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2.44 pm

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): Following as I do the outstanding analysis by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), I am put under a certain amount of pressure. I shall endeavour not to lower the tone of the debate and to maintain the standard that they have set, although to do so will be difficult.

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I want to deal with part 5 of the report, and particularly paragraphs 5.8 to 5.10, which deal with the contribution of the reservists. Before doing so, I draw the House's attention to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests. I recall sitting in Nasirya and reading in a rather dated Sunday broadsheet, perhaps some two weeks after it was published, a criticism of our policy of deploying reservists for Operation Telic and Operation Telic 2. It said that that amounted to conscription on a scale not seen since the Korean war and the Suez crisis. I thought, "That is a monstrous travesty that bears no relation at all to the truth." Members of the reserves are not conscripts. Those who sign up to a Territorial or other reservist commitment are made fully aware of their liability. Equally, I do not believe that anyone signs up to the armed forces, be it regular or reserve, without some hope that they will actually see operations. Nobody wants to spend their military career back at the depot, training or counting blankets.

The reality is that a compulsory call-out notice actually provides liberation for many reservists who perhaps would have liked to serve and to meet an FTRS—full-time reserve service—commitment of some sort, but who were unable, because of the commitments imposed by family or career, suddenly to enjoy the relative financial advantage and job security presented and guaranteed to them by a call-out notice. Such a notice would enable them to do what they always wanted to do, which is serve in the armed forces; indeed, that was certainly the case for me. However, I should point out to Ministers that we should treat that situation with great caution and care. Ministers are right to say that employers have been very tolerant during Operations Granby and Telic—more so than we might have anticipated.

The armed services themselves have taken great account of employers' needs. For example, the Ministry of Defence has allowed 70 per cent. of appeals against the call-up of key employees, so there has been give and take on both sides. But the difficulty will come if we continue to maintain a high-tempo use of reservists on what have become low-intensity peacekeeping operations on only a medium scale. If we go on at that rate, we will quickly exhaust the reserves.

I thoroughly enjoyed my commitment, but I have family and I have now come back and have a career to resume. Indeed, that is the case for many individuals, who are quite prepared to put their civilian career and family on the back-burner because their country needs them in an emergency. Those people have done their six months, and it is very difficult to tell them in 12 or 18 months' time, "We need you again." We are entitled to ask them to serve again, because they have signed up to that commitment, but for how long would employers be prepared to wear that, in a situation that could not be described as a national emergency? We would quickly find that being a member of the reserve forces became a badge of unemployment, because only people without proper jobs would be able so to serve. There are those who are serial mobilisers—who always want to go on operations. They are very important and welcome, but they are a minority. The reserve forces would be very much the poorer without the people with proper jobs who make such commitments.

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While out in the Gulf, I read a considerable amount of press comment to the effect that the participation of the reserves had been something of a disaster: no kit and no pay, and the regular Army short-toured and pushed off, leaving the reservists in theatre. It really was not like that at all.

I shall consider those issues in reverse order. The first is tour length. Given the administrative burden and expense of mobilising reservists—for every Territorial Army soldier mobilised, one and a half must be called out, whereas for regular Army reservists the ratio is eight to one—I can understand the desire to make maximum use of them. However, reservists are volunteers and must feel that they are being treated fairly. The sense of unfairness that arose when regular Army personnel were seen to have short tours and TA personnel were given longer ones was caused not by discrimination but by the lack of a policy. It is now the policy that if a reservist goes out into theatre in service with a formed unit, he will return with that unit. If he goes out as an augmentee, he will serve six months. At least that policy gives reservists an end-of-tour date, which is vital for those with civilian careers.

On the issue of pay, it should have been predictable that there would be an enormous strain on the Army's administrative structure in delivering pay to those individuals who had been called out. We must not underestimate the anxiety caused to those individuals—fortunately, they were relatively few—who had problems with their pay. It is an enormous strain to be mobilised, sent far from home and have agonised calls from one's wife saying that bills have to be paid but the cheque has not arrived. We have solved that problem at a stroke by allowing the mobilisation structure at Chilwell to set up the pay accounts.

The reservists' principal grievance arises from the fact that the reserve standard allowance—the element of the pay that compensates them for the loss of their civilian earnings, which can be much higher—has been bound by rank constraints that are inappropriate in civilian life. The decision to abandon that constraint will wipe out that grievance, and I ask the Minister to confirm when that policy will be implemented, if it has not been implemented already.

The final issue is the lack of kit. When I reached the Gulf in early July, there was no problem with the supply of any of the items that have been mentioned. However, I cannot understand why we make body armour for an army of midgets. Finding a suit of armour that fitted was a problem throughout the theatre of operations. I could not find one to accommodate my girth and I do not usually have a problem in that respect.

There was no shortage of supply, but I spoke to many people who had been in the Gulf for Telic 1 and who were very angry about kit shortages. The Secretary of State made considerable amends in his intervention in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea, but in his own speech he gave the impression that because the operation was a success, we got away with it and everything was all right. He may not have meant to give that impression, and indeed he confirmed that in the subsequent intervention. However, we have been trying to draw attention to the fact that we have been taught that lesson before. We got away with it then, so we have carried on as before. Our point, in this debate, is that the failings could have been

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catastrophic. The principal reason given for the invasion of Iraq was its possession of WMD, and if they had been utilised we would be talking not about the success of the operation, but about the heavy and avoidable casualties. It was therefore appropriate to deal with the issue in precisely the way my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) did.

