HC Deb 17 May 2004 vol 421 cc657-8
1. Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD)

What estimate he has made of the expected cost to the Government of maintaining a military presence in Iraq in financial year(a) 2004–05 and(b) 2005–06. [173149]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)

Before I answer Question 1 may I apologise for the absence of my hon. Friend the Minister for Veterans, who is representing the Government at today's commemoration at Monte Cassino?

Of the £3.8 billion the Chancellor has set aside for operations in Iraq, £850 million was spent in 2002–03 and a further £1.5 billion was drawn down in supplementary estimates in 2003–04. Precise future costs are difficult to forecast.

Dr. Cable

After that vague reply on the future, why can the Secretary of State not be as honest with the House about the cost of the war as Mr. Rumsfeld is being in the United States? Will he confirm that net costs to the taxpayer currently run at about £125 million a month, excluding Ministry of Defence and Department for International Development costs incurred through the occupation?

Mr. Hoon

The hon. Gentleman knows that I am always honest with the House. The figures that he sets out are roughly consistent with those that I indicated for 2002–03 and 2003–04. He is an economist by trade, but I am sure that he is good at long multiplication.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab)

Will the Secretary of State promise the House that, whatever else may be skimped on and however much it costs, equipment to protect our forces, from the searing, debilitating heat in Iraq from June to September will not be skimped on? We ask a great deal of our soldiers, who should not suffer in that heat because we have failed to act.

Mr. Hoon

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's concern and know that he speaks from a good deal of experience. I assure him that all MOD Ministers and, indeed, the chiefs of staff are prepared to make such an undertaking and that conditions for soldiers in the field today are infinitely better than they were when he served his country.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con)

What is now our mission in Iraq?

Mr. Hoon

Our mission in Iraq is to restore Iraq to the Iraqi people, to ensure a peaceful handover on 30 June and to ensure, as best we can, that we build a democratic, effective society in Iraq that allows it rightfully to rejoin the international community.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con)

The right hon. Gentleman knows that the sums are very large. He will understand that many hon. Members feel that we should not be in Iraq in the first place and are concerned by the lack of a clear strategy. Does he think that the budgetary proposals should be subject to a specific vote in this House of Commons?

Mr. Hoon

Such opportunities are, of course, available, if hon. Members choose to use the procedures. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has been in the House a great deal longer than me and probably knows the rules better than I do. Such opportunities are available to hon. Members, should they choose to pursue them.

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