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Volume 448: debated on Monday 26 June 2006

Coalition operations across Iraq continue to uphold security, to develop robust, self-reliant and capable Iraqi security forces, and to promote effective governance, economic growth and reconstruction. Increasingly, Iraqi security forces are taking the lead in such operations.

The Secretary of State will be aware that 20 Armoured Brigade was recently deployed for ground-holding operations in Iraq, expecting to be there for slightly more than six months. No sooner had its personnel arrived than that tour was extended to seven and a half months. I do not doubt that the soldiers and airmen of the brigade will take that on the chin, but the decision has come as a hammer blow to their families, wives and children, many of whom are isolated in Germany. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with me that no Ministry of Defence that knows its business could have allowed such a nonsense to occur. Will he tell the House how he will stop that piece of routine planning being made a complete nonsense of again?

I recognise that the hon. Gentleman has significant knowledge of these matters, but I do not accept that such decisions are an indication of the Department or the military not knowing what they are doing. On occasion, as he is aware, there is a need to review decisions and to change them. I have met many soldiers on both of my visits to Iraq and I know that they will do the job that they are asked to do, but I accept entirely that we must keep their families constantly in mind. The families face as much pressure in the absence of their family members in theatre as do the members in theatre doing what they are trained to do as British soldiers. I undertake to ensure, as far as it is within my power to do so, that in future planning is conducted in a way that gives families the maximum possible degree of certainty, subject of course to the fact that circumstances may cause us to review decisions that have been made.

Earlier the Secretary of State said that there would be an immediate review of the types of vehicles used by our armed forces in Iraq. When is that review likely to report to the House? Does he agree that, although winning hearts and minds is important, keeping our troops on the ground safe is even more important? Is it not time that we moved them out of Land Rovers, reduced foot patrols and got our troops into Warrior armoured vehicles?

We have already agreed to supplement Snatch with a new patrol vehicle, Vector, which will come into service in 2007. We are currently upgrading the protection on the FV430 to allow it to be used more widely, and we have already upgraded the protection on the Warrior, the Saxon and the CVR(T). Such issues are being considered day-to-day, on an ongoing basis, and the steps that can be taken are being taken. As a consequence of my own observations and information that has been brought to my intention, I asked for a review of the matter. That review is ongoing, but I am not able to give the hon. Gentleman a specific date for its completion. I accept that the protection of our armed forces is my most important priority as Secretary of State for Defence.