Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, I was a member of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, as was the former Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole, Christopher Fraser. A couple of years ago, we went to Mpala farm, which is part of the territory to which the hon. Gentleman has

18 Jul 2001 : Column 396

referred, to undertake live firing exercises. Our impression was that the British Army was very careful to ensure that nobody strayed to the range. Indeed, because of the noise, it would have been difficult not to realise that the firing was taking place. The British Army takes its responsibilities seriously, and the military training that it undertakes is not only vital to Britain but a great asset to the Kenyan Government.

Mr. Caton: I understand what the hon. Gentleman says. I think that the Kenyan Government welcome the activity. However, there is a lot of evidence that the Masai and other nomadic tribespeople do not view the use of the training areas as entirely beneficial.

There is evidence of people being able to get on to the ranges even when live firing is taking place, although that is not the substance of my speech. The solicitor representing the tribal people who are likely to take action against the British Government managed to get into one of the training areas when live firing was taking place, so I do not think that we should be complacent.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will forgive me if I paraphrase the Ministry of Defence position, according to written answers that I have received to parliamentary questions and information that I have read elsewhere. I am sure that he will correct me if I have misunderstood the Ministry's line, but I understand it to be saying that the clearance of munitions in training areas is the responsibility of the host nation, so it is up to the Kenyan Government to make the ranges safe for their tribespeople. The Ministry admits that it has become aware of civilian casualties recently. The date quoted is 1999, and frankly I find that incredible. I shall return to that point in a moment.

The Army says that since it found out what has been happening, it has been helping to spread information and assisting with the clear-up operation. In a written reply to me, my right hon. Friend the Minister referred to the large concrete signs outside live firing areas, with words of warning in English and Samburu. However, that does not take account of the fact that a majority of even the adult tribespeople, let alone the children, cannot read. Referring to Archer's Post, he informed me that

That begs the biggest question. If that is the case, why are people being blown up? In any case, that statement does not seem to lie comfortably with the other point that my right hon. Friend drew to my attention—that

If that is necessary, it is clearly accepted that not all the tribespeople are already aware of the danger. Sadly, it appears from reports in the Kenyan media that most tribespeople are equally unaware of the work of those rangers. There is also evidence that people can and do get into the training areas where live ammunition is being fired.

18 Jul 2001 : Column 397

It is true that the British Army started to carry out an annual clean-up operation last year. It is named Operation Pineapple. To date, 380 bombs have been collected, but my right hon. Friend informed me that only 64 sq km of the 1,500 sq km of the range have been cleared.

Ross Cranston (Dudley, North): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and congratulate him on raising an important subject. Does he agree that the House needs reassurance about what the British Army is doing in terms of clear-up? Whatever happened in the past, if our right hon. Friend can set out in detail what the British Army is doing now, we would be much reassured.

Mr. Caton: My hon. and learned Friend is right. That is the core issue, although there are related issues that I shall briefly address.

Our Army paid local people to help with the clear-up. About 60 people were employed at £2 a day each. The operation took 25 days, providing a sum total of £3,000 to the local economy. One cannot help asking whether that is the price that we are paying for six local children killed or maimed a year.

I return to the British Army claim that it was not aware of the problem of civilian casualties until 1999. That does not hold water. We have been in the area for more than 50 years. Until 1964 we were in sole charge of the range. Deaths and injuries were occurring then, too. British Army officers have given evidence at inquests into the deaths of locals killed by unexploded ordnance over many years. The deaths and injuries have continued at a fairly steady rate over those years. There are reports of British Army personnel taking injured children to hospital in 1986 and after. It stretches credulity too far to claim that our Army was entirely ignorant of those deaths and injuries until 1999.

What actually happened, I believe, is that by 1999 media interest was focusing on British activity in that part of Kenya and local representatives were investigating the possibility of legal action against the UK Government. That was the real impetus for the response that we have seen in the past couple of years. That legal action looks set to go ahead within weeks and there seems to be a very strong case indeed.

Tonight, I am not speaking about legalities or about whether the law is enough of an ass to decide that a poor country such as Kenya must pick up the tab in the end, even though the injuries were caused by British munitions and the United Kingdom is a rich country, far better able, in every sense, to deal with the problem. I am not trying to preview the proceedings that may take place in the British courts on the issue this year. However, if we examine international laws and conventions, I cannot help wondering whether our activity in the Archer's Post and Dol Dol areas complies with article 28 of the UN draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, which states:

18 Jul 2001 : Column 398

Both the Masai and the Samburu are classified as minority groups in a state set-up—a classification that is recognised in various international human rights instruments. These people have certainly not freely agreed to the use of their tribal territories for the military operations. Apart from the mutilation of their children, they blame the military activity in their areas for considerable environmental damage that undermines their traditional grazing patterns.

