Mozambique

Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 12:30 pm on 16th March 2000.

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[Relevant document: Minutes of Evidence taken before the International Development Committee on 14th March, HC 326-i.]

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

I have selected the amendment that stands in the name of the Prime Minister.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Shadow Secretary of State for International Development 1:16 pm, 16th March 2000

I beg to move, That this House notes with concern that the Government's response to the humanitarian crisis in Mozambique was hampered by indecision and delay, and that infighting between Ministers in the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence contributed to the delay in sending helicopters and boats to assist in the rescue of the people of Mozambique; deeply regrets that lives were lost as a result; deplores the absence of 'joined up government' and the failure by the Prime Minister to intervene until Her Majesty's Opposition and the media exposed the Government's failings; calls upon Ministers to accept responsibility for such delays; and seeks assurance that the response to any future disasters will be more immediate and co-ordinated. Something went wrong with the British relief effort in Mozambique. In seven critical days when thousands of people were hanging in trees, there were not enough helicopters flying to rescue them. We will never know how many lives were lost. It was the failings of many, not just of our Government. The purpose of this debate is to examine what went wrong and to learn the lessons, so that next time a natural disaster on this scale strikes—as sadly it will—the British Government can respond more effectively.

Photo of Mr Tony Worthington Mr Tony Worthington Labour, Clydebank and Milngavie

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that 14 helicopters were flying in Mozambique on 1 March? There were seven South African helicopters fuelled and paid for by the British Government and seven provided by the British Government. All 14 helicopters flying in Mozambique were funded by the Department for International Development. Is he saying that Britain failed? What was the rest of the world doing?

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

I will come to that. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that for most of the time, people were hanging in trees and clinging to rooftops in Mozambique and there were not enough helicopters flying to rescue them. That is irrefutable and the British people feel strongly about it. Most of the time, there were five helicopters in the air.

The House should judge the Government's handling of the Mozambique crisis not by the standards of tabloid headlines or unrealistic counsel of perfection but by the words and promises of the Secretary of State. In February 1998, the right hon. Lady said: As for my Department's response to emergencies, it is true that the capacity of the British Government to respond rapidly sits within my Department. It works very smoothly and very fast. When there is a need to move, Ministers are not consulted. We have delegated powers and resources available to us, and we move immediately. We can move over a weekend. There is no need to consult lots of Departments and delay our response.—[Official Report, 11 February 1998; Vol. 306, c. 375.] Unfortunately, we all know from agonising recent experience that the Secretary of State's words were not translated into action. There was delay. Her Department did not move immediately. There was no rapid response mechanism involving the Ministry of Defence or any other Department. It did not work smoothly. Mistakes were made—mistakes that cost lives. Whatever else happens as a consequence of today's debate, the delay, indecision and infighting that undermined the British Government's response must never occur again.

Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Labour, Slough

In view of the seriousness of the delay that the hon. Gentleman is describing, will he tell us which helicopters arrived on the scene first after those from Mozambique and South Africa? From which country did they come?

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

Perhaps the hon. Lady is a little out of touch. Helicopters were flown from this country on 3 March; I think that they should have been flown during the weekend before that, at the latest.

Before I consider the Government's response in detail, let me deal with two other matters that should concern us all. The first is the response of the United Nations and the European Union. Yet again, it has been inadequate. In the medium term, it will be important for the House to debate the failure of the international community's multilateral agencies to respond to the crisis in Mozambique, and to others. Although our Government's response fell well short of the expectations of the British people, the truth is that nation states responded more quickly and more effectively than multilateral organisations.

It is often said that nothing happens in the United Nations until a matter reaches the 38th floor, and by then it is too late. We shall need to explore whether these are the right vehicles to be in the front line when natural disasters strike. No official stands before a committee in the United Nations today to be examined on how the UN responded, yet this is the second time that the Secretary of State has been called to account this week. She is being held to account for decisions that she made, or did not make. That is democracy in action, and it works.

Of course it is also true that the response of other nations was patchy. Some countries, both in the region and further afield, should certainly give thought to their own responses, and learn their own lessons. The British people, however, have shown how they feel about the plight of the people of Mozambique with—yet again—their magnificent generosity. They have now given more than £20 million. They expect their Government to match their sacrifice, and to be in the front line when terrible disasters of this kind occur.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

The hon. Gentleman has already had one go, and he made a mess of that. I will not give way to him again.

As I was saying, the British people expect our Government to be in the front line when terrible disasters occur, especially in instances such as this. Mozambique is a Commonwealth country, and we have a special responsibility.

I am not saying that the British Government have done nothing; they have done much that the Conservative party welcomes. We will continue to support the Government over the next few months and years, as the painstaking task of helping the people of Mozambique to rebuild their lives continues. Those people now need food, water, medicine and seed to plant. They need help with the clearance of land mines dislodged by the floods and scattered everywhere. For many years, they will need help with the reconstruction of their homes, and the country's economic and physical infrastructure is in trouble. We will support the Government's efforts throughout that long process, but they must answer serious questions about their handling of the crisis. The people of this country are concerned about the infighting and delay that characterised the Government during the critical seven days while people were stranded, and it is my job to ask those questions on their behalf. They are straight questions, and they deserve straight answers.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

The hon. Gentleman can make his own speech later.

Let me ask the Secretary of State three sets of questions. First, where were the helicopters? On 10 February, the Mozambique Government were asking for help. On 11 February, Oxfam highlighted the need for helicopters and boats, and South African Government helicopters began flying in the region. On 14 February, South African experts predicted more heavy rain. On 18 February, UNICEF confirmed fears about the impending cyclone. All the warning signs were there. Why did it take a further two weeks—until Saturday 26 February—for the Department even to investigate with the Ministry of Defence the availability of British helicopters? Why was it only on Tuesday 29 February that the Department asked the MOD for helicopters? If it was right to send helicopters from Britain on 3 March, why was it not right to send them straight away?

It was obvious that, in the critical seven days from Friday 25 February to 3 March, helicopters to rescue people were the overwhelming priority. That was something that aid agencies and charities could not do. It requires Governments and armed forces to undertake such major logistical exercises. Providing helicopters to rescue people was the one thing that they were looking to us to do. The Government failed to deliver.

The Secretary of State's strategy was to locate helicopters in the region, but that strategy largely failed because, she says, she could not find enough. However, there is mystery here, too. Recently, in reply to a written question, she said: We have received many offers for the hire of helicopters both from the region and also further afield.—[Official Report, 7 March 2000; Vol. 345, c. 622W.] If that was the case, why were so few of them taken up? There was a window of opportunity of just a few days to get people to safety before they drowned. It was a now-or-never situation. Why did she turn helicopters away? It cannot have been money because she told the House that money was not the issue. Does she now accept that she could have done more?

Does the Secretary of State now accept that, as soon as the situation over the weekend of 25 February arose, the right strategy was to mobilise helicopters from Europe? Does she accept that she should have explored the availability of Ministry of Defence helicopters well before then? The RAF was ready to go. It was well known that heavy-lift aircraft were available to hire and could get to Mozambique within 24 hours. The needs were obvious. The assets were available. Why did she not act?

Why did the Secretary of State delay so long before sending the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Fort George, which was finally instructed to go on 3 March? She told the House of Commons on Monday 28 February that the situation would get worse before it got better. How could she justify not sending Fort George when she knew that the ship would take a week to get to Mozambique? If it was right to send it on 3 March, why was it not right to send it on 1 March or on the weekend of 26 February? Given that the ship was later dispatched, does she accept that that, too, was an error of judgment?

Where was the joined-up government? The Secretary of State said that she had put in place a system that was very fast, worked very smoothly, could move immediately and could move over a weekend, but, when tested, no such system existed.

In recent years, it has almost always been the case that British aid in a disaster situation has involved the deployment of British forces. Surely, the Secretary of State had built a team approach that included the MOD. It would have been foolish not to, but, when a rapid reaction was necessary, there was no such system or team in place, so her Department and the MOD were at loggerheads for three days over money. That is what the British people find so utterly unacceptable. While people were dying in trees, the Government were wrangling over the price tag for four helicopters.

Having failed to put in place a rapid reaction team that worked, when the Secretary of State first heard that the MOD required £2.2 million for the four Puma helicopters, at the very least she should have picked up the telephone, called the Minister for the Armed Forces and negotiated a satisfactory deal there and then. Given that the Pumas went three days later, the failure to strike an immediate deal with her colleagues was shameful. Is it not true that she turned her back on the best solution because she failed to telephone one of her ministerial colleagues?

Was it because the Secretary of State has had a personal feud with that Minister for several years? Was it because she is in a permanent state of war with many of her Cabinet colleagues? What is the point of giving international development a Cabinet position and then giving it no clout? Where is the joined-up government that we were promised?

Does the Secretary of State think that the MOD should make a separate response to disaster emergencies? The lack of communication between the two Departments was so evident that, when the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) put it to her on Wednesday 1 March that the RAF had hired an Antonov and was sending helicopters, she did not even know.

Whatever happened to collective responsibility? When I ask her about debt relief, she says that that is a matter for the Treasury. When I tackle her about export credit, she refers me to the Department of Trade and Industry. In the midst of a humanitarian crisis for which she has lead ministerial responsibility, she tells the House that it is up to the Ministry of Defence whether it sends helicopters. She tells the Select Committee that it is not her job to tell the MOD how much to charge for helicopters. But surely it is her job to co-ordinate the British relief effort. A key part of that is getting all Departments to work together. On that front, she has completely and utterly failed.

Whenever the Secretary of State is in difficulty, she blames someone else; it was the MOD's fault for charging too much; it was United Nations officials who left too early. Is it not time for her to accept responsibility for the choices and decisions that she has made?

Why does the Secretary of State tell the House of Commons one thing, but the outside world another? Why did the Secretary of State tell the House—on Monday 28 February and Wednesday 1 March—that money was not the issue, when it clearly was? She said:

The problem is not shortage of money, either, but getting resources deployed in theatre quickly. If the problem was not shortage of money, why did she fail to charter more helicopters locally when they were offered?

On Wednesday 1 March, why did she tell the House that there was absolutely no problem in co-operation between her Department and the Ministry of Defence, when that was clearly not the case? She told me: I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman is misinformed. There is absolutely no problem about co-operation with the Ministry of Defence.—[Official Report, 1 March 2000; Vol. 345, c. 409.] That was not true, was it?

The Secretary of State herself said, on the "Today" programme, that the MOD had asked for too much money. She said that the MOD is charging very high prices and coming in very slow. Was she telling the truth on the "Today" programme or in the House of Commons?

Next came the most cynical act of all—it was so cynical and so typical of the Government. After a weekend of negative press, the Secretary of State decided to try to hide her Department's shame by announcing, via The Observer, an aid package of £70 million for Mozambique over the next two years. The announcement was clearly intended to give the impression of new money. I quote from The Observer—my favourite Sunday newspaper—of 5 March, which said: The British Government was last night accused of cynically attempting to manipulate public opinionm surely not— over its humanitarian response to the Mozambique crisis after announcing an extra £70 million in aid—only to be forced to admit the figure was less than the amount it had already announced would be spent on aid to the country prior to the recent flooding.After a week of chaos over the Government's response to the tragedy in Mozambique, International Development Secretary Clare Short pledged to spend £70 m over the next two years in an aid package. The Government had hoped to offset criticism over Whitehall haggling and lack of financial assistance to the victims by announcing this "new" aid package.In a statement released to The Observer, Short said: "We are also planning to increase our programme of support to Mozambique to £70 m over the next two years and will take a lead role with the World Bank and the EC in assessing the implications of these floods for Mozambique's future needs.Department for International Development officials claimed the extra money had been agreed with senior civil servants at a meeting only last Tuesday.But, following inquiries from The Observer the DFID was forced to admit that its annual report, published last March, had projected spending on Mozambique of £38.5 m in 2000–01 and £38 m in the following year—a total of £76.5 m.Embarrassed DFID officials, confronted by the apparent cut in aid to Mozambique, then quickly increased the aid package to £76.5 m. How cynical to re-announce money already announced, and how incompetent then to get it wrong! The headline perhaps says it all: "Clare Short's £70 million 'boost' for stricken Mozambique is actually a cut in planned spending". What a cheap and cynical publicity stunt. How typical of the Government.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, I was also involved in the incident with The Observer over that weekend. Is he ready to admit that the journalists have admitted that they had got the message wrong initially and misinterpreted it?

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

It is typical of the hon. Lady to come to the rescue of the Government. We are used to that from the Liberal Democrats these days. I do not accept what she says. I am delighted to accept the story in The Observer at face value.

Photo of Michael Jabez Foster Michael Jabez Foster Labour, Hastings and Rye

Whatever the truth of that story, which seems unclear, would there have been an extra £70 million if the hon. Gentleman had been in charge?

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

I do not know who the hon. Gentleman is, but he does not know a lot about development or aid. Surely he does not condone his Government cynically re-announcing money that they had already announced and then getting the amount wrong. That is hypocrisy combined with incompetence.

There is not a single person in Britain who does not believe that in the crucial seven days when the lives of thousands of people in Mozambique were hanging by a thread, the British relief effort was paralysed by infighting and incompetence, which led to critical delays in getting more helicopters flying in Mozambique. There is not a single person in Britain who does not believe that lives were lost as a result. They want to hear that the Government have learned the lessons.

This is not the first time that the Secretary of State has been found wanting in a crisis. Her handling of the Montserrat crisis gave widespread offence and caused the Foreign Secretary to take the management of the dependent territories away from her Department. Her disparaging comments about the people of this country giving to the people of Sudan are still remembered with alarm. Her description of calls for debt relief after the devastating hurricane in central America as silly and irrelevant was a massive error of judgment that had to be overruled by the Chancellor. No one doubts that her heart is in the right place, but Ministers are paid to make good decisions. Is it not a vital part of her job to co-ordinate the relief effort across Whitehall? If not, what is her Department for?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

The hon. Gentleman has twice suggested that lives were lost as a result of the delay, but he has failed to say precisely when the delay happened. So that we can answer the debate properly, will he say precisely when the alleged delay occurred?

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

I am staggered that the Secretary of State for Defence does not know. The delay, for which he was partly responsible, took place between Saturday 26 February and Friday 3 March, when helicopters were ultimately dispatched. Between those dates, there was ministerial incompetence, a lack of communication and infighting. Several days were lost. Everyone in the House and in the country knows that.

Is it not a vital part of the job of the Secretary of State for International Development to co-ordinate the relief effort across Whitehall? Is not a pattern emerging of a Cabinet Minister in a permanent state of war with her colleagues? She is a Minister building an empire who cannot build a team. She is fond of signing up for 20-year poverty targets, for which she can never be held accountable, but she could not meet a 48-hour target to get helicopters to desperate people hanging in trees.

The Secretary of State will blame others for what went wrong—she always does. She will say that there was no delay and that the Government did all that they could, but no one will believe her. The British people want to know that the Secretary of State, who, by her own admission, has direct responsibility for the Government's relief effort, has sufficient humility to recognise that mistakes were made. They want to know that the Government have learned the lessons. They want to hear that new systems and a cross-departmental rapid reaction force will now be put in place so that next time, the British response will be better; next time, more lives will be saved; and next time, the Government will respond in a way that we can all support.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development 1:40 pm, 16th March 2000

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

commends the Government for its speedy and effective response to the humanitarian crisis in Mozambique. The House understands that it is the job of the Opposition to oppose, but it is sad when an Opposition spokesman on such important matters has no respect for accuracy; no concern for the merits of the case; little concern, clearly, for the people of Mozambique; and no respect for the large numbers of UK personnel who are in Mozambique, making a contribution that is respected across the world. Ours is the biggest contribution of any country, and it arrived more rapidly than that of any other country. Those are the facts, and the facts do matter.

If the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) is capable of learning anything, he might want to study the performance of his predecessor, who cared about these matters, addressed the merits of each case and did not play cheap games.

Mozambique is the newest member of the Commonwealth, and the only member not colonised by the UK. It is one of the poorest countries in the world. At least 70 per cent. of the people live on less than $1 a day—the World Bank measure of absolute poverty. Of course that measure is what $1 a day would buy in the US, not in Mozambique. That demonstrates how poor the country is.

Only 40 per cent. of the population have access to basic health services, and only 28 per cent. access to safe water. Chronic malnutrition—when a disaster has not occurred—affects 30 to 40 per cent. of children. Some 60 per cent. of the population are illiterate; 77 per cent. of women are illiterate.

Mozambique has had a very hard hand from history. It was colonised by Portugal, and that meant that there was little investment in the country and no investment in education. Like the other Portuguese territories, it had to fight for its independence. Incidentally, that fight brought down the fascist Salazar regime and helped to bring democracy to Portugal—and thus more democracy to Europe. We should be grateful for that.

Following independence—because the Soviet Union had been its only ally in the struggle—Mozambique tried the disastrous Soviet economic model. This caused the neighbouring apartheid regime in South Africa to interfere and stoke up conflict, leading, in turn, to a vicious civil war, with all the loss and bitterness to which such a war leads.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

No, I will not give way at the moment. It is important for the House—especially those who do not concern themselves with the country in question and just want to make cheap points—to know a little about the country we are discussing. [Interruption.] Sadly, that applies to many Opposition Members.

Nine years ago, Mozambique made peace and established democracy. The two sides in the conflict, Renamo and Frelimo, are now Opposition and Government. Mozambique also embarked on major reform—the economy has since then grown well—and the Government began the process of clearing mines and improving services for people.

The UK has a large and growing development programme. We inherited a £20 million-a-year development programme after the election, and it has been growing steadily ever since.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

Was that money announced twice?

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

I will come to that. That is also untrue, as everything the hon. Member for South-West Devon said seems to be.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Defence)

The Secretary of State mentioned mines, and there have been extensive reports that, since the flooding, a lot of mines which were underground may have been dislodged. Does she have any up-to-date information about that, the risk that it presents and the efforts that have been made to try to deal with that risk?

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right; it has been suggested that mines have been dislodged and are now more dangerous. The UN has a specialist mine-surveillance unit which has been called in. We do not yet have a report, but we are trying to attend to the problem. However, we do not know at the moment how much of a problem it is compared with all the other problems.

Before I turn to some of the specific issues surrounding Mozambique, I wish briefly to remind the House of some of the major emergencies across the world over the past two years to which my Department has made a significant contribution. Since June 1998, there have been 78 natural disasters to which we have responded and on which we have spent £41 million. Those disasters are quickly forgotten, but since December 1998, we have contributed assistance after floods in Vietnam; a cyclone in Fiji; and an earthquake in Colombia; in March 1999, after a famine in North Korea and floods in Bolivia; in April 1999, after a volcano in Cameroon—

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

It is relevant, because the debate is about the competence of my Department in responding to emergencies and the false allegations made by the hon. Gentleman. We assisted after a cyclone in Pakistan in May 1999—[Interruption.] We are part of an international system that responds to emergencies, not to Opposition Members. We provided help after floods in China in August 1999; after the earthquake in Turkey, which the House might remember; after the earthquake in Taiwan in September 1999; after a hurricane in the Bahamas; after a cyclone in India in November 1999; after more floods in Vietnam; after another earthquake in Turkey; after a hurricane in Anguilla; after an earthquake in Vanuatu in December 1999; after floods in Venezuela; after storms in France, because it needed people to get the electricity system working; after storms in Mongolia in March; and after cyclones in Madagascar, also this month.

We are organised as a Department to respond very quickly. The Department maintains a round-the-clock, round-the-year, 24-hour, in-house emergency response capability in its—

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

No, but I will give in to the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) at the end of my paragraph. I mean that I will give way—I certainly will not give in. [Interruption.] If the House is concerned about the capacity of the UK to respond, it should listen to what I am saying.

The emergency response capability is provided by the conflict and humanitarian affairs department—CHAD—which includes emergency response teams equipped with vehicles and communications equipment, which can be deployed immediately with specialist staff covering a wide range of disciplines. We maintain stockpiles of essential equipment and relief items such as tents, water equipment, household items and so on, which we can also deploy if required.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Conservative, New Forest East

Will the right hon. Lady accept that some Opposition Members do know a little about the history of that tragic country, and that some of us know that in other crises her Department has performed more adequately than it has in Mozambique? Will she accept that we are having a debate about that crisis? Does she deny that she said on the "Today" programme that the problem was the Ministry of Defence charging very high prices and coming in too slow? If that is the case, will she say which of the two Defence Ministers who are sitting flanking her on the Front Bench like jailers she holds responsible?

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

I shall come on to the specific question the hon. Gentleman asks in a moment. I accept that some Opposition Members care about countries such as Mozambique, but I am sad to say that I do not believe that the hon. Member for South-West Devon cares about affairs in a country such as Mozambique.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

The hon. Lady can hardly talk about gratuitous insults, given that she is sitting next to the hon. Member for South-West Devon.

In addition, my Department has established arrangements to call in resources from other Government Departments—[Interruption.] Opposition Members claim that they want to hear the answer to their questions. We also have arrangements to call in resources from companies and non-governmental organisations, including search and rescue teams from UK fire services, military assets from the Ministry of Defence, engineers from the Northern Ireland Electricity Company and from Registered Engineers for Disaster Relief, health care professionals from the NHS through the International Health Exchange

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

No, I will not.

We also have partnerships with Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, so that resources and capabilities can be shared.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

No, I will not.

It has been alleged by Opposition Members that we have frequently responded slowly. I am simply explaining to the House that the UK has capacities that are admired across the world and that it deploys quickly in emergencies all over the world. On this side of the House, we are proud of the people of our country who respond in that way, but clearly Opposition Members are not.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

Not just now, but I will in a moment.

We have a reputation across the world as one of the quickest, most effective and most generous countries in the world when responding to such emergencies.

Briefly, I should like to correct some of the misleading stories that appeared yesterday, as Lobby correspondents struggled to find a new row story, rather than simply report the truth.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

I have made it clear to the hon. Gentleman that I am not giving way at the moment. I should be grateful if you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would ask him to honour the normal rules of the House.

I certainly did not criticise officials from my Department when I gave evidence to the International Development Committee. The Chairman of that Committee, the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells), is present, and I am sure that he will confirm that. My officials—

Several hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I shall indeed use my authority to decide on these matters, but it is for the right hon. Lady to decide whether she is giving way in the debate. This is a very serious matter. I hope that the House can debate it in a calmer atmosphere, with fewer sedentary interventions.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

As I was saying, my officials are some of the best in the world and are widely admired. I made no criticism of them, nor did I blame the United Nations for the emergency.

The emergency was what insurance companies call an act of God. Perhaps a story will now appear with the headline "Clare Short Shifts Blame to God". After each emergency we try to learn lessons and, as I told the Select Committee, once the UN arrived—in the person of Ross Mountain of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs—the UN co-ordination was superb.

The UN response was a little slow in arriving, and we would have done better if it had come earlier, but that is a lesson for the future. I have discussed the matter with Kofi Annan, and we have agreed to try and tighten systems to ensure that the response is swifter in future.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. In an earlier intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) asked whether she had gone on the "Today" programme to blame the Ministry of Defence for the price that it had quoted and the delay in delivering items to Mozambique. Will she answer that question with a simple yes or no?

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

I shall come to that. [Interruption.] It is clear that Conservative Members care nothing about Mozambique, the emergency there or our response to it. They want to play cheap political games. I shall come to the matter raised by the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), but the context is the emergency in Mozambique. The hon. Gentleman might at least pretend to be concerned about that.

The problem that we frequently experience is that a rush of press interest follows the rapid onset of an emergency. A paradox therefore arises: there is no doubt that press coverage moves the people of the world, and that that helps bring help, but it also usually leads to screaming headlines about who is at fault and why the disaster was not prevented or dealt with more efficiently.

Such discussion is, of course, valuable and legitimate, particularly after the event, as it helps us to learn from each disaster and strengthen international systems. However, during the emergency, it very often distorts discussion of what needs to be done and what is being done, and adds to the pressures on those dealing with the emergency—often, indeed, pressurising them to take inappropriate action.

We have seen a clear example of such distorted comment in the case of the UK response to Mozambique. Those distortions have been parroted by the hon. Member for South-West Devon today. All who are informed about events on the ground agree that the UK response has been the fastest and largest of any country in the world. President Chissano of Mozambique has sent a message to that effect. Moreover, Kofi Annan was in London yesterday, and made the same thing clear in all the meetings that he had during his visit.

As I made clear to the Select Committee on International Development on Tuesday—I understand that the record of that evidence has been made available to all hon. Members—there was no row of any kind between Ministers from the Ministry of Defence and my Department.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

Because you have been interrupting this very important discussion about the situation in Mozambique to try to talk about four helicopters. I am trying to give you the answer, but again you try and interrupt.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The right hon. Lady has used the word "you" on two occasions now. That is not the correct parliamentary language, and I should be grateful if she would observe the correct usage. When hon. Members try to intervene, she need do no more than indicate whether or not she will accept an intervention.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

I would, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but Conservative Members keep shouting rather than merely asking whether they may intervene.

The decision not to commission four Puma helicopters from the Ministry of Defence at £2.2 million but to commission less costly helicopters from southern Africa caused no delay of any kind in getting helicopters to Mozambique. Even Conservative Members can understand that helicopters from the United Kingdom would take longer to arrive in Mozambique than helicopters from southern Africa. Perhaps even they can cope with that concept, or that understanding of geography.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

No, I certainly will not.

The reality is that during such an emergency, and every time, staff from our conflict and humanitarian affairs department commission emergency help on a daily basis from when the crisis begins. As we always do, we ask the Ministry of Defence as well as other providers what it has available. We then commission what is closest at the best price. I cannot see anyone advocating anything different—anyone with any sense, that is.

There was no financial ceiling on our available help. Indeed, the Treasury made it clear at ministerial and official levels that extra money was available if needed. In the early stages of such an emergency—for people in the mud in central America or on the top of trees or houses in Mozambique—it is the speed of response that saves lives.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

Will the right hon. Lady give way on that point?

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

No, I will not give way.

In fact, 13,000 to 15,000 people were rescued in the early days from trees and roofs. Without the helicopters, perhaps half of them would have perished. The best thing that we did in this phase was to provide the money to keep the South African helicopters in the air, saving lives. The helicopters that came later have helped move supplies around and have been very valuable in the second stage of the emergency, but they were too late to help with search and rescue.

