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Northern Ireland: Omagh Battalion

Lord Drayson: My right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Adam Ingram) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

As part of our normal process of keeping force levels under review, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) Northern Ireland, in consultation with the Chief Constable of the PSNI, has concluded that once the 1st Battalion King's Own Scottish Borders comes to the end of its tour as the Omagh resident battalion in August 2006, there is no requirement for it to be replaced.

This change is based on the GOC's and Chief Constable's assessment of the security situation, and reflects the increasing success of the PSNI in dealing with the threat from terrorism without routine military support. The Army remains committed to providing the support that the PSNI require to counter the threat from terrorism and to prevent potential public disorder. Consequently, we will continue to keep force levels in Northern Ireland under regular review.

Naval Recruiting and Training Agency: Key Targets 2005–06

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Drayson): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Don Touhig) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Subsequent to a proposal by the agency's owner, the Second Sea Lord and Commander-in-Chief Naval Home Command, I have today set the 2005–06 key targets for the Naval Recruiting and Training Agency (NRTA), as follows:

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Bangladesh: Rural Electrification

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement:

Asian Tsunami: Reconstruction Programme

Baroness Amos: My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Last week I visited Indonesia (Jakarta and Banda Aceh) and Sri Lanka (Colombo, Ampara in the east and Galle in the south) to track progress in post-tsunami reconstruction; assess our and the wider UK NGO response; and investigate the impact on peace processes.


Immediate humanitarian relief has been generally effective. The UK's contribution has helped to save lives by preventing disease, providing water and sanitation and temporary shelter. The UN, NGOs and military are widely considered to have done a good job in the first few weeks as the enormity of the disaster became clear. But the problems caused by the sheer scale of the disaster, numbers of dead, the lack of NGO or UN staff on the ground in Banda Aceh before the tsunami due to the conflict and the logistical difficulties cannot be overstated.

The Government have reorganised so the transition from relief to reconstruction is led by the Aceh Reconstruction Agency (BRR). I discussed the scale of the reconstruction challenge with Mr Pak Kuntoro Mangkusubroto (head of the BRR) and how donors can assist BRR's efforts to improve supplies, housing and infrastructure rebuilding among other areas, as well as
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measures to prevent corruption. The UK has provided approximately £7 million in support of BRR so far, and I announced a further £30 million to be made available from within the £65 million for reconstruction that we set aside in February.

After a break following the tsunami, the conflict has worsened with almost daily reports of fighting between GAM (the Free Aceh Movement) and government forces. The tsunami has, however, helped to kick-start new negotiations facilitated by the Finnish Government. There are encouraging signs of progress. Through our presidency of the EU we will continue to support this process.

Sri Lanka

Much has been achieved by the relief effort so far that benefited from a huge and more immediate influx of NGO and international support: 30,000 transitional homes constructed so far; of 182 schools damaged, contracts have been signed to rebuild 176; 95 per cent of children affected by the tsunami are now back at school; and roads, railways and electricity supplies (where they existed) have been restored. The major area lagging now we are in the recovery phase is livelihoods, which is being addressed now, with funds to rebuild and recapitalise the fishing industry (the main livelihood of those affected) and micro-credit becoming available, although co-ordination issues remain.

Broadly speaking, the transition to reconstruction has begun in fuller force than in Indonesia. Industry is expected to have recovered by the end of the year. Reconstruction needs as identified by the international financial institutions are fully financed by donors, (expected cost $2 billion: pledges from donors and NGOs exceeding $3 billion). I have specifically requested assurances from the government that debt relief resources (including £41 million from the UK Government) and sufficient counterpart funding on the government side be channelled through the budget and spent on tsunami-related reconstruction activities.

A major constraint to faster progress is the lack of land for permanently resettling tsunami displaced persons. There is a government proposal to forbid any rebuilding within a designated buffer zone stretching 100–200 metres from the sea. I raised concerns over the robustness of the rationale for this with the Government of Sri Lanka, given the large number of family homes, schools and clinics within the zone, affecting more than 70,000 people. I received reassurances that the buffer zone will be implemented in a flexible way depending on local circumstances and improved consultation mechanisms are being put in place.

Inevitably assistance is reaching some communities more quickly than others, but the context of the conflict makes this hugely significant. In the north and east areas contested by the LTTE, much assistance is through NGOs and the UN and progress has been slower than in some parts of the south, due in part to relatively little private sector funding and poor
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infrastructure. Perceptions that assistance is being inequitably delivered continue. For this reason, the joint mechanism (GoSL/LTTE/Muslim) that should facilitate bilateral donor funding to the north-east is hugely significant as providing the first framework for a long time within which dialogue between the parties could take place. Further work to finalise the agreement and to put it to a parliamentary debate is expected this month. If it can be established then the UK Government stand ready to provide support as needed.

Disaster reduction

The area remains disaster-prone. We have allocated £7.5 million for disaster risk reduction measures. This will support community-level work to raise awareness of danger signals from early warning systems and ensure they know how to respond to best protect themselves and their families.

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