Hurricane Irma

– in the House of Commons at 11:33 am on 7th September 2017.

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Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Minister of State 11:33 am, 7th September 2017

I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for this opportunity to make a statement on Hurricane Irma, which is already affecting and is set further to affect Caribbean islands and the south-east United States with devastating effect. Much as I appreciate the wish of the House to move on to the Second Reading of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, I am sure everyone appreciates the importance of informing the House about the latest position on this unfolding catastrophe.

As with any hurricane, one can never be sure of its ultimate effect until the extent and location of its inevitable damage has become clear. However, its predicted force has put everyone on the highest state of alert and preparedness, to which end the Foreign Office crisis centre and Department for International Development planning were all put on to the highest state of readiness over two days ago. The FCO crisis centre has two important functions: one is to organise the fullest possible consular assistance to UK citizens abroad; the other is to monitor the path of the hurricane and co-ordinate every conceivable UK response, in particular to those British territories affected.

Hurricane Irma, having reached category 5—the highest possible category—hit three British overseas territories yesterday: Anguilla, Montserrat and the British Virgin Islands. Today, we expect the hurricane to affect a further UK territory: the Turks and Caicos Islands. The hurricane yesterday also caused damage in the independent Commonwealth countries of Antigua and Barbuda and St Kitts and Nevis, and we expect it to affect the Dominican Republic, Haiti and the Bahamas today. It will most likely affect Cuba and south-eastern Florida tomorrow. The hurricane is heading westwards and remains strong. We have an initial assessment of the severity of the damage it has caused. I will outline for the House what we know so far. Montserrat was swiped by the hurricane yesterday, but our initial assessment is relatively positive. Fortunately, the damage is not as severe as first thought. In contrast, however, Anguilla received the hurricane’s full blast. The initial assessment is that the damage has been severe and, in places, critical. We expect further reports to make clear the full nature of the devastation, and Anguilla’s port and airport remain closed. The British Virgin Islands were also not spared the hurricane’s full force when it passed through yesterday morning. Our initial assessment is of severe damage. We expect that the islands will need extensive humanitarian assistance, which we will of course provide.

The hurricane is expected to hit another British overseas territory later today. The Turks and Caicos Islands lie in the hurricane’s predicted path, and officials in London and in the territories are working intensively on disaster preparedness. They are also liaising with their counterparts in the Cayman Islands for assistance. The French and Dutch territories on Guadeloupe and St Martin have also been hit. The initial assessments are of widespread damage, but the more detailed assessment continues. No British nationals have yet contacted us to ask for assistance from these islands. Two Commonwealth realms were affected by hurricane Irma yesterday. Antigua and Barbuda’s less populated island, Barbuda, was most severely affected. Antigua, and St Kitts and Nevis were less badly affected than many had feared, with only minor damage. We expect that the hurricane will affect the Dominican Republic and Haiti today. It will sweep on through the south-east of the Bahamas later, and tomorrow is predicted to hit Cuba and southern Florida.

Officials in London and the territories have been working throughout the day and night to assess and quantify the needs of our territories, and to co-ordinate a cross-Government response. Officials in London are maintaining contact—although sometimes difficult—with our Governors’ offices in the territories. The Governors’ teams are themselves working closely with the territories’ Governments to respond to the crisis. The Royal Naval ship Royal Fleet Auxiliary Mounts Bay is already in the Caribbean and should reach the affected territories later today. The ship carries Royal Marines and Army engineers, and her primary task is the protection of our overseas territories. She is loaded with a range of equipment, vehicles, tents, stores and hydraulic vehicles specifically intended to respond to such disasters. In addition, DFID stands ready to charter flights to deliver additional supplies as appropriate.

I spoke last night to the London representatives of the British Virgin Islands. I was in our crisis centre yesterday afternoon and last night and have been based there this morning. At 8.45 pm last night, the Foreign Secretary spoke to Anguilla’s Chief Minister Victor Banks. The Foreign Secretary also tried but was unable to contact the Premier of the British Virgin Islands, but Lord Ahmad has been in contact with the Governor this morning. We will be working in support of the overseas territories’ Governments to develop the best possible assessment of their immediate and longer-term needs. To that end, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will chair a meeting of COBRA at 2 o’clock this afternoon. Our priority is to support the territories’ Governments in meeting their immediate humanitarian and security needs, including shelter, water and accommodation. We have four UK Aid humanitarian experts in the region who are helping to co-ordinate the response. We will assess, with the territories’ Governments, their long-term reconstruction requirements, as we have done in the past.

