Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Clare Short: I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to British paediatricians, and to those from around the world, who go into very dangerous and difficult situations to care for children. They are some of the bravest people, and I think that we all admire and respect them.

In Kosovo--compared with, say, Rwanda--children are healthier to start with, and we have enough time. We are working with the World Health Organisation in putting in health kits, and should be able to prevent any deterioration in that situation. I am pretty confident in saying that we will be able to prevent it. Although there is a little time problem, people are being fed. Now, we have to get people under canvas, as some people have been sleeping out of doors.

My hon. Friend was absolutely right to say that we must ensure that health systems are available, but we are providing health kits to ensure that the problem does not arise. We should be able to organise it so that those children will be safe. In some conflicts in Africa, children are malnourished to start with, making the situation much more serious.

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion): May I place on record my encouragement and support, and that of Plaid Cymru,

31 Mar 1999 : Column 1099

for the right hon. Lady in the enormously important work that her Department is doing? The military operation is an enormous logistical exercise, and I join those whohave said that the humanitarian exercise should be commensurate with it in seriousness, scale and commitment of resources. Will not the humanitarian exercise have to be maintained for as long as necessary--until those people are able first, to live in the places to which they have been displaced, and secondly, to return and reconstruct in Kosovo itself? It is bound to entail a very major commitment of resources. I therefore add my voice to those who have said that that commitment should in no way reduce the Department's capacity to continue its programmes elsewhere, and that additional resources will have to be provided to meet all its commitments.

Clare Short: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support, and that of his party, for all the work that is being done. I absolutely agree with him that the humanitarian response must be as powerful, well-resourced and efficient as the military exercise. He was absolutely right to say that we have to be there for as long as necessary. We all hope that the military campaign will be successful quickly, and that, therefore, as soon as possible, we shall be helping people to go home. However, we shall stay there and be there until we can help people to go home and to reconstruct.

As I told the Select Committee Chairman, the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells), the £10 million that the Government have made available is available in my budget--from which we make allocations to deal with humanitarian disasters, and have made allocations to that region. However, the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Dafis) was right--if the crisis in Kosovo continues and costs more, we shall have to consider where we will get the resources from.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): May I, too, offer my sincere compliments to my right hon. Friend, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for International Development and their officials on their speedy response to these dreadful events? However, I hope that she will forgive me for introducing a possibly carping note to the debate. Does she agree that the terrible plight of the refugees, and the involvement of those remarkable officials from the grossly underfunded UNHCR, bring into stark relief the ignominious failure of the United States to honour its financial obligations to the United Nations? Is there not now an opportunity for the people on Capitol hill to make right that terrible failure?

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) that it is essential to involve units such as the Royal Engineers, and other similar units from NATO forces, to help those refugees to have bearable lives by providing them with makeshift services as soon as possible.

Clare Short: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Everyone carps about funding the United Nations but, at moments like this, we need a good, well-funded and well-staffed UN. People complain that things are not moving as rapidly as they might, but that is because there has not been strong enough support for the UN in the past.

My hon. Friend made his point about United States contributions. I hope that the advertisement from six former Secretaries of State calling on the United States to pay its dues to the UN has an effect on public opinion there.

31 Mar 1999 : Column 1100

My hon. Friend talked about the Royal Engineers. It is not always best to have military people providing for civilians. It is not always appropriate for the children. It is often better to have civilians. As my hon. Friend knows, in Bosnia, because our troops are there, we have provided some resources and they are helping the refugees to return. That is a sensible use of resources because the troops are there. In general, the effort should be led by the UN, but we have particular problems in Macedonia. It would help if the military there were able to help the humanitarian effort. There might then be less doubt in Macedonia about allowing in the refugees. Where appropriate, it is good to do it.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Does the right hon. Lady agree that humanitarian aid has a real role to play? I wish to add my congratulations to her and her team for the work they have done. Can the right hon. Lady explain why there was a delay of seven days after the first bombs had been dropped before the departure of the first plane carrying humanitarian aid? The House has some concern about that.

In Question Time today, the Prime Minister referred to the role of an independent force in Kosovo. He did not say whether it would have an aggressive role to drive back Milosevic's forces from Kosovo, or a peacekeeping and humanitarian role. Perhaps the right hon. Lady will explain to the House what role that independent force would have.

Clare Short: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her support for all those involved in the humanitarian effort. There is a problem about what happens when the cameras are not there. I remind the hon. Lady and the House that there were many refugees before the NATO action began. We were there as was the UNHCR. We were spending money and backing up the UNHCR. It was not that there was no food, no tents and no blankets before that flight. There was quite a lot of food and resources in Albania, but not in northern Albania. We need to bring more into the region as the flow of refugees is so big and is clearly going to continue. The hon. Lady must not think that there was nothing there before.

The hon. Lady asked about ground forces. That is not new. Part of the Rambouillet proposals was that, if there was acceptance of autonomy for Kosovo together with a peace deal and a withdrawal of the Serb forces of aggression, ground troops would go in to police the deal. They were in Macedonia waiting to move. That was part of the Paris talks. Those are the forces to which the Prime Minister referred and which I mentioned when I answered my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell).

Ms Tess Kingham (Gloucester): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her announcement today. It is widely recognised that her Department is a world leader in ensuring that prompt and appropriate humanitarian assistance reaches parts of the world where it is most needed. It is understandable that attention now is focused on providing immediate needs such as shelter, housing and health care, but will she consider ensuring that, at an early stage, trauma counselling and psychological support are made available for the refugees as they come over the border? We have seen to our regret in the past that that has not always been seen as an immediate need, but we have seen Milosevic's thugs burning villages, razing them to the ground and raping women.

31 Mar 1999 : Column 1101

We have heard about the atrocities committed. This time, may we please ensure that that support is given to people early on, not merely for their psychological well-being, but to ensure that some of the war crimes and atrocities can be documented early on, so that the perpetrators can eventually be brought to trial?

Clare Short: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am proud of the people in my Department and I am grateful to the House for recognising the work that they do. They are respected internationally--they are the fastest, they are very good indeed and they work very hard. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The people arriving are very frightened and worried about members of their families whom they have left behind. This morning, I read a telegram from our ambassador in Albania, which said that women who had arrived had not been able to pick up their children, who had been put somewhere just outside the town to be safer. One can imagine the fear and worry. The stories of executions and brutality make people highly traumatised. We learned that in Bosnia--hon. Members must remember the rapes and all the women involved--and we brought in psychological support later. My hon. Friend is right and I will ensure that, as soon as we are organised, that sort of assistance is provided.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): May I join my hon. Friends in congratulating the right hon. Lady's officials for responding so quickly to the huge humanitarian crisis, which involves the largest movement of refugees in Europe since the war? I have no doubt that the British people will want to be very generous in responding to the crisis. They also expect their Government to be generous. Therefore, I appeal to the right hon. Lady to respond to the request of my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) that the Government should match, pound for pound, every pound that the people give to NGOs. Further to an earlier answer, how on earth would the implementation of such a scheme slow up the aid given to NGOs?


Next Section

IndexHome Page