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House of Commons

Wednesday 25 May 2005

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—


1. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): If he will make a statement on the progress of    reconstruction in the Maldives following the tsunami. [701]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): The tsunami killed 82 people and made homeless almost 30,000 as well as causing considerable and widespread damage to the infrastructure and essential services in the Maldives.

The Government of the Maldives have launched, and are making good progress with, a national recovery and reconstruction plan designed to rebuild infrastructure and restore livelihoods.

Tim Loughton: The Minister will know of my frustration that the Friends of Maldives charity based in my constituency, which, amazingly, collected 100 tonnes of urgent medical, food and other aid for the Maldives, was unable to get any assistance whatever from his Department, from any Government agency or from the Disasters Emergency Committee in transporting that aid to the Maldives. Will he now acknowledge the recent report backed by the World Bank that said that foreign financing received or pledged so far for the Maldives falls far short of the estimated reconstruction needs? Given the enormous and devastating impact of the tsunami on those small and vulnerable islands, will he ensure that they receive their fair share of reconstruction aid, because attention has focused on the immediate disaster area in Indonesia and Sri Lanka?

Mr. Thomas: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will want to acknowledge that, despite the difficulties that the charity based in his constituency has had in getting the aid that it collected to the Maldives, the reconstruction effort there is going well. He will be pleased to hear that all children in the islands are back in school following the considerable efforts of the Government of the Maldives, supported by the international community, that there have
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been no outbreaks of disease and that house construction and repair programmes have restarted. I accept, however, that the international community has to do more to support the Maldives. We are continuing to press the European Community to make more funding available for the Maldives, and we will also be talking to the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank about what else they can do in those islands.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): The cost to the Maldives of this dreadful disaster approaches $500 million, which is about two thirds of the country's gross domestic product. Does the Minister agree that, despite the horrific nature of the disaster, recovery provides an opportunity to build back rather better and address some of the development challenges that have long faced these communities? What is he doing in that regard?

Mr. Thomas: My hon. Friend is right. As well as the Maldives being severely affected, many other countries in the Indian ocean were heavily affected by the tsunami. It does provide an opportunity, as part of the reconstruction programme, to build back better. We are working closely with the European Community, which has a large reconstruction effort in the Maldives and, as I said in answer to the previous question, we are also in discussions with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank about their efforts in the Maldives.

Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): The Minister will be aware that the prosperous tourism industry in the Maldives has recovered well, but that in other parts of the country the political situation is unstable and unsatisfactory. He will also know that the Friends of Maldives in Salisbury—there are many different groups with that name—have found it impossible to get distributed the goods and money that they have collected, and the Government there have said that the leaders of that organisation are excluded from the Maldives. Will he see whether he can break the logjam, so that the money and goods collected in Salisbury can get through to their intended recipients?

Mr. Thomas: I will have another look at what we can do to help with the problem that the hon. Gentleman identified and will write to him. That is probably the best way to leave it for now.

Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness) (Con): My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) is right to highlight the problems in the Maldives. The damage amounts to $470 million, equivalent to 62 per cent. of the country's GDP. As the Asian Development Bank has reported, there has been a shortfall of $4 billion in money promised for rebuilding the Maldives, India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. How is that shortfall to be addressed? What progress has the UK made in honouring its own commitments and what progress is being made in developing an early warning system to ensure the minimisation of loss of life in future?

Mr. Thomas: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new post. There has already been considerable discussion about setting up an early warning system, for
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which some $8 million has been pledged. The role that the UK can play is in making sure that the information secured from such an early warning system gets to the very people most at risk of being affected by a tsunami or some other disaster.

On the wider reconstruction effort, we are speaking almost daily to other parts of the international community, such as the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the European Community, which are making substantial funding available for the reconstruction effort. In addition, I hope to go to the region shortly to see for myself how the effort is going on the ground.


2. Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): What action his Department is taking to assist in stemming the spread of tuberculosis in the developing world. [702]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): We support TB control through, for example, our support to the global Stop TB partnership, the World Health Organisation and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Since January 2002, the global fund has approved some $488 million in grants for TB control and $102 million for tackling HIV/TB co-infection. We also support TB control work directly in a number of countries, including Malawi, India, Nepal and China, and indirectly through our work to support the strengthening of health systems.

Mr. Amess: I know that the Minister shares my dismay at the increasing prevalence of TB in Africa and that he believes that our efforts to tackle HIV and AIDS should be closely integrated to tackle that common coincident disease. On 7 April, the Secretary of State suggested that non-governmental organisations and academics would be consulted. What stage has that consultation reached, with whom is the right hon. Gentleman consulting and can the Minister announce any specific action that the Government intend to take at this stage?

Mr. Thomas: I agree that we need to do more to tackle TB and AIDS/TB co-infection. The consultation ends on 16 June, so there is still time for the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members to submit their views on what else they think we should do in TB control.

It is clear that the international community has to do much more. In that context, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman welcomes yesterday's historic deal within the European Union to increase substantially the amount of money for international development assistance. He is well known for his pro-European views, so I am sure that he will pay tribute, not only to my right hon. Friends for their success in negotiating the deal, but to the Commission and our European allies for the part that they played in securing it.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the excellent coverage in today's Daily Record of the visit to Malawi by Jack McConnell, the Scottish First Minister,
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underlines the importance to such countries of tackling tuberculosis and of the EU's achieving the millennium goals?

Mr. Thomas: I apologise to my right hon. Friend for not having yet read the Daily Record coverage—I assure the House that I shall do so straight after questions. Despite that, I welcome Jack McConnell's visit to Malawi and hope that he will have the opportunity to see and hear about the programme of additional help to the health sector in Malawi that we are providing. Our aim is to double the number of nurses and treble the number of doctors in that country by improving their pay and conditions.

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