Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240
WEDNESDAY 7 FEBRUARY 2001
MP, MR KEVIN
TEBBIT CMG, AND
240. When the Committee was in the Gulf last
year we picked up a concern about the continuation of the no-fly
zones and what was happening with the relationship with Iraq,
and there was a concern being expressed, not upfront but in other
circles, about the fact that there was no light at the end of
the tunnel; that they were continuing and there was no movement,
so much so that we heard that Kuwait was organising a conference
of all Arab states to discuss it. That was a year ago and now
we have rumours that there is a weakening of support for no-fly
zones. How are we responding to that? Are we just high-balling
it and saying "Well, we will just carry on"?
(Mr Hoon) We are not but, at the same time, I think
it is important to put the views of the international community
into the appropriate context, and the context is Security Council
resolution 1284. This was negotiated after many monthsI
suspect it seemed like years at the timeof determined effort
in the United Nations to establish a process that was on offer
to Iraq to Saddam Hussein by which there could be, to use your
phrase, light at the end of the tunnel. There wasand continues
to bean opportunity for Saddam Hussein to accept the will
of the international community, an agreed Security Council resolution,
whereby if he allows appropriate inspection of facilities in Iraq
then there can be a progressive lifting of sanctions. Clearly,
in such circumstances, there could well be then a series of discussions
with the regime that would have beneficial effects as far as the
people of Iraq are concerned, but we must have overriding concern
for the people on the ground in the northern and southern no-fly
zone whom we are protecting.
241. May I add my personal thanks, and I am
sure that of Mr Gapes, for the hospitality you extended to us
when we accompanied you to Sierra Leone last week and in particular
for the extent to which you involved us in parts of your programme
that you need not have done. This was greatly appreciated. The
Permanent Secretary and others told us on 17 January that Sierra
Leone was providing a kind of dry run for the way in which the
new conflict-prevention, cross-cutting budget would be used. If
the champions of this new type of budget are vindicated, it is
going to change the way in which the Ministry thinks about applying
UK resources to trouble spots. How do you feel this conceptual
approach is working in Sierra Leone at the present time?
(Mr Hoon) I do not think it just applies to Sierra
Leone but to a number of other areas. One of the key lessons learned
from Kosovo was that it is not simply enough to have extremely
effective military capability that prevents humanitarian catastrophe;
you also have to have the people that you can then put into a
place like Kosovo. The civil administration was completely shattered,
not only as a result of the conflict but over many years of totalitarian
rule and, in those circumstances, I recognised that we needed
access to all sorts of skill. That is still the case as well in
Sierra Leone because, as you saw, what the British army are capable
of doing certainly is to train the Sierra Leonean army to behave
in a lawful, constitutionally respectable way with the military
skills that go with that but allied to that will be the need for
policing, for example, as well as other governmental skills that
will be required once the country responds to the lawful expectations
of a democratically-elected government. What I see very much about
the conflict prevention fund in a sense is that, once the purely
military aspect has been completed, then we need to recognise
that there will be other issues down the track that have to follow
behind. It may well be that those are taking place simultaneously
as the military solution is taken forward.
242. Briefly, on that further point you have
raised, I know that Mr Gapes and I were both very affected by
what we saw on one bit of the visit where our programme was diverged
from yours when we visited the amputee camp, where there were
no fewer than 226 people ranging from a toddler of 13 months to
breadwinners for families who had had either one or both hands
cut off by the RUF. Is there any way in which you can see the
Ministry of Defence co-operating with the DFID to target some
specific assistance, either now or in perhaps a happier phase
of development when the military project has gone further on that
peculiarly horrifying aspect of the war?
