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31 Oct 2002 : Column 1058—continued

Mr. Keetch: The hon. Gentleman has not mentioned one key aspect of the campaign against terrorism, although he may be coming on to it—intelligence. Is it not the case that it may not be necessary to launch a pre-emptive attack with the aim of stopping an attack? With adequate intelligence, one can know that an attack is being planned, so it can be detected and stopped. Is it not the case that we probably do not know how many attacks have already been thwarted by excellent intelligence? Will the hon. Gentleman join me in paying tribute to those people in British intelligence who are protecting us in that way?

Dr. Lewis: The hon. Gentleman has anticipated my remarks very well indeed. I endorse entirely what he said, but I have not yet elaborated on what I mean by offensive defence. It is not enough to talk about intelligence as a way of finding out what is intended—that is of value only if we take counter-action. We should, of course, praise the thwarting of individual terrorist initiatives, as the hon. Gentleman said, but that alone is not a sufficient answer to the problem. As in the case of attack with nuclear weapons—only one or two have to get through to cause indescribable and unacceptable damage—so with terrorism. Only a small proportion of those attacks need succeed and escape the best attempts of the intelligence services to thwart them for the results to be unbearable and entirely unacceptable.

We must bear in mind the fact that what has happened so far has not been anything like as bad as it could have been. That may surprise hon. Members, but it is true. My mind goes back to the emergency debate held on 14 September last year in the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, when I outlined in my contribution the sort of draconian measures that would be necessary in a free democracy if we protected ourselves against a series of suicide attacks on a par with what goes on within the borders of Israel or the occupied territories. I leave aside the rights and wrongs of that conflict—I am looking at this purely in technical terms.

A comparison could be made with the long history of the confrontation of our country's intelligence services and armed forces with the IRA. In the course of that long struggle—I hate to say this because I know that it will be misinterpreted—a sort of rules system was in operation. The people who carried out terrorist attacks on British society did so in a ruthless but calculated way. If a particular political initiative was coming up, they would decide whether they wanted to derail it, and whether they should have a bomb explosion, assassinate a soldier or whatever. It was almost like a horrible lethal form of chess. Similarly, I suspect—although I do not know—that the response of our intelligence and security services was strangely analogous. When the IRA went beyond a certain level of offensive behaviour, the security services were free to take firmer and more deadly action than was normally allowed.

The system that developed was therefore graduated for political purposes. One factor, however, makes that comparison with the more recent international terrorist

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threat slightly strained. It would have been easy for the IRA to cause many more explosions and casualties—for example, by not giving bomb warnings, which they often did—had they wanted to do so. They did not do so because they were playing the deadly game that I have described— but such considerations of restraint do not apply to international terrorists of the type who attacked the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. Such people are out to cause maximum casualties at every opportunity. The fact that that has not occurred in this country so far is a measure of genuine weakness on their part, rather than a wish to restrain themselves. Where they have been able to strike, as in Indonesia, they have done so. We must ask ourselves why they have been relatively weak in their subsequent activities against their most hated enemies—first, the United States, and secondly, Great Britain.

Our Government, with the full support of the Opposition, have stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States. The terrorists' response to the United States and our country has been low level because they have been put on the back foot following the counter-action against the terrorist base in Afghanistan. Any branch of that deadly network must also be concerned because, wherever international terrorism raises its head, it simply provokes the authorities to suppress it. We know that in Pakistan there was, shall we say, an ambivalent relationship between the Pakistan intelligence service and extreme Muslim fundamentalists. Since 11 September, the Pakistan authorities have been forced to crack down. We know similarly that parallel work will take place in Indonesia.

I see that the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), the Chairman of the Select Committee, has resumed his seat. It seems that despite the critical remarks that he made about it being too bland to talk about keeping the threat away from us as far as possible, rather than relying primarily on defensive measures at home, that must be the essence of our counter-terrorism strategy. It is vital to keep these people on the back foot. The best defence of the United Kingdom is to keep them on the run.

