|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
I was talking about the effects of the tsunami. By the beginning of 2006, almost all the children in the areas affected were attending school. Not surprisingly, the
situation has deteriorated since then, and school attendance in the north and east is now severely affected by the security situation.
Almost all families that were still in our camps now have access to much sturdier transitional shelter. More than 70 per cent. of families are back in their own homes, and more than 75 per cent. of people have regained their livelihoods. Moreover, progress is being made with the building of improved education and health facilities. We had anticipated that this year major infrastructure programmes would forge ahead and that the pace of progress in building permanent housing would pick up. However, Members will not be surprised to learn that the resurgence of the conflict has had serious consequences for the reconstruction effort and for development more generally, particularly in the north and east of the country.
We committed aid of about £7 million immediately after the tsunami struck. About £500,000 is outstanding. We set that money aside to try to help to develop the capacity of the north-east provincial council to lead the recovery process, but the money is unspent because of the impact of renewed conflict. Other money we gave is being well spent, as I saw on my visit to the Ampara district in June 2005. I visited a Tamil rehabilitation organisation camp where money we gave the Adventist development and relief agency was helping to provide water tanks and carriers for some of the 5,000 displaced families in the district.
We contributed about £250,000 to World Vision UK to help fund the distribution of food and basic shelter materials to more than 120,000 people in Sri Lanka. We gave aid to help the Save the Children Fund in the distribution of food, shelter, household items and water purification material to about 100,000 families across Sri Lanka, including in the north and east. We also helped to fund the UN operation in Sri Lanka. The UN led the international response to assist the Government of Sri Lanka and we helped to fund its capacity to do so.
Whatever the form of the final settlement to the ethnic conflict that is scarring Sri Lanka, it must emerge through inclusive negotiations between representatives of the different communities, as Members have said. That will mean making difficult compromises, as the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire pointed out. Some people in Sri Lanka may prefer not to make those compromises, believing that a military solution is a better option. Bluntly, as has been said in all the contributions, a military solution is not the better option. Twenty-four years of fighting in Sri Lanka have shown that neither side is capable of a total military victory. Even if a military solution were possible, a settlement imposed following a military victory would be a source of considerable resentment and future conflict; it would not have the makings of a genuinely sustainable peace.
The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey asked about our conversations with the Sri Lankan Government. The all-party committee initiated by President Rajapakse provides an opportunity to reach a consensus, especially among southern politicians, on what devolution might look like in the Sri Lankan context. We welcome that initiative and hope that the final proposal for
devolution will be ambitious in its efforts to accommodate the aspirations of all Sri Lankans.
Mr. Love: There are constant rumours that if consensus is reached but negotiations do not take place the Sri Lankan Government will go ahead without agreement. What would be our Governments reaction in that case?
Mr. Thomas: I am sure that my hon. Friend will forgive me if at this stage I do not speculate on an unknown outcome. As I have said, a solution in Sri Lanka will have to be reached through negotiation and compromise, and I hope that that message is well understood.
Many Members touched on the humanitarian situation, reflecting on the impact of the conflict on the civilian population. Much of the recent fighting has occurred in heavily populated areas of the east. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced over the past year. Recent reporting by UN agencies suggests that malnutrition remains a real concern for many living in internally displaced person camps. Those camps are not the places of refuge that they should be from the killings and political abductions that are scarring Sri Lanka.
In the north, the situation in Jaffna is particularly grim. It is a city of 600,000 people and it remains cut off from the rest of the country. We agree with the co-chairs of the peace processthe EU, Norway, Japan and the United Statesthat there should be
immediate, permanent and unconditional opening of the sea and road routes
for humanitarian convoys of essential supplies.
As the intensity of the fighting has increased, the space for humanitarian agencies to operate in has become much more constricted. Both the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE have a responsibility to ensure that humanitarian agencies are able to get full access to civilians in need of support. Crucially, they should respect the neutrality of humanitarian agencies. Seeing humanitarian agencies as legitimate targets for vilification because they support peace may jeopardise the security of their staff.
According to figures compiled by Reuters, Sri Lanka is one of the most dangerous places in the world for humanitarian workers to operate. In 2006, 23 were killed, 17 of them in a terrible murder near Trincomalee in August. I am sure that the House will join me in paying tribute to UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross and numerous non-governmental organisations for the selfless work that they do in Sri Lanka.
