HC Deb 20 March 2000 vol 346 cc714-5
17. Mr. Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale, East)

If he will make a statement on the method used for calculating charges made to other Government departments for the use of military equipment in connection with emergency situations and natural disasters. [113706]

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

As I have already indicated to the House, where military equipment is deployed on an emergency task that it is another Department's responsibility to fund, the Ministry of Defence—in common with other Departments—calculates charges based on the marginal cost of providing the assistance, in accordance with well-established administration practice and Government accounting principles. That is the amount that would not have been incurred had the relief activity not taken place.

Mr. Goggins

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. This morning, I spoke to a senior member of the team from CAFOD—the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development—which has been working in Mozambique in recent weeks. He described the British Government's response to the catastrophe as "brilliant". Nevertheless, does my right hon. Friend agree that now would be a good time to sit down with other Ministers and with representatives of non-governmental organisations to try to make improvements in the way that resources are charged for and allocated, so that we can continue to provide effective support and responses to natural disasters when they occur.

Mr. Hoon

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for paying tribute to the excellent work that has been done in Mozambique by British armed forces and by civilians. I emphasise that, with the exception of helicopters from Malawi and South Africa, British helicopters were the first from any other country to help people in Mozambique. That is a tribute to the speed with which the armed forces, in particular, were able to get the helicopters down there in very difficult circumstances.

Certainly, there are lessons to be learned—as there are from all deployments. I shall follow my hon. Friend's advice and try to learn from that particular deployment.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

If everything in the garden about charging for MOD helicopters is so rosy, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us why the Secretary of State for International Development criticised the MOD on the "Today" programme? She stated that the MOD was proposing to charge far too much for making helicopters available in this crisis.

Mr. Hoon:

I think that the hon. Gentleman misunderstood what my right hon. Friend was saying. She made it quite clear that, in the early phase of the deployment, her priority—rightly—was to secure helicopters that were locally and immediately available. It was only when it became clear that the situation was more difficult and that further helicopters were not available in the region that it became necessary to turn to the Ministry of Defence to obtain helicopters from a great distance and, obviously, at considerable cost.