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In some ways the Tornado brings capabilities that the Harrier does not, such as the 27 mm cannon and the new RAPTOR imaging systemthe reconnaissance airborne pod Tornadowhich has been used very effectively in Iraq and, I am told, will be in Afghanistan as well.[ Official Report, Westminster Hall, 19 November 2008; Vol. 483, c. 95WH.]
That is factually incorrect, as we discovered in the answer to Question 241200 that the RAPTOR imaging system will not be fitted to aircraft deployed to Afghanistan. If Ministers and hon. Members are being given misinformation and the parliamentary record is having to be corrected on such a regular basis, how can we even begin to make these decisions? It is pretty worrying.
Perhaps we start at a point where we do agree, which is that there were initially concerns that the Harriers continued operation in Afghanistan would affect its airframe life. I am delighted that that was put to rest in the letter to me from the Under-Secretary after the debate. It appears that the operations in Afghanistan are less of a strain on the Harrier airframe than training for peace in the UK.
From a financial perspective, that decision seems to make absolutely no sense. During the past few years, we have spent £885 million on upgrading the Harrier to its current performance level in Afghanistan. The upgrade to capability Ean extra capability for Afghanistancost £728 million. The new Mk 107 engine cost £122 million. Urgent operational requirements for the Harrier in Afghanistan cost £45 million. The total is £885 million,
with annual running costs of £20 million. According to the answer to Question 238825 on 24 November, that is £16.5 million more than if the Harrier were to operate solely in the UK. What will be spent to put the Tornado into theatre? In answer to Question 238826, we discovered that £40 million of urgent operational requirements is needed to bring the Tornado up to basic theatre entry level. We need £7.5 million for the theatre entry standard upgrade and some £20 million to sustain it. That makes £67.5 million simply to change two aircraft over in theatre. The Secretary of State may not take my word for it, but I understand that the National Audit Office is doing a detailed report on the financial decisions taken on this matter, and they will be published shortly. The NAO was in theatre only two weeks ago, and I understand that that report will be pretty damning about those decisions.
The Royal Air Force has relied on claims that harmony guidelines are not being met. Fascinatingly, I have been trying to get information on this matter out of the Ministry of Defence for some time. Back on 24 March, my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) asked about the matter in Question 193887, and he was told that no Harrier pilots were then breaching harmony guidelines. When I ask similar questions now, however, I am told that the information is not held centrally. Why was it available in March but not available now? Could it perhaps be that the information does not support the RAFs argument any more?
It has taken me three weeks to establish what the harmony guidelines are. We end up with a complicated picture, as they are different for each of the services. They are different for formed units and for individuals. For example, the Royal Navy sets separated service at a maximum of 660 days in a three-year period. How many Royal Navy Harrier pilots have been away for 660 days in the past three years? I doubt that any have been. The RAF has a separated service planning target of 280 days in a 24-month rolling period. How many RAF Harrier pilots have been away for that period? I doubt that many have. As a serving soldier, I looked at my pay statement last week; in the bottom right-hand corner it tells me exactly how many longer separated service allowance days I have had in the past three years. That is on my pay statement; surely it must be on individual statements throughout the armed forces. If I were in the RAF at the moment, at Cottesmore, knowing that that information was held at a squadron level, I would try to choose a 20-month period which has a minimum number of Royal Navy Harrier pilots, because its harmony guidelines are far lower, and maximises the number of RAF pilots to try and prove the argument. Harmony guidelines are a bit of a red herring in this argument.
We have had some debate about the capability of the two airframes. I will not go into detail on that, but we have already seen from the answer to parliamentary Question 240495 that Tornado will not be deploying with RAPTOR, as the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for North Durham, said it would. We also discovered in the answer to parliamentary Question 239740 that it will be unable to carry the Paveway 4 missilethe great new weapon that is supposed to help with proportionality. It will, however, be able to do so in the future once the urgent operational requirements are complete. Perhaps that is the crucial part of the argument.
