CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

'POOR EXCUSE FOR PUTTING OUR SOLDIERS AT RISK'

Daily Telegraph – 27 December 2003

Following the National Audit Office's report on the supply of vital equipment to our Armed Forces in the Iraq campaign (report, 12 December), Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon in an interview with Sky News's Adam Boulton on Sunday admitted:

"The equipment was there. Unfortunately, we didn't have a sufficiently capable tracking system to make sure the equipment was then delivered to the forces as and when they required it."

This is in stark contrast to the tone of his evidence to the Defence Select Committee on 14 May:

"There may have been the odd person who, for example, did not get the right sized pair of boots. There may have been the odd soldier who one day did not get his lunchtime ration pack ... the truth is that when they went into operations, all of our forces were given the right boots. There was sufficient clothing and protective equipment in theatre to deal with a force of this size."

Earlier in his evidence, the Secretary of State had declared that "all the requisite numbers of boots and clothing and equipment were there", adding that he was "still waiting to see any signs of apology" from journalists and editors who had highlighted alleged shortages.

Compare all this with the findings of the National Audit Office:

  • Approximately 200,000 sets of body armour issued since 1999 "seem to have disappeared ... insufficient numbers were distributed in theatre".
  • Extra quantities of clothing and boots were ordered in late 2002 and early 2003, but even the 40 per cent of these which were available in theatre by 13 April were "regarded as of limited effectiveness because few troops received their full complement".
  • There was a 40 per cent shortfall in tactical nerve-agent detection systems – vital to know if an attack was under way.
  • The operational filters needed to protect Challenger 2 tanks from nuclear or chemical and biological weapons had still not been delivered to the frontline units months after the fall of Saddam.

This last was a particularly damning finding for a conflict in which it was feared that weapons of mass destruction might be used. If they had been used, the consequences could have been disastrous.

Clearly, the Secretary of State has some serious thinking to do.

JULIAN LEWIS MP
Opposition Spokesman for Defence
House of Commons
London SW1