attack. We can never provide a 100 per cent. guarantee of safety or anticipate every eventuality, but defence and security cannot be hemmed in or separated from all other aspects of society.
Furthermore, 11 September also starkly illustrated that homeland security cannot be provided by the "Englishman is safe in his castle" approach—or indeed, the Scotsman, the Welshman or the Northern Irishman. We live in a global world and we need to act globally. The arguments that we should not take military action in Iraq and elsewhere unless there is about to be a blitz-style bombing raid on London or Glasgow do not hold up in the 21st century given the type of asymmetric warfare with which we now recognise we are dealing.
514 The contribution of the United Kingdom's armed forces to fighting wars and peacekeeping on a global basis is second to none. They can and have—in particular in the past 12 months—paid a heavy price, both in time away from their homes and families and, tragically, in injuries and death. I also express my deepest sympathy to all families who have lost a loved one in the past year.
Iraq teaches us some important lessons about the United Kingdom's defence needs. In July, I had the opportunity to visit Iraq with other members of the Defence Committee, where I was able to see at first hand our forces operating in that setting. I was very impressed by their professionalism and expertise—both the regulars and the reserves—and by how they had conducted the war-fighting phase and managed so well the difficult and demanding change to peacekeeping. One thing that stood out was their personal commitment to working with the Iraqi people to build a better future—their determination, in particular, to give Iraqi children a way out of poverty and fear.
After four days in Iraq, my regret was not that we had engaged in military action but that we had not done so 12 years ago to end Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. The desperate state of a people and a country potentially so rich in both oil and water was due to decades of under-investment and a dictator whose sole interest was his power base.
To all those in this country and elsewhere who seem to concentrate on political point scoring when dealing with the operations in which our forces have recently been engaged, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere in the world, or on philosophising and what they see as the moral high ground, I say that I believe that our priority in the crucial months ahead should be the same as that of our troops—to help put in place the foundation stones for a peaceful and prosperous future for Iraq. In his interview in the Financial Times last weekend, Kofi Annan said,The stability of Iraq should be everyone's concern. Regardless of one's position before the war, whether one supported it or not, we have a problem we should all focus on.I hope that all countries, non-governmental organisations and support services will do just that in the crucial months ahead.
When the media are reporting on UK defence matters here or elsewhere, I hope that they will spend more time praising our armed forces rather than constantly criticising them and will consider the message that that sends to our troops and their families back in the homeland.
I must also mention the importance to the defence of the UK of the contribution of all those involved in support services, whether in the Ministry of Defence, the private sector or civilians. The challenges of defence and security in the world today are complex and multifaceted and there are many lessons to be learned.
I welcome the initial report on Iraq. Obviously, the Defence Committee is looking into the lessons to be learned. Clearly, some of those lessons are already universal and comprehensive. I especially welcomed the review of logistic support for the armed services that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State published earlier this week. Asset tracking is extremely important for homeland security and operations elsewhere; it was 515 clear to the Committee that we need to know where the logistic support is—whether it is a pair of boots or extra forces to deal with a homeland incident.
Reference has been made to the pressures on our armed forces. I hope that we shall continue to make every effort to ensure that our European allies deliver an effective European defence capability, operating both within NATO and in peacekeeping areas. Some progress has been made: the EU has taken over peacekeeping in Macedonia and NATO is going into Afghanistan and Iraq. However, too much time seems to be spent on words rather than action. We must realise that to ensure homeland security we must work in partnership to provide stability elsewhere. We are all greatly concerned that we might lose some of our most experienced and professional personnel if we continue to do what we have done to many of them during the past 12 months. They have gone from an operation in Afghanistan to an exercise, to covering for firefighters, to being called out to Iraq. That adds to my determination that part of our defence strategy must be to tell our allies, especially in Europe, to deliver action rather than words. They must share those operational tasks with us.
I have already mentioned the importance of support services in the defence of the UK and, as someone who represents Rosyth dockyard, I am especially aware of the security problems that can arise, for example in respect of nuclear waste and decommissioned submarines. The House would be surprised if I let a defence debate take place without saying something about Rosyth, Crombie and HMS Caledonia. I pay tribute to the contribution that they have made to our recent operations. People will be aware that Rosyth did an outstanding job of refitting our aircraft carriers, Ark Royal, Illustrious and Invincible, which were engaged in those operations. Crombie provides ammunition and other important support for our ships.
I want to say something about the contribution of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary—
§ Mr. Michael Portillo (Kensington and Chelsea)
First, it is a great pleasure to follow such a lucid and interesting speech from the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire). Secondly, I must declare an interest, with both a defence contractor and the BBC, as that might be considered relevant.
As the debate is about defence in the UK, I should like to begin by considering the way in which the Ministry of Defence operates, which has come under unprecedented scrutiny in the Hutton inquiry. One point that may not have been considered is the basis on which people in the MOD work together. The Secretary of State and Ministers will know what an extraordinary privilege it is to work in the Ministry. In my experience, the degree of camaraderie is unusual. It is unique among Departments, partly because many key positions are filled by serving military officers who bring with them 516 their military ethos and because there is the constant prospect that everyone in the MOD will be involved in a war situation, so there must be complete mutual trust between all the people who work there. To an uncommon extent, therefore, it is important both that the Secretary of State should give loyalty to his officials and that he should have the right to receive loyalty from those officials.
As far as I am aware, the MOD has always operated on the basis of that mutual trust and I have no reason to believe that things are any different at present. That means that officials are given the opportunity to express their views on policy matters where they have expertise; there is a free exchange of opinion and dialogue. Provided that that situation still exists, everyone must also accept that the Secretary of State must eventually come to a decision. When he has made his decision, he expects that everyone in the Department will subscribe to it, given that they previously had the opportunity to make their point of view known.
Provided all that happened, if I were Secretary of State I should be extremely disappointed and even angry if I found that an official, who may have held a minority opinion, continued that debate outside the Department and took it to the press. No official has any business doing that. I should have been even more dismayed if that official had compounded that action by indulging in political gossip. On the one occasion when I was aware that that had happened to me, I demanded and received an apology from the official and the official's senior officer.
Furthermore, although I understand, not least because I work for the BBC from time to time, that journalists value the protection of their sources—indeed, that they regard it as a vital matter of principle—I do not accept that it is a vital matter of principle that Ministers should protect the identity of people who have taken outside a Department a debate that should have held within that Department. It might be gracious to protect that person's identity; it might be a kindness to do so; but I would not necessarily regard it as a requirement.
I mention such things not merely in the spirit of saying the unexpected but because I fear that some of these points might be missed when Hutton comes to an end. It is possible that the inquiry might end up by undermining rather than endorsing those mutual bonds of loyalty that are absolutely necessary for the operation of the MOD.
I shall move on to other topics that are mainly to do with terrorism. First, where is the front line in the defence of the UK? President Bush, obviously speaking not for the UK but of the west in general, has argued that the front line against terrorism is in Iraq and Afghanistan. I agree. The House has debated at great length whether Saddam Hussein presented a clear and present danger to the UK. I believe that he did. The Prime Minister has got himself into great difficulty because he tried to make the case in terms of weapons of mass destruction, and that was extremely hard to sustain.
Saddam Hussein was a clear and present danger to the UK after the development of a subtler case. Two years ago today, when we looked back from the perspective of the horror of 11 September 2001 over a decade of the 517 foreign policy of the United States and its allies, especially in respect of the growing threat of terrorism—there had been many incidents during that decade—we could see that our responses to those escalating terrorist incidents had been puny. Our responses to escalating terrorism had given the terrorists the impression that we were unwilling to defend our countries, our peoples and our values. In parallel, we looked back and saw that Saddam Hussein's defiance of the international order and our failure to respond to that defiance over a decade gave people who wished us ill the impression that we were puny—that we lacked willpower and were unwilling to defend our values.
What followed in Afghanistan and in Iraq was a demonstration of willpower and—I am not afraid to use the word—strength. It was to prove to those who wished us ill that we were willing to take effective action to defend ourselves against threats. Whether hon. Members agree or disagree with that, we now find ourselves in a position in which, paradoxically, because we are in occupation in Afghanistan and in Iraq, our forces, the United States forces and, for that matter, United Nations personnel offer themselves as an easier target to terrorists than targets on the home front. To some extent, that is welcome to the terrorist, who sees the possibility of engaging in a struggle of attrition with us in an attempt to make us weary both at the political level and at the level of public opinion. I want to emphasise that our response to that, if we are to be secure in the United Kingdom, must be one of absolute determination to see through the task.
In that respect, I have two criticisms. One is that I am dismayed to see the US Administration in a volte face, now calling urgently for other countries to get involved in Iraq. I do not disagree with other countries getting involved, but the US is in danger of sending a signal of lack of commitment when it makes that appeal, which represents a change in its policy. The other, as I have alluded to previously, is that it was disappointing that the Prime Minister, following the successful conclusion of the war in Iraq—as opposed to the campaign in Iraq, which goes on—mocked those of his critics, who were mainly on his side of the House, who had predicted that Iraq might turn into his Vietnam. That was a bad example of prime ministerial hubris, because we simply cannot predict the future. We do not know how long we will be in Iraq—the terrorists will certainly want to make Iraq into our Vietnam, but we must ensure that it has a different result from Vietnam, which is that we are not driven out by a long war of attrition against us.
My third point is that we have had reviews of defence under the previous Government and under this Government, and the extent to which we end up with armed forces that are clearly too small is dismaying. The situation has moved on since this Government conducted their review—not only have we heard today how much our armed forces are needed on the home front, but we have moved into a situation in which forces of occupation, partly supplied by the United Kingdom, are becoming more and more common and almost routine. One region after another is requiring our forces to be in occupation. That seems to call for a substantial rethink. A point that Members might not expect to hear from me is that, of course, Governments are always tempted by new toys and new kit that are extremely expensive, and it is much less sexy to talk 518 about the need for larger armed forces. We have an aspiration to be alongside the Americans on the digital battlefield, but I ask myself whether our strength does not lie in our ability to provide security over broad areas of territory.
My next point is about the united front against terrorism. Any terrorist success anywhere in the world in my view impinges on the security of the United Kingdom. Any terrorist success means that the terrorist is encouraged to be more outrageous and more audacious in the future. Again, I have a couple of criticisms. One is that, as a country, we did not show nearly enough sympathy, in this united front against terrorism, with India. India had its 11 September on 11 December 2001, when its Parliament was attacked. Our Prime Minister went to India shortly after that, and his message to the Indians following this appalling outrage seemed to be that they should engage in reconciliation with their neighbours, which was not the message that we issued after 11 September, when we immediately marshalled our forces to invade Afghanistan and deal with the terrorist threat.
My second criticism is that the Government were extremely misguided to continue to engage in public dialogue with Yasser Arafat during the premiership of Abu Mazen. It is perfectly clear that Israel and the United States will not deal with Arafat and that they suspect him of complicity in terrorism, and it was extremely bad of the Government to undermine the effectiveness of what was going on. We bear responsibility for the demise of Abu Mazen, and we may bear responsibility for the state in which the road map now finds itself. If that is any indication of the future shape of a common security policy in Europe, I would be very sorry.
Lastly, I entirely agree with what the right hon. Member for Walsall. South (Mr. George) said about the importance of having the engagement and the confidence of the public in dealing with terrorism in the United Kingdom. If we misuse the legislation that Parliament has put forward for dealing with terrorism, we will undermine that confidence. In my view, the use of section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to deal with demonstrators against the exhibition in east London was an abuse of that Act.
§ 3.5 pm
§ Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)
I want to begin by paying tribute to the work, the commitment, the loyalty and the professionalism of our armed forces, whether they are based in this country or overseas. Those forces put their lives on the line for us, and they serve wherever they are asked to serve for us, which is why it is vital for this Parliament, let alone the Government, to let it be known what our views on world policies are and why we are asking them to undertake certain tasks. That is crucial, which is why I welcome today's debate.
This debate raises the issue of how we defend ourselves—do we do so in our own shores, or over the fields of Kent, as was mentioned earlier, or do we need to defend ourselves in a different way? Do we need to examine where the potential threats are around the world and take action against them? All of us recognise that we cannot defend ourselves in the traditional way 519 that we thought about in 1939. We must now look much more to international links and to taking action against any potential threat wherever we see it in the world. We must explain that better to the British people because, after recent events, there is less clarity in their minds about how we defend ourselves, which will have serious implications in the longer term for the formulation of our defence policy, what is politically acceptable and what can be resourced. We must therefore make the case more firmly than we have done.
