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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I wish to place on record explicitly the Government's position because I still do not think it is clear to the House. The effect that any spending might have on a council tax increase is a matter for the local authority. Before authorities increased the council tax we would expect them to look at whether they could raise money more effectively or efficiently--that will not surprise the noble Lord--taking account of what local people were prepared to pay. There is an important general point. We have said that we will look at the ability of
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. We do have a genuine misunderstanding. I am dealing with the Bill. If it said that local authorities could spend on this power within their existing budgets, that would be acceptable. That means that at the present time this is an additional function which has to come out of existing volumes of money because the Bill says:
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
Baroness Amos: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to repeat in the form of a Statement a Private Notice Question on Mozambique answered in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development. The Statement is as follows:
"The Government of Mozambique estimate that over 500,000 people have been affected, with over 100,000 still awaiting rescue following the recent flood surge over the weekend. Regrettably, further showers and possible flooding from the Cabora Bassa dam are likely to make the situation worse over the next few days.
"The first phase of the relief operation, involving rescue and evacuation of people stranded by flood water is still ongoing. Co-ordination of rescue activities has been problematic. We are doing all we can to make available extra helicopters and boats. As the flood water subsides, the relief operation will move into a second phase. Priorities will be urgent repairs to essential infrastructure, shelter, food delivery and medical services
"DfID deployed two humanitarian specialists to the region during the initial stages of the flooding on 11th February. They conducted rapid assessments and liased with the Mozambiquan authorities and humanitarian organisations to plan the rescue operation needs. We despatched a consignment of over 400 tents from the UK to Maputo for the Red Cross to distribute for emergency shelter to those made homeless. We also supported the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Co-ordination Team, who are assisting the Mozambiquan authorities with the targeting and co-ordination of relief efforts. Given the deteriorating situation over the weekend, we are deploying a humanitarian specialist to assist with assessments and prioritisation of needs. We are also strengthening the World Food Programme with the secondment of two logistics experts to assist with the effective tasking of helicopters.
"DfID has already contributed nearly £2.2 for rescue and immediate relief, including the provision of shelter, water, sanitation and health support. This funding has been channelled through the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, UNICEF, the World Food Programme, the Red Cross, ActionAid, Oxfam, Save the Children Fund and World Vision. These activities are being co-ordinated with the Mozambiquan authorities. We stand ready to provide further assistance".
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating, in the form of a Statement, a Private Notice Question answered in another place giving details of the Government's response to the flood crisis in Mozambique.
None of us can fail to be moved by the effect of the worst floods to hit Mozambique in years. What discussions did the Minister's department have with the authorities in the two years prior to the flooding to prepare for a co-ordinated response should a natural disaster occur?
The Minister referred to the swift reaction of the aid agencies and the Government of Mozambique to deal with the crisis. I should like to associate these Benches with the tribute paid to relief agencies such as the Red Cross for the outstanding work that they do in this field. Sadly, according to some aid workers, both the UN and DfID would not allow the Mozambique relief bodies a free hand to cope with yet another disaster to hit them. What assessment has the Minister made of the criticism of her department? Does she think that, wherever possible, UK funding should be supporting local plans drawn up to cope with such disasters and not the imposition of our own plans? Is she satisfied with the co-ordination of the relief effort?
When a hurricane hit Nicaragua and Honduras, there was confusion in the Government's position on debt relief. Here, too, there appeared to be confusion on the ground about the Government's humanitarian relief action plan. Was a plan drawn up for Mozambique, and did the Government stick to it?
Finally, we on these Benches recognise that Mozambique is one of Africa's success stories. Its privatisation programme is one of the most active in Africa: more than 900 state enterprises have been liberalised. However, according to Jubilee 2000, Mozambique is still having to pay 1.4 million dollars a week in debt service. What plans do the Government have in the future to take no more debt repayments in the future from the Mozambiquan Government until the country has got back on its feet again? Will the Government support the idea that Mozambique should be rewarded for sticking for so long to the very severe IMF structural adjustment programmes?
Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, five years ago I had the great pleasure of monitoring the first multi-party election in Mozambique in precisely the area north of Maputo which has been devastated by the floods caused by the overflowing of the Limpopo and Save rivers. Your Lordships will understand, therefore, how distressed I feel at seeing the pictures of that same area in the condition that it is in today.
