15 Jun 2009 16:18:17

David Cameron: Iraq Inquiry risks looking like an "establishment stitch-up"

Many Labour MPs stayed away from the Commons for
Brown's Iraq Inquiry statement.Picture 18

David Cameron welcomed the Prime Minister's statement on the importance of good relations with democratic Iraq, Prime Minister Netanyahu's embrace of a 'two state solution' and the need for scrutiny of Iran's elections.

The Tory leader then expressed concern that the inquiry won't build public confidence because of its restricted terms of reference, limited membership and the fact that it will meet in private.

Mr Cameron raised four broad concerns (not verbatim):

  • Timing: This inquiry should have started six months ago.  By delaying it until now (although British troops are still in Iraq - the Government's original excuse for delay) and prolonging it for a year (much longer than the Franks Inquiry into the Falklands War) there will be suspicions that it has been "fixed" so no conclusions are published until after the next General Election.  He urges the Prime Minister to produce an interim report so that the Government can be held properly to account.
  • Inquiry membership: It is a mistake not to include political representation as Franks did.  It risks looking like an "establishment stitch up".
  • Coverage and content: Why does the Prime Minister say the inquiry should not "apportion blame"?  If mistakes were made we need to know who made them and why.  Will the Inquiry be free to invite foreign witnesses to give evidence? On scope will he confirm that the Inquiry will cover relations with the US, use of intelligence, post-conflict planning and coordination between DFID, the FCO and the military?
  • Openness: Shouldn't there be some open public sessions in which British families affected by the war can be heard and feel involved?  Mr Cameron ends by comparing the Franks report - the terms of which were debated in the Commons - to this Inquiry - the terms of which are announced to the House by a Prime Minister who only last week was promising a new era of democratic accountability?

Responding Brown says the Opposition has got the Franks-style Inquiry it wanted. The Inquiry covers eight years, can interview any witnesses and has access to all official documents.  Franks, in contrast, only covered the run up to the Falklands War and was announced in a written answer.  Mr Brown said that he was excluding politicians because of the contentious exchanges of the last eight years.  He invited the Tory benches to question the knowledge and expertise of any of the individuals that would sit on the Inquiry.

Tim Montgomerie

7.45pm WATCH: William Hague attacks Brown's terms of reference for Iraq inquiry

22 Apr 2009 10:47:57

John Baron continues campaign on behalf of nuclear test veterans

John Baron In October I reported that John Baron (MP for Billericay and Opposition Whip) had joined forces with Labour MP Ian Gibson. They convened an inquiry in 2007 on the question of whether veterans and their descendents have suffered ill health as a result of direct or parental exposure to radiation during nuclear tests.

Following a meeting that included leaders of the British Nuclear Test Veterans Assocation, the Government has issued a written statement. It comes from Kevan Jones, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence:

"The Government have been actively engaging with the concerns expressed by our nuclear test veterans that they and their offspring have been adversely affected by their participation in the British nuclear tests of the 1950s and 1960s.

The wider published peer-reviewed epidemiological evidence to date has not demonstrated a general link between veterans’ ill-health and participation in the tests. Similarly there is no peer-reviewed evidence suggesting that their children and grandchildren are at increased risk of genetic abnormalities.

The Government are, however, determined to address the ongoing concerns of nuclear test veterans. I had a constructive meeting with the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association (BNTVA) and interested MPs on Monday 20 April. I am pleased to report that the BNTVA have agreed to help identify a representative sample of veterans and their descendants with a view to conducting an assessment of their health needs. I therefore announce today an intention that the Ministry of Defence will work with veterans and experts to finalise the details of research to investigate the particular health needs of nuclear test veterans and their offspring with a view to identifying priorities and taking action to improve health. I also intend some follow-up to last year’s New Zealand chromosome study. The aim will be for projects to be of practical relevance to veterans with results delivered to a reasonable time scale. The work will be tendered in the normal manner and should be under way before the end of this year. A working group including representatives from the BNTVA will be established to take these projects forward."

I am told that the two new studies will not actually have the aim of establishing causation (or absence of causation) between the tests and ill health. They will however consider the extent of congenital health problems among veterans’ families, which is unprecedented. 

The New Zealand study suggested chromosomal “translocations” among veterans. The follow-up could help allay fears that veterans are passing on severe health problems.

