|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): I add my congratulations to those of the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) on the speed with which the Department responded to the disaster. I believe that the first aeroplane took off at the weekend.
Is not the situation in Goma perilous not only because of the potential for further eruptions or splits in the side of the mountain, but equally because of toxic gases? Are people attempting to return because they do not know of the dangers that may await them, as they do not trust the information that is being delivered to them? Is not there a case for suggesting that the international aid effort should address the issue? In the light of the terrible use to which radio was put in Rwanda in the past, could the BBC World Service be incorporated in the effort, to ensure that up-to-the-minute, reliable and trustworthy information is delivered to the refugees?
Hilary Benn: My hon. Friend raises a very important point. In these circumstances, people are torn between concern about what they may find if they return to their homes and a great desire to see what has happened, especially after one group has begun to return and word has been spread saying, "We managed to make it back, others may follow." With the best will in the world, while I entirely accept her point about the need for proper information on the risks and dangers to be made available, I point out that it is not always easy to persuade people that they should stay where they are.
Today's situation report from OCHA suggests that the seismic situation may be improving, as the last major tremor was reported early on 20 January. However, as I said earlier, there is serious concern about the possibility of the gases having a toxic effect, especially for those on the lowest lying land down by the lake. I shall take away my hon. Friend's point about whether it would be possible to do more to persuade people to have regard to the genuine concern about those dangers, while recognising that if people choose to move in very large numbers, as we have seen them do over the past couple of days, it can be very difficult to persuade them to do otherwise.
Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon): I too pay tribute to the rapid response of the Department for International Development and to the fact that it is making use of experienced NGOs in the region, which is clearly the right way forward. Although we all agree that this has been a spectacular natural disaster that has again focused the world's attention on the region, does the Minister not agree that the real disasters faced by the people of the DRC and that region have been the years, decades and generations of civil conflict, insecurity and corruption? Will he do all that he can, especially in view of the Prime Minister's personal passion and the Foreign Secretary's presence in the region, to ensure that our Government seek to use the events as a catalyst to give further momentum to the peace process going on there? Is it not
Hilary Benn: I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman. As he will know, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State visited the DRC towards the end of the summer. Britain has been actively involved in trying to get precisely the message that he articulates across to those who have been parties to the conflict. As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, we are contributing in several practical ways through supporting the national dialogue and providing a radio infrastructure to enable the Congolese people to have information about both the peace process and the dialogue. That links with the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) made. We are also giving various other forms of support, to provide humanitarian assistance to those who have suffered through the conflict.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman completely that, in the longer term, the greatest contribution to helping the people of the DRC and Rwanda will be finding a resolution to the conflict that has scarred the region for so long.
Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South): I appreciate my hon. Friend's comments about the difficulty of getting aid into an area where there are vast population movements one way and then the other. Are not people going back to Goma more quickly than they might otherwise do through genuine fear of the way in which they might be treated in Rwanda? Have any contingency plans been drawn up in the case of reports from Rwanda of human rights abuses? Action should be taken quickly so that no further destabilisation occurs.
Hilary Benn: My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to anxieties that have clearly played a part in leading the people who initially moved to Rwanda to return to the DRC. We have received no reports of the sort about which she expressed anxiety. I suspect that we would first hear about them when people moved back to the DRC in even larger numbersthat would be the quickest response to such anxieties.
As I said in answer to earlier questions, we need to be guided by people's decisions, notwithstanding advice, about where they choose to locate. They will move to a place where they feel safest even when an objective assessment does not confirm its safety. In those circumstances, the overwhelming priority is to ensure that the aid agencies that are active on the ground and gearing up are able to support people wherever they choose to go.
Secondly, I want to take up the point that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) made about animals. Does the Minister know that one of the most important, world-famous gorilla colonies is located on the slopes of the volcano? Many wildlife specialists have tried to save it over the years. It is likely that some disruption has occurred there, that poachers may move in or that many animals have been killed. Will he bear that in mind? Will he also bear in mind the fact that Twycross zoo, in my constituency, has offered to take any orphan gorillas if they are flown to Leicestershire?
Hilary Benn: I am grateful for those two points. The hon. Gentleman is right about the need to ensure that the aid is provided on both sides of the border so that those who suffer in the emergency do not feel that they have to move to one place or another to get access to it.
I am grateful for the information about the potential impact on the gorillas that live on the south side of the volcano. An assessment of the full impact of the catastrophe will clearly take time. However, I shall ensure that the offer that the hon. Gentleman has conveyed is passed on to those who are looking into the matter.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney): Like others, I welcome the statement. Will the Minister tell us a little more about the precise use of the £2 million of aid? Is it all for short-term use? Further to the question of the hon. Member for Linlithgow, will he confirm that all the money will go the aid agencies and none of it to the central or regional governments of the Congo or Rwanda?
Hilary Benn: I am happy to confirm that DFID money is going directly to NGOs or through the United Nations appeal. As the hon. Gentleman will know from the statement, Oxfam has a specific responsibility for water and sanitation. Relief supplies went out on the plane on Saturday night. Merlin plans to establish several clinics, and, with Médecins sans Frontières, has already done that in Goma. Save the Children is providing food relief, as is the World Food Programme.
The money is intended to support agencies in establishing a presence on the ground as quickly as possible to meet immediate emergency needs: water, first of all; sanitation, because we are concerned about the potential impact of disease; and food and shelter. In the medium term, all those involved will need to consider how they can help in the reconstruction of Goma, if that is possible. Clearly, that will depend on the outcome of further assessments that will need to be made in due course, when we know the full impact of this terrible catastrophe.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): I should like to make a statement on the British nationals detained at Guantanamo Bay; my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A team of British officials visited Guantanamo between 17 and 20 January and saw the three British detainees. We received a full report this morning. The team asked the detainees questions about their identity, nationality and welfare. The officials' report confirms that the three are British and that they are all in good physical health. During lengthy discussions, they spoke without inhibition. None complained of any ill treatment. None said that they had any medical condition requiring treatment. Medical facilities are available in the compound. All three asked for messages to be passed to their next of kin, which we have undertaken to do. The identity of one of the men, Feroz Abbasi, is already in the public domain. It is not our intention to reveal the identities of the other men, pending contact with their families.
The International Committee of the Red Cross now has a permanent presence at Guantanamo Bay, and ICRC officials have access to the detainees at any time. The detainees are free to conduct religious observances. They have prayer mats, and calls to prayer are broadcast over the Camp X-Ray public address system. They are given as much drinking water as they want, three meals a day and food that complies with their religious practice if they require it.
During the visit, our officials received full co-operation from the camp's commander, who said that the more lurid allegations about torture and sensory deprivation were completely false. The recent pictures of detainees featured in the media were taken on their arrival at the base, when security needs were paramount. The House should not forget that we are talking about some of the most dangerous men in the world, who have in the past displayed murderous and suicidal tendenciesoften both together.
Our officials report that, as the number of detainees grows, there will be a need for more scope for exercise, and every effort is being made to provide all inmates who want one with a copy of the Koran.
Conditions at Guantanamo Bay have attracted a great deal of parliamentary and media interest. On the basis of the detailed report that I have seen today, I am satisfied that the accusations were premature and that the detainees are being treated in line with international humanitarian norms, in conditions in which security is paramount.
We are fully satisfied with the co-operation that we have had from the United States authorities on this issue. We and the Americans are well aware that we will be judged by a higher standard than the Taliban and al-Qaeda. On the basis of the report that I have seen today, I can confirm that these standards are being met.