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Education

9. Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the defence industry on encouraging the take-up of defence-related courses in educational establishments. [53941]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Don Touhig): The Government recognise the need for a stronger supply of skilled research and technology staff, and the defence sector is no exception. The Ministry of Defence actively promotes the education of science, engineering and technology in our schools and colleges through dedicated presentations and visits to schools by technical experts.

Dr. Kumar: I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that if we are to maintain a strong defence industry, we need to encourage more young people to study engineering? Will he use his good offices to build strong links between the defence industry and engineering colleges, and will he congratulate Freeborough community college in my constituency, which has just been designated as an engineering college?
 
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Mr. Touhig: I know that my hon. Friend has a distinguished background as a chemical engineer. I agree that we need to value our engineers and encourage young people to go into engineering. Defence and engineering go hand in hand, and there are many examples of how strong links between engineering, training and defence have brought great benefits to colleges and students alike. I certainly congratulate Freeborough community college on having attained the status of an engineering college.

Nuclear Deterrent

11. Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): What plans he has to replace the British nuclear deterrent.

The Secretary of State for Defence (John Reid): The Government are committed to retaining our minimum nuclear deterrent, as currently represented by Trident, for the foreseeable future. No decisions have yet been taken on any replacement for our current system.

Nick Herbert: I thank the Secretary of State for that reply, but as our sole nuclear deterrent, Trident, will no longer be viable in 15 to 20 years' time, are we not reaching the point where decisions can no longer be avoided about replacing it? Is not the danger of nuclear proliferation in the middle east reason enough to begin a debate now on the need to update our nuclear deterrent as the ultimate guarantor of our national security?

John Reid: As the hon. Gentleman correctly said, we are talking about decisions that may have to be taken in 15 to 20 years' time. I do not think that the whole situation has become that much more urgent since the last time I was asked that question last month. Let me make the position absolutely clear: for the foreseeable future, we are retaining our minimum nuclear deterrent. At some stage, preferably in the course of this Parliament, we will have to take a decision about how we wish to continue after that—that is, in 15 to 20 years' time. When I have received papers or advice on this matter, I will begin to share the discussion with the House. I have no doubt that, at the next Question Time, the hon. Gentleman will return to the subject, as he is entitled to do, but at this stage I have nothing more to say because we have not yet embarked on the process of making the decision in principle or in detail.

Naval Procurement

12. Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his policy on procurement of royal naval vessels. [53945]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr.   Adam Ingram): The purpose of the defence industrial strategy is to ensure that the capability requirements of the armed forces can be met now and in the future. As such, it recognises the importance of sustaining the high-end, value-added, systems
 
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engineering skills to manage the integration of complex ships and their combat systems, which are critical for national security and sovereignty.

Mr. MacShane: I welcome the Minister's statement. His heart is in the right place, but steelworkers in my constituency are concerned at reports that some in Whitehall want substantially to offshore the building of Her Majesty's ships. Can I be assured that the steel of our new generation of royal naval ships will be built in Britain, that we will avoid the procurement boom and bust policies of the Conservative party, and that we will have a sustained programme of building royal naval vessels which keeps the bulk of the work in the United Kingdom? If the vessels are to sail under Her Majesty's flag, they should be built on Her Majesty's territory.

Mr. Ingram: As my right hon. Friend knows—he is very knowledgeable about all this—the defence industrial strategy is the first serious attempt to ensure that our approach smoothes out the peaks and troughs of what is unquestionably a major shipbuilding programme. When we get to 2016, that high, sustained effort will go into decline. We are seeking to ensure not only that we have continuity in shipbuilding capacity and, hopefully, alongside that, in steelmaking capacity, but that we retain the high-grade skills that are required to put sophisticated systems in place. All those things will have to be judged on the basis of what is best for defence and how industry can best meet those needs. Industry, the work force and the Ministry of Defence strongly support that new strategy. We will have to see how it develops as the years roll by.

Peace-building (Africa)

13. Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): What steps his Department is taking to strengthen African peacebuilding capabilities. [53947]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The Ministry of Defence contributes to the strengthening of African peacebuilding capabilities by training and advising personnel from the African Union and various African armed forces in peace-support operations. That is achieved bilaterally through permanently deployed and short-term training teams in key countries, and also by direct UK support to international training centres. In addition to our network of defence attaches, some 120 British armed forces personnel are based in sub-Saharan Africa to assist in those tasks.

Helen Goodman: I am grateful to the Minister for that response. Given that sub-Saharan Africa is the most heavily mined region in the world, will he tell the House what work is taking place to train African forces in mine clearance?

Mr. Ingram: My hon. Friend is right to highlight that problem, which has led to the loss of hundreds—if not thousands—of lives in recent years. We have major
 
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training facilities in a number of countries. Indeed, I recently visited and opened a de-mining training centre in Kenya, where people from elsewhere in the African Union—and beyond—are trained in that very important technique. Another major development is the training of sniffer dogs in the detection of explosive devices—an area in which we have expertise. All those efforts will unquestionably save lives in sub-Saharan Africa, and perhaps beyond.

David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Does the Minister agree that our efforts to keep peace in Africa have been severely hampered by the fact that the Ministry of Defence has had to write off £400 million in the past two financial years, after a series of blunders by its procurement department? [Interruption.]

Mr. Ingram: Someone said from a sedentary position that that was a friendly question; I sometimes wonder where the Conservatives are coming from on this issue. Our defence strategy has led to a massive increase in support in those areas, and there has been a massive increase in international development aid, so we should be credited for all that we are doing. We are taking a leading role among the G8 countries, within the European Union and within the United Nations in developing such initiatives, so a bit of credit where credit is due would not go amiss.

UN Operations (Africa)

17. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): What UK armed forces are deployed with UN operations in Africa. [53951]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The UK currently supports four UN operations in Africa. Those deployments include two officers in Sudan, six in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, three in Liberia and one in Sierra Leone. Our personnel all occupy key positions in the UN
 
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headquarters staff who are leading each mission; they are making a vital contribution and giving us unquestioned influence.

Mr. Cunningham: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. What contribution are EU countries making to peacekeeping in Africa in terms not only of armed forces, but of resources and aid?

Mr. Ingram: I did not quite catch whether my hon. Friend said "AU" or "EU".

Mr. Cunningham: EU.

Mr. Ingram: My hon. Friend comes from a different part of Lanarkshire from me and sometimes the accent changes. The EU is of course very significantly involved, not least in Darfur but in other areas as well. In countries where there are particular issues that have to be dealt with, we are seeking to deal with them. A key example is the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the EU's mission is concerned with supporting security sector reform. The AU is also extensively involved and, as has been said time and again, we need African solutions to Africa's problems. Both we and the EU are trying to build the AU's capacity in that regard.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): A critical part of peacekeeping in Africa is reducing the number of small arms entering the country, many of which come from Yemen into the horn of Africa. Is any work being done under UN auspices, or bilaterally with the Government of Yemen, to ensure effective interdiction of the small arms trade into the horn of Africa?

Mr. Ingram: Well, effective interdiction is a big phrase. We can set out to achieve that ambition, but there are many porous borders. Whether the arms come from the maritime sector or across land, it is difficult to achieve that objective. Both the EU and the UN recognise that it is a serious problem and significant efforts are being made to combat it. One or two key issues are being addressed to see how we can stop that trade and the movement of those dangerous weapons. Success will be difficult to achieve, by the very nature of the circumstances, but not from lack of effort.


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