HC Deb 08 September 2003 vol 410 cc15-6
17. Roger Casale (Wimbledon)

What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of logistic support to sustain British forces in the Gulf region. [128434]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram)

The Ministry of Defence is in the middle of a comprehensive analysis to identify lessons from operations in Iraq. That includes an assessment of the effectiveness of logistic support provided to our armed forces across the Gulf region. Our initial findings were published in early July in the MOD report, "Operations in Iraq 2003: First Reflections", copies of which are in the Library. We plan to publish a fuller report before Christmas.

Roger Casale

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Through involvement in charitable work in Kosovo, I have seen at first hand the logistic support that is provided to British troops in other fields of conflict, and I therefore have every confidence that such support and equipment in the Gulf region and Iraq are remarkably successful, despite press reports to the contrary. However, what is the Ministry of Defence doing to learn lessons quickly from the difficulties and problems that have arisen? What further measures is my right hon. Friend taking to improve logistic support for our troops?

Mr. Ingram

My hon. Friend makes a range of interesting points. He is right that our achievements in a short period—by everyone in the logistic supply chain, whether civilian or military—are remarkable. People excelled themselves and I pay tribute to them.

In my earlier reply, I said that we intended to give a fuller response by Christmas. That should give my hon. Friend encouragement that we will provide an in-depth analysis of what happened, where the weaknesses, if they exist, lie and how we can remedy them.

For the air and land logistic support supply chain, we have put in place a comprehensive study, the "End to End" study, which covers £11.2 billion of expenditure and 105,000 personnel, roughly split 60:40 between military and civilian. It is an intensive study to ensure that everything that we do in the supply chain fulfils the top requirements of the front line. That must be our objective at all times. Iraq will condition our thinking, as previous conflicts have done.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

Does the Minister agree that the availability of logistics depends on that of money? Will he confirm that the enhanced troop enhancements in Iraq run at approximately £200 million a month, on top of the £1 billion already spent, according to the Ministry of Defence? Since the Chancellor's £3 billion war budget is likely to be spent before the end of the financial year, what other defence cuts might have to be made to fund it?

Mr. Ingram

None, because all the money to which the hon. Gentleman referred comes from the reserve. We have made it clear time after time that we are determined to get the job done.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)

May I endorse my right hon. Friend's comments about the success of logistic support in Iraq? I refer particularly to the many examples of British logistic support for our United States allies, especially in southern Iraq, and the Royal Air Force's support for the US air force.

Will my right hon. Friend also acknowledge the invaluable role of third-line reinforcements and the surge capacity within that during the Iraq conflict, and the inherent dangers of pushing it on to operational stations, where there will be no transparency of cost and it will be much more difficult to measure efficiency?

Mr. Ingram

That is a very technical question. I acknowledge my hon. Friend's points, and that is why I referred to the "End to End" study. We must consider the four levels of support that are currently provided. Those lines of support were put in place to deal with a threat different from the one we face now; that was part of our forward-facing posture towards the cold war and the threat that was envisaged.

We have to examine whether what we are doing now is appropriate, which is why I mentioned the size of the budget and the numbers of people involved at all levels. The matter will be subject to full consultation.

I recognise my hon. Friend's constituency interest in the Defence Aviation Repair Agency establishment in St. Athan; this must be the first time that he has asked me a question without mentioning it. I have given him due recognition that I know where he is coming from and I pay tribute to him for all his efforts.