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Water Purification Units

Lord Roberts of Llandudno asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My Lords, we are unaware of any MoD-owned water purification units being asked for or provided to the countries affected by the recent tsunami. However, Royal Navy engineers assisted with the repair and refurbishment of desalination plant in the Maldives. We are aware that water companies have independently supplied 56 water purification units to Sri Lanka to date.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, while I am grateful for the Minister's Answer, it is also disappointing. Is he aware of, and happy with, the contribution of the United Kingdom? I was informed in a Written Answer in November that the MoD held 187 water purification units and that the water authorities held 170, yet only 56 have been sent. Is the Minister content that we have done all we can to meet water needs in this area of tremendous catastrophe?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am afraid I cannot agree with what the noble Lord is suggesting. The response from the UK has been absolutely superb at all levels. Indeed, I think the noble Lord should bear in mind that what matters is what is asked for by the agencies which have a lead in the area, whether they be the World Health Organisation, UNICEF or the individual governments concerned. No request has been made to DfID, as the lead department, for water purification units. If there had been, and DfID had asked the Ministry of Defence to supply some of its own units, then that is what we would have done.
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Lord Naseby: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I returned from Sri Lanka and the Maldives yesterday? I should like to place on record the thanks from the President of Sri Lanka and the President of the Maldives for the response of Her Majesty's Government and, in particular, for the work that the Royal Navy did at Batticaloa in Sri Lanka and for restoring the generators in the Maldives. That said, our country does not have a formal aid programme to the Maldives. Is the Minister prepared to review the situation so that there is a formal aid programme? If he were to ask for information on Vilufishi and Muli, I suspect that the noble Lord would discover that both those islands still need water purification.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for passing on the thanks of those to whom he has spoken. On his second point, I understand that DfID is making assessments for the long term, and no doubt the matter that he raises will be assessed as well.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, I join in congratulating the Government on the speed of their response. Impressed as we all are by the enormous public response, is my noble friend aware that some companies in the industry are saying that there is a case for DfID carrying out urgent evaluation of new technical solutions now on the market and capable of mass production which are medically much more reliable than the traditional water purification technologies? That is particularly important in parts of Indonesia where sewage systems, having collapsed, are contaminating fresh water supplies.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I was not aware of the cases that he mentioned. I know that DfID is assessing what we can do in the long term and any suggestions for improvements in those items will also be considered.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, in the light of the tragic case of the dalits—the so-called low-caste Indians denied food and water and shelter in camps for tsunami survivors—will the Minister confirm that efforts will be made to ensure that aid is given regardless of race, class or political affiliation?

Lord Bach: Yes, my Lords; of course I can give that assurance to the House. It is an important assurance and we stand by it.

Lord Brougham and Vaux: My Lords, perhaps the Minister can help me and many other people. When aid is gathered together either here or overseas, who co-ordinates to which country it should go and, when it gets there, who makes sure that it gets to the right people and does not fall into the wrong hands?

Lord Bach: My Lords, as far as concerns the tsunami, the United Nations has the lead responsibility to co-ordinate the aid and make sure that it gets into the right hands.
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Political Parties: Funding

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare my obvious interest as the sole representative of the Green Party at Westminster.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will implement the recommendation of the Electoral Commission in its report on the funding of political parties that there should be "a modest expansion of the policy development grant scheme" to political parties with representation in the European and Scottish Parliaments and the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, the Government have recently received the Electoral Commission's report on the funding of political parties and are carefully considering its recommendations. We are not yet in a position to make any firm decision on particular recommendations.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, although I thank the Minister for that not very informative answer, am I right in thinking that the Government are in favour in principle of representation in the legislature of significant bodies of opinion? Does she agree that the Green Party, of which I have the pleasure of being a member, which under fairer methods of election than exist for Westminster has serious representation in the European Parliament and the Greater London Assembly and a block of eight members in the Scottish Parliament, deserves better in the United Kingdom Parliament than one elderly self-appointed Peer? If so, will the Government please do something about it very soon?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the noble Lord is too self-deprecating. He does an eminent job in representing the Green Party at Westminster. I hear what he says and recognise the implication. If we wish to have a thriving and vibrant democracy we need carefully to consider ensuring that we have the right kind of policy development for our political parties. On that basis, as I have already indicated, the Government are considering very carefully the recommendations put forward.

Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, I also declare an obvious interest as Presiding Officer for the National Assembly for Wales where, by our standing orders and by the Government of Wales Act 1998, members of subject committees are charged with a policy development role. Although we may expend, as we do, some of our limited budget from the Assembly Parliamentary Service to support them, that is no real alternative to policy development within parties. If and when the great work of my noble friend
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Lord Richard is implemented there will be even more policy development in the National Assembly for Wales that will need support.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am not entirely sure what question the noble Lord was asking me, but I might interpret the noble Lord's remarks to answer that this Government are of course committed to policy development. Indeed, in 2002 we introduced the policy development grant as a result of indications that political parties spent money on their campaigning and perhaps were not able to spend as much on the kind of development of policy that is important if one is going to the electorate.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, while the Government are pondering this issue, will they also make it plain that they do not support the wholesale introduction of state funding for all political parties?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, as the noble Lord knows well, there are clear issues to be discussed in relation to state funding. He knows very well the Government's position on that. When looking at democracy, it is important to ensure that political parties have support—hence the policy development grants, which have been largely and broadly welcomed. It is also important to look at the opportunities for people to indicate their support for political parties by being able to make donations, and to ensure that public money is used wisely and well.

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