HC Deb 20 March 2000 vol 346 cc708-9
7. Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

How much his Department spent in providing assistance for crisis relief missions in each of the past five years. [113694]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)

The defence budget does not include specific provision for disaster relief. The prime responsibility for overseas crisis or disaster relief lies with the Department for International Development, whose budget is voted by Parliament for that purpose.

Should my right hon Friend the Secretary of State for International Development request the use of military assets and personnel to assist with overseas relief operations, the Ministry of Defence will investigate urgently whether we can help. If defence resources are employed on such operations, DFID would, in line with well-established Government accounting policy, reimburse the Ministry of Defence only for the marginal cost of providing the assistance.

Mr. Brady

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that reply. Could not the resources be more quickly and effectively deployed if the United Kingdom had access to its own heavy-lift capacity? In Mozambique, we had to charter Ukrainian Antonovs for that purpose. Would it not be better if, two years on from the strategic defence review identifying a need for heavy-lift capacity, the Government had done something about it?

Mr. Hoon

I was almost going to agree with the hon. Gentleman until he spoiled his rather helpful question with his final comments. We agree that it was set out in the strategic defence review that we should have a heavy-lift capacity. I cannot resist the temptation to point out that it is a capacity that the previous, Conservative Government failed to provide and one that had to be identified in the strategic defence review. Nevertheless, progress is under way with procurement, and I hope to put him out of his misery quite soon.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Does the Secretary of State agree that the defence budget should take serious account of humanitarian relief missions to ensure that there is no delay in response to any future disaster, and also that there should be no question of charging other Departments for assistance, as happened with Mozambique? Some outsiders might say that charging a fellow Department for humanitarian assistance in Mozambique is rather like asking for a subsidy from those whose budget is dedicated to providing for the victims of such disasters.

Mr. Hoon

The difficulty with my hon. Friend's suggestion is that it would lead to the danger of two Departments trying to solve the same problem in different ways. By joining up the approach of both Departments, we ensure that we agree on the appropriate way of providing assistance and that, as in Mozambique, the help reaches the people in need as quickly as possible.

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