Examination of Witnesses (Questions 2220
THURSDAY 5 FEBRUARY 2004
We are delighted to welcome you, Secretary of State, and Mr Rapson,
who until recently was on this side of the fence. I hope he did
not regret his metamorphosis to the executive. This, Secretary
of State, is the concluding evidence session of our inquiry. As
you will recall, we began with evidence from you in May last year.
Since then we have heard from a wide range of those involved in
the operation, from the National Contingent Commander to individual
service personnel. This is the nineteenth evidence session of
this inquiry. We have undertaken more than 12 visits, including
to many of the units which fought in Iraq. Through you, Secretary
of State, can I express our thanks to all those who have assisted
us. We have been twice to the United States and, of course, to
Iraq itself and Kuwait, as well as Germany, and we have made many
visits within the UK. Our inquiry has been the work of many months.
Much of it has gone completely unreported, but in my view, it
has been the most comprehensive study of the military operations
in Iraq outside the MoD itself. We will produce our report in
due course, probably in the middle of March, but I am sure we
can all agree now that the men and women of our armed forces deserve
the highest praise for their courage, resourcefulness and professionalism,
which they have again displayed in these operations. In today's
evidence session we will inevitably focus more on the things that
went wrong or might have been done better than on what went right.
But our report will be balanced, it will recognise clearly what
went wrong and it will report on the many things that went perfectly
well and in many cases exceeded expectations. I understand, Mr
Hoon, that you wish to make an opening statement. Welcome once
Mr Hoon: Thank you, chairman,
and indeed my thanks to members of the Committee for inviting
me here today. I should begin by congratulating the Committee
on what I know has been a very thorough inquiry into Operation
Telic. I will not pretend that this process of scrutiny is always
entirely comfortable for those who sit on this side of the table.
You referred to Syd Rapson's transition. I can only get you one
at a time across here but . . . All those who care about defence
will certainly welcome and applaud the inquiry. It is a serious
and appropriate examination of what are extremely important issues.
When I gave evidence to this Committee on 14 May last year we
were in the very early stages of our own work on the lessons of
Operation Telic, only two weeks after major combat operations
had concluded. I said at the time that, notwithstanding the overall
success of the operation, we owed it to our people to be rigorous
in analysing our performance and to be ready to identify the things
that did not go quite so well. Since then we have published two
substantial reports, and the National Audit Office has also published
the results of its own inquiry. These reports have both underlined
our overall successes and revealed some weaknesses. Let me begin
with some of the things that did not go as well as we would have
wished. In my evidence last May I acknowledged that there were
bound to be some problems in a logistics operation of this size,
and that some of our personnel may have experienced shortages
of equipment. Our subsequent work has shown that these shortages
were more widespread and in some respects more serious than we
believed to be the case at that time. In general, this was not
the result of a failure to obtain and deploy the equipment required.
There is certainly room for debate about the balance between routinely
holding items in our inventory and relying on our ability to generate
operation-specific equipment in short timescales, although the
Committee will appreciate, I am sure, that the answer to this
question may have major resource implications. A major problem,
in our analysis, was that there were serious shortcomings in our
ability to track consignments and assets through theatre. Despite
the heroic efforts of our logistics personnel, the system struggled
to cope with the sheer volume of matériel with which it
had to deal. As a result, there were too many instances of the
right equipment sitting in containers and not being distributed
to units as quickly as it should have been. On the whole, as we
said in our report Lessons for the Future, these shortages
did not adversely affect operational capability. Our commanders
judged that they had full operational capability by 20 March,
or indeed earlier, in other words, before the land forces crossed
the line of departure. The subsequent performance of our forces,
I believe, speaks for itself and vindicates the operational judgements
that the commanders made, but I do accept that a situation which
seems satisfactory to those looking at the bigger picture can
nonetheless be very different for the people who are affected
personally by the things that go wrong. I also accept that our
inability fully to distribute items such as desert clothing and
boots, although not considered operationally essential by commanders
on the ground, certainly had an impact on morale. It is understandable
that people lose confidence in the supply chain if it is not providing
them with what they expect to receive, and this is true regardless
of whether the system is meeting their commanders' priorities.
