Previous SectionIndexHome Page


3. Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the humanitarian situation in Montserrat. [212230]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): Montserrat continues to make progress in its recovery from the volcanic activity of the mid-1990s. Now that essential public services are in place, the island authorities are working to attract new inward investment and tourism, which will be further aided when the island's new airport becomes operational in the spring. During my visit last June, I pledged a further £40 million-worth of assistance, bringing our total aid to almost £250 million since the start of the crisis.

Mr. Pickthall: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Given that Montserrat still faces serious problems as a result of its reduced population, particularly of young people, what prospect is there of the United Kingdom, and perhaps the European Union as well, seriously encouraging business and commerce—jobs—into the island to help retain its young people and, hopefully, to help encourage some who were dispersed from the island following the eruptions in recent years to return home?

Mr. Thomas: My hon. Friend is right to say that the key to retaining young people on the island is opening up more job opportunities, but we also need to improve access to the wider Caribbean. That is why the airport is important. It is due to open in the spring. It was built not only with UK Government money, but with Commission money. We are also working closely with the Government of Montserrat on identifying further ways to create opportunities for business, including increasing businesses access to finance to enable them to set up and expand, and increasing access to business expertise. We are further working with the Government of Montserrat on the island promoting itself as a tourist destination.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) (UUP): I welcome what the Minister said about those improvements, but is he concerned to learn that those who found a home in the United States under the temporary settlement provision have been told that they should now leave? Some of them are unwilling to return to a country of which a large part is uninhabitable and where the fear of earthquake tremors remains.

Mr. Thomas: The hon. Gentleman is right—some 290 Montserratians left the island and went to the United States under the temporary protected status option and their right to stay under those terms ends on 27 February. Many of them are looking to regularise their status in the US, but those who cannot do so have the opportunity, as British passport holders, to go to the UK or elsewhere within the European Union, or to return to Montserrat. The Government of Montserrat
2 Feb 2005 : Column 826
are considering what else they need to do to make Montserrat an attractive destination for those who might return there.

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): Obviously, many of the problems in Montserrat were created by volcanic activity and the destruction of the infrastructure, particularly in the south of the island near the former capital of Plymouth. It is good news that the airport will open shortly, but when will the new port be developed, which will ensure that we can get back to the island the cruise ships that will provide economic prosperity for the islanders?

Mr. Thomas: As my hon. Friend will know from his visit to the island and his work with the all-party group on Montserrat, at the moment the port is able to cope with all the various traffic through it. However, in conjunction with the Government of Montserrat we are looking at whether further expansion of the port is necessary. They will clearly have to work up a proper business case for that proposal. We are also working with them on the nearby development of Little Bay, the new capital, which will be the potential catalyst for more private sector development on the island.


4. Mr. Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab): What lessons his Department has learned from dealing with the consequences of the tsunami of 26 December 2004 in the Indian ocean. [212231]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): We will seek to learn lessons in reviewing the Department for International Development's immediate response to the tsunami once the relief phase is over, as we do for all significant humanitarian crises. We will also encourage the international community to do the same. The main issues, in my view,   are co-ordination, transport and logistics and information. We will, of course, also monitor the effectiveness of our continuing support over the coming months.

Mr. Byrne: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. In common with many families, I spent most of Boxing day worrying about relatives travelling in the region. Since the tsunami, have we not also learned fresh lessons about the generosity of the British people? Readers of the Birmingham Evening Mail have already raised £120,000 to send to people in need; others have given up their comforts here to go in person and help those abroad. Is it not a clear signal that one of the greatest assets that we have in responding to these disasters is the skill and generosity of our compatriots?

Hilary Benn: My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I am sure that the whole House would want to pay tribute to the generous instinctive response of the British people. One of the lessons that we have all been reminded of, if we needed to learn it, is that we now understand that our neighbours are not just the people who live in our street in the local community; they are also the people whose names we do not know and whose faces we have never seen and who live on the other side
2 Feb 2005 : Column 827
of the world, and with whom we feel an instinctive common bond when they are in distress. If we can do that in response to the tsunami, I refuse to believe that we cannot bring the same passion, commitment, energy and determination to tackle what I call the silent deadly tsunamis that kill thousands of people every single day.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman is quite right to point to the generosity and compassion of our compatriots in respect of the work done to relieve the suffering caused by the tsunami. He is also right about the instantaneous reaction that we made to it. But what steps can his Department put in place to ensure that long-term relief is carried out adequately and correctly and that it is properly targeted? We also need to ensure that there is no corruption and we must prevent aid money drifting away into Government departments overseas rather than relieving the suffering of those for whom it was intended.

