Mali
Oral Answers to Questions — Defence
2:30 pm

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Mel Stride (Central Devon, Conservative)

What recent discussions he has had with European Defence Ministers on the security situation in Mali.

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Andrew Robathan (The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence; South Leicestershire, Conservative)

The UK has been heavily involved in discussions on Mali, both in multilateral institutions and bilaterally for many months. Over the weekend, we responded swiftly to a request from the French for logistical assistance by making available two C-17 transport aircraft. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend Mark Simmonds, who has responsibility for Africa, will make a statement to the House on the situation in Mali later this afternoon.

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Mel Stride (Central Devon, Conservative)

I met recently with my constituent, Caroline Hart, who, through the Joliba Trust, has done a great deal to alleviate suffering in Mali. One of her and her colleagues’ main concerns on the ground in that country is the widespread abuse of human rights on all sides of the conflict. Will my right hon. Friend please set out the steps that the Government are taking to ensure that human rights are at the centre of what we do as we engage in that conflict?

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Andrew Robathan (The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence; South Leicestershire, Conservative)

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Mali is not a country that is renowned for good human rights. The rebel forces, who appear to be Islamist and linked to al-Qaeda, are likely to carry out even

worse abuses than anything that has been seen before. We are supporting our French allies in Mali, in support of United Nations Security Council resolution 2087. I know that everybody at the United Nations will be concerned about human rights, as is everybody in this Government.

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Jim Murphy (Shadow Secretary of State for Defence; East Renfrewshire, Labour)

The Opposition share in the tribute offered by the Minister to Sapper Walker and his family at this dreadful time, following his loss in Afghanistan.

The situation in Mali is grave, with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb controlling huge swathes of the country. Unchecked, that could become a real threat to the UK and to others. That is why we support the action that is being taken. However, can the Minister spell out the full list of military capabilities that have been offered to the French, and will he rule out the deployment of additional UK military assets in response to the Mali crisis?

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Andrew Robathan (The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence; South Leicestershire, Conservative)

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his condolences to Sapper Walker’s family and for his support for our action in supporting the French. We gave the C-17 aircraft in response to a request from the French for support. They have not asked for any further assets, nor have we offered them. At the moment, we have no plans to deploy any ground forces to Mali.

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Menzies Campbell (North East Fife, Liberal Democrat)

I support with enthusiasm this well-timed illustration of European co-operation and hope that it is the harbinger of things to come. May I ask my right hon. Friend a number of questions about the military aspects?

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Menzies Campbell (North East Fife, Liberal Democrat)

Who will have command and control of the aircraft? Without going into details, will adequate and proper intelligence be provided? Since the French do not operate C-17s, is it the intention to deploy ground crew in support of the aircraft?

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Andrew Robathan (The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence; South Leicestershire, Conservative)

Buy one, get three free. First, I agree entirely with the right hon. and learned Gentleman about European co-operation. This matter gives the lie to those who say that we do not co-operate with our European allies and friends. I am getting lost thinking about what questions he asked. On whether we have adequate intelligence, the French have intelligence. We are sending our C-17s only into remote Bamako, the capital. We are sending C-17s because they are an asset that the French cannot replicate, so they have to charter such aircraft. I cannot remember what the third question was. [Hon. Members: “Ground crew.”] I do not believe that we are putting in a substantial ground crew, but I am sure that some people will be on the ground briefly. This deployment has a limited time scale of one week, although that could increase.