The second proposal that I want to put to the Minister is that the MOD's contingency planning in this area should be updated and implemented fully. Thirdly, contrary to what is said in the Government's response to the Defence Committee's report, I believe that it is imperative that they reverse the serious reduction in the Territorial Army that has taken place since they came to power.
Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East): The decent people of the world were horrified by the events of 11 September, not because they were in sympathy with the United States Government, but because they felt for the American people. The atrocity carried out on that shameful day involved the murder of members of the general public. We must remember that it was an act aimed not at the Government or the military, but at everyday people from countries throughout the world who were unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were firefighters, office staff, cleaners, maintenance people, tourists and even small children sat on their parent's knee.
I am not convinced that the world changed completely on 11 September, because the threat from terrorism had been growing for decades. The asymmetric threat had developed alongside the possibility of nuclear, chemical
What was also very different was that there were no negotiable demands: it was an act based in hatred and evil. When faced with such anger, the Americans had little choice but to respond with all their considerable might. What also changed was that the Americans felt justified in their determination to take conclusive action, not just in revenge but to defend themselves and to ensure that there would be no repeat of the events in New York, Washington and Pittsburgh.
The long-term reality of the effectiveness of defence may, of course, be different. There can never be complete and absolute protection for our homeland from that type of attack. When suicide extremists are involved, and have the support of one or more state regimes, defence becomes an entirely different and much more dangerous business. The Americans are entitled to do their best to protect themselves at home. That is their duty, just as it is ours to increase security in an increasingly pluralist world.
However, it cannot be possible to cover every eventuality. The nature of our enemies' tactics will be to attack what we do not cover. What happened last September in America shows that they will have no scruples about who they kill, or where or how they do it.
The harsh and unpleasant truth is that if we do not deal with the source of the infection, we are doomed to failure. That is why an attack on Afghanistan after a period of negotiation with the Taliban was fully justified. The Americans considered their action, and took their time. They were right to do what they had to do, and the British Government were right to support them.
The Americans recently increased their defence budget by $48 billion. That is nearly one and a half times the total of our defence budget, and it puts in perspective the increases proposed in the estimates today. Clearly, we must provide our forces with the resources that they need.
It gives me no pleasure to speak in favour of war, but we cannot and must not allow individuals and organisations freely to prepare for the destruction of our entire way of life. It is critical that we do what is necessary as peacefully and responsibly as possible.
However, we must involve the rest of the democratic world in what needs to be achieved. We have seen what has happened in the middle east when a policy that is based exclusively on an attempt to crush the opposition is employed. Questions of poverty, freedom and equality will inevitably play a part in the resolution of the world's differences, as will the way in which we deal with the trade in drugs.
Terrorism feeds on poverty, and is very often funded by the illegal drugs trade. Our efforts to eradicate world poverty and end the trade in heroin, for example, must be at the forefront of what we do. However, in the end, we must deter those who consider action against our people, and we must be prepared to take pre-emptive strikes against those who threaten us. To achieve that, the roles of the Royal Marines, the Parachute Regiment and special forces should be enhanced in any future strategic defence review.
The threat facing us is entirely different from the threat posed during the cold war. Attacks on our nation will no longer come across the English channel. We need to plan the location and nature of our defences with that in mind.
Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South): The hon. Gentleman mentioned the possibility of exercising our right to mounting a pre-emptive strike. Before we put people in harm's way, is he satisfied that the intelligence agencies of this country and our allies are co-ordinating their approach? Are they prepared to share all available information at the appropriate time to safeguard the deployment of our troops?
Mr. Crausby: I think it is naive to expect that the intelligence services would share information with everyone concerned, but I am happy enough that the country has a sufficiently good relationship with America for that to be possible. Whether it would extend to other nations is for them to deal with.
The problem of missiles must be tackled before it is too late, and we witness, for example, the destruction of a European city. If that happened to London or Manchester, many of our constituents would demand the most vicious revenge. They would expect the most extreme action to be taken against the perpetrators. The Government have a serious responsibility to prevent such a scenario, by whatever means, and they are entirely justified in taking whatever action is needed in the cause of sustainable peace and security.
Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent): I am advised by the Registrar that I should start by drawing attention to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests. I am a member of the Regular Army Reserve of Officers, and of the regimental council of my old regiment.
I want to register, also, my dissatisfaction at the fact that such an important debate has been confined to such a short period at the end of the parliamentary dayI think that hon. Members on both sides of the House agree about that. I have sat here for nearly eight hours, and after sitting through two debates I have been asked to limit my speech to five minutes. I will certainly do that so that others can speak, but it is not very satisfactory when such an important matter is being discussed.
I think that it is fair to pay tribute to the Government, both for their decision to deploy resources in the war against terrorism and for the success of what has been done so far. Much has been achieved, although, as I am sure Ministers will be the first to admit, a great deal remains to be done.
I had intended to mention some of the things that I thought had worked well in the war against terrorism, and some that had worked less well, but because of the time constraints I will simply identify a few equipment issues that I think the Ministry should address. It is probably unsurprising that these gaps have appeared, given the new and immediate nature of the threat we now face.
The first equipment issue relates to ISTARintelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance. It is crucial, for two reasonsthe need to target terrorists accurately, and the need to avoid collateral damage and civilian casualties. Much has been achieved since the strategic defence review, but much more needs to be done if Europe and the United Kingdom are to match United States capabilities. Those who want a practical example need only consider the success of the United States Predator unmanned spy plane, and the technology gap between that and our equivalent, the Phoenix.
Strategic air transport also gives cause for concern. The United Kingdom's long-range heavy-transport aircraft are currently leased from the United States, while the Airbus 400M is bogged down in political difficulties. Those difficulties must be resolved.
Our lack of a deep-strike capability is also important. It is important not just to the expeditionary warfare in which we are currently engaged, but to the sustaining of humanitarian operations away from the UK base. It is, in fact, a large, secure floating base for our troops. I welcome the decision to order two new aircraft carriers60,000 tonnes rather than 20,000but we must recognise that there is a gap in our order of battle until they arrive.
Following 11 September, it is also important that we address the deeply worrying lack of an integrated, land-based air defence system in the UK homeland. Without such a system, our country has no means of enforcing air exclusion zones around key points such as nuclear power stations, the City of London and transport hubs. In the short term, we clearly need to redeploy fighter aircraft to protect those points, but the issue must still be addressed.
The other lesson that immediately emerges from 11 September is the need to broaden the scope of defence policy. If the war against terrorism is to be successfully prosecuted, military, humanitarian, political, diplomatic, financial and legal resources must be provided. Afghanistan is a particularly good example. If we had deployed timely economic aid after the Soviet invasion, there is a good chance that the current conflict would have been prevented.
What are the lessons for the future? We must increase defence expenditure. The question is one of credibility. The Government tell us that the threat is very real, and I wholly believe them. If the UK is to meet that threat in
It is also important to tackle overstretch. We in this House argue about the exact figures, but we agree that overstretch exists. It is vital that sufficient numbers of troops be ready for immediate deployment, and that they have time to train and to recover. That can be achieved in two ways: through recruitment and retentionmy hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) has much to say on that, and I urge the Government to listenand through reducing our commitments elsewhere. A role clearly exists for other European countries in that regard, particularly in the Balkans.
It is vital to reorganise the Territorial Army to meet the extra commitment of homeland defence. I shall not go into the details, but the TA is ideally suited to the task, and we should look to the example of the national guard in the United States.
It is also crucial to remember the importance of conventional warfare. The Gulf is a good example of how such warfare can arise rapidly, particularly in this era. Conventional warfare is also the best preparation for our troops taking part in expeditionary warfare. Expeditionary warfare situations are broadly similar to those associated with conventional warfare, and conventional equipmentparticularly tanks and helicopterscan also be used in the war against terrorism.
As I have said in previous such debates, it is easy to start a war but difficult to bring it to a successful conclusion. The Government and our armed forces have made a good start in tackling the threat of terrorism, but many more challenges lie ahead. We in the United Kingdom are lucky to have the finest armed forces in the world. It is surely incumbent on us as politicians to ensure that they are deployed as effectively as possible to meet this new threat.