HC Deb 20 March 2000 vol 346 c715
20. Mr. Jim Murphy (Eastwood)

If he will make a statement about the ability of the planned European rapid reaction force to act in instances of natural disaster. [113708]

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

Although we are not creating a standing European rapid reaction force, European Union member states at the Helsinki summit committed themselves to undertaking the full range of Petersberg tasks and developing the ability to do so rapidly. Those tasks cover a wide spectrum, including humanitarian response to natural disasters.

Mr. Murphy

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that one of the aims of future defence strategies would be to get as many people from as many countries to a disaster scene as quickly as possible? I am thinking especially of the earthquake in Turkey last year and of the floods in Mozambique this year. Can he assure the House and me that, in future, he will ensure that full discussions are held with our European partners about the suitability of the rapid reaction force to reach emergencies and disaster scenes as urgently as possible?

Mr. Hoon

That is one of the explicit tasks that were set out at Petersberg; we are required to fulfil it as part of our contribution to the RRF. I shall certainly take account of my hon. Friend's words and ensure that they are carried out.