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Equipment Funding

Volume 515: debated on Monday 13 September 2010

13. What recent representations he has received on funding for equipment for UK troops in combat operations. (14531)

The coalition Government are absolutely committed to funding equipment required for UK troops on operations. In June, the Prime Minister announced uplifts totalling £256 million for equipment for Afghanistan and, on top of that, the MOD and the Treasury continue to approve new urgent operational requirements—more than £95 million since June. I am also delighted to be able to tell the House that the latest armoured all-terrain vehicle, Warthog, arrived in Afghanistan on Friday.

I thank the Minister for his response. Given that improvised explosives devices are now the favourite weapon of the Taliban in Helmand province and are causing more of our troops to be killed and injured, will the Secretary of State tell us what he is doing to ensure that our brave soldiers have the necessary equipment to counter this deadly threat?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to emphasise this very serious threat to our forces. We recognise fully the rapidly evolving threat of IEDs and take all possible measures to combat them. While visiting our troops in Afghanistan on 10 June, the Prime Minister announced an additional £67 million for the counter-IED campaign; this will include specialist dogs, bespoke counter-IED Mastiff vehicles, remote-controlled vehicles, and equipment to neutralise and analyse IEDs. In addition, the MOD and the Treasury continue to approve new equipment to counter the impact of IEDs through the urgent operational requirements process. Since June, an additional £50 million of new counter-IED UORs have been approved, including sophisticated detection equipment, new personal protective clothing and the new counter-IED collective training capability—it is a pretty good story.

May I ask the Minister to try to answer this question, rather than to rant in the way that the Secretary of State did in response to my previous question? Can the Minister tell us why the Government have delayed the deployment of the new Chinook helicopters ordered last December?

I understand why the right hon. Gentleman wants to make mischief on this particular issue, but he is confusing two separate issues. Commanders on the ground will always welcome enhanced helicopter capability—of course they will—and we will do what we can to deliver it. However, military commanders have confirmed that they have the helicopters they need to carry out the tasks that they have been given. Since November 2006, helicopter availability has increased considerably— by 140%—and more Chinook mark 3s will be available for deployment in the months ahead. These kinds of criticisms from those on the Labour Benches would be better made if they had not left us with this wretched £38 billion overspend.

The House will have noticed a certain role reversal just then. On helicopters in Afghanistan, may I urge my hon. Friend to look hard at the practice of the Americans, nearly half of whose combat helicopters are piloted by reservists? Such an approach would make a huge saving to the taxpayer and guarantee a large number of flying hours on the part of those operating them.

I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes, and I am aware that he has made it on a number of occasions. Of course we benefit from the activities of American pilots in Afghanistan and I assure him that we will continue to do so.