Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central) (Lab): I am grateful for the great clarity and commitment with which my hon. Friend is speaking. However, will he not overlook the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan) about the importance of changing trading relationships to enable the people of Pakistan and Kashmir to work their own way out of the terrible crisis that faces them?

Mr. Thomas: My hon. Friend is right to focus on trade. It is one of the issues that the Government of Pakistan have asked us to consider. We are looking at that and at a number of other things that we can do to provide support to the Government of Pakistan. He will recognise that the issues surrounding trade have to be discussed with the European Commission, but we are considering them and a number of other issues that I shall come to shortly.

We are lobbying other donors to increase their support. At the European Union informal meeting of Development Ministers on 24 October, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development urged those present to respond generously. This week, he has written to his counterparts in all European Union countries to encourage them to do more to support relief needs. In particular, we have stressed the need for additional logistics support, especially to ensure that sufficient helicopters, alternative shelters as well as tents, field medical teams and support to water and sanitation are available. We are following up that letter with a series of telephone calls.

I come to the longer-term needs, the issues of reconstruction referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Jim Cousins), and what else we can do to provide support. The House may be aware that the Earthquake Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Authority, chaired by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, has asked the World
11 Nov 2005 : Column 673
Bank and the Asian Development Bank to lead a high-level needs assessment team to prepare an outline plan and funding assessment for long-term reconstruction needs. We expect that report to be available by mid-November.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting suggested, a donor conference is planned for 19 November in Islamabad to decide how the international community should support the Government of Pakistan in meeting the long-term reconstruction needs of their people. I shall represent the United Kingdom Government at that donor conference.

The emergency relief phase of this humanitarian disaster will be unusually long. The long, harsh Himalayan winter has the potential to cause as much death and suffering as the earthquake itself. It will not be until the snows begin to melt in the spring that the full reconstruction phase can get under way. Nevertheless, there is a lot that we can do in the meantime to begin discussion around the planning of that reconstruction effort. That is why the donor conference on 19 November is taking place and why the UK will be represented.

It is at times like these that countries can put aside their differences and work together to ease the suffering of their peoples. I was very pleased to hear of the agreement made on 30 October between India and Pakistan to open the line of control in both directions. On 7 November, families and relief items were able to cross on foot at one of the five points on the line of control. A further crossing point opened on 9 November. Although people require a permit to cross, Pakistani and Indian officials have been instructed to issue them quickly. I understand that the disturbances at
11 Nov 2005 : Column 674
the Nauseri crossing point on 7 November were from Pakistani Kashmiris who tried to cross without the correct permit. India is providing a contribution of more than £14 million to Pakistan for rebuilding, and I am sure that all Members will join me in sincerely hoping that both Governments can build on that co-operation and that a glimmer of hope can come out of these tragic circumstances.

My hon. Friend deserves praise for bringing our attention to this issue and for giving us an opportunity to continue to consider the needs of people in the affected communities. We in the Department for International Development continue to focus closely on what else we can do to provide support to the affected communities in the relief phase given that many people are vulnerable to the quickly approaching harsh winter. We are continuing to look at the issue of long-term reconstruction and the additional assistance that we can provide.

Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan). Many of my constituents have family and friends who have been affected by this event. Will the Minister assure us that the Government will press to ensure that the reconstruction plan that is being worked up at the moment is adequate to meet the long-term challenges?

Mr. Thomas: One of the reasons for going to the donor conference next week is to consider exactly that issue and to see what further support we can provide.

I again congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing this issue to the attention of the House.

Question put and agreed to.

 IndexHome Page