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Dr. Murrison: If not, that is something to which he can look forward. Perhaps the Secretary of State was being ironic, because at the risk of sounding churlish, whatever Operation Telic was about it had little to do with the defence of the nationas I thought Ministers had by now admitted.
The reserve forces are now much more than territorials engaged in the defence of the homeland, so the change of designation from Territorial Army to Army Reserve makes a great deal of sense. It will be warmly welcomed by my reservist colleagues as overdue recognition of the fact that they truly stand shoulder to shoulder with their Regular Army counterparts.
Saying that reservists will be used increasingly as an arm of Government foreign policy but that their strength will be cut by 15 per cent makes little sense. Ministers cannot expect to dip into a contracting pool of reserves at will. If people with day jobs in civilian life are repeatedly put upon, they will vote with their feet. I am staggered by the extent to which the Government are taking reservists and their employers for granted. The National Audit Office report claims that the MOD has recognised that financial assistance is necessary to prevent reservists from being disadvantaged because of mobilisation. I will give the Minister a small example. Reservists returning from theatre can be forgiven for being cynical on discovering that months of operational service will not count in full towards their annual reserve commitment. To discharge that commitment, they will have to tell their families and employers that they will have to spend a couple of weekends square bashing in Aldershot. That seems absolute nonsense. It is a good example of the way in which reservists are disadvantaged and of why they might decide that enough is enough and leave. If reservists do not make that choice, in many cases their families will do so.
Most employers are sympathetic to releasing staff during the acute phase of a conflictparticularly if they perceive that the conflict has to do with the security of the homeland. Employers become rather less enthusiastic when it seems that their good will is being abused. Last year I asked Ministers which employers they had met to discuss future commitments to Iraq, as
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): I begin by paying a warm tribute on behalf of Members on both sides of the House, and on behalf of all members of the Territorial Army, to my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison), who spoke so well about several TA issues, and to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne). Both of them spoke with huge knowledge both about what happened during Operation Telic and about what is happening to the TA and the reserves in general. I hope that the Ministry of Defence and others will listen carefully to what they said. Both my hon. Friends made important speeches from the point of view of their colleagues in the TA, who will very much respect the fact that they have spoken so well for them today.
I shall not try to replicate what other Members have said so well about the detail of the National Audit Office report. Issues were raised about nuclear, biological and chemical protection, in terms of indicators and filters for military vehicles. There have been questions about desert combat kit, which is terribly important and was in extremely short supply, and about body armour. The terrible and worrying case of the sergeant has been mentioned twice, but it may not be the only one to have arisen owing to the shortage of body armour.
It is interesting that 200,000 sets of body armour were produced at the time of Kosovo. I understand that currently there are about 94,000 soldiers in the British Army, so if my arithmetic is right there are two sets of body armour for each of them, including all those who were left at home. How there could have been a shortage of the stuff in the Gulf and howas my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West saidit could have been designed for midgets astonishes me.
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) and others in paying a huge tribute to the logistic operations during Operation Telic. My visit to Iraq as part of the armed forces parliamentary scheme confirmed that by and large we put 46,000 troops in broadly speaking the right places, with broadly speaking the right equipment. It is right to pay tribute to the armed services and to the logistics organisations. I pay particular tribute to two organisations in my constituency, the 9 Supply Regimentone of the two supply regiments responsible for getting all the kit out to the Gulfbased at Lavington, and RAF Lineham, whose Hercules also played a significant part in transporting the kit.
By and large, it is right to say that the logistics operation was a superb success, but that is not to diminish the criticisms in the NAO report. I was puzzled by the Secretary of State's remarks earlier, as he seemed to be saying that because the overall military operation was successful we should not ask questions about the means whereby that success was achieved. We accept that the operation was successful; there is no question about that. None the less, it is reasonable that we should ask questions about deficiencies in the kit and equipment or about the general conduct of the campaign. It is important to ensure that such deficiencies do not recur in any subsequent similar engagement. It is ridiculous to suggest that because the NAO report concludes that the overall campaign was good and worked wellI am happy to acknowledge thatit is illegitimate to ask questions about equipment deficiencies.