On 29 February, four days after the cyclone struck, we commissioned five further helicopters from southern Africa—they were the closest, so they could get there the fastest. Even they were too late to help with search and rescue, although of course they provided major help with the distribution of relief supplies. Those are the facts about saving lives and getting helicopters to Mozambique.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

On 29 February, we also sent two large aircraft containing 69 inflatable boats, 39 rafts, 20 Land Rovers, shelter material and 30 volunteer experts from our fire services and our life boat services. I have heard no one praise them. They are working there still today, and we should be proud of them.

We should be very proud that my Department has on standby firefighters, life boat experts, logisticians, health workers and other experts who will overnight drop everything and respond to an emergency anywhere in the world. We are entitled to be very proud of the generosity and expertise that is available in the United Kingdom and of the effectiveness of Department for International Development staff, who keep all such capacity up to date and on standby so that we can provide the help that is needed as emergencies arise.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, who asked a sensible question during International Development questions.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Conservative, New Forest West

I hope that the right hon. Lady will consider this a sensible question. While we are rightly proud of the contribution of those volunteers, we are concerned about the issue with the MOD. Why did she complain about the price that the MOD was charging for the helicopters?

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

Perhaps I should speak very, very slowly, in capital letters. When asked why we had not commissioned MOD helicopters, I explained that they were very expensive and would take quite a long time to get to Mozambique because they had to get from the UK down to southern Africa. We had alternatives that were closer and cheaper, so we commissioned those. That is the answer; that is what we did, and it was clearly the right thing to do.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

No, I am not giving way—the answer is clear. [Interruption.] There seems to be an awful lot of noise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

A list is available of all the emergency help that has been provided to Mozambique, and it is being added to continuously. The House will see that my officials had been commissioning and sending help long before there was any media interest in the crisis in Mozambique, and that we will remain engaged after the media has moved on.

I should like to deal with the "someone ought to do something" criticism. Various people have produced articles suggesting that the disaster could or should have been prevented. Mozambique is used to floods and cyclones—they are regular events for the country. But the two events have not come at the same time, as in this emergency, since records began 50 years ago.

The first phase of the emergency began on 10 January with heavy rains in Mozambique, Botswana, South Africa and Swaziland, which caused flooding. Because of local topography, the flooding returns to Mozambique in a second stage, raising the water level. Flooding accelerated in early February when a number of rivers in Maputo and Gaza provinces burst their banks. By 10 February, 200,000 people were estimated to be affected, many of whom moved to emergency accommodation. During this phase the relief effort focused on delivering tents, sanitation facilities, shelters and basic survival items. From 11 to 16 February, we provided £1.1 million worth of such help through United Nations agencies and non-governmental organisations who were on the ground and able to help immediately.

Phase 2 started after 25 February and was the consequence of Cyclone Eline, which led to a massive tide of water, flooding rivers and bursting dams. Warnings went out to people to get to higher ground, but communications are poor in Mozambique, and a major flood crest surged down the Limpopo, Save, Buze and Inkomati rivers overnight on 25 February. Many people lost their lives, and large numbers of very poor people have lost everything—their homes, possessions, crops and animals—and are scattered in 87 formal and informal centres.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

No.

The waters are going down. It looks increasingly as though there will not be flooding in the north, although that may be proved wrong as a danger remains that the Caborra Bassa will flood, and rain is still falling heavily even though the cyclone coming from the Indian ocean has turned and departed. We shall not be sure whether the north is safe from equally savage floods for another two or three weeks. We are now in the phase of the emergency in which we need to ensure that people have food, medical care, seeds and tools so that we can avoid more loss of life from hunger and disease. In many emergencies, more lives are lost in that second phase than in the first. We must help people to get back to their lands and rebuild their homes.

Obviously, rehabilitation will take time. At the weekend I announced a further £12 million worth of emergency assistance. The details of that help are outlined in the memorandum that we provided to the Select Committee, and it is available in the House.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

I will. I hope that it is for the last time, but I realise that the hon. Gentleman has been trying to intervene.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. We do not seek to challenge her good intentions. The debate is about her competence. Given the criticisms made of the co-ordination of our reaction after Hurricane Mitch, what plans did she make for disaster recovery, a rapid reaction force, and a strategy for crisis management? If such plans were in place, can we be made aware of it? Could the plans be laid before us so that we might study and debate them intelligently?

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have made so much noise during the debate that they have not heard the answer to that question. I have been telling the House what we have done, and I have outlined it in a memorandum to the Select Committee. UK performance and speed of response are honoured and respected across the world. It seems that the only people who do not respect it are the Opposition in the House of Commons, and that is very sad.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

No, I will not.

As soon as possible, we must get back to development. Large numbers of lives are lost week in and week out in Mozambique as a result of the terrible poverty of that country. Life expectancy in Mozambique is 47 years. Between 30 and 40 per cent. of children are chronically malnourished.

We have already allocated £70 million to our development programme for the next two 2 years. The hon. Member for South-West Devon read out an article from The Observer. I know nothing of the supposed quotes in it. On Saturday, I authorised a statement to the Press Association, which simply described all that we had done and said—I amended it to say this, so there is no doubt about it—that we had already committed about £70 million for development efforts over the next two years. That remains the case.

Under pressure from the Select Committee, I am publishing our plans ahead of time in a way no previous Government have done. That does not mean that precisely that sum will be spent; obviously, funds are moved depending on effectiveness. The £70 million commitment, which I had already made public, as no previous Government ever would have done, remains, but funding can be increased if Mozambique can spend more over the next two years. As it is a very poor country with weak capacity, Mozambique has considerable reserves from debt relief that it has been unable to spend. We are committed to at least £70 million, but it will be more if the country needs more help.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

No.—[Interruption.] Hurricane Mitch has been referred to. The current fashion seems to be that when people are under the mud in Central America, we are asked for debt relief. That will not save lives. Debt relief is, however, important for reconstruction; that was the reference to central America.

On debt forgiveness, because Mozambique has been a star reformer, it received debt relief of £1.7 billion under the heavily indebted poor countries scheme—HIPC 1. Under HIPC2, it will receive a further £250 million. The UK has made it clear that we will have a moratorium on payments in the meantime—just as we did in central America—before Mozambique qualifies for HIPC2; we shall then move to 100 per cent. debt relief. Under a UK initiative in the Paris Club yesterday, all countries have agreed to a moratorium on debt relief. Mozambique will not be required to pay debt relief anywhere in the world until it qualifies for enhanced HIPC. At that time, we hope that most countries will join us in moving to 100 per cent. debt relief.

Many people believe that the recent spate of disasters is the result of environmental degradation. The advice that I have received is that so far there is no evidence for that, but that, because larger numbers of people are living on more marginal lands or in inappropriate places, the human suffering resulting from natural disasters is growing exponentially. However, there is no doubt that global warming is taking place; it is predicted that that will cause more turbulence, so we can expect an increasing number of such disasters in the years to come.

We must, therefore, get the world's systems better prepared. For example, Bangladesh recently suffered its worst floods in 50 years, but there was little loss of life, because that country is now so well organised in coping with such disasters. However, floods in central America led to much greater loss of life because local organisations were not in place.

We have been working to improve the capacity of poor, disaster-prone countries to prepare and respond to disasters. For example, through a three-year programme with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, help is being given to national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies throughout the world to prepare countries to respond quickly to rapid-onset disasters. I have a copy of the document produced by the international federation if hon. Members are interested in the matter.

We are also working to strengthen international systems. Until about three years ago, the world's response to disasters was ad hoc. The unfortunate country suffering from a flood or an earthquake took its chances on whether its pleas for help were heard. It was pot luck whether countries received relief that suited their needs.

Lessons have been learned. Through my Department's partnership programme with UN agencies, such as the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs—I have a publication on the work of that organisation—the World Food Programme, UNICEF and especially the Red Cross, we have helped to set up much more systematic arrangements whereby information from a disaster is quickly assessed to produce a clear list of priorities to which donors can contribute. Contingency stocks of relief supplies and a worldwide network of experts can be made available at an e-mail's notice.

The UK is a major contributor to the UN disaster assessment and co-ordination system.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

No, I shall not.

That work needs to be strengthened and taken forward more rapidly. However, the House should know that the UK has been a leading country in work over the past three years—hon. Members should note the time scale—to strengthen disaster preparedness throughout the world.

In conclusion, the UK response to the floods in Mozambique was one of the speediest and most generous in the world. There was—

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

No, I shall not, as I have made clear.

I repeat that there was no delay whatever in sending help to Mozambique because of our decision not to commission MOD helicopters. They came in expensively; they were far away; and we had cheaper and closer alternatives. There was no delay whatever. The thesis put by the hon. Member for South-West Devon is false.

Of course, much remains to be done to help Mozambique to recover from the disaster and to support the country's development. We have a large and growing programme in Mozambique and we shall be there for the long term. We need to redouble our efforts and those of the whole international system to improve disaster preparedness throughout the world—especially in countries subject to rapid-onset natural disasters.

I conclude by thanking the staff of my Department in London and in Maputo for their magnificent and continuing effort. I also thank—I hope on behalf of all of us—all the UK volunteers: the firefighters, the lifeboat experts, logisticians and members of our armed forces, who are working to help cope with the emergency.

Last but not least, I thank the British public for their generosity in responding to the appeal for Mozambique. We are entitled to feel proud of the spirit of generosity and concern that exists throughout our country. I am sure that the whole House will want to express its thanks to all who have worked so hard on our behalf to provide so much help to people in such desperate need in Mozambique.

Photo of Mr Stephen Day Mr Stephen Day Conservative, Cheadle

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have listened to all the Secretary of State's speech because I thought that she might correct what was perhaps an inadvertent inaccuracy. In her brief history lesson on Mozambique, she told the House that it was the only non-British former colony to join the Commonwealth. In fact, on the same day that Mozambique joined the Commonwealth, the former French colony of Cameroon also joined. I would like the right hon. Lady to have the opportunity to correct—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. That is not a point of order for the Chair.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park 2:10 pm, 16th March 2000

The Liberal Democrats will not support the official Opposition's motion. In fact, in the course of the debate, my regard for the Conservatives has sunk to a new low.

Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world, but it has done well over recent years. It has been hit by a catastrophe in which 250,000 people have lost their homes, an unknown number are dead and children have been orphaned and in which malaria, diarrhoea and cholera are rampant. All that Her Majesty's official Opposition can do is seek to score cheap political points with this motion.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

I will not give way yet. Conservative Members have clearly missed the point. [Interruption.] If they stay in the Chamber, I shall explain why. When I was younger, I had methods for dealing with temper tantrums.

The official Opposition's approach has been destructive—business as usual, in other words.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

No, I will not give way until I am further into my speech.

The purpose of the debate should be to take a cool look at what happened, to see whether we can learn any lessons. I listened to the Secretary of State at a meeting of the Select Committee on International Development on Tuesday. She admitted that the United Nations assessment team, which included two people from the Department for International Development, withdrew from Mozambique too early. That was a failure on its part. That was well reported on the website of Independent News World, and we read the report on the net.

Why did the United Nations quick response unit, along with two of our officials, withdraw too early? That is an issue that I would like to address. It must never happen again.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

The press reports about our officials were inaccurate. British officials did not withdraw with the United Nations team, and my officials are upset by the report that they did. I did not like the way the reports suggested that the whole thing was the United Nations fault. We have a strengthening and improving UN system, and we need to learn from this experience so that we can strengthen it further. We should not just turn around and attack the UN when it is getting better at co-ordinating responses to such emergencies.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

I thank the Secretary of State for that response, but it is an issue that we need to consider carefully. We all remember poor Mr. Fish, the weather forecaster, denying that a hurricane was going to happen. Although the hurricane did a lot of damage, fortunately for us it did not do damage on the scale that has occurred in Mozambique. We must find ways to strengthen the forecasting of emergencies and to make sure that we know in advance what is going to happen.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Opposition Whip (Commons)

I thank the hon. Lady for her courtesy in giving way because, after all, this is a debate not a monologue. Does she accept that her opening remarks were not correct? Her Majesty's Opposition are seeking to do their job in holding the Government to account and making sure that the House and the Government learn from some of the mistakes that have been made. That will help to ensure that things are done better in future.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

If the hon. Lady listens carefully to my speech, I will teach her how best that can be done.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I think that we should get on to the main content of the debate. It is a very serious matter.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

Before we do that, I want to point out how easy it is in a disaster for people to do the wrong thing. That is a common human failing. Many years ago, I was a casualty officer in a London teaching hospital. I know that to be able to respond correctly to emergencies, one has to be extremely well trained and to have had lots of practice. Whether it is a small disaster or a large one, that is required. If I had a cardiac arrest here and now, most of you would rush around panicking and not know what to do. That might be a very good thing from your point of view and you might enjoy that very much—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Lady is not even using correct parliamentary language. I am sure that she will soon relate her remarks to what has happened in Mozambique.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

I will indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but, if anything dreadful happened to me, I am sure that the Conservatives would blame it on the fact that the Secretary of State for Health was not sitting on the Front Bench.

From the evidence that I have heard, once DFID and the Secretary of State realised the full extent of the disaster, not even the Ministry of Defence's pricing policy, about which we have heard a great deal, slowed down the response. In fact, it speeded it up because the Secretary of State immediately looked for helicopters that were nearer. As we have heard, we had a much quicker and more efficient response, with helicopters funded by us but procured in South Africa.

The United Kingdom was in the forefront of the relief effort, at one stage funding nine out of 11 helicopters—and they were commissioned locally. We have prepared for the second stage of rebuilding shelters and distributing foods and medicines with our own equipment, which has started to go to Mozambique.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

No, I will not.

