Iraq

– in the House of Lords at 6:27 pm on 20th January 2003.

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Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement) 6:27 pm, 20th January 2003

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence earlier today. The Statement was as follows:

"With permission Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on further contingency preparations in relation to Iraq.

"It may be helpful to remind the House of the preparations announced previously. On 25th November and 18th December, I described the measures we were taking to ensure that our forces were prepared and had the training, equipment and support they might need, as well as the consideration that we were giving to the potential requirement for reservists and additional maritime deployments.

"In a Statement on 7th January, I announced the making of an order enabling the call-out of reservists, and the deployment of maritime forces including 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines. I explained that it was likely that we would want to make further deployments in the coming weeks to be able to keep military options open, and that we were taking steps to ensure the readiness of units and equipment, and the availability of appropriate chartered shipping and air transport. In a Written Statement on 14th January, I described the details of continuing preparatory activity, involving the movement and deployment of enabling equipment, including tracked vehicles, exploratory visits and liaison with other military staffs in the region.

"When I made a Statement on 7th January, a number of honourable Members pressed me to say what other forces the Government intend to make available. In particular, I was invited to set out the nature of any land force that might be deployed. I explained at that time that I could not do so, for the simple reason that no decision had by then been taken.

"I am now in a position to be able to tell the House that we have reached a view on the composition and deployment of a land force package to provide military capabilities for potential operations against Iraq.

"This force will include Headquarters 1 (UK) Armoured Division with support from 7th Armoured Brigade, 16 Air Assault Brigade and 102 Logistics Brigade. Its equipment will include 120 Challenger 2 main battle tanks, 150 Warrior armoured personnel carriers, 32 AS90 self-propelled guns, 18 light guns and a number of reconnaissance and other vehicles. The total number of personnel involved in this land force will be approximately 26,000. In addition, we are already deploying 3 Commando Brigade with around 4,000 personnel, including their supporting elements.

"The House will not expect me to discuss the specific tasks that might be undertaken by our forces in the event of military operations. But this is a high-readiness, balanced and flexible force package, bringing together a wide range of capabilities. The Chiefs of Staff and I are confident that this is the right group of forces for the sort of tasks that may be necessary.

"The House will recognise that a force package of this size cannot be deployed without notice. As the written Statement on 14th January explained, to keep this option open, we have already started the movement and deployment of enabling assets, including logistics, engineering, signals and command vehicles and equipment. We will now begin to deploy the combat equipment and personnel of the formations comprising the land force package. This will involve significant movements from units in both the United Kingdom and Germany before their deployment by sea and air over the days and weeks ahead. Headquarters and support staffs will also deploy to liaise with other military staffs in the region and to take forward planning and preparatory activity.

"In the coming weeks, we will also need to call out additional reservists in support of these land forces. The details of our overall reservist requirement are continuing to evolve, and I expect to be able to provide further information on this in due course.

"None of the steps we are taking represents a commitment of British forces to military action. These are measures necessary to provide a range of options which we may require. A decision to employ force has not been taken, nor is such a decision imminent or inevitable. But I must also emphasise, as all Members of this House will recognise, that the deployment of forces on this scale is no ordinary measure.

"While we want Saddam Hussein to disarm voluntarily, it is evident that we will not achieve that unless we continue to present him with a clear and credible threat of force. That is why I have announced these deployments in support of the diplomatic process to which we remain fully committed. It is not too late for Saddam Hussein to recognise the will of the international community and respect United Nations resolutions. Let us all hope that he does so".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Lord Vivian Lord Vivian Conservative 6:33 pm, 20th January 2003

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for the Statement that he has just made in connection with troop deployment to Iraq. On these Benches, we support Her Majesty's Government's position on the situation in Iraq. Your Lordships will no doubt be reminded that we have consistently backed a firm line against Saddam Hussein. I very much hope that the support of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition will be made known to the Armed Forces.

There are some further questions to be asked concerning this deployment. It would be most helpful if the noble Lord could provide a little more detail to some of the points that he covered and give your Lordships some further assurances on the matters that I shall now touch on.

I am aware that on 18th December in a Statement in another place the Secretary of State said that Her Majesty's Government would continue to take appropriate steps to ensure that British forces were ready and had the training, equipment and support that they needed.