High Court case will hear this week whether a group of veterans will be allowed to proceed with a civil claim against the Government.

Tom Greeves

31 Mar 2009 15:33:18

Will the UK have to deploy troops to Pakistan?

James Arbuthnot MP Defence Questions came around again yesterday. Conservative members dominated the session and exhibited excellent technical knowledge.

James Arbuthnot (MP for North-East Hampshire) chairs the Defence Select Committee. He asked about Pakistan:

"Does the Secretary of State accept that the events in Lahore today show that instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan extends far beyond the border region? While we have troops in Afghanistan, we do not have them in Pakistan. Is the Secretary of State, along with the United States, rethinking his entire strategy for the region? Will he make a statement and perhaps allow a debate and possibly even a vote in this House about that?

Mr. Hutton: Yes, we are looking very carefully at all these matters. I am sure that there will be an opportunity to have a proper debate in this place in the usual way, either on a statement or in another way. It is very important not just for the security of our operation in Afghanistan but for the security of the UK as a whole that we develop an approach that encompasses the security challenge that Afghanistan poses as well as the growing threat of instability and extremism in Pakistan. We very much welcome President Obama’s new strategy, which was published last week. It has the prospect of significantly improving the situation in that very troubled region and we stand ready to play our part."

Former Defence Secretary and Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind was also concerned:

"Is the Secretary of State aware that the Afghan Taliban have recently been successful in persuading the Pakistani Taliban to defer some of their operations in Pakistan and to join their Afghan colleagues to help to try to deal with the expected American surge? If the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban can get their act together, is it not about time that the Afghan and Pakistani Governments were also able to do so? Will the Secretary of State speak to his Pakistani colleague and impress upon him that the security of Afghanistan is crucial to the security of Pakistan itself?

Mr. Hutton: I agree very strongly with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I have already had those conversations with the Pakistani Minister of Defence, and I have had those conversations regularly with the Afghan Minister of Defence as well. I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman 100 per cent., and we are focused very clearly on doing exactly what he has just said."

Continue reading "Will the UK have to deploy troops to Pakistan?" »

26 Mar 2009 12:00:57

What is the state of Armed Forces accommodation?

Lord Taylor of Warwick Lord Taylor of Warwick has received a written answer that got me thinking:

"Asked by Lord Taylor of Warwick

    To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will increase funding for upgrading and refurbishing army family accommodation; and, if so, by how much. [HL2342]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): The Government attach a high priority to the needs of service personnel and their families. For that reason we plan to spend in excess of £3 billion on improving and upgrading Armed Forces accommodation over the next decade. Included within this sum is over £600 million for upgrading and refurbishing family accommodation. We are having to make good decades of underinvestment and the process will inevitably take time."

Would readers care to shed some light on the true state of the living quarters in which we expect our service personnel to live? Are there marked differences between the Army, Royal Navy and RAF? Did the low quality of family housing lead anyone to expedite their departure from the Forces?

All input gratefully received!

Tom Greeves

Update: The Armed Forces Families Continuous Attitude Survey 2007-08 showed that 45% of Army officers' spouses and 69% of RAF officers' spouses said that they were dissatisfied with their living quarters. The other ranks weren't too happy either.

Thanks to CCHQ for the figures.

16 Mar 2009 11:58:19

Mental health of the armed forces another strike against localism

Andrew_murrison_mpDr Andrew Murrison is MP for Westbury, a Shadow Defence Minister and a former Surgeon Commander in the Royal Navy. He has drawn attention to the issue of the mental health of armed forces personnel through a written question:

"Dr. Murrison: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will provide psychological screening for those who have served in the armed forces (a) one year and (b) five years after discharge; and if he will make a statement. [261047]

Mr. Kevan Jones: Health care for veterans is the responsibility of the health departments and NHS and the 2009 NHS Operating Framework includes a section on veterans' services. NHS services such as screening are not decided centrally but commissioned in line with local needs and priorities. MOD, DOH and the third sector are working together to raise awareness of military issues among civilian health professionals and administrators and NHS-led veterans’ mental health services providing best practice assessment and treatment in an accessible acceptable way are being piloted at sites across the country. These pilots will run for two years with independent evaluation and analysis. Lessons learned will inform future service planning. For those veterans with mental health problems living outside pilot areas and who have served in operations since 1982, the Medical Assessment Programme at St. Thomas's hospital, London, provides a mental health assessment by an expert in the problems that arise from military service. Treatment recommendations are then made to the GP."

