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Patrick Mercer: Does the hon. Lady not agree that we are already a target and are extremely vulnerable? We suffered severe casualties on 11 September, albeit not within these shores. If the hon. Lady is content for defence expenditure to increase, in which areas does she want that to happen? More to the point, does she not understand that we must defend ourselves to prevent our hospitals and transport system from being overwhelmed by the number of casualties that the Americans suffered?

Mrs. Mahon: I am the product of a family in which every male member fought in the second world war, and with great honour in some cases—I refer particularly to my father—so I must tell the hon. Gentleman that I am in favour of strong defence. I am not in favour of anything that might make us more vulnerable. As I have already said, the attack on the World Trade Centre would not have been prevented by the most sophisticated national missile defence system in the world. Such a system would not prevent suitcase bombs, but diplomacy, conflict resolution, conflict prevention and feeding the starving just might have a chance of getting rid of the militants.

I refer again to Fylingdales and to the lack of parliamentary involvement in what is going on there. As colleagues know, Fylingdales is the missile tracking

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centre for the northern hemisphere and upgrading the facility is vital to the United States missile defence programme. I am informed by local sources, who are following the matter closely, that work has already begun on upgrading Fylingdales and doing what the Americans want us to do. That is taking place even before Parliament has had an opportunity to discuss the issue.

We know that plans are under way to improve security at the base, because it is known that Government support for national missile defence will generate much more protest than it is at the moment. Because military installations do not need to apply for planning permission, the work is going ahead without the local authority's involvement. There has been far too much silence, secrecy and evasion from those on the Govt Front Bench. It is ridiculous to keep saying that Britain will not adopt an attitude until we are asked.

The Government must come clean, because there is considerable unease among Labour Members and those of other parties. It is high time Parliament was allowed to debate the issue openly and transparently. Already, it is raised almost weekly in meetings of the parliamentary Labour party. The decision to support the Americans on national missile defence is far too important to the peace and stability of the whole world for one or two Ministers—however important—and their advisers to take in secret. We should debate it openly. I hope that the Minister will have some answers for us tonight.

4.20 pm

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): There is so much on which I disagree with the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) that I shall not follow the path of her speech. However, I agree entirely that if one is a good friend of another country, one reserves the right to say, "Yes, but." Perhaps that is something that we need to do more often.

I congratulate the former Minister of State for Defence Procurement, my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot), with whom I was a close colleague at the Ministry of Defence, on a speech that I regard as outstandingly courageous and honourable. I do not think that I have heard anything like it in my 18 years in the House of Commons, and I commend him warmly on it. I do not agree with him on the question of Chinook, but I know that he holds the strongest and most detailed views and has gone into the matter with great clarity. Again, I commend him on his tremendous courage in the presentation of his case, which was not an easy thing to do. I entirely agree with the first part of his speech, about the absolute requirement for us to spend more money on conventional defence and on our armed forces generally.

I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) on a wonderful speech delivered from the Dispatch Box. After finding that he had to open for the Opposition, he covered himself in glory. It is wonderful to hear such enthusiasm, pleasure and knowledge of the subject. I, too, spent a little time at the school in the Brecon Beacons; I did not enjoy it as much as he did, and I never want to repeat the experience. However, those who met him there will have been thrilled by his enthusiasm.

I wish to pay a handsome tribute to the men and women of our armed forces, and to their long-suffering families who put up with so much. We are truly proud of them, and

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we are extremely lucky to have such wonderful people. I am not sure that we still deserve them, but we have remarkable armed services. I am glad that this debate is taking place, and I congratulate the Government wholeheartedly on producing "A New Chapter". It is admirable of them to produce a discussion document of that type and to try to persuade more of the general public to take an interest in so fundamental an issue as defence policy.

There is no doubt that the SDR, which was in many ways a useful document, needed an additional chapter in the light of 11 September. Many would say that it needed an additional chapter in any event. It is almost as if the threat had not been properly analysed in the original SDR. We thought that we lived in a largely threatless world. How desperately wrong we were, and how very unprepared. It is extremely difficult to make sense of the threat and to manage it. In military, diplomatic and political terms, there are broad requirements to learn new skills, and a clear need to make new dispositions.

The war on terrorism has made a good start—a brilliantly executed military campaign with a well assembled and broad coalition put together with speed and great skill. Many important lessons will have been learned. However, a great deal remains to be done to track down the terrorist networks. I agree wholly with the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), about the dangers that have to be faced and dealt with that lurk in this country and many others. We cannot pretend that they do not exist. I know that our country, the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office, and all the other agencies are playing an important role using some of our most special assets.

