Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Hoon: The central difficulty under which the hon. Gentleman is labouring, if he will forgive me for saying so, is that the operation was an outstanding success and has been recognised as such by everyone. If he were arguing that it was a significant failure, there might be some force to his criticisms, but again, I refer him and all Opposition Members to the conclusions of the NAO report. That organisation carefully considered all the evidence and made a balanced judgment, reporting to Parliament, and its conclusion is clear. I refer the hon. Gentleman to paragraph 9, which states:


The start of paragraph 10 states:


13 Jan 2004 : Column 691

He cannot go behind those conclusions, not least having selected the NAO's report to Parliament as the basis for this debate. He either accepts the validity of what the NAO is saying to Parliament, or he rejects the report in its entirety.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Hoon: I shall not give way again. I have almost concluded my remarks.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend allow me?

Mr. Hoon: I shall certainly give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Dalyell: The Secretary of State rightly refers to performance with distinction. I know perfectly well that it is not up to Ministers, and properly so, to have any say whatever in the award of distinguished service orders, military crosses and other honours. That must be done on a military basis. However, I think he knows why I ask the question. Could he confirm that the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards performed with distinction?

Mr. Hoon: I can, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that. I have made the same point in relation to a range of our armed forces who were engaged in these operations. Had Opposition Members come to the House today with the benefit of a critical report following a military failure, they might have had some reason for making the kind of criticisms that they are making. Instead, they have come to debate in the House today a report that is supportive of the position taken by the Government, and which says that the effort, logistically in particular, was an outstanding success, and that the military operations were an outstanding success.

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con): Although I accept what the Secretary of State says, surely he would accept that one of the principal reasons why the operation was such a success was precisely that our armed forces were not subject to the very sort of attack that was his principal casus belli. If they had been subject to such an attack without the correct filters in the tanks that were indeed the battle-winning asset, the outcome might have been very different.

Mr. Hoon: I accept that all sorts of things could have happened, but even on the specific point that the hon. Gentleman fairly and properly makes—he always makes informed observations in the House on the position of the armed forces—the report's conclusion is clear. It says that the protection available to Britain's armed forces was good. He cannot go behind that clear conclusion of the NAO.

Ms Dari Taylor: I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. I have listened with great care to all that you have said at the Dispatch Box this afternoon, and you have, rightly in my view, praised—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The hon. Lady must get her terminology right.

Ms Taylor: I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I got carried away.

13 Jan 2004 : Column 692

I have listened with great care to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who has rightly heaped praise on the British armed forces as they have been deployed, including for the way in which they have worked with communities in Iraq. I would greatly appreciate it if he would widen his praise, because the Territorial Army has been fundamental to the success of the British armed forces. I should be very grateful if he would comment on that aspect.

Mr. Hoon: If I have been remiss with regard to reservists—I see at least two in front of me who have served with great distinction—I apologise. We have had an indication of just how central the reserves have become in the overall effort of the armed forces. That is a vindication of the policy set out in the 1998 strategic defence review of making our reserve forces usable. They have performed with absolute distinction in this operation.

In conclusion, our armed forces are continuing to perform a difficult but vital job in Iraq, helping the Iraqi people to establish a functioning infrastructure, providing security and stability and creating the conditions for a viable new Government. British civilians are also working in the region, carrying out our country's commitment to act as a force for good in an uncertain world. I am sure that the House will join me once again in honouring the magnificent work of all our people, who continue to demonstrate their exceptional quality, courage and dedication.

1.32 pm

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford) (LD): I join the shadow Secretary of State for Defence in congratulating the Secretary of State on his award from the Pentagon. I also back the calls for the Afghan and Iraqi campaign medals to be issued very quickly.

I, too, welcome this debate. The Secretary of State was right to point out that the National Audit Office report commends the Ministry of Defence on a military success. The staff at the MOD and the military personnel around the world who contributed to that success deserve recognition. However, although Operation Telic may well have been a military success, it is, quite frankly, too early to say whether the war and its aftermath have been a success.

There are many questions about the operation and I congratulate the Conservatives on raising them in debate today. However, their support for the decision to invade Iraq, on the basis of what many people believe was flawed intelligence and despite the fact that the United Nations inspectors believed that progress could be made, should not be forgotten. Indeed, the Conservative party bears responsibility for supporting the war, just as the Government bear responsibility for taking this country to war.

The concerns raised about kit in the NAO report were well understood before the war began. They were voiced by the forces and by me and others when we visited the Gulf last January. They were expressed to me by constituents and have also been expressed to other hon. Members. When I raised those concerns with the Secretary of State on numerous occasions, he told me that I had


13 Jan 2004 : Column 693

Perhaps I did and perhaps I did not, but I hope that he would not make the same accusation about the families of Steven Roberts and the other people killed in the war. On the subject of Sergeant Steven Roberts, I commend the work of my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler). We believe that the way in which Sergeant Roberts's family is treated will be a litmus test for the Ministry of Defence and the Secretary of State. However, there is no point in just calling for the Secretary of State to resign; Sergeant Roberts's family want explanations, and I am sure that they will come through.

The Conservatives should have been raising concerns about kit before the build-up to the campaign, rather than simply complaining afterwards. Instead, they blindly supported the drive to war, and the public will eventually come to understand the hypocrisy of their position. The previous Speaker, Speaker Boothroyd, in advising me on voting in this place, advised me simply to read the Order Paper and then read it again. Having read the motion before us today, despite misgivings and although I will do so through gritted teeth, I shall support it later.

The report highlights many supply and logistics problems that occurred during Operation Telic. Most worryingly, many of those problems, as has already been said, were identified in previous operations and exercises. They include problems relating to spares, asset tracking and supply chain management. I shall give just two quotes from the report. Page 45 states:


In other words, the problems were most acute when we were going into real warfare. On asset tracking, page 24 states:


The report confidently expresses the view that the MOD will learn from the difficulties raised. I hope that it does, but I suspect that we will not know whether that has happened until we see a future operation.

We are talking not only about technical problems, but about basics—boots, clothes, body armour and nuclear, biological and chemical protection suits.

Mr. Hoon: Before the hon. Gentleman gets on to the basic matter of boots and so on, I should not want him to leave the House with the impression that an asset tracking system in theatre can somehow be produced off the shelf or purchased at one's local computer store. Even the Pentagon has been frustrated in its efforts to produce an appropriate system that will work in all temperatures and conditions. I do not want him to leave anyone with the idea that we could go out and purchase such a system tomorrow and that there was a failure to produce one in the past. This is an enormously complex and difficult area of expertise on which we still have more work to do.


Next Section

IndexHome Page