Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, when repeating the Statement the noble Baroness referred to the need to be prepared for disasters. However, how is it possible to prepare for a disaster so great that is destroys a very high proportion of the road and bridge network of the

9 Nov 1998 : Column 529

region, as my noble friend pointed out? Frankly, I was flabbergasted by the response of the noble Baroness to the effect that the communications infrastructure has already been substantially replaced. I simply do not believe that to be the case. Indeed, the evidence which is being presented on television programmes suggests that that is not so.

Can the noble Baroness tell the House what, in addition to the helicopters of HMS "Sheffield", this country can do--possibly through our Armed Forces--to provide the Bailey bridges and other equipment so urgently needed to re-establish basic communications? Without that equipment it will simply not be possible to get the badly needed food, water and medical supplies to the suffering populations of these two unhappy countries.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, in relation to the noble Lord's point about how it is possible to prepare for disasters, I should stress again the examples of Bangladesh and Belize. Hurricanes are not new in these regions, neither are floods. One of the things that we have tried to do is support those countries to enable them to prepare both in terms of strengthening the institutions and also by working with the populations, so that they know precisely what to do when a hurricane or a flood is predicted. This has resulted in not such a great loss of life when these disasters occur. That is an important point.

As regards the point about communications, I wish to make clear that access and communications are being re-established. I did not intend to say that these had been replaced, but we are pleased that access has been re-established because it allows us to work on the ground. Our ships were in the vicinity and have been asked to help not only with the provision of helicopters but also to give support with engineering and other such matters.

Baroness Hooper: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness. I understand this may be the first time she has answered questions on a Statement from the Dispatch Box. I know that it can be a gruelling experience. Given the scale of the disaster, the loss of life and the great human tragedy that has occurred and the great significance of the loss of life to the small populations involved, it seems to me that the 6.8 million ecu being offered as help from the European Union as a whole is very much a drop in the ocean. Does that represent a first tranche of aid from the European Union? If not, will the British Government push our partners in the European Union to increase the amount?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her kind words. The £4.8 million allocated by the EC Humanitarian Office has not yet been disbursed. I think it is too early to say whether more money will be needed. We shall be in close touch with the EC Humanitarian Office on the need for further assistance for both relief and rehabilitation once the needs assessment has been carried out and once we know how the £4.8 million will be used. The priority

9 Nov 1998 : Column 530

right now is to ensure that what has been committed is spent quickly and effectively on those most in need in the region. We shall be keeping a watchful eye on the matter.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, will the Minister convey the warmest congratulations of your Lordships to the personnel of the British ships in the area on their wonderful rescue work and particularly the work of the helicopter crews in bringing to safety the lady who was adrift for five days in the ocean and whose remarkable recovery we all greatly welcome? Can the noble Baroness say whether the rescue efforts of Her Majesty's ships were sufficient to meet the needs or can any other ships be brought in from elsewhere in the region to supplement the tremendous work already done?

Further to the question of the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, has any thought been given to training units of the British Armed Forces, particularly the Royal Engineers, in emergency reconstruction work so that they may enter a region such as Nicaragua or Honduras immediately after a crisis such as this and restore communications as rapidly as possible?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I shall certainly pass on the warm congratulations of the noble Lord to the Armed Forces. As regards the point about whether the rescue efforts have been sufficient, certainly to date all the requests that we have had from local authorities have been met. At this time we do not anticipate a need for other ships to enter the region. We shall consider the matter, but clearly timing is important. As regards the training of the British Armed Forces, I shall write to the noble Lord on the training that currently takes place and any additional training which is being considered.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas: My Lords, the noble Baroness is to be strongly congratulated on the positive Statement. I should mention that I am president of the International Rescue Corps. Is the Minister aware that there is a team of the International Rescue Corps who wish to express gratitude for the help they have received from government agencies and in particular from the joint operation which has included HMS "Sheffield" as they work their way towards Waspan in Nicaragua on the Rio Coco? Is she further aware that first reports indicate that notwithstanding the immensity of the problems facing them they are achieving positive results along with other groups?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we are all extremely proud of the efforts made by all the agencies and organisations which have been involved in the relief effort. Like the noble Lord, I believe that we need to pass on our thanks to those agencies and organisations which have been involved.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the Minister on her performance at the Dispatch Box. Will she elaborate on the role of the Armed Forces and in particular to whom they will be accountable?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the Armed Forces will, as usual, report to their commanding officers and

9 Nov 1998 : Column 531

through them to the Ministry of Defence. There will be close liaison between their work and the work of the Department for International Development.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, does the Minister accept that many of us are glad to hear what I think I understood her to say; namely, that the suspension of debt repayment is under consideration? Has she any idea of the kind of timetable we can look for?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, as regards debt relief, we are trying to ensure through working with our international partners that there is some flexibility in the process. At this time I am unable to tell the noble Baroness exactly what the timescale will be. However, once those discussions have taken place, I shall write and give a fuller reply.

Scotland Bill

4.37 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Third Reading resumed.

Clause 22 [Standing orders]:

[Amendment No. 11 not moved.]

Clause 23 [Power to call for witnesses and documents]:

Lord Sewel moved Amendment No. 12:

Page 10, line 42, leave out ("the Minister of the Crown,") and insert ("him (whether or not he continues to be a Minister of the Crown),").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, on the second day of Report the Government agreed to consider the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, that would extend to past Ministers of the Crown the same protection as is afforded to current Ministers of the Crown.

We have reflected on the amendment and conclude that it is indeed a valuable provision to make. Amendment No. 12 provides that the limitations set out in Clause 23(3) on the power of the parliament to impose a requirement on a person to attend its proceedings to give evidence, or to produce documents, also extend to former Ministers. We thought it sensible to extend this to former civil servants too, and that is what Amendment No. 13 does. In effect the parliament cannot impose requirements on a former Minister of the Crown or civil servant in relation to the exercise of ministerial functions, if it cannot impose such a requirement on the current Minister or his civil servants. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page