I pay in particular a handsome and generous tribute to our intelligence agencies, to which we owe a great debt, and to the soldiers, sailors and airmen involved in those operations. The Government, we must therefore hope, are constantly redefining the threat assessment as it is today. They must also ensure that our intelligence agencies are fully resourced, clearly and correctly tasked and, most important of all, that they unambiguously co-operate with each other. We need to continue the welcome work being done by the Ministry of Defence of redefining our conclusions as to the size and shape of our armed forces. Above all, our armed forces must be structured and resourced to meet the unpredictable, at short notice, when required.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) is no longer present. He always provided tremendous encouragement to those of us at the Ministry of Defence about the Territorial Army. I am not as well informed about the TA as I should be. When I was Minister of State for the Armed Forces, we went through some tremendous heart searching about the TA's future. I thought that we had arrived at a sensible and achievable number and role, but subsequently the Labour Government, in the light of the SDR, further substantially diminished the size of the TA, and by so doing gravely affected the TA's stability, its ability to deliver what it needed to deliver and, most important, the size of the already very small military footprint in the country.

Along comes a major new threat, and the TA is likely to be re-roled again. I agree with the right hon. Member for Walsall, South that merely to offer the TA the role of glorified military police is not right. The TA has far more

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than that to contribute. Where our troops of all three services on deployment would be without the TA, I simply do not know. We need to maintain that good, specialist edge that delivers so much to our services, perhaps at the same time as reviewing whether there might be a category that could be cap-badged or assigned the task of guarding duties.

That would not be unwelcome, and I would be interested to hear the response of the TA and those who know about it. Whatever size the TA arrives at and whatever tasks it is assigned, it needs to be relevant, usable and, above all, fully integrated into the Army's readiness cycle.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): As an ex-TA officer, let me make the point that when the Government reduced the TA, the largest cut fell on the infantry battalions—they took a disproportionate hit. Bearing in mind my hon. Friend's comments, might it not be that the infantry battalions, if some of them were restored, would be well suited to playing a role in homeland defence, without taking away from the specialist nature of other elements of the TA?

Mr. Soames: My hon. Friend makes an extremely sensible point. I hope that the Minister of State for Defence heard it. It is always the poor bloody infantry who get it in the ear. They got it disgracefully badly under the Conservative Government. In fact, in my time as a sycophantic Back-Bench running-dog lackey of the Conservative Government, the only occasion on which I voted against them was on their decision, under "Options for Change", to cut savagely the number of infantry battalions, to the great disadvantage of the Army ever since. As a former TA officer, my hon. Friend clearly knows a great deal about the subject and his is a sensible idea.

Nothing I have to say reflects in any way on the Minister of State for Defence, and I dislike having to say this, but in my view the Government take the armed forces for granted. It is not possible for the Government to repeat endlessly how much they value the armed forces while simultaneously starving them of financial resources.

My Government had great difficulty in finding money for the armed forces. The Secretary of State will be in an impossible position; he will be in a state of naked, aggressive warfare with the Treasury, which, as I have always said to the right hon. Gentleman and the House, is well known to work for the Russians, and not for us. He will find it extremely difficult to get the money that he needs. We must remember, because we have all forgotten what happened, that we all took it as read that the SDR was a good thing and believed that the Government would fund it as they said they would, but they did not fund it properly. It has never been funded properly.

The most important warning that I can give the Government is that on the now sadly few occasions when I get to meet men and women serving in the armed forces, I feel that they feel that they are being taken for granted and that their quality, efficiency and effectiveness are appreciated only at moments of high drama and great crisis. I think, I am afraid to say, that there is an element of truth in that, although I do not assign responsibility for that to the Minister of State.

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It all started rather well, but with the relentless, baleful and ignorant pressure from the Treasury, the Government soon reverted to serious underfunding. The consequences are that the armed forces need at least £500 million a year extra, without which further cuts will have to be made. I warn the Secretary of State that if undermanning and overstretch continue, not only will there be problems in maintaining the high morale and efficiency of the armed forces, but things will inevitably start to go wrong in the military field, and the Government will not be able to take for granted the effectiveness in the armed forces that is absolutely guaranteed at present. In light of recent events, it would be a great mistake for the Government not fully to fund this priceless and golden national asset.

