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Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, I apologise for not being here at the beginning of the Minister's Statement. However, I did have the opportunity of hearing his right honourable friend deliver it in another place.
In the Statement he has sensibly clarified the references to 130,000 American troops, which was always extremely misleading. As the Statement makes clear, less than one-third are available for the kind of work that the Black Watch are being asked to
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undertake, and with even less armoured capability. That reinforces the statement made some time ago by the Chiefs of Staff in the United States when they asked Secretary Rumsfeld for greater forces, a request that was unfortunately declined.
The Scots Guards battle group is going to deploy. If they are required to go to this new deployment 350 miles north of the present area, presumably that means that we will still be without a reserve, which we have previously had. Can the Minister clarify what the position will then be? There is a great deal of easy, facile talk around at the moment that we have a temporary problem over Ramadan, a temporary problem ensuring that the elections run smoothly, and a ready assumption that everything will be quieter thereafter. In fact, the evidence is that insurgency is growing and is extremely serious.
In supporting what is obviously a necessary request at this time, my biggest criticism of the Government is that their duty here at home is to ensure that our forces undertaking this dangerous work have public support for what they are doing. It is a very important part of morale.
Let me describe two matters that will encourage public support. First, the public need to feel that real attention is being paid to the British point of view in the decision making that is taking place in Baghdad; that we are not merely the pillion passenger to an American policy dictated by Secretary Rumsfeld and the US military. SecondlyI have repeated this many times in the Houselast night, for the first time on television, there was a good news item about the excellent work being done by TA officers on the electricity and water supplies in Basra. If good work is being doneand Ministers stand up and plead that they are doing itthe public are woefully ignorant of it. If our forces out there are doing good work, it is the Government's duty to make sure that everyone in this country is aware of itnot merely through Statements in this House from the Dispatch Box, which no one listens to, but through an effective public communications exercise to do our forces justice for what they are doing in Iraq.
Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble Lord uses his great experience in asking his questions. As to his first question about the condition on the ground in the south- east ifand it is a very big ifthe Scots Guards are needed elsewhere, I asked this question before coming to the House today and I am advised that the commanding officers are satisfied that if that happened our troops in the south-east would not be exposed.
I am surprised that the noble Lord does not answer the second question himself. He held very high office in the department in which I serve at the present time, and he will know from his days, as we know from ours, how difficult it is to get the great British media to publish, either in written form or on radio or television, the good news that comes from a place like Iraq. It is very easy for them to publish any bad news there may be; it is very difficult to get them to publish
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any good news. We will continue to do our best to ensure that the good news comes across. Some obviously did last night.
Lord Garden: My Lords, I was deeply disappointed to hear the Minister make party political points in terms of how we address the problem that we are all agreed aboutthat is, achieving both a peaceful and democratic Iraq and a peaceful and democratic Middle East.
I take the Minister's Statement at face value, in which case I am alarmed that the United States forces are so parlous that a small UK detachment is needed some 350 miles north and out of area. If this is the caseand given the convoluted command and control arrangements to which he referredcan the Minister tell us, if the Black Watch were to get into difficulties, would they get help from the United States forces or the United Kingdom forces?
Lord Truscott: My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister express his views on the comments of General McColl, the senior UK commander in Iraq, that it would not be "militarily responsible" to reject the request from the United States for troop redeployment?
Lord Bach: My Lords, I did notice those important remarks. It is obviously important that politicians do not seek to hide behind the military in putting forward disposals of this kind. But in this particular case, the military, who have looked at this from a military point of view only, are absolutely unanimous in suggesting that on all counts this is a sensible thing to do. That is precisely why I asked the noble Lord, Lord Garden, with his great and distinguished experience in the Ministry of Defence some years ago, whether he supports this disposition.
Lord Inge: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for his Statement. My first reaction is that we are talking about a tactical operation in a country, and it has taken four days to make a decision about a tactical deployment. My conclusionand I would like the Minister to confirm that I am wrongis that the Government are deeply worried about this deployment, otherwise the decision should have been made much more quickly. That is point one.
My second point concerns the very convoluted command and control arrangements. If you are to get military forces to react on the ground, in time, you have to have a simple, responsive chain of command. I would have hated the chain of command that the Minister described if I had been the operational commander on the ground.
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The third lesson I would draw from that is the point made by the noble Lord, Lord GardenI do not often agree with the Royal Air Force. It is quite clear that we do not have adequate forces on the ground in Iraq to control the situation.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and gallant Lord. Of course there is a worry about any deployment of this kind. The reason for any delay was not because of deep worry or concern about this particular deploymentwe want to make sure that we get it right. We had a request from the Americans; as I told the House, a recce took place and a decision has been reached on military grounds.
I am sorry that the noble and gallant Lord is not happy about the way in which the chain of command that I described in the Statement will work. We are content, and I understand that the military are content, that that chain of command will work and has worked in the past.
We have no intention of adding a large number of troops to our contingent in Iraq at present. Obviously, if and when any decision of that kind is made, the Secretary of State will inform the House of Commons of that fact.
Lord Glenarthur: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will accept that I am very happy to support the comments he made in his Statement and the military imperative it describes. I declare an interest as chairman of the National Employer Advisory Board for the reserves of Britain's Armed Forces. How many members of those involved both in the Black Watch and the supporting arms are to be reserves? Are the necessary steps in hand to ensure that the employers of those reserves in the Black Watch and supporting arms are aware of any delays that might arise from the deployment of those people as to their return to the United Kingdom? That would be very helpful and encouraging to those who spare their people to play a part in such activities.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I cannot help him on the number of reserves there will be. He knows better than I do what a fantastic part the reserves have played in Iraq. Indeed, sitting next to him is one such reserve.
The reserves have done a fantastic job. The noble Lord was right to imply that there were difficulties at an early stage in terms of making sure that reserves can get back to their employment once they have finished their tour of duty. There were problems there; the Ministry has worked extremely hard to sort them out, with the help of the noble Lord and others.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that under the late Harold Wilson, a request was made for British forces to be used in Vietnam and that that was turned down without any lasting damage to American-British relations? Does my noble friend
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also agree that the move which is envisaged is designed to, and will, advance the re-election campaign of President Bush? In my view, that is wholly undesirable.
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