The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Hutton): The House will be aware of widespread public concern over the thirty-seven deaths of British servicemen and women in Iraq and Afghanistan as a result of injuries sustained while using Snatch Land Rovers. I have recently been asked to institute a public inquiry into the use of these vehicles. After very careful consideration, I have decided that a public inquiry would not be the right way to proceed. Given the level of parliamentary and public interest in this issue, I want to explain to the House the reasons for my decision. First, however, I wish to put on record my appreciation of the bravery and dedication of each of those thirty-seven people who have so tragically died in the service of their country.
I have sought comprehensive advice on whether the continued use of Snatch is necessary, particularly given the substantial investment we have made in new protected vehicles in recent years. The clear advice to me from military operational commanders, unanimously endorsed by the chiefs of staff, is that Snatch remains essential to the success of our operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In the light of this authoritative assessment, I have decided that it would be inappropriate and unnecessary to conduct an inquiry. These are matters on which I must rely on the considered judgment of military commanders who have experience of conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan and access to specialised military engineering expertise.
It has been suggested that Snatch should be replaced by more heavily armoured vehicles, such as the Warrior or the very successful Mastiff. These are good vehicles and they have an important role to play in our operations, but they cannot be used for all purposes. Even the new Ridgback, the smaller version of Mastiff, will be three times heavier than Snatch. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the nature of the operating environment means that heavier vehicles, which are often constrained largely to main roads, are simply unable to access the places we need to be in order to deliver our objectives.
Furthermore, our tasks in Iraq and Afghanistan are largely ones of counter-insurgency. To do this, we need to win the support and confidence of local people. This can only be done by face-to-face interaction, demonstrating to the local people that we are working in their interests. Our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan has proven that better armoured vehicles, which tend by definition to be larger and heavier, are viewed by the local population as aggressive and intimidating. Their size and weight mean too that they can cause serious damage to roads, buildings, irrigation channels and drainage systems. All these factors can inflame local opinion against UK troopsworking in favour of our enemy and actually increasing the threat levels to our people.
It is for these reasons that military commanders require a range of vehicles, from which they can choose the one best suited to the required taskand in this context, there remains a critical requirement for a Light Protected Patrol Vehicle (LPPV), such as the Snatch Land Rover. Small, mobile and agile, it is ideal for allowing engagement with the local population, often in areas which would be inaccessible to heavier vehicles.
However, Snatch itself is not the unarmoured vehicle which it is sometimes claimed to be; although lightly armoured, that armour has saved many lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, the Snatchs ballistic protection is derived from composite materials, rather than steel. This limits splintering when penetrated, and means that casualty rates are lower than in comparable vehicles.
It is also important to be clear that we cannot assume that if all those 37 servicemen and women had been in more heavily armoured vehicles they would have survived. We cannot make Snatch, or indeed any other vehicle, invulnerable; any vehicle can be overmatched if faced with an overwhelming attack. It is precisely for this reason that armour can only ever be one factor in the way we protect our people. We employ a layered approach to protection, of which armour is but one part, and the innermost layer. We seek first to avoid being seen by the enemy; then, if seen, to avoid being hit. In both cases, a low profile, coupled with speed and agility, are important factors which critically complement our well tested tactics, techniques and procedures. The recent introduction of the light-strike Jackal vehicle, which has proved very popular, demonstrates the importance we place on these factors, none of which are characteristic of more heavily armoured vehicles. Finally, if hit, we seek to prevent the vehicle from being penetrated. This is the sole reason for armouring our vehicles.
This is not by any means to say that nothing further can be done to protect those servicemen and women who need to operate LPPVs. The Snatch Land Rover has undergone a number of technical enhancements since its first deployment to Iraq in 2003. Most recently, we have modified the current variant, the Snatch 2A, to enhance significantly its power, mobility and protection. This effectively generates a new variant, the Snatch Vixen, especially configured for operations in Afghanistan. Some of these vehicles are already in service in Afghanistan and over the coming year we will be increasing the size of the fleet. This, together with the £700 million procurement of new vehicles which the Prime Minister announced in October, will enable us to continue reducing the scope of the Snatch 2A vehicles role until it is used only within our camps.