There are problems for us and for the world. We must look to the future. There is no question but that the United Kingdom and the international community must be able to respond to natural disasters more effectively. The pundits tell us that, with global warming, disasters will be more frequent. Many articles in the newspapers in recent weeks have been on that subject. Therefore, it is imperative that we establish not just a DFID rapid reaction force, but an international rapid response disaster task force.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

No, I wish to make a little progress.

That task force would ideally be based at the United Nations, but the European Union might be able to make a start.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

Indeed. A rapid response task force would not mean having equipment standing by doing nothing while it waited for something to happen. It would mean that future Secretaries of State would know the location of the helicopters nearest to the disaster area and would know whether they could be commissioned. The Ministry of Defence would not take two days, as I believe it did, to discover that there were no usable UK helicopters less than 3,000 miles away. There would be no problem with funding, because that would be set according to a pre-determined formula.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I was going to make a point in support of the hon. Lady, but perhaps she will answer the question that the Secretary of State failed to answer when I asked it. Following the criticisms of the co-ordination and the response to hurricane Mitch, what plans did the Secretary of State have to establish the sort of rapid reaction force that the hon. Lady has mentioned? She will know that a good response is about good planning. Our challenge to the Government is about their competence in emergency, disaster and recovery planning.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, because I was about to come to that point. Paragraph 52 of the strategic defence review, which is entitled "Peace Support and Humanitarian Operations", sets out the position clearly. It says:

In a less stable world, we have seen more international operations of this type. The trends identified earlier suggest that this will continue. Britain will play its full part in such international efforts. At one end of the spectrum, this might involve logistic or medical support to a disaster relief operation. In "Modernising Defence", the response to hurricane Mitch, to which the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) referred, is talked about in glowing terms. The Ministry of Defence describes its action in central America, where

following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Mitch in October and November 1998 in some of the world's poorest countries, a Royal Navy task group led by NHS Ocean and with Royal Marines embarked, gave emergency life-saving assistance to Nicaragua and Honduras. We helped to search for and rescue people.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

One of the major issues in the debate is the MOD's involvement, and it is here that the Secretary of State's customary candour has got her into difficulty. Her Department made a decision about the £2.2 million cost, and then said that cost was not an issue when plainly it was an issue in making the decision about MOD helicopters. That may then have provoked her to look for other helicopters elsewhere, or she may already have been doing that, but that is an issue, as it was in the dispatch of the Fort George, a decision that was not made until 3 March.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

I am not here to answer for the Secretary of State for Defence; he will answer for himself. I have made the point that whatever occurred between the DFID and the MOD caused no delay whatsoever, and that is the important point.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

No, I will not give way again. I want to make progress.

Funding is a difficult issue between Departments, and I hope, as I am sure all hon. Members do, that Departments would always protect their budgets. However, there is no time in an emergency to sort out budgets, and a formula must be worked out in advance.

There are other problems, such as that of heavy-lift equipment. The Conservatives seem to think that one can put helicopters in a box and send them out to Mozambique to arrive the next day. That is complete nonsense. We have a problem in moving heavy equipment, which the strategic defence review addressed, which delayed matters even further. I wish that the Conservatives would recognise that.

Such issues must be worked out as part of a plan. Why do we not consult our European partners now that the major crisis is over? A European defence review is taking place. Let us do an inventory of all the equipment in Europe and find out whether it can be used in an emergency, or is that too simple?

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I agree with what my hon. Friend has said so far. Does she agree that there is a particular problem in the Indian ocean region, in that it is not easily accessible by most European navies and air forces or by the Americans? Access is slightly different from the mediterranean, the Caribbean or west Africa. Should international action be taken to deal with the specific problems of the Indian ocean, east Africa and the Indian subcontinent?

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

My hon. Friend makes a good point. The Indian ocean area is very isolated in terms of military equipment and help for disaster relief. If my memory serves me correctly, many parts of that area will be subject to flooding in future because of global warming. My hon. Friend is right to say that we need to consider that area in particular and ensure that help is available when it is needed.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

No, I will not. I have given way many times and I have almost finished.

I would have thought that, without any international structures in place, the Ministry of Defence should have made an offer of help for Mozambique, rather than waiting to be asked.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

Just once, as the hon. Gentleman is so persistent.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

The hon. Lady has now twice alleged that no delay was incurred and therefore no lives were lost, and then she said twice that the MOD was guilty of not responding in time. She said earlier that the MOD was asked for help on the Saturday but did not respond until the Monday. Does she know for certain that the answer to the question asked by DFID was not given on the Sunday?

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

The hon. Gentleman had a very late night, and I will have to read his question in Hansard tomorrow to make head or tail of it. [Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) has just intervened on the hon. Lady, and he ought not then to start making comments from a sedentary position.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

Let us make sure that a United Nations or European Union rapid response disaster task force is in place the next time that a country needs us.

The third stage of the disaster in Mozambique is the country's reconstruction. In three weeks, the country has been set back 10 or more years. It has an estimated public debt of $6.4 billion. To its credit, our country has already announced total debt relief on all bilateral debt and export credit guarantees. There was good news from the Paris Club yesterday that France and Italy are to reduce Mozambique's debt commitment to them by two thirds, which means that, in total, 40 per cent. of the country's debt will be wiped out. The remaining 60 per cent. is with the USA, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. In the medium and long term, can the Government assure us that they will do all in their power to ensure that Mozambique's debt commitment is wiped out?

When will the UK achieve the target of devoting 0.7 per cent. of gross national product to development? That figure fell under the Conservatives. They seem to have forgotten that in all the kerfuffle today, but it is another thing that they must be very proud of. Despite our economic success, progress is still too slow.

The British public have been as generous as ever in their response to the disaster in Mozambique. While the TV cameras are there, the money pours in, but once they have gone, people no longer see the need to contribute some of their income to people who have nothing. Who now remembers the famine in the Sudan? Hurricane Mitch has been mentioned, but it is rarely talked about. Who remembers the Turkish earthquake or Montserrat? It is no good our snatching new-born babies from trees in front of TV cameras if they are then left to suffer a slow and painful death from disease and starvation. We must do more for the developing world.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Labour, Cynon Valley 2:28 pm, 16th March 2000

I was there. I was one of four hon. Members, including a Conservative Member, from the Select Committee, who visited Mozambique during the crucial period that we are discussing. I am sorry that Opposition bovver boys have left the Chamber in droves, because I should like them to hear the truth about what went on in Mozambique at that time.

We were supposed to go into Mozambique from Swaziland by road. We were unable to go in on Sunday 20 February because the weather was too bad and the road was already flooded, so we had to fly in over a vast area of the country, which looked like a great sea. It was impossible to say what was land and what was water.

I have listened to the criticisms made of my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for International Development and for Defence, and I do not recognise the picture being painted by Conservative Members.

People in Mozambique were congratulating the British Government on their quick action and on the fact that they had tents and other emergency equipment on the ground during the time that we were there. We saw those supplies being taken off the ground by two helicopters that were working in rapid rotation, carrying the food and tents that had come from the United Kingdom to people who had been without food and shelter for four days.

While we were there, we met representatives of the aid agencies who were working on the ground, members of the Government of Mozambique, and the Prime Minister of Mozambique, who thanked the British Government for their rapid action and for the assistance that they were giving to the country.

I heard no criticism at all while I was in Mozambique. Everyone knows that I am not an apologist for the Government. If I have criticisms to make, I will make them. That is the honest truth: I did not hear any criticism while I was there.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

I thank the hon. Lady for giving way on an important point. Can she confirm that she left Mozambique on 24 or 25 February, and that the period that we have been discussing is primarily from Friday 25 and Saturday 26 February? That was when people were stranded up trees. What does she make of the comment by the spokesman for President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, who said:

In any case, the British have responded very late and almost grudgingly. Was he wrong?

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Labour, Cynon Valley

I used a different quote in the Select Committee meeting the other day. I certainly did not see that comment in the speech. Given the knowledge that we gained while we were in Mozambique, I cannot believe that that criticism was made.

The aid agencies were obviously working under a great deal of stress, even during the period 20 to 24 February. There had already been extensive flooding in the country. When we arrived in Maputo, we were taken immediately by one of the aid agencies to see the damage to roads and houses and the flooded areas where poorer people lived in the city. People were already queueing at stand-pipes for water and living under extremely difficult conditions. That was before the period to which the hon. Gentleman refers. Flooding was already a problem in Mozambique when we were there.

We went to one of the briefing meetings held by the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which is an umbrella organisation responsible for co-ordination with Governments of host countries in disaster situations. We heard the representative from the Department for International Development, who at that time seemed to be co-ordinating the aid agencies. We also heard someone from South Africa, who was responsible for running the helicopters, speak about his situation. I came away from that meeting feeling that OCHA was extremely laid back. No sense of urgency was transmitted to me or to the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), who was also there.

If blame is to be apportioned, we must bear in mind that we all have the same aim—to bring relief to people who are hit by a crisis—and we want to do that better next time. We should look carefully at the role of OCHA.

We as a Committee visited OCHA in Geneva in December. We have our own view of how it operates. OCHA has been continually monitoring and reporting the situation in Mozambique since the rains started on 26 January 2000. Since that date, it has issued about 16 situation reports on the emergency.

Following the very heavy rains from 4 to 7 February, OCHA organised the five-member UN disaster and co-ordination team to Mozambique. One of the questions that I asked on the Select Committee and which I hope we will ask the OCHA representative next week is why OCHA withdrew its team at a particular moment. The first team's tour of duty ended, apparently, on 24 February. A second team was not dispatched to Mozambique until 29 February. That was a crucial period in the operation.

The Department for International Development was being told by people on the ground what was needed at a particular time. I believe that the Department was presented with a rather confused picture. It was not clear at various times what assets were needed, so DFID sent tents, clean drinking water and basic survival items. That is what was being requested at the time.

Watching the two helicopters working, it was clear to us that they could not get the food and tents off the ground fast enough. They were working in rapid rotation, with 10 to 15 minutes between taking off and landing. They were not switching off the engines, but getting the food and tents stuffed into the helicopters straight away.

Why were not more helicopters taking part in the operation at that time? Why was the UN telling us that it was worried about the funding of the five helicopters that apparently were in Mozambique then? I believe that those five helicopters were funded by the Nordic countries. When DFID realised that there was a problem with the funding, it stepped in and agreed to fuel more aircraft the following week.

As soon as DFID knew what the problem was, it responded rapidly. It was OCHA that underestimated the gravity of the situation and left as the new cyclone came, at the key moment between 25 and 29 February, when people were at their most desperate, when people on roofs and up trees were being shown on film. That was when there was a gap in OCHA's coverage of Mozambique.

There were obviously failures in communication and in responsibility, but it is not fair to blame the British Government, who have done more than any other country to assist during the crisis in Mozambique. People on the ground said that. Oxfam, Christian Aid and the Save the Children Fund said so. We were there and we heard them say it, then we came home and heard my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State heavily criticised, despite the fact that they had already responded as they thought appropriate at the time. That is grossly unfair.

I agree that the international response was slow. It was hesitant and unco-ordinated. However, the responsibility for co-ordination lay not with my right hon. Friends, but elsewhere. It is easy to say that the Government of Mozambique did not do enough. They were elected in December and started work in January, in one of the poorest countries in the world. It is not surprising that they did not respond in the way that some critics think they should have responded.

I pay tribute to the Red Cross and to Medecins sans Frontiers, which as usual were at the forefront of the response. To blame the Government of Mozambique is unfair. The infrastructure of the country was severely damaged and roads were cut off. We went 30 miles outside Maputo, and the road was not there any more. It was just a huge current and a vast expanse of water. People were coming out of the area with their possessions on their heads. I remember a man who came to me with a packet of biscuits which he had carried while trudging through half a mile of water. On the roadside, he offered me a biscuit. When I refused, he said, "Why not?" I said, "Because you have not eaten and I have."

Within a very short time I became aware of the great resilience and dignity of the Mozambique people. They are exceptional people to have pulled themselves up so rapidly after such a long civil war. They have played by all the rules and they saw their economy growing by 10 per cent. in the space of two years. I think that it was the only country in the world to see its economy grow in such a way. These are people of determination and resilience, who, I believe, can overcome the terrible tragedy that has hit them.

I am a great supporter of the United Nations, but as the members of the Select Committee on International Development will know, we have criticised the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in respect of Macedonia and Albania, whereas we congratulated the World Food Programme, which planned for and responded adequately to the crisis. As a result of our criticism of the UNHCR, some things have improved. When we see an agency not doing what it should do, it is useful to put some questions to those who represent it, and we shall be able to do so here next week.

The cyclone has destroyed roads, rails, schoos and health centres. Thousands of people have no homes, thousands are in reception centres and thousands will be without food for a long time. Many people are looking for their relatives because they do not know whether they were lost in the floods or whether they are at a reception centre. There is much that will have to be done for Mozambique. The scale of immediate need is immense, with about 1 million people having left their homes and lost their livelihoods. Their food has gone, as has their crop of maize. Seeds and tools will be immediate needs once the land has dried out.

We must provide reconstruction aid swiftly to help rebuild Mozambique's infrastructure. The World Bank told us on the spot that it was prepared to give money for that purpose. I hope that all countries acknowledge the United Kingdom's lead in cancelling Mozambique's debt, which some other countries have followed.

