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17 Oct 2002 : Column 558—continued

6.10 pm

Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford): About an hour ago I was hoping that my speech would take a gentle trot through the issues of NATO missile defence, Iraq and so on, but I am afraid that the House will now be treated to a hectic gallop. In the short time that I have available, I shall focus on the issue of pre-emption, which was raised at the beginning of the debate but which has not been touched on in detail by other hon. Members.

I briefly preface my remarks with a comment about the parliamentary armed forces scheme. The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) mentioned HMS Grafton. In August I was fortunate enough to be one of four hon. Members to be on HMS Grafton. The scheme is excellent and well organised and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the dedication and professionalism of that tremendous crew and its captain. According to recent reports they secured a #60 million drugs haul and that is very much to their credit. Since then, there have been reports that the patrol may be part of a possible range of cuts of 10 surface ships. I hope that at the end of the debate the Minister will be able categorically to deny that.

I now turn to pre-emption. Just a month ago in September, the United States Government published their national security strategy, setting out their aims and ambitions quite clearly. In many ways it is clearer than many documents produced by our Government. At its heart is a clear change in defence strategy from the doctrine of deterrence to that of pre-emption. It states:

As hon. Members will appreciate, the US Government are effectively basing their doctrine on the principle of national self-defence. Indeed, they refer to article 51 of the UN charter. Whether or not we agree with that point, such a doctrine poses fundamental military, political and diplomatic questions. In military terms, for example, what forces will we need in future? What balance will we need between regular and special forces? What effect will pre-emption have on the existing distinction between military action and law enforcement agencies—a distinction that is becoming increasingly blurred. Politically, does pre-emption require greater international collaboration, especially in terms of intelligence agencies, as the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) said? What does

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this mean for our civil rights? Is there a danger that in trying to defend our freedom, we could snuff it out in the process? In terms of NATO, will the principle of pre-emption mean that we now need to review the very heart of the Atlantic treaty, in other words the principle of collective self-defence in article 5?

All those questions need to be considered and debated, and sadly I do not have the time to do that. I have looked for a detailed analysis from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and a detailed analysis and assessment from the Ministry of Defence as to whether, why and how the Government intend to replace deterrence with pre-emption, but aside from the odd unscripted comment from the Prime Minister and the slightly inadequate comments from the Secretary of State at the beginning of the debate, the Government still seem unwilling to consider fully the implications of pre-emption and then to allow us to participate in such a debate.

I conclude with a few questions for the Minister, and I hope that he will respond to them at the end of the debate. What studies have the Government commissioned to consider the military, political and security implications of the pre-emptive doctrine? What discussions have taken place between Departments on this issue and what opportunities—as have been cited for missile defence—will be provided for the House to consider the policy and make sure that we understand it and can work out the implications of it. This is a vital issue that shapes the whole of our defence, and I hope that the Minister will address it fully in his reply.

6.15 pm

Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West): Like others, I hope for another opportunity to say something about the new chapter of the strategic defence review, which deals with network-centric capability, defence diplomacy and NATO enlargement. Only a few minutes are available to me, however, and I know that another Member has been waiting to speak. I shall therefore concentrate on the theme of partnership and co-operation.

As a nation, we cannot go it alone. We are an island, but if we are to defend our homeland effectively and protect our interests across the world we must co-operate on a global basis. An effective UK defence policy must take the world as its backdrop. International terrorism takes the lives of British citizens wherever they are on the planet, as we have seen again this week so tragically in Bali. I know that all Members will extend their deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those who were killed or injured there.

We cannot hope, as a nation, to have soldiers stationed in every part of the world where there are British citizens. We must co-operate with Governments and allies to share intelligence, and to detect and then deal with terrorists. We must also co-operate to tackle the causes of terrorism and promote international development, peace and stability, and law and order. I believe that the United Kingdom has played a vital role over the years, especially since 11 September. I pay tribute to the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State, the Government and all involved for what they have achieved, and to our armed forces for maintaining their excellent reputation for professionalism and skill in all parts of the world.

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I shall concentrate on Iraq in the time that remains to me. All alliances have their tensions, and never is that more so than in the case of the United States. We as a country must constantly assess what we consider to be in our interests. When we encounter real or potential disagreement with the United States, where do we draw the line?

For me and, I think, for my constituents, these are the key questions that should decide the extent to which we should support US policy on Iraq and be prepared to take military action without United Nations approval. Why now? What is unique about Iraq? In particular, what is unique about North Korea, given today's news? What type of military action would be effective, and what will it achieve, given that Operation Desert Fox seemed to have little or no effect? What price will be paid by our troops, by the Iraqi people and by the global coalition if we go in without UN approval? And what next for the nation of Iraq?

