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Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): The Secretary of State announced this afternoon that the 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment based in Colchester garrison is to be deployed yet again to Iraq—no happy family Christmas for its members to look forward to. Without putting a time limit on that deployment, can the right
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hon. Gentleman give an indication of how long the 2nd Battalion will be in Iraq this time before it is replaced by other British troops? Can he also tell us what percentage of the British Army has served in Iraq over the period that we have been there?

John Reid: On one of the points that the hon. Gentleman raised, six months' deployment, like everyone else. On the 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment—great people. I had the privilege of spending some time with them as a younger MP under the armed forces parliamentary scheme, so I suppose that in some terrible way, they are responsible for my being at the Dispatch Box. I cannot think of better people to send into dangerous situations. The hon. Gentleman's third question was about the percentage of British troops who have been in Iraq. The number of British troops who have been there is about 90,000. We are now on the seventh roulement. With all taken into account, a large number of people have gone through it. When we see the headlines about this or that case of alleged brutality or alleged misdemeanour, let us remember that against some 90,000 troops who have served in Iraq there have been about 160 allegations, of which substance has been found to about 15 or 20. That puts the matter into perspective. Given the number of troops, it is right and to be expected that we would come back to the Parachute Regiment again, but of course many others are being deployed as well. We should remember that as Secretary of State, I am completely unbiased, and they are all just as good as the Parachute Regiment.

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): The Secretary of State is right that many thousands of people have been killed in Iraq. One of the common threads in many of those attacks is organisations advertising for workers. A thousand Iraqis turn up, one turns up with a bomb, and hundreds are dead and hundreds are maimed. What measures are we taking as a Government and a coalition to reduce the number of targets for those terrorists to attack?

John Reid: We are doing everything we possibly can on our own. We are doing everything we can to expand the number of trained Iraqi security forces in the army, the Ministry of the Interior and the police, but ultimately, as we found out in London, New York, Madrid, Tanzania, Kenya, Egypt, Turkey, Bali and everywhere else the terrorists get through, it is not always possible to stop them, particularly when they regard the country as a major strategic battlefield and they are throwing in terrorists from outside to combine with elements of the Fascist regime that ran the country for so long. As the position gets better in terms of democracy, security forces and economic development, we can expect the terrorists to get more frenetic and more frantic. That is why I said today that I cannot promise that that will not happen, but we will see it through.
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South Asia Earthquake

4.44 pm

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the earthquake in south Asia.

On Saturday 8 October, just before nine o'clock in the morning Pakistan time, an earthquake struck measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale. Its epicentre was in the area of Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, about 95 kilometres north-east of Islamabad. It caused widespread damage and a significant number of deaths and injuries.

I would like to tell the House about the action taken by the Government and others in support of those affected by this disaster, but first, I am sure that all Members will wish to express their profound sadness at the loss of life. Our thoughts are with all those families, both in the countries affected and here, who have lost loved ones in this terrible tragedy.

This was a major earthquake with tremors felt as far afield as Afghanistan and India, followed by a series of frightening aftershocks. The latest official figures indicate that 20,000 people have lost their lives and 44,000 have been injured. However, given the scale of the destruction and the fact that some areas have not yet been reached, the number of deaths is expected to rise further. There have also been a small number of deaths reported in Afghanistan, and 750 people now confirmed dead in north India, although unconfirmed reports indicate a significantly higher loss of life there, with 80 per cent. of houses in Uri and the surrounding district severely damaged. India has not sought international assistance. The greatest loss of life, however, has been caused by the devastation in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and the North West Frontier Province. Conditions there are difficult for relief workers, with bad weather and problems with access and communications due to landslides. Fifty per cent. of the buildings in Muzaffarabad and 60 per cent. in Balakot appear to have been destroyed.

Across the affected areas the Pakistan authorities, the Pakistan Red Crescent Society and local people have been working tirelessly to support survivors and the injured. As always in disasters, it is local people who have led the effort to saves lives. The Government of Pakistan have set up a national response centre and a relief fund.

When the earthquake struck, the UK immediately offered assistance, and as soon as a request for help was received, the Department for International Development activated the search and rescue teams which we had already put on standby. The first search and rescue team of 12 people, provided by the non-governmental organisation RAPID, left the UK in the early evening. It was the first international team to arrive in Pakistan, and a DFID humanitarian adviser went with it to facilitate its arrival and to begin co-ordination on the ground.

At 2 am GMT on Sunday, an aircraft chartered by DFID left East Midlands airport carrying 75 search and rescue personnel from the fire brigades of Grampian, Lancashire, Lincolnshire and Manchester,
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the International Rescue Corps, and dog rescue teams from BIRD and CANIS, together with a further team from RAPID. The flight included a four-person DFID team to undertake assessment and co-ordination. The remaining space was loaded with blankets and other supplies. The British high commission and DFID's Pakistan office helped the teams to get into action immediately on arrival yesterday. The first RAPID search and rescue team was deployed to a collapsed tower block in Islamabad to help look for survivors. The second RAPID team and CANIS, with dog support, later joined it. The other search and rescue teams were flown to Muzaffarabad by the Pakistani military, where they have been looking for survivors in collapsed schools. The UK search and rescue teams have already made an important contribution and rescued a number of people.

In addition to this assistance, DFID Pakistan immediately provided financial help in order to buy vital emergency supplies. Also on Saturday we agreed a grant to the World Health Organisation to enable it to send emergency health and trauma kits to support 40,000 people for three months.

Shelter is an urgent priority as night temperatures fall. We are providing 1,000 winter tents and 10,000 tarpaulins to Islamic Relief from our existing stocks in Lahore. These are being trucked to Muzaffarabad as we speak. We are also sending additional tents and blankets from our stocks in Dubai, and we will fly out 19,000 blankets from our Marchington store also for distribution by Islamic Relief. The US Government are providing five Chinook and three Black Hawk helicopters today to help move people and supplies. This will make a significant difference to the relief effort. DFID is currently looking at options for further such assistance in conjunction with the EU and the UN.

I have today informed the Disasters Emergency Committee agencies that the Government will meet the cost of transporting any of its relief supplies from the UK to Pakistan. Total UK assistance so far in the first 48 hours, including through the EU, is already over £1 million and that will increase as we provide further financial support to the relief effort. We will continue to do everything that we can to help.

Acting as the EU presidency, we are liaising with EU member states in offering help, and the European Commission yesterday announced some £2.5 million for emergency assistance. We are working with the United Nations and other agencies, such as the Red Cross and Red Crescent, as well as with the Pakistani authorities, and the UN is expected to launch a flash appeal for emergency relief assistance later today.

Many people in the Pakistani community in Britain have friends and loved ones in the disaster area. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office sent out on the first relief flight a rapid deployment team, which has set up an operations centre in Islamabad to assist British nationals. An FCO helpline in London is assisting concerned relatives. So far, there have been no reports of any British casualties.

The response from within Pakistan and around the world shows the best of human nature at a time of crisis, and the UK will continue to play its full part in helping
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to ensure that those who have suffered so much in this terrible tragedy get the help and succour that they need over the coming days and weeks.

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