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5.42 pm

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): Like my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton), I pay tribute to the armed forces and to those who have fallen and those who are injured in the course of operations.

I shall not be drawn on my hon. Friend's last-minute foray into European policy, except to remark on the speech of the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson). He gave a dire warning that the European Parliament should not meddle in matters of defence, which should remain intergovernmental. I simply point out that plenty of us on the Opposition Benches warned that the Lisbon treaty would lead the European Parliament in exactly that direction, and further. He was warned, so if he did not want that to happen he should not have voted for the Lisbon treaty.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the commendable freshness with which she always approaches such debates. She has a terrier-like determination to advance her argument, which she always does coherently and cogently. Indeed, the degree of detail on specifications and prices that she gives is far beyond what most Members bring to these debates. It is a reminder of what much defence policy is actually about.

However, I warn my hon. Friend about the sweeping judgments on the nature of future conflict that I fear she was making. She referred to outdated notions of state-on-state warfare, and said that we must be ready for the much murkier and more complex issues of counter-insurgency warfare, but the joke, as Churchill used to say, is that the War Office is always trying to fight the last war.

I hesitate to bracket the Chief of the General Staff within such a mistake, but it is inevitable that the defence chiefs will tend to defend what they are doing and argue for more equipment so that they can do what they do, rather than doing the more difficult horizon scanning about being prepared for things that we do not expect, such as the possibility that the next war might be fought on a coastal area, where we need sea and air
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power. The two land-locked wars that we have been involved in Iraq and Afghanistan may well prove to be the exception. Incidentally, I point out that we had the characteristics of state-on-state warfare in Kosovo and certainly in both Gulf wars and that much of the combat with the Taliban has elements of state-on-state conflict that would be common to both types of warfare.

I want to concentrate on the key failures of Government policy since 1997. I commend the Opposition motion, but it tells only of the symptoms of failure, not its root cause-symptoms such as funding shortfalls, a failed procurement process, shrinking manpower assets and endemic overstretch. But the root cause is far more fundamental and relates to the failure of the UK's grand strategy. Bluntly, it seems that the UK no longer does strategy. We no longer seek to influence world events from our own agenda; we have been forced into reacting to them.

Foreign and defence policy since the SDR has been characterised by three words-drift, waste and overstretch -and they all stem from the failure of strategy. Yes, as my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) said, the SDR was based on what we call a foreign policy baseline, but as I shall point out, foreign policy tends to be more about process than about strategy and has proved a deficient basis for defence policy. There is a real danger that the 2010 SDR will be about the confirmation and re-examination of what we have been doing, rather than about being prepared for what we do not expect.

The key to a successful 2010 SDR will be a new UK strategic concept, which must embrace the whole panoply of policy-economic stability and trade policy, the future of the EU, NATO and the national security strategy, energy security, climate change and cyber-warfare. It is from those considerations that foreign policy and the SDR must flow. The UK has never institutionalised strategy in that way, but other countries, such as the US, France and Israel do so. It is time that we did so, too.

The outcome of 13 years of Labour drift in foreign and defence policy has resulted in the UK's global stock falling, as it did in the 1960s and '70s. Once again, we have to question our whole global role, as the UK is more exposed to external threats and global events than at any time since world war two. It has become a cliché to say that the 1998 SDR was a great piece of work, undermined only by a failure to fund it, but its failures are wider and deeper. In the light of Gulf war one, the theory of "go first, go fast, go home" enshrined in the SDR had some merits, but even by 1998, the experience of the Balkans was showing that such easy wins were the exception, not the rule.

The SDR had the right process, but it produced the wrong result. NATO went into Bosnia in December 1995 with 60,000 troops. By the time the NATO mission ended in 2004, there were still 7,000 troops. Even now, 15 years after the original deployment, there are still more than 2,000 EU troops. The SDR did not anticipate 9/11, the rise of militant Islamists or the types of counter-insurgency campaign that we have seen in countries that are much larger, much more hostile and a lot less developed than Bosnia. We should have moved on further and faster, but the Government remained wedded to the failed strategic assumptions behind the SDR.

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The new chapter and the 2004 White Paper, to which the Secretary of State referred, merely tinkered at the edges. They shied away from addressing the changed strategic environment, largely for financial reasons. Unless we learn from the mistakes of the SDR, we will be condemned to repeat its failures.