(Mr Hoon) In the first place, what we do is designed
to deal with the intimidation that that kind of appalling behaviour
was about. Clearly, the attacks were appalling for the individuals
but they were designed to intimidate. They were about ensuring
that the rest of the population realised what these people were
capable of and, by training the army, we are giving the government
of Sierra Leone the opportunity of saying to its population that
they will not suffer those kinds of attacks. When we did visit
Masiaka, for example, we all saw the benefits of that in terms
of an area that had previously been controlled by a rebel group
now being repopulated by its original population, with people
going about their lives and getting on with business free from
the sort of intimidation that you saw at the amputee camp. It
is part of what we do as much as, say, what DFID and other government
departments might do in terms of granting financial or other assistance.
Certainly, however, I see this as part of a joined-up process.
I do not think we should be seeking to separate out the different
elements. When we look at projects in the conflict prevention
fund, we will be looking at ways in which we can work together
to deliver a conclusion. It follows that there is no point in
training the Sierra Leonean army to control the territory of Sierra
Leone if we then do not put in place, or help to put in place
either, the civil administration that allows the government to
243. Can I, first of all, agree and thank both
yourself and your officials and Brigadier Riley and all the military
people we met. I was really struck by how competent and how caring
our people are in Sierra Leone, and we are making a differenceit
is quite clear. You can see the mood of the people and there is
a general sense that it is getting better, and I am very glad
I was able to see that. We are doing a job and we have just extended
the period for the military short-term training mission until
September and, obviously, I am not asking you to give years and
dates but how long do you think we will need to maintain our forces
with a presence in Sierra Leone?
(Mr Hoon) I agreed to the extension of the training
because those responsible for the training came forward with specific
reasons as to why we should carry on, both in terms of training
more people but crucially to give those individual soldiers who
have received basic military training the ability to work in units.
The advice I received was to the effect that, whilst we had trained
a good number of people who would be useful individually, they
lack the kinds of skills that organised units require if they
are taken to occupied ground which, ultimately, we assume the
President of Sierra Leone will want to do. So that was a specific
justification for extending the training teams and obviously I
remain open to those sorts of arguments. Equally, in the light
of all the comments this Committee has made today and the very
practical considerations, I also have to recognise there is a
limit to that. I cannot put a date on it because it would not
be sensible at this stage to do so. I think it is clear from what
we saw in Sierra Leone that we are moving towards a situation,
and we saw something of it in Masiaka, that those trained units
can now go out into areas that were previously dominated by the
rebels and occupy those areas and behave in a military way that
is useful to the government. That is a process that is clearly
under way and we will expect to see continuing.
244. Clearly now the economic recovery that
is beginning in Freetown and the children going to school normally
and all the rest of the normalisation that is going on will require
time. The UN operation and our own role within Sierra Leone, both
in support of the UN and directly, is something that we would
not want to pull the plug on and then allow the rebels to come
(Mr Hoon) No.
245. Could you give an assessment of how you
would judge when our mission has been fulfilled?
(Mr Hoon) Our strategy has always been to carry on
after the short-term training teams with an international training
team that will be very much about this kind of strategic leadership
role that the government forces will need to develop. In a sense
we want to go beyond training individuals into units to make sure
that the Sierra Leonean army has available to it the ability there
itself to carry on training. Again, there is no point in training
thousands of soldiers if the government itself cannot continue
the process thereafter. That is why we always planned for the
international training team to continue where we left off.
246. Can I put to you that from my point of
view, having been there, I would say I think we should stay for
as long as we are needed and not prematurely withdraw for other
(Mr Hoon) We will stay for as long as we are needed
but I think it is important to distinguish between the need to
do the training, which is what we are doing, and the question
of security in Sierra Leone. When you talk about need, we are
not there to provide security other than in this indirect sense.
We have indicated that we would be willing and we have available
an over-the-horizon capability, but on the ground what we are
doing is training the forces of the Government of Sierra Leone
to establish their own security, if I can put it that way. That
was what was encouraging about our visit because they are clearly
demonstrating that capability. I would not want the need to be
in any way confused with the security need. The need is about
training. That was why I was able to take the decision, because
it was put to me that there was a need for further training. I
am confident that there will come a time when that need is no
longer as acute.
