With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the floods in Pakistan. I am sure that Members of all parties will wish to express their profound sadness at the terrible suffering and devastation that the catastrophe has caused. Our thoughts are with all those families, both in Pakistan and here, whose lives have been touched by this terrible natural disaster.
It is now nearly a month since the devastating floods hit Pakistan, and it is almost impossible to describe the magnitude of what has happened. Ten years’ equivalent of rainfall fell in one week, and subsequently a wall of water has travelled 1,200 miles down the country. Some 12.5 million people are in need of immediate assistance and 1.2 million homes have been damaged or destroyed. More than 1 million head of livestock have been lost and 3.5 million hectares of standing crops damaged or lost. The estimated cost to Pakistan’s economy this year alone is $4 billion.
Britain will continue to do everything we can to help. I am particularly concerned about the potential for a secondary humanitarian public health crisis due to the slow draining of waters from Sindh province and parts of Punjab, the lack of access to clean water and sanitation facilities, and inadequate health facilities to treat the outbreak of water-borne disease. I have discussed all those concerns on a number of occasions with the United Nations Secretary-General, and he has assured me that the UN, working with partners on the ground, will do all it can to respond to the threat.
I am pleased to be able to say that the UK has been at the forefront of the international community’s response to the disaster and was the first major country to come to Pakistan’s support in significant scale in its hour of need. The Department for International Development has sent 3,500 all-weather tents to provide shelter for up to 10,000 people. More plane loads of aid quickly followed, providing tents, shelter kits, water containers and blankets to help many thousands more affected by the floods. We have drawn upon all resources available to the Government. The Royal Air Force has flown in five plane loads of relief, and I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the contribution of our armed forces in this crisis.
Our assistance to date includes help for 500,000 malnourished children and pregnant or breastfeeding women through the provision of high-energy food supplements, treatment for severely malnourished children and the training of health workers. We are providing safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene for 800,000 people, and have prioritised clean water and health interventions in Punjab and Sindh. Our support is helping to provide hygiene kits for more than 500,000 people and is being channelled through Save the Children, Concern and Oxfam. We are also providing shelter for up to 40,000 households through the Pakistan Red Crescent movement and working closely with Islamic Relief.
In addition, I am pleased to announce the overnight arrival in Karachi, in Pakistan, of the first of three new flights delivering DFID relief goods. It will bring much needed water purification units, pumps and water tanks to assist those in desperate need of clean drinking water. The other two flights will carry a range of items, including water carriers and shelter kits. We are also starting emergency production lines in two factories in Pakistan to produce hygiene kits and water containers that will help stop the spread of water-borne diseases in southern Pakistan, and are helping to set up an emergency field operation and co-ordination base camp near Sukkur to provide a base for relief workers in the middle of the worst flood-affected area.
My Department has also brought forward a bridge rehabilitation programme as part of the recovery effort. The first 10 bridges left Tilbury docks last week and will arrive in Karachi later this month. That assistance will help to open access routes and reduce the pressure on much-needed air assets.
Soon after the flooding started, I travelled to Pakistan with my noble Friend Baroness Warsi to see for myself the devastation. I visited the town of Pir Sabaq in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and saw the 12 foot-high watermarks on the remaining walls of the houses. It is not easy to imagine the terror and panic that must have affected particularly older, less mobile people and children as the mountain of water swept through the town. I know that the Deputy Prime Minister’s visit to Pakistan last week made a similarly deep impression on him. During our visits, the Deputy Prime Minister and I discussed the situation with President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani, as well as with representatives of UN agencies, non-governmental organisations and donors.
Following my visit to Pakistan, I went immediately to attend the UN General Assembly special session on the Pakistan floods, to support the UN Secretary-General’s appeal. The initial response of the international community was woefully inadequate. I used that meeting to encourage other nations to contribute more and announced the doubling of the UK’s contribution to the relief effort to £64 million. We have consistently worked to co-ordinate the effort of the donor community and on the ground with Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority, under the experienced leadership of General Nadeem. The Pakistan authorities, the Pakistan Red Crescent Society and local and international agencies, including many brilliant British non-governmental organisations, have worked tirelessly throughout. We will continue to work closely with all partners to ensure that the response is as effective as it can be.