I wish to put down a marker with respect to chapter 6 of the report, which states, in point 6.4:

The report continues with measured and fairly light criticism of the Government's preparations, but that does not do justice to the lack of preparations that prevailed. The Secretary of State says that we must accept the report's conclusions and not cherry-pick, but I do not follow his logic. The report does not do justice to the Government's failure to plan for post-war reconstruction. We did fantastically well, as hon. Members have said. It is incredible that the British Army is able to move so swiftly and seamlessly from a high-intensity war role to a peace support operation requiring the most delicate touch. The Army is magnificent at that. It is also magnificent at improvising and flying by the seat of its pants.

One of the strengths of the regular Army was identifying the skills of reservists from their civilian careers and using them effectively in the reconstruction efforts. For example, those people whose job it is to build electricity pylons in the UK have been deployed to do just that in Iraq. However, everyone to whom I spoke thought it was obvious that we had no plan for after the war. That is equally true of the US, but it is not good enough to say, "Oh well, the US did not have a plan and it was the principal partner in the enterprise." The Opposition attempted to draw attention to the deficit in at least four debates in this Chamber in the build-up to the war. We were reassured and told that the matter was in hand, but it was not. I do not blame the MOD, because the deficit lies more with the Department for International Development. Therefore I shall not pursue the point any further in this debate, but I put down a marker on this subject because it is one to which I shall definitely return in future.


Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne). He and I are at risk of boring for Britain on the subject of Iraq for many years to come. I suspect that he would agree that by the time that we arrived in theatre, the logistics were good. However, the report deals with the phase before our arrival—the fighting of the war and immediately thereafter—and I shall confine my attention to that.

I declare an interest, in that I am a reservist and underwent compulsory mobilisation as part of Operation Telic between 15 September and 7 November. I was honoured to serve with 40 Regiment Royal Artillery near Az Zubayr in southern Iraq. I had the pleasure of meeting the Secretary of State for Defence at Saddam's garish palace on the Shatt al-Arab at Basra, when we exchanged a few words. The Minister

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of State will not be aware that he and I narrowly avoided one another at Shaibah, when his Sea King helicopter disappeared in an impressive plume of dust just as I arrived in my battlefield ambulance. I understood from a conversation with colleagues shortly thereafter that the Minister promised them lots of extra money for Defence Medical Services, for which they were most grateful. The hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) will also be grateful because he was particularly exercised earlier about the plight of the defence medical services.

Operation Telic was an extraordinary exercise in logistics. In the shock and awe of battle, it is easy to forget that all operations have a long and complex logistics tail that is just as much part of the success of the operation as the biting part. It has become fashionable to identify a scapegoat and there is a risk that the logisticians will win that role. One of them pointed out to me that the fault lies with their political masters—of course it does—in saying that the provisioning of our forces should be just in time, not just in case. That is in marked contrast with the Americans. Those of us who have visited Iraq, including Ministers, will have seen the huge American logistics operation by contrast with our own. Their business is far bigger than ours for sure, but the Americans subscribe to the belief that they need to prepare for all eventualities in a way we do not—contrasting our empty shelves with the Americans' full shelves.

We have heard about the tragedy of Sergeant Roberts, who lost his life through want of body armour. When I was in Iraq I spoke to a number of servicemen and women who had been involved in the handover of ceramic armour plating to personnel deemed to be at greater risk. Apart from the tragedy that that obviously invites, do Ministers have any idea of the extent to which such an incident can affect the morale of troops? In operations such as Telic, there is no front line or reserve. Everyone is in it together. Have Ministers reflected on how difficult it must be for a field commander to administer such a situation? There is great unhappiness about that particular incident, which to my mind was completely avoidable.

It is not just having stacks of kit on shelves that matters. Quality is also an issue. A Warminster lady wrote to me during the summer about her Royal Marine grandson who sent her a plaintive letter asking for kit to be bought from Milletts and sent to him, because his standard-issue boots and much else besides had disintegrated. They were not "fit for purpose".

Before Christmas I asked the Prime Minister why military vehicles were not fitted with the kit necessary to protect them fully from incoming missiles. I questioned why our troops had to put up with pieces of chicken wire strung across windscreens for their protection. I was told that the vehicle protection kits would not be comprehensively fitted until well into the new year—despite the excellent Army repair organisation based in Warminster, which is ready and able to get that job done.

The Secretary of State has presided over a veritable explosion of small to medium-scale operations since 1997 and had a long lead-in to the Iraq conflict. There was plenty of time to lay in sufficient body armour, ensure that desert boots would not melt in the heat and arrange for vehicle protection kits to be comprehensively fitted. A myriad other deficiencies are

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cited in the NAO report. In our congratulatory mood, it is important to remember that we are not here to congratulate the Government on a successful operation but to suggest ways in which the situation might be improved for the future. I hope that when the Minister winds up, he will echo the belated remarks of the Secretary of Secretary of State extracted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo).

I refer next to the reserve forces that were so crucial to Operation Telic. I was rather chuffed to receive recently in the post—I suspect in common with thousands of other reservists—a certificate signed in facsimile by the Secretary of State. It thanked me for my service in Iraq and for

My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West may have received such a certificate.

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