There were also, as we know from the tragic case of Sergeant Roberts,
problems in providing important equipment enhancements to all
personnel in a timely fashion, even when the requisite quantities
had actually arrived in theatre. So Operation Telic has underlined
the need for us to make more progress in improving our asset-tracking
systems, and this will be a high priority. We have also identified
the need for a senior focal point for logistics in the central
staff of the Department, and have therefore established the post
of Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff (Logistics Operations).
We have also identified numerous other areas for further work.
For instance, although, as I have mentioned, there are limits
to how much kit we can routinely hold in our inventories, we have
increased our stockholdings of desert and tropical clothing and
boots and NBC individual protection equipment sets, up to a total
now of 32,000 sets. We have also recognised that our procedures
for mobilising reservists need to allow for greater notice than
was possible in January last year, and I am pleased that we have
managed to do a bit better in subsequent mobilisations, meeting
our aspiration to provide 21 rather than 14 days' notice. Whilst
recognising those areas which did not go as well as we would have
wished, it is obviously important that we retain an overall sense
of perspective. In this respect, I can do no better than to quote
the conclusion of the National Audit Office, that "Operation
Telic was a significant military success" and "The logistic
effort for the operation was huge and key to success." Among
the many elements of this success, I would highlight first the
performance of our people, military and civilian, if I may say
so, Chairman, at all levels, both in theatre and at home. This
is, of course, a testament to their personal qualities, but I
also believeand I think that all our commanders would agree
with thisthat Operation Telic is a testament to the quality
of the training that our people receive throughout their careers.
Secondly, I think it is clear that the performance of our equipment
was good, and its generally high levels of availability represented
a significant improvement on Exercise Saif Sareea II. This in
turn underlines the value of testing ourselves through challenging
exercises and then learning the lessons from them, and it reinforces
the point I have just made about the quality of training. Thirdly,
although we have identified significant issues in the logistics
area, we should not lose sight of the exceptional achievements
in the deployment process. As we have said before, we deployed
roughly the same size of force as in 1991 in roughly half the
time, despite the challenges posed by switching our planning from
the North to the South. Overall, therefore, we judge that Operation
Telic has confirmed the emphasis we have placed since the Strategic
Defence Review on an expeditionary strategy, and has demonstrated
some of the progress we have made in that direction. It has also
reinforced our belief in the importance of network-enabled capability
for the rapid delivery of precise effects. A good illustration
of this was the air operation on 11 April in which British and
American aircraft were tasked in real time by a US officer who
was remotely operating a Predator UAV from 8,000 miles away. Our
lessons work has been focused mainly on the preparation, deployment
and combat phases of the operation, but I would also like to mention
the outstanding work that our forces have been doing in supporting
the reconstruction of Iraq and repairing the damage done by a
generation of Ba'athist rule, which in many respects proved to
be worse than we had expected. We have identified important lessons
about planning for post-conflict activity, which we are working
on with other government departments. But despite the limitations
of coalition planning in this area, British forces have displayed
great versatility and initiative in what remains a difficult security
situation. It has often been noted that they adapted seamlessly
to a transition from combat to peace support operations, but it
is worth underlining the sheer variety of activities in which
they have been engaged. These have ranged from helping to repair
the utility systems, to refurbishing schools, to assisting the
development of local government to providing security for a very
successful currency exchange programme, whilst continuing to deal
with the threats posed by anti-coalition elements. Many of our
people, both military and civilian, have filled positions in the
Coalition Provisional Authority and are working tirelessly to
set Iraq on the path to self-government. We are very proud of
them all, and I am sure the Committee would wish to endorse that.
Thank you, Chairman.
Chairman: Thank you very much. We will
arrange for copies of your opening statement to be distributed
some time during the meeting, Secretary of State.
