Previous SectionIndexHome Page

6.17 pm

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): I begin by commending the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner), who movingly summed up the mood of the House and of the public as we face the terrorist threat. He made it clear that we should not allow the terrorists to mould our opinions or to dictate the agenda.

It is pointing out the obvious to say that the issues raised in response to the Prime Minister's statement this morning and during today's debate are by no means

4 Oct 2001 : Column 799

confined to foreign affairs and defence matters; they take in home affairs and international development as well. I intend no criticism of the Government when I say that Ministers have done a great deal of thinking aloud about the need to improve our national security and the effectiveness of the campaign to combat terrorism—indeed, we applaud the Home Secretary and his colleagues for doing so—but they have opened up many more questions than they are able to resolve.

I echo the words of the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Foreign Secretary: such questions should be fully debated by Parliament. We, like many other Members of Parliament, are asking when Parliament will see the Home Secretary or the Secretary of State for International Development at the Dispatch Box. Part of the purpose of recalling Parliament is to give the Government the opportunity to face proper scrutiny of their proposals and to respond to the questions raised. Next Thursday or Friday appear to us to be appropriate dates for such a debate.

The key message that emerges from today's debate is that the whole of the civilised world desires a response to the crisis that is far more comprehensive and effective than the sort of simplistic military reaction that some feared would be the response. The Government clearly understand the need to address a wide range of internal security issues, especially those that relate to the means of arrest, prosecution and extradition of suspected terrorists, their helpers and their financiers—a point raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) and for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham). Today, I can inform the House that we have tabled amendments to the Export Control Bill precisely to address the question of people from the United Kingdom providing military assistance to terrorists overseas.

I also commend the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier). His points deserve to be addressed directly by the Home Secretary. My hon. and learned Friend rightly demonstrated to terrorists why Parliament matters.

Many hon. Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Woking (Mr. Malins) and for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman), raised the whole question of race relations and spoke of the need to amend the law of incitement to racial hatred. Almost every speaker in the debate would have liked to hear from a Minister with direct responsibility for policy on those matters.

On the definition of terrorism, do the Government agree with the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) that there is to be a distinction between international terrorism and domestic terrorism? I have to agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) and the Ulster Unionists who expressed considerable unease on that point. Are the Government proposing an international definition of terrorism for use by the European Union and other international bodies?

International development was widely debated. Clearly, there is widespread concern in the House about the need to supply aid to Afghanistan and the other countries in the region affected. My right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) asked about the standards of refugee camps and what action the Government may be taking. We welcome the Government's commitments of £25 million directly for Afghanistan and £11 million for the refugee camps in Pakistan, but we need to hear from

4 Oct 2001 : Column 800

the Secretary of State for International Development how the aid will get through and how we will prevent it from getting into the wrong hands.

Let there be no illusion that our words in Parliament, legal reforms, resolute action at home and a generous international aid programme abroad on their own can resolve the immediate threat that is posed by Osama bin Laden and his allies who comprise the network of international terrorism. That is why we commend the resolute action that the Government have taken in preparation for the military action that we fear may be necessary.

The House as a whole appears at ease with the way in which the United States has led the international response so far. There has been less fear of a so-called blank cheque for United States military action—a false image that did nothing but raise fears of an intemperate response, which have clearly proved to be false. The foundation of this confidence is the extraordinary international coalition that the United States, the United Kingdom and NATO have assembled in support of a truly comprehensive response. On behalf of the Opposition, I should like to express my appreciation for the work of the NATO Secretary-General, Lord Robertson.

On Tuesday, NATO formally invoked article 5 of the Washington treaty. Lord Robertson announced that since it had been determined that the attacks had been directed from abroad, they were regarded as an action covered by article 5. I now understand that the United States has formally called on NATO to mobilise its resources for possible military action. Today, NATO has outlined eight measures to support the US military effort, including unrestricted access to European airspace, ports and airports.

No one can doubt that the Atlantic alliance has the central and crucial role in the current international coalition against terrorism. In recent years NATO has had its many doubters and many have, sadly, questioned its role and value. The Prime Minister himself has even referred to those who would wish to destroy NATO. I trust that its crucial role in the current crisis will dispel for ever such doubts about the alliance's future. We must, however, always be ready to adapt its role to meet new challenges.