The British people understood why we went to war in 1939 and why we had to go to the Falklands in 1982, and they understood a more difficult argument about humanitarianism and preventing unnecessary migration and instability throughout Europe in relation to the Kosovo campaign. The British people understood why there was a need to do something about Afghanistan. I did not support the way in which we tackled that issue, and I thought that there should have been much more concentration on smaller specialised forces combating terrorism, terrorist cells and terrorist resources in a much more specific way. The British people understood, however, that that was what the Government were setting out to do, which was why Parliament supported them. The test of time will demonstrate who was right: whether it was the Government or those who, like me, were saying that it was not straightforward and asking how we would deal with the warlords, the Taliban and their influence on terrorism in the medium term. Those issues are unresolved, but at least the British people understood why we had to go to Afghanistan.
The pillars of justification for going to Iraq, however, are gradually being removed one by one. We were told that the argument was that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that could cause great threat to our friends and to ourselves. As someone who was opposed to the war, six weeks after it began I was prepared to say that we should not assess whether there were weapons of mass destruction for perhaps nine or 12 months because it would take that time to try to identify them in a country of the size of Iraq. I had to change my original thinking when Donald Rumsfeld, the American Secretary of Defence, said in his press conference last March or April—that is where Hutton and everything else stems from—that he did not expect to find weapons of mass destruction. One could believe that that was a code for saying that there were no weapons of mass destruction that America could identify.
It is interesting to read today's report by the Intelligence and Security Committee. Paragraph G on page 41 says:The JIC did not know precisely which munitions could be deployed from where to where and the context of the intelligence was not included in the JIC Assessment.If that is accurate, it means that the British Government said, "We are going to war because of weapons of mass destruction but we do not know what the weapons are, where they are or where they will be offensive." They said that they were not publicly prepared to give the context of the information—in other words, the security and intelligence information that led them to believe that that was the case.
520 The only way in which the Government can put paid to all that is to tell us the answer. I do not understand why there would be security problems now if they told us the evidence that led them to take action, although there would have been problems if they had told us nine months ago. The Government would be extremely wise to make that evidence known now because I rather suspect that the American congressional committees, spurred on by the contenders for the Democrat nomination, will force along the pace of inquiring why the Americans went to war. The American public are becoming more wary of the reasons why they went to war. It is now less acceptable to say in America, "We went because we wanted to get rid of the guy." That might have played well in Manitoba and Idaho some months ago, but it is playing less well every day in the United States. The congressional committees will tackle the motives of the Defence Secretary and his assistant, Mr. Wolfowitz, and examine the information that they had, and what happens there will have serious implications here. It is understandable for the Americans not to share intelligence with the British, but it is not credible for the British to say that they did not share intelligence with Americans on a joint operation. If the Americans say that they went to war to get rid of the guy rather than because of weapons of mass destruction, serious questions will be raised about our background.
The right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) made a thoughtful contribution in which he said that he was not convinced by the question of weapons of mass destruction—I am paraphrasing him—but that he was worried about the general threat from Saddam. I do not agree with that and neither do many military commanders, including Field Marshall Bramwell. Of course, I did not have full information, but they did not believe that Saddam was a threat in the way we made out. They knew that he knew that the Americans had such overwhelming force in south-east Turkey, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia that if he did anything stupid and aggressive, internally or externally, Baghdad, Saddam and his security people would be wiped out almost immediately, even if there was a civilian cost. That is why I do not believe that he was such a threat at the time.
Of course, the military commanders also raised the important question of what would happen afterwards with regard to combating terrorism internationally. Were we dampening or fuelling terrorism by being in Iraq? Many who were in favour of the war against Iraq said that it was the way to counter terrorism. However, many commanders in the British armed forces believed the opposite to be the case. They believed that the war would fuel terrorism and that we must be careful about the motives that we gave to every unemployed and poor young Muslim throughout the world.
§ Mr. Portillo
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this goes to the heart of the problem'? Following 11 September, a demonstration of strength and achieving regime change were sufficient reasons for the United States to go into Iraq. However, it was necessary for the British Government to speak in a different language and prove a different threat that would commend itself to the United Nations. That is why our Prime Minister has got 521 into difficulty about the grounds on which he based the war, although that difficulty does not apply to the President of the United States.
§ Mr. Henderson
The House will judge the British Prime Minister's position, but I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about what was acceptable in the United States and Britain. That was politically different at the time when we became involved in decision making. It is important to get that right now.
There are other points that I would like to make although I am running out of time. If we cannot convey to the British people why we went into Iraq, will they support us next time, when that really matters? I am, and have always been, a strong supporter of NATO. What happens to NATO after all this and how does it pick up the pieces?
To achieve something positive we must get the United Nations into Iraq—I know that there was a debate on that yesterday. There must be a command structure that is acceptable to the French, Germans, Chinese and Russians so that a truly international force can be present to bring back stability and help to reconstruct the nation.
§ Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup)
Hon. Members who have been in the Chamber throughout the debate will share my conclusion that it has been broad ranging and stimulating. The Secretary of State's opening statement—we thought that it was a speech to open the debate but it was half a parliamentary statement—took some of us a little by surprise, but it was dignified. I am one of those who believe that the Secretary of State is an able man but most people who have watched the past few days' performances get the impression that he is sadly a dead man walking. His political fate will ultimately be curtailed as he is made the Prime Minister's fall guy, although he deserves better. I say that after witnessing half a dozen Tory Ministers being driven from office over a protracted time during my years in government—it is not a pretty sight. The fact that not one member of the Cabinet sat alongside the Secretary of State for Defence on Monday or today demonstrates what is going on.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), the shadow Secretary of State, covered the scene broadly and with his usual competent manner. He set the scene for the wider concerns about the way in which the armed forces are currently supported that are felt by hon. Members and, clearly, by the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), who made a distinguished contribution. I am disappointed by one thing this afternoon. Although I usually favour time-limited speeches—especially my own I would have appreciated more time for the former Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo). He made an extremely thoughtful contribution of which the House would have preferred to hear more.
I shall concentrate especially on the problem of overstretch to which several hon. Members referred. The Royal Navy is 1,040 people under strength, the RAF is 860 people under strength and the Army is 4,230 522 people under strength. Some of us think it incredible that full manning for the Army is not forecast to happen until 2008, although few people believe that the target will be hit.
There is no doubt that training and leave are having a considerable effect on morale. The Secretary of State announced on Monday—sadly, by way of a written statement—that a further 1,200 troops would be committed to the Iraqi force. That has an impact on arrangements for training and leave for the rest of the armed forces, both of which affect the morale with which they have to cope. Although there have been many industrial relations changes for the civilian population, our armed forces are increasingly put upon, under both Conservative and Labour Governments, and that may affect recruitment.
Of equal concern is the fact that the percentage of untrained personnel is growing relentlessly. The Minister must be greatly worried that more than 11 per cent. of the armed forces are not trained for role. That is not because the armed forces do not have the ability to train those people or because those waiting for training are too incompetent to get it; it is simply one of the consequences of overstretch. Several of my colleagues referred to the level of manning. Those who took part in Defence questions on Monday heard hon. Members, including Labour Members, express concern about the rumours over the summer on the future of some our more historical regiments.
When it comes to conflict, senior politicians without experience of the armed forces and the media inevitably consider whether the Special Air Service will be deployed or where the Royal Marines and the Parachute Regiment are going. They concentrate on the high-profile activists. The truth is that the line regiments are the workhorses of the British Army. Some of them are experiencing great difficulty in recruiting, partly because of the uncertainty about their future. Those of us who support the regimental structure in the Army understand the importance that county links bring to recruitment and retention. It is not an ancient system that is carrying on in a mad, obscure, conservative way; rather, the arrangement is important for recruitment and the cohesion of a regiment. Anyone who has witnessed that will bear testimony to it.
The reservists have been reduced from 293,000 in 2000 to 254,000 this year. Yet that reduction of 40,000 comes at a time when more and more reservists and Territorial Army personnel are being committed to active theatres. I understand that more than 3,000 reservists are involved in Iraq. Reservists, in particular the Territorial Army, are becoming fewer in number, yet the demands being made on them are growing all the time. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea explained, we need to address the problem of numbers. Although Committees and debates in House will inevitably focus on the bigger strategic issues—the sexy side of armaments perhaps—when it comes to controlling an area, we need men and women on the ground. The fact that 1,000 more reservists are being called up by Christmas shows that those who serve the Secretary of State for Defence and those Ministers who make the policy are not addressing manpower issues properly.
523 Territorial Army regiments are being amalgamated into quasi-European regional regiments, like the Tyne Tees regiment of the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), which combines my regiment, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, and the West Midlands Regiment, which combines several former regiments and battalions. Although they keep the historical badge at company level, the arrangement does not work on a regional basis. They expect and need the ancient county identity to keep the ethos that has been so important to our regiments. The time will soon come when the Government, with the support of my party, accept that they have to expand the numbers.
I want to pay tribute to the adult trainers who help our combined cadet force, in particular the Army Cadets, the Navy Cadets, the Air Training Corps and those who run school corps. Some people think that young people should not wear military uniforms or be involved in military training. Even some hon. Members campaign for such schemes to be wound up and abandoned. That is entirely misconceived. Anyone who has the slightest connection with those units knows what a good experience exposure to a form of military training can be for young people. It teaches them a degree of self-discipline and the inter-reliance that comes from military training. I suspect that our young people today are no better or worse than their grandparents who were required to fight in such serious wars. The quality is still there, but the opportunity for training is diminishing by the week. However, the House should pay tribute to those who give up their time as adult trainers to ensure that those who want to experience the armed forces can do so.
We are lucky that even at a time when so many people are losing their lives on our behalf, people are still prepared to enlist in our regular forces. They are undoubtedly very special people. The training that the regimental system in particular provides makes them other than just special; it makes them superb. That does not happen by accident. It behoves the House and the major parties to support the expansion of the number of people in the armed forces and the resources that we need to commit to them so that they can do their job.
§ Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)
As the Defence Secretary said, defence in the UK is interlinked with our international situation. As other hon. Members have said, it is appropriate that the debate is being held on the anniversary of 11 September. I identify myself with the sympathies extended to all those who are grieving at this time. It is appropriate for us to consider the perspective since 11 September.
Britain rightly said after 11 September that we were standing shoulder to shoulder with the United States. We believed that the attack was not just on the United States, but on civilisation itself. Although I believe that taking part in the war on terror was correct, we should also recognise the price that could be paid by increasing the risk of terrorism against the UK. Whether we believe that the war on Iraq was right or wrong, we should recognise that it has also probably increased the risk of terrorism against British citizens.
524 Immediately after the start of the war, influential people in the Bush Administration started arguing for further pre-emptive wars. Again, we should be under no illusions that if the United States engages in more military adventures, that will increase fear and hatred of it. From a time when the world was so closely behind the United States after 11 September, it is disturbing to see the extent to which the Pew survey and other surveys of international opinion have shown a sharp increase in hostility to the United States. There should be no doubt on our part that if the UK were to support further military adventures, that would massively increase the risks of terrorism against our people, whether from Islamic or other groups, whether from abroad or possibly even indigenous sources. The blood price of that military special relationship would be paid not just by our armed forces, but by our civilians at home or abroad. One thinks of the example of Bali, which was clearly an attack on Australian citizens.
I believed that over and above the work of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the report from the Intelligence and Security Committee and the work of Lord Hutton, it was in the national interest to have a wider independent inquiry. One reason is that it is important that we should analyse the basis on which we went to war to ascertain whether or not that should set precedents for the future. Should a pre-emptive war on the basis of intelligence, which in terms of the ISC report can be uncertain, or as Paul Wolfowitz said can be murky, set a precedent for the future, or should we decide that we should be far more cautious in future?
Since the war there has tended to be a change of emphasis. In Britain there has been an emphasis on human rights aspects. I give the highest credit to my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) for the work that she has done over the years in emphasising the appalling atrocities of the Saddam regime over the decades.
War is a terribly dangerous precedent and we did not get the agreement of the international community, which was the way in which we should have been dealing with the matter. I fear that human rights was not the priority of the United States, and that there was far too much arbitrariness. We must work primarily to build up the International Criminal Court and in strengthening diplomatic and other pressures, with war being regarded only as a last resort, if we are to preserve a stable world under the rule of law.
I find the US neo-conservative concept of America as a self-appointed sheriff with a posse of the willing frighteningly near the idea of vigilantism and lynch law. To me that leads not only to arbitrariness but, as Nelson Mandela said, to the potential for international anarchy.
