Response to the Prime Minister's Statement on Afghanistan in the House of Commons - 14th June 2010
I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the two soldiers who have been killed, Private Jonathan Monk from 2nd Battalion The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment and Lance Corporal Andrew Breeze from 1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment. Our thoughts are with their families and on the grief of their loss.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. I welcome both his early visit to Afghanistan since coming into government and the increase in the operational allowance that he announced. All those serving in Afghanistan should know that they have the admiration and respect of the whole country and of Members from all parts of the House. Will he continue with Armed Forces day on 26 June?
May I restate Labour's support for our mission in Afghanistan, which is, as the Prime Minister rightly said, first and foremost to protect our national security. As this was his first statement to the House on Afghanistan and the first occasion on which we have responded as the official Opposition, may I assure him that as he proceeds to take difficult decisions in the best interests of our mission in Afghanistan and of our troops, he will have our full support. In that spirit, I welcome the £67 million that he has announced to help tackle the IED threat. Will he inform the House in more detail as to what that will be spent on? We understand that there will be 13 extra Mastiff vehicles, and we welcome that. Will they be in addition to the £67 million? As there is also a need for well protected vehicles with greater manoeuvrability, will the Prime Minister confirm that the Government will proceed with a second batch of 200 light protected patrol vehicles?
On the strategy in Afghanistan, the Prime Minister has reaffirmed that, despite the challenges, progress has been made. Will he confirm that the Government are continuing the strategy that the UK has been pursuing and that it has not changed? If it has changed, will he tell us in what respects? It is common ground that our work in Afghanistan needs to bring together security, development and diplomatic efforts. Will the Prime Minister update the House on the discussions he has had with President Karzai? I assure him that the Government will have our support to take through a strategy that sees that the Afghans are strong enough to take responsibility for their own security and prosperity. I welcome the £200 million that he announced for building up the Afghan army, police and civil service. Will he reassure the House that that will not be at the expense of vital existing development programmes elsewhere in the world?
Will the Prime Minister update the House on discussions that he has had with US Defence Secretary Gates and on whether they have addressed the proposed withdrawal of Canadian forces in 2011? A stable Afghanistan requires a stable Pakistan. Will the Prime Minister update the House on the discussions he has had with President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani of Pakistan?
On the families of our troops, will the Prime Minister follow through on the important work that the former Defence Secretary was doing, with my support, to back up the wives, partners and families of our armed forces?
On the strategic defence review, will the Prime Minister reassure the House that the front line will not be weakened? In opposition, the Prime Minister and his Defence Secretary argued for a bigger Army and for the expansion of the Army by three battalions. Will that go ahead?
Finally, will the Prime Minister explain to the House the reasons for the departure of Sir Jock Stirrup and Sir Bill Jeffrey? Will he confirm that they will both play a role in the strategic defence review and that they will remain until it is completed? May I ask him to join me in paying tribute to Sir Jock Stirrup and Sir Bill Jeffrey for their service to the nation?