Q2221 Mr Viggers: Secretary
of State, I would like to ask a couple of questions about causation.
The Hutton Report on page 138 refers to the creation of the dossier,
and reports Jonathan Powell, the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff,
sending an email to Mr Campbell and Mr Scarlett quoting, "Alastair,
what will be the headline in the Standard on day of publication?"
"What do we want it to be?" The actual headline in the
Standard, following the change in the dossier, which is
well recorded, was "45 minutes from attack" and there
were other references. The Sun headline, for instance,
"45 minutes from doom" and the dossier itself in its
foreword has a reference from the Prime Minister, talking about
Iraq, "Military planning allows for some of the weapons of
mass destruction to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to
use them" and there is a map which includes areas of Egypt
and, of course, Cyprus as areas where weapons of mass destruction
Mr Hoon: I apologise for interrupting
you. We are talking about figure 7, I take it?
Q2222 Mr Viggers: We are talking
about figure 7 on page 31 of the dossier.
Mr Hoon: That is headed "Current
and planned potential ballistic missiles".
Q2223 Mr Viggers: Yes. The
news headlines are quite dramatic. You have a press department,
of course. Do they provide you with a press cuttings service?
Mr Hoon: Certainly when I am in
the United Kingdom, yes.
Q2224 Mr Viggers: When I was
a Minister, I had a press cuttings service and read it every day.
Do you read your press cuttings service every day?
Mr Hoon: Most days, yes. I could
not say that I read it every day, no.
Q2225 Mr Viggers: Having seen
these headlines, knowing that the weapons of mass destruction
were specifically battlefield weapons, you knew the nature of
Mr Hoon: There are a number of
points in your question, but the one that I first of all have
some difficulty with, and I am perfectly willing to explain to
the Committee why, is the premise "having seen the headlines".
I did not see those stories at the time. I realised that I had
not seen those headlines when I watched the Panorama programme
some weeks ago, in which those headlines, the front pages, I think,
of the Sun and I think of the Evening Standard,
were flashed up on the screen. I realised at that point that I
had not seen those newspapers. As a result, I checked my diary
for that period, and I was out of the country from 9 o'clock on
24 September until 5 o'clock on 26 September, visiting Warsaw
and Ukraine. I simply did not see any of that coverage.
Q2226 Mr Viggers: You knew
that these were battlefield weapons only.
Mr Hoon: Again, I apologise for
not being as precise as I would like to be. Shortly after the
publication of the dossier, I asked within the Ministry of Defence
what kinds of weapons were in effect being referred to as part
of the so-called 45 minutes claim, and the answer within the Ministry
of Defence, an assessment, in effect, of the intelligence, was
to the effect that they were of a battlefield kind, but of course,
that does involve the potential to deliver chemical-filled shells
quite long distances, as far as 40 km. Certainly that was the
interpretation provided to me of the intelligence by members of
the Ministry of Defence.
Q2227 Mr Viggers: But you
knew that the headlines in the newspapers were misleading.
Mr Hoon: I am sorry to go over
the ground that I have just dealt with. I did not know they were
misleading because I had not seen them at the time. I was out
of the country. Even allowing for a cuttings service, they were
not faxed to me in either Warsaw or Ukraine. One of the reasons
why I particularly remember my visit to Ukraine was that there
were some hugely sensitive issues that I had to deal with in the
course of a meeting with the President of Ukraine. I have to say
that, going from what was a NATO ministerial meeting to these
rather important discussions that I was having with the President
of the country, my concentration was on that, and I certainly
did not see the front page of either the Sun or the Evening
Standard for the reasons I hope I have clearly set out.
Q2228 Mr Viggers: Months passed,
and the public was under a misapprehension.
Mr Hoon: I am not sure that that
is true. I do not recall at the time a great concentration or
attention on the so-called 45 minutes claim. It seems to me that
that became an issue for the public, and certainly for Parliament
and opinion formers, the media and so on, only really after the
unfounded claims made by the Today programme. I am perfectly willing
to discuss any evidence that you might have to the contrary, but
it was not my sense that this was something that concerned parliamentarians,
members of this Committee, or, for that matter, the public.
