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6.22 pm

Patrick Mercer (Newark): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley). I regret some of the language used by the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) and, in a curiously political speech for a serving officer, the Chief of the Defence Staff. Both used the pejorative terms of the wild west to describe American actions or aspirations in Afghanistan. That is not helpful; in many ways it denigrates the efforts of the United States and ourselves.

I recently spoke to an English Muslim who was heavily involved in the Chechen affair. He was a man of enormously moderate views and left me with one or two interesting thoughts. He echoed the United States Deputy Secretary of Defence, who said:

My Muslim friend pointed out, in common with much of the evidence that we heard in the Select Committee on Defence, that much of al-Qaeda is still operating across the world, not least in many European countries, and that we still have enemies operating untouched in failed states such as Somalia and Yemen.

I echo Admiral Boyce, who said that our response cannot simply be military and must be proportionate, otherwise we will endanger the coalition, which is proving successful, and are likely to radicalise Arab opinion. My Muslim friend made two points. First, he said that he was glad that so far bin Laden appeared to have escaped because that would show him up for what he was—a man who was not prepared to stick with his troops or defend his ground to the last man and the last round, which may well undermine the fighting qualities of the remaining troops. Secondly, my friend said that actions such as the one carried out at Mazar-e-Sharif, regardless of their rights and wrongs, their morality or immorality, can be

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successfully spun by our enemies into something that looks similar, from their point of view, to the way that 11 September looks to us.

My Muslim friend made the trenchant point that the area in which our troops will serve, if they serve at all, is much more dangerous than places such as Kosovo or the Balkans because of the huge stores of available drugs, making for high tension and aggression, which we are unlikely to have experienced before. He was extremely reluctant for British troops to be dispatched until their mission, tasks and time limit were properly defined. Are we deploying or are we not? A small group of specialist Royal Marines have gone to Bagram airport. We thought that that was the start of the British deployment but, in fact, it was not. It seems that the Northern Alliance was less than keen to have our troops in the area.

Is it premature to talk about deploying troops in the area while fighting is still going on? We are a leading nation in the campaign and while we may have made friends across the world, there is no doubt that we have also made enemies. Perhaps ours are not the troops to use while the situation remains volatile. Other European nations may be in a position to form a stabilisation force. Both the Germans and the French were extremely keen to prove themselves in Kosovo, once the fighting had stopped. The Germans have been reluctant to deploy their excellent special forces, the Kommando Spezialkrafte or KSK, in the present theatre; interestingly, when it comes to other styles of operation, they are rather less keen.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones rose

Patrick Mercer: Forgive me, I shall not give way because of the time limit.

We should remember that whatever happens to forces in that area, the benign atmosphere of Kosovo and Bosnia will not be duplicated. The Secretary of State for Defence recently told us about a new chapter in the strategic defence review. Interestingly, the Americans, having won a war in the Gulf in a non-traditional way, started to talk about manoeuvre warfare. The Americans, in their military doctrine, are now talking about more fire and less manoeuvre. An American diplomat, we are told, said, "We don't do peace" and the Americans have told us that they do not do mountains. What else do they not do? I choose to interpret their remark as, "We don't do low-intensity conflict" The British, however, do; we learned all about it in Palestine, Malaya, Oman, Northern Ireland and, indeed, on the north-west frontier, where we fought a low-intensity conflict from 1870 to 1940.

Britain understands such problems and has very experienced troops who are good at dealing with them. However, I urge the Defence Secretary to make sure that the apparent gap dividing our special and specialist forces from our less special forces—our line regiments of cavalry and infantry—does not grow. There is certainly a morale problem because soldiers are constantly deployed on tedious, undemanding and uninteresting operations, such as those in Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Bosnia. Of course, they have their moments, but resentment is building towards the forces that constantly get the good jobs; that is their phrase, not mine. There is no reason why those forces should not be trained to serve alongside the Royal Marines and the Parachute Regiment, as long as they can recruit and are kept properly manned.

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I shall conclude by talking about the wider war. If we are serious about pursuing terrorism and taking the chances offered, we will pursue terrorism to the end: and we must pursue domestic terrorism in Northern Ireland as rigorously as we pursue terrorism abroad. The Foreign Secretary said:

We see American armed forces already forward: elements of the US third army in Kuwait and American special forces in Somalia, while the US State Department has a party in northern Iraq. We have a unique opportunity to root out terrorism. America needs our friendship, our experience, our excellent armed forces, and our balance and judgment, and we need to repay the debt to America that we incurred at least twice in the 20th century.

6.30 pm

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): We are growing used to the salient points delivered by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) in our debates. Once again, he distinguished himself today in a short speech. I ask the Secretary of State to take on board the issue of the morale of non-spearhead regiments. If the spearhead role is to be expanded, as he suggested in his speech last week, perhaps it might be rotated among a large number of regiments to maintain the morale of the entire British Army.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Jenkin: I have little time and do not want to engage on that point.

It would be wrong to debate defence and international terrorism without paying tribute to Field Marshal Lord Carver, who died recently. He was one of the most controversial chiefs of defence staff and made many enemies as well as friends during his distinguished career. Nevertheless, he was one of the greatest military figures of the post-war period. Even after the strategic defence review, we see his imprint on the shape of our armed forces and on British military doctrine. The nation owes him a debt.

During this interesting debate, we heard a wide variety of contributions. The hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood) made it clear that every inch of his being was against war, and in his case, that is a considerable number of inches. We enjoyed the guarded welcome that the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) gave his new colleague, who will add more to the variety and colour in his party than to its unity. I shall return to the substance of the speeches of the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson).

I enjoyed the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), who underlined the need for Europe to do more to support the campaign against terrorism, lest we become what Americans would see as ranchers with big hats and no cattle.

However valid some of the comments from the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall- Andrews)—the House would be wrong to dismiss the need for a comprehensive approach to terrorism—he spoiled his case by some of the ludicrous over-statements that he made.

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My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) made clear his grasp of military doctrine by referring to the successes of recent campaigns and how they were achieved. We should take seriously his thoughts about future doctrine against terrorism.

The Foreign Secretary opened the debate by underlining the military, diplomatic and humanitarian breadth of the campaign and how that has been vindicated by events—a point re-iterated by the right hon. Member for Swansea, East. That is why the Opposition have unequivocally supported the Government's conduct of the war against terrorism. In the words of the Prime Minister, addressed to the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, yesterday, the progress of the war in Afghanistan is a

Roger Casale (Wimbledon): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that for there to be a cross-party consensus on how to prosecute the war against terrorism, it is important that those on the Opposition Front Bench come to a settled view among themselves? As the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) has said,

Does the hon. Gentleman agree with the leader of his party, who wants to side with the US hawks, has said that "countries like Iraq" should not be "let off the hook", and who wishes to take a stronger stance and commit himself to action against Iraq? Or does he agree with the shadow Foreign Secretary, who said today that it is not helpful to speculate about what action may be taken in the future in relation to Iraq?

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