It is appropriate on 11 September for us to ask whether we are winning or losing the war on terror. I am glad that we have the report of the Oxford research group by Professor Paul Rogers, which was launched at the all-party parliamentary group on global security in this place last Tuesday. I shall briefly summarise some of his conclusions. First, while we have had significant successes militarily and in stopping the economic power of some of the terrorist organisations, and in thwarting some attempted attacks by means of intelligence, there have been significant failures such as Bali, Casablanca, Riyadh, Karachi and elsewhere, mostly in Asia and 525 Africa. Professor Rogers estimates that al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda-linked groups have probably killed about 350 people and injured perhaps 1,000. He points out that during the two years since 11 September they have achieved more than they were achieving in, say, the two years before it.
Professor Rogers says that in Afghanistan, where we achieved military victory, we must recognise that it is only an area around Kabul that is under control. The area outside that is dangerously out of control. While the positive support that was being given by the Taliban to al-Qaeda is no longer there, it still creates a sort of anarchy where there are grave risks that terrorist groups can still thrive.
Professor Rogers says that there is a grave danger that the troops in Iraq may be a magnet for terrorism and that contrary to what President Bush said—that this is the centre of the war against terrorism—it may be a focus for terror and terrorists.
I shall add two personal observations. It is undeniable that Iraq has fractured the unity of the international coalition against terrorism. Perhaps more controversially, I believe that it has been a distraction from the campaign against terrorism. On the basis that stability at home is based on stability abroad, I shall summarise Professor Rogers's recommendations. He suggested that the UK and the international community should put far more effort into aiding and providing stability in Afghanistan. Secondly, he suggested that we should persuade our US allies to give far more control of the situation in Iraq to the UN. Thirdly, on the basis that we need to be tough on terrorism and tough on the causes of terrorism, we need to do much more about the global economic divide. We need to try to improve our efforts to introduce development to the poorest countries. In a sense, the Department for International Development has a role along with the Ministry of Defence in increasing the security of the United Kingdom. I pay tribute to the work that I believe the Government have done in taking a lead in some of these areas. All three of Professor Rogers's recommendations deserve serious consideration.
It has been suggested—I think correctly—that a particular threat on which we should concentrate is the risk of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction coming together. There is a real danger, obviously, of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups that might be described as being of an unconditional, apocalyptic or absolutist nature seeing some value in killing vast numbers of people. In that context, I am concerned having read paragraphs 125 to 128 of the ISC report. That passage indicates that the JIC made the same judgment as the CIA—namely, that there was not a large probability of Iraq transferring WMD to terrorist organisations, but that such a risk would exist in the event of invasion. Personally, I always suspected that the US, the United Kingdom and Australia had overestimated Iraq's WMD capacity. I now think it possible, given present evidence, that its WMD capacity was either wholly or substantially destroyed, perhaps long before the war started. If the coalition Governments seriously believe that there are large 526 stocks of WMD in Iraq, they are being grossly negligent in not seeking to ensure that such material could not fall into terrorist hands or on to the black market.
We should never forget that weapons of mass destruction give rise to more threats than terrorism alone. India and Pakistan have reminded us of the appalling threat of regional nuclear war, and we should never forget that if there were ever to be wider-scale international conflict or world war involving weapons of mass destruction, we would face a human catastrophe of unthinkable proportions. That is why it is crucial that we hold to the concept that war must be a last resort; and why the United Nations, for all its weaknesses, is our only hope of survival and must be strengthened and supported. It is why it is vital that the emphasis should be on non-proliferation and on international treaties and arms control agreements, not on the concept that is usually described as counter-proliferation—that is, pre-emptive war, military interdiction and so on. I am not suggesting that the two concepts are mutually exclusive, but non-proliferation must remain the absolute priority.
I am concerned that in UK Government circles counter-proliferation is being mentioned more often. I hope that that does not indicate a gradual change in policy comparable to the shift that I fear is taking place towards missile defence, which is part of the agenda of thinking that one can resolve problems primarily by military power and military technology. It is vital that we continue to believe in the importance of multilateral diplomacy as the basis of our human security. The influential neo-cons in the Bush Administration have been demanding further pre-emptive wars, although they have become slightly less vocal as problems in Iraq have increased. Given their relentless determination in pursuing their obsessions—
§ Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)
In his opening speech, the Secretary of State made it clear that departmental responsibility for defence in the United Kingdom rests with the Home Office. I therefore very much regret that no Home Office Minister has visited the Chamber during the debate, especially as contributions have been thoughtful and in some cases authoritative. It would have been right for the Home Office to be represented.
Against what or whom are we defending ourselves? It is no longer the Soviet Union or the Warsaw pact. I have seen the Warsaw pact tanks in Russia and elsewhere—they are going nowhere. Russia and the other former members of the Soviet Union are under-resourced and pose no threat to us. The only threat lies in their stocks of nuclear weapons. I am delighted that the United States, in particular, has been taking action with the Russians to eliminate those stocks. I also observe that the United Kingdom has been active in supporting the Russian armed forces in demobilising their over-large units. There is a great deal of co-operation between Russia and the NATO countries, especially between Russia and the United States and the United Kingdom—that is extremely impressive.
527 In shaping up to defence in the United Kingdom, our major alliance is NATO. The political, parliamentary underpinning of NATO is provided by the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, some of whose members are colleagues who sit in the House of Commons.
The Assembly has five committees. The Political Committee, which is the senior committee, has been dealing with the expansion of NATO, relations with Russia and Ukraine and transatlantic relations. I am proud to chair that committee. The second committee is the Defence and Security Committee, which deals with military strategy and procurement. The third is the Economic Committee, which covers economic co-operation and issues such as money laundering—especially relevant now because of terrorism. The fourth is the Science and Technology Committee, which deals, for example, with weapons of mass destruction, and specialist issues such as small arms and the threat that they pose around the world. The fifth is the Civilian Affairs Committee, which has recently been dealing with the exclave of Kaliningrad from Russia and reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq. There are ad hoc groups dealing with Russian relations, Ukrainian relations and Mediterranean relations.
My only regret about the NATO Parliamentary Assembly is that its work is not well known. Its debates and reports are seriously authoritative. Four former Prime Ministers, numerous Foreign Ministers, Defence Ministers and ambassadors sit on the Political Committee. I am sorry that that work is not better known and I hope to do more to promote awareness of the Assembly and the reading of its reports and debates.
We must consider the future of NATO. It was created to make sure that the United States, which came late into the first and second world wars, would be totally committed to Europe. The United States currently spends approximately twice as much as the rest of NATO put together on defence, but its military capacity is around 10 times more effective than that of the rest of the NATO forces put together. That massive power is in the hands of an insular country, where only 7 per cent. of the population have passports. Indeed, many Senators and Congressmen boast of having no passport because they do not feel the need or the wish to travel overseas and see any part of the world other than United States. That insularity means that it is crucial to stay close to the United States.
I worry about European Union defence planning. Yesterday, I was at a meeting of the European Parliament with Javier Solana, the high representative of the European Union. He stressed that the EU has and must have autonomous powers. Yes, provided that European powers are focused within NATO. However, the fact that four NATO nations wish to set up a planning cell or unit outside supreme headquarters allied powers Europe is symbolic of the divorce between NATO and the European Union. It shows the drift away from NATO of some EU members. Despite their friendly language, we must remember that some continental NATO members believe that perhaps it has run its course, that the European Union needs to flex its muscles now and that we can say goodbye to NATO. For the reasons that I outlined, that would be an enormous mistake.
528 We are considering defence against what? The answer is "the unexpected." How does one prepare against the unexpected? It is rather like the conundrum, "How do hedgehogs make love?" The answer should be the same—"very carefully." How careful are our preparations for the unexpected? I examined American preparations and discovered that America has a homeland security advisory system, by which it sets great store. It determines the security risk, from low, categorised as green, through guarded, categorised as blue, elevated, categorised as yellow, high, designated orange, to severe, which is red. Those security states are widely advertised throughout the United States and all citizens are encouraged to learn what the states mean and what they should do. The lowest states involves:Ensuring personnel receive proper training on the Homeland Security Advisory System and specific preplanned department or agency Protective Measures".In this country, we have advisory notices, which are published in Ministry of Defence and Government establishments. I know from my time in the services and as a Minister that there are different systems in the civilian part of government and the military part.
I thought that it would be a good idea for us to have a homeland security warning system comparable to that of the United States, so I telephoned the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office to ask whether they could please let me have the official guidance on security alert systems. I can scarcely believe their response. I was told that the information was classified and that I could not be given it. Indeed, I was told in a rather sheepish way, "We do not want to alarm people unnecessarily." That was the reason given for not publicising the systems. So we have not even started. I urge Ministers to look again at the public advisory systems relating to security.
I suspect that the unexpected will happen, and we should plan accordingly. The section of the strategic defence review called "A New Chapter" looks at asymmetrical threats, and a well-considered section entitled "Network-centric capability" urges that we should have precision in intelligence command and control, and strike capability. I agree that our forces should be trained and equipped to a high level of technology and efficiency, because the unexpected will occur.
High technology brings its own problems. The Secretary of State pointed out quite correctly that, if an aircraft hits a power station, it does not matter whether it is a result of terrorist action or not; the response must be the same, and it must involve a considerable amount of structured, organised planning. Nowadays, however, the higher level of technology has brought its own problems. Air traffic control is so sophisticated that if one aircraft is delayed, it will delay others and cause congestion. If we lose our electricity supply, we lose traffic lights, water pumps, air conditioning, refrigeration, lifts, computers and trains. Aircraft and cars have become more reliable, but that means that road planning has now become so clever that it takes only a minor irritation on a road to cause massive congestion. Instead of having 1,000 snarl-ups from 1,000 broken-down cars, we are now more likely to have one great big snarl-up involving 1,000 efficient cars.
529 I welcome the introduction of reaction forces in the "New Chapter", and the 6,000 to 7,000 structured, trained and disciplined reserves, but I would urge that we go further in encouraging our reserves. The Labour Government cut the Territorial Army from 59,000 to 41,200. With the number of regulars pushing 100,000, that gives a ratio of about four reserves to 10 regulars. In the United States, the numbers of regulars and reservists are roughly equal. In Australia, there are two and a half regular brigades and five and a half reserve brigades. In France, there are roughly the same number of reservists as regulars, and Germany, Russia and China all have the capacity to expand their forces with reserves.
In preparing for the unexpected, we therefore need access to trained personnel who need not necessarily be regulars. I would urge that we should have the scope to have among our reserves specialists in linguistics, computers and signals, as well as engineers and, in particular, specialists in chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defence. Those are all areas in which it would be helpful to have larger forces, and they could well be provided by reserve forces. The reaction forces will be a good start, but there is much more that the reserves should be tasked to do, and I hope that future Government policy will take account of that.
§ Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)
It is a privilege to be able to make a small contribution to today's debate, which has been extremely interesting. It was my intention to raise three issues that had not already been covered, but that was before the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) spoke. At least two of the issues that I shall raise will be new ones, however.
I would like to make one or two general points first. There was a lot of talk earlier in the debate about the competence and leadership of the Ministry of Defence. Unlike any other public service provided by this or any other Government—be it health, education or whatever—the military service provided to this country is unique. There can be no doubt or dispute about the delivery of this service: it will be either a success or a failure.
Under their present leadership, and with their current Secretary of State and his predecessor, the Government have established an outstanding record when it comes to the performance of the British military—especially given the insecure environment throughout the world, in Sierra Leone, East Timor, Afghanistan, the Balkans and, currently, Iraq. I pay tribute to the tremendous, magnificent operation carried out by British troops in the war in Iraq, in extremely adverse circumstances. I believe that there was a clear case for military action. Today is the second anniversary of 11 September 2001. Since that fateful day, the security environment in the world has changed, and as a result the security threat to this country—UK plc—has changed as well.
During the cold war, our enemy was obvious. The security threats to this country were obvious, and pretty predictable. They were not very far away, they were all lined up, and we knew where they were coming from. That was followed by a period of dreadful uncertainty and unpredictability—a decade during which we were not sure what we were going to do. Conservative 530 Governments' policies reflected that: their disastrous defence cuts had left massive capability gaps by 1997. It has been difficult for us. The strategic defence review has not delivered all that is necessary, but we have recognised the changed security environment and produced military forces that are mobile, agile, flexible and able to respond to unexpected threats in hotspots throughout the world.
Since 11 September, that challenge has been magnified 100 times. A threshold was crossed then: we are now experiencing a different type of threat. There are people on this planet who are prepared to kill hundreds and thousands of innocent people without warning, on the basis of no direct complaint, conflict or state of war. We have never experienced that before.