First, will the Minister say how much armoured and infantry warfare training, including NBC training and fighting in built-up areas, has been carried out by the regiments and battalions? The requirement to have some 19,000 troops available for fire-fighting duties due to the firemen's strike has interfered with units' primary training, especially in 16 Air Assault Brigade. Is he satisfied that sufficient training has been completed, that there are sufficient reserve tanks to replace broken-down tanks and that the units are now at the appropriate battle standard? Will the NBC regiment be deployed to find NBC cover in view of the likely NBC threat?

Secondly, who will provide the reserve for 7 Brigade? In addition, perhaps the noble Lord will say where the individual battle casualty reinforcements will come from and who will provide them. If they are to be reservists, can the noble Lord confirm that they will all have received refresher training to ensure that they are at the required battle standard? Recently there has been comment that employers will not retain jobs for reservists who have been called up. What action has been taken to ensure that employers will retain jobs for those who are required for emergency military action?

I now turn to matters concerning equipment. Can the Minister assure your Lordships that the Challenger 2 tanks have now been successfully desertised for operations in Iraq and that sufficient main engines, gearboxes, air filters and track will be available when required? Have the faults experienced from deployment of the AS90 on Exercise Saif Sareea now been rectified? On the subject of communications, what technical modifications, if any, have been made to the Clansman radio communications system and how many spare radio sets are in stock? Your Lordships will be aware of the introduction of the short-range personal radio for dismounted infantry sections, but that is of little use in armoured vehicles. Is it now Her Majesty's Government's decision to buy the USA IFF system and have it fitted to our armoured vehicles? Are there now sufficient stocks of desert clothing and reliable desert boots?

Can the noble Lord also inform your Lordships whether improvements have now been completed to ensure that helicopters will be able to fly the required number of hours under desert conditions? Will the Apache helicopter be deployed in support of the force?

Turning now to the subject of logistical sustainment, can the noble Lord confirm that there will be sufficient stocks of major assemblies, rations, spare radio sets and reserve ammunition over and above the planned daily expenditure rates?

I now turn to medical matters. Can the Minister go into further detail as to how battle casualties will be cared for? Can he confirm the number of advanced dressing stations, field hospitals and general hospitals that will be deployed with the British force? Will he also assure the House that those medical units will be at full strength with the correct number of surgeons who are experienced in gunshot wounds and burns, anaesthetists and combat medical technicians? Presumably there will be a requirement to evacuate casualties to the United Kingdom. Which hospitals, in addition to the Centre for Medical Excellence at Birmingham, will have beds reserved for battle casualties from Iraq?

Will the noble Lord expand a little more on some aspects of the chain of command? For example, who and which formation will have command and control over the British land forces, and will 1st Division command 3 Commando Brigade and 16 Air Assault Brigade, in addition to 7 Brigade and 102 Logistics Brigade? Who will be the overall commander of British forces for this operation? I apologise to the noble Lord for asking so many questions. If he is not aware of all the answers, I should be grateful if he would write to me.

Finally, if conflict should break out, I am sure that all your Lordships would wish the troops being deployed all good fortune and a safe and speedy return and would hope that those with families bear this operational separation with their normal and customary fortitude.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat 6:40 pm, 20th January 2003

My Lords, we too, on these Benches, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. Our thoughts are with those troops on their way to the Gulf and their families at this time.

Is the Minister satisfied that sufficient supplies are in place? I shall not go through the list raised by the noble Lord, Lord Vivian. I simply ask whether the Minister is satisfied that enough supplies are in place for the long period of time that the troops might be in the Gulf. Only last week the Prime Minister said that the international inspectors had spent only a week at their full complement undertaking weapons inspections. We on these Benches hope that he was sincere in his undertaking that they would be given as much time as was needed.

We are uneasy about the escalation that has taken place, as I believe are many people throughout the country. We understand the necessity for pressure to be put on Saddam Hussein to underline the responsibility he has for disarmament.

Under whose command will British forces be when they reach the Gulf? Will they be integrated into the US command and control or will they be under independent command? It will cause consternation if British forces are immediately integrated into the US command and control.

My final question harks back to the last Gulf War. Will troops be given proper counselling and guidance over the vaccinations and inoculations they are receiving at present? That is an issue to which we shall probably return. I hope that the Ministry of Defence undertakes proper guidance to troops this time round.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement) 6:42 pm, 20th January 2003

I am grateful to both noble Lords for their support and kind words about the British Armed Forces, which I know will get back to them. This is a significant announcement, but it comes in the context of our ongoing military contingency planning, designed, as I repeated in the Statement, to maintain a credible threat of force in support of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441.

