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Mr. Hoon: The number of incidents has been reducing recently. I am not certain whether that trend will continue or whether it denotes a reorganisation of those who continue to support Saddam Hussein. In any event, we will remain vigilant. The number of incidents in the south, Britain's area of operation, is low. Most of the incidents still involve part of Iraq to the north and west of Baghdad, where the regime had its heartland and was at its strongest. It is vitalI agree with my hon. Friend to this extentthat before there is any kind of transition we must tackle the security situation so that a new government can take responsibility and, ultimately, so that there can be free and fair elections. Obviously, that can only occur once the security situation is resolved. As for the future Government of Iraq, that is entirely a matter for the Iraqis themselves. Our job is to create the conditions in which such a Government can be chosen.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Is the Secretary of State aware that he would not achieve his objective of spending money in the most effective way if he were to accept a proposal to throw away the multimillion pound investment that has just been completed at RAF Boulmer in order to move it all to Coningsby and provide it all over again? Will he note also that in Berwick and the borders, we feel strongly that the King's Own Scottish Borderers should have a role in the strategy that he describes?
Mr. Hoon: I indicated only a few moments ago that I would be happy to see the right hon. Gentleman. I emphasise to all hon. Members that such specific decisions have not been taken. I accept that there will need to be further consultation with right hon. and hon. Members, but I do not want to alarm anyone. None of these decisions has been taken.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): The Secretary of State rightly referred to the importance of intelligence. He also mentioned the reserve forces. Is he aware that there are a great number of British Asians who could play an important role because of their linguistic skills and understanding of some of the societies from which terrorism is coming? Can he make a renewed effort to increase the number of ethnic minority members in our armed forces?
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend is right. There have been steady successes in our recruiting, but he is right that we need to redouble our efforts, partly for the reason that he mentioned, and also to ensure that our armed forces reflect the ethnic diversity of our societya society that must be properly reflected in the composition of our armed forces. I agree that there are certain advantages in having a range of linguistic skills. He may be aware that Gurkha soldiers deployed in Afghanistan, for example, have been able to understand and communicate with a number of the local people, which has added enormously to their ability to help improve the situation there.
Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): I am grateful to the Secretary of State for outlining new and clear thinking about how our armed forces will be used. I was particularly interested to hear him speaking about expeditionary warfare and dealing with threats at a distance. What about the threats at home? Where is the clear, innovative thinking about how our regular and reserve forces, beyond the rapidly failing civil contingencies reaction force, will be adapted for the new style of warfare?
Mr. Hoon: I realise the difficulties that the hon. Gentleman faces in his particular position. As he well knows, the Minister for homeland security in the United Kingdom is my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Having set out in the new chapter a detailed response to the kind of threats that we witnessed so tragically in the United States on 11 September 2001, I have not specifically dealt with the homeland implications today. However, I emphasise that they are constantly under review as far as the Ministry of Defence is concerned, and I believe that we make an effective contribution to the efforts made across Government, but specifically by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, to deal with those threats and challenges.
Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): Should not the emphasis be on unmanned aerial vehicles, better situational awareness, forces-wide communications, asset tracking to improve logistics, and more appropriate armoured wheeled vehicles with suitable protection to back up foot patrols? Would not the money be better spent on those things than on cluster bombs or the unwanted occupation of Iraq?
Mr. Hoon: I was about to congratulate my hon. Friend on his excellent command of the jargon, which I confess still sometimes eludes me. I agree with nine tenths of what he said and reiterate what I have said to him on previous occasions about the use of cluster bombs.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): I warmly welcome the Secretary of State's reference to the Eurofighter. Will he give a commitment that the use and deployment of the Eurofighter to RAF Leeming will be on the target date and in the same numbers that he confirmed? The Ministry of Defence is aware that there is a problem at RAF Linton. I pay tribute to the flying school at RAF Linton and the tremendous contribution that it makes, but the reduction of the number of flying schools used by the RAF and the Navy puts enormous pressure on the remaining schools. Can he give some indication of how that can be resolved?
Mr. Hoon: I am as keen as the hon. Lady to get what I think that we had better call Typhoon nowadays into service. I recognise that her experience in the European Parliament means that she likes to call things Euro-something or other. I hope, by the way, that that does not interfere with her well-deserved promotion. It is important that we concentrate on getting Typhoon into service, working with the RAF, and as I said, ensuring that it has a multi-role capability to deal with the kinds of operations that we currently conduct. I am as keen as anyone to achieve that.
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab/Co-op): Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to scotch the myth being put around by Opposition scaremongers in Scotland that the review represents some threat to the Scottish infantry regiments? Does he agree that the real threat to our defence installations and personnel in Scotland is from those who would break up the United Kingdom?
Mr. Hoon: My right hon. Friend is right. As I have made clear, it is important that we see through the implications of the policy baseline that I set out today in more specific decisions. None of those decisions has been taken in relation to Scotland or any other part of the United Kingdom.
Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con): The Secretary of State rightly drew attention to the fact that a National Audit Office report praised the speed of deployment of heavy armoured forces to the Gulf, and also picked up the fact that many commanders feel that our heavy assetsthe Challenger 2, the Warrior, the AS 90were the battle-winning assets. Bearing it in mind that the right hon. Gentleman is proposing a move to lighter forces, and that the threats that we face are rarely the ones for which we are configured, is there not a serious danger that the review may leave us less ready to face the unexpected?
Mr. Hoon: It is vital that that does not happen. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his observation. Challenger was used extremely effectively in and around Basra, for example, and I expect that tacticians would suggest that that was in a way not originally thought likely. That is why I place so much emphasis on flexibility. If ingenious commanders can use their equipment in a way that achieves the desired effect, and undoubtedly that was the case with the way in which Challenger was used, I for one will be delighted.
Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): Did my right hon. Friend see the report in The Guardian yesterday that the second largest contingent in Iraq is made up of employees of large corporations? Does he share my concern that that illustrates the growing power of the military industrial complex? What steps will he take to ensure that Britain's defence programme is based on the needs of the country, not the wants of the corporations?
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend used jargon that I have not heard in some time. It was never a phrase that tripped lightly from my tongue, but I congratulate him on his sophisticated vocabulary. I do not really agree with him. Clearly, we must ensure that the civilians who support our deployed operations are properly protected and capable of doing their job effectively. Those
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): If the Secretary of State follows the policy outlined in the White Paperwhich is very short on detail, I might sayis he confident that, in 10 years, this country would be able to cope with a crisis in the Falkland Islands or mount another Iraq-style operation?