We all mourn the deaths of the 3,000 people who died on 11 September, but we should bear in mind that 50,000 people were targeted. It was a miracle that only 3,000 died. The scale of what happened is not always appreciated. That is why the Americans have reacted differently from us to a threat to homeland security. That is why they have set up a homeland security bureau; they have done it as much to reassure their public, who have gone through a horrendous experience, as to protect their country from threats. Our approach has been to strengthen our homeland defence through the ministry of the interior—the Home Office—and the Ministry of Defence, and I think it has proved better and more effective. We have not needed to reassure our public in the same way. The initiatives we have adopted as and when necessary have proved extremely effective, especially at Heathrow airport, although there is a lot more to be done.
We must not confuse crisis management, or consequence management—something that we have to address—with homeland security. The biggest threat to us now lies outside, and it is our nation's ability to respond outside that will keep our people secure. That is why we should congratulate the men and women who went out to Iraq and performed so superbly to meet a real threat that was posed by that country because of the changed environment.
We took military action against Iraq because it was in breach of resolution 1441. That may not have mattered so much before 11 September, but it made all the difference in the world afterwards—whether or not Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, which I happen to think it has. We went into Iraq without a second front, and we managed to defeat it in 21 days. British troops played a fantastic role in that operation: 45,000 troops of the British battle group were deployed in half the time it took to deploy troops in the first Gulf war.
Tremendous advances were made. Saddam Hussein watched the British and NATO forces in Kosovo and thought, "I know—it'll be a long air bombardment, followed by a land attack." He waited for that and buried his heavy armour, including his fast jets; we are still looking for it. People complain that we have yet to find some of these WMD canisters, but we have been in what is a very hostile environment for only a few months. I am afraid that that view reflects a naïve understanding of the technology of military concealment.
Our troops did a tremendous job. My overriding memory is of welcoming Welsh troops back from Iraq with a celebration held for them at Dow Corning social 531 club in my constituency. Some of these brave young men had just come back from the front line. One or two went up to buy a drink, and the girls behind the bar turned to me and said, "Mr. Smith, are they old enough to drink?" I said, "These men have just come back from fighting for our homeland security!"
I want to raise a couple of issues that are particularly relevant to today's debate, and which were partially covered by the hon. Member for Gosport: the role of NATO, and the need to defend the British homeland through coalitions and military alliances. We are talking about one of the most successful military alliances in history, certainly in post-war history. I agree with the Government's current policy of supporting the European security and defence policy, which should enhance our European allies' military capabilities and ability to project power. I also support the European rapid reaction force, but the committee concerned with the military capability of NATO members tells us how right we, and one or two others, have got it. It would be a big mistake to dilute this advantage, and our reputation in the world and among our coalition partners, by ceding control over our national defence in any way. I know that it is not Government policy to do so, but for military reasons and for the defence of this country, let us make sure that we do not. Let us ensure that the deployment of British troops will always be a British decision, not a European one.
On recruitment, retention and overstretch, the recruitment of ethnic minorities has been a Government success story since 1997. This Government have achieved a fivefold increase in the number of ethnic minority recruits to the British forces. The current figure is approximately 5 per cent., which is a tremendous achievement in a very short time. However, it is not enough: the figure should be at least double that. We should look to our American allies, who have adopted a much more progressive policy on the recruitment of ethnic minorities, which has assisted them in their entire recruitment and retention policy. They recruit three times the proportion of ethnic minorities reflected in their communities, yet we recruit not even half the proportion reflected in ours. We should address that issue.
General Colin Powell was born in virtual poverty in the Bronx. He rose through the ranks to become the United States military's Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. That could not happen in this country. It is a tragedy that no black recruit from the east end of London, Tiger Bay or Toxteth who joins our forces now could ever expect to become the Chief of the Defence Staff in Britain in 25 years. Discrimination still exists in recruiting from ethnic minorities and we have to deal with that problem.
Finally, I want to speak about end-to-end logistics. We have to consider the recommendations presented by McKinsey and Co. We have to streamline our logistics. We have to reduce the lines of logistical support from four to two. I agree with saving as much money as possible by not duplicating, but not with a U-turn on Government policy. Deep repair and maintenance and depth air support should not be pushed away from the centres of excellence out to military operational bases. Otherwise, we will go right back to the bad old days 532 when we did not know how much things cost, and the military ran rings round us when they wanted extra resources. At that time we did not get the efficiency and, most importantly, we did not free our military personnel to do what they do best.
§ 4.1 pm
§ Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South)
In common with other hon. Members, I would like to associate myself with sending thoughts out to the families of the victims of 11 September. We should also be mindful of others who have either died or been seriously injured in the various attacks since that date. I also associate myself with the thoughtful contribution of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge). He spoke for many people both in the House and in the country when expressing his reservations about why we went to war and what has happened subsequently.
At the start of the debate, the Secretary of State made it clear that he was going to present a mini-statement. He invited interventions and said that he would take them, but when they came, he chose to cut them short when it suited him. I was disappointed that I did not get in because I wanted to ask him two questions. I am also disappointed that he is not in his place to answer them now. Perhaps he will give at least some thought to them.
Page 44 of the Intelligence and Security Committee report, published today, contains a telling paragraph. It refers tothe initial failure by the MoD to disclose that some staff had put their concerns in writing to line managers",which the Committee describes as "unhelpful and potentially misleading". Having exposed that problem, the report continues by saying thatthe Defence Secretary decided against giving instructions for a letter to be written to us outlining those concerns.Despite the fact that the Defence Secretary knew about the "potentially misleading" failure to disclose, he still chose not to write to the Intelligence and Security Committee. It is important to ask why he took that line.
I also wanted to ask the Secretary of State whether he shared the thoughts of his permanent secretary who, giving evidence to the judicial inquiry into the death of Dr. Kelly, said that the Ministry of Defence "leaked like a sieve". Does the Defence Secretary agree and feel that the Ministry—and thereby Parliament and the country— has been let down by the security services in respect of how the dossier was put together and how the evidence was collated? If the permanent secretary suggests that he leads a Department that "leaks like a sieve" and if the Secretary of State is not prepared, when something is drawn to his attention, to write to the governing body of the security services in this country, one wonders who is letting the nation down the most—the security services or the actions of the Secretary of State in running the Department.
I was fascinated by the comments of many hon. Members about Iraq and how the situation has developed. Should we really be surprised by our current position? It was such a short battle to win the victory against the regime in Iraq, but it is sad that winning the peace will be such a long one. The Americans told their 533 congressional committees that it took more than 500 people working for six months to produce the peace plan for Iraq, but they failed to grasp some of the key issues that were fundamental to making the peace work.
During the original debate on the decision to go to war, the former leader of the Conservative party said that he had recently returned from a visit to some of Iraq's neighbouring states and that he was convinced that they would rush to help support the peace in Iraq once the fighting was over. He said that they were convinced that getting rid of Saddam's regime would lead to greater stability and peace in the region. Yet those same countries are now allowing terrorists to haemorrhage across the borders into Iraq to attack our soldiers and the coalition forces generally and to disrupt the rebuilding of Iraq.
I want to devote some time to the issue of homeland defence. As a member of the Defence Committee, I am convinced that we got it right in our proposal that homeland defence needed to be co-ordinated by a Cabinet Minister with direct responsibility for the matter above all other Departments and Ministers. The paramount failure, in our estimation, was in communications and leadership in terms of the co-ordination of contingency planning in this country. It does not matter whether it was at a Government or local government level, or within the health service, the civil service or the police, fire and ambulance services; there was a lack of overall leadership and co-ordination. That process can be managed only if there is one Minister sitting in Cabinet who has enough clout and resources to have a positive influence.
I was saddened by the Government's response and the neglectful way in which they disregarded the Defence Committee's useful and constructive work on civil contingency planning. It was obvious to any member of that Committee during our many evidence sessions that also lacking was the capacity for the Government to resource not just the capital's civil contingency developments, but those developments across the country. In the Government's response to our report on "A New Chapter", they said that they did not recognise the lack of resources, which, from our evidence sessions, was obvious. Nearly every person who gave evidence—either from the police, local government or wherever—made the point that they had no resources to do the job properly. They could not even fund a communication system that allowed them to speak to each other. The mobile phone was still the preferred means of communication for many of those services. That is simply not good enough. The Government should not be allowed to walk away from the commitment to provide properly funded civil contingency systems.
Hon. Members who take the time to read the Government's response will be struck by the mind-boggling complacency. Despite efforts from Members in all parts in this House to try to bring home to the Government the need to resource civil defence and contingency planning, no effort has been made to recognise that.
The Secretary of State failed once again to take an intervention about the CCRFs, the contingency reservists. The Committee said that if this were to be a meaningful body, three ingredients were critical; first, that people were properly trained and had properly honed skills; secondly, that they should be available in a 534 fairly short time; and thirdly, that they should be properly resourced to enable them to respond to a situation. Once again, the Government's response was complacent. They said that the intention was always to provide a "general duties" response, so the requirement for specialist skills would be minimised. All the evidence demanded the opposite, yet that was the Government's response. They did not really want such skills to be available in that critical area, yet again displaying mind-boggling complacency.
In an earlier intervention, the issue of the protection of our sea-ports was raised with the Secretary of State. I represent the home of the Royal Navy—Portsmouth—which is close to one of our major ports, Southampton, so security at sea-ports has been a critical issue for me and my constituents for a long time. It has been proposed that we should have a police force to patrol our sea-ports properly. That is a much needed service, because in my own city the continental ferry port has no proper police protection. Indeed, the port has no regular customs service, despite being the second busiest port for passengers and dealing with millions of people every year. I received a letter just this morning about the security fence around the port and how many times it is breached.
We do not take seriously enough the threat to our maritime trade and the protection of our ports. I have seen how easy it is to get close to British naval ships in Portsmouth harbour. I am glad to say that the Navy has improved surveillance of its ships in port, and I am delighted that more resources have been made available for that purpose. However, is it right that our major container ports are not policed either by the military or a sea-borne unit of the regular police force? In some instances, such as Southampton, such work is even in the hands of private operators. The Government have been neglectful of their obligation to protect our seaports.
I was privileged to attend the evidence session at which we were told how easy it would be for terrorists to cause a problem in a maritime environment. I shall not divulge what was disclosed to us about the difficulties of trying to track such terrorists down or how cheap are the craft that could inflict considerable damage on a supertanker, a large container ship or—more importantly—a ship with a nuclear capacity. It would be easy to get close enough to cause enough damage to have horrendous consequences, so we must take all those points seriously.
I hope that one of the lessons that we have learned from 11 September is that we will not know where the next terrorist attack will come from, and we will not be allowed to excuse ourselves just because we cannot cover every eventuality. We know that several threats exist, but we are not properly resourcing our capacity to deal with them, and we never will.
§ Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside)
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate, and I wish to address two key issues that affect future defence capabilities in this country. First, I wish to I associate myself with the comments of other right hon. and hon. Members about the tragic events of 11 September 2001, 535 which have made us all reassess how we approach the defence of this country, what we understand terrorism to be and how we can protect our people from it.
The recent conflict in Iraq has once again shown the need for Britain to have mobile and flexible armed forces to meet the needs of the ever changing international situation. That flexibility is needed not only on the ground, at sea and in the air, at the scene of conflict and for peacekeeping activities, but in this country, to ensure that our armed forces receive the necessary back-up and support. That is vital. Without that support, our forces, however well equipped, cannot operate effectively at the front line.
The Defence Aviation Repair Agency at RAF Sealand fulfils just such a vital role. Sealand is the agency's centre of excellence for all electronic and avionic work, employing more than 80 personnel, as well as a small number of service personnel, at the site. It is a well established facility and has a highly skilled and motivated work force.
DARA employs more than 4,000 staff in total throughout the UK; there are other sites at St. Athan, Fleetland and Almondbank. It was created in April 1999 and subsequently granted with trading agency status in April 2001. Since then, DARA as an organisation and business has made great strides in improving its levels of efficiency and delivery of service. From my own experience, I have seen the ongoing changes that have transformed the site out of all recognition from what it was when first established.
§ Mr. John Smith
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The transformation that has taken place within DARA on all its sites—including Sealand in his constituency and St. Athan in mine—has been terrific. Does he agree that if the recommendations of the end-to-end review were implemented, it would prove the death knell of DARA? Does he agree that the Minister must consider alternatives to streamline defence logistics?
