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Volume 449: debated on Monday 24 July 2006

The Government have an extensive development programme in support of the Iraqi people.

The Department for International Development, with the support of UK forces, has so far committed over £417 million of assistance, including significant investment in electricity infrastructure, raising output and strengthening the grid. In the next six months further projects will deliver a range of basic services, including drinking water, to make a real difference to the everyday lives of the people of southern Iraq.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in the long run it is essential to build up the capacity of the Iraqis themselves to develop their own infrastructure? What are British troops doing to assist that process?

The key to our withdrawal and that of the multinational forces from Iraq is building the capability of the Iraqi Government, both at national and provincial level, and of the civilian infrastructure, to take responsibility for a range of measures that previously they did not have responsibility for. For example, anybody who has visited Basra and compared it with Baghdad can see what 30 years of neglect by a dictator did for that part of the country, which he determinedly ran down. It is in building that capacity that we will be able to give the people of Iraq a way forward. If my hon. Friend wants an example of what we are doing to encourage that, he needs to recognise that a significant number of very able Ministers in that Government, including the Prime Minister, have been in London today meeting their counterparts and discussing how we can help them. Significant improvements have been made in Iraq. They do not always get reported, and sometimes they are drowned out by the violence, which I acknowledge has been at an unacceptably high and very dangerous level over the past months, but improvements are taking place there daily, and a substantial part of the country has moved forward.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that our troops’ reconstruction role in southern Iraq has been made much more difficult by the Government’s failure to condemn at an early stage Israeli forces’ attacks on civilian targets in Lebanon? That is a real concern, because whereas we have no troops stationed in Israel, we have thousands of troops stationed across Arabia, and many of our Arab friends are very angry about the situation. What is he going to do about it?

Order. I think that we should stick to southern Iraq. I would have expected the hon. Gentleman to ask a direct question about southern Iraq.

I again put to the Secretary of State the paucity of medical supplies and equipment in Basra’s main hospital, of which a lot of Iraqis are dying as a consequence. We have also heard that a number of doctors and medical staff have been killed in the insurgency. It is my position that UK forces should stock up that hospital and, if necessary, take children out of the country to get treatment. Is that his position, and, if it is, why are UK forces not acting?

It is my position that the international community, including the United Kingdom, has a responsibility to support health provision in Iraq, which we have been doing. It is not my position that the answer to the needs of those who should be treated in Iraq is to provide some method of moving them out of the country. That would be no answer to the problems. I accept that people in certain professions have been targeted, including the medical profession, but the answer to that is to work with Iraqi forces and the Iraqi Government at the national and provincial levels, which is what we are doing.

In a meeting today with the Prime Minister of Iraq, I was pleased when he told me that he has implemented proper supervision of the Basra security plan and that he will return to Iraq and visit Basra specifically to send a strong message to those from his community who are involved in the violence that it is unacceptable and that the security plan will address them. The long-term answer is to deliver security for the Iraqi people. My hon. Friend is consistent, but he should recognise the improvements. Although there have been setbacks, there have been significant improvements, too, and he should never underestimate how badly Saddam Hussein treated the people of Basra.

The Secretary of State will, I know, agree that a central part of the reconstruction of southern Iraq, as well as our operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere, is provided by the Hercules based at RAF Lyneham in my constituency? There are currently two problems. First, there are not nearly enough Hercules, despite the extra one that he has deployed to Afghanistan. Of the 47 in the fleet, only 20 are available for purpose at any one moment—five have been deployed in the relief of Lebanon. Secondly, the fleet is at full stretch. Is it not time to consider the provision of extra heavy lift capability, perhaps by chartering a C-17 or an extra Hercules?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are looking at additional air support and airlift. However, I am satisfied that we have responded to requests from theatre and provided the assets requested by those in theatre. In my view, that is an appropriate assessment of our capability, and we have not yet found ourselves with insufficient resources.

Last week, Premier Koizumi from Japan completed the transfer of the last of the Japanese contingent of 600 ground self-defence forces who have been based in southern Iraq in the city of Samawa and the area around it, notionally charged with humanitarian and reconstruction objectives. Does the Secretary of State feel that our own forces will have to pick up that role and therefore become even more seriously overstretched?