There is now some acceptance, partly through parliamentary questions that have not been answered, that there will be a difference between the initial operating capability of the Tornado when it first goes to theatre on 1 April 2009, and its final operating capability, which will be higher and will hopefully come somewhere near that of the Harrier. We will not get drawn into the detail of that, but there is an acceptance that there will be a dip in capability initially, after it is first deployed, and we will get back to a higher capability after a period of weeksor perhaps months. I see one Minister nodding and one shaking his head; perhaps that tells me everything about the confusion in the Department at the moment.
My question is simple: given that there is now an acceptance that there will be a different capability, why can we simply not delay the deployment of Tornado until its final operating capability is met? That would ensure that the troops on the ground received the same level of support as they do today.
There are no arguments against harmony. Chinook pilots currently go for two, four or five months, so why is 1 April so vital? Is it simply because we are determined to try to save the red faces of the MOD, which has set that date in stone, or is it because if the Harrier is not in theatre after 1 April, it will be subject to the programme review and face cuts? If neither of those is the answer, perhaps the Secretary of State will say when he winds up the debate why we cannot slip this, when it is only a matter of weeksI have been assured that it is not months. Will he assure me that there will not be any cuts to the Harrier force?
These are important matters and I am concerned that the main reason they are not being dealt with now is to save embarrassment, careers and the Royal Air Forces face instead of ensuring that we get maximum protection and support to our troops on the ground. There is risk and that is accepted; Ministers have accepted that there is a risk in sending Tornado, but it is their job to judge whether that risk is acceptable. If we discover in time that they have taken that risk, which the parliamentary answers I have received have shown is unacceptable and unnecessary, and we discover that troops have been injured orGod forbidkilled, it will be tragic, and I, personally, will be determined to try to hold the people who took that decision to account.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): I would like to begin by paying tribute to the staff who work in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, many of whom work in difficult environments. There has had to be a significant increase in expenditure on security for embassies, high commissions and posts around the world. During my time on the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and when I have visited posts around the world, those people have diligently helped and co-operated with Members from all parties. We ought to pay tribute to them in this debate.
As well as the increase in expenditure on security, one of the problems that the FCO faces is the fact that it pays the international subscriptions to many international organisations on behalf of the United Kingdom as a whole. At a time of fluctuating exchange rates, that
places a particular burden on its budget. I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government will recognise that. I have never understood why subscriptions to the United Nations come out of the Foreign Offices budget, yet, from one year to the next, those subscriptions in UK pound terms can vary significantly because they are paid in US dollars. I believeand I think many Members would agree if they looked at it objectivelythat there is a case for having an earmarked discrete UK subscription to international organisations, which should not come out of the budgets of individual Departments.
There has been a wide-ranging debate, but, unfortunately, I have been chairing a Foreign Affairs Committee meeting in which the Foreign Secretary has been talking about the European Council meeting. I was therefore not in the Chamber for most of the debate, apart from the opening speeches. During this century, there will be a significant change in the worlds power centres. The centre of economic and political gravity is moving to Asia and the focus of the incoming US President Obama will, I believe, be much more on the Pacific than on the Atlantic. We need to recognise that that will have global consequences.
In his opening remarks, the Foreign Secretary referred to reform of the international institutions and the United Nations. We also need to look at other international organisations, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. We have already seen the inception of the G20, but there will be other consequences over coming decades.
It is increasingly important that we recognise that the values that we espouse, which were set out in the UN system that was developed in the 1940stoday is the anniversary of the UN universal declaration of human rightsare not universally unchallenged. There is a view in some parts of the world that human rights are not something that we should pursue. There will be a debate in Westminster Hall next week in which I shall be able to say more about that, but it is fundamental that we hold true to those universal values and that we continue to work for them throughout the UN system.
