Select Committee on Defence Written Evidence

Departmental Minute from the Ministry of Defence concerning the gifting of operational ration packs to the Government of the United States of America

  It is the normal practice when a government department proposes to make a gift of a value exceeding £250,000, for the department concerned to present to the House of Commons a Minute giving particulars of the gift and explaining the circumstances; and to refrain from making the gift until 14 days (exclusive of Saturdays and Sundays) after the issue of the Minute, except in cases of special urgency.

  The gifting of humanitarian assistance, in the form of operational ration packs (ORPs), by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to the Government of the United States of America was a case of special urgency. Hurricane Katrina caused widespread devastation and significant loss of life, which at the time of the gifting was estimated to be in the tens of thousands.

  In the early hours of 4 September the UK Government received an urgent request for critical assistance from the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for 500,000 meals ready to eat (the US term for ORPs) to help the immediate relief effort. The MoD was asked to consider urgently the provision of ORPs to meet the FEMA request. Ministerial approval to meet this requirement was given during the course of 4 September for the ORPs to be sent to the US by the most direct route to ensure they met the US request for urgent and critical assistance.

  The ORPs were delivered to the United States between 5-7 September. The total value of the 475,182 ORPs was £3,114,845.

  The Treasury has approved the proposal in principle. It is normal practice to allow a period of 14 days (exclusive of Saturdays and Sundays) beginning on the date of which the Minute was laid before the House of Commons, for Members to signify an objection by giving notice of a Parliamentary Question or of a Motion relating to the Minute, or by otherwise raising the matter in the House, and to withhold final approval of the gift pending an examination of any objection. However, in view of the particular need to respond to a request for critical assistance in the immediate relief effort following Hurricane Katrina, the department made the gift as soon as practicable and therefore apologises for not being able to give a period of notice during which objections may have been raised.

6 February 2006

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