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17 Oct 2002 : Column 498—continued

Mr. Hoon: Let me make it clear that there is no war and that the Government's policy has been consistently set out by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. It is that we will go through the United Nations and work within it to achieve that international consensus. Today, I have emphasised that that effort will be far more successful, and that efforts we make through the United Nations are more likely to be successful, if Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime are aware that we are prepared to back that determination by the use of force if it becomes necessary.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): I draw the attention of the Secretary of State to a United States Congressional Budget Office document, which clearly states:

It continues:

The document also gives a figure of #5 billion for our costs. When the Secretary of State was recently in Washington, did he discuss that report with the Congressional Budget Office? Has he seen it, has he got a copy of it and can he share it with the rest of us?

Mr. Hoon: I did not see that report and I have not read it, but I know that my hon. Friend understands the way

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in which the constitution of the United States operates. It is important that I emphasise to the House that the report is based on the planning assumptions of the Congressional Budget Office; it is not a document of the United States Administration. I must make it clear that any reference to, or suggestion of, any specific offer of forces by the United Kingdom is simply wrong. That office is an organ of Congress; it is not part of the United States Government. Therefore, my hon. Friend and the House should not take what it states as truth because it is based on an assumption that that office has made.

David Winnick (Walsall, North): If the international community says clearly that under no circumstances will there be military intervention in Iraq, why should the Iraqi dictator agree to the weapons inspectors coming back? Is it not clear that after four years—that is when they were thrown out—the only reason that he has agreed in principle now to the return of those weapons inspectors is the threat of possible military action? If there is war, the responsibility will lie with him.

Mr. Hoon: I tend to agree with my hon. Friend, who puts the point more forcefully and effectively than I did.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Opponents of the war have alleged that we may face a war on two fronts—one against al-Qaeda and one against Iraq. Will the Secretary of State share with the House his view of the extent to which the resources that one uses in a war against terrorists and those that one uses in a conventional war against a military power like Saddam overlap?

Mr. Hoon: I am about to deal with the development of our policy in the wake of the events of 11 September. It is clear that the basic assumptions in the strategic defence review were right—the need to be able to get forces quickly into a crisis, whether it is provoked by a conventional armed force or by terrorism. Clearly, we have refined those assumptions in the light of what took place on 11 September—the hon. Gentleman and I have debated this matter before—and I intend to deal with that in a moment.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Is it not important to look behind the supposed agreement of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick) with the Secretary of State? The history is that the weapons inspectors were not thrown out; they withdrew. The basic trouble was that they were abusing their position as inspectors. They were reporting back to Washington. Some, although not all of them, were spies. In Operation Desert Fox, areas were targeted that the inspectors had recently visited. That is the cause of much of the bad blood and trouble.

Mr. Hoon: Whatever the precise circumstance of their withdrawal from Iraq—I do not think that we need detain the House long on that—the reality is that the inspectors were prevented from doing the job mandated for them by the United Nations. That is why it is so important that we secure a new resolution that will allow the weapons inspectors unfettered access to any site and any place in Iraq. Otherwise, we risk repeating the mistakes that led to their withdrawal in 1998.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): Will the Secretary of State explicitly clarify to Congress that the

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Congressional Budget Office document is a fiction and that there has been no agreement on the scale of troop involvement? Also, as this relates to the cost of any war against Iraq, will he publish the figures for the scale of the costs of certain levels of engagement? For example, what would be the cost of 10,000 or 20,000 troops per week over a period of engagement? Furthermore, what would be the cost of the occupation of Iraq afterwards?

Mr. Hoon: Although I have not seen that document, as I made clear a moment ago—I am not suggesting that the document is fiction—I can assure my hon. Friend and the House that no specific decisions have been taken on any commitment of British forces and that the document is based on an assumption that has been made by the Congressional Budget Office as to the likely scale of effort and its cost. I see no advantage for the House or anyone else in publishing the sort of statistical information that my hon. Friend requests.

Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): How important is it to have a simple resolution of the United Nations, not only to gain its acceptance, but to ensure that its terms can be delivered by Iraq credibly? If the resolution refers to persecution, accounting for the 600 people missing, oil smuggling and so forth, and includes clauses that could trigger a war, other members of the United Nations will not accept it and we will not get to the core of the issue, which is to get unfettered access for the inspectors and the decommissioning of weapons.

Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend is right. As someone who spent much time in a previous ministerial position in the Foreign Office negotiating resolution 1284 at exhausting length and in exhausting detail, I recognise that a simple statement of the international community's position is necessary today, as well as an indication of the consequences in the event of that position not being satisfied.

Across Government, we have been set new challenges by international terrorism. We have set in train work to re-examine our defence policy and plans in the light of the terrorist threat demonstrated on 11 September. We consulted widely and openly. We published two discussion documents and ideas from individuals and organisations, including many valuable contributions from hon. Members and the other place. As a result, we published a new chapter to the strategic defence review on 18 July. It shows that the strategic defence review's emphasis on expeditionaryoperations working with allies was right, but demonstrates—crucially—how best to use our forces against a different sort of enemy: one that is determined, well hidden and vastly different from the conventional forces that we might have expected to face in the past.

One key area that we identified as needing urgent investment was what we call network-centric capability. I honestly wish that we did not call it that, but we did. Essentially, it involves linking our intelligence, analytical and offensive forces together, so that we can strike quickly when fleeting opportunities arise. This means that we will invest more in airborne sensors such as unmanned aerial vehicles, and more in the networks that assemble and process the data from the sensors. The precision systems that will hit the targets identified could include Tomahawk or Storm Shadow missiles, or

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special forces, or the Apache attack helicopter, depending on what is the most militarily effective. This is already costing the country money. We have therefore addressed not only the adjustments that were needed to policy and capabilities, but the resources needed to implement them.

The results of the spending review announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in July represented the largest sustained increase in defence spending for 20 years. By 2005–06, the defence budget will be some #3.5 billion higher than it is this year. That constitutes real growth of 3.7 per cent. over three years—3 per cent. in the year 2003–04 alone. That spending is to be focused on accelerating the modernisation and evolution of the armed forces in response to the changing strategic environment.

I have already heard grumbling from the Opposition about defence spending, but it is worth noting that the Opposition spokesman cannot undertake to match our spending pound for pound. When the rhetoric is stripped away, the facts are simple: one cannot defend the United Kingdom with waffle, as he has sought to do. It is only this Government who are prepared to put their money where their mouth is on defence. That money is not for investing in the status quo. It will be used not only to procure cutting-edge technology for the armed forces, but to modernise the way we work as a Department, improve efficiency, and enhance living conditions for our armed forces. We may have more to spend, but we need to spend it better.

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