HC Deb 17 June 2002 vol 387 cc19-20
17. Mr. Harold Best (Leeds, North-West)

If he will make a statement on the circumstances surrounding the transfer of Brigadier Roger Lane to other duties. [58687]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)

The decision that Brigadier Jim Dutton should succeed Brigadier Roger Lane as commander 3 Commando Brigade in April 2002 was taken by the First Sea Lord in July 2001, as part of the normal appointing process for senior officers in the naval service. Ministers were not involved and would not expect to be because it was a routine changeover at one-star level.

Brigadier Lane was in command of operations in Afghanistan in April 2002, and the Chief of the Defence Staff and the First Sea Lord therefore decided that the planned handover should be delayed. It will now take place after the operations have been completed.

I retain complete confidence in Brigadier Lane.

Mr. Best

If the succession to Brigadier Lane was conducted in the manner described, why does my right hon. Friend believe that the media made such a fuss?

Mr. Hoon

That is clearly a matter for them, but I was surprised by the story that began the so-called controversy. It suggested that I faced mounting pressure to sack the Royal Marines commander in Afghanistan. That could not have been true because there was no such pressure. At least, if it existed, I was not aware of it.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

Why did the Secretary of State tolerate a situation whereby officials in his Department were criticising a serving officer, who, as the right hon. Gentleman well knows, has no opportunity to answer any criticism? Will he ensure that that never happens again while he is in charge?

Mr. Hoon

Let me make it clear that no Minister in the Ministry of Defence tolerates any such briefings by officials in the Department. If the hon. Gentleman has any specific examples of such briefings, I assure him that I shall investigate them fully if he makes them known to me.

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to correct the misapprehension given by the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart)—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot extend Question Time by raising points of order.

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