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Humanitarian Assistance

Volume 572: debated on Monday 16 December 2013

2. How much humanitarian assistance has been provided by his Department to (a) the Philippines and (b) other parts of the world in 2013; and how much funding for such assistance has been reimbursed to his Department to date. (901479)

3. What assessment he has made of the Royal Navy’s involvement in the relief operation in the Philippines. (901480)

8. What assessment he has made of his Department’s contribution to relief of the humanitarian situation in the Philippines. (901485)

Operation Patwin was the principal humanitarian relief operation to which the UK armed forces contributed in 2013. The armed forces supported Department for International Development efforts using assets including HMS Illustrious, HMS Daring, two RAF C-17 strategic lift aircraft, an RAF C-130 tactical lift aircraft and a logistics support team in the Philippines. The civilian transport in the area improved, and DFID agreed that military support was no longer required after 10 December. The marginal cost to the MOD is estimated at about £10 million. This sum will be reimbursed by DFID under the terms of a memorandum of understanding covering military support to humanitarian assistance missions.

The public response to the Philippines aid appeal shows that this is international aid that everyone can support, and our service men and women have done this country proud in the help they have provided to the Philippines. Given that the defence budget is the most challenging of any departmental budget in Whitehall, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that every time Her Majesty’s armed forces assist in a humanitarian response, it will be counted towards the UK’s aid target, not on top of it?

As my hon. Friend will know, there are some complex definitions relating to exactly how such aid is counted, but I assure him that we count it whenever we can. I can also reassure him that the marginal cost of that operation will indeed be recouped from the Department for International Development under the MOU to which I referred.

I, too, pay compliment to our service personnel who assisted in the Philippines. Some of the comments coming back from service personnel who were there show how grateful and supportive the people were of their efforts, which should be recognised and commended. To probe a little further on the cost, should not that sort of response, which the UK does magnificently, be part of the Treasury’s bill rather than come out of the funds of either the MOD or DFID?

Although I can appreciate the sentiments behind the question, under the arrangements I have described, the marginal cost is paid for by DFID under the auspices of the MOU. The original question related to the Royal Navy, so let me say that the Royal Navy assets to which I referred contributed significantly to relieving the suffering in the Philippines. For the record, the Navy delivered more than 700 tonnes of water and food aid and other assistance and transported aid teams to remote locations, while personnel on board those ships demonstrated their versatility by turning their skills and efforts to constructing shelters, restoring education and economic facilities and delivering immediate medical aid.

The Minister will understand that, as someone who did two weeks’ voluntary service with the Philippine Nurses Association in 2010 as part of the Voluntary Service Overseas programme, I really appreciate the anguish that the Filipino people must be feeling as a result of the typhoon. Will my right hon. Friend congratulate on our behalf the service personnel of HMS Illustrious on delivering 500 tonnes of urgent supplies to far-flung regions of the Philippines?

I am more than happy to do so. Unfortunately, HMS Illustrious personnel will suffer some disruption to their planned Christmas leave in the UK, which we should acknowledge. However, about a third of personnel abroad will be flown back to the UK, with the remainder having their Christmas stand down at a port in the Indian ocean. I am confident that the whole House would wish to join me in thanking our armed forces personnel for the humane, professional and adaptable manner in which they responded. We are immensely proud of what they do.

I add my voice to the tributes already paid to the work of our armed forces in the Philippines. Will the Minister detail the role, if any, of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in any of those operations and what role he sees it playing in future humanitarian operations in light of its role in the past?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, some ships, such as HMS Illustrious, were diverted on to this task from their deployment as part of Op Cougar. He will know that the RFA provided intimate support to Op Cougar, too. We are very proud of our armed forces personnel, but we are also very proud of those who fly the blue duster.

Is not one of the lessons of the humanitarian success of the Royal Navy in the Philippines that naval ships are capable of early and effective deployment and that, once deployed, they are logistically self-sufficient? Does that not underline yet again the need for a full, adequate blue water Navy? Next time the Treasury knocks on the door of the Ministry of Defence, will Ministers take the opportunity to point the Treasury in the direction of the humanitarian aspects of military resources?

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, we enjoy a close and constructive relationship with Her Majesty’s Treasury, and if he wishes to supplement that relationship at any time, he is welcome to do so. While we Conservative Members appreciate the importance of the defence budget, I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will spread that message firmly among his Liberal Democrat colleagues.

Does the Minister think it wise to declare mission accomplished concerning the operation in the Philippines—or, indeed, operations in any other part of the world?

I would not necessarily use precisely those words, but it is fair to say that our armed forces personnel have done good service for Her Majesty and for the people of the Philippines in providing a tremendous humanitarian response at short notice. At the risk of repeating myself, we are immensely proud of what they have achieved on Op Patwin.