§ Mark Tami
I agree with my hon. Friend. I shall move on to that issue, and will urge the Minister to take it up. The key point is that we could lose all the good work that has been done and all the changes that have been made. The old image that many of us may have of Nissen huts and everyone in brown overalls is behind us. Sealand and St. Athan now have modern, competitive facilities.
The original site at Sealand covered an area of more than 330 acres. Thanks to improved working practices, infantry reduction and process acceleration, it now operates out of a site of around 40 acres. The employees, represented by the trade unions, have been a key driving force in that culture of change, which has meant that they can compete effectively. There are now 30 per cent. fewer staff, providing much greater results. Productivity improvements have been staggering and there have been dramatic reductions in operating costs. All those factors have enabled Sealand to deliver better value and improved service to both the military and the growing number of commercial customers.
The commercial side of the business is growing, which demonstrates that, given a fair chance, DARA can compete and win orders outside its traditional field. 536 However, we should never forget that DARA's main strength and value is to our armed forces. Sealand has shown its worth during the recent conflicts—throughout the Kosovo campaign and, more recently, in Iraq. DARA personnel responded to the increased demands placed upon them. They often worked around the clock to turn out kit that was urgently required at the front. We owe a great deal to them, and should praise them for their efforts. Often, they are not at the front line, but they provide a vital service and are perhaps forgotten. We do not appreciate how hard those people have worked.
DARA has continued to show the merit of a one-stop shop that can deliver what is required quickly, effectively and to a high standard. It is clear that such support can be delivered effectively only by this means; it cannot merely be pushed up to the front line through the use of contractors.
In spite of all the great strides forward, the long-term future of DARA has always felt less than secure. Every few months or so, a rumour surfaces regarding its future. Some of those rumours have some truth behind them, and others do not. Either way, they all have the same destabilising effect on staff, affecting their confidence about the future. We all hope the red dragon announcement will end that sort of speculation. The £77 million investment in building a superhanger at St. Athan will enable DARA to retain and secure UK military business and gain new business from military and commercial markets. We all welcome that, and the personnel at DARA are sure that they can build for the future. The Minister has led the fight on the red dragon programme, and the announcement was warmly welcomed.
There is always a however, however. This summer we have had a set-back in the form of further speculation over the end-to-end review. I recognise that that was not a statement of Government or MOD policy, and I welcome the assurances that I have received about the future of red dragon and the ongoing commitment to DARA. It cannot be denied, however, that the statement has put something of a shadow over the project. I appeal to the Minister to put an end once and for all to damaging speculation. Failure to do so would only further undermine morale at all DARA sites.
DARA has demonstrated that it is the most efficient and cost effective option open to us. The alternative of placing such work with the RAF or contracting it out would be more expensive and less efficient and would almost certainly lead to duplication. It would not provide the level of service that our air force needs.
§ Mr. John Smith
Does my hon. Friend agree that as well as providing the best value for money, the DARA solution introduced by the Government a couple of years ago provided cost transparency and a system of benchmarking prices for military deep aviation work that the military operational bases in partnership with the private sector would not provide, just as they did not in the old days?
§ Mark Tami
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We are aware how much some kit costs and how it can be repaired. In the past we did not know that, and a lot of expense was gone to because we did not know where parts were. With a central system, lots of costs can be drawn out of the system.
537 If direct front-line support is required, DARA can supply it and has shown that it has mobility and an ability to meet requirements. I welcome the reassurances, but we should move forward to secure DARA's future. It is the best option for our defence forces.
Another important subject for our defence forces is the future strategic tanker aircraft, one of the most important orders that the Ministry of Defence will consider for many years to come. It is that order that will decide whether we can compete with the United States or whether we are content for it to maintain an effective world monopoly in that area of defence supply. The Airbus 330 air tanker offers the best option for our armed forces and, unlike its rival, it is a new aircraft and requires little modification. It will retain full passenger and cargo capabilities, which is a considerable benefit. It will have a much greater range than the Boeing 767—the alternative bid—which is essential if our armed forces are to meet the challenges that will be placed on them. In recent conflicts, we have seen the importance of air space. The greater range will give our armed forces that extra flexibility.
The Airbus would have great export potential. We have the intellectual property in this country. I am confident that if we choose the Airbus option, other countries will follow. There have already been signs that the French and Australians are likely customers for the aircraft. By choosing that option, we would not only be safeguarding British jobs now and giving our armed forces the best aircraft, but would be creating more jobs for Britain in the future. Airbus is a great success story for this country and Europe. We should build on that success and choose the Airbus option, which is the best for our armed forces.
§ Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)
Defence in the United Kingdom is not only a matter of academic interest for me; about 12,000 of my constituents are employed directly by the Ministry of Defence and many more thousands are employed indirectly.
I strongly endorse the speech of the Chairman of the Defence Committee, the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George). I agreed with everything that he said, but I want to go a little further. When he said that defence in the United Kingdom was not only the responsibility of the Home Office, which is the lead Department, or the Ministry of Defence with its military capability, but of a wide range of Government Departments, local authorities, regional agencies and others he was absolutely right. I am convinced that defence in the UK will be improved, that we will all feel safer and that we will all feel part of it if we change the culture of secrecy that has been part of the defence culture here since at least 1939. Compared with the safety of citizens in the United States, and how they feel about it, we are light years behind.
I have recently been to the United States and discussed that matter with a wide range of people, from the military to the scientists. I am sure that the Americans' culture of openness makes them safer. It is not a question of frightening the British public by keeping secrets from them; the reverse is true in this day and age. When we can look on the internet and find so 538 much information in the United States about what they are doing, how they are doing it and what their threat assessment is, or walk into a bookshop in Washington or Detroit and buy books that are illegal in this country because of the material that they contain, which we would classify, we realise what a farce secrecy has become because we are not keeping the right things secret.
That is my first plea and the major point that I want to add to the debate. In this country we need not only to take on board the wider community of interest, including the expertise of the private sector, the pharmaceutical industry, the biotechnology industries and the academics—that is true and we must do it—but to change the culture of secrecy.
I want to tell the Minister a little secret. I would like him to look into the problem at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down. It is a wonderful scientific research organisation, but it is losing £4 million out of its research budget because it has to repair the Winterslow road—a public road—which is ridiculous. The county council is also strapped for cash. That is something, that needs a little ministerial intervention.
On the disposal of assets by the Ministry of Defence, although it is right that Ministers should look forward and meet new challenges, will they please not forget that the legacy of assets that they leave behind is important to local communities? RAF Chilmark, for example, was closed in April 1995. The Ministry has spent £1.8 million to date on clearing ordnance to make it saleable. The work has now become stuck and we also face the closure of Dean Hill. Defence Estates is really stretched in trying to dispose of those assets.
I am sure that Ministers are aware that Boscombe Down military airfield presents an unusual problem and I hope that their officials will read the debate so that they, too, can see the problem. There is a proposal—mad—to build 700 private sector houses just off the end of the main runway of an aircraft testing and evaluation station. That is crazy. The site is also close to the munitions safety zone around the airfield, and objectors to the proposal are legitimately concerned that it will be unsafe to build schools and houses there.
I am delighted that the NAAFI headquarters are in my constituency. The organisation played an important role for our servicemen and women in the Iraq conflict and I wanted to say "Thank you", so I tabled a couple of parliamentary questions on NAAFI on 17 June. I thought that, perhaps in an absent-minded senior moment I had overlooked the answers, but when I checked in the Library I found that those questions of 17 June had not been answered. I should be grateful to the Minister for an answer; it is most unlike the MOD not to have replied.
I have an answer for the Minister on what to do about recruitment and retention. The Army's whole training programme for skills is the wrong way round. It is extraordinary that members of the armed forces should have to wait until they are within a couple of years of retirement before they are put through a retirement training programme. That is very good, but it should be provided at the beginning of their service, as it is in the American forces.
539 When the forces are out in Kosovo or Afghanistan, they cannot ring up for an engineer to mend their computers. There are not enough people in the services who have acquired such skills. They are multi-skilled in the sense that they learn some trades on the way through; they do some painting, decorating or building work and they learn mechanics, car maintenance and so on. However, they learn nothing in depth and we do not have many skilled resources to draw on. Even in America they can get it wrong; they have privatised parts of their logistics chain and discovered that the private sector was not frightfully keen to go out to Baghdad with the spares. We must look at training.
I have two final points. First, if we are to have that increased purple operation—all three services increasingly working together and with the civilian communities—we must get the legal basis right. I refer to the tri-service legislation proposed as part of the next Armed Forces Bill. I served on the Standing Committees for the past two quinquennial Armed Forces Acts. On the first occasion, we were told that during the passage of the previous Act, in 1991, the MOD had promised consolidation of the three Acts. In 1995, we were told: "We're terribly sorry, it's all got a bit stuck because there aren't enough draftsmen". In 2001, we were told that the Government had changed their mind; they were abandoning consolidation and going for a tri-service Act.
I tabled some questions about the matter and was delighted to find that the MOD is fully on the ball. On 9 June, I received a very good answer from the Minister of State, who confirmed that the Government are on course for a Bill in the 2005–06 Session. However, although the MOD drafts the Bill, it then has to go down the road to parliamentary counsel—an independent body. Interestingly, no one knows who it is answerable to. I checked with parliamentary counsel this morning and even they did not quite know. I was thus not too pleased when I saw the answer to a question that I had tabled to the Department for Constitutional Affairs about how many officials were working on the draft of the new tri-service Bill: it was "None." We should check on that and I hope that the Defence Committee will get on to the case—it needs chasing up.
My second point is really a plea to all hon. Members. The Secretary of State is in denial about shortage of equipment in Iraq. He says that it is all an exaggeration and a load of nonsense. Yesterday, I spoke to a constituent who had returned from Iraq this week. He told me that for the first month that he was out there his unit was fed by the Americans because no British food was in place. They had no desert kit; it turned up a week before they were due to come back, so they took a photograph of themselves in their new kit, took it off and came home. We are short of soldiers, airmen and sailors. The Army is short of kit, communications equipment and vehicles. The Navy is short of ships. We were told only last week that the Navy does not have enough ships to protect our shipping lanes: let us remember that 90 per cent. of our overseas trade still goes by sea. The Air Force is short of aircrew, and budget cuts are forecast for that service.
540 Shortages are a real problem, but it is worse than that. We can work alongside the United States military, we can work behind them and we can work in front of them. The problem is that we cannot work with them. In particular, we do not have sufficient systems integration. We are so far behind with our electronics compared with the United States that we are years away from operating in a digital battlefield. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) said in a very thoughtful speech, perhaps we should abandon the whole idea and just do peacekeeping. I think not. In this country, our military should be prepared for full warfare.
It is always difficult, particularly for an Opposition party, to chide the Government of the day for not spending enough. That is the point at which a helpful Labour Member is supposed to stand up and say, "How are you going to pay for it?" Unfortunately, none of them is doing that, so I shall have to answer the question myself. I have checked my party's position on resources for defence, which is that we will fully fund whatever defence capabilities are necessary to maintain our national security and to fulfil our national obligations. That is fine as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. If we are to be serious about defence in this country, my party, the Labour party and other parties must make those difficult choices and be prepared to spend more of our budget on defence. That is an unequivocal message, and I know that my constituents and Conservative voters would agree.
I am not talking about catching up with the odd billion that the Labour Government have put in, and that my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea put in before the 1997 election. I believe that Conservative supporters expect the Conservative party to commit to a serious increase in the defence budget before the next election. I will continue to say that. For those who ask how we will pay for it, I have a little list that I will be happy to share with the shadow Cabinet and with anyone else who wants to hear it. It is a serious issue, and I very much hope that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench will take my contribution in the spirit in which it is intended. It is not a criticism. I am trying to encourage them and to encourage a debate in this country about how seriously we take our defence in the United Kingdom and our defence posture in the world.
§ Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford)
Two years ago, the threat against which our defence forces had to safeguard the United Kingdom changed in an afternoon. The assumed impregnability of the United States, Britain and north-west Europe after the Berlin wall fell vanished instantaneously. The psychology of Governments, and people, too, changed that afternoon. They had believed that the effects of war on them and their countries had been banished for ever. Suddenly, they and their loved ones were vulnerable to the random malice of fanatics who were beyond the influence of reason and without any moral abhorrence for the killing of innocent people.
As is normal, many people, as a means of psychological protection, will not accept the true nature of the horrifying prospect. After the initial shock, life has to go on. Everything is normal, and distant and 541 uncertain prospects of terrorist attack are therefore discounted and pushed to the back of the mind. Any Government who did that, however, would betray the trust of the people who put trust in them and would fail in their primary duty to defend the country. To their great credit, this Government did not evade the changed world that they faced after 11 September 2001.
