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.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could initiate an Adjournment debate on the matter.
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[2nd Alloted Day]
National Audit Office Report on Operation Telic
I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)
(Con): I beg to move,
That this House congratulates Her Majesty's Armed Forces on their outstanding contribution to the success of the Coalition campaign in Iraq; welcomes the positive findings of the National Audit Office Report on Operation TELICUnited Kingdom Military Operations in Iraq; endorses the conclusions and recommendations of that Report, but is gravely concerned about its criticisms of major deficiencies in the supply of vital equipment to UK forces in theatre; deplores the fact that approximately 200,000 sets of enhanced combat body armour issued since 1989 seem to have disappeared and that few troops received their full complement of the extra quantities of clothing and boots ordered from late 2002 onwards; is particularly appalled that there was a 40 per cent. shortfall in tactical nerve-agent detection systems, vital to alert personnel that an attack was underway, and that the operational filters needed to protect Challenger 2 tanks from radiological, chemical and biological attack were not delivered to frontline units until months after the fall of Saddam, given that the Government's casus belli was fear that the Iraqi regime possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) that might be used at short notice; condemns as totally unacceptable the extreme peril to which these supply failures exposed service men and women, because of the perceived WMD danger; and calls upon the Government urgently to address the deficiencies identified in the Report.
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 TELICUnited 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.
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. Weaponsfor example, the excellent Minimi machine-gun and the underslung grenade launcherturned 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
"that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons, that Saddam has continued to produce them, that he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes".[Official Report, 24 September 2002; Vol. 390, c. 3.]
Shamingly, the NAO report states:
"There were difficulties in providing nuclear, biological and chemical protective suits in certain sizes in sufficient numbers".
It also said that the MOD's
"entire stock of 4,000 residual vapour detector kits was unserviceable".
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:
"As final preparations were made on 20 March in the tactical assembly area to launch the assault, there had been attacks by Iraqi missiles. The brigade fully expected to be subjected to chemical attack and the helicopters to be engaged by air defence artillery."
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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 strident call of 'Gas! Gas! Gas!' rang out over the battle group assembly 14 times a day; we learned of several Iraqi surface to surface missile launches and generally the threat of WMD use was more a matter of 'When?' rather than 'If?'".
The NAO report states that criticallyand to compound the seriousness of the situation7 Armoured Brigade's Challenger 2 tanks and other armoured vehicles did not have
"viable nuclear, biological and chemical defence filters fitted throughout the warfighting phase of the operation".
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.
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 Defencethe hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), who is not in the Chamber todayand 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?
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.