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Mr. Straw: Yes, I always look at the recommendations of the Foreign Affairs Committee and I respond to them recommendation by recommendation. I am grateful for the praise that the Chairman of the Committee has just offered the House. I endorse what the Committee stated at paragraph 107 of its report:
"We conclude that in recent years excessive and unrealistic expectations have arisen of what the FCO is able to do for people who get into difficulties abroad, including in circumstances such as natural disasters."
Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): On the Liberal Democrat Benches we, too, welcome the statement and the publication of the new guide. I echo the tributes paid to consular staff, who have often in recent times been called upon to cope with unimaginable and traumatic situations, in addition to all the duties that they perform with professionalism and dedication day in, day out.
In responding to the lessons learned from those catastrophes and the criticisms from the recent National Audit Office and Select Committee reports, will the Foreign Secretary state what additional resources will be made available to the emergency disaster reserve in the future? Will he be more specific about the types of
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compensation measures he is considering for people who are injured or families who are bereaved as a result of terrorist attacks abroad? What is the time scale for his deliberations?
What level of resources does the right hon. Gentleman have in mind for the scheme? Will the FCO have to find the money from within existing budgets? Finally, what progress is being made in tackling all the identified shortcomings in the Foreign Affairs Committee report, and has he changed any of the targets for the coming year as a result?
On additional resources, the cost of consular services is met from the consular premium. That is included in the cost of a passport, so as demand rises the available resources also rise. We could not possibly have dealt with a threefold increase in the number of travellers abroad and the huge additional demand caused by changes in telecommunications and IT without that relative buoyancy of the income stream. Included in that is an element for the emergency response, which is held by the Treasury and triggered when we declare a full emergency. I can let the hon. Gentleman have full details of that.
We are looking at compensation in respect of, for example, victims of terrorism who do not have insurance. I should say that it is quite complicated. The schemes that are run by countries abroad tend to be pretty restrictive, more so than people might believe. Of course, there is always a difficulty in ensuring that an evidential base for the injuries or trauma is satisfied. That is easier in respect of terrorist incidents than in respect of some others. That is one of the reasons why most countries have been reluctant to set up such schemes.
I should say, too, that as a result of discussions between our consular directorate and the insurance industry, insurance companies are now extending the insurance cover that they provide to include terrorist incidents. In my view, it must be a fundamental responsibility of travellers to ensure that they are covered for all potential risks.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab):
It is wrong and inappropriate that we should conflate this with the report by the Foreign Affairs Committee, which has very much got my fingerprints on it. I hope that we will have a separate discussion on that on another occasion. I welcome the statement on this narrow issue. It is measured and appropriate and acknowledges, as I want to, the very harrowing circumstances that many of our diplomats have to deal with week after week in respect of bereavements around the world. Some peopleI witnessed this myself when I was staying with a diplomat friend abroadwelcome the nanny state when they have the most minor hiccup in their travel arrangements, and test the patience and diligence of our diplomats by more or less expecting from them bed, breakfast and so on. That is inappropriate. I welcome this and hope that we will distinguish it from the discussion on the Foreign Affairs Committee report that we might have on another occasion.
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Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks and for his confession about his fingerprints. We hold good biometric data on him in any event, so we were able to work that one out for ourselves.
My hon. Friend is right that there can be terribly harrowing circumstances. I saw that during the tsunami, when the police and our own officials worked in the most atrocious and appalling circumstances in dealing with bereaved victims and with cadavers. We have to ensure that support from the British state is available when it is really needed. Of course, that is rightconsular assistance has always been a principal function of the Foreign Office. At the same time, however, we have to say to people that they must accept responsibility for themselves.
Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): I am grateful for the Foreign Secretary's comments. We met after Bali, and I am very pleased that he took on board many of the comments that were made. We also met, as he may remember, in Phuket directly after the tsunami; again, it is good to see that some changes have been made.
I welcome the Government's initiative, but I would like to see them go much further. More than £50 million was rightly given to those affected by the 7/7 bombings, but not one penny is available to any Briton who is caught up in a terrorist incident abroad. Will the Foreign Secretary allow us to catch up with Australia, Spain, the United States, France, Italy and all the other countries that have set up a reserve fund to help those who are caught up in such horrific incidents? Terrorism is not limited to national boundaries, and neither should be our support for British citizens.
Mr. Straw: As I have already acknowledged, the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) has more acute experience of the harrowing nature of terrorist incidents than probably any other hon. Member. He was critical but generous about what British staff tried to do, and I hope that we have learned lessons post- October 2002 and from what, as I told the House at the time, was not a satisfactory response.
As is set out in page 29 of the document, we provide quite a lot of support for those who suffer in terrorist incidents abroad, including medical evacuation for those who have been injured; paying immediate medical expenses; transporting bodies back home; paying for return luggage costs; and paying for travel to the site of the attack, accommodation and travel insurance for two members of the victim's family. Those arrangements, which worked well after the tsunami, for example, were first put in place by us after 11 September.
I accept that there is a wider issue about victims abroad and compensation, which victims of terrorism at home would receive. We are currently studying that matter, including examples from other countries.
Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab):
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments, with which I agree, about the excellent work of the consular staff at the Islamabad high commission in rescuing mainly young girls from imprisonment and forced marriage. However, does he agree that we could avoid many of those traumatic situations if we introduced a specific criminal offence of forcing to marry or even conspiracy to force to marry?
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Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford) (LD): The Foreign Secretary will recall the tragic murder of my constituent, Mr. Richard Collins, on 8 March last year in Thailand. The right hon. Gentleman kindly arranged for my constituent's mother, Yvonne Hart, and I to visit officials. He will remember that one of the most appalling aspects of the case was that Richard's body was not kept properly and, consequently, within days, it was not only unrecognisable but had deteriorated to such an extent that a proper investigation could not be conducted into the cause of death. Will he ensure that, in future, consul officials overseas have a standing instruction that, when British nationals are murdered, they should try to make sure that the body is properly maintained not only for investigation but identification purposes? Surely that is not an unrealistic expectation.
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