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Training and Support (Armed Forces)

Volume 533: debated on Monday 10 October 2011

8. What assessment he has made of the co-operation on training and support of British armed forces with armed forces in the middle east and north Africa; and if he will make a statement. (72906)

Defence engagement has a long and continuing role in contributing to wider UK regional objectives through programmes of world-class training and education. Our relationship with many countries includes work on counter-terrorism that is important to the security of the United Kingdom. That engagement creates lasting relationships with our armed forces and enhances our ability to work together towards regional security and stability.

Have British armed forces played any role in the training of forces involved in repression in Saudi Arabia or Bahrain?

We do not believe so, but we have trained staff over a period of years in those countries, and it is impossible to say with any certainty what they have subsequently gone on to do. When engaging in training programmes, we do our utmost to spread British principles and approaches to military activity, and have done so for many years, in the hope that that will rub off on the countries we are training.

Having been involved in a very similar training team, albeit some time ago, I can confirm the value of such training teams, but the weight and burden of those teams falls heavily on the combat arms. Can the Minister reassure the House that cuts in personnel will take into account the need to maintain our combat power for training roles such as those under discussion?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Obviously, as numbers contract, the demands put on all our personnel are difficult to balance, but the work to which he alludes, and to which he has given his time in the past, is very important for all the reasons that I have specified, and we will ensure that that is taken into account in deciding force numbers.

I join in the Secretary of State’s earlier condolences to the relatives of those who have lost their lives in Afghanistan. The whole House will be in awe of the remarkable professionalism of our forces, and all that they have achieved in Libya as part of a wider coalition, so will the Minister for the Armed Forces update the House on progress in persuading other allies who are less involved in the fighting to bear more of the burden in helping to train and stabilise the country?

The shadow Secretary of State makes a very good point, and that is certainly something we would want to see as we go forward. There are countries that we hoped would have played a more active part in the engagement in Libya, and we very much hope that they will bear more of the responsibility. It is too early yet to have any particular international agreements in place, but he can rest assured that work is in progress towards the objective that he identified.