One of the key foundations of the SDR was Labour's so-called ethical foreign policy. Actually, the Foreign Office turned that into a foreign policy with an ethical dimension, because it realised that the term "ethical foreign policy" is nonsense.

Tony Blair set out this ethical dimension in his Chicago speech in 1999 justifying the intervention in Kosovo on humanitarian grounds. That was, he argued,

He concluded:

Shortly before leaving office, Mr. Blair argued that his experience of foreign affairs and defence since Kosovo had left him

What does that mean? What does it mean for a Prime Minister who has to make a decision in a crisis? Does it mean anything in the real world? Look at how Russia and China approach the question of Iran to see how some countries deal with their values and interests. They do not regard the Iranian bomb as a threat to themselves, so they are happy to use the west's disquiet as a tool to further their own interests, regardless of values.

This is the problem for defence with Mr. Blair's

and with the present Prime Minister's preoccupation with strengthening international institutions. International institutions must not become an end in themselves. They can be only a means to an end. The United Nations is, by definition, less than the sum of its parts. It can only ever act according to the lowest common factor of its members. Where the international community fails to accept our values, must we become a hostage to the interests of the hostile states that are blocking decisions in the UN?

If we can only act with a UN resolution, do we not simply give Russia and China a veto over our foreign policy and our defence policy? Would it not have been better for Tony Blair to have worried less about a second resolution on Iraq and more about the challenge of post-invasion planning?

What does this mean for defence? The doctrine of internationalism cannot any longer govern our defence policy. It leads to the very incoherence in foreign policy and in military action that we saw played out on the streets of Basra. Why did we stake our reputation on supporting the war in Iraq, but lack the political will to follow through in Basra to prevent the city from falling into the hands of the militias? Why did we intervene in Helmand with far too few troops? Four years later, we have ended up with 9,500 troops on a tiny part of the footprint that we originally went in with, and with only the beginnings of a workable strategy.

Why did we condemn the illegal election victory of Mr. Ahmadinejad, yet send the British ambassador to attend his inauguration? Labour's foreign policy has
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ended up compromising values and interests, and our defence as well. Messianic rhetoric has ended in debilitating drift.

Domestic policy has been characterised by waste, and we face an economic situation that leads us once again to question whether we can afford our global role. If we are to end defence and foreign policy drift, we must ask the real question: who holds the UK's strategic concept? Where is it written down? Who will redraft it before we embark on the defence review, if we are to make it a success? Before the end of the cold war, the UK's foreign and defence policy objectives had been broadly the same for five centuries: to maintain the balance of power in Europe leaving us free to develop our interests as a global trading power. In the post-cold war world, what is the modern equivalent of that as the basis for defence policy?

Throughout history, we have relied on extraordinary people in extraordinary times to frame UK strategy-men such as the elder and younger Pitt, Wellington, First Sea Lord Jackie Fisher and Winston Churchill. The end of the cold war may not have been the end of history, but it may have been the end of Europe as the principal theatre of global affairs. We have failed to develop a new grand strategy to engage with the new reality, where the stage is no longer one continent, but is the whole world.

The Foreign Office's latest strategic assessment is surprisingly old-its new strategic framework of January 2008. It has three elements:

The Government's foreign policy is defined in four ways-countering terrorism; reducing and preventing conflict, which are both defensive; promoting a low-carbon, high-growth economy, which is so vague as to be almost meaningless in terms of the activity that it envisages; and developing international institutions, especially the UN and the EU. Yes, that internationalism again.

That is not strategy. It is process. Where is trade? Where is energy security? Where are our alliances, particularly NATO, which the Government claim is still the cornerstone of our security? It is remarkable that the advanced research and assessment group at Shrivenham put the danger of a global financial collapse into the draft national security strategy, but were told to take it out, presumably for political reasons, before it occurred.

Mr. Arbuthnot: Is my hon. Friend as concerned as I am to hear that the advanced research and assessment group is about to be abolished?

Mr. Jenkin: I am extremely concerned. I shall come to that in my closing remarks.

