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Hurricane Damage

Volume 650: debated on Thursday 30 November 1961

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32 and 33.

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies (1) whether, following the visit of the Under-Secretary of State to British Honduras, he will make a further statement about the hurricane damage, the measures for its relief, and the eventual rebuilding of Belize;

(2) if he will give an estimate of the expenditure incurred so far by Her Majesty's Government in affording relief to British Honduras following the hurricane there.

I spent two days in British Honduras and with the aid of a Naval helicopter was able to see the devastation not only in Belize but also in some of the outlying districts. The death roll has not increased and so far there has been no outbreak of epidemic. The long term damage to the forests is, I fear, very considerable, and the citrus and fishing industries have also suffered severely. Impressive progress has been made in providing immediate relief to the people whose homes had been destroyed and in re-establishing essential services such as water and electricity. The return to commercial distribution of food and other supplies is expected very soon.

It is a great credit to all concerned that so much had already been achieved only three weeks after such a widespread disaster. I would like to pay an especial tribute to the Armed Services and the Civil Administration, under the admirable leadership of the Governor, Sir Colin Thornley, and his Ministers, to the U.S. Navy, to neighbouring Governments, to the Red Cross and lastly to the Government of Jamaica for its great help and for its co-ordination of relief measures.

A team under the leadership of Mr. D. F. Pearl (recently Development Secretary, Sierra Leone) and including experts on housing, engineering, agriculture and forestry will be arriving in Belize today. Their task is to examine and report on the extent of the damage and to advise on measures of rehabilitation and reconstruction, with estimates of costs. A local committee, under the chairmanship of the First Minister, is already considering the question of the best site for rebuilding the capital of country. Until we can study the results of their examination and the recommendations of the team of experts, there can be no finalisation about plans for rebuilding Belize, where it is clear that the nucleus of a town still exists. Clearly however, this vital question will have to be taken into account in any general plan for reconstruction in the Colony.

So far as can be seen, the cost of the immediate measures taken will not be less than £800,000. It may well be more.

Can my hon. Friend give any estimate of the total amount of Government expenditure which would be involved in restoring the economy of the Colony and rebuilding the capital? When the time comes for this to be done, will he bear in mind the fairly widespread view that the capital should be rebuilt inland?

Yes, Sir. All these factors will be borne in mind. But it would be idle and foolish for me to suggest what the Bill will be until the experts have reported.

Does the hon. Member realise that hon. Members on both sides of the House will join him in expressing gratitude for and appreciation of the splendid work done by those who were engaged in the emergency work? It is bound to cost an enormous sum to rebuild the economy and also to rebuild the capital on—we hope—another site. May we be assured that the Government will give the fullest financial support to enable this Colony to recover its life?

We will give reasonable financial support, bearing in mind the natural regard which the people of British Honduras will expect from this country.

Is the hon. Member aware that individuals and private organisations who have collected food and clothing to send to British Honduras are finding the air mail rates utterly prohibitive? The cost is up to £25 for quite a modest parcel. The Postmaster-General has been unable to do anything about this. Will the hon. Member look into it in order to see whether anything can be done to facilitate the sending of parcels at reasonable cost?

I will look into that, but I suggest that for people who wish to extend charity, much the best thing to do is to send money to the relief organisation.