Kashmir Earthquake

AIDS – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 9th November 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Manchester Central 11:30 am, 9th November 2005

What objectives he has set in providing assistance to the authorities in Pakistan and the victims of the recent earthquake.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

DFID's response to the south Asia earthquake helped to save the lives of those affected and will continue to support them through the winter months. To date, we have allocated £33 million for the immediate relief effort and are prepared to do more. Our immediate assistance has included search and rescue, provision of tents, blankets, tarpaulins and other supplies, funding of air transport, including helicopters, and support to the United Nations, Red Cross and non-governmental organisations. In addition, the European Commission has pledged €93.6 million for relief and reconstruction. The UK's share of that is £11 million.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Manchester Central

Hon. Members on both sides of the House will recognise that President Musharraf was right when he paid tribute to the role of the British Government and to my right hon. Friend. However, as winter approaches, many hundreds of thousands of people still face terrible conditions and possible death and the international community has not put in the effort that our Government have done. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the money pledged by the EU and other donors is delivered—and soon—because time to rescue the people in the mountains is disappearing quickly? [Interruption.]

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

I share my hon. Friend's view about the race against time in which the world community and the Government of Pakistan are engaged to save the lives of those who will otherwise freeze to death or die of respiratory tract infections because they are out in the cold when winter arrives. I assure the House that we will deliver every penny that we have promised and the record so far shows that that is the case. We have made a great effort to bring the scale of the crisis to the attention of others in the international community. Nobody can be in any doubt about the short time left. That is why we need more money from others in the international community and more help on the ground to turn that money into support that gets to people in the remote mountain communities of Azad Kashmir and North-West Frontier Province.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

In the Government's capacity as president of the European Union, what efforts has the Secretary of State made to secure a fitting response from those member countries, highlighted by Oxfam and others, that have failed to donate to the Asian earthquake appeal? Is he aware that Spain, Portugal, Greece, Finland and Austria have contributed no additional funds?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

I can tell the hon. Gentleman what we have done. Two days after the earthquake struck, we issued a presidency statement and I have now written twice to EU Development Ministers. Along with Jan Egeland, I briefed them at the informal meeting of EU Development Ministers in Leeds on 24 October. The issue was also raised by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary at the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 18 October. Every country should look deeply into its conscience and ask itself if it is doing all that it can to help people who are in desperate need.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

May I suggest to the Secretary of State a specific way in which he could assist with that matter? After the Asian tsunami, the EU considered several trade measures to improve market access for the affected countries. Will he press the EU to liberalise its trade with Pakistan to promote economic recovery in that country? In particular, will he consider the inclusion of Pakistan in the generalised system of preferences—the GSP-plus—from which it was excluded earlier this year?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

I am sure that, as the European Union considers how it may provide support to the reconstruction process, it will be happy to look at all possible measures. Issues, and some difficulties, would arise from the proposal that the hon. Gentleman makes, but I simply say to him that the task of reconstruction will be big and take a long time. Our immediate concern has to be with helping to save the lives of those who are in desperate need as we speak. The time will come for reconstruction and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will attend the conference in Pakistan on 19 November. We will make a commitment there to support the reconstruction, in the same way as Britain has played an honourable role in helping to save the lives of those affected by that terrible catastrophe.

Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

I agree with the Secretary of State about the ongoing gravity of the situation, but he should bear in mind the fact that small charities such as Shelterbox are delivering more tents than big Government in the UK. When it takes three weeks to deliver Chinooks to the region, does the Secretary of State agree that lessons need to be learned from the response to the emergency? When the dust settles, will he review the speed and effectiveness of the emergency response from this country—non-governmental organisations and Government?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

I am happy to review the effectiveness, but I emphatically reject the implied criticism in the hon. Gentleman's comment that somehow the British Government have been slow. The fact is that we were the first country in the world to send search and rescue teams. We have provided 5,500 tents, 27,000 blankets and 30,000 tarpaulins. We could do that so quickly precisely because we had prepared and we had those things in stock. We have now funded 65 flights for the Disasters Emergency Committee, helping the NGO sector to bring in supplies. We are currently trying to find a way to lift the shelterboxes waiting to go. I simply ask Shelterbox to link up with one of the DEC agencies, as that is the most effective and easiest way of getting help to the region.