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3 Dec 2002 : Column 878continued
Mr. Leigh: The letter is a memorandum submitted by the Clerk of Supply of the Public Bill Office of the House of Commons, and was sent to the Clerk of my Committee. I have read out the apology, and I think that we should pay tribute to a servant of the House who has made an honest mistake and who has now apologised for it.
Ruth Kelly: I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman, as I am sure the House does. The motion in no way provides the Government with any additional spending authority. It simply provides for the correction of that regrettable administrative error.
Mr. Prisk: The hon. Lady said that, in these circumstances, the NAO is prepared to accept the accounts as long as matters progress. However, she did not say that, at the moment, the NAO cannot finalise the accounts, so without this change the Government's accounts for the last financial year cannot be completed. Will she confirm that?
Ruth Kelly: The NAO is signing off departmental accounts, and it has signed off some on the understanding that legislative authority is to be urgently sought because it is needed to regularise the position.
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield): The hon. Lady made that point in her opening remarks, when she said that the NAO was signing off accounts even though it does not have the authorisation to do so. Is it common for the NAO to do that? If a private company were to behave in that way towards a company's accounts, it would rightly be prosecuted. Call me old-fashioned, but that seems to me to be rather an important point.
Ruth Kelly: As I have explained to the House, this was the result of a one-off change from cash accounting to resource accounting. Clearly I cannot guarantee that no drafting errors will occur in future. I would not like to commit myself to anything of the sort, even under such intense pressure.
However, the House should agree that we should resolve that issue today. Departments' spending, including the retention of income, must be regularised at the earliest opportunity. The motion paves the way for that process and will allow the 2001-02 resource accounts to be completed in accordance with legislative requirements. For those reasons, I commend the motion to the House.
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield): I have the honour of laying a petition before the House signed by more than 5,500 people from Sutton Coldfield and the surrounding area, who express a virtually unanimous, united and clear-cut view that the courthouse in Sutton Coldfield should not close, and are supported by all the
The humble petition of citizens in and around Sutton Coldfield showeth
That it is proposed that the courthouse in Sutton Coldfield shall be closed.
Wherefore your petitioners pray that your honourable house urge the Lord Chancellor's department not to permit this closure to go ahead.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, etc.
Declares that consumers in the United Kingdom have for many years maintained good health by choosing to take safe vitamin and mineral supplements and herbal remedies; and fears that the European Food Supplements Directive and the Proposed European Directive on Traditional Herbal Medicinal Produces would severely restrict the number and range of such products on general retail sale in the future.
The Petitioners therefore request that he House of Commons requires that the Secretary of State for Health does all in his power to protect the rights of UK consumers by ensuring that such European legislation does not unnecessarily and unacceptably restrict the availability of natural health products.
Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to present to the House a petition signed by almost 1,000 of my constituents, who expressed concern about the proposal to close West Freugh airfield and downgrade its range.
The petition of residents of Dumfries and Galloway declares that the proposals to close West Freugh Airfield and to downgrade West Freugh range to campaign status are mistaken and that the community has supported MOD operations there for over 60 years.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Defence to reconsider the proposals and to arrange for Qinetiq to come forward with plans to continue with significant employment in the area, or else make plans to release assets for commercial job creating use by potential inward investors.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): I am pleased to have secured the Adjournment debate on a subject that is of interest and concern to many people: the food shortages and subsequent possible famine in Ethiopia. I thank the Minister, the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew)who will accompany me on a visit that I shall mention shortlyand other hon. Members for attending.
The debate is timely not only because of the recent warnings and appeal for help by the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, but because an Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation leaves for Ethiopia on Saturday. I have the honour of having been appointed to lead it. I also have the pleasure of being a member of the British Ethiopian Society and secretary of the all-party British-Ethiopian group. I remain in regular contact with the Ethiopian ambassador to the United Kingdom, His Excellency Fisseha Adugna, who is an active and impressive representative of his country and a friend.
Why am I so interested in Ethiopia? Like many people, my interest developed in the 1984 crisis when Bob Geldof and Live Aid did so much to highlight the problems in that country. Two years ago, a threatened famine reawakened that interest. I am personally concerned not because I have travelled to that countryI have not yet done sonor because of any business links to the region, but because Ethiopia is so poor. Its residents regularly face hunger and possible starvation. The aid agencies believe that things can be done to alleviate that poverty and at least mitigate if not remove the threat of hunger and famine in future.
I shall discuss medium-term and longer-term measures shortly. First, I want to concentrate on the urgent need for food aid, for which the Ethiopian Government pleaded recently. Earlier this year, the short Belg rains failed, and the long Kiremt rains occurred in late summer rather than earlier, resulting in a long dry period. The loss of those rains meant crop failure and further reduced pasture and water resources, with the latter leading to extensive livestock deaths in affected areas and poor physical conditions for surviving animals. In turn, that led to severely limited access to a green harvest of important lean season foods and the limited availability of livestock products. Serious food shortages are reported in several parts of the country.
There is therefore an urgent need for emergency food aid. The Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission says that the people who need assistance between October and December this year will peak at 6.3 million, requiring approximately 270,000 metric tonnes of food. The World Food Programme reported last month that such aid has been promised, although delivering it as quickly as possible is now urgent. However, the impact of the current drought is expected to extend into next year, as the failure of the rains has affected the growth of long-cycle crops.
A total of approximately 2 million metric tonnes of food will be required to meet the need, with 500,000 metric tonnes being required in the first quarter of next year. Such a requirement is unprecedented, even during the highly publicised famine of 198485. I admit that that is the worst-case scenario, but the world should be prepared for it. The world must respond immediately because it takes a long time from reaching an agreement to help to delivering the food to the needy. Much food would be delivered through the single port of Djibouti, and therefore planning is essential to ensure that it has the capacity to cope with the influx.
The response from the United Kingdom and the European Union is disappointing. I hope that a further announcement will be made by the Department for International Development before we leave for Ethiopia, but I am concerned that the Government appear reluctant to commit themselves to providing urgent food aid that could save people's lives.