Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)


Rt Hon Adam Ingram MP, Lieutenant General Nick Houghton CBE and Dr Roger Hutton

  Q60  Chairman: Could I just pick you up on something you said, that the people who are being held are very dangerous people. That would generally be the case in most British prisons, that there are a lot of very dangerous people in there. This is a detention facility that is in the centre of the Shaibah camp, so there are a lot of soldiers around about to cope with any military activity that was needed. The idea that it should be the Grenadier Guards looking after these detainees as opposed to the Military Provost Staff does not seem to me to have achieved an answer, from what you said just now.

  Mr Ingram: I do not have the precise management arrangements as to who is doing that and as to why.

  Lt General Houghton: Currently the Grenadier Guards are used there in a supervisory and close security role working alongside formally trained military prisoner officers, as it were, so it is a combination of the two. I am not quite certain what the origin of the change has been because, as far as I am aware, this has been the case for some time.

  Q61  Chairman: Anyway there are formally trained military prison officers?

  Mr Ingram: Can I again give another good example. At the Maze Prison we had military personnel, when required, doing perimeter guarding. I appreciate that was a much more open environment, but, by the very nature of the prisoners themselves, if there was a prison break-out or violence, then who has to attend to them, because of other troops around unnecessarily focused on that incident, so you need people who are aware of what the potential may be and in a position then to immediately and professionally react to that, so again, if there is a proposed change, we will give it to you and I do not know of any changes being muted?

  Q62  Chairman: Dr Hutton, is there anything you would like to add?

  Dr Hutton: First of all, we are talking about small numbers of people here. It varies between seven and 140 and at the moment it is 78 people held in that centre. There is some Iraqi involvement in the review in that there is a committee chaired by the Iraqi Prime Minister and the multinational forces which reviews cases at the 18-month point. It could be that we might be able to build a bit more review in lower down the chain, but I would point out that, as most of these detainees are held on intelligence grounds, that could be complicated.

  Q63  Mr Holloway: It was very interesting when we met the Prime Minister, that we were all trying to talk about what you do about the Governor and he wanted to talk about 15 detainees, and it was kind of a big issue to him. I think we found it quite bizarre.

  Mr Ingram: What is he focusing on? Is he saying that it is something that could give more political buy-in in the region, something that could help him in his objectives? Are those people known to him? Does he have a view about them? Generally, I do not think that is being bizarre, I think that is focusing in on the political equations he has to deal with and we then have to satisfy him as to why we cannot comply with that if we cannot comply with it.

  Lt General Houghton: In the specific instance of your visit, I am led to believe that Prime Minister Maliki had been slightly misled to the point that a number of the detainees in the UK facility were being held without any evidence and he got very emotive about that because it seemed to be completely in contravention of Iraqi national sovereignty. The fact is that there may not be specific evidence, but they are allowed to be held against an intelligence portfolio and that was not very clear to him, so the substantive grounds for their detention exist, but they are based on an intelligence case, not an evidential case, if you see the difference. I am told that he was not made aware at the time of your meeting of that specific difference.

  Q64  Chairman: But there is a substantial difference, I think, between the way the United States handle their review process and the way that the British handle the review process and the United States involve Iraqis at a much lower level than the Prime Minister whereas the British do not. I would have thought that it might well be helpful to local buy-in to have more Iraqi involvement at the review process.

  Mr Ingram: We are looking at getting compatibility in the handling arrangements. Again I am conscious of the fact that the Secretary of State is out there and that might have been part of his discussions, but I have not seen the read-out from that yet.

  Q65  Mr Havard: Perhaps at some point you could tell us how it is going to be dealt with in relation to the renewal of the UN mandate or the replacement of the UN mandate at the end of the year. Last time it was catered for in an exchange of letters which went alongside the Resolution and, if you could give us some detail about that as that becomes known, that would be very helpful.

  Dr Hutton: I think we would want the renewed UN mandate to roll over the ability to detain.

  Q66  Mr Havard: So would there be another exchange of letters, for example?

  Dr Hutton: I do not think there would necessarily need to be an exchange of letters. We would have to look at the detail at the time, but what we want is the basic rollover.

  Q67  Mr Havard: The reason I ask is partly because I want to be very clear that the people who are actually being asked to engage in this activity and do it are also individually protected in relation to the law as well as the general question being dealt with in the proper way.

  Mr Ingram: I can give you that absolute assurance, that one of the issues which we will always attend to is our compliance with international law.

