DEFENCE – TERRORISM CRISIS – 29 October 2001

Dr Julian Lewis: What plans he [Geoffrey Hoon] has to undertake a review of defence policy, to take account of the latest assessment of the terrorist threat?

Geoffrey Hoon: We have no plans to conduct a new review of defence policy. The security priorities and defence missions set out in the strategic defence review remain valid. The SDR left the armed forces well placed to participate in the campaign against international terrorism, but we need to look harder at asymmetric threats of the kind that we saw on 11 September and ensure that we have the right concepts, forces and capabilities to deal with them. This is the work that I have put in hand already.

[SUPPLEMENTARY:] That answer is not quite on all fours with the Secretary of State's previous pronouncement that the attacks on the United States provided an opportunity, if necessary, to "rebalance our existing efforts". Does he accept that the response to terrorism–the military response over which he has control–will be very expensive? Can he assure the House that the money that will have to be spent on our military response to terrorism will not be diverted from other necessary military capabilities as set out in the strategic defence review, which he has just confirmed is still valid?

Mr Hoon: I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. The work in hand is designed to examine the way in which our existing capabilities, many of which were well prepared for the kind of threat that we saw on 11 September, will nevertheless need further adjustment and rebalancing in the light of those threats. Much of the work done for the strategic defence review on ensuring that our armed forces were rapidly deployable is precisely the kind of work that is necessary to deal with a terrorist threat. None the less, more work needs to be completed. That is why I judge it necessary to conduct that further work within the Ministry of Defence.

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[Mr Bruce George (Walsall, South): Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr Lewis) had not left the Defence Committee and been shunted into a corner of the Opposition Whips Office, he would have been able to participate directly in the first inquiry of the Committee into the same subject on which he has just asked his question? I have talked to the hon. Gentleman, who is my friend–although I am ashamed to admit he is–and I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend would give me and the Defence Committee some indication of the timetable of his little inquiry into what tweaking needs to be done to the SDR to bring it into line with the increase in the threat to the UK home base as a result of the events of 11 September?]

[Mr Hoon: I anticipate that the work will follow the lines of the SDR. I want it to be open, and to give all hon. Members the opportunity to make representations, even from the redoubtable fastnesses of the Opposition Whips Office. I am sure that communication can reach and emerge from there, and I want everyone who has the opportunity to think deeply about the subject to contribute to what is an important debate for defence in this country. I would anticipate that we would be ready to publish conclusions in the spring of next year.]