HC Deb 17 June 1974 vol 875 cc26-7
50. Mr. Spearing

asked the Minister for Overseas Development whether Her Majesty's Government will take steps designed to ensure that the United Kingdom element in any international disaster operations can be deployed to maximum effect.

Mr. William Price

We are participating fully in various international efforts, such as in the Sahel, and my right hon. Friend has reviewed the organisation of ODM in order to facilitate rapid and effective response to disaster situations. She hopes to make a statement before the Summer Recess.

Mr. Spearing

I thank my hon. Friend for that statement. Is he aware that questions asked by certain members of the Select Committee on Overseas Development in Bangladesh earlier this year—questions which have been published—reveal a situation about disaster relief which is not reassuring? Will he examine the disaster relief arrangements that the United Kingdom has in Bangladesh, and perhaps draw this matter to the attention of our permanent representative at the United Nations.

Mr. Price

I shall certainly do that. The evidence of recent disasters is that the world as a whole and individuals have not been ungenerous. The problems have arisen mainly with organisation and the speed with which relief gets to the disaster area. It is on those two points that we are concentrating our efforts.

Mr. Wood

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Sahel. What particular measures, either separately or collectively, are Her Majesty's Government now considering for relief and rehabilitation in that area?

Mr. Price

It would take a very long reply properly to deal with that matter. However, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I went to Rome last week to discuss this matter with the FAO. We are doing all that we can to speed up the international operation. This is a massive international operation. Some 700,000 tons of food, alone, is going in. We are doing all we can to get it there before the rains this year. Also, we are planning for what we see as the inevitable consequences of this drought next year. We are working very closely with the FAO. Mistakes have been made, but we are doing everything that we can to ensure that they are not repeated.

Sir G. de Freitas

Reverting to the original Question, will my hon. Friend see that the Ministry of Defence is consulted, to see what more it can do? Is my hon. Friend aware that our Armed Forces, especially the Royal Air Force, have experience in relief work that is unequalled in many other countries?

Mr. Price

I accept that. That is the reason why the military have been very much involved in relief operations, mainly the airlifting of medical supplies and trucks both to Ethiopia and the Sahel. We have so far sent 90 trucks, and that is not a bad record. The military forces have been of immense value in these operations.