I begin by thanking the Government for the response that they have made, quickly, in assisting the South African authorities and the local voluntary agencies to cope with this terrible disaster. Sadly, the forecast is that more rains and another cyclone are approaching.
Mozambique is a fairly new member of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Secretary-General has appealed for neighbouring Commonwealth countries to send immediate assistance. I know that Malawi has responded. Does the Minister have news of any response from other neighbouring countries? Do we have, in our military training areas in Kenya, any suitable equipment--for example, helicopters or inflatable boats--which might be made available directly by the Ministry of Defence?
That leads me to ask the Minister a further question. We had several days' warning of the flood conditions in Mozambique. I wonder whether DfID and the Ministry of Defence have sufficient forward planning co-ordinated to be able to provide effective help in situations such as this, given that the MoD has massive resources compared with the limited resources that DfID inevitably has.
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their positive comments about the relief effort to date. I thank the noble Baroness in particular for the tribute that she paid to the relief agencies that are working so hard in the area at present.
The noble Baroness asked a number of questions. The first related to whether or not there had been a plan for Mozambique and any assessment by this Government, with the Government of Mozambique, in relation to planning for such an eventuality. I can assure the noble Baroness that we have a very good relationship with the Government of Mozambique. There have been ongoing discussions with the Government of Mozambique over a long period of time regarding ways in which this Government can best support the Mozambiquan Government's efforts in a variety of areas.
In Mozambique, the National Institute for Disaster Management is the central government body for co-ordinating relief efforts within which relevant government ministries are represented. They have worked in co-operation with the United Nations Disaster and Co-ordination Team in relation to the current crisis.
We consider the Government of Mozambique to have been, up until this time, one of our success stories. We are deeply concerned about the long-term implications of the current crisis. The Government of Mozambique are a reforming government. They have been putting in place strategies to assist the poor in Mozambique and have been putting resources into areas such as education and health. I agree with the noble Baroness that it is important that, where we can, we should support local efforts.
The noble Baroness asked me to respond to specific criticisms that had been made of the department. I can assure the noble Baroness that in our discussions with the Government of Mozambique concerns have been ironed out. In the short term, our assessment team together with a UN team made a number of recommendations which the Government of Mozambique felt unable, given their relatively limited capacity, to put in place immediately. As a result of discussions, a way forward has been agreed.
As to co-ordination on the ground, we are doing everything that we can to ensure that all of the agencies that work in Mozambique do so in a coherent way. But the noble Baroness will understand that Mozambique's infrastructure is poor and the floods have made it much worse. We are doing everything that we can to obtain and pool the available data so that all the agencies work on the same information. However, it is a somewhat difficult task.
I share the distress of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, about what is happening right now in Mozambique. I visited that country very recently. Mozambique had been making very good progress. As to neighbouring Commonwealth countries, I am aware that Malawi and South Africa have to date given assistance. Malawi has provided two helicopters and South Africa has also given assistance with helicopters. I am not aware whether Zimbabwe has responded to the calls for support. We have had an ongoing dialogue with the Ministry of Defence on these matters. That department has advised us that its nearest resources are located 3,000 miles away. I understand that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development is having discussions with her counterpart my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence on these matters.
The Lord Bishop of Guildford: My Lords, I have three reasons for taking an interest in this matter. First, the Christian Churches have partners and brothers and sisters in Mozambique with whom they are in close touch, and the first messages to come back are ones of considerable distress. Secondly, I chair the Board of Christian Aid which has worked for a number of years with partners in Mozambique. Thirdly, in that role I visited Mozambique last April. Standing here one has a sense of the deep distress about a dreadful disaster to befall a country which is just beginning to pick itself up after a long civil war. We should not under-estimate the serious implications for the economic, social and cultural infrastructure of
Projects that we visited run by the people of Mozambique, who have just begun to move from emergency relief to development, have been swept away by the floods in a matter of days. I suspect that some of the British Government's and European funding has been swept away as roads and bridges have disappeared. Suddenly, the community is back to square one. It is essential that we do everything we can to provide relief quickly and efficiently, that we persist in our relationship with Mozambique and ensure that we put things back at least to the beginnings of development. In my role as chairman of Christian Aid, the aid agencies want to work collaboratively with the Government and all the authorities to see what can be done in the immediate but, more importantly, the long term to help the people of Mozambique to recover from an appalling disaster.
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