Yet again I am bound to cite this case as an example of the ill-advised nature of localism. Why on Earth shouldn't the Government implement Dr Murrison's suggestion? It should be standard practice, and is emphatically not best decided on a local level.

Tom Greeves

24 Feb 2009 16:02:35

Are the spiritual needs of the Armed Forces adequately met?

Baroness_warsiBaroness Warsi, Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion and Social Action, has asked a noteworthy question of the Government:

"To ask Her Majesty's Government what religions and faiths are recognised by the British Armed Forces. [HL1352]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): The Armed Forces encourage people from all faiths to practise their religious observances as far as operational and health and safety considerations allow. While religion and belief is treated as a private matter, the services place a great deal of importance on the spiritual development of their personnel. Commissioned Armed Forces chaplains are drawn from the main Christian denominations practised in the UK. The first MoD civilian chaplains to the Armed Forces from the Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh faith communities were appointed in October 2005. The services have had an honorary officiating chaplain from the Jewish faith under long-standing arrangements, and action is underway to recruit a Jewish civilian chaplain."

It would be good to hear from readers, especially those who have served, as to whether the spiriutal needs of believers and non-believers alike get they attention they need in the Forces.

24 Feb 2009 14:49:12

Liam Fox says NATO allies are "shamefully failing" to do fair share in Afghanistan

Liam_fox_mpThe House of Commons returned yesterday and got stuck into Defence questions.

Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox asked about Afghanistan:

"The general consensus on Afghanistan in the House has put the United Kingdom in a strong position in NATO. Does the Secretary of State agree that, if there is to be further British deployment in Afghanistan, four criteria must be met? First, there must be a clear and achievable political mission to support the military mission, as was the case with the surge in Iraq, but that does not currently exist in Afghanistan. Secondly, governance in Afghanistan, including widespread corruption, must be tackled because it is undermining our efforts. Thirdly, as has been said, all NATO allies should be asked to take a fairer share because too many are shamefully failing to do that. Fourthly, any increase in troop numbers must be matched by a proportionate and appropriate increase in equipment such as helicopters and armoured vehicles.

Mr. Hutton: I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman has said. We would not deploy additional forces to Afghanistan unless they had the right equipment to do their job properly. He has rightly drawn attention to the low number of helicopters that are available to support ISAF. We are working on that, as are our NATO partners and allies. The French-UK helicopter initiative is a small step in the right direction—it has yet to produce significant new assets but I hope that it will do soon.

Although I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman said, I caution him about drawing too many parallels between Iraq and Afghanistan. They are two very different countries, with very different security situations.

Dr. Fox: The Secretary of State will know that, over the weekend, reports in the press gave detailed information about the life-changing injuries that some of our troops in Afghanistan have sustained. Will he take the opportunity, relatively early in his time in office, to review the way in which the Ministry of Defence publishes statistics, so that we can have a full and transparent picture of the sacrifices that are being made on our behalf? The British public, our armed forces and their families deserve no less, and are far more able to deal with unpleasant truth than with what many may perceive as half-truths and evasions.

Mr. Hutton: I agree that transparency in the figures is important. Every fortnight, we publish a series of figures, which show the extent of injuries and wounds to service personnel in active theatres. It is not therefore fair or reasonable to criticise the MOD for failing to provide an accurate scorecard on what is happening. We do not have a category of “life-changing injuries”. Neither the statisticians nor the services have identified that as a meaningful definition. However, we publish comprehensive, fortnightly data, which deal with the extent of injuries and wounds. I am happy to draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to that, if he wishes."

Continue reading "Liam Fox says NATO allies are "shamefully failing" to do fair share in Afghanistan" »

14 Jan 2009 10:10:58

Shailesh Vara uncovers lax data security at the MoD

Shailesh_varaShailesh Vara, Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, has received some troubling written answers. It emerges that the Ministry of Defence has failed to adequately protect its data.

In light of the scandal of child benefit data being lost in 2007, the Government laid down minimum standards for data protection. (These include better use of encryption and passwords and restricting the ability of officials to remove data from discs and laptops.)

It turns out that the MoD is lagging behind. This would be worrying for any department, but is especially so in the case of the Ministry of Defence.