I recognise that this is ultimately an issue for the Kenyan Government, but I do not believe that we can wash our hands of all responsibility if we know or believe that our Army is involved in activity that could be undermining the basic human rights of these indigenous peoples. I do not know whether that is, or will be, a matter for law, but that is not the main point that I have been trying to make. I have tried to concentrate on our moral responsibility.

I want my Government to be talking the language that they were talking back in 1998 when we were discussing the land mines question. I want us to value the lives of these Kenyan children as we value the lives of the children who live near Salisbury plain or any other British range. As we know that we have it in our power to repay our debt to the victims, their families and communities and to prevent these terrible incidents from happening again, surely we have a duty to act.

10.36 pm

The Minister of State for Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) for securing a debate on this important subject. I also thank him for the series of written questions that he has tabled, which I have answered in full.

While we should recognise the emotive and sensitive nature of the issue, it is equally important for us to set it in a factual context. This debate allows me to place on record an explanation of how the British Army conducts its training in Kenya, to demonstrate that we are taking all reasonable measures to ensure that that training is conducted as safely as possible and to dispel any enduring misunderstandings. I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dudley, North (Ross Cranston) for pointing out that that is an important part of the debate.

My Department has received notification that a number of Kenyans will be making claims for compensation as a result of injuries allegedly suffered as a consequence of the use of training areas in Kenya by the British Army. Clearly, any accident caused by unexploded ordnance is a matter for great regret, and I do not want to minimise that fact in any way. However, no one should claim a monopoly on understanding the suffering of the victims or their families.

My Department will deal with any claims in accordance with its usual procedures, and pay compensation if its legal liability is proven. In the circumstances, my hon. Friend will understand that it would be inappropriate for me to comment further on the particulars of the claims at this stage.

I hope that my hon. Friend shares my view that our armed forces need to be able to operate safely and effectively anywhere in the world, and that in order to achieve that, they need to train in the widest variety of environments and climates. The British Army has used training areas in Kenya for many years. The facilities

18 Jul 2001 : Column 399

provided to us by the Kenyans provide it with excellent opportunities to conduct training in a variety of arduous conditions, including arid and jungle environments. The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) alluded to his short experience of visiting a training area, and I am grateful to him for his contribution.

Some 3,000 British troops train in Kenya each year. The number of troops exercising at any one time tends to vary between 100 and 750. They are supported by the British Army training liaison staff Kenya, who comprise 10 permanent staff, 27 temporary duty staff and 144 full-time locally employed staff. In addition, we also employ more than 100 part-time locally engaged staff on an as-required basis.

I am grateful to the Kenyan Government for providing us with these vital training opportunities. If we cannot train in those conditions, we cannot operate in them. Many of the regiments that have run our short-term training teams in Sierra Leone previously trained in Kenya. Indeed, the 1st Battalion, the Light Infantry, which was in Sierra Leone until recently, was in Kenya earlier this year. All those regiments were able to perform their demanding and crucial tasks and make a significant contribution to peace in Sierra Leone, thanks to the experiences that they gained by exercising in places such as Kenya.

We use nine separate training areas in Kenya, and they offer a variety of environments and conditions. Two—Archer's Post and Dol Dol—are managed by the Kenyan Department of Defence; Kathendini is managed by the Kenyan wildlife service, and the remaining six are on privately owned land, under arrangements with the individual landowners. The activities that we undertake differ from area to area. For example, at Solio and Lewa Downs, we primarily carry out acclimatisation training. Dol Dol is used for company and platoon-level dry training. Archer's Post is used for collective battalion- level training, which involves some live firing. Each six-week detachment to Kenya will train in several areas before coming together for two weeks of collective training at Archer's Post. In general, we do not use each area for more than five or six weeks each calendar year.

In addition to the three battle group exercises, which are known as Grand Prix and take place every year between October and April, several smaller exercises at troop, company or squadron level also occur. They include engineering troop and squadron exercises, a medical squadron exercise and an explosive ordnance disposal squadron exercise. Each takes place annually. In addition to providing us with excellent training opportunities, the engineering and medical exercises give direct support to the Kenyan community through local construction projects and the provision, through links with a non-governmental organisation, of primary health care to the local community.

