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Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): One reason why people have been so generous in giving is probably the graphic nature of the pictures that have been sent back. I should like to think that the Prime Minister would join me in paying tribute to those brave reporters who have brought the pictures and radio stories back under very difficult circumstances. We criticise them often enough. Just occasionally perhaps we should recognise that they have done a good job.
Part of that generosity has been gifts in goods. We know that dry goods, medicines and household goods such as soaps and toiletries are in warehouses around the country, waiting to be shipped. It has been indicated that they will be shipped only on demand. Will the Prime Minister ensure that at the very least the goods are collected and collated, and if not shipped immediately, then shipped as and when appropriate?
The Prime Minister: We are working closely with the aid agencies on that and obviously we have agreed to pay the costs of transporting to those areas. Although a lot of goods and items will have accumulated, given the normal speed of operations in such circumstances, things are being moved. However, we will ensure that everything possible is done to get them out to the areas that need them as quickly as possible.
I appreciated receiving a letter of 31 December from my right hon. Friends the International Development Secretary and the Foreign Secretary. However, one paragraph of it concerns me, and I should like the Prime Minister to assure me on it. It says:
"The FCO has established a package of assistance to be provided on a case by case basis to those who would otherwise not have the means to meet costs associated with the death or serious injury of a British national."
I hope that there will be no means-testing of assistance. Whether a victim was a millionaire or is from a family on a moderate income, equal assistance should be given. There should be no question of adding financial problems to the trauma that those people have already gone through.
The Prime Minister:
There will be no question of adding any financial burdens to those families. That would obviously be wrong. I thank my hon. Friend, though, for his tribute to DFID and the Foreign Office. Indeed, tribute should also be paid to the Deputy Prime Minister for his co-ordinating work.
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Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): On behalf of Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party, may I fully associate myself with the Prime Minister's expressions of condolence and also the expressions of gratitude for those out in the field who are trying to relieve the situation?
I am pleased to hear that further Government aid will not be drawn from existing development or aid budgets. Can I have the right hon. Gentleman's assurance that there will be no case for that to happen at any stage? May I respectfully ask him to consider supporting the initiative of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru that every Member should donate a day's pay to the relief effort?
In respect of aid, we have made it clear that our aid programmeI single out Africa in particularshould not be prejudiced as a result of this relief programme. As I said, we will have made a significant contribution when all the different bits of the aid are added up, including the relief from the service repayments on the debt. As I said earlier last week, it will probably amount to several hundreds of millions of pounds.
Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): One of the hardest things facing many UK families at this time is the waiting and the uncertainty of not knowing whether they will receive news of the death of a loved one or the good news that a loved one has been found. That is the case for the family of my constituent, Kevin Barnett, who are waiting for news of their son, who has been moved up to category 1. What can my right hon. Friend do to assure the family not only that every resource is being deployed to identify those who are missing but that, should any more resources be needed, they will be deployed? Finally, will he join me in commending the work of the liaison officers, who have been such a crutch for many families at this time?
The Prime Minister: I express my sympathy to my hon. Friend's constituents, who will be having an absolutely hellish time. We all feel for them. I thank him for his kind words about the family liaison officers. They have been extremely valuable to people and have worked very hard. I can assure my hon. Friend that we will do everything that we can in terms of any resources that are needed. I should say that the British forensic experts working in the region with those of many other countries have been doing a marvellous job in distressing and difficult circumstances.
Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD):
Further to the answer that the Prime Minister gave to the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) about Sri Lanka, what assurances has he sought and received directly from President Kumaratunga that aid will be given to all stricken communities, including those in the north and east of the island? If he receives evidence that the Colombo Government are falling short of fulfilling their humanitarian responsibilities, will he ensure that the British Government follow the lead of the Italian,
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Danish and Norwegian Governments and freight aid direct to those communities, even in Tamil-led and Tamil-controlled areas?
The Prime Minister: The Sri Lankan Government have given that assurance very strongly, and they repeated it in Jakarta on Thursday. We will make sure that that is held to. We have to look at the best way of getting aid out to people. Normally, that will be working through the Government concerned, but it is important that aid gets to every part of Sri Lanka, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will do everything that we can to facilitate that.
Ann McKechin (Glasgow, Maryhill) (Lab): May I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement and the Government's rapid support for a moratorium on debt repayments, which will probably be the greatest help to the victims at the end of the day? Given the scale of the disaster and how long it is likely to be before reconstruction work can be completed, does he agree that there should be an independent assessment of how sustainable debt now is for the affected countries, and does he agree that unsustainable debt should be cancelled?
The Prime Minister: That is precisely what the conference on 5 February will examine and the World Bank will by then have produced its report on the reconstruction effort needed in Indonesia in particular.
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Following the comments of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Ann McKechin), I think that the whole House would hope to see debt cancellation, wherever possible, rather than a debt moratorium. Will the Prime Minister confirm that it is not just a case of Africa or Asia but that what we are all looking for in the G8 year is a strategy for the whole of the developing world? Will he confirm also that, during 2005, the wealthy nations of the world have somehow to work out how we find the extra $50 billion a year for the next 10 years that is required if we are to have any hope of meeting the millennium development goals by 2015?
The Prime Minister: On the latter point, that is precisely what we are doing. We are trying to mobilise international support behind what would be a G8 plan. We have to consider debt cancellation very carefully because it is important to realise that some countries do not want that. It is important also that we are careful for the future about what messages we are sending out. We need to examine the issue with care, but I have said that we will do whatever we can to help these countries. It is interesting that some countries have already indicated that they would prefer a different means of help.
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab):
Given the British public's magnificent response and the important points that my right hon. Friend made at the end of his statement about the links with poverty in Africa and elsewhere, should not the Government take the high ground in these matters? I am not complaining about what is being done, but more can always be done in these circumstances. Ideas such as the Tobin tax, a ring-fenced increase in higher levels of income taxation
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and the United Nations aid target of 0.7 per cent. of gross national product could then be things that we consider delivering in this year in which we are supposed to be making poverty history.
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