  Chairman: We are just about to go into private session, but, before we do, I would like to make one comment which is that I think the overall impression that we got while we were in Iraq was of British troops performing in comparatively small numbers under extremely difficult conditions, heat that I had certainly never experienced before, and performing to a standard that was perhaps as expected, but nevertheless utterly outstanding, and I think we all came away feeling what a huge debt we owe to them.

  Linda Gilroy: Hear! Hear!

  Q68  Chairman: My colleagues clearly agree with that.

  Mr Ingram: I would echo that. That is my experience too, and not only that, but when I visited 7th Armoured Brigade it was very significant how much all of those soldiers, experienced, young and old, all of them felt they were making a difference and had a purpose to what they were seeking to do in Iraq. They were not just saying this, but they realised the enormity of the task they faced and will continue to face for some time, but they were making a difference and that is important, and it shows the professionalism of our people.

  Mr Havard: I think the other thing which struck me, Chairman, was the clarity of understanding about how they could draw back, rather than immediately withdraw, and support and consolidate the process as it moved forward.

  Linda Gilroy: I think morale was very high. When you read the briefings going out, you wondered what to expect, but it is certainly one of the abiding recollections I will have just on an individual level of how they were meeting that challenge.

  Q69  Robert Key: Could I just add on behalf of hundreds of my constituents in the Salisbury Plain Garrison area that there is a stark contrast between the acknowledged professionalism of the task our Forces are performing in theatre and the pressure on wives and families and the need for the Army Families Federation and for the welfare services of the Army because every day every one of their families switches on the television and radio and there is a constant drip, drip, drip of criticism, contrasting with the excellence which is really happening on the ground, and that is very, very corrosive to Army families. I simply ask you, Minister, to bear that in mind and do all you can to support the families.

  Mr Ingram: Chairman, again just to comment, and I agree entirely with all of that, those who make critical comments are not making a difference in Iraq. They are not actually making it better. The people who are making it better are those who are delivering on the international missions. When I visited 7th Armoured Brigade, they had put in place a very effective family wrap-around system, called `Home Rat'. They are the Desert Rats, as you know, and they had this system, called `Home Rat', and everything was focused on making sure the families, mainly in Germany, had a whole range of support mechanisms so that no one should feel, if they had a problem, that they could not go and talk to someone. Talking to the families as well about the way in which they put their own wrap around people was truly significant and it really was immense to see this, it was very satisfying to see this, and I know that happens in different brigades in different deployments. The families are very important and those who make the critical comments should realise that there are worried mothers and wives and others back home and they should just condition their remarks in remembering what we are asking our people to do and balance that against the point I made about the soldiers themselves believing they are making a difference, and we can see the difference in Iraq and that is with some of the things we have discussed today.

  Linda Gilroy: I would just add to what Robert said that, although I say morale is high out there, there were many expressions of puzzlement as to why more positive stories are not written about what is going on out there because they are just doing an amazing job.

  Chairman: On that note, we will now go into private session.

  Resolved, That the Committee should sit in private.

  The witnesses gave further oral evidence.

  Asterisks denote that part of the oral evidence which, for security reasons, has not been reported at the request of the Ministry of Defence and with the agreement of the Committee.

  Q70  Chairman: Minister, may I ask if you can vouch for those who remain?

  Mr Ingram: They are all mine, yes. In fact they are all ours.

  Q71  Chairman: May I remind the Committee that the usual practice is to publish the transcript of the evidence in private session as well as the evidence that is given in the public session in due course, but there is a bit of negotiation with the Ministry of Defence about whether bits are too sensitive to be published, so you ought to be aware that everything you say will be written down and used in evidence. Now, let us move into some of the questions that did arise while we were there in relation particularly to equipment. It may be that you are not able to answer all of these questions, Minister. Helicopters—a critical enabler and yet we found that in the heat there, particularly in the afternoons, they could not be used, so I am wondering whether there is a shortage of helicopters in Iraq and what is being done to increase their numbers?

  Mr Ingram: I was not aware of their non-use in the heat of the day. That is in maybe extreme temperatures when maybe there is a judicious judgment made by the crew in terms of that.

  Q72  Chairman: ***

  Lt General Houghton: ***

  Mr Ingram: If there is ever any platform which can be pushed to extreme in any set of given circumstances, the judgment obviously will be made as to what is the best utilisation. If there are limits because of heat, it does not matter how many you have, is an obvious response to that, if they are limited by the environment in which they are. In terms of helicopter availability, we do not hide from the fact that we are using them very extensively and the crews are well over the harmony guidelines. There is no question about this at all and we recognise that. The hard logic to this is that, given the resources we have and the requirements that we place upon them and the availability of the various platforms, if it is said that we have an insufficiency, then it means that something will not be done, and at the moment we are not at that point. I would not say that the piece of elastic is not very taut, it is, and I cannot hide that from you.