The same applies to our armed forces, so I invite the Secretary of State for Defence to enlarge on his announcement in Brighton on Tuesday. What precisely did he mean by "rebalance"? He said:

I welcome the Government's readiness and flexibility of mind to revisit SDR so soon after its implementation. We have always said that SDR would not be the end of the process. However, I am concerned about the word "rebalance" because it implies that what may be added to one capability may be cut from another in order to balance the books. I can imagine the Treasury urging the word "rebalance" into the text of the Secretary of State's speeches and that he is not altogether happy with it.

We have consistently warned of how defence commitments must be matched by defence capabilities. The Prime Minister's ambitions to police more of the

4 Oct 2001 : Column 801

world make that warning all the more relevant, so I commend the Secretary of State's comments on "The World at One" on Tuesday:

I agree. He will have our support in advancing his case with the Treasury.

I ask the Secretary of State to clarify whether there is to be some special forces review, as reported in the press. I know that he is aware of how difficult it would be to expand the Special Air Service or the Special Boat Squadron without losing what makes them so special. Will there be a consultation paper? Is there a time scale for the review? Will there be cross-departmental consultation, as with SDR? Many people, including my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson), have expressed concern about the resourcing of the security services. Will the review be based on a formal reassessment of asymmetric threats, which is clearly already under way informally, reflecting the inter- relationship between terrorism and the illegal trade in drugs, international racketeering and financial fraud?

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of visiting our forces on exercise in Oman. Exercise Saif Sareea 2 involves the deployment of huge quantities of equipment, including tanks, aircraft and ships, along with 23,000 service personnel in hostile desert conditions over an area that stretches for hundreds of miles. It is a fantastic achievement for those involved, from the chiefs of staff to every one of those carrying out their duties in theatre. The exercise tests to the limit our ability to project real military strength to the most distant corners of the world. Everyone I met showed their sheer professionalism, guts and good humour, despite considerable physical hardship. I hope that the House will join me in commending all those involved.

There will be many lessons to learn from Saif Sareea 2. Many of the lessons were touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), but now is not the occasion to embark on that debate wholesale. However, there is one important message to which the Secretary of State should immediately and publicly respond, and I have given him notice of the concern. Forces personnel on Saif Sareea 2 were promised a "welfare package" that included the opportunity of regular telephone and internet contact with their families at home. In the aftermath of 11 September, that regular contact is hugely important for service men and women who wish to reassure their folks back home. In the case of certain deployments, it has proved impossible to fulfil that promise.

Will the Secretary of State assure the House that he will give his attention to that small but acute problem? There can be little worse than waiting for an expected call that never comes. We owe it to our service men and women and their families to provide every means of reassurance that we can at this worrying time.

It is the first duty of any Government to provide for the safety and security of their citizens. On 11 September, our citizens were subject to a terrible and evil attack. They were murdered by an enemy who remains free, able and motivated to strike again. The news this afternoon is that he may already have done so.

4 Oct 2001 : Column 802

The Government would be failing in their duty if they did not use every means at their disposal to deal with that threat. The House would be failing in its duty if it did not support the Government at this time. That is why we support the Government's determination to stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States and her other allies as the whole civilised world comes to terms with what has happened.

The Foreign Secretary said that on 11 September the world changed, and of course he is right in terms of our perception of our own security and of our need to change our attitude towards it. In substance, however, the world did not change; it merely revealed itself. As the horrible freshness of the 11 September tragedy begins to fade in our minds, we must never again drop our guard.

I commend the comment made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), who apologises for being unable to be in his place. He said that it will be the job of Her Majesty's Opposition to urge the Government to press on with the plans and strategy that they are currently formulating to protect the world from the terrorist threat. I assure my hon. Friend that that is what we shall do.

Our armed forces are prepared and ready to do whatever they are called upon to do. That is their job and they are devoted to it. Nevertheless, our thoughts and prayers will be with them and their families every hour of every day until their task is done.

Next Section

IndexHome Page