The vulnerability of people in modern cities to the effects of chemical, biological or radiological weapons is an issue that cannot be avoided. Speaking in terms of chemical, biological or radiological weapons or using the shorthand phrase "weapons of mass destruction" is too dispassionate and academic to convey any understanding of what might be threatened. We are talking about anthrax spores and radiation dust being spread through a major area of London such as Westminster or the City, meaning that they would have to be closed down for several decades. Alternatively, water supplies could be contaminated with poison, or nerve gas could insidiously permeate the London underground. Overnight, such areas could become ghost towns that would progressively fall into dereliction.
The economic impact would be incalculable because Government, business and financial institutions would have to move and start again from scratch because their records would be contaminated. However, before that, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who went to work normally, like the people in the World Trade Centre two years ago, would either not return in the evening or return to die of contamination.
To those who ask what terrorists would do that, I say that al-Qaeda is among several, but Hamas, Hizbollah and Islamic Jihad could not be excluded if they had access to such weapons. That is the situation today, but once an example is given, there is the same possibility that non-Muslim organisations could do such a thing if they wanted to draw attention to any injustice that they feel. That is why the United Nations Security Council was right to demand that Saddam Hussein give up his biological, chemical and radiological weapons throughout the 1990s and why it was right to give him a last chance to co-operate last November. That is why I believe that Britain and the United States were right not to allow the situation to drift.
We should not allow controversy over Iraq to obscure the wider issue of a defence policy that is directed at the terrorist attacks that the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner have warned about. The 1998 defence review touched on the threat from terrorism and rogue states but suggested that it would emerge in several years' time. The threat is with us now and gives rise to questions about several of the principles on which our defence is based.
The first principle is that the only legitimate use of military force is in defence against an attack. However, that presumes that there is no disadvantage to the defender in waiting. That cannot mean that we have to wait for parts of any western city to be contaminated or poisoned by a gas attack before action against the perpetrators or any state that harbours them is legitimate. As with Iraq, there are circumstances in which pre-emptive attack should be legitimate. There is a question of who should legitimise that. The answer must lie with the United Nations, but with a reformed 542 United Nations so that a country's vital defence is not left hostage to the capricious or perverse attitudes of other Governments who wish to gain from the situation.
Sovereignty, in its traditional form, is another concept that is questionable in today's world. It has come to mean that no despotic tyrant who is responsible for abusing, torturing and killing a country's citizens may be replaced by a foreign country if he has some legitimate or de facto claim to power. I do not accept that any such tyrant should be immune to challenge and able to continue in such an inhuman way. Pragmatically, that has now been established in the case of Slobodan Milosevic, the former ruler of Serbia, and the courts have generally recognised it in the case of General Pinochet. Indeed, it was a factor that legitimised the removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The concept of sovereignty needs amending to cover the removal of tyrants. The relevance of that to UK defence is that Britain is not likely to be threatened by democratic countries. The threats and promotion of fanatical terrorism come from tyrannical regimes that are far from democratic.
A further defence interest is in maintaining concerted co-operation between north America, Commonwealth countries and the European democracies to defend the principles on which they are founded. That transcends immediate political differences. Questions have been raised about the closeness of the Prime Minister's relationship with President Bush given their diametrically opposed views on domestic politics. The opposed political positions are far less than those between Churchill and Stalin, who successfully co-operated against Nazism to win the second world war alongside Roosevelt, who likewise sank political differences in pursuit of overriding strategic interests.
The greatest institutionalised defence co-operation between democracies is NATO. It has proved itself in the cold war and, though different, still has a role to play in defending democracy in today's world, as it has done in the Balkans. NATO's greatest strength is to institutionalise defence co-operation between north America and Europe, which today is essentially the European Union and Russia. It is overwhelmingly in Britain's interest that Europe and north America should stay intimately involved in combating terrorism and sustaining democracy against subversion or coup d'état. It is vital to Britain that those states that have taken to democracy recently in Europe and elsewhere should have a source of defence when threatened, whether the threat is external or internal.
America is the overwhelming superpower in the world and can chose between pulling up the drawbridge to become fortress America or co-operating internationally to sustain the democratic principles on which it is founded. The Prime Minister is right in stressing how vital for Britain's strategic interest it is that America remains engaged with western Europe in securing human rights and democracy. That must be the keystone of Britain's defence policy, as it has been for the past 60 years.
543 It is worth stressing the importance to Britain of the north Atlantic alliance when President Chirac is attempting to establish an alternative policy of polarisation. He is attempting to rally the countries of the European Union in opposition to America on defence and foreign policy issues and, no doubt, a range of other issues. No one could gain from such a schism except countries that are thereby provided with an opportunity to play one bloc off against the other. Let us hope, as appears to be the case, that no other countries rally to that Napoleonic illusion.
Having said that, there is a strong case for the European defence initiative. It would allow European Union forces to address issues arising within and close to the area of the European Union. The prime condition must be that the force will operate only where NATO as a whole has decided not to operate. Given that condition, it is a response to the US political pressure that asks why young men and women from Michigan, Minnesota and California should operate in Europe while European countries watch them. Because a European defence initiative answers that question, it strengthens NATO rather than weakening it.
I have attempted to outline some of the issues that United Kingdom defence policy needs to address or take into account in dealing with the threat of international terrorism. There are also questions of equipment, training and force structure, but they are being addressed in the changes that followed the 1998 defence review.
Sections of the media, for reasons that have nothing to do with defence, have become obsessed with the "He said, she said" tittle-tattle of the Ministry of Defence. It was sad to hear the shadow Defence spokesman following that line in marked contrast to the statesmanlike contribution by the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo). That is not the basis on which the House should judge the record of the Secretary of State. He is accountable for the readiness of our armed forces to deal with the changed circumstances and new threats that this country faces. The valour, performance and success of British forces in Iraq show them to be among the best in the world. That is testimony to the successful conduct of defence policy by the Government. Let us give due credit then to the man who is responsible for our armed forces. He has served this country well and will continue to do so.
§ Bob Russell (Colchester)
I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and also Mr. Speaker for allowing my name to appear on the list of speakers. I apologise for not being present for the whole of the debate. I was in my place for the opening speech, but the Home Affairs Committee had a rearranged sitting this afternoon to put questions to the Home Secretary, and I am a member of that Committee. However, I felt that in representing the garrison town of Colchester I should like the opportunity to contribute to the debate and to highlight what I think is a serious problem in retaining experienced soldiers. I shall come on later to recruitment.
I am advised that in the early 1930s there was a record level of junior entrants to the Army. As a consequence, during the next two or three years there will be record 544 numbers of soldiers leaving the Army after completing their 22 years of adult service. The Army is already 4 per cent. under strength. That was made clear in an answer during Defence questions on Monday. Clearly, the defence of the United Kingdom is dependent on our having sufficient members of the armed forces to defend the country.
With a shortfall of 4 per cent. and with additional commitments overseas, I suggest that the overstretch is becoming worse by the month. More must be done to retain the recruits that we have while at the same time recruiting sufficient numbers to bring the Army up to full strength.
In my constituency—I suspect that the situation is the same in many other military centres—family housing is an important matter for those members of our armed forces who wish the Army, the Navy or the Air Force as a career. More needs to be done urgently to improve the housing stock for our military families. The modernisation programme is not proceeding as it should. The idiotic privatisation of the Army housing estates by the previous Government has not helped the situation. It is this Government's job to ensure that all our Army families are living in accommodation of the sort that we would wish for our own constituents.
A second area where the Ministry of Defence could and should be doing more is in supporting schools that have a large intake of children from military families. I initiated a debate on this issue during the previous Parliament and was led to believe that matters would be improved. I have to say that they have not improved. The Secretary of State for Education and Skills recently visited Colchester and spoke to some of the heads and chairmen of governors of schools where up to 95 per cent. of the pupils come from Army families. He left them with the view that something would be done. In my follow-up questions, the sidekick Minister has knocked that one back. There is no help whatsoever. I hope that in the spirit of joined-up Government, Defence Ministers will have words with their chums in the Department for Education and Skills to ensure that additional resources are provided. It is a vital part of the retention agenda.
About 3,000 troops from the Colchester garrison served in the Iraqi war. Sadly, not all returned. I know that the House will wish to join me in paying tribute to those who fell and assuring their families that our thoughts are with them. I witnessed early on when the war had commenced the marvellous way in which the Army's welfare and support services kicked in. It was a joy to see that in operation. Full-time members of the Army, former Army personnel who are now supporting the Army, civilians, local firms and members of the local community all rallied round and joined up to provide a fantastic support service for the families of those left back on base.
I want to pay tribute to the Secretary of State for Defence for his personal commitment in coming to Colchester to meet, speak to and reassure many of the families. His visit was greatly appreciated, and I ought to put my thanks to him on public record.
I ask the Ministry of Defence to take on board for the future one small area of disappointment with the welfare and support service—the feeling of isolation that was drawn to my attention by the families of Territorial 545 Army reservists who were called up. They felt that they were not part of the wider network of support and welfare services. I am sure that that can be addressed, and I hope that it will be.
The Army needs to do more to recruit, as well as to retain. We should bear in mind the different footprints of the parts of the United Kingdom where regiments have their historical and traditional recruitment. The part of the UK that recruits troops to the Royal Anglian regiment supports its regiment through full recruitment, whereas in other regions regiments do not recruit their full complement. I suggest to Ministers that one way of making up the shortfall of 4,200 soldiers would be to say to the Royal Anglian regiment: "You are very successful with your recruitment; you have a large footprint from which you can recruit your troops; we are prepared to give you the opportunity to reform the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Anglian regiment." What objection could there possibly be to that? Surely the object of the exercise is to have sufficient troops to bring the Army up to its complement of just over 102,000. If one regiment can recruit fully, while others cannot, why not allow a successful regiment to increase its recruitment through the restoration of its 3rd Battalion? That would be the successor to the old Essex regiment.
Many parts of the Ministry of Defence have been privatised in recent years, but it is not so enthusiastic about recruitment initiatives. Given that the Army is under strength by around 4 per cent., initiatives to boost recruitment should be welcomed. The British Army has a proud tradition of welcoming those from other countries of the Commonwealth into its ranks. One way of bridging the gap is by allowing the Royal Anglian regiment to recruit more; another is to recruit from the Commonwealth. It is therefore regrettable that someone somewhere in the Ministry of Defence has taken it upon himself or herself to block certain initiatives involved in the recruitment process.
If that sounds familiar to the Minister of State, he may recall that I wrote to him about it on 29 July and 1 August this year. I want to put on the record the questions that I asked, to which I hope that answers will be forthcoming:Is the British Army short of soldiers? Yes.Does the Army recruit from the Commonwealth? Yes.Where in the regulations does it state that recruits cannot be presented to the Army by a recruitment company?Where in the regulations does it state that recruits are barred from being funded by a third party (or company) prior to them joining the Army?Where in the regulations does it state that recruits are barred from entering into a legal agreement to reimburse loans provided by a third party (or company) whilst they are serving soldiers?I would have thought that the Ministry of Defence would have welcomed an initiative"—I assume it likes initiatives—in developing a means… to help recruit soldiers from Commonwealth countries to fill the gaps in so many of our regiments.
The recruits would have to satisfy the Army's enlistment criteria and they would therefore have to be fit and capable of becoming members of Her Majesty's armed forces. If Defence Ministers are serious about wanting a full complement of soldiers so that the armed forces do not remain as overstretched as they currently 546 clearly are, I ask them to consider my suggestion of greater home recruitment from the Royal Anglian Regiment recruitment area and to accept that initiatives for recruiting soldiers from Commonwealth countries should be welcomed, not blocked.
§ 5 pm
§ Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)
It has become clear during the debate that replacing the former single-service debates with separate debates about defence in the world and defence in the United Kingdom has not worked. It was a brave, worthwhile try—I am not trying to score a party political point—but it is time to acknowledge that it has been a failure. If one compares the content of today's debate with that of our periodic debates on defence in the world, it would be impossible to tell the difference without looking at the titles. One could not tell from the speeches. It would be far more sensible to admit that holding separate debates on the Army, the Navy and the Royal Air Force and considering what each arm must do for defence of the United Kingdom, defence in the world, and with regard to procurement policy and personnel policy would be a better way of going about our business.
