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Volume 475: debated on Monday 28 April 2008

4. What recent assessment he has made of levels of morale of British troops in Iraq; and if he will make a statement. (201529)

Ministers visit Iraq on a regular basis. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State visited most recently and was encouraged by the good spirits and professionalism of our troops. Equally, two of the Chiefs of Staff have been in theatre recently and similarly report that morale among our forces is good and that we are working effectively alongside our coalition partners and the Iraqi security forces in Basra.

I welcome the Government’s policy of holding an inquiry after troops are withdrawn from theatre. An inquiry while they are still in action would put them in more danger and damage their morale. Will he always put the safety of our troops uppermost and resist opportunistic attempts to turn our troops into a political football?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. When we discussed the matter a few weeks ago it was clear that people wanted an inquiry for purely party political purposes and that there was no precedent for holding such an inquiry while our troops were still in theatre and in danger. That is why we rejected the call for an inquiry at this time.

As my right hon. Friend knows, today is workers memorial day, when we remember those killed at work, including soldiers. Has my—

There is no prouder body of men and women than the British Army. What is it supposed to do for their morale when they read the unfair and uncomplimentary remarks about allowing the Americans to do our dirty work for us in the recent operation in Basra in Iraq? Would it not be better for their morale either to let them get stuck in or to get them out of that country, rather than chain them up in the airport against all the traditions of the fighting British Army?

From the discussions I have had with our armed forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan, I know that broadly speaking they ignore what they read in the media and know what the facts are. The fact with regard to Basra is that our forces are involved in a very similar way to the American forces. The American forces came down to Basra with the additional Iraqi forces. Our own forces are in Basra assisting the Iraqi 14th division, which they helped to give the capability that it is now showing in its success in Basra town. Although we should not overstate our own role, the Iraqis would not be capable of doing what they are now doing in Basra if it had not, in part, been for the contribution that the British forces have made and continue to make. We should not run them down just because the press do.