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Mr. Hogg: One way of seeing whether the Ministry of Defence was dealing with the problems would be for the Defence Committee in, say, six months to invite the Secretary of State to appear before it to answer specific questions on these matters.

Mr. Simpson: I thank my right hon. and learned Friend. I am sure that the Chairman of the Defence Committee and my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, will take that into account.

The deficiencies in protection against weapons of mass destruction, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex and others pointed out, drive a coach and horses through the Government's position. Time and again, at the Dispatch Box and in public, the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and the Foreign Secretary stressed that the threat posed by Saddam Hussein was the threat of weapons of mass destruction. Most of us were only too conscious, as were the men and women of our armed forces and their families, that at least on the battlefield, they could be faced with that. The National Audit Office report proves beyond all doubt that the kind of effective layered defence that we would have expected to be in place was not in place.

As we in the Opposition have said before, the Government relied on just-in-time logistical support. The operation was short and sharp, against an enemy who, we can see in retrospect, did not amount to much. But in the defence White Paper, the Secretary of State outlined the kind of major operations that our armed forces may have to conduct over a long period against perhaps more formidable enemies. Under those circumstances, it is right and proper for us to make certain that the Secretary of State and Ministers are aware that it will be totally unacceptable if our armed forces are sent into harm's way without nuclear, biological and chemical protection and without the ability to sustain operations over a period longer than a few weeks—otherwise just in time will become just too late.

A key condemnation in the NAO report related to the problems of the logistical chain. The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan pointed out, in a semi-humorous way, all the logistical problems that can be expected over hundreds of years. We all know that nothing can ever be perfect. One of the most important conclusions in the report highlighted shortages and an apparent breakdown in the logistical chain of command. It stated:

Headquarters 1 (UK) Armoured Division

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Such a loss of confidence is pretty frightening. Ultimately, it probably did not matter, as the campaign lasted only days or weeks. The Secretary of State knows that if his White Paper's strategic vision is correct, it is likely that within the next few months or years, we will put our armed forces into harm's way, where they may face operations for a sustained and lengthy period. Such a collapse of confidence will be hopeless.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex raised a question that the National Audit Office report only touched on—the difficulty in communications. It was bad enough that the satellite link between Headquarters 1 (UK) Armoured Division and the joint headquarters broke down, but at a lower tactical level, many hon. Members will have heard reports from service personnel about problems with radio communications, which are absolutely crucial. I am not saying that the unfortunate incident involving the death of six Royal Military Police personnel could have been avoided, as they were ambushed and elements of the Parachute Regiment were some distance away, but there is no doubt that a breakdown in communications made it extremely difficult for those involved to get the sort of support that they needed. I know that these things happen in war, but unless servicemen can be reassured that their communications are robust and can sustain the sort of incoming fire that they might face in future, the morale of our troops will collapse pretty quickly.

The Opposition believe that the armed forces carried out a magnificent operation while facing a great deal of difficulty. Some of that difficulty related to the nature of the terrain and some to working in a coalition. Of course, some difficulty also lay in the fact that some of the step orders necessary for deployment and logistics took place just in time because of circumstances beyond constraints purely to do with the United Nations. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex highlighted our suspicion that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State were having to speak to more than one audience, and there was undoubtedly concern that they did not wish to worry some elements on their own Back Benches.

The National Audit Office report is a crucial document that highlights some telling failures in the system. The Opposition expect Ministers to implement the lessons, and we will return to them when we discuss the defence White Paper.

3.42 pm

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): I thank hon. Members for their contributions. I am pleased that the House has had this opportunity to pay tribute to the exceptional achievements of our armed forces on Operation Telic. Although we are debating an analysis of a past campaign, we should not forget that our servicemen and women continue to serve with distinction today.

The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) asked about medals in respect of Afghanistan and Iraq, and it is appropriate for me to give the best information I can. On Afghanistan, the Defence Council instruction has been published and the medal is now being issued to eligible service personnel. With regard to Iraq, the draft criteria are currently with the honours and decorations committee, and once they have been agreed, they will be

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passed to Her Majesty the Queen for final approval. Of course, the House will be notified about the matter in due course.

I hesitate to respond to the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne), because at the last Defence questions, in what I saw as a jokey aside—I think that everyone accepted it in that spirit—I said that when members of the armed forces addressed me, they normally called me "Sir". Everyone laughed, but that was not reflected in Hansard. The Mail on Sunday then said that the stroppy Adam Ingram, Minister for the armed forces, had insulted the hon. Gentleman. I only wish that Hansard could have recorded some of the asides. None the less, I wish to set the record straight, as I received a letter about it; I do not know whether it was from a constituent of his, but I shall reply to it to say that I had no intention of being disrespectful. Indeed, I pay sincere tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the role that he played during his service in Iraq, as I do to the hon. Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison). I am sorry that I missed the hon. Gentleman during my visit to Iraq in September. Although I do not necessarily agree with his speech, I can give him the absolute assurance that when I disappeared into my helicopter in the great cloud of dust that he described, it was not because I knew that he was coming closer and was trying to remove myself from the point of contact. Part of the purpose of visiting our forces on the front line is to hear exactly what is on their minds, and all Ministers try to have an open discussion with those with whom we come into contact. That is an important aspect of learning lessons about anything that we may ask our armed forces to do, no matter where they are.

I welcome the interest that hon. Members have shown in the lessons that are to be drawn from Operation Telic, just as we welcome and applaud the ongoing—and very thorough—inquiry by the Select Committee on Defence that has been taking place over the past eight months or so. We look forward to the publication of its report. It was suggested that the Secretary of State should give evidence to the Committee—of course, he has done so in relation to every important subject, and is held accountable to the House through that mechanism.

It is important to take into account the Department's own in-depth critical analysis in our report, "Operations in Iraq—Lessons for the Future". That is equally significant, although we did not hear much about it today.

It is vital for defence and for the country that we should never fall into the trap of taking successful operations for granted. It is also important for the men and women of our armed forces to know that Parliament cherishes their services to the nation and to the world and cares deeply about their welfare and their ability to maintain the staggeringly high standards that they have set. Nor should we forget the indispensable contribution made by our civilian personnel at all levels. I therefore hope that the House will continue to concern itself closely with these matters.

The shadow Secretary of State is usually fair-minded, but I fear that his concluding comment fell far short of the import and purpose of this debate. It would be wrong to say that it was reflected in a concerted campaign—the Tories are not good at any campaigns at

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the moment, never mind concerted ones—but Conservative Members went on to make repeated comments about the personal attitude and demeanour of the Secretary of State, almost as if they were trying to attribute to him an attitude that will be reported in tomorrow's papers. Of course, that attitude does not exist. My right hon. Friend made clear in his opening comments, and had to repeat to the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo), the basis upon which such reports are examined. On both occasions, he stressed that we seek a robust analysis of all the lessons learned. We are not unusual in that: previous Governments have taken the same approach. Indeed, the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) noted that in 1991, under a Conservative Administration, the Public Accounts Committee made trenchant comments about certain shortcomings at that time. It is always an ongoing process. The central charge made by Opposition Members falls far short of reality, and it has failed.

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