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Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. We are relieved that the Government have ended the confusion of recent days and responded to many of the concerns and questions that were asked on all sides of the House on Monday. As I and my honourable friend the shadow Secretary of State for Defence made plain in our responses to that Statement, we support the coalition as it seeks to bring democracy, stability and freedom to Iraq, and to preserve her territorial integrity.

The Statement makes it clear that this deployment has the support of the Chiefs of Staff, following the reconnaissance reports that they will have received. Having heard that, and that the proposed mission is both feasible and fully within the capabilities of the Black Watch battle group, we support this deployment as being a necessary military contribution to the coalition's efforts to bring peace and stability to Iraq ahead of its elections. We are content to see that the Black Watch will be deployed with the necessary combat support services.

Will that battle group include a squadron of an armoured regiment with Challenger 2 tanks, possibly the Queen's Royal Lancers?

The Statement mentioned that the Scots Guards will be replacing the Black Watch. I understand that the Scots Guards have only just started moving from Germany. When is it envisaged that the battalion will be fully in place and ready to relieve the Black Watch? Have the Scots Guards been put on warning that they may be required in time to relieve the Black Watch in support of the combined Iraqi-US forces?

On Monday I asked questions about rules of engagement, and the Minister assured me that they are robust enough. But we remain very concerned. Will the Minister assure the House that troops who are about to
 
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face the enemy will not have their essential confidence undermined by the possibility of a commanding officer's legal judgments being subsequently overruled, as has recently been the case?

Bearing in mind the fact that, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, we are about to enter a period of increased activity in Iraq, will the Minister confirm that there is likely to be a surge requirement for extra troops to Iraq ahead of the Iraqi elections in January? Will he say whether any troops at present serving in Iraq will have to have their tour extended?

The whole House and the nation can be supremely confident that the Black Watch will carry out its task with all the fortitude, discipline and courage that we would expect from one of the finest regiments in the British Army. We wish them and the entire battle group the best of good fortune.

The Prime Minister created a good deal of confusion and uncertainty yesterday about the future of the Black Watch. Will the Minister confirm that wiser counsel might be prevailing and the Government may now be reconsidering their decision to cut four infantry battalions? Certainly, the Prime Minister appeared to offer the Black Watch a glimmer of hope.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I wonder whether he can clear up some confusion. We are told in the Statement that there is no truth in reports this morning that there is to be a substantial increase in the number of British troops in Iraq—up to 1,300. I assume that if the Scots Guards are deployed, we are talking about 700 to 800, or possibly 900, extra before the Black Watch comes back. That is a significant increase in the number of troops deployed. Perhaps the Minister can explain what appears to be a discrepancy between different paragraphs of the Statement.

We on these Benches are unhappy about the deployment of British troops outside the British sector and about putting them under the overall command of the United States, even if not under American immediate operational command.

Our reasons for that are our unhappiness at American tactics, such as the apparent disregard for the scale of civilian casualties and the lack of training in their relations with an occupied civilian population. Britain is being dragged behind the United States in its mistaken approach to a "war" on terror, and the confusion between the very necessary and delicate business of attempting to reconstruct a more stable Iraq and the global war on terror, which we hear set out every day in President Bush's re-election campaign. We know that there is unhappiness about that in Washington, even within the American armed forces.

We are not worried about whether the rules of engagement of British troops are robust enough; we are concerned that those rules of engagement should encourage a degree of restraint that, in itself, promotes a sense of confidence with the occupied population. We understand that the reasons for this deployment
 
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are that the Americans are mounting a major attack on Fallujah, and we are anxious about the extent of the destruction that may be meted out on Fallujah, and whether that is not counterproductive in terms of rebuilding a democratic Iraq.

Will the Minister say when the Secretary of State for Defence last discussed allied strategy in Iraq with his counterpart in the United States? Can we be reassured again that the United Kingdom has some influence over American strategy?

I strongly agree with my Conservative opposite number that the matter raises questions about the numbers of infantry that the United Kingdom will need, and the Government's proposals to reduce those numbers. The Black Watch may find that this tour of duty is all over by Christmas, but clearly we are talking about an extended commitment in Iraq, and there is a parallel extended commitment in Afghanistan.

We also ask about the impact of this deployment on the very necessary training of Iraqi security forces, in which the Black Watch was engaged. The provision of fully trained Iraqi security forces is, after all, one of the prerequisites for a future stable Iraq from which British forces can justifiably withdraw.

Will the Government recognise the scale of public and parliamentary unease about the direction of American strategy towards Iraq and the willingness of Her Majesty's Government to follow that American lead? There is an apparent absence of British influence over American policy or strategy, suggesting that a significant change of policy and strategy on Iraq that involves British forces should be subject to parliamentary debate, not just reported to Parliament as a fait accompli.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their remarks. In particular, as I think I can distinguish on this occasion, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Astor, and his party, for the support that they give to the military disposition. It is what I would expect of the Conservative Party. I would once have expected it of the Liberal Democrats, but no longer. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Astor, very much for what he had to say.

The noble Lord will forgive me, I know, when I disagree with his comment that there has been confusion about this over the past few weeks and days. It is not true. A request was made, a reconnaissance took place and a decision has been taken. That is a proper and sensible way to continue. As to his point about what the Prime Minister said yesterday about the Black Watch, it does not seem to me to be confused in any sense at all

He knows that I will not go into details. He will understand why I cannot answer his question about when the Scots Guards will arrive, or his other detailed questions. However, I can reassure him on his very important point about the rules of engagement, which remain absolutely robust. They have been adequate for UK forces for some time now. I also remind the noble Lord that British troops serving abroad are at all
 
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times subject to United Kingdom law. I believe that deals with the matters raised by the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever.

I wish I could be as generous to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and the party that he represents. They have to make up their minds: are they in favour of moving Iraq forward to the elections in January? If they are not, I can understand their refusal to endorse this move despite the overwhelming military support for it. But if they are in favour of the elections in January—and they say adamantly that they are—how in all conscience can they oppose this proposal? Its clear purpose is to ensure that we can hold elections in Iraq in January, which is what the Iraqi Interim Authority wants. To oppose it seems to be saying that they do not want that to succeed.

They suggested in another place—although I noticed that the noble Lord did not refer to this today—that every military disposal of this kind should be subject to a vote in the House of Commons. That is an absolutely amazing concept. It shows just how far they are removed from serious thought about these issues. The fact is that the Liberal Democrats have been found out on Iraq.

Earlier this week my noble friend Lady Symons showed quite clearly the double standards on legality that there have been over the past number of years. Added to that is a complete refusal to accept what is screamingly obvious and absolutely clear—that if their advice had been taken by Her Majesty's Government last year Saddam Hussein would still be in power with the inviting prospect of his sons succeeding him. As the Foreign Secretary said the other day, the Liberal Democrats' attitude towards that issue is a truth that dare not speak its name.

It is no use mouthing a few words of support for our troops and then opposing a disposition of this kind; that leaves our troops with a very unhappy feeling. Let me refer the noble Lord to a letter in yesterday's Guardian, which states:

I am afraid it is pitifully lacking on the Liberal Democrat Benches.


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