Mr Gapes: I hope there is no suggestion
of any premature withdrawal from Sierra Leone.
Chairman: I think if ever there is a
justification for intervention anywhere, Sierra Leone is it. You
may say, Secretary of State, we are just there for training, but
the psychological impact is much more than a small group of people
undertaking training. If ever a time comes for us to withdraw
it has to be absolutely, as I am sure it will be, well, well thought
out. I am very proud of what the British forces are doing over
there. I am very sad, frankly, that we do not have more resources
to put in more people; you judge the size. Anyone who goes there
will come back totally, totally committed to the British presence.
I just hope the United Nations can develop their skills commensurate
with the task, but I am less confident of the latter than the
former. We have another 20 minutes, if that is okay.
247. I am sorry if I have to drop out for a
private medical reason at the last moment but I echo the Chairman's
words. I strongly opposed all our interventions in the Balkans
but I think Sierra Leone is a model of what we should be doing.
I have got a long list of rather complicated questions on public-private
initiatives and the guidelines. It is obviously a very important
and complicated subject. I am going to give you several questions
together, if I may, for brevity. Does the Investment Strategy's
announcement that you are looking at ways of using PFI for war-fighting
equipment represent a change in policy? What criteria, whether
it does or not, will you be applying in drawing a line beyond
which PFIs will not venture? There clearly has to be a line somewhere.
(Mr Hoon) The line is that we will not in any way
compromise military capability for financial reasons. What we
are trying to do is enhance our military capability, military
effectiveness, at the same time as achieving value for money.
That is a test that I will apply to any proposal for using private
248. How do you reconcile your policy of withholding
public funding for new capital investment unless "private
financing [is] shown to be inappropriate, unworkable or uneconomic"
with your commitment to a level playing field between PFIs and
public sector solutions?
(Mr Hoon) Because that is the precise approach that
we adopt in determining whether or not a private finance solution
is sensible. It is entirely even-handed and we make judgments
according to achieving value for money without in any way compromising
249. You do not see either having a contract
heavy lift capability or potentially a contract Future Strategic
Tanker Aircraft as compromising the front-line capability? Supposing,
to take the heavy lift example, you have a not entirely secure
airfield you are operating to and problems of enforcing a contract
where you are landing in a war zone?
(Mr Hoon) Part of the process that we undertake in
determining the appropriateness of a private sector solution is
to look at precisely those issues and they are built into the
contractual arrangements. We, for example, have negotiated special
arrangements for the crewing of roll-on roll-off ferries for precisely
that reason, so if those vessels had to go into war-like zones
they would be able to do so and it would be covered in the agreement.
250. They would have uniformed crews?
(Mr Hoon) Exactly.
251. Military uniformed crews?
(Mr Hoon) They would be Sponsored Reserves, but that
is part of the thinking. We are not taken by surprise that when
we procure military equipment or military services they might
have to go into war.
252. That would apply to the heavy lift as well?
(Mr Hoon) We have not got that far, I think it is
fair to say. What we are looking at with heavy lift for transport
aircraft is the purchase of the aircraft. We have not yet got
into discussions about how they will be used because they have
not yet been constructed.
253. Obviously that is going to be a matter
of some interest to the Committee given that pivotal role.
(Mr Hoon) The C-17s that will be available this year
are military aircraft.
254. They will have military crew?
(Mr Hoon) Yes.
255. The final question: your Investment Strategy
anticipates a more proactive approach to using assets in exploiting
wider markets. Do you anticipate a greater emphasis on PFIs to
deliver it? What do you think the potential is for the revenues
that could be generated from these wider markets?
(Mr Hoon) There are obvious opportunities but they
vary according to particular areas. We discussed agencies earlier
on. The Training Agency, for example, has begun to be very successful
in offering training packages beyond employees of the Ministry
of Defence and is beginning to derive some significant income.
I have to say that we approached that in terms of looking at the
asset and whether it is necessary. If we do not need that particular
asset then clearly the solution, as we have discussed already
this morning, is to sell it. If, on the other hand, strategically
we require a particular asset into the future but, for example,
we cannot use it 100% of the time for MoD purposes then we will
look to using that in other ways in these wider opportunities
that are around. Some of those agencies will be better able to
exploit those opportunities than others simply by reason of what
they do. Training is certainly an area where I think we have significant
assets that we cannot use 100% of the time and ought to derive
some income from because in deriving that income that adds to
the amount of resources we have available to spend on defence.
256. You are allowed to keep all the income
under the new strategy, 100 per cent in house?
(Mr Hoon) Yes, every penny.
Mr Brazier: That is a considerable advance.
257. I would like to move on to DU and veterans'
welfare. Are DU munitions an essential part of the Armed Forces'
(Mr Hoon) Depleted uranium shells are the most effective
way of dealing with main battle tanks today. That is why they
will continue to be in our inventory unless and until we establish
some other way of dealing with main battle tanks.
258. Are you looking for cost-effective alternatives
(Mr Hoon) There are a number of different ways of
attacking a main battle tank but I am sure you would not want
me to ask British servicemen to put their lives at risk because
there was a weapon available that would do the job and we take
it out of service.
258. Do you remain convinced that the risk to
human health from DU is negligible?
(Mr Hoon) Yes, I do. I spent some considerable time
looking in particular at the statistics. The one area of statistics
that I found most convincing was the epidemiological evidence
of those who had been deployed to the Gulf, around 53,000 service
personnel, compared to service personnel, again a control group
of around the same number, who were not deployed. The death rates
over that ten year period since the Gulf conflict are almost identical.
What struck me as being of great significance was the incidence
of cancer among the control group, that is those who did not go
to the Gulf, was actually higher marginally than the incidence
of cancer among those who did go. So there is not any evidence
at all of any enhanced propensity to cancer, for example, as a
result of serving in the Gulf. That is not simply exposure to
DU. I think one of the interesting things about those who have
expressed concern about so-called Gulf War Syndrome is that the
causes of that syndrome have been changing over the period of
the ten years and DU is perhaps just one of the more recent suggestions
as to what might be the problem.
259. At this stage are you able to assess the
response to your offer to provide medical testing for veterans
who are concerned that they may be suffering some form of radiation
(Mr Hoon) We already haveI have visited it
and if you would like to go I would certainly encourage you to
do the samea unit at St Thomas' Hospital which is available
for Gulf War veterans to go in and have their symptoms looked
at and considered. I was very impressed with the thoroughness
and the amount of time that was made available to each person.
As I say, if you would like to go I would certainly extend that
opportunity to you and you can see for yourselves the care with
which problems are looked at. What we are equally trying to do,
and John Spellar made clear in the statement he made to the House,
is to find a way of reassuring not only Gulf War veterans but
obviously more recently those who have been to the Balkans that
whatever symptoms they may be suffering from, if they are suffering
a particular illness, are not related to their service. Can I
put this as best I can in a personal context. Sadly, we all have
experience of friends and relatives who suffer cancer, it is something
that is far more prevalent in our society than we are sometimes
prepared to acknowledge. My experience of people who fall victim
to cancer is they do not want to accept that they have been, if
I could put it this way, unlucky, they want an explanation, they
want to try and find a reason. I think what has happened with
many Gulf War veterans who have suffered cancer since their service
is they want to find an explanation and their service gives them
an explanation, but the statistics that I demonstrated in relation
to the incidence of cancer since the Gulf War, particularly the
fact that the control group have shown more signs of cancer than
those who actually served, does demonstrate, I think, that this
is a problem of the prevalence of the disease in our society rather
than anything associated with service in the Gulf.