As the House will appreciate, the relationship between overseas territories and their parent countries differs. While French territories are directly governed, that is not the case with our overseas territories. While that means that our responses will, of course, be different, we will seek to achieve the same objectives and are taking immediate steps to do so.

The Prime Minister called President Macron this morning to discuss our respective responses to Hurricane Irma. They agreed that the devastation the hurricane has wreaked is terrible, with unconfirmed reports emerging of a number of fatalities. The Prime Minister updated the French President on our response, noting that DFID humanitarian advisers have already deployed to the region to conduct damage assessments and provide humanitarian support, and that RFA Mounts Bay is already near the area. They agreed to co-operate closely, including with the Dutch, to understand the extent of the damage and to co-ordinate our relief efforts.

We will all do our utmost to help those affected, and I undertake to keep the House updated as required.

Photo of Liz McInnes Liz McInnes Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 11:40 am, 7th September 2017

I thank the Minister for his statement and for allowing me to see it in advance. I start by associating myself with his remarks in sending the House’s deepest sympathies to the people whose lives and livelihoods have been lost to the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma.

Many thousands of British tourists visit the Caribbean every year for their holidays. What is the Government’s estimate of the number of UK nationals currently in the countries that have been hit by Hurricane Irma, or that are likely to be affected in the coming days? What requests for consular assistance has the Foreign Office received from British nationals in the countries affected? What assistance are the Government ready to provide in response to such requests? What efforts are the Government making to communicate with British nationals across the region to make sure that they know what help is available to them?

Of course, holidaymakers are by no means the only people who will have been affected: the damage for those who live in the region will be both profound and lasting, particularly because of the effect on the tourism industry. Many of those people may also be British, given the number of UK overseas territories in the Caribbean.

The Minister has given us the Government’s initial assessment of the impact of Hurricane Irma on overseas territories such as Anguilla, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos and the British Virgin Islands, but what discussions has he had, or does he intend to have, with the Governments of those territories about the effects of the hurricane? And what discussions has he had with the Governments of countries such as Antigua and Barbuda that have also been affected? What efforts are the Government making to work with the authorities in those areas on their reconstruction plans? What reassurances can he give that the UK stands ready to provide not only the immediate humanitarian and security relief that is needed so urgently but a sustained commitment to reconstruction, which will be so important in the longer term?

Finally, I am sure the Minister will commit to providing regular updates to the House on the progress of reconstruction efforts, and particularly on the steps the Government are taking to assist with those efforts. I am also confident that the Government will update the House following the Cobra meeting this afternoon.

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Minister of State

I am grateful to the hon. Lady both for what she said and for the tone in which she said it, because the House will want to send a united message of concern. We all just want to do the very best for those who, in many cases, have been devastated by the ferocity of this hurricane.

Of course, many tourists will have left because there was some notice that this hurricane was likely to come, and this is not peak tourist season. We have not yet had any direct individual requests for consular assistance, but we all have concern that, beneath the rubble, there will be cases that require our urgent personal response.

Our focus, of course, is not just on tourists; it is on everybody. We have complete overall concern, particularly for our overseas territories that are affected, and to that end we have £12 million immediately available through our rapid response mechanism for disaster relief and recovery. The Secretary of State for International Development is here with me, and her Department, like the Foreign Office, is on full alert and is doing its utmost. The Department has a great wealth of expertise to deploy, and I speak not only as a Foreign Minister but as a former DFID Minister. In the long-term, we will of course always meet our full legal obligations under the International Development Act 2002 to our overseas territories. I assure the House that we are pulling out all the stops to make sure that we do our utmost to provide urgent assistance, once we, using the professionalism DFID has, have carried out the assessment to make sure we know who is in greatest need. We can then use our adeptness and flexibility urgently to address those who most need our help.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement, for the comprehensive nature of the response we appear to be preparing and for the undertaking that we will provide all necessary immediate humanitarian assistance. I welcome the fact that he has spoken to the London representatives of the BVI. Will he confirm that he will be happy to act as the personal contact of the London representative of the Government of Anguilla, too, so that she can keep him personally updated? For the longer term, there is some anxiety that the overseas territory of Anguilla does not receive direct aid from DFID; it receives it only indirectly through the European Union. May I take it that the welcome notification about the £12 million will mean that we are equally as committed to the long-term recovery and reconstruction of Anguilla as we are to meeting the immediate humanitarian need?