Mr. Davey: I join the tribute that the Minister has paid to United Nations agencies that are working on the island. He talked about the need to open land routes, in particular, in an area that is battered by conflict. Is not one possible solution to ask the United Nations Security Council whether there could be a peacekeeping force just for that route, to keep it open for humanitarian aid? Is that one possible way forward?
Mr. Thomas: I will come later to the question of the UN and the discussions that we have been having through it. We have made it clear that access is necessary by road and sea. I take this opportunity again to urge the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka to recognise that they have a responsibility to facilitate access for humanitarian and development agencies. That is a responsibility on the Government of Sri Lanka, but it is also one that the LTTE must recognise.
I touched on what we as a Government have been able to do to respond to the humanitarian needs. In September last year, we contributed $1 million to the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross for their response to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Sri Lanka. An assessment mission has recently returned again from Sri Lanka and we will assess the recommendations in its summary report in the next few weeks with a view to considering what else we can do to help mitigate the impact.
Much has been said about human rights. As a number of hon. Members have said, in areas under LTTE control, there is no tolerance of dissent or of freedom of expression. The LTTE needs to develop its role as a credible partner for peace. It cannot continue to persecute Tamils just because they have opposing views. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Jim Dowd) made clear in one of his interventions early on, there have been credible reports that members of the Government security forces have been involved in extra-judicial killings and there have been repeated allegations that some civilians detained during large anti-terrorist operations have disappeared. I know of concerns from my own constituency case load, as well. It appears that anti-LTTE paramilitary groups have also been engaged in violence and intimidation. Despite promising to do so, the Government of Sri Lanka have not succeeded in preventing those armed groups from operating in Government-controlled areas. There are allegations of collusion by the security forces.
The four leading international players in the peace processthe co-chairshave made it clear that they believe that both parties have failed to deliver on their responsibilities in that respect, including on the commitments made at the Geneva meeting in 2006. We share that view and the concern that has been raised in the House about the serious restrictions that have been put on freedom of expression, with journalists and newspaper distribution agents being intimidated and, in some cases, killed.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: I asked the hon. Gentleman several questions during my speech, notably whether the UK Government were taking any new initiatives to solve the peace process, especially involving the United Nations. Will he say something about that before he concludes?
Mr. Thomas: I will indeed. However, first let me highlight the fact that the Foreign Minister and two other democratically elected Members of Parliament have been killed in the past two years. Many ordinary people have been reported as disappeared or simply killed.
The hon. Member for Cotswold asked me about the UN, as did the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton. Last year, Louise Arbour, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, felt that the unfolding human rights situation was so serious that she called on the international community to continue to monitor it. She said that the events were not just ceasefire violations, but grave breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law. That is why we continue to seek a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council. We want discussions to take place there so that we can help to build a framework for peace and increase confidence on all sides in Sri Lanka.
As I indicated, we welcome and support the establishment of the international independent group of eminent persons, which will monitor domestic investigations into human rights abuses. However, the group, on its own, is not enough. The investigations must be rigorous and fast. They must help to ensure that more of the perpetrators of human rights abuses are brought to justice.
I am sure that the House will agree that one of the most abhorrent human rights abuses is the continued recruitment of children to fight. Both the LTTE and the Karuna faction have given undertakings that they will stop the practice, but evidence, including that from UNICEF, suggests that both organisations continue to force children to fight.
The hon. Member for Cotswold asked whether the Sri Lanka monitoring mission could be strengthened. We agree that it has done an excellent job in often difficult circumstances. I hope that the LTTE will once again co-operate with the mission and allow monitors from EU member states to return.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton asked about debt relief and the UKs decision to pay thus far only half the outstanding debt relief tranche for 2006. We believe that that sent a clear message to the Sri Lankan Government about our concerns. The outstanding payment will be made only when consultations have concluded with the Sri Lankan Government. Those consultations will, in particular, involve discussions about the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. When the high commissioner met the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister last week, they discussed debt relief and our concerns about human rights. The high commissioner urged the Sri Lankan Government to respond to and address our concerns. Further debt relief payments cannot be made until that happens.
Many hon. Members asked what else the Government could do in addition to the considerable efforts that we are already making. Our top political and developmental priority in Sri Lanka is supporting peace building. The Department works closely with our colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence and with those whom support the Prime Minister. We combine our operations in the country, and we are using funds from the global conflict prevention pool to support a series of programmes that will help to bring the sides together, slowly to try to create the conditions for a sustainable peace.
