HC Deb 21 June 2004 vol 422 cc1075-7
15. Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater) (Con)

If he will make a statement on the role of the Fusiliers in Iraq. [179373]

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

Our armed forces have done and continue to do an outstanding job in southern Iraq. The role of the 1st Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers last year, and the 1st Battalion the Royal Highland Fusiliers and the 1st Battalion the Royal Welch Fusiliers this year, has been to work for the creation of a safe, secure and stable environment for the Iraqi people.

Mr. Liddell-Grainger

Given that four fusiliers are at the moment being charged with various offences, and that other fusiliers were under investigation in relation to certain things that happened last year, will the Secretary of State please tell the House what will be the situation in relation to the other fusiliers under investigation? Will they be able to continue their military career with no blemish on their good character?

Mr. Hoon

As I have made clear to the House on previous occasions, it is important that those negotiations are able to proceed free of any kind of ministerial or political interference. I give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. It is therefore a matter for the appropriate prosecution authorities to determine whether any charges arise out of these investigations. I assure him, as I do the House, that the Ministry of Defence is well aware of the remarkable service by the Fusiliers and by all members of Britain's armed forces. I would not want anyone to go away with the idea that simply because certain individuals might be subject to prosecution, that in any way affects the high regard in which the Fusiliers and members of Britain's armed forces are held in respect of their excellent work in Iraq.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con)

The allegations against the Fusiliers and other battalions involved in Iraq in 2003 do not appear in any way to be replicated with regard to the divisional detention facility that the Secretary of State allowed the Defence Committee to visit. We were left with the impression of a facility being run in absolute convergence with the fourth Geneva convention, as every Member of the House would expect. What will happen after 1 July to those detainees, as far as the United Kingdom is concerned? Does he think that the Americans have the proper legal authority to continue with their operations in Abu Ghraib, as they appeared to be suggesting this morning?

Mr. Hoon

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and other members of the Defence Committee for taking the trouble to visit the facility just outside Basra. I was there last Monday and saw the high standards that are maintained by British military personnel, something that has been reflected upon by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

As for the position on 1 July, negotiations with the interim Government are still to be concluded but I am confident that, whatever decision is reached, it will be in accordance with international law. Indeed, the new Security Council resolution contains provision for multinational forces to retain physical control of prisoners, subject to the overriding sovereignty of the Iraqi Government. That seems to be a sensible short-term solution, but I recognise that, ultimately, it is important that the Iraqi Government have both legal and physical control of detainees.

17. Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con)

How many reservists are deployed in Iraq. [179375]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ivor Caplin)

All our reserve forces have performed extremely well when asked to do so in Iraq and elsewhere in the world. I place on record again the House's utmost appreciation for all their efforts and for the continuing support of their employers. As at 16 June, 1,483 reservists were serving in Iraq.

Mr. Clappison

The Minister is absolutely right to pay tribute to reservists in the terms in which he has just done so—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Hon. Members will have to keep the conversations down. It is unfair to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Clappison

Is the Minister satisfied that individual members of the reserve who are part of the tranche of reservists due to go to Iraq in October will receive at least 21 days' notice that they are part of that mobilisation, and can they expect to serve six months, but no more?

Mr. Caplin

The hon. Gentleman will be aware from the lessons-learned process following Operation Telic 1 that we made it clear that the 21-day notice period would be appropriate for reservists and their employers. I anticipate that all those going to Iraq in due course will receive 21 days' notice, and I expect their tour of duty to be six months.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD)

At the early stages, the reservists felt they were very hard done by, as they were expected to stay out there when the forces that they went out with returned to the UK. There are fears in the armed forces that that will lead to greater difficulties in recruiting reservists. What work is the Minister doing to research what the feelings of those reservists are and to ensure that, when they return, they are properly debriefed?

Mr. Caplin

We have a successful mobilisation and demobilisation process at Chilwell. I have seen it and the hon. Gentleman would be a welcome visitor to Chilwell. The latest survey of Territorial Army soldiers shows that 70 per cent. regarded their morale as high or very high. As I made clear on 13 May in the personnel debate, we plan to consult on the review of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 and statutory instrument No. 309 before the summer recess.