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Minister of State

First, let me say that we are endeavouring to contact everybody, although this is difficult in some cases. There is always a distinction between DFID funding that is Official Development Assistance-eligible and that which is not, but we will make all the assessments we possibly can, in order to give the help that we would like to give wherever we find that the need is severe. We will, as my hon. Friend requests, focus on all the help, and we have dealt with many hurricanes and typhoons in the region before. Indeed, four years ago, as the Minister, I gave some assistance to St Lucia and St Vincent, which had had all their bridges swept away. It was because we had the professionalism required to assess the damage that we knew how best to respond to it. Our response is flexible, which again reflects DFID’s professional competence.

Photo of Chris Law Chris Law Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Climate Justice)

I, too, am grateful for advance sight of today’s statement. There is no doubt that the devastation across the Caribbean is both grave and a tragedy. Naturally, our thoughts and wishes go out to all those waiting to find out whether or not they are in the path of Hurricane Irma—those in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the Bahamas and Florida; and to those who have already been hit in the Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Puerto Rico and St Martin, which we hear is “almost destroyed” and in Barbuda, whose Prime Minister says that the island is “totally demolished” and “nearly uninhabitable”. We encourage the Minister to send as much urgent aid as possible to them.

The upgrading to hurricanes of storms Jose and Katia, making it three in the Caribbean basin, is terrifying. The prospect of Jose hitting locales we have already seen hit, amid the devastation, is unthinkable. The world is witnessing the increased prevalence of hurricanes. In the past three years alone, Texas has had three 100-year to 500-year events, leading to warnings that this is the “new normal”. We are seeing the major impact of climate change, and we must step up actions on this at the highest priority. Gaston Browne, the Prime Minister of Barbuda and the larger, neighbouring island of Antigua, told the BBC’s “Today” programme:

“The science is clear. Climate change is real, in the Caribbean we are living with the consequences of climate change. It is unfortunate that there are some who see it differently.”

Will the Government express our solidarity and sympathies with the communities affected, especially those on the devastated island of Barbuda, through communication with their Prime Minister? What efforts have the Government made to note how many UK nationals have been caught up in the path of this devastating hurricane?

Finally, as part of the UK’s much-vaunted “special relationship” with the United States, what pressure are the UK Government putting on Donald Trump to change his stance on the Paris climate change agreement, and to be part of the solution and not the problem?

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Minister of State

I of course hear what the hon. Gentleman says about climate change. There is no doubt that many parts of the world are facing a greater incidence of severe weather, but I hope he will allow me to confine myself to the urgent nature of our response to people in desperate need, rather than engage today in a debate on the broader issues. Our priority is primarily the overseas territories, but it is not confined to them. Thus, we will be focusing in the first instance on the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and, by the look of it, the Turks and Caicos Islands. That is why the crisis centres in the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development are working joined at the hip to ensure that our response is as effective and as rapid as possible.

Photo of Wendy Morton Wendy Morton Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

I would like to add my thanks to the Minister for coming to give a statement to the House today. Clearly this is a very devastating but unfolding situation. Can he reassure us that he will continue to keep us updated on the work and progress of his Department and those involved?

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Minister of State

I am happy to give that assurance. I can tell the House that in my experience these things come in phases. We have to start with the urgent cases of injury and homelessness and the need for food and water. Then there is the very important process of the follow-up to ensure that issues of infrastructure and reconstruction are properly planned for and delivered.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Labour, Chesterfield

I spoke a few moments ago to Kennedy Hodge, an Anguillan student who has arrived just today in Chesterfield. He laid out the scale of the devastation in Anguilla, which is quite unlike anything they have seen before. The Minister was at pains to explain the difference between our relationship with our overseas territories and that of the French Government with theirs, but if he is to make good on achieving the same objectives that the French have set out, he will know that we need a great deal more resource. The French Government have put a lot more into St Martin than we have into Anguilla. Will the Minister lay out the resources we will be able to provide not only militarily to deal with the immediate humanitarian catastrophe, but to support the Anguillan Government with the help they will need with schools, hospitals, the airport, the prisons and all the devastated infrastructure? They will need that support to get back on their feet.

