UK Forces (Iraq)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:16 pm on 21st October 2004.

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Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Shadow Secretary of State for Defence 1:16 pm, 21st October 2004

The House will be relieved that the Secretary of State has finally moved to end the unnecessary and unacceptable confusion of the past few days and announced the Government's decision on this important matter. As I made plain in my response to his statement on Monday, Conservative Members fully support the coalition as it seeks to bring democracy, stability and freedom to Iraq and preserve Iraq's territorial integrity. We agree that we should do what we can to contribute to that strategic objective.

In the light of what the Secretary of State has told the House today, and having heard that the deployment has the support of the chiefs of staff following reconnaissance reports that the proposed mission is both feasible and fully within the capabilities of the Black Watch battle group, Conservative Members support the deployment on the basis that it is a necessary operational military contribution to the coalition's efforts to bring peace and stability to Iraq ahead of the January elections.

I will, if I may Mr. Speaker, press the Secretary of State, in the light of this decision, on a number of the points that I made to him on Monday. First, will he clarify his rather complicated assurances on the rules of engagement? Will he again confirm that the rules of engagement are indeed robust enough to cope with the change of area, mission and task?

Secondly, will he assure the House that troops about to 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?

Thirdly, bearing it in mind that, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, we are about to enter a period of increased activity in Iraq, will the Secretary of State confirm that there is likely to be a surge requirement for extra troops to Iraq ahead of the Iraqi elections in January? If so, where will those troops come from?

Fourthly, does the Secretary of State anticipate deploying the over-the-horizon assets that he holds in Cyprus? Is he satisfied as to the arrangements both for command and control and for air cover? Fifthly, will he say whether troops currently serving in Iraq will have their tour extended? Finally, are there any additional plans for further redeployment of British troops outside MND(SE)?

No doubt the Secretary of State will wish at his earliest convenience to apologise to the families of the Black Watch battle group for the exceptionally shabby way in which he has treated them.

The House and the nation can be supremely confident that the Black Watch, the Royal Highland Regiment, which bears the distinction of Baghdad 1917 as one of its battle honours, 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. To them and to all the supporting arms who go with them in the battle group, we wish God speed.