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Angus Robertson (Moray): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Government should also reconsider the prospective privatisation of the defence fire service?

Dr. Strang: I certainly do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5.40 pm

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

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

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

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

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

I was struck by a report in Tuesday's Evening Standard, which said:

As chairman of the Nepal all-party group, I welcome the inclusion of Nepal in the list. That young, genuinely free multiparty democracy faces a serious threat from Maoist terrorists. As hon. Members know, in the past two or three weeks, the worst murderous Maoist attack has occurred in western Nepal. In it, 129 people were killed, including 76 police officers and 48 members of the Royal Nepalese armed forces.

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

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

Sir John Stanley: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and vice-chairman of the group.

Let us consider the United Kingdom. The Government made two significant statements in the immediate aftermath of 11 September. The right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh (Dr. Strang) echoed one of them. The first was the Prime Minister's statement on 14 September. When he spoke of the al-Qaeda terrorists, he said:

The second statement was contained in the paper, "Responsibility for the Terrorist Atrocities in the United States, 11 September 2001", which the Government placed in the Library on 4 October. It states:

I do not believe that there is ground for revising either statement in the light of subsequent events in Afghanistan. Indeed, we would be seriously deluded if we believed that the overthrow of the Taliban regime has diminished the threat from al-Qaeda to the United Kingdom, the United States and possibly other countries. That organisation remains intact in many countries; as we have witnessed in recent days, it is far from finished even in Afghanistan.

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We do not know whether Osama bin Laden is still alive and operating, but if he is not, there is little doubt that he will have a successor.

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

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

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

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

Much of this debate is conducted in general terms, and I can see why, because I understand the public's sensitivities. Occasionally, however, it is necessary to get into specifics, and I want to give just one illustration from the Ministry of Defence's document. It describes the various chemical and biological agents that might be used, and gives details of the effects. I shall refer to one, the biological agent of plague, which I imagine we all remember distantly from our history lessons at school. The document describes the effects of plague thus:

That, by and large, would be the impact of a biological weapon attack on any population centre.

In those circumstances, there will be two absolute imperatives. The first will be to bring such medical help as can be made available to those who have been caught

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in the infected area and who have the infection. The second imperative will be to try to contain movement so as to prevent the infection being spread more widely—conceivably, right across the country. That will be the critical role for the Ministry of Defence. I have to ask the Minister whether anyone believes that the resources of the police will be sufficient on their own to prevent the movement of large numbers of very frightened people. That is a real question that the Ministry of Defence has to face and to answer, because that will be the nature of the military assistance that will be required.

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

Remarkably, when the document reaches the section that is euphemistically headed "Managing the Consequences"—the consequences of a chemical or biological weapon attack on this country—the role of the MOD is described in just six words:

That is a wholly unsatisfactory and insufficient response to the situation. It begs fundamental questions about that response. How many members of our armed forces will be required and on what time scale—I suggest that the answer to that is instantly—which units and which formation will those forces come from, how sufficiently will they be trained and how adequately will that training be exercised? Those are among the key questions, which I hope the Defence Committee will pursue on behalf of the House, getting access to whatever classified information is required.

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