"Mr. Vara: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what percentage of the IT systems in (a) his Department and (b) its agencies are fully accredited to the Government’s security standards. [245384]

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: The Ministry of Defence and its Agencies have several hundred computer systems in use ranging from corporate IT systems serving thousands of users across the Department and its Agencies, to business area systems serving smaller communities. The following data covers those systems within the MOD and its Agencies where accreditation is centrally controlled by Defence Security and Standards Assurance (DSSA), which are either connected to the MOD networks, or are stand alone above Secret, or are systems that contain significant value to the MOD e.g. those systems that contain particularly sensitive or personal data. It does not include those systems where authority for accreditation has been delegated e.g. stand alone systems with no onward connectivity, and where a further breakdown of information could be provided only at disproportionate cost.

58 per cent. of systems have been through the accreditation process. Of these, 27 per cent. of systems are classed as fully accredited and are being operated in a manner within the MOD’s Senior Information Risk Owner (SIRO)’s risk appetite; 31 per cent. of systems are currently classed as having conditional or interim accreditation with constraints placed on the operation of the system to ensure that identified risks are adequately managed within SIRO’s risk appetite.

The balance of systems (42 per cent.) are in the process of being accredited; this represents the significant workload undertaken to plan and develop solutions for new equipment systems or platforms; this also includes applications from legacy systems, many of which will be migrated onto the developing Defence Information Infrastructure."

The MoD has already lost dozens of USB memory sticks, some of which contained information classified "Secret".

Yesterday the story was written up by James Kirkup in the Telegraph. Mr Vara was quoted:

"We are dealing with very sensitive and important data and it is simply unacceptable that there is so much information which is still at risk."

Mr Vara is quite right.

13 Jan 2009 09:00:36

Liam Fox says we should be celebrating when the US military "takes out" al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan

Fox_liam_new Shadow Secretary of State for Defence Liam Fox had two messages during Questions yesterday: (1) Afghanistan won't be solved until the al-Qaeda-Taliban network in Pakistan is thwarted and (2) Other NATO countries need to do more in Afghanistan.

Dr. Liam Fox MP: "Does the Secretary of State not agree that the federally administered tribal areas provide an enduring criminal sanctuary? They provide command and control for the Afghan insurgency, with financial support and training. Is not the bottom line that we cannot achieve our objectives in Afghanistan until we disrupt at the very least the al-Qaeda-Taliban network that is attacking from Pakistan? When the United States takes out al-Qaeda leaders, should we not celebrate, rather than criticise?"

John Hutton, Defence Secretary: "I think that that is exactly what I did a few minutes ago. They are our mortal enemy, and we are involved in a fundamental struggle with them, in which we must prevail. I accept the need for greater security in Afghanistan, which will be met to a great extent if we can tighten the freedom of movement across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The challenge is the best way to do so. It is primarily an Afghan and Pakistan issue of security that must be addressed, but we are doing everything that we possibly can to enhance the safety and security of the British mission, and that of our allies and partners in Afghanistan, as we deal with al-Qaeda and Taliban insurgents. That will continue to be my absolute priority during my time as Secretary of State for Defence.

Dr. Fox: "To guarantee the security of supplies when they reach Afghanistan, we need a rural security presence, especially with a dispersed rural population. Does the Secretary of State believe that we have sufficient forces to clear and hold territory, then build on that, whether from the international security assistance force, Operation Enduring Freedom or the Afghan national security forces? If extra forces are required, how can we get our allies to shoulder their fair share of the international security burden? Surely, joint security implies joint commitment?"

Mr. Hutton: "Yes, I agree very strongly with that, too, and we continually make the case in NATO that our allies should take more responsibility for operations in Afghanistan. I believe that the conflict in Afghanistan will be the defining conflict of the 21st century for NATO, and will confirm its relevance or otherwise, so it is absolutely essential that there is proper and effective burden sharing. As for troop levels in Afghanistan, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made an announcement recently about additional deployments to Afghanistan, partly to advance some of the operations to which the hon. Gentleman drew attention. We need more security, particularly around Lashkagar, and that is what Operation Sond Chara was designed to do over Christmas and early in the new year. It has been a resounding success. The theatre capability review has just been completed in Afghanistan, and we are considering its findings. If there is a case, and if there is an announcement to be made about additional deployments in Afghanistan, I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that this will be the first place to hear it."


