African Troop Training

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 21st June 2004.

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Photo of David Kidney David Kidney Labour, Stafford 2:30 pm, 21st June 2004

What contribution his Department will make to the training of 17,000 African troops by 2010.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

The Ministry of Defence is committed to playing its part in meeting the G8 goal to train 75,000 peacekeepers world wide by 2010. Our aim is to train about 17,000 African troops, either directly or through our support to centres of excellence such as the Kofi Annan international peacekeeping training centre in Ghana.

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney Labour, Stafford

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. As he knows, the most recent G8 summit made a number of commitments to the continent of Africa, which was itself a tribute to our Prime Minister, including the training of 75,000 African troops in peacekeeping skills by 2010. In the Prime Minister's statement to the House last week, he said that our contribution would be those 17,000 troops. Does my right hon. Friend the Minister agree that British troops are among the best in the world not only at fighting but at peacekeeping and that it is thus entirely appropriate—

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I cannot disagree with a word that my hon. Friend said. He made a strong point about the role played by our troops when they are called on to fight wars, wherever that may be; they have been thus engaged in Africa, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in recent years. However, one of their key attributes is that they play a peacekeeping role, too, and that is what we want to impart in nations where we have a presence. The Prime Minister has made clear his commitment to Africa and it is salutary for us to see how deep the problem is in that continent, where 20 countries and 20 per cent. of the population are affected by conflict; about 10 million African people have been uprooted from their homes owing to conflict. Everything that we do in trying to build that peacekeeping role will help immeasurably in finding solutions to those difficult problems.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

For obvious reasons, that sort of activity is welcomed on both sides of the House, but can the Minister of State tell us how it will be affected by the situation at the cornerstone of infantry training, Warminster, which has been stripped of its demonstration battalion because of overstretch?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

The hon. Gentleman is treading into a completely different area. I do not agree with his assertion that we shall not be able to deliver the objectives we have set out. My response to my hon. Friend Mr. Kidney, whose question highlighted our expertise in that area, showed that we have not lost that expertise. We still have that capability and we shall continue using it to best effect in Africa and wherever we have peacekeeping missions.

Photo of Mr Lawrie Quinn Mr Lawrie Quinn PPS (Mr Douglas Alexander, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster), Cabinet Office

Given the British armed forces' globally recognised expertise in engineering and logistics units, is my right hon. Friend able to say whether those key skills, which would be of great benefit, particularly on the African continent, will be shared with the 17,000 African troops undergoing training?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State (Armed Forces), Ministry of Defence

I cannot give a specific answer, because we would primarily seek to get volume capabilities to deal with some of the very big issues that we must face in Africa—I recounted the depth and extent of the problem there—but clearly one of the areas where we must grow capability is in that type of sustainability and very positive reconstruction role. A lot will depend on what the African countries want to put into that training approach as well. So we stand ready to deal with anything in a progressive and constructive way to assist in that reconstruction. My hon. Friend is right: that is an important area. It is another area where we excel, and we must always consider how we can impart that knowledge to those nations that we are training.