When the Secretary of State was able to tear himself away from responding to the Intelligence and Security Committee's report, his speech was largely about procurement policy. It was about structure rather than strategy—unless one includes the strategy of personal survival. My hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State understandably felt it necessary to concentrate primarily on the news topic of the day rather on the nuts and bolts of defence issues for the UK, strictly and narrowly defined. Yet if peace is indivisible, so is defence. I therefore welcomed the comment of the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence that the armed forces are only part of solution to the problem of terrorism that faces the UK, and that a policy of total defence is required. I hope that my own comments later will be perceived as endorsing that.
The Liberal Democrat spokesman acknowledged that his party did not support the war. That was frank of him. It is encouraging to those Labour and Opposition Members who supported the war that the latest polls show that a majority of the British people still believe that it was right to remove Saddam Hussein, despite the thundering mess that the Government have subsequently made of their presentation and policies.
The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire) made a very general speech on defence, but she was typically supportive of our forces. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) brought the intriguing light of his perception as a former Defence Secretary to bear on current problems. He made a point that people have been reluctant to make in the light of what subsequently happened to Dr. Kelly. My right hon. Friend said that it was strange to have an official leaking stories off the record to the press. However, while I agree with him that the MOD was under no obligation to keep Dr. Kelly's name secret in those circumstances, I believe that the Ministry was under an obligation to let him know if it was not going to keep it secret, rather than telling him that they were going to do so and then engaging in a devious guessing game of disclosure with the press.
547 The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) has been a consistent opponent of the campaign against Iraq. The Conservatives do not agree with him, but we respect his sincerity and the position that he takes, as we did when he was an assiduous Foreign Office and Defence Minister. My hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Derek Conway) pointed out that we need armed forces to be recruited to greater levels. We believe that it would at least be a promising start if they could be recruited to the target levels that the Government themselves set, but that is not happening.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) always speaks with sincerity. He is a passionate opponent of military action, and he quoted at some length the views of Professor Paul Rogers, whom I remember with affection as a leading member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 1980s and as a prophet of doom in the first Gulf war a decade later. I would only say to the hon. Gentleman—who has made his personal apologies to me that he cannot be here for the winding-up speeches—that he should be wary of over-reliance on a single source. My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) showed once again his great knowledge of and commitment to NATO. He has been in the House for almost 30 years, and he has unparalleled experience on the opposite side of the arguments generally put forward by Professor Rogers.
The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) took a typically robust stance, and I totally agree with him that the aim of the terrorists two years ago today was not to kill 3,000 people but to kill 50,000 if they could have done so. I take issue with him, however, when he compares unfavourably the efforts being made by our armed forces in terms of ethnic recruitment and promotion with what has been happening in the United States. It must be remembered that the coloured community—the black community—of the United States has been struggling for much longer to reach the heights that it has reached. I commend to the hon. Gentleman—as I have done to the House on a previous occasion—the memoirs of General Benjamin O. Davis, which are appropriately entitled "Benjamin O. Davis: American". He spells out the struggle that he and other black fighter pilots had during the second world war to be allowed the opportunity to put their lives on the line and to fight for what was then an imperfect democracy, so far as the black community was concerned. When we compare the different starting points, we shall find that it will only be a matter of time—and not too much time—before we are proud to see black people in the highest positions in our armed forces. They are making good progress already.
The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) had a gloomy outlook on the prospects in Iraq, but I was pleased to see that, wearing his Defence Select Committee hat, he agreed with us on the importance of having a co-ordinating Minister for homeland security. As the House will know, we have taken the step of setting the Government an example by appointing my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) as our spokesman on homeland security. He has great experience of the armed forces and is increasingly gathering expertise in his new field. 548 We heard quite a bit from him today, and I can assure the House that we shall hear a great deal more from him in the future.
The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) expressed concern about the future of DARA and the Airbus, and my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) made the intriguing point that we were keeping things secret, but that they were not the right things. Speaking personally, I trust that the Minister will have heard my hon. Friend's plea, and that the road to Porton Down will soon be blessed with the tarmac that he so urgently wishes it to acquire.
Not for the first time, the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Beard) made a very thoughtful speech. I know that he had a professional career in the Ministry of Defence for many years, and that shows in the thoughtfulness that always informs his contributions. I want to take one of his many important points a little further.
International law has not yet caught up with the changed strategic situation that has followed 11 September. I shall say more about that later, but let me say this now. The idea that we must wait to be struck first is not to be countenanced in the 21st century, in the age of weapons of mass destruction and suicidal potential users of them. The sooner the international lawyers recognise that, the less likely it will be that people will be tempted to distort intelligence to make threats appear more imminent than they might otherwise seem.
The hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell), as well as focusing on retention and recruitment, paid a worthy tribute to the members of his Colchester garrison who fell in the recent conflict, and to the support shown to them by the Army and personally by the Secretary of State, who went to Colchester to offer his condolences. The hon. Gentleman said how much that had been appreciated.
It must be said that before 11 September the defence of the United Kingdom homeland against terrorism, let alone suicidal terrorism, was given a low priority. Conventional threats to the UK seemed to be at a lower level than they had been since the end of the 19th century. The strategic threat from a former superpower, the Soviet Union, had all but dissipated—although one can never be sure what may happen to Russian democracy over a long period.
Perhaps the most prominent threat that we were debating here before 11 September was the possibility of a missile threat from rogue states. Indeed, it is important for that not to disappear entirely from the agenda now. As has been pointed out today, terrorism from Northern Ireland has not disappeared completely and may not have disappeared permanently, but at least it is at a lower level than it has been since the troubles began.
The idea that religious doomsday threats would be our top priority in the defence of the United Kingdom would, before 11 September, have been considered utterly fanciful. Most defence discussions concerned expeditions, humanitarian operations, conflict resolution and, sometimes, direct military intervention in foreign wars overseas. How that changed after 11 September! Al-Qaeda is now at the top of the agenda, for five main reasons. First, its agents are prepared to 549 die. Secondly, unlike our previous opponents, they are largely impervious to deterrence. Thirdly, they have good organisation and a unifying creed. Fourthly, they batten on failed societies and rogue regimes. Fifthly, and above all, they apply the principles of military ju-jitsu, using their opponents' greater weight and technology to bring them crashing down. In short, they encapsulate the maxim "maximum impact for minimum effort".
Yet they are not as clever as they think they are. They have cunning tactics underpinned by a foolish strategy. They had one chance to take the civilised world by surprise; they blew it on 11 September. What they did then could be compared with what the Japanese did at Pearl Harbor. After the war was over, some of the Japanese leaders were interrogated. They were asked, "Why did you do what you did on 7 December 1941? You must have known that it would bring the full weight of the United States crashing down on you". They said, "Sometimes you just have to kick up your heels and leap into the gorge".
What these terrorists did was comparable with what Saddam Hussein did in not waiting until he had nuclear weapons—which he was on the way to getting—before invading Kuwait in 1990. In other words, al-Qaeda did not wait long enough.
Why do I say that timing is so essential in these circumstances? It is because of what we were discussing before: the problems that always arise when one is tempted to take pre-emptive action. In defending one's homeland, one can take steps after a blow has been struck that people would find very difficult to accept in advance of such a blow being struck. For example, overthrowing the Taliban would probably not have been acceptable before 11 September. It would not have been acceptable to fight Saddam Hussein before Kuwait was invaded; and it certainly was not regarded as acceptable for Israel to bomb his nuclear reactor before he made his first atomic weapons. Yet how right we now think the Israelis were—at least, I hope we do—to have taken that action.
In short, al-Qaeda's strategic mistake was to mobilise America and the free world against it before acquiring weapons of mass destruction of its own. I make no bones about paying tribute to the Government for recognising that any prospect of al-Qaeda and similar groups acquiring such weapons must be prevented. I pay tribute to the Prime Minister for instantly stating that he would stand shoulder to shoulder with the Americans, and for showing personal courage in taking that stance. He must know that he and those closest to him will be marked men and women—targets for any disgruntled terrorist—for the rest of their natural lives.
I pay tribute to the Opposition—to my own party—for putting party advantage aside by supporting the Prime Minister in his hour of need. I am only sorry that I cannot pay a similar tribute the Liberal Democrats and the nationalists, who would have left Saddam Hussein in power if they had had their way.
§ Mr. Keetch
How does the hon. Gentleman judge paragraph 127 of today's report? It states:The JIC assessed that any collapse of the Iraqi regime would increase the risk of chemical and biological warfare technology or agents finding their way into the hands of terrorists, not necessarily al-Qaida.550 Is it not acceptable for the JIC to believe that invading Iraq could possibly spread terrorist weapons? Admittedly, the Prime Minister took a view, but in disregarding ours the hon. Gentleman should note that some members, at least, of the JIC accept it.
§ Dr. Lewis
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, which would be convincing if he were saying that the question is clear cut and there is never a countervailing argument. But according to his view, because we are afraid that there is a risk that something may get worse if we try to deal with it, we must not do so. I particularly resent the way in which the JIC, an intelligence organisation, has been made into a political football in the context of this military campaign. In my view—I speak now not as a politician, but as someone who studied JIC and joint planning staff documents professionally, during the academic phase of my life—the old system was better. The intelligence people would make their assessments and submit them to their political masters, and the political masters would sign off their own assessments and not seek to shelter behind their professional advisers. I am not going to get into the game of second-guessing the JIC. Its role is to give the Government information, and the Government must take responsibility for the policies developed on the basis of it.
§ Bob Russell
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not want to mislead everybody. Does he accept that the view taken by the Liberal Democrats—many members of his own party and of the Labour party also took it—was that action against Iraq should take place only with the full support of the United Nations?
§ Dr. Lewis
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 551 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."—[Official Report, 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 asand 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 552 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.
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram)
In opening the debate, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence highlighted the key areas of what is an undoubtedly broad subject, and we have had a good, intensive and wide-ranging debate. It is a pity that the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) failed to rise to the occasion.
Yesterday morning, I was listening to "Yesterday in Parliament", which was reporting on Tuesday's debate, a debate called by the hon. Gentleman to hold the Government to account. Unfortunately, I could not be present for the debate; normally I would have been and, probably, I would have wound it up. I was keen to hear what had gone on. I was in the Ukraine at a joint exercise involving British, Ukrainian and Polish troops, an annual exercise that has been going for seven years.
The BBC had built up Tuesday's debate, suggesting that the Secretary of State was going to come under intense scrutiny. I was stunned when the BBC commentator said that that was not the case. In fact, he directly criticised the hon. Member for North Essex for failing to deliver the knockout punch, or even a punch at all. The commentator said that, for the Secretary of State for Defence, it was no more than a stroll in the park.
That is why I want to make this point to the hon. Gentleman about his speech. He personalised, as he has a tendency sometimes to do, at a time when we are dealing with big and complex issues. The repeat performance today ill serves the House, but is perhaps a true reflection on him; not one word did he utter about the subject matter.
The Secretary of State rightly praised the men and women of our armed forces and the contribution that they make in the United Kingdom and globally. They continue to provide a highly skilled and well-organised resource on which the civil authorities and the wider community can draw in times of crisis. I am grateful to all Members who recognised this today.
We must not confuse the role of the armed forces in the defence of the UK with the wider contribution that they can make in the UK. As the Secretary of State said, the days of defending our shores from invasion are long gone. We all understand the advantage of dealing with a potential threat before it reaches our shores. We should not assume that solutions are always military ones.
The right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) made a strong contribution. I did not agree with everything he said, but he highlighted two points with which I did agree. The first concerned the question of where the front line is; the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) made the same point in winding up for the Opposition. The front line is no longer here, but elsewhere.
553 The other point that the right hon. Gentleman raised concerned the MOD itself—the nature of the Department, its unique flavour and ethos. He said that it is a privilege for Ministers to serve there, and I echo that. I have been at the Department for more than two years and I have learned that that is so. The right hon. Gentleman rested his case on the importance of that ethos and on the bonds of loyalty that exist. I can tell the House that those bonds of loyalty are still there. The Department has the utmost support from the Secretary of State, and that is returned. That applies in respect of all Ministers who serve there.
The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the Prime Minister commenting to the Indian Prime Minister in relation to the terrible atrocity that had occurred in that country that the issue was engaging with those who were posing the threat, who might be from a neighbouring country or countries. The right hon. Gentleman tried to draw a parallel with what has happened in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. I know that he understands the clear difference between the threat posed by domestic terrorism and that posed by international terrorism. The four years that I spent in Northern Ireland taught me that the way to resolve the threat posed by domestic terrorism is, first, to resolve never to be defeated or deflected by it and, second, always to look for the points of accommodation and agreement on the basis of which progress can be made. We would not be in the situation we are in today in Northern Ireland without the bravery and determination of the Prime Minister to take some big risks. We should ask the people of Northern Ireland whether the point that my right hon. Friend was making to the Prime Minister of India applies to Northern Ireland. It is now a different and better place, and it will get better still, because we dealt with the threat by understanding the roots of the problem and finding solutions.
