Wednesday 3rd January 2018
Lord Norman Tebbit, a former Chairman of the Conservative Party and cabinet minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government
The opportunity to solve several intractable problems by putting them together is an unusual event. However, there is an opportunity for the UK Government to do just that.
The recent glut of hurricanes and intense tropical storms, which devastated several Caribbean islands and coastal areas around the Gulf of Mexico, again demonstrated that the world lacks the capacity to respond in a timely manner to such a run of events.
Here, at home, we have a labour force lacking in many of the skills needed to raise economic output and raise productivity. We also have the problem of the “NEETS”, young people not in education, employment nor training.
Then we have a tragically high rate of youthful re-offending and a lack of effective and appropriate non-custodial sentences likely to divert young offenders from falling into a life of crime.
Finally, there is the overseas aid problem where the government has committed itself to meet the United Nations target for developed nations to spend 0.7 per cent of their GDP to aid poor countries in need, even at a time when our own economy has severe and chronic problems of low growth.
So why not put all of those elements together and found the United Kingdom Disaster Relief Corps.
The Corps would be paid and open to volunteers, particularly those with the right skills, but compulsory for NEETs. On top of those categories, it would become available to the Law Courts as a new alternative sentence to probation, community service orders or custody.
The Corps would be run on military lines, with military discipline, but with no arms training. Beyond that common basic training for all recruits, there would be a further tier of training in the skills needed to deal with the aftermath of earthquakes, tsunami, severe forest fires, tornadoes and even manmade disasters.
Basic common training would embrace rescue from collapsed or flooded buildings, first aid and evacuation of casualties, clearance of roads, and restoration of other transport links, water and power supplies. On top of that, there would be training to higher levels of skills in all such trades and disciplines and the possibility of short-term voluntary (but paid) membership of highly skilled personnel, such as doctors and nurses.
The aim would be to ensure that a DRC expeditionary unit would always be available for despatch at very short notice at the request of a foreign government facing a disaster.
Obviously, such an organisation would be expensive to create and maintain but that could be achieved without imposing a further burden of taxation on British taxpayers. Indeed, there would be some savings in the costs of both the welfare and justice systems. Beyond that, the CRC would be paid from out of the 0.7 per cent of GDP already allocated to the budget of the Department for International Development. That would bring about an improvement in the effectiveness of overseas aid spending since, unlike grant aid to third world governments, it could not be siphoned off by corrupt politicians in recipient governments. If DRC units were deployed to assist rich countries, as might have been the case with the devastating hurricanes and floods in the South West of the United States earlier this year, it would be on a re-chargeable basis.
In the event of a natural catastrophe in a developing country, our Prime Minister would simply call the head of government of the affected country to offer to deploy a DRC expeditionary unit for as long as it was needed and wanted and then to withdraw it on request. A unit with the right skills and equipment could then be flown to the scene by the RAF.
Naturally, DRC units would work together with other international agencies such as Medicin Sans Frontieres, the Red Cross or Red Crescent, as appropriate. I would have no hesitation in advocating the use of British military force overseas where, as in the Falklands, it was in the British national interest, unlike the reckless overthrow of Saddam Hussein without thought of what was to follow.
Santa Claus is always more welcome than the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and dropping in a DRC unit would always be more likely to win us support than dropping bombs.
Add to that the effect on those conscripts who would have something in their lives and on their curriculum vitae of which to be proud and I think that the DRC would benefit us all.