Hilary Benn: One way to achieve that is through the generous donations that the British public have made through the relief agencies—Oxfam, Save the Children and others—that make up the Disasters Emergency Committee. That ensures that the money is not used only for immediate relief. So much money has been raised that it is possible to spend it on reconstruction. Secondly, the World Bank must lead, following the plans drawn up by the Governments. It is important to have clear structures in place to audit where the money goes and what it is used for. That provides a real opportunity for the Governments of the countries concerned to demonstrate their continuing commitment to fight corruption and to set up the structures in a way that responds to the question that hon. Gentleman quite rightly asked.

Dr. Hywel Francis (Aberavon) (Lab): As part of a Commonwealth delegation, I recently met citizens in the Indian ocean and witnessed some of the devastation caused by the tsunami. Does my right hon. Friend have any views on how the Commonwealth can best help the United Nations to assist the countries that have been devastated by this terrible event?

Hilary Benn: Together with many other countries, Commonwealth countries can help both through the support that they can give to the practical relief effort, including working with the affected countries to put a desperately needed early warning system in place, and by providing assistance with the reconstruction process. The whole world, the Commonwealth included, can be proud of how it has responded to fellow human beings in distress. It is also important, as hon. Members on both sides of the House clearly believe, to follow through the help in order to assist the countries that have been traumatised by the loss of life. I saw it for myself during my visits to Banda Aceh and Batticoloa in the east of Sri Lanka. It will take time for people to recover from the trauma and we all have an obligation to help them to do so.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Following up the Secretary of State's comment a few moments ago, how close are we to having an early warning system installed and what resources are being devoted to it?
2 Feb 2005 : Column 828

Hilary Benn: That matter has been discussed by the Association of South East Asian Nations and at the Kobe conference on disaster reduction, which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary attended. It is now widely agreed that an early warning system must be installed in the Indian ocean. We and others will support its establishment; it will not cost a huge amount of money. There is some discussion about exactly where the base for the early warning system will be. One of the most important lessons to learn is that we can put in place systems that will help those countries—should, heaven forbid, such a disaster happen again—to warn people to get out of the way if they can.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op):There has been concern that aid has not been distributed fairly in Sri Lanka. When Kofi Annan visited recently, he was not allowed to go to the north and east of the country. Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House—and those of my constituents worried about the situation—that he is monitoring aid relief in Sri Lanka, and that aid is being distributed equally in both communities there?

Hilary Benn: I can offer my hon. Friend that assurance. I discussed this matter when I visited Batticoloa in the east of the country. That is in the middle of the territory held by both Government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam forces. We are keeping a close eye on the problem, about which concern has been expressed. There have been difficulties, but our view is that, by and large, relief is getting to the people who need it. When I was in Batticoloa, part of the relief was being provided by the crews of HMS Chatham and HMS Diligence. They had been putting up tents for people who had lost their homes and helping to clear out water tanks contaminated by sewage water. They are also helping to repair fishing boats. That is another example of the practical support provided by the UK to help those people in Sri Lanka so badly affected by the disaster.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): The Secretary of State's answers are welcome, but I want to draw his attention to some less attractive lessons arising from the tsunami-affected area. Is he happy that the EU ended the special arrangements for imports from Indonesia and Sri Lanka just six days after the tsunami? Oxfam calculates that that decision will cost 100,000 jobs in Sri Lanka alone. Is not there a lesson in that for free trade and fair trade?

Hilary Benn: I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's point about the timing of the decision, but he will be aware also that the general system of preferences will be accelerated to provide some offset against the impact of that decision. What matters now is that the resources that the world has put into the immediate relief effort should provide support to the affected countries in rebuilding their own economies. That applies in particular to the fishing fleets of Sri Lanka and Indonesia, which have suffered so much.

Next Section IndexHome Page