We should not relax our stance on our security or resilience at home. Notwithstanding some of the contributions made to the debate, the Government have a robust counter-terrorism strategy in place, under the direction of the Home Secretary. Much progress has been made, much of it—understandably—not advertised. It may be what people call secret or confidential, but the very nature of our response means that it has to be kept on a very close hold. The more we expose what we seek to do to counter terrorism or terrorist threats, the more those who wish to take action learn from it. Other nations may develop their strategies differently, but we have had 30 years of dealing with domestic terrorism. That has stood us in good stead, but I am sure we all agree that if our approach needs to change, we in this country learn lessons and adapt quickly and constructively to meet any new threat.
I know that what we have in place is robust because I have the privilege of serving on some of the Committees that deal with the issues. I have seen our response evolve and develop after 11 September 2001. The real test is not so much who is in charge, but what the response is to a particular threat. We have not had to face some of the scenarios that could apply, but we are increasingly holding exercises, with a range of scenarios, to test the resilience of our capabilities.
Last weekend, of course, we saw the exercise in London. I was also recently the lead Minister on a major exercise in Norfolk with a nuclear incident scenario. 554 Interestingly, the lead Department was the Ministry of Defence, not the Home Office. All the services answer, through the various response mechanisms that are laid down, to the one lead Minister. The idea is to ensure that the mechanisms are robust and respond coherently. We learn lessons from every one of those exercises, and there is no point holding them otherwise. We will have more exercises in the future, and we hope that they are only ever exercises that test the integrity and strength of our systems. I have confidence that all the services would respond—
§ Mr. Ingram
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I must say that I do not know why he was not given the opportunity to wind up in this debate. I note that he calls himself a shadow Minister, but he is more of a ghost Minister, because he does not have a Department to shadow. If he is going to pop up every time—[Interruption.] I am being told that it is my fault. I am not sure that it is. I am not sure that there is a fault at all, as I have set out what I believe to be a strong structure. I shall deal with the details in response to some of the contributions made earlier.
§ Patrick Mercer
Ghost or not, I shall try not to be a spectre at the feast.
To the best of my knowledge, last Sunday's exercise was the first field-training exercise for two years. It was not a command-post, table-top or procedural exercise. Will the Minister guarantee that there will be many more such exercises, and that they happen not just in London, but in the regional capitals and other areas of great sensitivity? If not, they will be worthless.
§ Mr. Ingram
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was listening to me. I said that there will be future exercises, and a lot of effort is being put in to develop the scenarios. However, we should not over-exercise, as that would give the impression that we were dealing with real threats, rather than perceived ones, and that intelligence exists that makes the exercises necessary to meet those real threats. I do not accuse the hon. Gentleman of using that as an argument, but others have commented on the matter and will over-interpret anything that we do in respect of exercises. The media, of course, are guilty of that. There is always the risk that, if an exercise structure is put in place, people will then speculate, through the conspiracy theory model, that an exercise is for real. That is the spin that they put on it.
§ Mr. Ingram
The hon. Member for North Essex is now trying to make a contribution to the debate from a sedentary position. If he wants to tell us his views—he did not mention them earlier—I should be happy to give way to him.
§ Mr. Ingram
No. There are many other hon. Members to whom I want to respond.
555 The Ministry of Defence has an important part to play, and the strategic defence review new chapter formed part of the work that went into developing that strategy. The measures that we are introducing as a result will ensure that the armed forces continue to make an important contribution to security at home, but that contribution is properly made in support of the civil authorities.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), who is Chairman of the Defence Committee, the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire)—both of them members of the Defence Committee—made contributions based on their knowledge. As members of Select Committees who sign up to a report tend to, they continued to argue for the core points of their report—they would not have signed up to it otherwise. Meanwhile, they have been trying to convince Ministers to change their position. I ask them to consider that their judgment on this matter might be wrong. All of us should always revisit our assumptions and conclusions, to make sure that we have got things right.
I am not ducking the issue, but most of the points raised in the debate are the responsibility of the Home Secretary. I accept that we should adopt a joined-up-government approach, but the Government never ignore the question of which Department is the best one to deal with an issue, or of whether different mechanisms should be established. In this case, however, the Government have concluded that the approach proposed by the Committee, for the reasons that have been set out to the Committee, is not appropriate. We will study any contributions made in this debate and, if another Department is asked to consider matters, it is for that Department to decide whether it will respond. I shall draw the various comments today to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South mentioned the draft civil contingencies Bill. The Government welcome all reports produced by his or any other Select Committee that comments on Government activity, although we do not always agree with a Committee's conclusions. The House will be aware that a Joint Committee has been set up to consider the draft Bill, and the Defence Committee's report will form a valuable strand of its work. It is up to the Joint Committee to take on board the detailed arguments advanced. That sort of pre-legislative assessment is a useful, relatively new departure for Government. It will make the legislation better, helping understanding of the various points made and enabling us not to rush too quickly into legislation while drawing on all the experience available. The report will be picked up by the Joint Committee before the Bill is debated here and in the other place.
The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) asked about future carriers. The carrier programme continues to meet the schedule set down at the start of the programme. We plan to award a build contract in spring 2004. We currently plan for the new carriers to be in service in 2012 and 2015, and that is on course. The future carriers will set new standards of military capability and flexibility. They will significantly enhance 556 our ability to respond to crises around the world. They are a key part of fulfilling the 1998 strategic defence review and remain a high priority in the defence programme.
§ Mr. Keetch
I am grateful for that clear answer. Can the Minister extend it one further step by confirming that the size originally envisaged for those carriers in the SDR has not been decreased and that the number of aircraft that they will be likely to carry is that which was originally envisaged?
§ Mr. Ingram
The hon. Gentleman should wait to see what the build programme says. This is a step forward in our capability. I know that there are some who want to diminish what we seek to do instead of welcoming not just the shipbuilding capability it will bring this country but, more importantly, the capability it will give to the Royal Navy. It is the biggest shipbuilding programme since the second world war—yet all we get from the Conservatives are sneers.
§ Mr. Ingram
The hon. Member for Hereford asked about outflow. At periods of high operational tempo, planned discharge dates may be delayed. That is in the nature of the way in which we have to deal with them. In addition, some personnel volunteer to extend their service because they want to make a contribution. At the end of such a period, a temporary increase in outflow is to be expected because of the bottleneck. We are conscious of that factor, but it is too early to say whether it will happen and to what extent it might happen. We are monitoring the situation closely. We are talking about skilled people who are important without our structures. We do not want to lose people other than those who would go anyway. We shall monitor the situation with both the regulars and the reserves. My best guess at the moment is that all three services expect any increase in outflow this year to be manageable. They are beginning to predict what the impact may be, but it is too early to be precise.
The hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Conway) gave some figures on shortfalls. I can correct them. For the Navy, the shortfall is 910; for the RAF, it is 750; and for the Army, it is 4,850. In reality, shortfalls have decreased this year, and recruitment and retention initiatives continue to be successful. We are putting a lot of effort into those initiatives. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for North Essex says that it is a disaster, but he could have made the point in the debate and he did not want to do so.
§ Mr. Ingram
I gave the hon. Gentleman an opportunity earlier and I now want to deal with other hon. Members who made a substantial contribution to the debate.
557 The hon. Member for Perth (Annabelle Ewing), who is no longer in her place, was concerned about the future of Almondbank. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State dealt with that matter. I am grateful to members of the Scottish National party now that they are wrapping themselves in the Union flag and are keen to have United Kingdom defence expenditure in their constituencies. Only a few weeks ago, the defence spokesman for the SNP was saying in the Glasgow press that he was going to hold me and the Ministry of Defence to account on a range of issues—he is not in his place either and did not join in the debate today, although I was with him last night to watch Scotland nearly beat Germany, so I know that he was in London for that. The interesting aspect of the SNP argument is that while they argue for jobs to be retained in their constituencies, they are campaigning for thousands of defence jobs to go elsewhere in Scotland and the UK. Indeed, they want to close down the Faslane base, with a loss of about 10,000 jobs. There is an inherent contradiction in what they want to do. I hope that they will read my comments. It is a pity that they are not here to respond and I would have given way to them if they had been.
My hon. Friends the Members for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) and for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) rightly mentioned "end to end" and the impact that they perceived it might have on DARA. A written statement has been produced on the "end to end" report, which sets out a summary of a detailed report and points a way forward.
I gave some parameters for the debate at Defence questions on Monday. It is a big study into £11.2 billion of Government expenditure and 105,000 people in the air and land environment—roughly a ratio of 60:40 military to civilian. Overall, the logistics chain amounts to about £15 billion. The study says that there is the potential for a saving of in the region of £600 million. It would be wrong for any Minister not to look seriously at that.
One of the main conclusions in the report is that the contraction from four lines of maintenance to two is a sensible way forward—interestingly, my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan accepts this. However, the debate is then about whether the four collapsing into two collapses forward or backwards. DARA has put up a counter-proposal. We have told the work force, DARA and the trade unions that all the proposals have to be studied on the basis of a proper investment analysis. I do not believe that that poses a threat.
I said when I visited Almondbank to open the £5 million state-of-the-art facility there that I had come not to bury Almondbank but to praise it. The £77 million contract that I announced for the super hanger at St Athan in south Wales was another vote of confidence for everything that has taken place in DARA. Of course, the same applies to Sealand. I understand that a new training facility is to be opened up, which will be linked to the Sealand facility, with the support of the Welsh Development Agency and the local college there. To those who seem to be trying to exploit the situation—it is not my hon. Friends who are doing so—by saying that it is a public versus private debate I would say that by establishing that trading fund we have allowed the public sector to take work away from the private sector. They are doing that successfully, so it is an endorsement 558 of the public sector, not a threat. As I told the work force at Almondbank, the very future of DARA rests in the hands not only of the management, who have done a tremendous job, but of the workers, who have accepted major changes. The work force have dropped from 7,000 to 4,000, which shows that they are determined to raise their productivity so that they will be the best and can beat the private sector. I have confidence both in the future of DARA and that the challenges posed by the "end to end" study will be taken on board by the work force and the management, and that they will seek the best solution for their interests.
§ Mr. Viggers
The future of DARA sites—apart from Fleetlands—has been mentioned. So that we do not risk leaving out that important establishment, will the Minister confirm that the skills of the workers there and the investment that has been made should safeguard its future?
§ Mr. Ingram
The same thing applies to all the sites; they have all taken major changes on board. There has been investment in that facility. When I talk about DARA, I am referring to all four sites. There are excellent skill bases in all of them, but we have told them that they cannot rely solely on defence procurement streams. Their future lies in a marriage between what we need and what they can win from the private sector, and they are competing and winning orders and contracts. People who call the future of DARA into question are making it difficult for the agency to succeed in an extremely competitive market. If I was in private industry and wanted to place a contract with DARA but was told it had no future, I might think twice about doing so. My hon. Friends the Members for Alyn and Deeside and for Vale of Glamorgan do not, of course, make such remarks; their objectives are clear and I welcome their contributions.
As always, the debate has been wide ranging, well informed and useful. I know that the House holds our service personnel in the highest esteem. It is the calibre of our service personnel that gets the job done, time after time, in the most difficult and dangerous circumstances. As I speak, thousands of our servicemen and women are helping to bring peace and stability across the world.
We also recognise the vital role our service personnel play here at home. The armed forces have a presence across the whole of the UK. They serve the people of the UK, as part of the wider community and the economy, in conjunction with many other agencies and emergency services. The role of the armed forces in assisting home defence tasks will be enhanced through the use of the civil contingencies reaction forces, which are on target to be fully operational by the end of this year.
More widely, the MOD is an important partner in many communities; for example, as an employer and through our many contracts with UK industry. UK companies are involved in a wide range of procurement projects including the largest procurement programme of new ships for the Royal Navy in many years, as I said earlier. Our defence industrial policy, published last 559 year, aims to enable the competitiveness of the UK defence industry, ensuring that the armed forces are provided with the equipment that they need at best value for money for the taxpayer.
Across the UK, from the south of England to Scotland and from East Anglia to Northern Ireland, defence continues to play a vital role in our community. The contribution made by our people, both military and civilian, to ensuring that all the tasks we undertake are successful is truly remarkable.
I know that the House will agree that our continued success depends upon our people. Their commitment, flexibility and willingness to get the job done no matter what all underpin their well-deserved reputation for excellence both at home and around the world.