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Minister of State

I quite understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying in respect of Anguilla, because there have been some comments in the media comparing our response with that of the French, but I very much hope I can give him and the House genuine reassurance. We are very well practised in emergency response. We place a Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel in the area almost every year—I think it is every year—in anticipation of hurricane risk. In this case, the hurricane has been extraordinarily severe, but the advantage of having the Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel is that we do not trap response resources in a country or on an island when they might be more importantly needed on a neighbouring island.

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel has flexibility. It has the ability to make and deliver water. It has bulldozers and a helicopter. Crucially, we may have resources on an island and the roads get blocked, but if we have a Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel with a chopper, we can get to the people in need very quickly. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel is a fantastic resource of which we should be very proud. It has marines, military engineers, resources, food and supplies, and it can deploy flexibly according to the urgency and need caused by the devastating path of a hurricane, because we never know where the need is greatest until the hurricane has happened. I say again that we can supplement the initial urgent response with other relief flights provided by DFID out of the disaster relief funding we have. Over time, the House will see that our response proved effective and good for the people we are there to look after.

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Conservative, Rochford and Southend East

My thoughts go out to people such as Victor Banks, Orlando Smith and Don Romeo, whom I worked closely with and have been trying to contact. Does this immediate crisis not highlight a conundrum? While the overseas territories have preferential treatment and first call on the DFID budget, the nature of middle-income status does not recognise the real environmental risks that small island states have. How can the Minister leverage his time at DFID and the Foreign Office to ensure that that little conundrum can perhaps be solved under his time and service?

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Minister of State

May I first acknowledge my hon. Friend’s service as a Foreign Office Minister? He has great knowledge of this field. He is really asking me to dissect and explain, or even give an intellectual thesis on, what one might call the “ODA conundrum”, in which some cases qualify for overseas development assistance funding but not others. When it comes to hurricanes and typhoons, the argument may well be, “We wish you had spent money in advance,” and so on. I am sure that greater thought will be given to the issue, but DFID will do its utmost with the resources it has to address need wherever it is able to do so.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor states that had Hurricane Harvey happened 20 years ago, it would have been a “1-in-2,000-year event”. We now have Irma, with a new trail of devastation and loss of life, as well as appalling deadly floods in south Asia. Helping those in danger rightly has to be the immediate priority, but will the Minister engage with the wider question of what the Government are doing to get global climate change action back on track? It is vital and urgent that we do, and we are currently failing.

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Minister of State

That priority cuts across the Government. Our main focus today is on emergency relief, but preparedness for severe weather incidents is part of many DFID programmes, to ensure that flooding is reduced, buildings are solid and infrastructure holds up. The kind of the advanced work to which the hon. Lady implicitly refers is deeply entrenched in many of the programmes around the world on which DFID spends its money.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Conservative, Wealden

I welcome the Minister’s statement. The Foreign Office crisis centre and DFID have done us proud by springing into action, and I welcome the £12 million fund that my right hon. Friend mentioned earlier. However, the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma will be exacerbated by another storm: Hurricane Jose. Has the Minister had the time to take into account the extra damage that Hurricane Jose could cause and what that might mean for any relief efforts in the region?

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Minister of State

I have been concentrating very much on Irma, but I shall go immediately and find out what I ought to know about Jose. The serious point is that the Government wanted to come to the House at the earliest possible opportunity to let the House know what we know and to share, openly and transparently, a clear picture of what we had prepared and what we wish to do. As I said earlier, I am sure we will update the House in due course, or as appropriate, to explain what we have done subsequently.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Labour, Cynon Valley

First, I was involved in getting aid to Montserrat in the past; will the Minister explain further what damage the hurricane has done to the island? He said it was swiped by the hurricane, but I do not know what that means. Secondly, there was an interesting BBC science programme last night on preparing to go to Mars, with scientists in the United States seemingly well advanced in the process. If we are preparing to go to Mars, why can we not predict hurricanes much earlier? The Minister may not be able to answer that question, but it is an interesting one.

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Minister of State

The right hon. Lady will forgive me if I focus more on Montserrat than on Mars. I am very familiar with Montserrat, which of course had its own problem with the volcanic eruption many years ago. The damage assessment we have is that fortunately Montserrat has not been severely hit. The hurricane passed over and did not cause the widespread disruption and demolition that at first we feared.

Photo of John Stevenson John Stevenson Conservative, Carlisle

Our attention is currently on those countries affected by the hurricane, and it is right that the Government’s focus should be on them. However, back in 2015, Storm Desmond initially had a great impact on America before subsequently having a huge impact on this country, particularly affecting the lives of many people in Carlisle and Cumbria. Will the Minister confirm that, although his priority is clearly the countries in the Caribbean, other parts of the Government will ensure that this country is prepared for the potential fallout from such hurricanes and future ones?