In such circumstances, there are always many lessons to be learned. The international community must be able to give humanitarian assistance on time. That must be provided on the basis of need and not in the interests of media coverage. Similarly, political or economic interests should not be involved.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has heard me say that I think that the military has an important role to play in these disasters. When I saw the military at work in Macedonia and Albania, I recognised that it soon brought order to considerable chaos. When we are talking about disaster preparedness, there is a need for institutions and response mechanisms that can adequately address the likelihood of an increasing number of similar emergencies in the coming decades.

The Government deserve a great deal of credit for assisting Mozambique. Perhaps things might have been done better in some instances and faster in others, but the UK was the lead country in bringing help to people faced with devastation and loss of life. Credit must be given where it is due.

Photo of Mr Bowen Wells Mr Bowen Wells Conservative, Hertford and Stortford 2:44 pm, 16th March 2000

I am delighted to take up the remarks of my colleague on the Select Committee on International Development, the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), who speaks with the knowledge that she gained from the Committee's visit to Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and South Africa. She knows what was going on. If matters had been left to my Committee, I am sure that we would have been able to advise the Secretary of State for International Development when we were in the area in the week of 20 to 24 February that helicopters were already needed and that there was a need for more.

Nobody can be happy about the loss of life in Mozambique. We do not know exactly what the figure is because we were not able to deploy sufficient helicopters to get people to safety in the middle of an exceptionally large flood in the week of 26 February. Certainly the number of dead must run well into thousands. We must contrast that with the number of people who died in the equally exceptional flood that overtook Bangladesh only a year ago. There, we believe that only three lives were sacrificed. That is because Bangladesh has built up capacity both in its Government and non-governmental organisations, as has the international community, to anticipate floods and to get the right equipment into the right places at the right time to save people from the disasters that flooding can bring. That is not the position in Mozambique, and that is why there has been great loss of life.

We must turn to the calendar to address these matters sensibly and to recognise the problems to. which the hon. Member for Cynon Valley has drawn attention. The rain began exceptionally late in the season in Africa. However, it started with exceptional severity. It must be remembered that it began between 10 and 26 January. That led inevitably to flooding in the Limpopo and Zambezi valleys in the central provinces of Mozambique.

We should have appreciated—I do not think that we did—that that rain flowing down the rivers after an exceptionally dry and hot period would lead inevitably to serious difficulties in and around Maputo in the Limpopo estuary. However, the Department for International Development understood the position. It knew that some homes would be flooded and got into position with tents, blankets and food so as to be ready to help people inundated by floodwater. The supplies were in place and being distributed when the Select Committee visited.

During the week of 20 February, helicopters had already been deployed by the South African Government. They were fuelled by Norway and the Netherlands because President Mbeki said that he did not have enough fuel. Only two of the helicopters had winches to take people off the top of trees and out of the floods. We heard that there was not enough fuel for the following week. The Secretary of State for International Development stepped in and provided the fuel to keep the five helicopters flying.

My only criticism is of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which on 12 February deployed to Maputo. It wrongly assessed the situation and severely underestimated it. It should have asked the international community—I am sure that the Department for International Development would have responded quickly that week—for further helicopter reinforcements to stand by for the possibility of additional flooding.

I am speaking with hindsight, which is easy, but I think that OCHA made a wrong assessment, and certainly a miscalculation, when the main team left. After launching an appeal on 23 February, it went home on 24 February. The difficulties were therefore underestimated, and we could have got more helicopters in place and saved more lives if that assessment had been more accurate. That is not easy to do, but the criticism has to be made.

For a fortnight, five helicopters were working. They were reinforced in the following week by five more helicopters, which the Department for International Development chartered. Three had winches to help remove people from flooded areas where their lives were at risk.

We were a bit late, but we were there, and DFID was very supportive. Only South Africa put more into the disaster than the Department. That remains the case. The Department's financial contribution has well overtaken that of South Africa. That was the position until the floods began to abate and we needed to get more helicopters in place to save more lives.

Let us consider the Ministry of Defence, which was late in assessing the position. If I understood the evidence that the Secretary of State for Defence gave the Select Committee on International Development correctly, planning started as late as 28 February and then accelerated fast. As the Secretary of State for International Development said, the Department did not have helicopters that could have reached the crisis area in Mozambique in time to save lives in the last week in February.

The helicopters arrived in the Antonov on 5 March, and RFA Fort George reached Beira on 11 March. Those helicopters and that support will help with the third phase of reconstruction and avoiding the serious threat of death through disease such as cholera, and lack of shelter.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

The hon. Gentleman is making a careful and thoughtful case. I query only one point. When should the Ministry of Defence have begun the planning to which he referred?

Photo of Mr Bowen Wells Mr Bowen Wells Conservative, Hertford and Stortford

The answer partly depended on the assessment of the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, but I would have hoped that, after the Ministry of Defence had realised that South African helicopters were deployed in the second week of February and that the South African armed forces knew that there was a crisis, it would have started planning. The Secretary of State sent out a recce party on his own initiative on 29 February. I should have liked it to have been sent a couple of weeks earlier.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

The hon. Gentleman is Chairman of the responsible Select Committee. Did he raise the matter with the Ministry of Defence, or any Minister?

Photo of Mr Bowen Wells Mr Bowen Wells Conservative, Hertford and Stortford

No, at the time, I was visiting Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi with the hon. Member for Cynon Valley. I was therefore not in a position to raise those matters personally. It should have occurred to someone in the Ministry of Defence to consider ways of supporting the Department for International Development.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

If that is my hon. Friend's view, does he believe that the Ministry's action depends on it being requested to make that calculation and devising a plan? In his opinion, at what stage was the Ministry asked to do that?

Photo of Mr Bowen Wells Mr Bowen Wells Conservative, Hertford and Stortford

That question goes to the heart of the problem that I would like to consider so that we can react better next time. The Ministry of Defence should fulfil the second objective to which the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) referred and support the Department for International Development in deploying military equipment when a humanitarian disaster has occurred. Rightly, the MOD is being built up and has an impressive helicopter capacity. However, that capacity is expensive and not tuned to working in difficult circumstances that require an immediate response.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

Getting to the truth of the matter is important, and I respect the hon. Gentleman's attempt to do that. However, there were two stages of the emergency. The big floods did not happen until 25 February. People might have sent helicopters, but they were not needed in the early stages. They are expensive and when people had simply gone to higher ground, they needed help but not through helicopters. When the massive flood occurred, and people were trapped up trees and on roofs, helicopters were essential to rescue them. That necessity did not arise until after the big flood and cyclone Eline on 25 February.

Photo of Mr Bowen Wells Mr Bowen Wells Conservative, Hertford and Stortford

As the right hon. Lady said, the highly dangerous period was between 25 February and the following week. As she knows, the helicopters, albeit only two with winches, from South Africa were working in the previous week to rescue people. We should have deployed earlier. However, that depended on the assessment that had been made. That assessment was not available to the Secretary of State for International Development, or the Secretary of State for Defence.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

We have military and air attaches in South Africa. In that period, they must have reported the deployment of the South African air force. That should have triggered some form of planning in the Ministry of Defence. Perhaps the Secretary of State can outline the telegram traffic from South Africa and say whether the defence attaché reported on it and what action the Ministry took.

Photo of Mr Bowen Wells Mr Bowen Wells Conservative, Hertford and Stortford

That is the point that I am trying to make. The South Africans deployed their helicopters in the previous week and, as the hon. Member for Cynon Valley described, were beginning to rescue people because the floods were continually rising. The crisis happened the following week. The Secretary of State for International Development was right to say that we had to get the helicopters there in a hurry and that we hired five additional helicopters as well as fuelling the South African helicopters.

The Ministry of Defence must be in a position to carry out its military and humanitarian tasks. There is a difference. The operation must be cost-effective. The MOD cannot make a military deployment and ask DFID to pay for it. As I understood the evidence that was given to the Select Committee, the military deployment involves a huge amount of support staff. The figure was 100, but the original suggestion was that 140 people would service two or three helicopters. The South African deployment had 10 support staff. As the Secretary of State for International Development told the Committee, all those people get in the way and need to be accommodated. They also need to have jabs before their departure from the United Kingdom to fulfil Ministry of Defence rules and regulations about deployment of personnel. All those matters delay deployment and add to the cost.

A problem has haunted the Ministry of Defence for 20 years. At base, it is a Treasury problem. When there is no emergency, officials and Ministers need to agree a price for deploying military equipment in a humanitarian emergency. The calculations suggested to the Select Committee were absurd in a time of crisis. The Department for International Development needs to know where it stands and how much a helicopter costs before it asks the Ministry of Defence to intervene. We need to establish, both in this country and worldwide, a rapid reaction force to tackle humanitarian disasters and I support the suggestions of the hon. Member for Richmond Park.

In giving evidence to the Select Committee, the Secretary of State for International Development also said that we are too slow to organise ourselves internationally, and that OCHA is too slow to react. We have to put money in place to enable those agencies to take command because things can change when people take command. When the OCHA representative arrived on 29 February, he began to sort things out and made what was required clear to Ministry officials, who could then react much more quickly. That is now happening.

De-mining, and the reconstruction of roads, schools and hospitals, all of which have been lost, need to take place as rapidly as possible as the floods recede. I pay great compliment to the military personnel and the non-governmental organisations undertaking that difficult work. People have been displaced from their farms in their hundreds of thousands and they have to be helped back to plant their crops. They must be given seed, fertiliser and every assistance with planting so that they do not starve in the coming year. All the personnel of the RFA Fort George—who are well equipped to help with that in the Beira area and are, I understand, moving south to the River Save—will add hugely to Mozambique's ability to recover from this terrible disaster. They should be thoroughly congratulated and thanked for keeping Britain's name at the forefront of those who are willing and able to assist in these terrible tragedies.

Photo of Mr Tony Worthington Mr Tony Worthington Labour, Clydebank and Milngavie 3:01 pm, 16th March 2000

It is a pleasure to follow the previous three speakers, who work from the basis of knowledge. They have respect for the people of Mozambique and have considered how the crisis developed. It is an enormous tribute to the Secretary of State and the Department for International Development that we expect it to be a world leader and top of the class in a former Portuguese colony more than 5,000 miles away.

Let us consider the chronology—I shall try to omit issues that have already been covered—which is of course easy to do with hindsight. However, no one has told me what will happen in Mozambique next week, which is what we need to know. The problem has not gone away and the rumours are that more rains are to follow. Remember, this is not a Mozambique problem, but a regional problem for southern Africa. When I was there with the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells)—the Chairman of the International Development Committee—and my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), the concerns were the floods in South Africa and the suffering in Botswana. When we came back, we found out about the events in Madagascar. We did not know that the situation would be as it is in Mozambique, but we had to try to prepare for it.

Everyone is obsessed with helicopters, but they are not the issue. People on the ground who died from cholera or malaria or from starvation are just as dead as people who drowned in the trees. Far more people were in danger on the ground than up trees and we had to respond to that. Remember, the press went to Mozambique not because of the catastrophe, but because of the pictures that they could take. They had never had to photograph people in danger in trees before, so that was news, but the danger for the people of Mozambique—malaria, dysentery, cholera and diarrhoea—was on the ground. That was the crisis to which we had to respond and we did so.

The problem occurred on about 10 February. UNICEF appealed for $1.2 million. What did we do? Immediately, we were there with $400,000. Switzerland provided $65,000 and Norway $100,000. The Government wanted $2.7 million and we were in there with clean water, materials for schools, cooking utensils and tents. There was no call for more helicopters at that time. The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the UN Disaster Assistance Committee said that the problem was fuel—the South African helicopters would run out by 20 February. What did we do? We provided the fuel, which was the right thing to do.

UNDAC wanted boats. What did we do? DFID sponsored a team of 38 people and 100 boats and life rafts from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, United Kingdom fire and rescue services and the International Rescue Corps. We were asked for boats and we provided them because that was right at the time. Those were the first groups to go in from the outside world. By 18 February, responding to the assessed need on the ground, the United Kingdom and DFID had given and delivered twice as much as any other country to meet the threats of starvation and dysentery. That is financially and statistically correct, and that was our early reaction.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, on about 25 February the receding threat increased as flooding reoccurred. According to OCHA, the priority need from about 25 to 26 February was to rescue stranded people by air. That is when OCHA said that helicopters were the priority. I would like the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) to tell me whether I am wrong: according to the World Food Programme, three days later—after 26 and 27 February—there were 14 helicopters flying in Mozambique. Seven were from South Africa, fuelled by us, and seven, provided from local sources, were hired by OCHA. Is that correct?

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

How many helicopters had winch capacity and the ability to lift people off trees?

Photo of Mr Tony Worthington Mr Tony Worthington Labour, Clydebank and Milngavie

I do not know the answer, but it was given earlier by others. There were 14 helicopters, some with winches, flying and delivering food. Food can be delivered without winches and every one of those helicopters was supported by DFID. I shall resume my seat to allow the hon. Gentleman to tell me whether that is correct.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Has the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) finished his speech?

Photo of Mr Tony Worthington Mr Tony Worthington Labour, Clydebank and Milngavie

No, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I take it that I am correct. One country—the United Kingdom— was responsible for every helicopter flying in Mozambique at that time. The rest of the world community failed to find or fund helicopters, which is extraordinary, and we funded the 14 in the air. That number rose to 50, and we have added four Puma and four Sea King helicopters to what we provided earlier. We are now responsible for the funding of 22 helicopters, because of DFID.

