Previous SectionIndexHome Page

6.13 pm

Jim Knight (South Dorset): Given the time, I shall restrict my comments to the resourcing of the armed forces. There is no doubt that, in defence as much as anywhere else, one gets what one pays for. The events of 11 September had an enormous impact, and as others have said, the reverberations will be felt long into the future. On that day, the strategic defence review's omission to treat seriously the asymmetric threat was exposed as a fundamental flaw, and I support the Government in committing to a new chapter for the SDR. I would strongly argue, however, that a new chapter requires a new tranche of money.

In September, the Prime Minister spoke of a three-pronged approach—humanitarian, diplomatic and military, as the Chairman of the Select Committee reminded us—in response to the terrorist attacks on the United States. It is highly appropriate to continue that approach. Our diplomatic efforts are assisted by the stick of the military and the carrot of development assistance.

7 Mar 2002 : Column 508

Indeed, the ability of our armed forces in peacekeeping and peacemaking is unrivalled in the world. They are currently deployed in 80 different countries, including in some substantial peacekeeping roles. That is certainly placing a considerable strain on them and it is not sustainable indefinitely.

I am a strong advocate of the United Kingdom fulfilling its international responsibilities to the full. I support the Prime Minister's lead, but if it is to continue, it needs more resources. One use of such resources—apart from expanding capability, which I shall come to briefly at the end—would be an expansion of the reserve forces, as others have mentioned, not to recreate the home guard, but to give some slack to the armed forces and to enable them to perform some specific tasks which more knowledgeable people than I would want to specify. I am particularly attracted to giving the Territorial Army, with its military command and control skills, the expertise and equipment to support the civil power in dealing with nuclear, biological and chemical attack threats in the United Kingdom homeland.

We also need more resources to increase capability. We cannot hope to catch up with the United States' capability and in many ways it would not be appropriate, but there is a real question over the future development of NATO. It would appear that the experience of action in Kosovo has led the United States to become increasingly wary of joint action. The invoking of article 5 was significant, but it was not followed by significant NATO action in Afghanistan.

There is no time now to rehearse the arguments around the expansion of NATO or the European security and defence policy, but, clearly, efforts towards capability improvement by the NATO capability conference and the European Union's Helsinki goals have to succeed. We do not want or need a European army to rival the United States, but we need more burden sharing and more coalition action, particularly in Europe's backyard. It would also help to alleviate the strain on UK armed forces if our European allies were sharing our burden. In turn, if we improve our contribution in NATO, I would hope that we could gain more leverage in persuading the United States to increase its development aid and peacekeeping commitment and capability. Recently, when in the United States with the Committee, I consistently raised the point with politicians and others that they should increase their role in terms of international development. I am afraid that I did not come away desperately reassured.

In summary, there is no greater duty on Government than to ensure the defence of their citizens. In the post-11 September world, it is a much more uncertain environment in terms of homeland and international security. Therefore, we need more resources for our military: for an expansion of the reserves, for a better co-ordinated capability and for the use of the military in harmony with our diplomatic and humanitarian efforts.

6.18 pm

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South): I am delighted that we are having the opportunity of this debate, but we are all disappointed that it has been cut short. With the modernisation of the House, we should have a Standing Order that allows the House to suspend its Standing Orders to extend a debate for an hour on a night like this, to allow hon. Members to speak.

7 Mar 2002 : Column 509

The inability of the managers here to contemplate what would happen is mind-boggling incompetence of the worst order. I am delighted to speak and I will respect the time.

Many hon. Members have spoken about the events of 11 September and how things have changed and will possibly never be the same again. The real change was that for the first time America's homeland was hit and Americans in real horror faced what many countries have been facing for decades. It brought to the attention of the American people the fact that nowhere was safe from people who will make a determined effort and will respect no one and nothing, least of all their own lives, but will get the greatest satisfaction only from killing as many people as possible in the most horrific circumstances.

The American response was predictable and natural for most human beings. They had to respond as they did and they have committed us all to a war on terrorism. It has to be a worldwide war on terrorism, not just against those who threaten the American homeland. Terrorists are active right across the world. This war will never end until we respect the democratic and human rights of human beings everywhere. Nations and individuals have a right to play a part in that.

Many members of the Select Committee on Defence have listened with great interest over the past seven months to what will be done and what has already been done. In all honesty, some of us are disappointed that more has not been achieved in those seven months. The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley)—sadly, he has left the Chamber—spoke about several great threats that most reasonable people would say it is impossible to defend ourselves against. All we can do is hope that the country would have enough of the machinery of its infrastructure left to respond to them. Unfortunately, we would not be in a position to do that at the moment.

The Defence Committee report exposed clearly that not enough finances are earmarked for the defence of this country and to support the original concept of the strategic defence review, let alone to meet the financial implications of this new chapter. The Government must tell us where they intend to find the money that is needed, and over what period. Great issues are involved, and the consequences of inaction will be grave for the whole nation.

One other thing occurred on 11 September—a new benchmark in terror was set, as our report readily identifies. Sadly, when benchmarks are set, others will aspire to top them or compete with them. We must look beyond the threat of out-of-control—or much-controlled but out-of-contact—planes crashing into places such as central London or other European capitals. Many of those who gave evidence to the Defence Committee said that we must start to think like the terrorists. Not many rational people can think like terrorists. Nobody in the House would conceive of doing away with their own lives and taking several thousand others with them. It is very difficult to put oneself in the mind of a terrorist and thus to understand one's opponent. It is not comparable with fighting an opposing army who might be subject to the same disciplines as we are.

7 Mar 2002 : Column 510

We do not even know about these terrorists—their organisations are still in the building stage. However, we know that they have an ability to deliver weapons of mass destruction. Whatever weapons those might be—they are on the shelf in some instances—those involved are just months, if not weeks, away from being able to put them together. Some of those who gave evidence to the Committee stressed how easy it would be to make a cheap, low-grade nuclear weapon. Chemical weapons could easily be deployed once people had the materials to put together the mechanics. We must be eternally vigilant.

When the Select Committee visited the United States, it was obvious that one of the big deficiencies that allowed its back door to open was that the intelligence agencies were not talking to each other effectively. They all claimed some sort of knowledge but it was not universally shared. There was no real co-ordination of the material being gathered. It is no good saying, after the event, "He over there knew a bit, she over there knew a bit, and somebody in another country was putting together parts of the jigsaw."

We must be relentless in focusing on those issues on which we can deliver. As many hon. Members have said, we must have armed forces of whom we can be proud, but they are over-stretched, and they need further financial and human resources. Intelligence services need to be beefed up and have more money spent on them, but we must make sure that they are not so jealous of the resources at their disposal that they are not prepared to share them early enough to allow a properly measured reaction. As at least one hon. Member has suggested, on some occasions the best form of defence is the pre-emptive strike. Sadly, I am sure that in the next decade or so we will, as a nation, have to come face to face with the fear and the consequences of having to take those decisions.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): When a pre-emptive strike is made against another country, it implies an absolute disregard for international law. Is the hon. Gentleman in agreement with such a disregard?

Next Section

IndexHome Page