The money needs to go towards not only filling the gaps, which certainly existed when the Opposition were in power, but dealing with those things that the forces are very good at and which are extremely relevant to the profession of arms and the use of our armed forces at the moment. There are five separate areas: command and mission command, information and intelligence, fightability, sustainability and trainability. Those are all areas in which we need to make significant investment to maintain and further the pre-eminence of the British skill at arms. There are real strengths that need continuously to be developed in light of the new strategic situation.

I endorse the point made by the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) about the two tiers of the armed forces. I cannot tell the Minister of State how damaging it is for high-profile operations always to be carried out by the Royal Marines and the Paras. Every regiment of the line should be capable of undertaking those operations.

If we make any pretence that we will go on spending money on training for high-intensity land battle, it is absolute nonsense if, throughout the training cycle, the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment, or any other regiment, comes to the peak of its fitness and operational effectiveness, having finished its medicine man training at the British Army training unit, Suffield, only to find again and again that it is not deemed suitable to undertake one of those operations.

Come an emergency, even a restricted one, such regiments would be shovelled out into the field as quickly as possible. Give them a chance, and let them show that regiments other than the Royal Marines and the Paras, both of which are remarkable and do a wonderful job, could do exactly the same job, given the chance.

Ever since the end of the cold war, NATO has been searching for a new role. My right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire and I were in the Ministry of Defence at a particularly fascinating time, with the Werner doctrine just coming in and the partnership for peace. We made thrilling visits to countries in eastern Europe which had been free from communist rule for only a few weeks or months. They were longing to learn how to run a proper army and a democratic system, and wanted people to come to the staff college and the Royal College of Defence Studies to take part in military training, so that they could eventually join NATO.

I hope that NATO will expand, but we need to be clear and confident that despite its limitations, which are many, it remains a formidable and hugely successful alliance. Unless it reforms itself, it will cease to be of real military importance and it will be merely politically important.

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I applaud the work of our former colleague Lord Robertson, who clearly appreciates those difficulties and who must be driven mad by the failure of the defence capabilities initiative.

Many NATO forces are wholly inadequately funded; they are unco-ordinated and unprepared, and they are neither properly trained nor properly equipped. Most continental forces have only the most basic logistics and communications capabilities, and hardly any of them can operate at any distance from home. Few can sustain operations with any credibility, and in almost every respect those forces have to rely almost entirely on the United States for intelligence, strategic support and military muscle.

The really serious military questions have now got to be dealt with, and we must give a lead on that in NATO and elsewhere in Europe. NATO must chuck the rhetoric out of the window and deal with the questions of operational capacity and effectiveness within its force structures. Above all, it must address Europe's shameful dependence on United States forces. We Europeans really must do more and take more responsibility for our own security.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire said, that means seriously increasing defence spending and placing greater emphasis on rapidly deployable and, probably, special forces, intelligence, surveillance and precision weapons. NATO is still crucial to a stable world. It is the only organisation that binds the United States to Europe, and Europe to the United States. There is no need for it to have a collective nervous breakdown; rather, it can take a clear, rational look at what it must do, set out a sensible, pragmatic programme to do it and get on with it.

Finally, and I apologise for speaking for so long, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have on many occasions spoken in defence debates in the House on the question of military ethos. I accept that it is no longer a fashionable subject, but I want to make one serious point in conclusion. There is no other place in British life in which there is so much of human achievement in such small institutions as there is in the British armed forces.

I hope that the Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary and, above all, the Chancellor understand—and I really mean understand—that as Lord Wavell said in his lecture on generalship, in the last resort, the end of all military training, the settling of all policy, the ordering of all weaponry and all that goes into the makings of the armed forces is that the deciding factor in battle is this: sooner or later, Private So-and-so will, of his own free will and in the face of great danger and chaos, have to advance to his front in the face of the enemy. If all that goes wrong, after all the training, the intensive preparation and the provision of equipment and expenditure, the system has failed. But it has never failed in this country; the armed forces have never ever let us down. If the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Secretary of State let them down by failing to pay the debt that they owe them by properly resourcing them now, they will not be forgiven, and our wonderful armed forces will gradually diminish.

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On 8 October 2001, the Prime Minister, in answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson), said:


The Government have not honoured that obligation, and the Prime Minister will be in breach of a fundamental and unconditional undertaking made in the House if he does not see to it that the matter is dealt with.


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