We intimated that we would make available substantial money for the poverty reduction programme in Mozambique and gave the lead on bilateral debt cancellation. I should like to hear from the Conservatives again. Does the hon. Member for South-West Devon agree that the leadership on cancellation of bilateral debt came from the United Kingdom?

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie must not keep jumping up and down. If nobody is seeking to intervene on him, the Chair is entitled to assume that he has finished his speech and call another speaker.

Photo of Mr Tony Worthington Mr Tony Worthington Labour, Clydebank and Milngavie

Thank you for that guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I like to give hon. Members the chance to contradict what I am saying, but I note that they have not done so. We have given, and other countries are following us on bilateral debt cancellation.

The response by other organisations was not as good as it should have been, and two of them in particular should examine their performance. No one says that it is an easy job. Since October 1999 there have been 30 natural disasters world wide, many of which hon. Members will not have heard about, and with which OCHA dealt in an unspectacular way. For example, not many people know about the snowstorms in Mongolia, but that was a natural disaster with which OCHA dealt. Its job is to play the leading role in the co-ordination of international emergency assistance following natural disasters. One can see from the early OCHA press releases and bulletins that it did not play that role in the early stages of the Mozambique emergency. It was only when Mr. Ross Mountain visited the area on 29 February that the quality of the response started improving. OCHA should have played a leading role in identifying the need for helicopters and getting them to the area.

There was a need also for heavy-lift planes—which has been shown in emergency after emergency—but the western world again failed miserably. Why did the MOD have to go to a Russian commercial concern to hire an Antonov to transport helicopters? Where were NATO and the Americans with their heavy-lift facilities? After all the fuss, suddenly six C130 aircraft have been made available. The key aircraft is the C17, which can move anything, but none has been operating. We should ask the Americans and NATO why facilities to transport helicopters and other goods cannot automatically be made available.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

I can now tell the hon. Gentleman that, of the 14 helicopters flying in the second week, only five had winch facilities. Does the hon. Gentleman think that was enough?

Photo of Mr Tony Worthington Mr Tony Worthington Labour, Clydebank and Milngavie

Of course not. The ideal would be 14 helicopters with 14 winches—but while the UK found 14 helicopters, the rest of the world found none. As in Macedonia and Albania, a UN organisation failed to lead in the initial stage of a crisis. In the case of Macedonia and Albania, UNHCR failed to provide leadership at an early stage and it has accepted our criticism. Authoritative leadership was not evident either in OCHA.

ECHO is the European Union's alleged emergency response body in respect of humanitarian affairs. I say, as a supporter of the EU, that ECHO has to sharpen its act. ECHO did not feature, as a co-ordinating body, in any of the bulletins and statements about who was doing what in Mozambique. At an early stage, ECHO gave 1 million euros in an unspecified way—just cash, which was not a sensible thing to do. It should have worked with OCHA and other bodies to get the money to where it was needed immediately, for a specific purpose.

At the end of February and beginning of March, European Commissioner Poul Nielson visited the area; suddenly, aid of 25 million euros was to be made available. That response was inadequate because the money would not have gone to Mozambique. It may only arrive there months after the crisis began. Those two organisations ought to examine their performance.

I am proud of the role that DFID played and of the UK's improved response to emergencies. I remember the promise of aid to Somalia by the Minister at the time. Eight months later, that aid had not turned up. It was alleged that it had reached Somalia but it was stuck in a warehouse in Mombassa. Throughout the whole of 1995, no Government Minister made a statement about Ruanda. We stood on the sidelines during the worst humanitarian disaster of recent times. The then Government's response was to turn their back on Ruanda and pretend that disaster was not happening.

We have now a first-rate Department, brilliantly led, with a co-ordinated response that is leading the world. I am proud of that.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby 3:15 pm, 16th March 2000

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me a second time. I do not agree with everything that the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) said, but I am the fourth member in a row of the Select Committee to speak. It is a dreadful Committee because there is a depressing amount of consensus among its members. We all get on well together. When everybody agrees in politics, usually something is terribly the matter.

I first visited Mozambique in 1974, before the Portuguese revolution. The Government of Mozambique are doing a good job but it is patronising to say, "Poor things. They went to the Soviet Union and returned with a Marxist-Leninist policy that they pursued to terrible effect from 1974 until the mid-1980s." Those concerned must share responsibility. They are adults. We must not patronise them. Machel and his Government were dreadful, whatever was done by Renamo—who was equally dreadful.

I visited Mozambique with the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) in the first phase of the floods, which were described as the worst for at least 50 years. We saw terrible devastation, including the only proper road north completely taken away. The railway lines—the lifeblood for moving goods around the country—were covered in sand or had been washed away, but we also saw astonishing resilience among the people of Mozambique. They are used to flooding, which is part of the natural scheme of things for them. When the land floods, it becomes much more fertile. This time, the inhabitants had lost their homes and roads but there was still remarkable resilience, to which I pay tribute.

After we left, the situation grew very much worse. We have all seen the dreadful pictures and I will not dwell on them. I agree with the Secretary of State that there is anecdotal evidence of global warming. El Nino—or the girl child, as they call it—has brought terrible devastation. There have been droughts in Zimbabwe and Kenya; now there is flooding worse than in living memory or on record. That matter should be debated at length at a later date.

We met the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Mozambique, who were both, in my opinion, good people; but when we interviewed the Secretary of State it was depressing to learn that medium-lift helicopters were already available for charter in-country. I blame the Government for much but not for failing to know about that before the Government of Mozambique did. The capacity in Mozambique is limited and the necessary structures do not exist. Nevertheless, the Government of Mozambique must take responsibility. There has been much criticism of that country's president for flying over the disaster area and not doing anything but, in general, I will be onside with the Government of Mozambique.

Zimbabwe, next door to Mozambique, has a large helicopter fleet in its armed forces. I am not sure how many helicopters it has but I understand they number at least 24, of which three were available for dealing with flooding in Zimbabwe and two for ferrying the press and the president around—while the remainder were engaged in fighting a particularly unpleasant war in the Congo. Again, I deplore cross-party consensus, but there is clearly a problem—a problem that needs to be sorted out—when a Government with such a tragedy on their doorstep can waste money and lives by causing disruption in another country.

Photo of Mr Bowen Wells Mr Bowen Wells Conservative, Hertford and Stortford

Malawi, which has two helicopters, gave 50 per cent. of its helicopter force to help in the emergency.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

I did not know that, but it is a good point.

South Africa was doing well in this regard—it was South African helicopters that we saw initially—although it threatened to stop flying them because it did not have the necessary funds. South Africa is a poor country, although not everyone there is poor, especially gold miners—at least, Anglo-American gold miners.

The Secretary of State will be astonished to learn that I support the Department's long-term contribution to combating poverty in Mozambique. I admire the work that we saw there—although we could not see it all because we could not fly north. I welcome the support given to the HALO trust. At the risk of destroying the trust's standing with the Secretary of State, I must tell her that I am a trustee. I hope that that will not influence her decisions when she is allocating money. The trust is the largest de-mining organisation in the world, and is doing enormously good work in Mozambique and elsewhere.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Like my hon. Friend, I visited Mozambique fairly recently—just before Christmas. The problem of mines is impressed graphically on anyone who goes there: evidence of maiming and death is all around. I agree with my hon. Friend that the Secretary of State has done very well, but when I questioned her a couple of weeks ago and suggested that the floods would have moved the remaining land mines, making agriculture dangerous, she appeared to dismiss my suggestion.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a role for our sappers in the aftermath of the floods? Could they not speed up the process of de-mining and establish where the mines are now?

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

I raised that issue with the Secretary of State for Defence on Tuesday. I think there is a role for the sappers, and I suspect that they would enjoy the training, if they did not all catch malaria.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

I hope that I did not dismiss the question asked by the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale). 1 said that we had been asked by the Mozambique Government to clear Zambesia province, and that it was virtually clear and unaffected. HALO, in fact, led on that. A United Nations team is currently trying to identify the areas to which the mines have moved. We tend to use the trust because it contains a number of former military personnel, and we can use it more flexibly and more cheaply than we could use our armed forces.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

I think everyone would agree that there is a problem with mines, which has been exacerbated by the floods. Those of us who have seen pictures know that huge chunks of land have been washed away, and on the land were some anti-personnel mines.

I also support—this is awful—the Department's work with institutions, particularly its work with customs out there. I thought that that was very positive.

We met two former Army officers, Gilbert Greenall and someone called, I believe, Howard-Williams. They were working for OCHA; they were civilians, but had been drafted in as replacements by the Department. Notwithstanding what was said by the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie, they seemed to be doing very well and to be creating some co-ordination in the face of what might otherwise have been chaos. The work of the Department's personnel based in Maputo also struck me as positive and sensible. I congratulate those personnel—it would be too easy to allow them to be blamed when others are accused.

I pay a depressingly traditional but nevertheless heartfelt tribute to the military personnel—particularly those in the RAF—who are doing what certainly appears to be a very good job. Having served in the forces, I know that most of the personnel would have been longing to get out there. They are very keen to help, like the South African airmen we saw. I am delighted that helicopters and boats are now in the regions.

Helicopters, however, will remain an issue for some time—weeks, perhaps months—until the infrastructure is repaired. Although we may not be rescuing people from trees, there are no roads, so stuff cannot be shifted by lorry; any movement of goods must be by air. Mozambique will need a great deal of help in rebuilding its infrastructure, its economy and its agriculture.

There is a problem in the Government's reaction to the crisis—a problem relating to joined-up government. The Secretary of State is a genial and well-meaning person, but those of us who were in the Chamber to hear her speech detected a definite problem between her and the Minister for the Armed Forces. I understand that the problem goes back a long way; there may be some personal antipathy.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short Secretary of State, Department for International Development

I saw the reports in the press as well. They are entirely untrue. I said in my speech that we had been in touch with the MOD, and that it had said that it had no assets within 3,000 miles. I think that my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces expressed surprise at that, but there was no difference between us. We would have discussed the matter, but my hon. Friend had to speak in the Chamber.

The fact that reports appear in the press does not mean that they are correct. There has been no argument of any kind between my hon. Friend and me—that is the truth.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

I understand that on the streets of Birmingham people say that there has always been antipathy between the Secretary of State and her hon. Friend, going back to left-wing problems in the days when the right hon. Lady may have been of a slightly different political hue. However, the right hon. Lady has denied the reports and I do not question her integrity—although I note that she was quoted in a newspaper a couple of weeks ago as saying, "I can speak out in Cabinet, but the penalty is that I am not allowed to speak out in public as a result."

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I have already had words with hon. Members about sedentary comments.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

I was intending to make a point about one or two of the things the Secretary of State said earlier.

As my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) pointed out, the amount of aid appears to be falling. I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to tell us that it is not falling from a proposed £76.5 million to £70 million over the next two years.

The real crisis in Mozambique has nothing to do with flooding; it is to do with HIV and AIDS. The black death is stalking Africa, at least sub-Saharan Africa. I know that the Secretary of State is aware of that, because her Department does a great deal.

Thousands have been killed in the floods. Mozambique has a population of more than 18 million, of whom probably 4 million are infected with HIV, although it is difficult to tell.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

The black death was, in fact, the bubonic plague, which stalked Europe in mediaeval times. If the hon. Gentleman was referring to the colour of the skins of people who suffer from AIDS, let me remind him that the disease affects those of all colours.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

I am rather surprised by that intervention. I think the analogy with the black death is very valuable, because this disease is likely to have the same impact on sub-Saharan Africa as the black death had in Europe in the 14th century. As the hon. Lady must know, Africans, regrettably, have been particularly susceptible for a number of reasons. That is well known. If she does not want to call it the black death she can call it something else, but I think that "black death" is an emotive and analogous description.

Approximately 4 million people in Mozambique will probably die of HIV/-AIDS in the next five or six years, and the rate is increasing. We have inadequate data, but the infection rate is horrendous. We do have data for 1994 and 1996. In Maputo and Chimoio, both rates doubled—to nearly 20 per cent. in Chimoio. If that can happen in two years, God knows what the situation is now. As the Government know, the position is similar in Mozambique.

Why is the rate rising to such an extent? Access to health care in inadequate. It is hopeless as there is no infrastructure to convey it to people. The provision of drugs is not the main problem, although such supplies would be helpful. The main problems are ignorance, resistance to condom use for a number of reasons and astonishing promiscuity, linked with poor hygiene and a high rate of sexually transmitted disease. It is behaviour that needs to change. Education is desperately needed in that regard.

Elsewhere in Africa, the situation is also extremely bad. I shall not go into all the details, but this is a problem that the world must face. It is so enormous, however, that the world is turning its back on it.

The impact has a disproportionate effect on key members of society, such as teachers and doctors who have travelled more. The result is schools without teachers and hospitals without doctors. [Interruption.] I notice that there is certain amount of pressure on me to sit down. It is a responsibility of the indigenous Governments, but it is important that we direct our response more towards that enormous crisis than towards anything else. Millions there will be affected by that, whereas the flooding crisis is, proportionately, affecting very few.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Shadow Secretary of State for Defence 3:30 pm, 16th March 2000

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for not being ready to rise. I was expecting you to call someone else.

I pay fulsome tribute to the volunteers and members of the armed forces whom the Secretary of State mentioned. Conservative Members pay tribute to them for their hard work and the physical risk that they run. They are saving lives and no one is shooting at them, but that does not mean that, during those dangerous activities, they may not lose their own life.