Both noble Lords asked a number of questions. The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, will forgive me if I do not even attempt to answer all the legitimate questions he raised. I shall do my best to answer some now; if others remain unanswered, I shall write to him in the normal way.

The first question raised related to whether sufficient training had been carried out and whether the Armed Forces needed for FRESCO somehow prevented that. I give the noble Lord the assurance I believe he seeks. We shall ensure that there is sufficient training for all those sent to the Gulf and for those who have to use the tanks to which he referred.

As regards employers, the noble Lord asked a question relating to reservists and the position in which they might find themselves when they return. I remind him of the terms of the Reserve Forces (Safeguard of Employment) Act 1985. Under that Act an employer is required, where it is reasonable and practicable to do so, to take into his or her employment former employees who made a written application at the end of a period of called-out service. If an employer terminates a person's employment without that person's consent and does so solely or mainly by reason of a liability to be mobilised for military service, that employer is guilty of an offence. I have checked, and that is not a civil wrong; it is an offence under criminal law. In such circumstances the reservist may apply to a reinstatement committee to hear the case.

As regards Challenger 2 and AS90, as the noble Lord knows work is being carried out now to ensure that they are desertised sufficiently. That work is ongoing and will continue when forces are in transit and in theatre as required. I give the noble Lord the assurance he seeks as regards clothing. In addition to our existing stocks, contracts are in place for the delivery at short order of 20,000 pairs of desert boots, 92,650 desert lightweight jackets and 89,700 pairs of desert lightweight trousers. We continue to work to ensure that our personnel are properly equipped to cope with the environmental conditions in which they may operate.

The noble Lord asked about the medical position. Again, I can give him the reassurance he seeks. I shall write to him in due course with more detail. To date the Defence Medical Services have met all the operational commitments placed on them. That was, we acknowledge, achieved with the compulsory mobilisation of a small number of reservists. There is no question of British forces deploying on military operations without appropriate medical support.

The noble Lord asked about command, as did the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. Here, I have to choose my words carefully. I am sure that both noble Lords and the House will understand why. We do not think it appropriate at this stage to discuss command and control arrangements or, indeed, the individuals who may be involved. Headquarters staffs will liaise and exercise as appropriate with US staffs in the region and elsewhere. The next sentence is important to both noble Lords. We shall ensure that UK command and control is in place at the appropriate levels. I have no doubt that in the weeks to come I shall be able, I hope, to be more forthcoming with the House on those perfectly legitimate questions.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked about sustainability. I think that that was at the root of his first and major question. It is far too early to speculate about how long we might need to maintain this particular deployment or, indeed, when military action might become inevitable. We are deploying forces now because it is the right thing to do in support of the Security Council resolution and the weapons inspection process. We all hope that military action will not be necessary.

We consider this a balanced and flexible force which provides—I make no apology for repeating this—a potent and credible threat to Saddam Hussein. We are confident that UK Armed Forces will be able to fulfil their mission of ensuring Iraqi disarmament, however long that may take. As regards vaccinations, I give the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, the assurance he seeks. Proper advice has been given to all those who are to be deployed to the Gulf.

Photo of Lord Burnham Lord Burnham Conservative 6:48 pm, 20th January 2003

My Lords, the noble Lord gave the House the figures for what is a considerable deployment of Her Majesty's forces. Can he give any figures with regard to the redeployment of other forces which will be necessary to cover the areas from which those who are going in the direction of the Middle East have gone?

Further, he failed to answer my noble friend's questions. That was entirely reasonable because my noble friend asked many questions. However, can he assure the House that we shall have an opportunity in the near future to debate all the questions raised today in a more relaxed atmosphere and over a longer period than has been possible? Perhaps I may follow-up the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, concerning Gulf War diseases from previous conflicts. The noble Lord says that all is well. However, it would be helpful if he could give that answer more fully.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, as far as a debate is concerned, that will be a matter for the usual channels. I can, however, venture the opinion, probably shared by all Members of the House, that this House will have—as will another place—ample opportunity to discuss these very significant matters at the right time. I agree with the noble Lord about the seriousness of the Statement. The noble Lord talks about debating in a more relaxed atmosphere. Given that the House is hearing a serious statement, it is in as relaxed an atmosphere as it can be. Certainly, we would need to spend longer than we are spending on the subject. I think that that is the noble Lord's point.