My hon. Friend could not, with respect, be further from the truth. The Japanese, who made a significant contribution in al-Muthanna province in southern Iraq, were able not only to stand their troops down from where they were positioned in al-Muthanna but to send them home because they had achieved their objective. My hon. Friend will have noticed that coincidentally with the Japanese Government’s announcement of a drawdown, there was an announcement of provincial Iraqi control—that is, with Iraqis themselves taking over responsibility for security and for the governance of al-Muthanna province. There is no need for any troops from outside Iraq to provide that in al-Muthanna, and that will increasingly be the case across Iraq.

6. What funding allocations have been made for the financing of military operations in Iraq; and if he will make a statement. (87189)

There is no set budget for the future cost of operations in Iraq as costs vary with the tempo of the operation. In his recent Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer set aside £800 million from within existing public spending plans for 2006-07 to meet the costs of Iraq, Afghanistan and other international commitments. Urgent funding requirements arising from operations are met from the reserve.

If I may be permitted, Mr. Speaker, in that regard I can announce today the conclusions of an urgent review into protected vehicles for operations, particularly in Iraq. We have identified three complementary ways forward, two of which build on and accelerate work that is ongoing, and the third is new. They will be funded from an acceleration of existing funding and, in part, from substantial new funding from the Treasury for Iraq and Afghanistan. I have set out the details in a written statement. Briefly, we are ordering 100 new Vector vehicles, 70 FV430 vehicles beyond the 54 already ordered, and about 100 new Cougar wheeled armoured vehicles for both theatres.

The Prime Minister recently underlined the threat to our troops in Iraq from Iranian-backed militias and Iranian-supplied weapons. I am delighted that the Minister has today announced that we are going to upgrade the armoured vehicle fleet available to our troops to protect them from that threat. However, the wheeled armoured vehicles that he has ordered will not be ready for deployment until the end of this year. What consideration was given to the procurement of battle-ready RG31 protected patrol vehicles?

We gave serious consideration to all the vehicles that were available. Thanks to the work that we were able to do with the Americans, and thanks particularly to significant work that my hon. Friend Lord Drayson was able to perform, we were able to identify about 100 Cougar vehicles to which the Americans were prepared to allow us to have access. We chose those because up-armoured, with electronic counter-measures added and with Bowman radios fitted, we believe that they would be the best protected mid-range vehicles in theatre. We made an objective decision to choose them instead of the RG31s. Had we chosen the RG31s, we would have had to fit ECMs and Bowman to them and possibly to up-armour them. In any event, the earliest possible time that we can get them into theatre is in the context of the six-month period of the next two roulements for Iraq and for Afghanistan. It physically could not be done any more quickly with any vehicle.

The Government have seen fit to finance a reserve battalion for Iraq stationed in Cyprus. The Secretary of State mentioned an unprecedented level of violence, which would seem to suggest that those reserves could be needed at any moment. Almost half the combat power of the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers has been sent to Afghanistan, not Iraq. Have we run out of money or run out of soldiers?

We have not run out of either money or soldiers. My announcement today, coupled with others that I have made about urgent operational requirements for both our theatres, show that, when resources are necessary, we will find them.

The deployment of individual soldiers is a matter for the Army. Identifying the appropriate troops, from whatever service, is entirely a matter for the services.

Given the tempo of operations in Afghanistan and the necessary cost that that implies, and given that the Secretary of State has confirmed that, before next year’s comprehensive spending review, no strategic defence review or review of defence planning assumptions will take place, is he confident that the Chancellor will continue to fund the current or possibly increased tempo of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan from a special reserve, or will the costs fall on the regular defence budget?

The hon. Gentleman has no reason to believe that the Treasury will not respond to the requests for additional resources for theatre and give access to the special reserve appropriately for them. There has been no occasion on which the Treasury has denied that access and there is no reason for the hon. Gentleman to start baseless speculation that that is likely to happen in future.