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Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman heard no terms of sympathy from me on that matter.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): On a point or order, Mr. Speaker. Has a Home Office Minister indicated to you today that the Home Office will make a statement on the categorisation of prisoners, in terms of whether they should go to open prisons? In the past, only those designated as safe and unlikely to abscond have gone to open prisons. I have an open prison in my constituency, and in the first seven months of this year some 56 people absconded, of which 11 had been convicted of either murder or grievous bodily harm. That is causing great concern, and the Government should make a statement to the House on this matter.

Mr. Speaker: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could initiate an Adjournment debate on the matter.

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Opposition Day

[2nd Alloted Day]

National Audit Office Report on Operation Telic

Mr. Speaker: I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

12.37 pm

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): I beg to move,

Before I begin, the whole House will wish to acknowledge the awarding to the Secretary of State for Defence by the United States Defense Department of the distinguished public service award, in recognition of his support for the US-led war on terror. May I also suggest to him that for his part, he should ensure that the issuing of campaign medals for those involved in the Afghanistan conflict and in Operation Telic be expedited, so that the achievements of our servicemen and women may be more formally recognised?

The motion draws attention to the findings of a thorough and wide-ranging National Audit Office report entitled "Operation TELIC—United Kingdom Military Operations in Iraq". The report rightly finds that Operation Telic was a significant military success. I pay the warmest possible tribute, as the whole House has done on many occasions, to all those involved before and during the conflict, and in the post-conflict phase. But the NAO report finds that there were a number of profoundly serious logistical problems that could have had disastrous consequences for the 46,000 British servicemen and women involved. The report lists an extraordinary catalogue of problems, many of which were identified, incidentally, in "Lessons Learned", but which were not implemented in Operation Saif Sareea 2, in Oman. Commanders were unaware of where equipment was stored. Life-saving—

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Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman says that matters arising from that exercise were not addressed, but that is not the case. Investigations into the exercise showed that the Challenger tanks and, indeed, the SA80 rifle performed well.

Mr. Soames: That is true, but I shall come later in my speech to further glaring deficiencies, particularly with tanks and weapons, so the hon. Gentleman should contain himself.

Life-saving plates for enhanced ceramic body armour disappeared. Vital protective equipment against chemical and biological weapons was deemed unserviceable. Weapons—for example, the excellent Minimi machine-gun and the underslung grenade launcher—turned up so late that soldiers did not have enough time to train with them. Crucially, the secure satellite links to London broke down on the first day of the war, which was not a helpful start.

Perhaps even more seriously, the raison d'être of the Government's main case for going to war was to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, that was represented as the principal casus belli. If the threat were genuine, all our troops deployed should have been protected against that kind of attack, which was definitely regarded as a possibility. On 24 September 2002, the Prime Minister said that the September dossier concluded

Shamingly, the NAO report states:

It also said that the MOD's

The NAO also reports a 40 per cent. shortfall in tactical nerve agent detection systems. Those failings were potentially dangerous, and the consequences could have been appalling. The situation was wholly unacceptable, and we would like a detailed explanation from the Secretary of State. In one extreme case, Headquarters 1 UK Armoured Division was so desperate to locate missing chemical detection equipment that it sent a team from Kuwait to Bicester to search for vital missing stores.

If further evidence is required, the Secretary of State should reread the MOD's account of the audacious, courageous and brilliant assault on the Al-Faw peninsula by 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines:

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The House should also hear about this account published in the Royal Tank Regiment journal by a squadron leader serving in the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment during Operation Telic:

The NAO report states that critically—and to compound the seriousness of the situation—7 Armoured Brigade's Challenger 2 tanks and other armoured vehicles did not have

That was a disgrace and a deplorable failing, and it was a merciful deliverance that those filters were not required.

Had Iraqi forces used the chemical and biological weapons that they were suspected of having, it would have been against British forces that lacked the proper protection that they were entitled to expect. British casualties could have been very serious.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Are not those defects extraordinary given the fact that they were presided over by a Government who asserted to the House that it was the possession of weapons of mass destruction that constituted a threat to the United Kingdom? Yet the Government apparently left our armed forces unprotected against that very threat.

Mr. Soames: My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. The removal of weapons of mass destruction and the threat of chemical weapons was the principal casus belli in the first place.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford) (LD): If the then shadow Secretary of State for Defence—the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), who is not in the Chamber today—and the then Leader of the Conservative party visited our troops in the Gulf during the build-up to the campaign, did the troops express concerns about their equipment?

Mr. Soames: Neither of my colleagues shared that news with me.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the deficiencies that he has just described cannot be laid at the door of the civilian work forces at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down nor at the Defence Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Centre at Winterbourne Gunner, all of whom worked flat out during the run-up to the operation? Those workers are as disappointed as anybody about the deficiencies that have emerged.

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