If we do not have the courage to recognise strategic threats, we will never be able to face them. A new UK strategic concept must be the first paper that the Prime Minister commissions after the general election. Without it, how can the defence review decide what forces we need to tackle the threats of today and the uncertainties of tomorrow? The Prime Minister of the day must lead it, but it needs an institutional backing, as my right hon. Friend suggests, as it has in France, the US and Israel,
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as I said earlier. It needs to draw on advice from beyond Whitehall and particularly from a newly constructed, beefed-up ARAG, perhaps based at Shrivenham, but answerable to, and funded by, the Cabinet Office. It must provide clear-sighted strategic advice for whoever is Prime Minister.

The objective for the SDR 2010 must not be to try to rediscover some new consensus. That is where the danger lies. It must define a new direction for our nation. That may be controversial, but it must be coherent. The SDR must recognise that stabilising the Government's finances will be the main effort in the new Parliament, but it must also define the interests and objectives which must not be compromised, despite that. It must conclude that a UK global role remains indispensable to our national interest and to the interests of global security. We must strive to maintain our position of power and influence in the long term, and we must end the era of drift, waste and overstretch.

5.57 pm

Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire) (Con): Thank you for calling me, Madam Deputy Speaker. The debate so far has contained some grand themes, none more so than those from my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin). His speech was superb. It is the sort of thing that I have come to expect from him on the Defence Committee.

I pay tribute to the Defence Committee and to the right hon. and hon. Members who, over time, have served on it. My hon. Friend's contribution has been outstanding. The Committee will enormously miss the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Robert Key), who has been on it since before most of us were born, and whose contribution has been utterly outstanding. He even questioned me back in the dim and distant past when I was a member of the Government, and it was a difficult thing to deal with.

I also pay tribute, if I may, to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton), because her contributions over the years to defence debates have been extremely cogent, effective and influential in what they have brought about in defence thinking in the country.

With such grand themes going through the debate, I want to concentrate on one small matter and speak for not very long. It may seem a small matter to many people, but it encapsulates an extremely important issue. In my constituency there is an excellent local newspaper called the Basingstoke Gazette, and it has picked up a campaign that has been running since 1994 in relation to the pilots of the Chinook that crashed on the Mull of Kintyre.

I want to talk about that, because the rules at the time of the crash stated that

I take that to mean that all other possible causes of a crash should be eliminated before negligence can be found, and it is necessary to remember that it is essential to eliminate those causes in relation to both pilots. So if one of the pilots might have been negligent but the other not, and one could not tell which, it would be essential, under the rule that applied at the time, to clear both pilots.

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In Defence questions on 11 January, I therefore asked the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, the hon. Member for Harlow (Bill Rammell), to whom these remarks are addressed, this question:

The Minister replied:

That is an interesting and, I suggest, incorrect answer to a question that I had not actually posed. The question that I asked was: how do we know that both pilots agreed? If one pilot disagreed with the route or with the course of action, surely that pilot was not negligent. There was no cockpit voice recorder, there was no black box and we do not know the conversation between the pilots at the time. I have written to the Minister since Defence questions in January, and if he is able to answer that question now, I will be, of course, more than happy to give way to him. If he is able to answer it in his winding-up speech, of course that will be good, too.

But another possibility is that one of the pilots was not in the best of health in the final seconds of that flight. One might have had a heart attack. The fact that there was no evidence that either pilot had had a heart attack does not mean that there was evidence of an absence of a heart attack. I can say that, because the pathologist has written to me to point out that of course he cannot say that, with absolutely no doubt whatsoever, neither pilot had a heart attack. That is not the way in which doctors work.

Then there is the issue of technical malfunction. So many inquiries have taken place on this issue, but I shall quote one of them by the House of Lords Select Committee on Chinook ZD 756, which stated:

The fact that there was no evidence of that happening does not mean that there was evidence of it not happening.

All those things add up to one thing, and that is doubt. Therefore, I am grateful to Conservative Front Benchers for saying that, in the event of a Conservative election victory, there will be a review. I am grateful also to the Minister for saying that he is happy to meet me and the parents of the pilots at the end of this month, and I shall look forward to that.

Robert Key: My right hon. Friend's persistence on this matter is exemplary. Does he recall that ZD 756, the Chinook in the Mull of Kintyre crash, was refused flight clearance by engineers in my constituency at Boscombe Down, and that it was forcibly removed from his constituency at Odiham to Boscombe Down and, again without the consent of the controllers, from Boscombe Down to Northern Ireland in order to pick up the crew? That adds another huge layer of doubt about the decision to declare the two pilots negligent.

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