Q2229 Mr Viggers: But the
Prime Minister did not appreciate that the weapons were merely
Mr Hoon: As a matter of record,
he said that in the House. What I would want to emphasize to the
Committee is that we both had access to the same intelligence.
That has been dealt with in the Government's response to the ISC.
As I have explained, I asked within the Ministry of Defence for
an assessment of that intelligence, if you like, in military terms,
which is what I think the Committee would expect a Secretary of
State for Defence to do, and I did that.
Q2230 Mr Viggers: As Secretary
of State for Defence, did you not feel any duty to ensure that
your Prime Minister was properly informed before he took the country
Mr Hoon: I obviously briefed the
Prime Minister on a regular basis, and had this been a significant
issue in terms of the decision to take the country to war, I am
sure that this issue would have arisen in conversation between
us, but, as I emphasize, it was not a significant issue. The Prime
Minister did not mention the so-called 45 minutes claim in his
speech to Parliament immediately before that decision was taken
by the House of Commons. All I am emphasizing to you is that I
am sure had this been a big issue for this Committee, for Members
of Parliament, and indeed, for the public, then this matter would
have arisen. Since it was not a big issue at the timeI
accept that it has become one sincethis was not a matter
that we discussed.
Q2231 Mr Viggers: You are
content that headlines like "45 minutes from doom" can
remain on the record without any need for correction?
Mr Hoon: I was asked that question
approximately a year later, when I gave evidence to the Hutton
inquiry. In the course of that year, and again, I cannot say precisely
when, I was aware that such stories had been written, but I made
the point that I spend more time than I care to in trying to correct
misleading impressions given by newspapers and in the media. My
general experience is that they are extremely resistant to even
the most modest of changes, and this was an area where I did not
judge that the Government would have had any greater success.
Q2232 Mr Hancock: You mentioned
the role you have of dealing with the press and putting these
issues right. Were you aware that the Prime Minister actually
himself, on 21 October 2002, linked a question he was asked about
45 minutes and long-range weapons together? Did the Ministry of
Defence have any input into the response that he gave when he
was asked specifically about weapons deployed within 45 minutes
and long-range weapons? He did not choose to distance himself
from the linkage together; he actually said that he was confident
that we had proof that they could fire a missile 1,000 km. He
did not say, "This doesn't cover weapons of mass destruction
and the 45 minutes" at all. He went on to answer that question.
Were you aware of that?
Mr Hoon: I think it would be helpful
if you gave me the specific reference.
Q2233 Mr Hancock: Hansard,
21 October, column 78.
Mr Hoon: Perhaps you could tell
me what the Prime Minister said.
Q2234 Mr Hancock: Llew Smith
asked the following question: "To ask the Prime Minister
(1) on what basis is the assertion on page 17 of his dossier on
Iraq's weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein is determined
to retain those weapons, and (2) if he will set out the technical
basis for the assertion made on page 19 of the dossier that Iraqi
weapons of mass destruction could be deployed within 45 minutes."
The important thing there, of course, is you said you were the
one involved with the technical detail and the Prime Minister
was not. So I assume that when he was asked a specific question
about the technical detail, it must have gone to the MoD to check.
The third question was "On what basis is the assertion on
page 30 of the dossier on weapons of mass destruction that Saddam
Hussein remains committed to developing a long-range weapon?"
The Prime Minister's response was that they had an abundance of
intelligence information that they had developed weapons that
could go 1,000 km.
Mr Hoon: This is precisely the
point that I was making when I apologised for interrupting Peter
Viggers, because figure 7 does refer to current and planned potential
ballistic missiles, and most recently the ISC have indicated the
fact that there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein was seeking to
develop and had developed missiles that had a longer range than
those allowed under relevant UN resolutions. I do not see any
inconsistency in that.
