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3.16 pm

Patrick Mercer (Newark): We heard some prophetic words from the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) when he referred to Osama bin Laden being allowed to stew for a while. I suggest that is precisely what we should not let him do.

We have just seen on Teletext that a few hours ago another aircraft has been destroyed by an act of terrorism, this time over the Black sea, with upwards of 70 deaths. There is no doubt that terrorists see this as a long-term affair, not a short-term one. There have been terrorist operations in Srinigar and the Islamist movement in Uzbekistan is now threatening the bases that the American forces hope to use north of Afghanistan. The terrorists are in for a long-term operation. American forces have already been warned off—not just for this operation but to replace units in theatre in six months' time, so units from the 10th mountain division already have the warning for the next unit to take over from them in six months.

What about ourselves? We are promised a review of our strategic defence review, but what capacity do we really have to defend the nation? I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron) about police numbers. In my constituency, Newark and Retford are also horribly short of policemen, who provide us with security at its most basic level.

In military terms, what interceptor aircraft are available to protect Heathrow? On 11 September the order was given to get aircraft in the air, yet there was none available. What nuclear, biological and chemical warfare defence do we have? The old civil defence system is long disbanded. The Army has one nuclear, biological and chemical warfare regiment at its disposal and that is currently deployed. The Territorial Army has trained troops but no equipment to defend us. Currently, the Defence Intelligence and Security Centre and the Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre are desperately short of manpower. There are photographic interpreters, Arabic speakers, intelligence

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officers, interpreters and interrogators, all of whom are reservists or territorials. The regular units need them now, yet they have not been called. These people cannot reasonably be asked simply to volunteer to leave their employment to assist; they must be told officially to do so.

In the 1970s and 1980s a battalion was regularly deployed at Heathrow airport to exercise for just this sort of emergency. It has long gone; no such battalion exists any more at Windsor. What about our defence medical services? There are 14 field ambulance units on war establishment but we can field only three. In the past, the Territorial Army had home defence battalions, as did the Regular Army. Now, the TA has all but gone.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): Will the hon. Gentleman remind the House who decimated the British forces medical support services?

Patrick Mercer: I do not seek to attribute blame. I merely say that something needs to be done, because we do not have the people we need to do the job now.

What about aggressive operations as opposed to those that are purely defensive? We are desperately short of pilots to man the few aircraft that we have. I have already mentioned the TA, our regular forces are overstretched, and I am told that there is no plan to replace any of the regular units that are currently in theatre on Exercise Saif Sareea. Last but not least, what is being done to take advantage of the current atmosphere to recruit the 8,000 soldiers, not to mention the seamen and airmen, of whom our regular forces are short? What is being done to seize the initiative—to go out and recruit while the climate is right and people want to serve their nation? The answer is not very much, if anything.

Our armed forces are in a parlous state. We have heard how our defence spending has been cut during the past 15 years. I suggest that we are not ready for sustained operations. While we have tiny numbers of special forces who can be—indeed, probably have been—deployed, the operation in which we are engaged might not be short term, and we are likely to need troops, weapons and equipment. In the 1930s, far-sighted politicians took unpalatable decisions and prepared us for a war that some regarded as inevitable; the result was victories such as the Battle of Britain following hard on defeats such as Dunkirk. I suggest to the House that we need to remedy the current situation, and remedy it soon.

3.22 pm

Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie): Like many others, I rise to express my full support for the Government's actions. I especially welcome the evidence that the humanitarian contribution is moving up the scale of priorities. That issue is of great importance, and I am sure that the Select Committee on International Development and others will want to become more involved than they have been thus far in terms of consultation and so on.

In the time available to me, I shall focus on an issue related to the Government response to which no one else has referred: money laundering. Over the past few weeks, it has become commonplace to say that we must cut off the terrorists' supply of money and that the Government

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must respond better to the problem of money laundering. I fully support that view, but I do not want us to rush into a knee-jerk response that allows us to kid ourselves that we have done something about the problem when we have not.

It was pleasing to hear the Government's announcement this week that they had seized £59 million of Taliban money. It is good to see that the European Union is struggling to issue a directive on money laundering, and that the Queen's Speech contained a commitment in respect of money laundering. However, such things have been said before, so I remain unconvinced that much will actually happen.

Earlier this week, there was a puzzling announcement that we are now to regulate bureaux de change—apparently, the United Kingdom is the only country in Europe that does not already regulate such bodies. The Government say that each year £3 billion to £4 billion, 65 per cent. of which is estimated to be illegal, goes out of the country through those organisations; but I wonder how long the Government have known that and why we are attending to it only now. The Prime Minister has rightly pointed out that 90 per cent. of the heroin on sale in Britain comes from Afghanistan, to a street value of £2 billion to £3 billion; but how many prosecutions have there been in that respect?

Earlier this year, the International Development Committee examined corruption and, in that context, money laundering. We found a sorry scene indeed, the most notorious aspect of which is the Abacha case. The Nigerian Government asked us to help in tracking down £4 billion that had been taken out of Nigeria by Abacha, and to freeze Abacha's assets. Two years later, we have not done it, even though Governments such as Switzerland's—hardly famous for transparent accountancy—have done it, as has Liechtenstein. However, the papers this week reveal that we are still going through the process of judicial review and that nothing has happened.

Our structures are a mess, and I am not the only one who says so—every independent observer says the same. The head of the United Nations Development Programme, Mark Malloch Brown, told the Select Committee:

as its Achilles heel. London is a major financial centre and is therefore attractive to money launderers, but the current UK response to money laundering is piecemeal and unco-ordinated. Our approach fails to acknowledge the importance of money laundering to the worldwide problem of corruption.

The Select Committee was deeply concerned about the role of one of this country's most valuable financial assets: the City of London itself. A recent book on the subject states:

I shall be pleased if we now take money laundering seriously, but let us not indulge in a knee-jerk response. I have a proposal to make to the House, because I think that the House should be involved. We should not merely accept the piece of legislation that the Home Secretary produces; estimable though it may be in itself, it cannot possibly be adequate to the task. As a consequence of the Scott inquiry into the control of arms exports, the House set up the Quadripartite Committee, comprising four

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Select Committees—on Trade and Industry, on Employment, on International Development and on Foreign Affairs. Under the chairmanship of Ted Rowlands, the Committee produced a powerful piece of work that, through a consensual process in the House, resulted in the Bill on arms control that is currently going through Parliament.

I propose that we consider establishing a Quadripartite Committee on money laundering, so that we cannot kid ourselves that we have tackled money laundering, which is a huge industry, when we have not done so. We should ask members of the Select Committees on International Development, on the Treasury, on Foreign Affairs and on Trade and Industry to examine the issue of money laundering and do a thorough job. If, over the next six weeks, we simply pass a piecemeal measure, we will fail to tackle a problem of huge importance.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey): Does my hon. Friend agree that we would do well to consider making one member of a company's board of directors legally responsible for incidents of money laundering, so that when laundering is discovered—The Guardian today quotes a figure of $1 billion and says that HSBC, Barclays bank, National Westminster bank and others are involved—directors are fined and banks are stopped from dealing?

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