Sri Lanka is a country of huge but unfulfilled potential. We want a peaceful solution to the conflict. That solution must be one with which all the people and communities in Sri Lanka feel comfortable. It must enable the society to become more prosperous and healthier. We will continue to be engaged in the search for peace in Sri Lanka.
That this House concurs with the Lords Message of 26th April, that it is expedient that a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons be appointed to consider and report on any draft Human Tissue and Embryos Bill presented to both Houses by a Minister of the Crown and that the Committee should report on the draft Bill by 25th July 2007.
That a Select Committee of nine Members be appointed to join with the Committee appointed by the Lords to consider the draft Human Tissue and Embryos Bill.
That the Committee shall have power
(i) to send for persons, papers and records;
(ii) to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House;
(iii) to report from time to time;
(iv) to appoint specialist advisers; and
(v) to adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdom.
That the quorum of the Committee shall be two; and
That Mr David Burrowes, Ms Katy Clark, Dr Ian Gibson, Robert Key, Chris Mole, Dr Doug Naysmith, Geraldine Smith, Ms Dari Taylor and Mr Phil Willis be members of the Committee. [Mr. Watts.]
Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): May I start by saying that, unusually, I did not want to call for this debate, but Barclays bank has given me no choice? That is the same Barclays bank that, only weeks ago, announced record profits of £7 billion. It is the same Barclays bank that paid one of its executives £22 million last year alone. We all know that Barclays likes to make a killing in the City, and we congratulate it on its success, but hand-in-hand with success goes the corporate responsibility to be reasonable to customers, particularly the most vulnerable customers. I have discovered that there is a sinister side to Barclays, and I want to share it with Members this evening.
Like many Members, I write tens of thousands of letters a year on behalf of my constituentsthere are thousands and thousands of names on my casework systembut I do not ask for Adjournment debates on every case that comes along. I would only do so in extreme cases when every other effort has failed. This is such an occasion. My constituent, Mr. Aranda, first saw me at one of my advice surgeries in February. He lives very modestly in a small flat at The Beeches in Morden. Mr. Aranda is not a profligate manhe works hard and he wants the best for his family. He started a small business cleaning carpets, because he wanted to get on. He speaks very little English, and I have been dealing with him mainly through his daughter. When he came to my surgery, he had stomach cancer and was very poorly. He was not recovering as fast as expected and he was clearly under stress.
Through Mr. Arandas daughter, I found out that before his illness, he had taken out a couple of loans with his bankBarclays. He had been a good customer of Barclays for many years, and he went to his local branch believing that it would give him a good deal. Before I go any further, I should confess that I am not usually the greatest expert on financial small print. I understand that there may be in the not-too-distant future a vacancy for the position of Chancellor of the Exchequer. I should like to reassure the House that I will not be applying for any such vacancy. I may struggle to decipher the small print of financial contracts, but at least I understand English. Mr Aranda does not understand English very well. Barclays sold Mr. Aranda his loans in English, and it also sold him two insurance policies to cover him in case of illness. Those policies were with Barclays Insurance Dublin.
It is not clear whether Mr. Aranda would have obtained a better deal elsewhere on his loan, or whether he should have obtained his insurance with another company. It is not even clear whether the loan depended on buying insurance from Barclays in Dublin, or whether Mr. Aranda believed that he had to buy his insurance from Barclays. Nor is it clear whether Mr. Aranda should have been advised about insurance that covered all his financial commitments, including his overdraft and credit cards. It is clear, however, that
Mr. Aranda was sold Barclays products in a language he barely understands, with small print that even native English speakers find confusing, by a member of staff who was under pressure to maximise sales.
Barclays has form when it comes to selling unnecessary financial products to confused customers. In March, the BBC broadcast the results of a nine- month investigation into its sales techniques. An undercover investigator was told by a bank trainer that he loved receiving calls from customers complaining about bank charges. He said:
Theyd phone up, start crying and blaming you and telling you their kids are going to starve. And Id be like, I don't know youI don't care. I was just thinking, youre not getting it back. I was a right git.
I hate it when they say the customer is always right. Its just ridiculous. Someone was stoned when they made up that policy.
cynical attitude to salesand to customerspermeated every aspect of my work with the bank.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|