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17 Oct 2002 : Column 507—continued

Jeremy Corbyn: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hoon: No, I must finish my speech.

Defence diplomacy involves building key relationships with military and diplomatic personnel in countries across the world, sharing our experience and expertise. Those relationships give us rapid and direct access to decision makers in questions such as over-fly rights or forward basing. In some cases, we are building relationships with states that supported terrorism in the past, helping them to join the international community as full partners. The Ministry of Defence is greatly aided in this by support from other Departments, such as the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

This has been—and continues to be—one of the most challenging times for defence in recent years. We face difficult choices. We will need to show resolve, but we will not be deflected from pursuing our strategic goals, forming new alliances and demonstrating the professionalism, dedication and determination of Britain's armed forces as a force for good in the world.

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2.52 pm

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): I welcome the Secretary of State's announcement on missile defence. Although it does not constitute a change of policy or involve a marked shift in expenditure or a commitment to a particular programme, it marks a considerable shift in his tone. I did not come to the Chamber today with the intention of majoring on the subject of missile defence, because I took the view that, after the Bali attack, to carry on highlighting the absence of ministerial commitment to missile defence would do nothing but add to public anxiety. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman's timing is well chosen. The public require reassurance on this issue. Weapons proliferation continues and we know that investigation into possible programmes has continued in the right hon. Gentleman's Department and that the NATO working party, in which the UK is a prime facilitator, has continued its work on missile defence, so it has become increasingly ridiculous for the Government to insist that Xno decisions have been made."

I very much welcome the movement that the Secretary of State has made today, but I must point out that Her Majesty's Opposition have been pleading with the Government on this issue for some time; my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition raised the issue of missile defence long before the last election, and such a statement from the Secretary of State was long overdue. I welcome it unreservedly and look forward to seeing the papers that he will lay before the House and to engaging in the debate that he says he will now welcome.

I stress a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer). At a recent conference that I attended on missile defence, it was noticeable that Britain is virtually the only country in Europe that is not well down the track of developing a deployable theatre missile defence system. I have no desire to set hares running as I have no doubt that whatever is required to protect forces in theatre will be provided, but my hon. Friend deserves a fuller answer in the fullness of time than the Secretary of State felt able to give today. As we embark on this debate, I see nothing to be gained on the Government's part unless there is absolute openness. At a time when public anxiety about terrorist attacks and weapons of mass destruction is running high, surely we should do everything that we can to reassure the public and give them confidence in what we are saying and doing.

I also welcome the Secretary of State's statement about the SA80 A2, and I am grateful for the notice that he gave me earlier today of his intention to raise this matter. He has put an important statement on the record. It is one thing for senior military officers to stake their reputations on this matter, but it is also right that the Ministers who are responsible for taking the decision put their views clearly on the record. I very much welcome the fact that that has happened today. I am grateful to the Government for the briefing that I received on the SA80 A2.

The decisive factor will be the confidence of soldiers and the Royal Marines, and it is their judgment that I will trust. I believe that the Government have every right to think that the soldiers and Royals Marines will have confidence in the weapon when the new arrangements and the necessary equipment are issued and the further

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modification is carried out. However, we will not let the matter drop if soldiers do not show confidence in the weapon on which they might have to stake their lives.

The background to the debate is the dreadful atrocities committed in Bali last weekend. The facts are stark. The initial evidence suggests that this was a highly practised and skilful attack. The blast was directed at the Sari nightclub and reminiscent of the expertise of the most skilful terrorist organisation in the world, the Provisional IRA.

It has further come to light that Jemaah Islamiyah has a long record of sending young Islamic scholars to the same fundamentalist Islamic schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan as bin Laden's al-Qaeda. Jemaah Islamiyah is embedded in the bloody concept of jihad, and its sister terrorist organisation in Indonesia, Ngruki, has had terrorist training in Afghanistan. Can there be any doubt that this attack is at least associated with al-Qaeda and should definitely be included in the war on terrorism?

We must ask ourselves where such groups are next likely to strike. There have already been further bomb attacks in the Philippines and we must be prepared for, and expect, a constant stream of attempts to cause terrorist atrocities anywhere in the world. That means our own country. The message that came out of 11 September last year is that we live in a far less predictable world than we thought. I am afraid that the Bali attack does nothing to allay those fears.

David Burnside (South Antrim): Does the hon. Gentleman, on behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition, agree that predictability depends on intelligence? Her Majesty's Government set an example when we were recalled in the recess to debate Iraq. They created a precedent by providing intelligence information, including from MI6, on the threat from Iraq. Does he agree that that precedent should be followed? Should not information from the intelligence services on threats from any terrorist organisation, domestic or international, be placed before the House in the way that it was in September? That was an example of open government.

Mr. Jenkin: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, but I do not feel qualified to give him a full and frank answer. That would require deep consideration. He is trying to take me down a path that I do not want to follow, certainly not today. However, his point is well made and I have no doubt that Ministers have listened, so perhaps they will respond at the end of the debate.

The point about the Bali bombing is that it confirms the nature of the security environment in which we now live. As Lord Robertson, the Secretary General of NATO, has predicted, we can look forward to more instability, more conflicts spilling over into neighbouring countries and regions and more terrorism. It is appropriate that we pay tribute to the security services for the number of attacks that they have succeeded in foiling since 11 September. There will be more failed states, both rogue states and those with essentially benign or good governments struggling

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against the odds that we have seen in Indonesia, and more proliferation, as we have seen today with the US Administration's confirmation about a nuclear weapons programme in North Korea. The question that we must ask ourselves, which lies at the heart of everything we do as we consider defence in the world, is how we counter that.

Jeremy Corbyn: Obviously I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the terrible nature of the Bali bombing and the terrible loss of life there. Is he concerned, however, that the Indonesian armed forces, which may receive support from western Governments in future, have a poor human rights record? Their activities in West Papua and Aceh are deplorable, as are those of the Indonesian militia. Is not this the time to encourage the Indonesian Government to have civilian control of their armed forces rather than the virtually independent state that they now enjoy?

Mr. Jenkin: I shall turn to how we should help Indonesia later in my speech, and I promise the hon. Gentleman that I will address that point.

The next question is how the Bali bombing affects our attitude to Iraq. First, I entirely concur with the Prime Minister that there is, as he explained so eloquently to the House on Tuesday, a connection between terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. As he put it, both issues are threats and,

He continued,

There is therefore no question of our adjusting policy towards Iraq in light of what happened in Bali.

Furthermore, let us not be squeamish about considering the likelihood of terrorist connections with the Saddam Hussein regime. Shards of evidence are constantly emerging which all point in the same direction. Recently it was announced:

Mansour Thaer is an Iraqi national, born in Iraq and probably operating under the control of the Iraqi Government.

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