I shall conclude with a small suggestion that I hope the Minister will take on board. In my first intervention on the Minister of State, I referred to the danger of copycat terrorism and to the vulnerability of open democratic societies to anyone who wants to send a white powder through the post or set himself up as a sniper, whether it be for terrorist purposes, for motives of extortion or for any other indefensible reason. The trouble that we face in the modern world with the new feature of international terrorism is that the potential terrorist need not even know, let alone be in touch with, the leader of his organisation. We now have terrorist websites on the internet. There is the ability for instructions to be given from a cave in Afghanistan, for example, or from somewhere on the Pakistan border to those who wish to sacrifice themselves to the terrorist cause. All that can be done without any direct chain of command.

I wonder whether the Government, given the threat that we face, have paid any serious attention to something that I know does not appeal to those who believe in the freedom of cyberspace. It is something

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which I know would be technically difficult, but at least it could be worked upon, perhaps on a voluntary basis, with the internet service providers that are responsible for managing a great deal of the material that goes into cyberspace.

Serious talks should be held between Government agencies and with the firms responsible for the management of the content of the internet, with a view seriously to assist in limiting the potential for renegade individuals, copycat terrorists and various other deranged enemies of a free society to obtain ideas, instruction and deadly plans as a result of internet cyberspace communications.

4.14 pm

Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon): I share some of the concerns of the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) about the use of the internet in this context.

I offer my support to our armed forces who, day in, day out, prepare for and take part in defending our country, and creating and maintaining peace in many key parts of the world. Over the past year, the Government and the nation have been asking more questions about our relationship with the rest of the world. We have been asking how our values and ethics should be reflected in our defence and foreign policy. Arms exports must form a central part of this discussion.

The Government have been congratulated on passing the Export Control Act 2002, which should help limit the flow of arms to conflicts throughout the world. However, we need to ask more fundamental questions about arms exports and the subsidies that the arms trade receives. The Ministry of Defence justifies defence exports, broadly for two reasons, one economic and one political. The economic argument runs that arms exports are supposed to be a money maker for the United Kingdom, given our need to have some arms, and that mass-producing them makes them cheaper. Supposedly there is a direct financial benefit to the economy and an indirect one given the number of people employed in the industry.

The economic argument fails. The MOD supports huge subsidies to the arms trade. The most recent study of UK arms exports by the Oxford Research Group and Safer World estimates that UK taxpayers provide subsidies to the arms trade of #420 million per year. That probably comes third only to agriculture and transport. The subsidy is hundreds of times more than state aid for tourism, the media and culture, which are more likely to be the industries of the future. Each job in the arms industry costs #1,000 a year of taxpayers' money. A quarter of that sum is paid through taxpayers' money to media, culture and tourism jobs.

I realise that there is a need for defence and arms. However, inappropriate promotion of the arms trade, and too much of it, promotes conflict. If the choice is between subsidising and promoting British bombs and bullets, with all the destruction and misery that we know they can cause, or subsidising and promoting British media, tourism and culture, with the ability to expand people's opportunities and increase opportunities to entertain and inspire, all at a quarter of the price of each job when compared with the cost of #1,000 in the arms industry, surely the second approach should win time and again.

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It is not only campaigning organisations that have established the costs of arms exports. Two senior MOD economists worked with two other economists to publish the XThe Economic Costs and Benefits of UK Defence Exports", which I shall refer to as the York report. The report quantified the economic and employment impacts of a 50 per cent. reduction in defence exports over just two years. It was concluded that

Even one-off costs need to be considered seriously. Jobs are important, and I want to see people fully employed in productive and satisfying employment. The York report highlights the capital intensity of the defence industry. It is estimated that halving defence exports would lead to the loss of 49,000 jobs in the short term but the creation of 67,000 new jobs in the civil economy over five years.

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