4 Nov 2008 12:05:18

Tory MPs slam Quentin Davies

Quentin_daviesQuentin Davies, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Defence, is not wildly popular on the Conservative benches, from which he defected at the encouragement of Gordon Brown. Yesterday in the Commons he was the subject of severe criticism from Conservative MPs, including Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox.

Major Sebastian Morley, formerly of the SAS, accused the MoD on his resignation of "gross negligence" for failing to supply better kit. Mr Davies described these remarks as "a travesty of reality". Dr Fox objected:

"Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) (Con): When a loyal and committed officer resigns and cites a specific reason, he should be treated with the utmost seriousness. When, instead, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) says that it was

    “such a travesty of reality that it is actually quite difficult to take this at first face value,”

it is not only damaging to morale but, frankly, a disgrace.

And, when the Under-Secretary said that there were

    “a couple of odd things about this resignation”,

what exactly did he mean, and when will he apologise?

Mr. Ainsworth: We do take the complaint seriously; we do take the resignation seriously. We do not accept that we are in any way cavalier with our people’s safety. We put that at the absolute top of our priorities, and all of us in the ministerial team will continue to do so.

Dr. Fox: Still no apology—yet the Under-Secretary’s offence went beyond damaging morale and his own arrogant dismissal of a loyal and committed officer. As my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) said, the Under-Secretary said:

    “there may be occasions when in retrospect, a commander chose the wrong piece of equipment”.

Yet is it not increasingly clear that, on the occasion in question, commanders had no choice but to use Snatch Land Rovers? How can it be that after six years and more than £10 billion in spending, we still do not have the armoured vehicles that we require? And, why did the Under-Secretary not take time to discover the facts before opening his mouth and bad-mouthing our commanders?

Mr. Ainsworth: My hon. Friend meant no offence. He was trying to explain to people that we need a suite of vehicles in theatre. That was all he was trying to do, and he did not mean to cause any offence to anyone at all."

Other MPs weighed in too.

Continue reading "Tory MPs slam Quentin Davies" »

31 Oct 2008 12:01:05

Douglas Carswell and Gerald Howarth disagree on defence

Douglas_carswellGerald_howarthThe House of Commons saw something rather unusual yesterday - a Conservative front bench spokesman going out of his way to rebut the remarks of a Conservative backbencher.

Speaking in a debate on defence, Harwich MP Douglas Carswell talked about procurement:

"Labour came to power promising to overhaul defence procurement, yet according to the best-selling author Lewis Page, its defence industrial strategy amounts to business as usual. The defence industrial strategy is more about industry than defence. It does more to safeguard the interests of selected contractors than the interests of the armed forces. The DIS is good at putting large amounts of public money on to the balance sheets of a few contractors, but that is about all it is good for. The DIS talks about best value for money, and improving delivery and costs, but all the evidence shows that the DIS promises things that are almost by definition mutually exclusive. We cannot both shore up our defence industrial base and provide our armed forces with the best value kit in the world; it is a logical impossibility.

"The DIS is, in reality, a corporatist, protectionist racket. Lobbyists for the DIS on the political left justify it as a means of preserving jobs. The same arguments once trotted out to justify Government subsidy of British Leyland are used to legitimise squandering our defence budget. To those on the political right, the fig leaf justification is about something called sovereignty of supply. The same arguments were once trotted out to justify the corn laws."

Shadow Defence Minister Gerald Howarth is also MP for Aldershot, an Army town. In his closing remarks he said:

"As far as the defence industrial strategy is concerned, I am afraid to say that I fundamentally disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich. He is entitled to his view, but I have to put on the record that some of the things that he said about buying off the shelf are not the policy of the Conservative party. The policy of our party is to ensure that we have sovereign capability over key equipment, such as the joint strike fighter, and his suggestion that the whole procurement programme is a corporatist, protectionist racket is very wide of the mark."

With whom do you agree?

2 Apr 2008 08:29:02

Liam Fox probes the role of UK forces in southern Iraq

Extracts from the Shadow Defence Secretary's response to yesterday's statement by Des Browne MP on British troops stationed in Iraq:

Is Britain involved with the key decisions in southern Iraq?: "How much control do we really have over events in the area in the south of Iraq? At the meeting on 23 March, did our commanders agree with bringing forward General Mohan’s offensive? When the Secretary of State says we were represented at a very senior level, was it military or civilian and what was the exact level? Surely, it is not acceptable for us simply to end up mopping up if we do not have a say in what operations are being carried out and how. From what the Secretary of State has just told us, it appears that our commanders had only 48 hours’ notice, yet they had to deploy more than one battlegroup, with tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery. Is that an acceptable model for the future?"

Do the Iraqi troops have sufficient equipment to deal with the militia threat?: "General Mohan said that although he believed he had sufficient men to deal with the militia threat, he was short of equipment—in particular, medium-range artillery, electronic jamming equipment and off-road capability. He also said at that time that he believed that the Government in Baghdad were slow to provide that because of pressure being applied from the Iranian Government. What representations have our Government made to get more equipment available more quickly to the Iraqi forces themselves, so that they can better deal with the situation that they face and not have to rely so much on British equipment?"

Could British troops re-enter Basra if the situation deteriorated?: "What if things do not go according to plan and the situation deteriorates further—something that we all hope will not happen? Under what circumstances would British troops ever be redeployed into Basra city and who would take such a decision? Would it be so important that it would be taken by Ministers, not just by commanders on the ground?"

Issues of overstretch: "We have seen in recent months only a small reduction in total numbers on Operation Telic, to around 5,500 now in the region—considerably more than in Iraq itself. Have the Government completely ruled out redeploying any of those back to Iraq if the situation deteriorates further? What are the cost implications of keeping our numbers up to a higher level than the Government anticipated and said only a few months ago, because that will clearly have a marked effect on the overstretch of our armed forces? I am afraid that the Government have been caught too often on the over-optimistic end of the spectrum. Only two weeks ago, in the Government-produced national security strategy, they said that “we are entering a phase of overall reduced commitments, recuperation of our people, and regrowth and reinvestment in capabilities and training as much as equipment.”  That is simply not true in either Afghanistan or Iraq."

Read the full Hansard record and Des Browne's response here

4 Mar 2008 09:51:30

Tory MPs raise Prince Harry and Afghanistan

James Gray MP: "In addition to the first-class medical care offered to our soldiers returning from Afghanistan, is it not high time that we recognised their great gallantry by striking a gallantry medal for those who have been wounded or even killed there? Perhaps we ought to call it the Prince Harry."

Mr. Speaker: "Order. That is far too wide of the question."


James Arbuthnot MP: "Does the Secretary of State agree that the men and women of the armed forces doing such important work in Iraq and Afghanistan are heroes, whatever Prince Harry may modestly say about himself, and that we can be utterly proud of what they are doing? Is the Secretary of State on Facebook? Has he been invited to join a group demanding an apology from the Drudge Report?"

Des Browne MP, Defence Secretary: "I have not specifically been invited. With all due respect to the right hon. Gentleman and his advice, which I normally respect immensely, it might be unwise for me to join Facebook. However, I support the tenor of his question. All those who serve us in Iraq and Afghanistan—and in other places, including Sierra Leone, which my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces recently visited—are entitled to be considered heroes. On the right hon. Gentleman’s observation about Prince Harry and his treatment by the media, I thought the most important thing Prince Harry did was put into context the heroism of those with whom he had served."


Bernard Jenkin MP: "We welcome Prince Harry back from Afghanistan and celebrate the achievements of the British military there, but we must avoid missing the big picture, which is that there is strategic confusion in Afghanistan. We have no UN co-ordinator, there is a divided command chain, several allies have different caveats on their armed forces and there is little evidence that the aid effort will have a long-term impact on the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. When will these matters be resolved? Will they be addressed at the Bucharest summit?"

Des Browne MP: "The hon. Gentleman is right to identify those as the priorities on Afghanistan. It is crucial that the leadership of the international community in the form of a UN special representative be appointed sooner rather than later to give coherence to the international community. It is regrettable that a previous appointment fell apart in the way it did. The other points that he made are also important and it is to be hoped that we will make significant progress at or about the time of the Bucharest summit on those points, all of which identify priorities of the Government on Afghanistan."

20 Feb 2008 17:03:28

Liam Fox on Europe and Defence

This is the text that Dr Liam Fox prepared for this afternoon's debate on the Lisbon Treaty.  Because it is the prepared text, tomorrow's Hansard may record very slightly different words.  This text doesn't include interruptions etc either.  William Hague's contribution can be read here.

