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Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con): The Prime Minister was right to talk about the efforts to avoid such a catastrophe in the future. Will he ask Sir David King, the chief scientific adviser, to consider the role of clusters of satellites? From my knowledge of the space industry, I know that it is possible to detect surface heights and changes in sea level. In this case, even with terrestrial warning systems, there probably could have been a 90-minute warning to people to get away from coastal areas. That is an essential way to give confidence to people when they go back to those regions that, next time, they will have a warning.
The Prime Minister: That is a very good point. Sir David King will, of course, look at the role that satellites can play. It is interesting that he informed me that the costs of providing such systems are not prohibitive in any way at all. Although we talk about this as being a natural disaster that was not preventable, some of its consequences undoubtedly would have been preventable if different systems had been in place.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): I am sure that my right hon. Friend would like to join me in recognising the magnificent effort of those in the Tamil community in north-west London, particularly in Colindale and Kingsbury. Last Friday, they loaded three full containers with aidfood, medicines, equipment and clothingto send to Sri Lanka. Will he look into their fears that aid to Sri Lanka is not being distributed equitablyconcerns that were exacerbated by the decision not to allow Kofi Annan to visit the badly hit Tamil areas during his recent trip to Sri Lanka?
The Prime Minister:
I think that there will be a lot of concerns: once people have given, they will want to know that what they have given will be properly used. Our best estimate at the moment is that, obviously, issues will arise in the rush to get aid out, but we are satisfied that the aid is getting to the people who need it. We believe that, even in those areas of Sri Lanka that my hon. Friend described, everything possible is being done by the Sri Lankan Government and others.
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Sir John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West) (Con): Does the Prime Minister recognise that many people in this country have families and relatives in the affected countries, some of whom would like to go out to assist in the reconstruction effort and to comfort their families but cannot because of the immigration regulations? For example, Mr. Sasikumar, who is from Sri Lanka, lives in my constituency and is a hard-working newsagent. He has been in this country for six years and was granted political asylum. His application for British citizenship was submitted over a year ago, but it has yet to be determined, thus preventing him from going out to comfort his mother and family, as his father was killed. Is it possible that cases of that type, where there are compassionate grounds, could be fast-tracked?
The Prime Minister: I can certainly look into that, since I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's constituent will not be the only one in that position, although there may be complications as he is an asylum seeker. I will certainly look into that and let the hon. Gentleman know.
Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for the very full statement that he has made to us this afternoon. May I underscore, from my own contacts with the Indonesian embassy, how in their grief, they have been much comforted by both the positive response of the Government and that of the people of the United Kingdom to the disaster in the Indian ocean? Although there have been immense difficulties in distributing aid in Banda Aceh, it is now beginning to get out, and the British Government have been very positive in the help that they have given there. However, in the medium to long-term, could the House have a quarterly report on progress on reconstruction, debt relief and tariff barrier changes, not just for Indonesia but for the other affected areas, because, for most of us, the disaster is beyond our comprehension?
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): In his statement, the Prime Minister paid tribute to the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and what he said struck a chord in the House, but does he accept that that generosity of view may not be shared by those of our constituents who tried to get through to the call centre immediately after the disaster? I cannot be unique in having a constituent who lost a member of his family and who for two whole days was unable to get through. When he got through to Bangkok, his query was referred back to London, then to Hendon and then to Glasgow. Does the Prime Minister think that we did as well as we could have done, and if he does not, will he take steps to ensure that, the next time there is a disaster, it is easier for distressed people to talk to another human being, instead of getting the engaged tone or a recorded message?
The Prime Minister:
I am very sorry about what happened to the right hon. Gentleman's constituent. Obviously, we will look at the lessons that can be learned about the rapidity of our response in such situations. On
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the whole, I think that those involved got it going about as fast as is humanly possible. As I said, the pressure in the first few days was enormous. I know that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will look carefully at what lessons can be learned for the future.
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): I too lost a constituent in this terrible tragedy. I was interested in my right hon. Friend's comment in respect of Sir David King's activity. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that Sir David's remit is sufficiently wide not just to cover issues of response and so on, but to help in the reconstruction of the science base in the countries affected, because they need at an indigenous level as much support as possible to build the mechanisms necessary to stop such events happening again?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I will certainly make sure that Sir David's recommendations take account of that. There is also the issue of ensuring that all the scientific expertise in the worldsome of it most prominently in this countryis put at the disposal of those countries, so that they can use it to put in place the requisite warning systems.
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I apologise to the House for being late, but weather conditions in Northern Ireland are not favourable at the moment and the plane was delayed. I listened to the Prime Minister on the radio while coming in and heard the contributions made. I pay tribute to the generosity of our people across the United Kingdom, especially the Ulster people who themselves have been through great difficulties but have been most generous.
I have a connection with a church in south India of some 2,000 members. Eight hundred and fifty of them were killed in this terrible tragedy. The church needs to help the many, many children who were orphaned or who cannot be traced to any home in the community. I would like the Prime Minister to keep that in mind and to see that money for orphans will be made available in those areas. This will be an ongoing situation, and needs all the help that we can provide.
The Prime Minister: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is right in what he said. As one part of the work that we are doing, and doing with the United Nations and the aid agencies concerned, we will continue to look particularly at the plight of children who have been orphaned. I hope that he will allow me through him to pass on our deep condolences to those in the village where so many people died in this terrible disaster.
Claire Ward (Watford) (Lab):
May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to a letter that he will have received last week from Alison Warner of Abbots Langley neighbourhood watch which sets out what they are doing to raise funds and proposes a more formal link between villages and towns in this country and many of those overseas that have been hit? Will he also consider how people in this country with skills that are much needed in the areas hit by the disaster can be helped to take part in voluntary schemes, so that they can go overseas and assist wherever possible?
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The Prime Minister: I congratulate my hon. Friend's constituents who have come together with such speed and generosity to help link up with those affected by the disaster. One of the things that we are discussing with the NGOs and aid agencies that are most active in the area is how we can facilitate volunteering. We will look at that, too. Many, many peoplewe have been inundated with callshave expertise in particular areas and want to use that in the countries concerned.
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