This is not a witch-hunt. I wish to make it clear—the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) seems to have been taken wrongly by the Secretary of State—that the objective is to figure out what went wrong, so that lessons can be learned and so that, next time, it is possible that things can go right.

The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) made a typically knowledgeable speech and raised some important points. She said that, in almost all these circumstances, the military has a big role to play. I agree. With operations of that scale, it is almost inconceivable that a national effort will not at some stage involve the military, at least discussing with it how to run the operation.

The lesson that the hon. Lady mentioned is that some things could have been done better. She said that Britain had taken the lead. If we look at the figures on the amount of aid, there is no question but that Britain is the most significant player in Mozambique. No one criticises that. We are all saying that that badge of honour should be worn by this country. Had the whole operation stopped in the early stages, there is no question but that it would rightfully have been worn by the Government, but that is not the whole question.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells), the Chairman of the Select Committee on International Development, made a good speech. He said "We were a bit late, but we were there." That is not a bad comment, but some of the real criticism stems from the fact that we were a bit late, certainly in the second half of the operation.

My hon. Friend maintains—I am interested in the matter—that helicopters were needed at least from 20 February. The Secretary of State for International Development probably agreed with that, although I did not hear her say it. My hon. Friend said that the early response was good. Again, I believe that that is important. The question is about the second half of the whole project: how good was that? He was right to say that OCHA should be criticised for leaving the area early, given what happened after it went.

My hon. Friend said that it was a Treasury problem. There is something in that. He was critical of the MOD. I am not entirely in agreement. I do not fully agree that it bears even 50 per cent. of the blame; I think that it bears far less, if any.

The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington)—I think that that is how the constituency is pronounced. [Interruption.] My apologies, I did not know how to pronounce it. It is not as bad as the pronunciation of my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), who persists in mispronouncing Scots names.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

I will not.

The hon. Gentleman dealt with the early part and glossed over the later critical period. He dealt with the early aid in detail and said that it was well done but, when he got to the critical bit about the MOD's involvement and what happened, he quickly glossed over that. I do not criticise him for doing that—I would if I were sitting on the Back Benches—but that is not the whole answer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) talked about communication problems and said that there should have been better communication between the Departments. I agree. He is fundamentally right. I was in the area at the time that Samora Machel was—I am tempted to say it—on the throne in Mozambique. As we all know, the running of the country at that stage was a complete and unmitigated disaster. Obviously, a number of parties bear responsibility for that.

Much of what we see is a result of that, but we also need to ask what happened to those from Zimbabwe. Where were they? The answer is that they were fighting a war somewhere, probably protecting their president's investments in another country. The shame that they carry is the shame that happens when people get their priorities wrong. I hope that they sort that out in due course.

Questions arise; that is the key point. The Secretary of State for Defence should answer some specific questions. The problem is that the impression is that the Secretary of State for International Development and the Defence Secretary did not engage in conversation or discussion about the matter at an early enough stage.

I place most of the blame for that on the Secretary of State for International Development, because I do not think that she grasped the significance of the MOD from the outset. It behoves her to contact the MOD and to say that it is required. If she had said after the Thursday Cabinet meeting just before the weekend in question, "Come over here. What can we do? What can you do for me? What options are there on the table?", I have no doubt that the MOD would have responded immediately with a range of options. That is the nature of the MOD, but it was not asked those questions. That is the key issue.

For example, we have the wonderful mess over exactly when the Department for International Development was meant to have contacted the MOD. I read with great interest the verbatim account of the Select Committee proceedings. Mr. Holden, the official, was asked when the contact happened. He said:

I think it was 25/26th at about 8 o'clock at night. There is the problem, because we are not certain even when the MOD was contacted. The MOD's version was different. It said that it was

On Saturday 26 February at around 2 o'clock, so we have a difference of a day. No one seems to have a record of exactly when the Department contacted the MOD.

The other important point is that the Department asked the wrong question. It seems that the only question that it asked the MOD was: "What have you got in the area?", to which the answer came, "What we have is 3,000 miles away and is on board a ship." That is a straight answer to a straight question. I have no criticism of that. Surely the question should have been, "What could you do to project helicopters down to Mozambique to put in some support?" Had the Department asked that question, it might have got a responsible answer, but it did not.

Another question is, exactly when was the Secretary of State informed about the answer from the MOD? She said:

that was my understanding from advice that I received from the Ministry this morning—[Official Report, 28 February 2000; Vol. 345, c. 23.] However, she told the Select Committee: The answer on the Saturday was that they— the MOD— had nothing within 3,000 miles. If the Department knew on the Saturday that the ship, which may have been available, was 3,000 miles away, why did it not decide, there and then, whether it required it to be moved? Had it taken the decision then, the ship would have been on station pretty close to the time that the Department finally had to ship the helicopters down for the following weekend. That is the key point. Early information was there, but nothing was done.

Then we got into the unseemly dispute about money. Again, it is unseemly for the MOD to have to go into a bidding war with the Department for International Development over how much the operation could cost, but we have to be slightly fair to the MOD—I know that the Secretary of State will be worried by that comment: such operations cost money. What the figures are is a secondary issue. The MOD said that it would cost so much. The Secretary of State simply noted that and walked away.

A decision should have been made at that point—if money was not available, why did not Ministers immediately get on the telephone to the Prime Minister or to the Chancellor and say, "This is the problem. This is what it will cost to deal with it, but the Department cannot afford it. Can we cover that cost?"? Perhaps the Secretary of State for Defence himself could have done that. The point is that DFID Ministers knew that they could do that. The Ministry of Defence offered them an option, but they did not take it. That is the reality, as shown by the evidence.

The Prime Minister must have known about the situation the week before the problems became apparent. Although I appreciate that Thursday Cabinet meetings now last for only about 20 minutes—the Prime Minister does not need to know what everyone in Cabinet thinks, because he thinks it for them—the Prime Minister must have already known about the situation. He must also have approved plans for Britain to start taking serious action in Mozambique.

The Prime Minister was supposed to be taking a direct interest in the matter, but where was he in dealing with the subsequent problems? Why did he not say, "Pack up the arguments. Here's the solution—send the helicopters. That is what you're going to do." I suspect, however, that no one even bothered to contact him about that, and his advisers did not want him involved in it because it was looking a bit nasty and shabby. There was no Executive decision-making.

I believe that the MOD was more sinned against than sinning in the matter. Eventually, the Department was asked for information. The Department provided that information, but there was no response to it until it was too late. DFID bears very much of the blame for that delay. Let us not beat around the bush: for three to four days, there was delay in which no decisions were taken on what to do.

I should also like to know from the Defence Secretary—as the Minister for the Armed Forces is sitting on the Treasury Bench next to him—whether the spat between the Minister and the Secretary of State for International Development that occurred during the statement by the Secretary of State for International Development on Monday 28 February was caused by the fact that DFID had probably already received a list of options from the MOD, although DFID had not directly requested those options? On Monday 28 February, was not DFID provided with those options, which were developed by the Minister for the Armed Forces? DFID must have received the options. If it had not received them, it could not possibly have asked questions, on Tuesday 29 February, about the figures.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

My hon. Friend may be right in his analysis of events, but I think that the delay occurred partly because of the personal antipathy—which has been denied—between the Minister for the Armed Forces, the hon. Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar) and the Secretary of State for International Development, and partly because of the Labour party's history in Birmingham. Although the Minister for the Armed Forces says that such an antipathy is rubbish, in the Birmingham Labour party, they talk of little else.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

My hon. Friend has made that point absolutely clear.

As my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon and hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, if the Secretary of State for International Development wants to think of this inquiry into the matter as a witch hunt and to take it personally, she may do as she pleases. However, we have to know what went wrong. The buck must stop with her if the Government had decided that Mozambique was a priority; if DFID chose not to tell the Secretary of State the answers that it received from the MOD; and if the MOD provided requested information, but that information was not acted on. She can delegate as much as she likes, but, ultimately, delegation is only an extension of the responsibility of the person at the top—she is the person who makes the final decision.

Far too often, the Secretary of State for International Development was kept out of the loop. Therefore, far too often she failed to take a timely decision. Surely she could have asked the MOD earlier for a range of options, and it would have provided it. I do not believe that the MOD should automatically present such options. If she really thought that she needed some options, she should have asked for them earlier, so that she could have acted more quickly.

As my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon said, DFID tried to get out of the situation by spin, counter-spin and re-presenting the sums that it would pump into Mozambique. Again, however, it was only a silly game in which DFID tried to gain credit, whereas the Department was without credit in the matter.

Today, all we heard from the Secretary of State was a history lesson, followed by an appalling geography lesson, yet we want to know the real lessons to be learned. Had those lessons been learned earlier, it could have saved the lives that were lost because of delay.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence 3:45 pm, 16th March 2000

I should like to start by making some straightforward, but fundamental points which are relevant to the debate, not least because there has been a complete contrast between the two speeches by the Opposition Front Benchers and every other speech in the debate.

The hon. Members for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) and for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) have failed to get any hon. Member, even any other Conservative Member, to speak in support of their motion. Neither the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) nor the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) spoke to the motion, but I leave that to the internal management of the Conservative party to resolve.

The fundamental points are these. First, the United Kingdom's contribution to the relief effort in Mozambique has been, and continues to be, a success. Both military and civilian personnel are making a real difference there.

Secondly, there has been no dispute between the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence in putting that contribution together. The two Departments have worked together to ensure that, as the crisis developed, the United Kingdom's response was, at each stage, the most appropriate and most effective available.

Thirdly—despite much media excitement, and the forlorn efforts of the hon. Member for South-West Devon to generate some excitement in this debate—there was no question of haggling over costs at the expense of delivering the assistance required. It is entirely right and completely consistent with the practice of previous Governments that the Department with the policy lead should make the judgment about how best to allocate the available resources.

Given the nature of the debate, I shall try to set out the sequence of events in some detail. The House has heard from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development that her Department was involved in the flood relief efforts in January, from the moment that they began. That has been confirmed by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) in an excellent, thoughtful and well-considered speech. I thank her particularly for her comments on the contribution made by the armed forces.

A massive surge of water, over the weekend of Saturday 26 February, caused the situation to deteriorate still further. Although further flooding had been anticipated, its sheer scale took everyone by surprise, including, of course, the people of Mozambique. It would also have taken the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford by surprise. I was a little surprised that he criticised the Ministry of Defence for failing to plan before that date, because at no stage when I gave evidence to the International Development Committee did he raise that matter with me. Moreover, the criticism that he made dealt with a completely different time frame from the one complained about by the Opposition spokesmen.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

What advice was the right hon. Gentleman receiving from the defence attaché at the British high commission in South Africa and from the high commission in South Africa on the course of the crisis and on the involvement of the South African air force, which by that stage was already flying in Mozambique, supported and paid for by the Nordic countries? At some point, we took over the responsibility of paying for that.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

The point that I shall be making, in response to the criticism by the Opposition spokesmen, is that the acute need for helicopters followed on from the flood surge that occurred over that weekend. Therefore, although we were receiving advice about the general situation, it confirmed the type of advice that we heard about today from my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley. As I said, the judgment on the type of response was necessary was made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development.

Photo of Mr Bowen Wells Mr Bowen Wells Conservative, Hertford and Stortford

Of course the flood was greater than any of us foresaw. However, the fact is that surges of water down rivers such as the Limpopo do not happen overnight. The surge was caused by the very considerable rainfall inland. As the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) said, the Committee was in the middle of that, and we knew that the surge was coming down. It should have been anticipated.

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I could have given the hon. Gentleman a fuller answer if he had made that criticism when I appeared before the Select Committee the other day. I feel bound to point out that he did not raise it when he had that opportunity.

I was trying to set out the sequence of events. The Department for International Development approached the Ministry of Defence and others to ask whether the United Kingdom had any people or equipment in the region that could be of assistance. Unfortunately, we did not. The Department was told that the nearest appropriate people and equipment were 3,000 miles away in the Persian gulf. As a result, the Department for International Development continued to look locally for assistance. It successfully guaranteed the funding to ensure that South African air force helicopters could continue saving people, as well as hiring other helicopters nearby that could commence operations immediately.

At the same time as the Department for International Development was searching southern Africa for more practical assistance, the Ministry of Defence looked at whether there was anything that could be done from further afield. On Monday 28 February, my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces asked officials to look into the possible options to help further the effort already being made by the Department for International Development.

Officials were able to identify three suitable options: first, four Puma helicopters with support personnel and equipment; secondly, a detachment of Royal Marines with hovercraft and boats; and, thirdly, the RFA Fort George, which was part of a naval task group operating in the Gulf. At the earliest opportunity, Ministry of Defence officials held discussions with their colleagues in the Department for International Development to establish whether the deployment of any of those assets might be of assistance.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The right hon. Gentleman knows the value that I put on the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships. Does he agree that the enhanced role that the RFA could play in humanitarian relief should be considered? Will he look in particular at the future role of RFA Fort Grange?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I agree that we can use those ships in that role, but one of the dilemmas that we faced on the deployment of Fort George—it would have been the same for the deployment of any ship—is that it would take nine days to get where it was needed. A certain amount of clairvoyance is needed to determine whether the problem will be the same after nine days. That has to be taken into account.