Q2235 Mr Hancock: Secretary
of State, you said in your reply in the Commons yesterday that
you had asked, because you were at the technical end of this,
and you did not expect the Prime Minister to go down that line.
I would believeand you would have to be extremely naïvethat
with a specific question which targeted both the 45 minutes and
the long-range ability to fire a weapon of mass destruction to
1,000 km, someone, somewhere would have sought advice. Are you
saying that, in answer to a fairly specific question, Downing
Street did not seek the technical advice that the intelligence
had about these two things? In the report you actually mention
Cyprus and the sovereign bases three times as potential targets.
You do not attempt to distance yourself from the suggestion that
the weapons deployable in 45 minutes would be capable of going
there. It does not say that. It actually says our basis in Cyprus
and British tourists could be potential targets three times in
that part of the report, and in the specific question that the
Prime Minister was asked there was the link between 45 minutes
and the long-range delivery capability.
Mr Hoon: Perhaps I could invite
you to read out his answer. So far you have only paraphrased it.
Q2236 Mr Hancock: "These
points reflect specific intelligence information in the area of
long range weapons. Paragraph 28 of the dossier also explains
the significance of the new engine test at Al-Rafah, which has
a capability to test engines for missiles with a range of 1,000
km." So even in that response he did not choose, and nor
did any of his advisors, to unlink the 45 minutes and the long-range
Mr Hoon: I think I follow your
reasoning correctly. What I do not understand is where the link
in that answer is. The answer refers to long range ballistic missiles,
which is a point that I am making in relation to figure 7. We
undoubtedly set out in the dossierfigure 7 is an illustration
of itthe capability we judged Iraq had under Saddam Hussein
to fire longer range missiles.
Q2237 Mr Hancock: Secretary
of State, he was asked if he would set out the technical basis
for the assertion made on page 19 in the dossier on Iraqi weapons
of mass destruction that chemical and biological weapons could
be deployed within 45 minutes of an order to do so. His reply
talks about a 1,000 km distance capability. Anybody reading that
would assume that the two things undoubtedly were answering the
same question, that they had a longer range capability that could
be deployed with a weapon of mass destruction in 45 minutes.
Mr Hoon: I do not see the link
in the answer.
Mr Hancock: I am amazed.
Q2238 Chairman: Secretary
of State, given the uncertain nature of intelligence, and with
the benefit of hindsight in this particular case, would you agree
that building a political case for military action at a particular
time on evidence principally drawn from intelligence sources was
and is unwise?
Mr Hoon: No, I do not, and I think
the world is changing in terms of the way in which governments
can set out their justification for taking military action. I
think we live in less deferential, more demanding, more enquiring
times, and I think this Government has responded to that by the
publication of intelligence material which, frankly, previous
governments would have resisted. We have published two similar
intelligence-based accounts, and I think that reflects the kind
of society in which we now live. I suspect previous governments
would not have needed to do that, largely because previous governments
probably would have enjoyed a greater understanding of the need
to keep such matters strictly confidential and yet, in making
that balance, we judged it rightand I still think it was
rightto publish that material.
Q2239 Chairman: Following
from thatand we will obviously go into this in more detailin
the global war against terrorism, where one of the major dangers
is the coming together of WMD technology and terrorist organisations,
it seems highly likely that we will have to rely on intelligence
to identify where those threats emanate from. We may then need
to act against them quickly. This proposition is central to your
recent Defence White Paper, as it was in the New Chapter to the
SDR, but if intelligence cannot be relied on, or its credibility
may be damagedin this case it might have been exaggerated
or unfoundedhow will that affect our ability in the future
to persuade allies or public opinion of the need to take military
Mr Hoon: I think, unfortunately,
your question assumes the outcome of an inquiry that is only just
beginning, and obviously, the reason for establishing the inquiry
under Lord Butler is to examine precisely those matters. I think
it is important that we allow that inquiry to investigate and