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Minister of State

Yes, I would like to think that, as a sophisticated first-world country, we do as a matter of fact always have contingency plans—plans for a civil response of that sort. I am sure that the answer to my hon. Friend’s question is yes. As regards a specific backlash from this hurricane, I am sure that the scientists will be working on it very energetically already.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

Our heart goes out to all those who have been affected. Some of the very poorest people will be those who have lost absolutely everything in this, as so often happens. The rich will be able to rebuild their mansions, but the poor will not. The Minister is right to focus on the immediate issues, but if we are to build resilience—there will be another incident like this—do the British Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos not need to have a broader tax base in the end?

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Minister of State

As a Minister in the Department for International Development, I focused in great detail on the Turks and Caicos Islands, which was pretty well bankrupt and its deficit was growing. So, yes, part of the set of conditions that we set down for them for restoring their finances was to improve their tax base. I can point to a very positive record of this Government, answering exactly the question that the hon. Gentleman has asked. Implicit in his question is that, if we are to reconstruct a devastated island, we must ensure that it builds things that will withstand hurricanes in the future. If we have rivers that will not flood, riverbanks that have gabion baskets to make sure that they can contain the water and houses that can withstand a greater ferocity of wind, then out of this disaster can come an opportunity for better resilience in the future.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

I commend my right hon. Friend for his statement, which, in its comprehensiveness and succinctness, was a model that other Ministers would be well advised to follow. In relation to his last point, we have an absolute duty to protect our overseas realms and territories from environmental disasters. Is there a plan to hurricane-proof as much as possible key infrastructure in these realms and territories?

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Minister of State

I like to think that being short and precise is my hallmark.

Across many of DFID’s programmes around the world—for example, ones in Bangladesh, which suffers from flooding—building in resilience is a crucial part of its entire philosophy. In as much as that can also be incorporated into a country’s planning, it must be both welcomed and encouraged. I must point out to the House that we do not govern those countries, but we can encourage them to govern themselves in a way that introduces exactly the sort of standards that my hon. Friend has described.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Labour/Co-operative, Cardiff South and Penarth

I have been shocked to see the absolute devastation in places that I have personally visited. Having been through a hurricane and a tornado myself, I know just what a frightening and unpleasant experience it can be. It is absolutely shocking, and our thoughts and prayers are with all those people. I welcome very much what the Minister has had to say, particularly about RFA Mounts Bay and the facilities that it can provide. Will he look at the possibility of a second RFA vessel going into the region one or two weeks later with necessary infrastructure supplies and relief efforts, particularly if there is further devastation in the Turks and Caicos? Are our search and rescue personnel on standby to provide assistance? They do an excellent job in these crises. Have they been used yet?

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Minister of State

On search and rescue, the answer is, yes, those personnel will be deployed. The Cobra meeting at 2 o’clock this afternoon will discuss all those options. Sitting in the crisis centre this morning, looking at the auxiliary vessel going, I can say that one of its great advantages is that it has a helicopter. One issue that we are looking at very urgently is trying to get a second helicopter. Then we will consider supplementary relief flights and possibly a second naval vessel—I am not committing to that now. In the hope that we might be able to do that when we look at the disaster and assess it, then, hopefully, the answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question will be yes. We must appreciate that this is a massive, perhaps unprecedented, natural disaster. We have not seen a hurricane on this scale in our lifetime, so we will have to assess the damage and respond as best we possibly can, knowing that this is—as I would put it—a whopper.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and the commitment made by the Government to help those who are suffering. Clearly, in advance of the hurricane the United States ordered the complete evacuation of Key West. That was not practical on many of the islands that have been devastated, but has there been any request, for example, for Barbuda to be completely evacuated given that reports suggest that it is uninhabitable?

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Minister of State

We are not in power to demand the evacuation of countries that are self-governing, Mr Deputy Speaker—[Interruption]—but we do our best to ensure that they are fully informed, and modern science does help inform people. People have had greater prior notice of the danger than they would have had even two decades ago.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

I welcome the Minister’s commitment to immediate relief, but, with respect, I think that today is precisely the day on which we need to talk about those broader causes. As we have just heard, Gaston Browne, the leader of Antigua and Barbuda, is talking about climate change today. Will the Minister reassure the House that we will not have to wait for a hurricane to hit the UK before we have the policies we need from this Government to tackle climate breakdown? Without that, we will not see the climate leadership that his Government like to claim in theory being shown in practice.

