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Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) (Lab): The comprehensive response of the Foreign Office to a tragedy unprecedented in scale has been most commendable, and the response of staff has been magnificent. I understand that many Foreign Office staff volunteered to go to the region and many were redeployed. Clearly, there were costs involved in terms of accommodation and transport. Are the Treasury prepared to pick up the additional bill that the Foreign Office has very properly incurred for those?
Mr. Straw: I thank my right hon. Friend for his tributes. On costs, there is a consular premium on the passport fee that, by arrangements made after 11 September, provides us with a fund to cope with the costs of most emergencies. This is currently running at £7 million. To the extent that that is exceeded, I shall be going along to my excellent and ever-generous right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, seeking a claim on the reserve. As he recognises always the quality of requests from myself for claims on the reserve, and the justice, in any event, of the claim, I know that I will receive a good reception.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I thank the Secretary of State for giving me an advance copy of his statement and take the opportunity to renew my sympathies and those of my colleagues for those who lost loved ones or who may be waiting for the outcome of any identification process. I commend the work of the UK staff involved in identification and repatriation and congratulate the Government on identifying single points of contact to simplify the process for people seeking support. I welcome the fact that a date has been agreed for the national memorial service.
I want to raise a few points with the Foreign Secretary. First, on the £340 million that was contributed, the Government made a specific pledge and it would be appropriate for him to tell us when he expects that funding to be delivered and that generosity to be matched. Does he have any evidence that the generosity to the tsunami victims has had a regressive impact on appeals for other regions? I understand that
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for every $500 raised for tsunami victims, just 50 cents has been raised for those affected by the war in northern Uganda.
On the early warning systems, there have been reports in the past couple of weeks of an increased risk of another tsunami in the region, and I wonder whether anything has been done about the time scale for delivering those early warning systems.
Indonesia suffered the greatest impact. Has the Foreign Secretary had any discussions with the Indonesian authorities about pulling out foreign troops and plans for the aid agencies to pull out in the next couple of months? Is he satisfied that sufficient resources will be available for the victims' basic needs?
The tsunami took 300,000 lives nearly three months ago. The communities affected will have to live with that memory for generations and our contribution should not be just financial. We should demonstrate that we have learnt from the disaster and that we will be able to respond more effectively next time. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will be willing to return to the Househe has suggested that he willto report on the progress of the initiatives set out at the end of his statement. Good progress on those will be suitable demonstration of our even greater willingness to play our part internationally and to show international solidarity.
Mr. Straw: As I said to other colleagues, I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's congratulations to the staff of the Foreign Office and many other Departments, as well as police officers, for the extraordinary way in which they responded. We all accept, not least those families who were affected, that there were some failings in the way we operated. That is not a criticism of any of the staff involved, who worked longer hours than it was reasonable to ask anyone to do. We faced a scale of disaster that we had never anticipated; I do not believe that anyone in the world had anticipated a disaster of such a scale. We must learn the lessons; we owe it to all the victims and their families to do so.
The hon. Gentleman asked, as did the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), about the £340 million donated by private individuals and how the Government will match that. That will be dealt with in the letter that the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West, will write to the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake). I shall ensure that I see the letter firstI am responsible for my statementand that it is placed before the House.
There is a risk of another tsunami, but we do not know when. I attended the international meeting in Jakarta on 6 January which was called by the President of Indonesia. There was high-level discussion about putting in place an early-warning system. The Under-Secretary of State for International Development and the Minister for Trade and Investment have been actively involved in taking that forward. The Association of South East Asian Nations has already committed itself to such an early-warning system and the European Commission has committed €2 million to put the project on track.
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Our troops have now left Indonesia, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade and Investment and the Vice-President for Indonesia had discussions last week about Indonesian troops and ensuring proper access to non-governmental organisations. I believe that those conversations were satisfactory.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): The impact of the humanitarian relief carried out by the British Navy was incredibly impressive and showed its professionalism and training. Does the Foreign Secretary not feel that the Indonesian Government's rejection of help from the Gurkha regiment stationed in Brunei was unfortunate, although understandable for historic reasons? Did he consider deploying that unit to Sri Lanka or India?
The right hon. Gentleman referred in his statement to improving the emergency plans of our diplomatic posts abroad. Might not that run into problems because he is thinking, is he not, of closing some of the posts in the Pacific area where tsunamis are likely to threaten?
Mr. Straw: May I make a correction so that the authority with which the undertakings were given is appreciated? My hon. Friend the Minister for Trade and Investment had discussions with the President of Indonesia, and the British ambassador in Jakarta had discussions with the Vice-President. Both produced the same assurances.
I am grateful for the tribute paid by the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) to British troops who did, as always, a fantastic job and are a credit to this country. We offered the help of the Gurkhas, but there are special reasons why the Indonesians were sensitive about that so we worked round the matter and provided naval helicopters. I cannot be certain, but I believe that consideration was given by the chiefs of staff to deployment elsewhere, but that was a matter for my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary. The assessment was that there was urgent need in Indonesia which was not being met from elsewhere.
On the closing of diplomatic posts abroad, we face constraints on spending and I have had to look at the network of posts. I made an announcement to the
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House on 15 December. With a bit of luck, this is an ecumenical occasion and I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider whether his party, if it were in power, would expand the number of posts or whether it would feel not just similarly constrained but even more so.
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): May I recommend to the House the paper submitted by the Foreign Office to the Foreign Affairs Committee which shows the work that the Foreign Office in particular did at that time? Will my right hon. Friend and the new co-ordinating Minister bear it in mind that some charities that may not immediately be thought to be related to such a disasterfor example, Cruse Bereavement Care, of which I am a patronhave played an important part in helping suffering relatives? When their future funding is considered, will he take into account the extra role that they take on when disasters arise abroad and reward them sufficiently?
My hon. Friend is right in saying that some charities inevitably received greater publicity from their work with the disaster than others and that some charities that did important work have gone unsung. That includes agencies working with bereaved people. I pay tribute to them and will certainly take on board her point about their future funding.
Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): The Foreign Secretary may have read, as I have, some anecdotal reports of access difficulties for aid and individuals to some parts of Sri Lanka, notably the Tamil-held areas. Has the Foreign Office looked into that and does the right hon. Gentleman have any updates?
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