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Mr. Brazier: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way to me again. He rightly referred to the importance of consulting the reserve forces themselves. Does he accept that, for many in the reserve forces, an absolutely key decision is in his gift at the moment? That is whether to continue as a part-time appointment the critical military adviser's post, director of reserve forces of cadets. The initial decision was made five years ago and was welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. It means that the post is filled by someone who has a civilian job which, to use the words of one of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues, means that he has empathy with reservists. That decision will come up very shortly. May I urge the right hon. Gentleman to keep a part-timer in that post?
Mrs. Mahon: I thank my right hon. Friend for his patience in giving way to me again. The NATO Parliamentary Assembly was told recently by Interpol that a connection had been established between al-Qaeda, the Kosovo Liberation Army and the Bosnian Muslims. What
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. Before the Secretary of State replies, I say to the House that there is a very long list of hon. Members who are seeking to catch my eye, and if there are multiple interventions from certain hon. Members, it may affect their place on the list.
In answer to my hon. Friend's question, certainly a number of links between different organisations have been identified, each of which has been thoroughly investigated, including the one that she mentioned.
We need now to look at whether the new circumstances make new demands on us. We want to assure ourselves that we have the right shape and balance of rapidly deployable forces and that we are able to integrate them with intelligence assets and the command and control that is needed to mount effective precision operations. So we are looking closely, for example, at whether we need more of our forces at high readiness, and we are considering the enablers required, such as command and control, intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, reconnaissance and transport.
There are broadly five ways in which we can seek to counter threats abroad. We can try to prevent the conditions that allow international terrorist organisations to operate, and help less capable states to build better capabilities to counter terrorism themselves. That is similar to what the United States is doing in the Philippines at the moment. We can seek to prevent problems recurring by undertaking peace support operations, usually in coalition with others, to prevent instability or assist in stabilisation.
We can deter would-be attackers by ensuring that our range of military options and our readiness to use them are clear. We must also be able to coerce those who harbour or support international terrorism if other means have not dissuaded them. If that fails, we can try to disrupt activities that support international terrorist groups, for example by closing off sources of materiel, finance and freedom of movement. We might ultimately need to destroy active terrorist cells with military action, such as find and strike raids on key terrorist facilities. Of course, whatever action we take in response to a particular threat will depend on the nature of that threat. In some cases, defence diplomacy or peace support may be enough. In others, a robust military response will be required. We want to be able to contribute to a range of responses. We need to consider where the emphasis should lie. In all that, we will remain very conscious of the need not to place unsustainable demands on members of the armed forces and their families.
We are also examining the roles played by international organisations of which we are a member, principally the United Nations, NATO, and the European Union, but also others. They all have unique responsibilities and offer different capabilities. They have all already acted decisively against international terrorism. For example, NATO made its first ever invocation of article 5. But we need to make sure that the right organisations take the
We also need to build and sustain our military relationships with other nations. Defence diplomacy was one of the major themes of the strategic defence review. The education and training of foreign armed forces is an area in which the United Kingdom has developed proven skills. In Sierra Leone, for example, our short-term training teams have trained a total of 9,000 soldiers. We are already building on our activities and relationships in that area, but we may need to do more.
During the strategic defence review, the Ministry of Defence actively sought the views of those outside Government. We recognised that Members of Parliament and peers, local authorities, academics, industry, interest groups, non-governmental organisations, the media and members of the general public may well have ideas and opinions. Within the constraint of a tight timetable, we are seeking to emulate that approach in our work on the new chapter of the strategic defence review. So, today, I repeat our invitation for views and ideas from as wide an audience as possible. We are distributing discussion material to every library in the country; it has also gone to every local authority and is available on the internet. The armed forces are a vital national asset and I want to hear views on what their role and contribution should be in this new environment. We are working to a tight timetable, and have provided just over a month for comments, to ensure that contributors have the chance to influence our thinking. I plan to publish some conclusions from the work in the spring or early summer.
Those matters are of direct interest to us all. There have been those, certainly since the end of the cold war, who have seen the armed forces as an optional extra, and the contribution that they have made abroad as a favour that we have been able to offer to the international community. And some have perhaps taken too comfortable a view of the so-called peace dividend and the fact that an external threat to the United Kingdom seemed so unlikely. We cannot afford to think like that any longer. The military capability on which we spend the defence budget is not an optional extra; it is absolutely essential to our part in maintaining international security. We must not take that security and stability for granted.
We need to see defence as a public servicesomething as crucial to our freedom and our quality of life as health and education. The events of 11 September have cast a long shadow over our world. Our strategic environment has changed, not beyond recognition, but certainly significantly. That change must be built into our defence planning and policy. With the work that we have in hand, we will ensure that our armed forces will reflect the new challenges that we face so that we are better placed to defend the United Kingdom, our people and our interests, and to strengthen peace and security world wide.
It is a great privilege to be called to speak immediately after the Secretary of State. As he pointed out, our armed forces are on operations and in action. During the short time that I have served in the House of Commons, they have continued to distinguish themselves on land, in the air, and at sea. Will the Secretary of State convey my thanks to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) and his staff for their work in enabling me to visit many units, which has been a great privilege?
Last Friday, I visited the Infantry Battle School at Brecon, and observed the platoon sergeants' course. When I arrived, they had already been in the field for five days in filthy weather, and they had another five days to go. They were thoroughly wet and covered in mud and so were all their possessions. They had not slept in 72 hours as they had been driven out of a position the night before and had had to tab through the night with all their kit. When I met them, they were planning an assault to retake that position at 4 am the next morning. It was exactly the sort of time when one would expect them to have a serious sense of humour failure, but not a bit of it. When I spoke to them they said, "No, sir. This is what training for war is all about, sir." No finer body of men could be found in any armed service throughout the world. As President Chirac said:
I have read the document provided by the Secretary of State, the excellent second report of the Select Committee on Defence in respect of the role of the reserves and what the Secretary of State said in paragraphs 25 and 26 of the report before us today. I have had an amount of lobbying from members of the Territorial Army concerned about guard duties at key points. It does not sound a particularly attractive role, but if the intelligence estimate is that key facilities have to be guarded, or protected in order to provide reassurance to the public, somebody has to guard them and it is a proper role for the Territorial Army.