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Minister of State

First, Mr Speaker, I apologise for demoting you—you miraculously reappeared in the Chair and I did not see you out of the corner of my eye.

I think that the hon. Lady has deeply misjudged the tone of the House today. We are seeing people in deep and urgent immediate need and we are also leading the world on climate change. She ought to show a bit more urgent and immediate humanity, rather than making the point that she has made today.

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Conservative, Gillingham and Rainham

I welcome the Minister’s statement. On rescue and relief, the Minister says that Royal Navy ships are en route and will reach the area later today. The United States has carriers there already, as well as choppers and field hospitals. Are we in touch with the US to ensure that we have a joint operation, so that all that can be done is done at this difficult time?

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Minister of State

One of the positive elements of such a grave international phenomenon is that countries do their utmost to work together. We are working with France and the Dutch, and I have no doubt that there will be close co-ordination with the Americans, but they will of course be primarily focused on Florida. I hope that where one country can help another, they will all do so, and I am sure that there will be such incidents in the days ahead.

Photo of Chris Elmore Chris Elmore Opposition Whip (Commons)

I appreciate the speed with which the Minister has come to the House to update us on what is happening. In his statement, he talked briefly about Haiti, and all reports say that the storm will be travelling there, so what will the Foreign Office and DFID be doing to improve relief for Haiti as and when the storm hits? He will appreciate, as will the Secretary of State, that Haiti has had multiple disasters over a number of years with difficult terrain, so what is he doing to address that?

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Minister of State

This is such an enormous hurricane, which is hitting so many islands and so much landmass, that there will need to be a massive and comprehensive response. We have deep and extensive experience of going into Haiti following hurricanes in the past, but I say again that our first priority will be to protect and assist British overseas territories.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Conservative, Mid Dorset and North Poole

I, too, welcome the Minister’s statement and, in particular, his commitment to keep the House updated. May I invite him once again publicly to thank all those working at the FCO crisis centre? He has seen their work first hand, but so often it goes unseen, particularly their important work in communications and ensuring that British citizens are safe—or as safe as possible—when they are abroad.

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Minister of State

I particularly appreciate what my hon. Friend has just said, and it applies equally to DFID, where officials have been working throughout the night. As I say, I was at the crisis centre yesterday afternoon, at about half-past 8 last night and again early this morning. They have been manning this round the clock, and they are constantly in touch with the overseas territories and other political groupings to ensure that we can be as co-ordinated as we possibly can. I publicly thank them all, and I am sure that everyone in this House would do so, too.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

I absolutely appreciate the importance of the immediate humanitarian effort and hope that at the Cobra meeting this afternoon the Government will consider the possible impact of Hurricane Jose, as the reports we are receiving are quite alarming. May I also urge Ministers to consider seriously the issue of climate risk insurance in future? I know that there were efforts to move this forward at the G20 and it does need to be on the political agenda.

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Minister of State

Yes, I can give a positive answer. This is a positive and ongoing policy stream within DFID. The UK and DFID are in the lead on this across the world, so I can confidently reassure the hon. Lady.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston Conservative, Mid Worcestershire

The hurricane has been devastating but the islands will recover. Past experience tells us that they often recover well before they are perceived to have recovered. Will we therefore help to provide assistance in communicating that fact and promoting the islands once they are in a position to communicate that they are open for business again?

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Minister of State

Well, let me do my bit now by saying that I hope people will still plan to go on holiday to all the islands, which will be pieced back together again. The worst thing that could happen to them is that they face a long-term economic cost because people turn their back on them. I urge everyone not to turn their back on the islands but to think positively of going there to get some sunshine and to share in the recovery.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I am greatly encouraged by the Minister’s comprehensive and substantial response. He has set an example for other Departments and offices to follow; I am sure they will try to emulate his efforts. What support is available for British nationals on holiday in the path of Hurricane Irma? There are more hurricanes on the way so, of course, they are concerned. Some of my constituents are in rented accommodation in the region now. What discussions have taken place with the embassy to get safety advice to people in those places?

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Minister of State

The advice is very clear from the public media. There is also travel advice on the Foreign Office website. We have not yet had any direct requests for consular assistance, but our crisis centre is there on full alert to ensure that we can respond to maximum effect if we do receive such requests.