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Mr. Hancock: No; I am not, but there comes a time when it can be necessary to make a pre-emptive strike, as a measure of last resort. If it had been possible to prevent the attacks on New York because intelligence told us that a group of individuals were prepared to carry out those attacks and were being shielded by another nation, there is a legitimate argument that they could and should have been taken out before they could unleash their doom and gloom on the whole world.

We must appreciate that we in this place have a duty to protect our nation, and that that protection has a cost: a human cost and a resource cost. The Government owe it, not just to the Defence Committee and its report, but to the nation, to ensure that the defence of the nation is properly financed and resourced over a period sufficient to allow us all to have confidence that we shall not ask the men and women who defend our country to do it on the cheap.

6.26 pm

Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West): I shall simply mention three subjects; the first is homeland defence.

The Defence Committee said in its report on the strategic defence review that it was worried that the review might be too foreign-policy-led, which could lead

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to a neglect of the level of insurance needed for home defence. The events of 11 September have made us all think again about that statement, without wishing to arouse undue public concern. However, it is clear, from the report that we are debating tonight and the evidence that we have heard, that more needs to be done, and that although it would be wrong to rush ahead and engage in all sorts of measures of homeland defence without debating and considering them properly, there is a concern that some aspects have not been given sufficient priority in the months since 11 September.

Remaining on the subject of homeland defence, much has been said about reserves and the national guard. I admit to the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) that I have still to be persuaded that we should take the national guard route. I prefer to be more traditional, and to consider and debate instead how we may increase the size and role of the reserves. I believe that many hon. Members, especially Labour Members, recognise that with hindsight the strategic defence review should not have made its recommendations to reduce the reserves, and I would or will welcome far more debate on the exact role that they can play.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): I thank the hon. Lady for her courtesy in giving way. I shall be brief. The SDR took away many Territorial Army infantry battalions. I speak as an ex-TA infantry officer. Does the hon. Lady think that what happened on 11 September gives the Government a legitimate reason to revise that mistake and to restore the number of those TA infantry battalions that could be optimised for home defence?

Rachel Squire: I certainly think that it gives, and should give, the Government the opportunity to revise the conclusions that they reached in the strategic defence review, but I will not commit myself by saying how many additional battalions there should be. I do not know enough to do so.

Secondly, like other hon. Members I welcome the additional money that has been set aside in the spring supplementary estimates for the Ministry of Defence, but I fervently hope that it will not be the last. During the Defence Committee's visit to the United States recently, we were continually reminded that the US defence budget increase was bigger than our entire Budget. I believe that we all recognise that it is crucial to the future of NATO that the European allies increase their financial commitments to that organisation, and that it is crucial to the standing and role of our armed forces that we give them the necessary resources.

The third issue, which I shall touch on briefly, is the current discussion about Iraq, which goes to the heart of the strategic issue of how the United Kingdom can and should support the United States and how we can contribute most effectively to the fight against terrorism. The Select Committee has been very clear in our view that terrorism cannot be defeated by force alone. Reference has already been made to Iraq, and I shall not go into the possibilities on this occasion, but I want to refer to my concern about our armed forces' existing operational commitments.

Frankly, we should not consider committing our armed forces to any additional operation unless we consider reducing their existing commitments. Many hon.

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Members share the concern that they are already stretched, and it does not seem as though they will be able to hand over the lead of the interim force in Afghanistan in three months' time. It has become clear this week, with the deaths of members of the American armed forces, that the situation in Afghanistan is far from stable.

We are also concerned about Macedonia and whether it, too, could turn into a tinder box. We should remember what the Chief of the Defence Staff said in a lecture at the Royal United Services Institute in December:

I look forward to fuller and more regular debates on the many issues that we need to address.

6.31 pm

Patrick Mercer (Newark): May I start by declaring my interest as a member of the Regular Army Reserve of Officers and a trustee of my former regiment's association? I shall be as brief as I possibly can and will try not to iterate the strategic points that have been made by so many hon. Members before me. The whole thing comes down to a question of money. However, it is not a question of just increasing the amount of money dedicated; it is a question of spending that money cleverly and in a wise and measured fashion.

I draw the Minister's attention to an excellent organisation that used to exist—the Home Service Force. In many ways, it was laughed at and called, "Dad's Army", but it was extremely cheap, extremely effective and perfectly organised for key-point protection. The Territorial Army may not want to undertake that task. If we were to consider arming the Home Service Force with weapons such as Rapier or Blowpipe, perhaps it could become a real force multiplier. Before I am laughed out of court on that point in terms of technology, hon. Members should bear in mind the fact that Yeomanry soldiers are expected to man the Challenger 2 fleet, so there is no reason why the Home Service Force should not take up the role that I suggest.

I shall make the point again about the very welcome introduction, or conversion, of 2 and 52 Brigades and draw attention to the excellent points made by the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Crausby) about the training of our conventional regiments to the same standards as those that we have come to expect from the Royal Marines and the Parachute Regiment. Our conventional regiments are fine and excellent organisations and changing 2 and 52 Brigades to infantry brigades makes that point entirely. I urge the Minister to look hard at equipping those brigades with a proper headquarters, and with organic artillery and sappers, to make them deployable so that they, too, can take their place in the order of battle in the field.

I shall move on quickly to the use of intelligence. We have seen how the 3rd Military Intelligence Battalion has played its part in this battle, but I ask the Minister to consider the flexibility of our intelligence reservists.

Last and perhaps most contentiously, I should like to draw attention to the activities of our Special Air Service—a handful of men whose activities are rarely talked about. I do not intend to intrude into their modus operandi or exactly what they have been achieving in Afghanistan. I would say this, however; currently, some of the hardest fighting of the Afghanistan campaign is

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going on. As far as I am aware, there are no British forces involved at the cutting edge of this campaign at the moment. Without letting too many cats out of the bag, I strongly suspect that that is because the tiny numbers of our special forces involved over there are exhausted.

I draw the Minister's attention to the operations of R Squadron of 22 SAS and the flexibility that that organisation provides. I would like him to look also at the operations of 21 and 23 SAS, the two Territorial regiments that support 22 SAS. It is entirely feasible that we should expand both the Territorial and reserve base of the SAS. There are any number of ex-Territorial soldiers of regular battalions, the parachute regiments or even the Royal Marine Reserve who are ready and willing to serve in an expanded Territorial or reserve capacity inside the SAS.

I would also suggest—I may be preaching the unpreachable—that we expand the SAS. "It is not possible," I hear the Army cry. It has been done—most effectively, for the campaign in Northern Ireland, where an adjunct was added to the SAS precisely for that campaign. The laurels of that organisation are very infrequently polished but, by golly, they are there for all to see.

The SAS, rightly, has high standards, as anyone who saw the programme recently that asked "Are you tough enough for the SAS?" will know. I strongly suspect that I am not, but there we are. The fact remains that there are lots of people who are willing to give it a go. If the mentality of "many are called but few are chosen" can be expanded, and if flexibility can be given to the Army's style of recruiting its select and best soldiers, I believe that it would be more than possible to expand the SAS, perhaps by 100 per cent. I urge the Minister to look at that idea in some detail.

Our forces are, without doubt, the best in the world and I pay tribute to them, just as every other right hon. and hon. Member in the Chamber today has done. But the fact remains that, nearly six months after 11 September, we have seen the United States gird its loins for war, motivate and mobilise its reserve and dedicate $48 billion to expanded defence spending. Nearly six months on, this country has—a discussion document. Discussion documents do not stop bullets; discussion documents do not stop terrorists. We need deeds, not words.

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