XWhy now?" is the question that I am constantly asked by my constituents, meaning XWhy didn't we finish him off in 1991?", to put it bluntly—and also meaning XWhy now, when there appears to be no evidence of a clear link between Iraq and al-Qaeda and 11 September?" I have to say that the dossier, horrifying as it is, does not present to me sufficient new evidence to support a pre-emptive strike without UN approval.

Let me end by suggesting to President Bush and his advisers that they should read the first paragraph of our MOD's XThe Future Strategic Context for Defence". Under the heading XA Lesson from History", it says

It then says at the bottom:

6.20 pm

Patrick Mercer (Newark): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire) with her usual trenchant common sense—something to which we are used on the Select Committee on Defence. It is also a pleasure to attempt to follow the Father of the House. I, too, was a member of the 7th Armoured Brigade, albeit at a rather different stage. One or two of the hon. Gentleman's remarks bear further examination.

I, too, feel passionately that our men and women under arms should be committed to battle understanding the legality and rectitude of their course. It would be wrong for our forces to go into action without that being fully explained and without the country behind them. I hope to ask the Government to make it clear why our men and women, to borrow a phrase from President Bush, should put themselves in harm's way and with a clear conscience.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) spoke about the lines of operation for counter-insurgency and counter-terrorist tactics in

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future. At the Prague summit the biggest challenge that will lie ahead of the reforged and regrouped NATO will undoubtedly be creating a force that is sufficiently light on its feet to do this sort of operation. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) pointed out, the 21,000 soldiers are likely to be earmarked for counter-terrorist operations. They will have to carry out political, economic, psychological, humanitarian and military lines of operation. The theories of counter-insurgency that have served us well for 30, 50 or perhaps 100 years are now looking a bit dated. NATO's challenge will be to adapt to a doctrine of pre-emption that may involve an early deployment of food aid rather than Tomahawk missiles. Our forces have to be capable of dealing not just with policemen—that point was made eloquently earlier—but with non-governmental organisations, and of dishing out food and, if necessary, violence. That will be difficult. Not many nations can handle that correctly. I think that our forces can. NATO will find it difficult and it will be a challenge.

Moving swiftly on, the Government should point out that the nature of al-Qaeda and in particular the fundamentalists whom we are seeing now operating in Indonesia is wholly different from anything that the papers would lead us to believe. Headlines such as, XTerror is Back" after the Bali bomb are wholly misleading. It is a tribute to the security and intelligence forces around the world that attacks like that on the French tanker came to not very much. It succeeded, but it did not kill—I believe it killed one man. There are a host of other operations mounted by such terrorists that are not successful and do not make the headlines. We must understand that the potential for violence is always there and that the devices such as we have seen in Bali are just around the corner.

It is not helpful either to compare al-Qaeda or any of their cohorts with the IRA. We can understand the IRA. It even had platoons, battalions and companies. Al-Qaeda and this style of fundamentalism is more a philosophy than a military force. Until we get our heads round that, we shall see continuing the ludicrous headlines that we have seen this week and we shall be unprepared for the next strike.

Reference has been made to the Prime Minister's Bali statement, in which he made a clear distinction between weapons of mass destruction and global or international terrorism. Many of the eloquent statements that we have heard tonight have come from Members who believe that those are two distinct themes; they may be complementary but, at the moment, they are not merging. They are separate and although they may feed off one another, they do not require pre-emptive action to stop the two becoming one. However, the Prime Minister has made the point clearly that the two might merge, with horrific consequences.

I urge Ministers to answer this question: why in the dossier was there no section concentrating on international or global terrorism? Why was the famous link not made between Baghdad and al-Qaeda? I understand the argument, which has been well made tonight, about source protection, but the fact remains that, from open sources, we have heard about the operations of people like Ansar al-Islam; groups operating in Iraqi Kurdistan that are armed, equipped,

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paid and trained by Baghdad, partially manned with al-Qaeda members and with every intention—if what the papers tell us is true—of operating against western targets. There are any number of other indications of the connection between the two.

Mr. Rumsfeld has made it clear in America. His defence on this point has been to say, XLook. We are the Government. We have access to excellent intelligence. Believe us and trust us." I have not yet heard that argument deployed by the British Government. I believe that it would be effective and persuasive. I challenge Ministers to convince us—to convince the doubters—of the rectitude of their cause. I challenge the Government to make sure that our fighting men and women are ready and properly motivated to fight, and know that they go forward with a just cause behind them.

A few days ago, it was Bali. Next week, next month or next year, it could be Basingstoke. Next time, however, it will not be several hundred pounds of plastic explosive. It could so easily be a nuclear warhead. Let us operate before we become victims in the way that other unfortunates have.

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