Sri Lanka

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 6:31 pm on 2nd May 2007.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party 6:31 pm, 2nd May 2007

If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, in a little while I shall deal with matters such as the fact that the President has set up all-party talks about a possible settlement offer.

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.