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World Bank and IMF (Reform)

Q8. [82122] Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): What proposals he has for the reform of the World bank and the International Monetary Fund.

The Prime Minister: The United Kingdom has put forward proposals for a far-reaching reform of the international financial architecture to promote greater transparency. Those proposals are designed to develop improved mechanisms for crisis prevention and resolution and to minimise the human cost of financial crises. Together with the initiatives that we are taking forward at the International Monetary Fund and the World bank, for debt relief and poverty reduction, they amount to a substantial package of measures. I hope to make progress on all those matters at the June Cologne summit.

Mr. Chaytor: I thank the Prime Minister for that reply and congratulate the Government on the international lead

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that they have given on this reform process. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in the past, too often the International Monetary Fund particularly has been the problem and not the solution in times of financial crisis? Does he agree also that an external evaluation system is needed for the IMF to improve its scrutiny and accountability, such as currently applies in the World bank?

The Prime Minister: The UK has been a proponent of greater transparency in the IMF. I believe that the IMF, particularly under Michel Camdessus, has done excellent work in many parts of the world. However, the most important single problem that we face is constructing the financial architecture, both in greater accountability and transparency of national financial systems, that allows us to be able to deal with financial crises in a much better way.

That is for the long term. For the short term, we have to ensure that there are sufficient funds available to help any country through a short-term liquidity crisis. We support reforms in the IMF, but I think that further reforms are necessary to make the system work.


Q9. [82123] Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay): Will the Prime Minister confirm, so that the people in this country really understand, that, once the Scots are to be deciding their own affairs in their own Parliament, the same number of Scottish Members will continue to come to Westminster to poke their nose into English affairs? Incidentally, most of those individuals are in the right hon. Gentleman's Government. Will he turn his mind to being fair to the rest of the population and tell us why it has not crossed his mind that we should also have a Parliament for England?

The Prime Minister: I do not know whether the hon. Lady is outlining Conservative policy. One can never be sure. It is the case that devolution provides the chance for the United Kingdom to be strengthened for the 21st century. I believe that both the separatists, who want to wrench Scotland and Wales out of the United Kingdom, and those who advocate the status quo are the true enemies of the Union and of the United Kingdom. The best way forward is to have devolution and to make sure that, in future, those things that are distinctively Scottish can be decided in Scotland.

Q10. [82124] Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his recent visit to the Balkans. I, too, recently visited the camps there under the auspices of UNICEF. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, once we have provided immediate aid in the camps, one of the most important things that we need to do is to support those people in finding their brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and other relatives? So many of the refugees have been split from those whom they love. As well as supplying immediate aid, we must reunite them with their relatives and friends.

The Prime Minister: Again, we are playing a leading part in trying to make sure that families are reunited. We

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are providing as much assistance as we can to people on the ground. As I said earlier, the British troops are playing a marvellous role in that. We have made it known that we are prepared to do more to help refugees in this country. However, the refugees to whom I spoke were determined that we should carry on with our action until we succeeded.

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I know that my hon. Friend will support that. The only thing that will ultimately secure the future of those people is for them to be allowed to return to Kosovo in peace. That is why we must intensify our action, we must make sure that the NATO demands are met, and not for one instant must we let up until those demands are met.

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Kosovo Refugees

3.31 pm

Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield) (by private notice): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the Government's policy concerning refugees from Kosovo.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw): As I explained to the House at oral questions last week, the Government's priority, along with our European partners, is to ensure that, as far as possible, Kosovan refugees are cared for within the region, so that they can return to their homes as soon as it is safe for them to do so, which is the refugees' overwhelming wish. There has been widespread understanding of the NATO allies' determination not to allow any actions to be taken that might inadvertently facilitate Milosevic's vile and brutal policy of ethnic cleansing.

We have also long made it clear that the United Kingdom stands ready to receive some thousands of refugees from the region on humanitarian grounds and on the basis of criteria agreed with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The priority of the UNHCR is to relieve pressure on the camps, not least in respect of the most vulnerable and those with family links in the United Kingdom.

We received the first request from the UNHCR on 20 April and agreed it within one hour. The first plane of refugees from Kosovo arrived in the UK at Leeds- Bradford airport on Sunday 25 April. There were161 refugees, mainly women and children, including three cases in need of medical treatment. The second plane of 169 refugees arrived at East Midlands airport on 29 April.

