16 October cols 719-720
Dr Liam Fox: I am sure that I do not need to remind either the Secretary of State or the Minister for the Armed Forces that the Kuwait border is only 30 miles from the Basra air base. As a result of that small difference, service members will lose out on hundreds of pounds a month, although their American counterparts receive the same bonus regardless of whether they are in Iraq, Kuwait or Qatar. If the Secretary of State made it clear that those allowances will apply to all those in the region, and not just those in Iraq, that would be a major step forward.
Des Browne: That is a classic example of the sort of thing that I was talking about. Based on absolutely no research, not even the courtesy of asking the MOD whether what he has described is the reality, the hon. Gentleman has asserted his case at the Dispatch Box in the House of Commons. But it is not true.
Dr. Fox: Good.
Des Browne: The hon. Gentleman says, “Good.” Perhaps he will now explain the basis on which he made the assertion in the first place. Is there a factual basis for it, or did he make it up for
Dr. Fox: I am delighted that those operational bonuses will apply, because those issues
have been raised with us by members of the armed forces so that they can get clarification from the Government. If it is clear that we will get such clarification, I will be delighted—and so will they be.
Des Browne: The hon. Gentleman now says to the House that he was asked to inquire. Why did he choose to inquire by asserting an untruth at the Dispatch Box, rather than asking me or a
Dr. Fox: Excuse me, but I thought that the purpose of the House of Commons was for us to be able to question Ministers directly. It is an entirely appropriate place to raise such issues. Now that we have clarification on those, perhaps the Secretary of State will clarify other issues— [Interruption.]
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Des Browne: Knowing Your Own Policy Is Very Much Like Making Love to a Beautiful Woman...
The Defence Secretary is in a bit of trouble this afternoon. Yesterday he either lied to the House of Commons, or he proved that he hadn't got a clue what the policy of his own department is towards British troops stationed in Kuwait. This is a little elongated, but bear with me. It's worth it when you get to the end.
We'll ignore Browne's blatant rudeness and his incomprehension of the role of asking questions of Ministers. Instead, let's look at the evidence to see who's right. In a written answer to Mark Harper on 12 December 2006, the then Defence Minister Derek Twigg said: "The specified qualifying locations for the operational allowance are the geographical boundaries of Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans..."
I have made enquiries with the Ministry of Defence and it seems Des Browne's reply has caused a minor storm among civil servants there along the lines of "what the **** did he think he was saying?" They confirm that troops in Kuwait DO NOT qualify for the Operational Allowance, unlike those serving in the US Army.
So I return to the original question. Did Des Browne lie or was he totally unaware of his own policy. I choose to be charitable and believe the latter. But whatever the truth, he should now apologise to both Liam Fox and the House. If memory serves me correctly, it would not be the first time.