The Secretary of State also said that if the military commanders on the ground had said that the troops were not ready they would not have gone in, and that proved that they had all the necessary equipment. That argument seems equally fatuous. Of course the military commanders would not have gone to war if they not had the equipment. Indeed, there would have been an historic national and international scandal had that ever occurred. It is impossible to imagine that such a thing could have ever occurred throughout the long history of the British services. Of course, broadly speaking, the forces had the right amount of equipment to go into battle; it would have been bizarre if the military commanders had said that the forces were not operationally capable of saluting, turning to the right and marching off to do their duty. Of course they did, and we respect that fact.
To say that that was the case is not to dismiss the criticism that the armed forces did not have all the equipment that they should have had. Of course they went into battle. Of course they were operationally ready to go, but it is none the less legitimate for the House to put questions about some of the deficiencies mentioned by the NAO report and for us to try to ensure that the same things do not happen in any subsequent war.
When the Minister of State replies to the debate, I hope that he will not try to reiterate the specious argument that because the operation was successful and the military commanders agreed to go into battle it proves that "Everything is all right, Guv". Everything was not all right and the report proves it.
Mr. Soames: My hon. Friend is making an important point. The decision about when operations should commence was taken in partnership with coalition commanders and, as he suggests, the idea that a British commander would say, "We're not going because we haven't got the right kit," is preposterous. Broadly, the forces had the right equipment. Does he agree, however, that part of the success of our armed forces is their ability to hoist lessons on board and to change? It is puzzling that the important lessons that followed
Mr. Gray: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. He is right. Our services have always been very good at making do and mending. They will achieve what they are told to achieve, irrespective of how poor the standard of their equipment may be. But, as he says, we have had a series of conflicts during the past five to 10 yearsprobably more than since the second world war: Sierra Leone, Kosovo, the Balkans and Gulf War 1. Operation Saif Sareea 2 is especially important in that context, as the exercise was almost identical to what occurred in Telic. Lessons should have been learned and carried through by the time that Operation Telic occurred a year later.
One of the most salient points in the NAO report is that the lessons of Saif Sareea 2 had not been learned; they were not put in place for Operation Telic. For example, during Saif Sareea 2 great play was made of the fact that the air filters for the Challenger 2 tanks were not of the correct specification, so they clogged up with sand. The tanks were configured for operation in western Europe where conditions are relatively humid, and the large amount of sand in the air intakes clogged up the filters, although a friend who is a tank commander tells me that standard procedure is to stop the tank every now and again, take out the filters and give them a good bang on the ground, which effectively gets rid of the sand. The failure to do that was part of the problem during Saif Sareea, and the lessons do not yet seem to have been learned.
The NAO report also mentioned the lack of NBC filters in all armoured vehicles. As I understand it, duff filters are used in training and it is standard operating procedure to remove them from the vehicles as soon as an operation is likely and replace them with effective filters. However, no such filters were supplied to the 25,000 vehicles that were carted out to Iraq.
It is important that the Government reply to our questions about why all that happened. We all very much hope that this does not happen, but if there is to be another such operation, we need guarantees from the Government that such things will not happen again. The purpose of the debate is to call attention to some of those shortfalls, and I hope that the Government will now learn the lessons of the filters, the body armour and the desert combat kit.
Some soldiers in my constituency tell me that they were issued with two left boots. That is an Army joke; it happens to be the case. The quartermaster sergeant said, "I'm very sorry; I haven't got a pair of boots for you. I'll give you two left boots and if you bring them back later on, I'll try to exchange them." Equally, some soldiers were issued with the wrong size of boot, and they were told, "Never mind that you are size 12, gentlemen, all I've got is size 7. If you take them just now and bring them back later on, I'll try to exchange them for you." That may be silly, but it is not acceptable.
I discovered one or two other deficiencies in equipment during my visit to Iraq. Incidentally, I pay tribute to the armed forces parliamentary scheme and Sir Neil Thorne who runs it so extremely well. I was one of half a dozen hon. Members who were the first
First, water is absolutely essential in such an operation. One of the biggest changes since the time when I was in the TA is that it is now normal to supply bottled water to troops, but the trouble with bottled water lying around in the sun in a place such as Iraq is that it is almost boiling on the sand. It could not be cooled down, as no water-cooling mechanism was supplied to our troops. It might be worth thinking about that in future.
It might also be worth thinking about a greater degree of air conditioning, which the Americans have, but we did not have at that stage. Apart from anything else, our computers did not operate because of that lack of air conditioning. There was a significant amount of computer downtime, apparently because of the high temperatures. When I was there, it was 46° C in the shade120 or 130° F in old termsand the computer simply seized up in that heat.