We do not believe that there is a better vehicle than Snatch Vixen currently available anywhere in the world to fulfil the LPPV requirement. But we are also looking to the future and anticipating new threats, and we have begun a programme to develop the next generation of LPPV which will in due course take the place of Snatch Vixen.
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Hutton):
In his statement to the House on 12 December 2007, Official Report, column 304, the Prime Minister said we shall continue to maintain a strong military force in
Afghanistan. In his statement to the House yesterday, the Prime Minister recognised the hard and dangerous work being undertaken by our armed forces, and reiterated the United Kingdoms objectives in Afghanistan. The next roulement of UK forces in Afghanistan will take place in April 2009. The force package that we plan to deploy will see the current lead formation, 3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines, replaced by 19 (Light) Brigade which will command the majority of the units serving in Afghanistan. The forces deploying include:
These units represent direct replacements for previously announced deployments to Afghanistan. In addition, commanders on the ground need to retain tactical flexibility to call forward reserves on a temporary basis to meet short term operational needs. Elements of 2nd Battalion, The Princess of Wales Royal Regiment, the Theatre Reserve Battalion, are deployed or are about to be deployed in this capacity. In his statement yesterday the Prime Minister announced the approval until August, including for the period of preparation for the elections, of an increase in the number of British troops deployed to Afghanistan from just over 8,000 to around 8,300. These additional troops will come from 2nd Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers and will replace equivalent forces deployed from 2nd Battalion, the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment. These forces will be building on recent security gains in central Helmand.
Volunteer and regular members of the reserve forces will continue to deploy to Afghanistan as part of this integrated force package, and we expect to issue around 600 call-out notices to fill some 575 posts. On completion of their mobilization procedures, the reservists will undertake a period of training and, where applicable,
integration with their respective receiving units. The majority will serve on operations for six or so months, although some may have shorter tours. As part of this commitment, we expect up to 15 members of the sponsored reserves to be in theatre at any one time.
The House will also wish to be aware that 19 Light Brigades deployment will last until October 2009. On current plans, the brigade will then be replaced by 11 Light Brigade. I shall make a further statement on the units we expect to commit from next October in due course.
The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Edward Miliband): The Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham and Deptford (Joan Ruddock), and I attended the 14th conference of the parties (COP14) to the UN framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC) and the fourth meeting of the parties to the Kyoto protocol (CMP4) in Poznan, Poland last week.
A decision to make operational the adaptation fund, which will help developing countries to integrate climate resilience into their development strategies. The UK is providing further financial support to help the fund with its planning and procedures so that it can begin to receive project proposals in 2009.
Agreement among key developing and developed forestry countries, brokered by the UK, to a framework for countering deforestation, with the UK announcing a contribution of up to £100 million from the environmental transformation fund for capacity-building to help people in forest countries.
In relation to carbon markets some progress was made on discussions, including carbon capture and storage and forestry within the Kyoto protocols clean development mechanism (CDM), with parties agreeing that the CDM executive board should assess the implications of the possible inclusion of CCS and forestry in the CDM.
Useful discussions were also held under the article 9 review of the Kyoto protocol. Parties considered proposals to extend the current CDM 2 per cent. levy, which is used to provide adaptation funding, to the joint implementation and international emissions trading mechanisms. Although no decisions were made, the discussion provided a useful opportunity to discuss aspects of the future financial architecture which will be critical to a Copenhagen deal.
The Poznan conference represents an important staging post on the way to Copenhagen. The UK and EU played a leading role in the conference, further strengthened by the European Councils agreement to the 2020 climate and energy package. The Government will be working actively over the next 12 months to secure an ambitious global agreement in Copenhagen, consistent with the UK and EU objective of limiting global temperature increase to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels.