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Royal Fleet Auxiliary

9. Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): With what frequency the inventory of materials and equipment carried by Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels is reassessed. [104543]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Spellar): The inventory of materials and equipment carried by Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels is reassessed and tailored to each operational deployment. Key holdings are also reviewed during major maintenance periods.

Mr. Heath: I pay tribute to the work of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, but is it not important that the basic inventory of equipment carried by the supply ships should be kept relevant to the operational requirements? If so, and given that warships are often now required to take on a humanitarian role, is it not important that kit and equipment that cannot be carried on a fighting ship are carried on Fort George or Fort Victoria and are available for immediate use?

Mr. Spellar: The hon. Gentleman is right. Inventory ranges carried by RAF vessels are tailored to each deployment. As a result of a number of deployments that we have recently undertaken, a detailed review of humanitarian relief stores is in hand and due for completion in April this year.

Kosovo

10. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): What inquiries he has made into the effectiveness of the operation of UK and NATO forces in Kosovo. [104544]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I visited Kosovo shortly before Christmas, meeting and talking to British forces working in KFOR. They have done and continue to do an outstanding job.

My predecessor, Lord Robertson, initiated a comprehensive study of what we learned from the Kosovo campaign. This work is continuing, and our findings will be published later this year.

Mr. Robathan: Has the Secretary of State read the leaked and highly critical internal report produced by the commander of 5th Airborne Brigade, who suggested that, had KFOR met serious Serb opposition, it would have had big problems? Today, I have been told that Tornado aircraft have been grounded after many sorties in Kosovo and the Gulf because they have run out of spares for their engines. The leaked report says that disproportionate staff effort was expended on MOD spin-doctoring, including bringing out General Jackson to do a job that Ministers should have been doing. In the service of a better defence of this realm, and to cut through the spin-doctoring, will the Secretary of State instigate a full inquiry, so that the House and the country can work out what could have been done better and what changes need to be made?

Mr. Hoon: General Jackson can defend himself far better than I can. I recall some of his observations, which

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the hon. Gentleman may find relevant. When describing the Kosovo campaign he said that


    "to call it a close run thing, frankly, flies in the face of reality."

The hon. Gentleman may consider whether he, himself, is flying in the face of reality. On 4 January, General Jackson also said:


    "I look back and just recall . . . the entry into Kosovo by KFOR and I think . . . the record speaks for itself. It was a considerable success."

The House must judge whether it is prepared to trust the knowledgable and impartial account of the campaign given by General Jackson, or the account given by the official Opposition and the hon. Gentleman.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): Did the Secretary of State see the documentary by Jonathan Dimbleby "A Kosovo Journey"? Has he had a chance to read the report by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe entitled "Kosovo/Kosova As Seen, As Told"? If so, does he accept that, since the KFOR occupation, 200,000 non-Albanians have been ethnically cleansed? Those who remain are daily terrorised and killed by the Kosovo Liberation Army. Those are the facts. The Secretary of State's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) was slightly complacent, given those facts. When will we have a debate on what is happening at the moment in Kosovo, and when will we have a debate on getting the refugees back to their homes?

Mr. Hoon: I saw the television programme, and we accept that there have been difficulties in encouraging Serbs in particular to return to their homes and their jobs. The international community intervened in Kosovo to provide a multinational opportunity for Kosovo to continue. We do not want a situation to occur in which people are ethnically cleansed, whether they are Albanians or Serbs. The reason why international forces are present on the ground today is largely to protect the Serbian population. As I said, I visited British troops in Pristina, who are there to protect individual Serbs and communities of Serbs. There is absolutely no doubt that the international community is committed to the preservation of a multi-ethnic future for Kosovo.

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham): Will the right hon. Gentleman assure me that the inquiry will include details on the success and failure of some of the high-tech equipment that was used in the Kosovo campaign, and will make recommendations to ensure that such equipment does not fail in future?

Mr. Hoon: A comprehensive account will be given of both the successes and failures of that mission. No military campaign is ever conducted entirely successfully, and we will learn the lessons. We have made it clear that a full account will be made to the House and to the country.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Is it not the case that, whereas previously the Serbians were, as we all know, ethnically cleansing and murdering, the film--which was hostile to what was undertaken to liberate Kosovo--showed British and allied forces doing their utmost to protect them, although of course we would like to see more being done? Is it not also the case that, during the war itself, whenever something went wrong, the Tories used it time and again to try to discredit what was

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being done? We should be proud of what we did to liberate Kosovo, and there is certainly no need to offer apologies of any kind.

Mr. Hoon: I was not offering an apology. My hon. Friend has put his case with considerable force and passion. British troops are there day in, day out, protecting members of minority communities. They are doing a superb job, and they are there at the behest of the international community to do the work that they are performing so successfully.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): As the Secretary of State will know, my colleagues and I believe that the armed forces are doing a fantastic job in Kosovo. They always deliver, as they are expected to do. That, however, is not the question. The question, surely, is whether the Government's drive for efficiency savings had a real impact on their ability to perform in Kosovo.

It is now being said that the armoured corps, when entering Kosovo, found itself in the terrible position of being short of spares for engines, gear boxes, oil and tracks. Its representatives say that that was simply because the equipment was released late and delivered late, with the result that vehicles were damaged. Will the Secretary of State confirm that?

Mr. Hoon: No, I will not. I remind the hon. Gentleman that British forces went into Kosovo as a peacekeeping operation. Various contingencies were planned for and prepared for, and, had it been necessary to meet armed resistance, British forces would have been equipped for such an eventuality. That, however, was not the case.

Instead of speculating on what might have been, the hon. Gentleman should bear in mind the words of General Jackson:


That answers all the hon. Gentleman's observations. He can speculate as much as he likes, but the Kosovo operation was extraordinarily successful, and wascarried out with great professionalism by British and international forces.

Mr. Duncan Smith: Yet again, the Secretary of State avoids the answer. The question is not whether the British forces performed well, or would have been able to perform had they been asked to do something different. I have served, and those who have served know that they will do that anyway. The problem arises when a Government policy makes it more difficult for them to do so.

Is it not a fact that members of the armoured corps knew very well at the time that the reason they did not receive the correct spares on their way into Kosovo was what they believed to be a Ministry of Defence policy to make the MOD into something like a supermarket, getting equipment to them just in time? Our armed forces are now saying "Not enough, just in time." Is that not the truth?

Mr. Hoon: It is not the truth. I shall not repeat the various quotations that I have given about the operation in Kosovo, but the reality is that it was a considerable success.

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However hard the hon. Gentleman tries to speculate and to dream up various contingencies, he cannot avoid the fact that the operation was completely successful. Had it been necessary to organise it differently, that would have been done.


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