In the past year the Foreign Affairs Committee has published Global Security: Russia, Global Security: Iran and Global Security: Japan and Korea, as well as reports on human rights andI pay tribute to the Foreign Offices quick response on this onethe overseas territories. The overseas territories did not feature in the opening speeches in this debate, but one of our recommendations was that there should be a commission of inquiry into the allegations of corruption and other problems in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The FCO responded very quickly to our report and recommendations. That commission of inquiry is now in existence and is due to report early next year. That is an example of the Government responding to Select Committees in the manner that they should. When Select Committees make serious recommendations, they should be responded to. I am pleased that in our case the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was quick to respond.
I am conscious of the lack of time, so I want to focus on one final matter. Reference has been made in various contributions to the appalling terrorist acts in Mumbai. Those attacks were not just directed at the Government of India or intended to damage relations between Pakistan and India, but were directed at the British-Indian and British-Pakistani communities and at good community
relations in this country. As we approach the celebration of Eid and the many other cultural events and activities throughout the different communities in this country, including in my constituency, people have an opportunity to renew their commitment to harmonious relations among all the communities, of all faiths and cultures in this country.
We in Britain have an important historic association with India and Pakistan and we have ongoing family, cultural and economic links with that part of the world. It is tragic that the relations between Indians and Pakistanis in the UK should be much better than the contacts between those two countries. Anybody who has been to the Wagah crossing in the Punjab, as the Foreign Affairs Committee did two years ago, and passed from the Indian to the Pakistani side will know how inefficient that border is. It is crazy: people bearing goods take them off their heads on one side, so that they can be transferred to the heads of other people to be carried on the other side. I am talking about an international border.
One of the good things about what President Zardari of Pakistan said just 10 days before the terrorist attacks was that there is a need for economic co-operation between India and Pakistan. That is vital. As well as trying to ensure co-operation in combating terrorism and encouraging the European Union and our own country, we should be encouraging economic and human contacts on a much greater scale between the countries of the India-Pakistan region. Together they have a common interest in combating terrorism and in building human contacts and political development against the extremists.
Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) (Con): Everyone in the House will agree that, when he becomes President, President-elect Obama will find that he has the biggest in-tray since Harry Trumans. He will have to deal with the continued violence of Islamist fundamentalists, the fragility of the situation in Iraq and the worrying position in Afghanistan, as well as the instability in Pakistan and the fear in India and beyond, given the threats that they face. He will find a resurgent Russia, with the complications of the recent events in Georgia, and an Iran on the verge of becoming a nuclear weapons state. All those matters were addressed in todays extremely interesting debate, during excellent contributions from both sides of the House.
I shall begin by discussing Islamist fundamentalism, which we must all accept is the existential threat of our age. There have been different threats in the past, including the fascism of the 1930s and 1940s and the communism of the cold war, and we face an equally grave threat today, which we must take equally seriously. This threat undermines the stability of an increasing number of states and we will have to find the strength to confront it politically, militarily and economically. We have to accept, however much it pains us to do so, that there are those out there who hate us because of who we are and not just because of what we do.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) said, this will be a long struggle, which will require us to find a great deal of moral courage. We will need resolve and resilience from our people and our
politicians and we will have to make assets available as necessary. In terms of foreign policy, we will need to receive much more vocal support from moderate Muslim states if we are genuinely to make a difference in this battle. Those who think that they can get away with silence in the face of the fundamentalist threat need to remember that if we feed terror, it simply gets more hungry.
As something of a counterbalance, however, we must also acceptand point out at every possible opportunitythat Islam and Islamism are not synonymous, even though that is what the extremists want us to believe as they prosecute the conflict according to their criteria and on their terms. I had the privilege at the weekend of meeting and listening to the historian Bernard Lewis. He made an interesting point when he said that Nazism was undoubtedly German, but there was a Germany before Nazism, a Germany outside Nazism and, triumphantly, a Germany after Nazism. We have to start building bridges to moderate Islam, to get it to recognise that there is another way and that there has to be a potential for well-being, stability, security and prosperity if we are to deal with the threat within society at present.