  Q73  Mr Holloway: Both in Iraq and Afghanistan senior commanders are saying that it is actually preventing them from doing things. It is not a function of harmony guidelines or anything else. They do not believe they have enough helicopters.

  Mr Ingram: It is a function of harmony guidelines because availability of crew and platforms, and there is no question at all that again probably things will not be done because of non-availability of resource, that is a judgment that the field commander then has to make, what he should be doing, and what we try to do is to give an appropriate level of platforms to meet the broad objectives. If additional demands are then raised, it has to be judged as to what platforms are available, what crews are available and, as I said, if they are not there or we do not have them, we cannot use them.

  Q74  Chairman: Do you know how many helicopters we have in Iraq?

  Mr Ingram: Off the top of my head, I do not know, but we can give you the figures on that. There may actually be figures coming as we go. We do know it, but we just do not have the figure to give you at the moment.[8]

  Lt General Houghton: ***

  Q75  Chairman: A staggering story we heard while we were in Baghdad was that the Americans had found in a warehouse 147 helicopters of theirs which they had not realised they had lost. By comparison, we have 17 helicopters in the whole of Iraq, I think. Our British troops are working alongside the Americans and they can see the fantastic surplus of men, equipment, money, everything that the Americans have and it is tough on them.

  Mr Ingram: It is tough on them, but we can only deploy that which we have both in platforms and in personnel and the personnel are way beyond the harmony guidelines in some areas. It gets to the point of criticality as well. We have not reached that yet, but we have to be conscious of all of that. We also have to be conscious of the fact that it is about recuperation, it is about refreshment of those crews and these are the judgments which have to be made. If it gets to the point where we do not have the resource, then we cannot use it. We are not at that point yet.

  Linda Gilroy: I just wanted to say, in addition to what Adam was saying, that there were mixed messages as between some of the official briefings and some of the informal information which we were able to discuss with some of the personnel and I would say that bears out what you are saying up to a point.

  Q76  Mr Havard: A lot of it was about the capability of each of the platforms and the guidelines under which they have to operate, *** but we are going to learn from this and the new kit that we are going to have, some *** the Americans have them, and obviously in extremis the damned thing will fly, no matter what, it will just get people out, and we understood all of that. I think it was the question about what lessons we have been learning and ***.

  Lt General Houghton: ***

  Q77  Mr Havard: So that is being reviewed then?

  Lt General Houghton: Yes.

  Q78  Chairman: When do you expect to announce a replacement for the Sea King?

  Mr Ingram: When we are ready to do so. It is being looked at. You are aware that it is being looked at. That is one of the encouraging things, that we have a very sizeable rotary wing programme which is currently being evaluated as to what we need, how many and what the cost is going to be, so we will just have to wait and see and we will announce it when we are ready to announce it.

  Q79  Chairman: Moving on to Hercules, you have assured us that you are taking appropriate action about the Hercules flight safety concerns and it seemed to be an area of concern to the pilots in theatre, and I wondered whether you were aware that they were concerned about the vulnerability of the Hercules aircraft that they were flying.

  Mr Ingram: I am trying to think if I have spoken to any pilots recently about that. I have not had any personal point of contact, but again, given some of the prominence which has been given to the issue, then it would not surprise me that they would be thinking that they are now flying a piece of kit that should have something fitted to it. That is what we are seeking to do. We are all experienced enough to know that there has to be a balance of risk in all of this. It goes back to the point that, if we were not to use those aircraft, we could not deliver on our mission in Iraq and, therefore, while we build up that new protective measure, we have to again use aircraft in the most effective and judicious way. A lot of those aircraft have very substantial fit on them now in terms of DAS and if the requirement is justified, it will then be procured. It takes time in any procurement stream to go through that process and one big success we have in procurement of course is on the urgent operational requirement process. Everyone who looks at this recognises the success of it, but, because you identify a shortfall or a requirement, it does not mean to say you can deliver it overnight. It is not because of lack of money, but it is then because of availability within industry to upgrade. In terms of what we are trying to do with that particular fit on the Hercules, and we are considering whether we now need that to be fitted to aircraft other than those which operate in the highest threat environment, that then has an impact on the rest of the Hercules maintenance programme, and it is trying to get the balance right because, if we start losing airframes because we are doing that particular fit, then we have another operational problem. That is where the balance of discussion is taking place at the moment as well as trying to ensure that industry can deliver on the schedules that we are giving them.

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