Work on those options was carried forward urgently. Contingency plans were drawn up, personnel were placed on standby, equipment was prepared, an Antonov aircraft was reserved and a reconnaissance team was deployed to Mozambique in advance of a final decision. Those are all standard military procedures, designed to maximise readiness and avoid delay.

Given the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington), it might be helpful if I explain why we decided to hire a commercially chartered aircraft to transport the helicopters to the region. It was the only aircraft big enough and readily available to do the job as quickly as we wanted. We decided that the use of the RAF's C130 aircraft, which was mentioned during the debate, was not appropriate, because it would have taken longer to dismantle the helicopters, longer to fly them to Mozambique and longer to reassemble them at the other end. It would also have required a fleet of aircraft—one for each Puma helicopter and another one for additional equipment. That answers my hon. Friend's point. I look forward to his vigorous support in ensuring that the United Kingdom has its own heavy lift capacity in due course.

Despite the lack of suitable heavy lift aircraft, it is important to emphasise that the British Government were the first from outside the immediate region to have military helicopters operational and contributing to the relief effort. Where, therefore, was the delay that people are complaining about?

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

The answer to that lies in an earlier point that the Secretary of State made. Will he confirm that the Department for International Development knew the location of the nearest Ministry of Defence resources by Saturday and that the Secretary of State for International Development should have known that the Minister for the Armed Forces was already working on alternative proposals, including flying out helicopters?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I have set out the sequence of events clearly. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development rightly wanted to ensure that helicopters were available locally as quickly as possible. That inevitably meant that she was going to look for helicopters in the immediate vicinity. When the problem became clearly more serious than was initially anticipated and no further helicopters were available locally, it was appropriate to look further afield. The hon. Gentleman knows the enormous effort involved in transporting helicopters from the United Kingdom to Mozambique. That was the sequence of events and that is why the decisions taken at each stage were right.

Once the Department for International Development had satisfied the requirement for immediate assistance in the region, it was then important to consider other, longer-term actions. The decision to deploy the RFA Fort George was made on Thursday 2 March, in the knowledge that it would take around 9 days—3,000 miles of sailing—to get there. However, in advance of a final decision, the captain of the Fort George had undertaken preparatory work to ensure that the ship would be properly equipped in the event of a deployment. The ship was already heading south. It is a specialist supply vessel with five Sea King helicopters on board. It was decided that their greater radius of operations and their mobile operating platform would give the ship an advantage over ground-based helicopters, particularly in the event of serious flooding in northern Mozambique. That and the ship's load of 1.5 million litres of aviation fuel give it a vital role in the longer-term relief effort. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that that was an example of forward thinking and planning for the likely situation in Mozambique once the waters had receded. Conservative Members should congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development on anticipating the problems that were likely to arise.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby

Would not HMS Illustrious have been faster and a better platform for helicopters?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

Fort George is part of the task group that also has the aircraft carrier involved with it. It is a supply vessel and was packed with food, fuel and water and was able to call in to take on extra medicines. That is the equipment that my right hon. Friend judged would be vital once the flood waters began to recede.

There has been a great deal of comment about costs, but also a great deal of wilful misunderstanding of the reality. Hon. Members understand that the Department for International Development takes the lead on the Government's response to any overseas natural disaster and its budget reflects that. The defence budget is approved by the House for carrying out defence tasks. It does not contain provision for overseas disaster relief. It is therefore entirely appropriate for the Department for International Development to make a judgment about the best use of its funds for disaster relief at an appropriate stage in any disaster.

To enable the Department for International Development to make an informed decision, the Ministry of Defence had to provide an outline of the estimated costs. The Chairman of the International Development Committee accepted that point when I gave evidence. It is accepted practice for any Department to charge the Department with the funding and the policy lead the additional no-loss costs of providing equipment and personnel for disaster relief operations.

There is no doubt that the armed forces can make a significant contribution to disaster relief operations. It is clear that the public expect well trained, well organised military personnel to be able to deploy quickly and effectively to assist in such situations. However, the fact remains that substantial costs are involved in deploying personnel and equipment over distances of several thousand miles. In many cases it will be quicker and cheaper for the Department for International Development to locate and fund sources of assistance from nearby countries. It is for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development to consider all the options and judge which offers the most timely and effective response.

The UK has deployed more military helicopters and got them from further afield into the region more quickly than any other nation. That is clear testimony to the determination and self-discipline of the crew and support personnel in preparing the aircraft, the equipment and themselves for deployment at the earliest opportunity.

I should also mention the excellent work of the South African air force. During the initial rescue effort, its air crews worked flat out for days on end and saved many thousands of lives. They are a great credit to their country. We have particular reason to be grateful to the South Africans. Without their assistance on the ground and their permission to use their base for maintenance, we would not have been able to participate in the international relief effort as quickly or as effectively.

In conclusion, the facts are that the UK has delivered the largest bilateral contribution of support on the ground, that the Department for International Development responded immediately once the scale of the catastrophe had become apparent and that only South Africa and Malawi had helicopters operating there before those from the UK. We have provided more military, and funded more civilian, helicopters than anyone else. We have people here and in Mozambique who have worked and who continue to work around the clock to provide assistance to people in real need under very challenging circumstances.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 125, Noes 310.

Division No.115][4 pm
AYES
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Duncan Smith, Iain
Amess, DavidEvans, Nigel
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon JamesFaber, David
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Fabricant, Michael
Baldry, TonyFallon, Michael
Bercow, JohnFlight, Howard
Beresford, Sir PaulForth, Rt Hon Eric
Blunt, CrispinFowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Brady, GrahamFox, Dr Liam
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterFraser, Christopher
Browning, Mrs AngelaGale, Roger
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Gibb, Nick
Butterfill, JohnGill, Christopher
Cash, WilliamGillan, Mrs Cheryl
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)Gray, James
Green, Damian
Chope, ChristopherGrieve, Dominic
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Hammond, Philip
Hawkins, Nick
Collins, TimHayes, John
Cormack, Sir PatrickHeald, Oliver
Cran, JamesHogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Curry, Rt Hon DavidHoram, John
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Day, StephenHowarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Dorrell, Rt Hon StephenHunter, Andrew
Duncan, AlanJack, Rt Hon Michael
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Redwood, Rt Hon John
Jenkin, BernardRobathan, Andrew
Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyRoe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Ruffley, David
Key, RobertSt Aubyn, Nick
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)Shepherd, Richard
Kirkbride, Miss JulieSimpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Laing, Mrs EleanorSoames, Nicholas
Lait, Mrs JacquiSpelman, Mrs Caroline
Lansley, AndrewSteen, Anthony
Letwin, OliverStreeter, Gary
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)Swayne, Desmond
Lidington, DavidSyms, Robert
Lilley, Rt Hon PeterTapsell, Sir Peter
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Loughton, TimTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Luff, PeterTownend, John
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir NicholasTredinnick, David
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnTrend, Michael
McIntosh, Miss AnneTyrie, Andrew
MacKay, Rt Hon AndrewViggers, Peter
Maclean, Rt Hon DavidWalter, Robert
McLoughlin, PatrickWardle, Charles
Madel, Sir DavidWaterson, Nigel
Major, Rt Hon JohnWells, Bowen
Malins, HumfreyWhittingdale, John
Maples, JohnWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Maude, Rt Hon FrancisWilkinson, John
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir BrianWilletts, David
Moss, MalcolmWilshire, David
Nicholls, PatrickWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Norman, ArchieWinterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)Yeo, Tim
Ottaway, RichardYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Page, Richard
Pickles, EricTellers for the Ayes:
Portillo, Rt Hon MichaelMr. John Randall and
Prior, DavidMr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown
NOES
Abbott, Ms DianeBrinton, Mrs Helen
Ainger, NickBruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Buck, Ms Karen
Alexander, DouglasBurden, Richard
Allan, RichardBurgon, Colin
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Butler, Mrs Christine
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Byers, Rt Hon Stephen
Ashton, JoeCable, Dr Vincent
Atkins, CharlotteCaborn, Rt Hon Richard
Austin, JohnCampbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Baker, NormanCampbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Ballard, JackieCampbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)
Banks, Tony
Barnes, HarryCampbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Battle, JohnCann, Jamie
Bayley, HughCaplin, Ivor
Beard, NigelCasale, Roger
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretCawsey, Ian
Beith, Rt Hon A JChapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Bell, Martin (Tatton)Chidgey, David
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)Clapham, Michael
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)
Bennett, Andrew FClark Paul (Gillingham)
Benton, JoeClarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Bermingham, GeraldClelland, David
Berry, RogerClwyd, Ann
Best, HaroldCoaker, Vernon
Betts, CliveCoffey, Ms Ann
Blair, Rt Hon TonyColeman, Iain
Blears, Ms HazelColman, Tony
Blunkett, Rt Hon DavidConnarty, Michael
Boateng, Rt Hon PaulCook, Frank (Stockton N)
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Cooper, Yvette
Brake, TomCorbett, Robin
Corbyn, JeremyIllsley, Eric
Corston, JeanJackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Cotter, BrianJamieson, David
Cousins, JimJenkins, Brian
Cox, TomJohnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Cranston, RossJohnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Crausby, David
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Cummings, JohnJones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs ClaireJones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Darvill, KeithJones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Davey, Edward (Kingston)Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Keeble, Ms Sally
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H)Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Kelly, Ms Ruth
Dawson, HiltonKennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Denham, JohnKhabra, Piara S
Dowd, JimKidney, David
Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethKilfoyle, Peter
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Ellman, Mrs LouiseLaxton, Bob
Ennis, JeffLepper, David
Etherington, BillLeslie, Christopher
Fearn, RonnieLevitt, Tom
Field, Rt Hon FrankLewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Fisher, MarkLinton, Martin
Fitzpatrick, JimLloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Flint, CarolineLock, David
Flynn, PaulLove, Andrew
Foster, Don (Bath)McAvoy, Thomas
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)McCabe, Steve
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)McCafferty, Ms Chris
Gapes, MikeMcDonagh, Siobhain
Gardiner, BarryMcDonnell, John
George, Bruce (Walsall S)McIsaac, Shona
Gerrard, NeilMackinlay, Andrew
Gibson, Dr IanMcNamara, Kevin
Gilroy, Mrs LindaMcNulty, Tony
Godman, Dr Norman AMactaggart, Fiona
Godsiff, RogerMcWalter, Tony
Goggins, PaulMcWilliam, John
Gordon, Mrs EileenMahon, Mrs Alice
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Grocott, BruceMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Grogan, JohnMarshall-Andrews, Robert
Hain, PeterMaxton, John
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)Merron, Gillian
Hancock, MikeMichie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hanson, DavidMichie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Harman, Rt Hon Ms HarrietMiller, Andrew
Harris, Dr EvanMoffatt, Laura
Heal, Mrs SylviaMoonie, Dr Lewis
Healey, JohnMoore, Michael
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)Moran, Ms Margaret
Hepburn, StephenMorris, Rt Hon Sir John (Aberavon)
Heppell, John
Hill, KeithMowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie
Hinchliffe, DavidMullin, Chris
Hodge, Ms MargaretMurphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hood, JimmyMurphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Hoon, Rt Hon GeoffreyNaysmith, Dr Doug
Hope, PhilO'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Hopkins, KelvinO'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Howells, Dr KimO'Hara, Eddie
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)Olner, Bill
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Organ, Mrs Diana
Hurst, AlanPalmer, Dr Nick
Hutton, JohnPearson, Ian
Iddon, Dr BrianPendry, Tom
Perham, Ms LindaSouthworth, Ms Helen
Pickthall, ColinSpellar, John
Pike, Peter LSquire, Ms Rachel
Plaskitt, JamesSteinberg, Gerry
Pollard, KerryStevenson, George
Pond, ChrisStewart, David (Inverness E)
Pope, GregStinchcombe, Paul
Pound, StephenStoate, Dr Howard
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Prosser, GwynStringer, Graham
Purchase, KenStuart, Ms Gisela
Quin, Rt Hon Ms JoyceStunell, Andrew
Quinn, LawrieSutcliffe, Gerry
Radice, Rt Hon GilesTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Rammell, Bill
Rapson SydTaylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Raynsford, NickTaylor, David (NW Leics)
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Rendel, DavidTimms, Stephen
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)Tipping, Paddy
Roche, Mrs BarbaraTodd, Mark
Rogers, AllanTonge, Dr Jenny
Rooker, Rt Hon JeffTouhig, Don
Rooney, TerryTrickett, Jon
Ross, Emie (Dundee W)Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Rowlands, TedTurner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Ruddock, JoanTurner, Neil (Wigan)
Russell, Bob (Colchester)Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Tynan, Bill
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)Vis, Dr Rudi
Ryan, Ms JoanWalley, Ms Joan
Salter, MartinWatts, David
Sanders, AdrianWhite, Brian
Sawford, PhilWhitehead, Dr Alan
Sedgemore, BrianWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, BarryWilliams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Shipley, Ms DebraWillis, Phil
Short, Rt Hon ClareWinterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Singh, MarshaWise, Audrey
Skinner, DennisWood, Mike
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)Woodward, Shaun
Smith, Angela (Basildon)Woolas, Phil
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)Worthington, Tony
Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)Wyatt, Derek
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)Tellers for the Noes:
Snape, PeterMr. Mike Hall and
Soley, CliveMr. Graham Allen.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments) and agreed to.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House commends the Government for its speedy and effective response to the humanitarian crisis in Mozambique.