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Mr. Hancock: Will the hon. Gentleman explain what would happen if Europe did not adopt the policy that it is currently embracing, and if the Americans decided not to take part in any action if a problem arose here? What would be the Conservative response to that? Would Great Britain alone take on the responsibility of sorting out a European conflict?
Mr. Swayne: It strikes me that there is perfectly adequate provision in NATO to make available the resources on an ad hoc basis. The coalition of the willing can happen as easily in NATOin fact, I suspect, rather more easilyas within the European Union.
Dr. Julian Lewis: Is not the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) singing from a different song-sheet from his friends on the Labour Front Bench? They constantly tell us that the purpose of the European force is crisis management and not war-fighting or conflict. Now, however, the real danger is of a war breaking out in Europe and people from European states blundering into it without the Americans being involved. That is what we have been warning about all along.
Mr. Swayne: I acknowledge the force of my hon. Friend's point. My concern is that, if we go back and look at the declarationsthe summitrybehind this issue, much of the rationale for the security and defence policy is the need to project the European Union on the world stage. I would have no practical problem with that, if the desire to do it would generate the capability, but it has not done so.
That brings us to the subject of the war against al-Qaeda, and the whole subject of asymmetric terrorism. What is our policy in terms of pursuing al-Qaeda beyond the Afghan front? Notwithstanding the highly useful specialised forces still being deployed, we have been content to contribute to the international security assistance force. How far into the future are we prepared to stand shoulder to shoulder, as the Prime Minister described it, with our principal ally, the United States? If we are to continue to do that, should we not take on more of the burden of pursuing the rump of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, as the Canadians are doing? Or are we content to take the largely peacekeeping role in the ISAF?
I ask those questions because, earlier this week, HMS Ocean sailed with two companies of 45 Commando for the Indian ocean. We are told that they could be involved in combat operations in support of American forces, perhaps pursuing al-Qaeda in Somalia. Can the Minister throw some light on that? We have to know exactly what our policy is on this issue, and what it will be.
My starting point in analysing the problem, as I said at the beginning of my speech, is that we have the best armed forces in the world and of course we want to use them. That is what they are for. There is no point in spending more than £21 billion a year on our armed forces if we are not going to deploy them whenever we need to do so. Of course, we hope that their mere existence will be a significant deterrent, but failing that, their purpose is to deliver lethal force wherever it is required in pursuit of our foreign policy, in conjunction with our allies.
The armed forces want to be deployed. I cannot believe that many service men join up without the hope that they will see action. No one wants to spend their career back at the depot. The fact that we deploy our armed forces so often creates a virtuous circle. More than ever before, I suspect, in the British Army, any gathering of soldiers, officers or NCOsbe it an orders group or a conferencewill benefit from the fact that a majority of those present will now have operational experience and a significant minority will have combat experience. So, having a busy Army is a good thing for defence policy, but there has to be a balance. There are suggestions, and there is evidence, that we have now become too busy.
Mr. Hancock: I was disappointed to hear that the hon. Gentleman was coming to the end of his speech, because I was hoping that he would say something that would keep the Secretary of State awake long enough to listen to the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch). I should be grateful if you would confirm, as you have not mentioned any policies apart from the return to the tank and the better use of the Territorial Army, that you are happy with everything else to do with defence policy
Mr. Swayne: That intervention does not do the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) justice. I acknowledge that the Secretary of State was generous in giving way, but many Members want to speak today, and the brevity of my remarksalthough it may disappoint the hon. Gentlemanwas a necessity, and a courtesy to the rest of the House.
Over-busyness, as I described it, was perhaps strongly evidenced in answers to written questions tabled by the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch), which show a worryingly high differential between military and civilian divorce rates. It was useful to see those statistics. At a reception hosted by the Royal British Legion yesterday, I was told about a worrying statistic. On the return to Bovington of an armoured regiment of about 210 men, the Royal British Legion had to deal with some 76 divorces. That worrying statistic forms part of the evidence of over-busyness.
Budgetary worries are also expressed in the detail of the 31st report of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. On reading beyond the headlines, one discovers some very worrying figures. The body expresses "dismay" at the
Perhaps the most worrying evidence is the effect on training. Infantry battle school course statistics for last year show that mortar courses were under-subscribed by 40 per cent. Sniper courses and milan anti-tank courses were under-subscribed by 46 per cent. and 20 per cent. respectively. The reason is obvious. A busy battalion that has to deploy to Northern Ireland does not need milan anti-tank support, so there is no need to send its busy soldiers on such a course. The reality is that a time will come when we will need those skills for high-intensity warfare, but they will have faded. There is a vicious circle, in that courses have be lengthened to take account of the fact that skills are not of the required standard when they begin. That is a very worrying element of the evidence that the Army is rather too busy.
As my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) said on Monday, the Secretary of State must persuade the Foreign Secretary to reduce the commitmentsI think that unlikelyor persuade the Chancellor to fund them.
Mr. Swayne: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall continue as I am drawing my remarks to a close. As the Defence Committee's second report points out, if there is to be another chapter in the strategic defence review, the Chancellor must be prepared to pay for it. The report's conclusion is very important to us and to defence policy. It says: