Liam Fox MP

10 Sep 2010 15:59:01

MPs vote overwhelmingly in favour of British troops remaining in Afghanistan (with only one Tory MP dissenting)

By Jonathan Isaby and Paul Goodman

8.45 pm update: It's also worth noting the amendment tabled by Julian Lewis, supported by three other Conservative MPs, which sought to add to the motion the following words -

"provided that a more realistic military strategy is adopted designed to fulfil the United Kingdom's long-term interests in the region at lesser cost in life, limb and financial resources".

Lewis argued that -

"...all the Governments are signed up to an unrealistic strategy which ought to be changed. The reality is that General Richards was not really wrong in what he said previously and he is not really wrong when he says that we ought to be talking to the enemy. It is a question of timing. The truth of the matter is that General Petraeus is absolutely right to pursue such a counter-insurgency strategy, provided that we have all the time in the world and that we are prepared to take the casualties that are being inflicted on us by irregular forces. If we are not prepared to take those casualties, we will have to adopt a more realistic strategy, because otherwise we will withdraw arbitrarily and, on our withdrawal, the likelihood of the Afghan Government's being able to sustain themselves is open to doubt."

His speech can be read here.  He was supported in the lobbies by Philip Hollobone and Andrew Turner.  Conservative MPs seem to have been whipped to vote against the amendment.


Yesterday saw a debate initiated by the Backbench Business Committee on the presence of British troops in Afghanistan.

The motion before the Commons was "That this House supports the continued deployment of UK armed forces in Afghanistan" and was passed by 310 votes to 14. Only one Conservative opposed the motion - John Baron - and two Lib Dems, Julian Huppert and John Hemming. The remaining opponents were a variety of Labour MPs along with the Green and a Plaid Cymru member.

Below are some of the highlights of the Conservative contributions.

Bob Stewart Commons Bob Stewart (Beckenham):

"We have made some fundamental mistakes. I am not blaming anyone, but we made mistakes in 2006 when we dissipated our forces so they were in platoon houses and were not within the envelope. That meant that they could not have protection from artillery, and we had to use air power instead. The air power protecting them knocked out houses around them and killed local people, turning the people against our forces. In 2007 and 2008 we had gone back to counter-insurgency tactics—taking, holding, building—and our gallant troops went in to take, but they could not hold. They had to withdraw. Perhaps Members remember those pictures of helicopters flying with men strapped aboard to try to bring troops back. We could not hold the ground. Also, of course, our enemy came in and put devices on the ground that caused real problems, and they continue to do so to this day.

"We now have a situation in which there is an increase in the number of soldiers on the ground, principally from the United States, and the principles of counter-insurgency are, in fact, beginning to work. They are protecting the people, and the key is whether the Afghan people feel protected and safe and can live a decent life."

Continue reading "MPs vote overwhelmingly in favour of British troops remaining in Afghanistan (with only one Tory MP dissenting)" »

7 Jul 2010 14:12:41

Fox confirms that US forces will take charge of Sangin "by the end of this year".

Liam Fox Commons As trailed earlier today, the Defence Secetary told the Commons this afternoon that UK forces will hand over responsibility for Sangin to the U.S military within the next six months.  He said that they will then concentrate on areas in central Helmand, that the mission was essential to our national security, and he paid tribute to British services serving in Afghanistan.

Dr Fox said that “We face many challenges; progress has been slower in some areas than others, particularly on the political side," adding that "we expect progress in counter-insurgency to be gradual and cumulative."  However, he insisted that good progress was being made in developing the Afghan security services, and said that successful counter-insurgency would take time.

He added that he had authorised a request from ISAF that the UK deploy its theatre reserve battalion, which is currently stationed in Cyprus. Dr Fox said this battalion will withdraw from Helmand once the handover of Sangin is complete.  “Counter-insurgencies are about progressively winning the confidence of the local people and US marines are well placed to succeed,” he said.

Patrick Mercer, who recently contested the Defence Select Committee elections, warned earlier today that the Taliban could spin the redeployment as a victory, but insisted that "a great deal has been achieved in Sangin".  Reporting the move earlier today, the Independent suggested a more stark view, drawing parallels with the British withdrawal from Basra in Iraq, while the Guardian asserted that the Prime Minister's always been sceptical about the Sagin deployment. (Both papers claimed the story exclusively.)

It makes sense for the U.S to take over the Sangin mission, since they have the troop numbers required if it's to stand a chance of working fully.  Richard Dannatt, the former Chief of the Defence Staff and Conservative Defence Adviser, said earlier today that our forces in Sangin were "like flies in a honey pot".  Today's announcement bolsters my view that David Cameron's seeking a way out of Afghanistan as fast as possible.  In responding for Labour, Bob Ainsworth sought to exploit differences between Cameron and Fox over withdrawal timing for the mission as a whole.

Paul Goodman

2 Mar 2010 15:05:31

Liam Fox attacks Labour's failure of Britain's armed forces

Screen shot 2010-03-02 at 15.04.11 This was the Opposition Day Motion proposed yesterday by Liam Fox:

"That this House expresses its continued support for HM armed forces personnel and their families; notes that over 440 service personnel have been killed on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001; further notes that the armed forces have operated over the original planning assumptions for years; regrets that there has not been a Strategic Defence Review (SDR) since 1998; believes that the 1998 SDR was never fully funded and failed to provide proper equipment for the Iraq war; recognises that the Government failed to plan for post-conflict reconstruction in Iraq; further recognises the cut to the helicopter budget by £1.4 billion in 2004; is concerned about the cuts to the frigate and destroyer fleet from the 32 recommended in the 1998 SDR 10 to 23; is further concerned by the failure to provide the Royal Air Force with a modern troop transport and air-to-air refuelling fleet; believes that the Government has presided over a failed procurement process; further believes that the Government has failed properly to fund the armed forces for wartime operations; and calls on the Government to acknowledge its failure to honour the Military Covenant."

Cuts to the Royal Navy: "Time and time again since the 1998 SDR, the Navy has been blackmailed into accepting cuts to its fleet, to ensure the eventual addition of two new carriers. During the 1998 SDR process, the Navy agreed to cut its fleet of 12 attack submarines to 10, and its fleet of 35 destroyers and frigates to 32, in return for the promise of the two carriers. A decade later we find our Navy with only eight attack submarines, with a possible future reduction to only six or seven, and 22 -an astonishingly low number-of destroyers and frigates. Maritime commitments have not decreased since 1998 but have risen, at a time when our Navy has been slashed, mothballed and, in some cases, sold off. There is a similar pattern to be found across all three services, including the reserves."

Inadequate preparation for Iraq war: "The true story behind the invasion of Iraq is now being told. I am sure that the whole country is looking forward to the Prime Minister's evidence this Friday, but what we already know is quite shocking. Not only did the Government fail to plan properly for the post-conflict period in Iraq, but it is now well known that what most of us suspected all along is true: that troops were sent into Iraq without proper equipment. We now know that during the early planning phases of the Iraq war, the then Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Boyce, was blocked by the then Defence Secretary from organising crucial logistics, in case it sent the wrong political message: that we were preparing for war. In the words of Lord Boyce, "I was not allowed to speak, for example, to the Chief of Defence Logistics-I was prevented from doing that by the Secretary of State for Defence, because of the concern about it becoming public knowledge that we were planning for a military contribution which in the the United Nations to secure" a Security Council resolution."

Procurement failures: "According to the most recent figures available from the National Audit Office, the top 15 major procurement projects are £4.5 billion over budget and delayed by a total of 339 months. The A400M aircraft is £657 million over budget and will be delayed by 82 months. The Type 45 destroyer is £1.5 billion over budget and will be delayed by 38 months. The aircraft carriers are more than £1 billion over budget already, and the service entry date for the first carrier has been delayed from 2012 to 2016. The decision in 2004 to cut the helicopter budget by £1.4 billion-in the middle of two wars-was inexcusable, irresponsible and irreconcilable with the basic duty to maximise the safety of our troops while carrying out a dangerous mission. In the words of the former Defence Secretary, the right hon. Member for Ashfield, to the Chilcot inquiry, "had that budget been spent in the way that we thought we should spend it, then those helicopters would probably be coming into service any time now.""

Waste and wrong priorities: "The Ministry of Defence's record of waste is staggering, as £2.5 billion has been spent on external consultants, but it could not find £20 million to train the Territorial Army. Furthermore, £2.3 billion was spent refurbishing the MOD, but it could not find £4 million for officer training corps training. A further £6.6 billion was wasted on account of lost equipment, including among other things 3,938 Bowman radios and an untold number of laptops. Another £113 million was wasted on a super hangar for fast jet repair that was never used, while £118 million was wasted on armoured vehicle cancellations, £8 million was lost on cancelled training courses and almost £250,000 lost on works of art to hang on the walls of main building. How can all that be allowed to happen? It is a picture of serial incompetence and a lack of grip by Ministers on the Department."

Read the full debate.

12 Jan 2010 06:27:32

Liam Fox raises the issue of troop levels in Afghanistan at Defence Questions

Liam Fox Commons It's a sobering thought that after yesterday, there will probably only be two more sessions of Defence Questions before an election, after which it is highly likely that Conservative MPs will be answering questions relating to British troops serving out in Afghanistan, rather than merely askng them.

Below is the key exchange about troop levels in Helmand from yesterday with the questions being asked - for the time being - by Liam Fox of Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth:

Dr. Liam Fox: Our armed forces value political consensus on Afghanistan when possible, so let me begin the new year on that basis. Counter-insurgency is about protecting the population. It requires a better force-to-population ratio than we currently have in Helmand province—that is why the expected uplift of American and Afghan troops is welcome. Britain is currently responsible for two thirds of the population in Helmand, with only one third of coalition troop strength. Does the Secretary of State agree that that has to change? Would it not be sensible to have a better equalisation of troop densities as the number of US troops in Helmand increases?

Bob Ainsworth: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and I welcome and agree with his comments. As Major-General Nick Carter, who commands the whole of Regional Command South in Afghanistan, has said, he has already had an additional 20,000 troops. He will receive another 21,000 troops and it would be strange indeed if he were not considering how to balance the force in areas in the south. That is primarily a military decision. No decisions have been made yet, but it is appropriate that he looks at the matter.

Dr. Fox: Further to that, does the Secretary of State agree that there needs to be a rebalance between UK and US areas of responsibility, even if that might mean concentrating Task Force Helmand’s assets into a smaller geographical area in central Helmand? Does he agree that that should be interpreted not in any way as a downgrading of the UK effort, but as representing a better match between resources and commitments? It is essential that the UK play a full role in Afghanistan, including a full military role, but one that is proportionate to our force strength and configuration.

Mr. Ainsworth: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We have 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, the overwhelming majority of whom are in Helmand province, and it is right, as he says, that we currently have a responsibility for the majority of the population in Helmand province. With the kind of inflows of troops that General McChrystal will have, and that Major-General Carter will have in the south, the latter is going to have to look at force densities to try to make sure that he is properly using those troops where they are needed. If that means that there is a concentration of British effort in part of our current area of operations and some handing-on to American forces, we should look at that. Major-General Carter is looking at that, and I would encourage him to do so. I know that he has talked to the hon. Gentleman about that, and he has certainly talked to me about it as well.

Jonathan Isaby

15 Dec 2009 16:40:58

Liam Fox concludes that our brave armed forces are paying for Labour's incompetent management of the defence budget

Picture 43 Liam Fox has just responded in the Commons chamber to Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth's statement on defence cuts, which included a cut in RAF Tornados and Harriers available at readiness, the closure of RAF Cottesmore and the abandoning of the Nimrod ASW and long range SAR capability for years until the MRA4 enters delayed service.

Here are the highlights of what he said:

“This Government is making cuts to our wider defence capability when we’re fighting a war only strengthens the perception that they’re not committed to the armed forces. This is a government willing to spend £12.5bn on a pointless VAT cut, but not to maintain the capability of our Armed Forces... This is a day of humiliation for defence ministers and confirmation that this Labour Government has decided to spend £900m sacrificing tomorrow’s defence capability in order to fund current operations in Afghanistan. It follows publication earlier today of yet another highly critical NAO Report which accuses the Govt of a ‘save now, pay later’ approach where short-term savings today will have to be paid with interest by the next Government."

“His announcement of new Chinook helicopters is of course welcome but it would not have been necessary if the Prime Minister had not, against all advice, cut £1.4bn from the helicopter programme in 2004.  But for his failure to understand the Armed Forces, those Chinooks could have been on the front line today, saving the lives of our brave soldiers;  instead, they will not be available until at least 2013 by which time, according to the PM, we should have substantially transferred security responsibility to Afghan national forces.

“Furthermore, it cannot mask the severity of the cuts being made elsewhere.  As for those cuts, the Prime Minister constantly claims that the cost of operations in Afghanistan is being funded from the Treasury Reserve, but today the truth has been exposed:  as the Secretary of State said in his statement, he has raided £900 million from the core defence budget to fund current operations when it is the Treasury Reserve which should be paying."

“The secretary of state told us on TV at the weekend that the Treasury reserve is covering the cost of the war in Afghanistan. They’re trying to fight wars on a peacetime budget. Our defences are being cut, not as a response to a diminished threat – if anything the threat is increasing. The Government that’s had four defence secretaries in 4 years is now cutting capability as a result of catastrophic economic mismanagement. All the time his Secretaries of State are having to make real cuts in their capability. This is the final chapter in the wasted New Labour project. Who is paying for their incompetence? Our brave armed forces.”

Jonathan Isaby

26 Oct 2009 16:52:34

Liam Fox challenges Government over its position on the Territorial Army

After press speculation that the Government was starting to row back on its policy of reducing training for the TA, Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox was granted an Urgent Question on the topic by the Speaker at 3.30pm this afternoon.

PoliticsHome records defence minister Bill Rammell as telling MPs that "the MoD would not be pursuing a 6 month hiatus in training for units not deployed in Afghanistan, as part of a £20m cut to the TA budget and that instead, funding will be provided for monthly training sessions to take place".

In response, Dr Fox wanted to know the answer to "three simple questions":

"First, the Government has previously said that they ‘always finance our military commitments overseas out of the reserve'. The Secretary of State stated during the debate last week that: ‘we are adjusting the core defence budget to reprioritise Afghanistan.’ Some of us are surprised that it’s not already the No.1 priority, but if it is fully funded from the Reserve, why are they cutting the core budget of the TA by £43m?

“Secondly, we know that due to the recession and the major recruitment drive in the past year there are more recruits in the Regular Army than there is money to train them. The Government have demanded savings from other places within the Army to fund this.  Why did the Government not plan to fund its own target numbers for recruitment—especially in a war?

“Thirdly, does the Government really understand the ethos of volunteering or the effect this could have on future available numbers? For many the TA is a habit: break the habit, break the TA.

He concluded:

“Pre-deployment training is only of use if you have the numbers to start with. Is it not the case that pre-deployment training is meant to augment and not supplant routine TA training, so routine training is just as important as pre--deployment training? Whether an individual is deploying on operations or not, regular and routine training is required to ensure medium and long term readiness levels in the TA for any future deployments to Afghanistan or somewhere else unforeseen.”

Jonathan Isaby

15 Oct 2009 14:08:55

Angry John Bercow accuses Defence Secretary of "rank discourtesy"

Tough and very welcome words from John Bercow today. The new Speaker rebuked Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth for releasing the 'Gray report' on arms procurement just one hour before the Commons was due to debate it.

Ministers have had the Gray report for a number of months.  It finds average procurement over-runs are costing the Ministry of Defence £2.2bn every year.

Full report in the London Evening Standard.

Tim Montgomerie

4.30pm Update: Here is the full transcript of the exchanges:

Dr. Liam Fox: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. About an hour ago, the Government published the Gray report, the very important report into acquisition which has been suppressed throughout the summer recess. Only this week we were told in an answer that the report is expected to be published in the autumn. Now, an hour—or even less—before a debate on defence, Members are asked to read and digest 296 pages of non-stop damning criticism of Government procedure. This is an insult to the House; it is a despicable and cowardly act and indicative of a Government who care more about their own reputation than informing the House. As the Secretary of State is present, may I ask, Mr. Speaker, that we get a separate statement on this tomorrow? If the Government do not provide a separate statement, the Opposition will certainly ask for an urgent question.

Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising his point of order. The laying of documents, including the timing of when they are laid, is a matter for Government. However, I have listened very carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has said and in the light of the fact that, as I understand it, the report was completed some time ago, I say to members of the Treasury Bench that, frankly, it can be regarded as a rank discourtesy to the House that it has been published only an hour or so before the next debate. As the Secretary of State for Defence is present, I invite him to respond to the point of order.

Bob Ainsworth: I know what is said, but the report was not completed some time ago. That is why it was not published before the recess, and I think the House would have been damning of me had I published it during the recess. I have published it at the earliest opportunity in the House. I sincerely regret that we were not able to get it to Opposition Members earlier this morning, but it is now available for everyone to examine, and we will be able to do that in the months ahead in the run-up to the Government’s Green Paper, where we will have to address acquisition reform and many of the issues raised by Bernard Gray.

Mr. Speaker: The Secretary of State has heard the point of order and my response to it, and I have listened with interest and respect to his response. I must say to him that publication a matter of an hour before the debate is regarded by Members as a discourtesy, and I confess that I myself also regard it as a discourtesy, and I hope that this will not happen again.

Mr. James Arbuthnot [Chairman of the Defence Select Committee]: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am surprised at what the Secretary of State has just said. I read this report in July. I have just read it again as fast as I could, and it has changed by a few words but its entire structure and basis are exactly the same, so for the Secretary of State to say that it was not complete before the summer recess surprises me.

17 Aug 2009 15:11:21

The long recess means Liam Fox again has to resort to letter-writing in place of asking parliamentary questions about Afghanistan

FOX One of the upsides of a long parliamentary recess is that the Government and its MPs are not busily passing more and more new laws to impinge upon our lives.

But the serious downside is that MPs, especially those from the Opposition, do not have the regular opportunity through oral and written questions, as well as debates, to hold the Government to account.

This is all the more serious as is the case right now when British forces are deployed on active service overseas.

So today, and not for the first time this recess (and we are only in week five) shadow defence secretary Liam Fox has had to resort to writing letters to his opposite number to elicit information.

Dr Fox has just writen to Bob Ainsworth asking:

“In light of what you said yesterday on the Andrew Marr show, that British troops will eventually begin undertaking a training and mentoring role to the Afghan National Army, and on top of the several enquires made by my team and me regarding the future role of British forces as mentioned in the Prime Minister's statement on 29 April, could you now use this opportunity to expand on your comments and those of the Prime Minster.

“On a separate matter, I'm sure you appreciate that during parliamentary recess my ability to ask written questions is limited. Consequently, I was wondering if you would tell me how many members of the Armed Forces are trained to drive Mastiff and Ridgback vehicles as of 17 August 2009? How long it takes to train a driver for each? Finally, if the training for Ridgback is shorter for those who have already been qualified to drive Mastiffs?”

Cick here to download his letter in full.

Jonathan Isaby

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?" »

30 Mar 2009 14:16:30

Thousands of Cubans in prison because they "may cause a crime in the future"

John Bercow MP There are a handful of interesting answers in the latest Hansard.

Buckingham MP John Bercow reminded the useful idiots that Cuba is not Paradise, but rather a dystopian nightmare:

"John Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports he has received of the number of people convicted of the crime of social dangerousness in Cuba in each of the last five years. [265458]

Gillian Merron: We are very concerned about the use of charges of "social dangerousness" in Cuba to arrest those whom the Cuban authorities believe may cause a crime in the future.

During Cuba's review at the Human Rights Council in February 2009, the UK recommended that Cuba refrain from using such laws to restrict the rights of freedom of expression and association.

The Cuban government does not publish statistics on the number of people convicted on these grounds, but the non-governmental Cuban commission for human rights and national reconciliation, estimates that there are currently between 3,000 and 5,000 people in prison in Cuba convicted of “pre-criminal social dangerousness.”

Our embassy in Havana has requested these figures from the Cuban authorities and I will write if we receive a reply."

Continue reading "Thousands of Cubans in prison because they "may cause a crime in the future"" »

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" »

9 Feb 2009 12:12:36

Written answers round-up, including: 150 courts have closed since 1997 and some advice for the BBC

In the latest edition of Hansard there are some more interesting written answers.

Shadow DEFRA minister Anne McIntosh wanted to know about the impact of the recession on giving to churches:

"To ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners what assessment the Church Commissioners have made of the effect of the current economic climate on levels of giving to parishes (a) via the collection plate and (b) otherwise; and if he will make a statement. [254221]

Sir Stuart Bell: Over the last 30 years church members have increased giving as a proportion of net income from 1 per cent. to over 3 per cent., so there is still some way to go to achieve General Synod’s 5 per cent. target. Clearly church members will, like everyone else be affected by the present economic difficulties and the dioceses and Archbishops’ Council are monitoring the situation closely. The high proportion who give by regular standing order provides some measure of resilience, but these are uncertain times, particularly with other sources of Church income also under pressure."

Shadow Justice Secretary and Shadow Attorney General Dominic Grieve asked about the powers of the Electoral Commission:

"To ask the hon. Member for Gosport, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission what administrative financial penalties may be levied by the Electoral Commission. [253588]

Sir Peter Viggers: The Electoral Commission has powers to issue civil penalties under section 147 of the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) where a relevant organisation is late in delivering a statutory report to the Commission. The amount of the civil penalty is calculated in accordance with subsection 3 of section 147, and depends on how late the relevant information is provided to the Commission.

The Electoral Commission is also able to apply to a magistrates court to order the forfeiture of an amount equal to the value of a donation that has been accepted by a registered party or regulated donee, if the donation was impermissible or a court is satisfied that the true amount of a donation was intentionally concealed."

Continue reading "Written answers round-up, including: 150 courts have closed since 1997 and some advice for the BBC" »

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" »

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