"It is easy in debates of this nature to get caught up in the detail and miss the big picture.

So let’s be clear what we are talking about today. This Treaty proposes giving the EU a defence capability which will duplicate many of the functions of NATO. Worse, it will potentially compete with, rather than complement, NATO.

Why does this matter? It matters because we believe that NATO, which has been the cornerstone of our defence for 60 years should continue to have primacy. We believe that the trans-Atlantic bonds with the United States and Canada should not be weakened. It is the Americans and Canadians who are fighting alongside British troops on the frontline in Afghanistan while, with a few honourable exceptions, most notably the Dutch, the majority of our EU partners do not.

So let me set out what we believe to be the instruments of this Treaty which could undermine the NATO alliance:

Under the Lisbon Treaty there is further duplication of NATO’s Article V with the Solidarity Clause and no change to the duplication of NATO structures that already exists with the EU Military Staff, EU Battle Groups, European Rapid Reaction Force, the Athena Mechanism, and certain aspects of the European Defence Agency.

Continue reading "Liam Fox on Europe and Defence" »

4 Dec 2007 16:26:00

Fox and Lewis question grill Des Browne

Julian_lewis Julian Lewis: The Secretary of State evidently did not read the comments of five former chiefs of the defence staff if he genuinely thinks that it is not believed that his having two jobs sends out a terrible signal to members of the armed forces. He will recall that, earlier this month, I asked whether his ministerial salary was paid to him entirely for his duties as Secretary of State for Defence, and he failed to give me a direct reply. However, the Library has spoken to the Cabinet Office and a note to me states that a second official at the Cabinet Office informed the Library that:

'following the recent cabinet reshuffle, the Ministry of Defence was instructed to pay Des Browne a ministerial salary and the Scotland Office was instructed not to.'

There may not be enough money in the defence budget for helicopters, but there is enough for the Secretary of State for Scotland.

More from Hansard here.


Liamfox Liam Fox: The Chief of the General Staff says that the Army has “almost no capability to react to the unexpected”, and the Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff says that:

“the current material state of the fleet is not good; the Royal Navy would be challenged to mount a medium-scale operation in accordance with current policy against a technologically capable adversary”.

Which of those statements should the country be more worried about?

Des Browne: The Army is stretched - I have accepted that. I have been saying for some time that if we continue to ask it to operate at this tempo in the long term, that will be unsustainable. Over that period, we have been reducing the pressure on the Army. It is recognised that with the conclusion of Operation Banner in Northern Ireland and of the operation in Bosnia, and the planned reduction in the number of troops in Iraq, a significant amount of that pressure will be reduced.

The hon. Gentleman’s speech to the Conservative party conference suggested that the Army needed three further battalions. I do not believe that the Army needs that or that it thinks that it needs that. I accept that we need a balanced force structure in the Army, but that debate will not be helped by people seeking soundbites, particularly the sort that do not bring with them the commitment to invest the £700 million that would be necessary to make them reality.

On the Navy, the process of reducing the fleet was started by the Government whom the hon. Gentleman supported at the end of the cold war, and has continued in line with the White Paper of 2004 in respect of numbers. The most important thing about our Navy is that with fewer ships it can deliver precisely the same tactical effect as before. I recognise that that does not mean that it can deliver the same strategic effect—that is a function of numbers rather than one of capability—but the ships that the Navy has have significantly greater capability.

Liam Fox: But it is not just about manning where there is a gap. There are real gaps at the moment—we have a real shortage of battlefield helicopters, as I saw in Afghanistan a couple of weeks ago. That came as a direct result of this Government’s decision to cut the helicopter budget by £1.4 billion in 2004. We may be getting more helicopters now, but people in the field are asking what sort of idiots cut the helicopter budget in the middle of two wars. We have ended up with not enough helicopters, soldiers or ships, we are not even paying all our troops and the Prime Minister gives us a part-time Defence Secretary to boot. Do Ministers understand that it is not only former defence chiefs who are angry about this, but increasing numbers inside and outside the armed forces?

Des Browne:
The hon. Gentleman knows two things about helicopters from his trip to Afghanistan. The first is that operational helicopter hours in Afghanistan have increased significantly over the past months and that there are plans to increase the number of helicopters quite significantly. He also knows that that investment has been made and that one cannot just buy helicopters off the shelf—one must get them from the production line and make them deployable, and that takes some time.

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