Before I talk about the clearance exercises, I shall explain that in Kenya, the British Army trains using live ammunition at Archer's Post and on some privately owned land, with the agreement of the landowners. That training is conducted in accordance with both British Army and local regulations. On the other hand, we use Dol Dol as a dry range, and do not conduct live firing there. The only ammunition we use there, and at other dry training areas, is blank rounds and thunderflash noise simulators.

18 Jul 2001 : Column 400

Let me explain the measures that we have put in place to ensure that the British Army's use of training areas in Kenya is as safe as possible. Safety is paramount in all aspects of British Army training, including the use of live ammunition. Strict regulations, applicable both in the UK and overseas, govern the issue, carriage, firing and clearance of live ammunition. We aim to declare, record and, when possible, destroy unexploded ordnance as soon as possible after it has been fired. That is the case wherever we train—and it is achieved by the troops who exercise with live ammunition, who sweep the area visually before departing from a training area.

Depending on the terrain of the training area, there is, of course, always the possibility that a small percentage of unexploded munitions may not be located immediately. I hope that my hon. Friend will be interested to note that it is normal practice for the host nation to be responsible for the clearance of military training areas, and that the practice is followed in Kenya for the facilities managed by the Kenyan Department of Defence.

That does not apply to privately owned land, and for many years the British Army has cleared any unexploded ordnance from such land in Kenya, as required by our arrangements with local landowners. That takes place during Exercise Pineapple, to which my hon. Friend referred. It occurs annually at the end of the exercise season in Kenya.

In May 2000, the 30-man team conducting the clearance work on private land mounted a small clearance operation at Archer's Post to support the Kenyan Department of Defence. As a result of that initial work, we have increased our support to the Kenyans, and in May this year some 100 Royal Engineers specialists participated in a similar exercise. As my hon. Friend said, a total of 64 sq km of the most heavily used parts of the area were cleared. Some 271 items of live ammunition were destroyed and therefore made safe. A list of those items will be examined by ammunition experts to establish the provenance of munitions. Given that several armies train in Kenya, that may take time.

I must also add that it is unlikely that we will establish with any certainty who fired all the munitions, given that some of the ammunition was old and without markings. That differs from my hon. Friend's argument, and I hope that he notes the position.

Clearly, we also have an interest in ensuring that the conduct of military training in Kenya is carried out in as safe a manner as possible. To achieve this, we work alongside the Kenyans, who retain overall responsibility for range safety. Specifically, we continue to provide infrastructure support and range wardens, and to educate the local population about range safety. I would like to take this opportunity to explain a little more about that aspect of the work.

Our staff in Kenya liaise closely with the Kenyan Department of Defence, the district administration and local leaders to ensure that local communities know where and when we train. We take every possible precaution to minimise danger to the Kenyan people. We conduct helicopter sweeps of the danger areas before commencing training, to check that the areas are clear of people and livestock. After training, the troops mount visual searches of the impact areas to ensure that, as far as possible, any unexploded ordnance is disposed of or clearly marked.

18 Jul 2001 : Column 401

We have also built and equipped a range control building at Archer's Post that is manned whenever we use the training area. We liaise with other users of the range to ensure that all troops using the area use the same safety procedures. We employ and train Kenyan range wardens, whose job it is to control access to the training area when firing is in progress. The wardens also travel between the communities near Archer's Post and the indigenous population that roams in the area, to educate local people about the dangers posed by entering the training area during live firing, and by touching unexploded ordnance. We also deploy British personnel, and we fly danger flags at Archer's Post when we are training.

I had wanted to make some further points, but my hon. Friend took slightly longer than I had anticipated because of the interventions. I have tried to set out the range of activities in which we are involved in connection with the use of the ranges, and to explain why they are important in terms of training our own forces. That has also been recognised by others when our forces are deployed in humanitarian and peaceful initiatives. I have also tried to explain the safety measures that have been put in place.

I hope that I have reassured my hon. Friend of the genuine, sincere and determined way in which we are tackling this issue. We benefit from the use of these ranges from a training perspective, and the Kenyans benefit in many other ways. I have tried to respond to the debate in a structured and informative way. However, if my hon. Friend feels that he needs more information, I suggest that he writes to me during the recess, and I shall do my best to help him.

Next Section

IndexHome Page