I shall go away and consider whether the answer I gave as to the medical position is adequate. If it is not, I shall write to the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, and place a copy of the letter in the Library of the House.

Photo of Lord Sandberg Lord Sandberg Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the Statement mentioned a large number of troops, some 26,000. Can the Minister give some idea of the time lag in this deployment? I ask because we are talking about a credible answer to Saddam Hussein's sins and omissions. Obviously, it would be no good if troops were to arrive in May or when the hot season starts.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I shall answer the noble Lord in broad terms. The noble Lord can be assured that troops will arrive in good time in order to do what they have to do in the Gulf area. We hope that the fact they are being sent, along with armed forces from the United States, will show Saddam Hussein that on this occasion the United Nations means business. I can reassure the noble Lord that our troops will be there in good time for any conflict, if that is what happens.

Photo of Lord Gilbert Lord Gilbert Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend have information as to whether any other European member of NATO has plans to send troops to the Middle East as we are doing, if not on the same scale?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I do not have any information in front of me concerning that matter. My noble friend will know that requests have been made by the United States Administration in the terms of his question. The answers are of course matters for the United Nations Administration. At present, I cannot say more than that.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, I address my questions to the last part of the Statement and to the diplomatic process. Can the noble Lord give the House an assurance that if Dr Blix and Mr ElBaradei report to the Security Council next week that they may require some more time for inspection, Her Majesty's Government will support that request?

Secondly, does the Minister agree that, while a lot of focus is placed on the second resolution of the United Nations, every bit as important is whether Dr Blix and Mr ElBaradei are, before any force is contemplated, able to state whether Saddam Hussein is in full compliance with the Security Council's resolutions? Will that judgment be one of the key factors as to whether the United Nations and the international community are able to address this matter as toughly as they ought to?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, who has, as the House knows, vast experience of these matters. I cannot give him explicitly the reassurance he seeks as to his first question. But I remind him of something that he will very well know, that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made it clear on more than one occasion that UNMOVIC must have as much time as it needs before we reach any decisive view on the matter. The Prime Minister has said that its report back to the Security Council next Monday, 27th January, is not in itself an event that will necessarily lead to the next action but is a passage in what is happening. I can go that far but no further on the matter.

As to the noble Lord's second question, I can give him the reassurance that we are thinking in the terms that he mentions.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us what fixed-wing air cover will be provided for our troops—not only our ground troops but also our naval forces—if they are deployed, and under whose command that will be?

My next question is not entirely frivolous, given the experience a previous government had in the Crimean war, but how will 20,000 pairs of boots equip 26,000 troops unless there is a complete fit?

Finally, arising from the Minister's reply to my noble friend about the Challenger 2 tanks, can he assure us that the work now being done will be completed before there is any question of any armoured vehicle moving in the desert— that they will be desertised before they are deployed—as he said the work, which was well in hand four months ago, is not yet complete?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, I can reassure the noble Lord as to his last question. Of course the vehicles will be desertised by the time they are deployed.

As to the question about fixed-wing aircraft, the noble Lord will know that we have some aircraft in the region at present, which bravely enforce the no-fly zones. But, by their nature, aircraft can be deployed very quickly if they are required. The movements of enabling equipment, to which I referred, include some equipment and personnel, which would facilitate the deployment of additional aircraft in due course, if required. We do not see a need to deploy additional aircraft at present. But I give the assurance that we shall continue to inform the House—as I hope we have on various occasions on these matters—when such decisions are taken.

The noble Lord need not worry. There will be good and enough desert boots for everyone.

Photo of Lord Hardy of Wath Lord Hardy of Wath Labour

My Lords, my noble friend mentioned the no-fly zone. Can he confirm that over the past year or so the Iraqi anti-aircraft capacity has been directed rather aggressively towards those missions? Can he say whether in recent weeks the Iraqis have locked on to our aircraft to a lesser or smaller extent than in the past?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Procurement)

My Lords, my noble friend understates the position. The Iraqis have behaved with great aggression during the period he talks about towards those operating in the no-fly zones. I remind the House that the reason for those missions is to protect the minorities living in those parts of Iraq who have been the subject of appalling treatment by Saddam Hussein in the past.

I am not in a position to answer the noble Lord's second question, but I shall write to him.