Quentin Davies, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Defence, is not wildly popular on the Conservative benches, from which he defected at the encouragement of Gordon Brown. Yesterday in the Commons he was the subject of severe criticism from Conservative MPs, including Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox.
Major Sebastian Morley, formerly of the SAS, accused the MoD on his resignation of "gross negligence" for failing to supply better kit. Mr Davies described these remarks as "a travesty of reality". Dr Fox objected:
"Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) (Con): When a loyal and committed officer resigns and cites a specific reason, he should be treated with the utmost seriousness. When, instead, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) says that it was
“such a travesty of reality that it is actually quite difficult to take this at first face value,”
“a couple of odd things about this resignation”,
Mr. Ainsworth: We do take the complaint seriously; we do take the resignation seriously. We do not accept that we are in any way cavalier with our people’s safety. We put that at the absolute top of our priorities, and all of us in the ministerial team will continue to do so.
Dr. Fox: Still no apology—yet the Under-Secretary’s offence went beyond damaging morale and his own arrogant dismissal of a loyal and committed officer. As my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) said, the Under-Secretary said:
“there may be occasions when in retrospect, a commander chose the wrong piece of equipment”.
Yet is it not increasingly clear that, on the occasion in question, commanders had no choice but to use Snatch Land Rovers? How can it be that after six years and more than £10 billion in spending, we still do not have the armoured vehicles that we require? And, why did the Under-Secretary not take time to discover the facts before opening his mouth and bad-mouthing our commanders?
Mr. Ainsworth: My hon. Friend meant no offence. He was trying to explain to people that we need a suite of vehicles in theatre. That was all he was trying to do, and he did not mean to cause any offence to anyone at all."
Other MPs weighed in too.
Andrew Robathan is a former officer in the Coldstream Guards and the SAS:
"Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): In June, three members of my former regiment were killed in a Snatch Land Rover in Afghanistan. Their squadron commander has now resigned, citing their deaths as one reason for his resignation, but he finds himself blamed for them by a Minister of the Crown. Apart from the very real pain that any commander feels at the death of one of his troops, no special forces would ever choose a Land Rover without proper cross-country capability for operations. These were, however, the only vehicles available. Will the Secretary of State disassociate himself from the remarks of his—very junior—Minister, and apologise not only to Major Morley, but to the families of the dead? The father of one said today—
Mr. Quentin Davies: The hon. Gentleman obviously does not know that this morning outside the House I expressed my regrets to the father of one of our gallant soldiers who has died, and who apparently said via the media—he did not say this directly to me—that he had been upset by my remarks. I apologised unreservedly to him and expressed my deep regrets. Obviously, any offence caused was entirely inadvertent; I hope the hon. Gentleman recognises that. If I were to have some reason to suppose that operational commanders have been offended by any remarks I have made, I would also apologise very clearly and directly to them. I take it the hon. Gentleman did not hear the broadcast in question, but if he were to do me the courtesy of reading the full transcript—
Mr. Davies: Well, in that case the hon. Gentleman will have seen that a lot of my argument was designed to explain that it was quite wrong and totally impossible to blame retrospectively, with hindsight, commanding officers for decisions that had been taken and where eventually there had been fatalities, as, unfortunately, happens in warfare. He will have seen from that transcript that some—deservedly—laudatory remarks were made about the quality of our commanding officers and, of course, of our troops as a whole."
Don’t expect the Conservatives to drop this story in a hurry.