Reception services for the refugees are being organised by the Refugee Council in co-operation with its partner agencies, Refugee Action, the Scottish Refugee Council and the Red Cross. Local authorities, airport authorities, the immigration service and local medical services are also heavily involved.

No upper limit has been set on the number of refugees that we will take. The UNHCR has now asked us to take more refugees because of the changing situation on the ground in Kosovo, and we are responding. A team of Home Office officials will be arriving in Macedonia very shortly to speed up the registration of refugees for potential evacuation.

The next two flights will arrive at Prestwick airport in Ayr on Sunday 9 May. We expect that there will be a further two flights later next week, building up in the following weeks to between five and seven planes a week, leading to a weekly total of around 1,000 refugees.

Local authorities, through their national association, have been fully involved from the start in the planning and development of these arrangements. Their representative was present at a regular meeting last week when contingency plans to increase flights to between five and seven a week were discussed.

The Refugee Council and its partner agencies are working closely with the Home Office and local government associations to identify sites for further reception centres across the United Kingdom. We are looking at all parts of the UK. A variety of different forms of accommodation will be used as temporary reception

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centres where the refugees can be housed before moving into more settled accommodation. As the numbers increase, the refugees may need to be housed--for a while, at least--in former service accommodation.

I have already made it clear that local authorities and the voluntary sector will be reimbursed the additional costs that they incur in respect of these arrangements.

Those refugees who arrive here by way of priority from the UNHCR are either being granted permission to enter in line with that of close family members already settled in the UK or, where there are no such close family members here already, they are being given exceptional leave to remain for 12 months, to provide for their protection as requested by the UNHCR. Such status provides a "passport" into the normal benefits system and the right to work. Kosovans who arrive in Britain by their own means will continue to be able to apply for asylum in the normal way.

Finally, I pay tribute to the voluntary sector, to the local authorities and to the British public as a whole for their magnificent response so far to those who have arrived, and to the way in which I know that response will continue.

Sir Norman Fowler: Opposition Members entirely share the commitment to give all possible help and relief to refugees from Kosovo. Many of the families involved have suffered appallingly in the past months. In the light of that and the sheer scale of the problem, it is right that we should approach the plight of the refugees in a spirit of generosity.

Given that, I hope that the Home Secretary will give an assurance that he will keep the House fully informed of policy. Today, every newspaper in the country reported that the Government would take 1,000 refugees a week into this country. Whether that is a change of policy or, as one Home Office official called it, "a change of pace," it was, by any standards, a significant development. In my view, it should have been reported first to the House of Commons.

Against that background, let me put some brief points to the Home Secretary. First, we agree that the priority is to ensure that, as far as possible, refugees from Kosovo are cared for within that region. That is what the refugee families want and, of course, they also want to return to their homes as soon as it is safe for them to do so. I therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman to agree that, in the meantime, that means that all possible assistance should be given, in particular to Albania and Macedonia.

Secondly, may I ask the Home Secretary about the total number of refugees that he envisages coming to this country? Several other countries have put a figure on it, but he has stuck to his formula of "some thousands". He has talked, and did so again this afternoon, of a weekly total of around 1,000 refugees arriving a week, but he has given no indication of how long that process will continue. Is there not advantage in giving the agencies involved, and the public generally, some better guide to the numbers envisaged under his policy?

Further to that point, the Home Secretary will have seen in the press the comments of some local authority spokesmen, which are rather contrary to the impression that he has given this afternoon. They are concerned whether facilities are adequate to care properly for the numbers of refugees that could be envisaged. Is the Home

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Secretary satisfied that there will be adequate resources and, in particular, adequate help for the education authorities for the children involved?

In addition, will the families arriving from Kosovo eventually be subject to the regime of the Immigration and Asylum Bill, when it becomes law? In particular, will local authorities still have a duty under the Children Act 1989 to safeguard and promote the welfare of the children who arrive here?

Perhaps most crucially, will the Home Secretary emphasise that action is being taken entirely on humanitarian grounds? In no way can Milosevic use that action to validate his actions in Kosovo, which the whole nation utterly condemns. Our overriding aim remains that those refugees should be enabled to return to their own homes and live in peace and security.

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