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Mr. Ingram: Earlier, I said that there were valuable lessons to be learned. We should not minimise or downplay the scale of what we did in achieving a successful conclusion. I accept that we need a rigorous examination of everything that went wrong—it is not just mosquito nets or boots that we have to look at, but other equipment that was supplied. However, given the scale of the deployment of 45,000 personnel, it would be wrong to think that the logistics chain could not meet the demands of a small number of engineers and force support personnel in any future deployment in the Congo or elsewhere. Lessons have been learned over time, and there will be fundamental research and analysis of problems. I welcome the role played by the Select Committee, as it can cast a fresh eye over the issue, although I suspect that it will probably come to the same conclusions. Its very independence, however, will assist us in making sure that the right lessons are learned and solutions properly applied.

I visited Iraq three weeks ago and, although my visit was short, I picked up many important messages from our troops, ranging from senior commanders to front- line soldiers. I was delighted to be accompanied by the hon. Members for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) and for Hereford (Mr. Keetch). However, I must tell the House that I learned from a press release issued by the hon. Member for Hereford afterwards that I had accompanied him on his visit—[Laughter.] I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for allowing me to do so. I do not know how I would have got there without him, but perhaps he would like to tell me.

Mr. Keetch: I am delighted to tell the Minister that I checked the wording of that press release, which said that I travelled with the Minister. I know that the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) will have seen the Hereford Times which, when that press release was issued, correctly said that we all went together. However, in a letter that the newspaper did not publish, someone wanted to know who Adam Ingram was. I am sure that it was not written by a member of the armed forces.

Mr. Ingram: I hope that people in the area are learning about their Member of Parliament and the way in which he puts out press releases. However, there is a serious point. While I understand the need for publicity—I am not talking about his particular press release—both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat

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spokesmen rushed too quickly to judgment and implied criticism in statements put out after their visit. If there was an easy and instant analysis to be made, it would have been done by now, and if all solutions were straightforward, as both hon. Gentlemen implied in their press releases, they would have been implemented. The truth is that neither is the case, which is why we are undertaking a methodical, thorough lessons process. We hope to publish early reflections from that examination in the near future, and a full report will be published in the autumn.

We have some early indications. While some members of the press may be disappointed to hear it, we believe that our equipment performed well, from the precision weapons delivered from the sea and air to the AS 90 artillery weapon, the Challenger 2 main battle tank and the modified SA80 A2 rifle.

While I am on the subject of equipment, I am pleased that today we have announced the result of a competition to further enhance the precision-guided strike capabilities of the RAF. That £120 million programme will be met by Raytheon's Paveway 4 system. The weapon will be built in the UK and will sustain some 200 jobs around the country—[Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is suggesting, most of those jobs will be retained in his constituency. However, that had no bearing on the decision, which was made purely on the basis of the quality, price and delivery of the system.

It is beyond dispute that the British armed forces have come away from the conflict in Iraq with a great deal to be proud of. I must, however, briefly address the very serious allegations of misconduct that have been levelled at some of our serving personnel.

Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North): Before my right hon. Friend moves on, does he agree that it is important to support the families left at home, particularly the families of members of the Territorial Army who were called up, as they do not have the support systems that are available in barracks? Will he join me in paying tribute to Captain Paul Morton in Doncaster who still has soldiers deployed in Iraq and is doing a fantastic job by continuing to do everything that he can to keep families together, and support mechanisms in place?

Mr. Ingram: I acknowledge the point made by my hon. Friend, and I appreciate that his son is a member of the TA who served in Iraq. Given the extensive use made of reserves and TA personnel, it is important that we put in place such mechanisms. Captain Paul Morton is to be congratulated, as are others in the support chain. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary put a lot of effort into dealing with the issue. We identified the problem early, and made every effort to find answers, so it is gratifying to hear that that paid dividends.

I was referring to the serious allegations of misconduct levelled at some of our serving personnel. The House would not expect me to discuss individual cases. Every substantive incident reported to us is investigated thoroughly, diligently and with regard for due process. If wrong has been done, the individuals in question will be dealt with. However, I would not want the alleged conduct of a few individuals to detract from

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the magnificent performance of our people in Iraq. Following the start of military action, within just one week, British forces made great early progress. That initial surge was followed by a mature and measured approach, gathering intelligence and assessing the situation, which paid dividends in the capture of Basra, the second city of Iraq, and a scale of accomplishment difficult to envisage.

Thanks in no small measure to our people, decisive combat operations in Iraq came to an end over a month ago. Since that time UK forces personnel have been providing humanitarian relief and stabilisation. We aim to create an environment within which ordinary Iraqis will be able to construct viable, fair and free political and economic institutions, and to reintegrate themselves into the international community. But the work of those who remain in Iraq goes on, and it is as important as it has ever been. We have to date withdrawn over 20,000 of our men and women from theatre. Thousands are still there, engaged in an enormous range of activities alongside the Iraqi people themselves, helping them to establish local authorities and basic utilities, and ensuring law and order.

It is appropriate to make special mention of our reservists, as my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Hughes) did. The scale of the reservist contribution has been unparalleled in recent years, fully reflecting the aims in the strategic defence review that the reserve forces should be more integrated, relevant and usable. Those who deployed to the Gulf serve in reserve units and sub-units and as individual augmentees, and they have served with distinction alongside our regular forces.

It should not be forgotten that the presence of those reservists on operations owes much to their employers in both the private and public sectors, and the support that they have provided. I pay due tribute to them. In addition, hundreds of civilians, many from British industry, deployed alongside our troops in a variety of roles, and I pay tribute to their commitment and the vital part that they play alongside the UK armed forces.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury): What is the Minister doing about reports that 80 per cent. of TA personnel deployed to the Gulf think that their employers might baulk at further deployments in the near future? Clearly, that has serious implications for the use of our Territorials in future conflicts.

Mr. Ingram: Because this was the first time that we have had to use such personnel in such large numbers, one of the lessons learned must concern the reaction of employers. Work must be done in that community too, to make everyone in this country realise the importance of the reserves and TA personnel, who can be called upon at times to deal with the threats to this nation. If employers thought that there was an easy solution, they would be wrong. If we thought that there was an easy solution, we would be wrong as well. That is why a great deal of effort went into speaking to employers in advance of the possible conflict in Iraq, and more effort will go into that. We must get it right, because those reserves and TA personnel are critical, and they could be used at any time. We hope that industry and employers, public and private, will begin to understand that crucial message.

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In creating a better future for Iraq, work continues to identify and secure suspected weapons of mass destruction sites. That will take time. Saddam Hussein had years to hide his WMD programme, and those who expect instant success are being both unreasonable and naive. In addition, our forces are playing their part in the wider coalition efforts to secure evidence of war crimes and other atrocities undertaken by Saddam's regime. I am sure that the whole House will join me in welcoming the recent appointment of my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) as our special envoy on human rights issues. I know that she will be as fearless in exposing the barbaric excesses of Saddam Hussein's regime—many of them committed right up to the outbreak of the conflict—as she will be in helping to set new human rights standards for the new Iraq.

A number of objectives remain outstanding in Iraq. British forces will maintain an appropriate presence in Iraq for as long as necessary to achieve our aims of helping Iraq to become once again a viable and self-standing state. Once the job is done, we will leave.

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