There will always be new challenges. My hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) talked about Somalia. It has been pointed out recently that only 0.14 per cent. of all shipping in the Gulf of Aden is subjected to piracy, but the point is that it is not the threat that we face now that we need to deal with, but the threat that we might face in the future if we show inaction. Piracy is turning out to be a very nicely lucrative business. If we consider the combination of the profits made through piracy and what is now happening in a country such as Somalia, which is utterly lawless, we can imagine all the prospective benefits for organisations such as al-Qaeda and related groups. The mistakes that we made after the defeat of Russia in Afghanistan are all too clear. We did not invest in the long-term security and stability of the state, and the lack of adequate institutions made it all the easier for it to become a breeding ground for extremism and terror. We must not allow that to happen in Somalia or any other states today.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newark also mentioned what had happened in Mumbai. I am always loth to use the term al-Qaeda, because there is a danger of its becoming a brand, but the events in Mumbai, which included the targeting of US citizens, British citizens and Jewish citizens, certainly bear all the hallmarks of those who are sympathetic to the aims of al-Qaeda. No state can disengage from this, because no state is currently safe.
My hon. Friend was right to point to our domestic, maritime and airborne security fragilities, but there is an element in the broader debate to which we must always be sensitivethe need to find ways of diminishing the forces that strengthen radicalism at home or abroad. That is the key to our long-term success. When we boil it down, we find that people who have nothing have nothing to lose, and people who have nothing to lose are much more willing to gamble with it. When we give people security and prosperity, we get some leverage for the first time and deny a recruiting ground to the men of terror. When we are discussing Afghanistan and other
areas, it is important to remember that economics play a very important part in long-term stability and the defeat of terrorism.
A number of contributions dealt with Zimbabwe and the soul-searching about what we should do there. Should we impose sanctions? They might strike a fatal blow to the regime, but at what cost to the rest of the citizens? It was an interesting debate and the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary pointed out that the arguments were quite well balanced, but these arguments are true in any conflict. They were true in Iraq.
As several Members pointed out and as I have experienced myself, it is now possible to go to Basra without body armour. It is possible to be caught in a traffic jam, as I was, because of the number of people going shopping, showing that they have suddenly forgotten about security as the No. 1 issue and can take part in and appreciate the things that we so often take for granted. Those freedoms never come at zero cost: there is a pricesometimes a terrible pricethat has to be paid for the end of tyranny and despotism and for people to be able to live in freedom and shape their own destinies.
A key question about what happened in Iraq is why the surge was successful. There has been a lot of discussion, but perhaps not very much analysis, about that. The fact about the surge that is often overlooked is that it was not done just to put boots on the ground; it was done in specific support of a specific political objective. It took place to provide support at a time when the policy was to separate the reconcilables and the irreconcilables, the Sunni community and al-Qaeda. The US surge and associated increase in numbers allowed troops to move out of their large forward operating bases to secure the people where they lived, in their own communities. Many were embedded with small units of the Iraqi army and were able to hold on to areas once they were cleared. Ultimately, that provided Prime Minister Maliki and his Government with sufficient confidence and feelings of strength to take on the Shia militias that had held up so much for so long.
We will be able to leave Iraq in a much more stable state when, as we understand from the press, we start to depart from the end of March next year. I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence will, for the sake of clarity, confirm this evening that we are to start to leave at the end of March and will be out by June. We should hold our heads high about the contribution of the UK and our armed forces to what is ultimately a much more stable situation in that country.
Many people have said that what we need now is a surge in Afghanistan, as though we can read across directly from one situation to the other. However, for a start, Iraq was about reconstruction, while Afghanistan is about construction. There was a large middle class in Iraq, but there is no middle class to provide a degree of stability in Afghanistan.
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