I should like to assure the House that my Department has throughout been committed to transparency and achieving value for money. We have not simply signed a cheque and handed it over. Our contributions to this humanitarian crisis have been based on detailed and rigorous assessments of needs on the ground. We are working night and day to ensure that every penny spent achieves a meaningful output that alleviates the suffering of the victims of this disaster. We have recently put a floods monitor on DFID’s website to enable everyone to see where and how British aid is being spent to help those affected by the floods in Pakistan. All the UK’s humanitarian assistance is provided through impartial agencies or through goods in kind.
I should also like to express my profound gratitude and respect for the unstinting hard work and skill shown by all British Government officials—both in DFID and from across Whitehall—throughout this emergency.
In addition to the UK taxpayer’s contribution, the British people have once again demonstrated their compassion and generosity. I am sure all hon. Members will wish to join me in commending the magnificent response from the British public, who have committed more than £47 million to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal. We continue to urge people to give, and to give generously, to that appeal.
Our commitment is not just for the current emergency relief phase but also for the long haul. We will remain at Pakistan’s side to help people to rebuild their lives and livelihoods. We will also support the longer-term reconstruction needs, such as schools, health clinics and other essential infrastructure, which are being considered as part of the bilateral aid review of our development programme.
Although the floods have been a terrible tragedy, their aftermath offers a genuine opportunity for Pakistan. It is an opportunity for the international community to come together and provide exceptional support to Pakistan in its hour of need, but equally, the situation offers an unprecedented opportunity for the Government of Pakistan to drive forward a radical economic reform agenda that could make a real difference to the future of the country.
The UK and Pakistan are bound together by bonds of history and family, which underline our support for Pakistan in good times and in bad. The Pakistani diaspora living in Britain ensures that our two countries remain closely linked. This bond will remain strong over the coming months and years, as we work together to help Pakistan to recover from this unprecedented catastrophe.
May I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for the early sight of it? I join him in expressing my deep sympathy for and solidarity with the people of Pakistan in the wake of this terrible flooding. The thoughts of all us are undoubtedly with all those families in Pakistan and their relatives here in the United Kingdom who have been affected by these unprecedented events.
May I, on behalf of the Opposition, also join the right hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the work of the officials in the Department for International Development, as well, of course, to our armed forces, especially the Royal Air Force, and many other officials across Whitehall, in responding so effectively to this emergency? There is also common ground across this Chamber in paying tribute once again to the incredible generosity of the British people. As the Secretary of State mentioned, the DEC appeal has now raised upwards of £47 million and many outstanding British charities are contributing to the relief effort.
It is nevertheless incumbent on me to ask a number of questions. First, the Secretary of State and the Deputy Prime Minister were right to criticise the response of the international community to this disaster as “woefully inadequate” and far too slow. Will he therefore give us more detail on which specific donors and international organisations he and the Deputy Prime Minister have spoken with over the past few weeks to encourage them to make more generous contributions? Will he also tell us what meetings have taken place at the EU level, and what meetings in particular he has had with Commissioner Georgieva?
Secondly, I thank the Secretary of State for providing us with a detailed list of what the Government aim to fund in the relief effort. He has indicated that he decided to bring forward some projects, including bridge building. That strikes me as a sensible approach, but could he clarify how much of the funding announced comes from sums already earmarked for Pakistan in the DFID budget, and how much of it is new and additional financing?
Thirdly, I join the Secretary of State in expressing concern about the secondary health crisis now emerging. According to the most recent reports, more than 200,000 cases of acute diarrhoea, 260,000 cases of skin disease and more than 200,000 cases of acute respiratory infection have already been reported. Does he believe that the health situation is under control? What further steps will he be taking to help to improve access to clean water and sanitation?
I wish to conclude by raising two final issues. As many in the House will know, there has been a series of concerning revelations over the summer about the Government’s policies on international development. However, I do not think it appropriate to raise those in the context of today’s statement, and I hope that the Secretary of State will do us the courtesy of coming to the House again soon to clarify his position on those matters. Nevertheless, there are two particular matters on which I seek further clarification today, relating specifically to this disaster.
First, as the poor initial response by donors showed, there is a clear need for greater pooled and co-ordinated funding able to be easily and quickly disbursed in disasters such as this—one of the main reasons why we championed the expansion of the UN central emergency response fund. Can the Secretary of State therefore tell us what role CERF has played in responding to this disaster, whether adequate funds were available, and whether or not he intends to increase Britain’s contributions to the fund in future?
Secondly, it is clear that there is a need for continued reform of the global humanitarian system, including the UN, to increase its efficiency and effectiveness in responding to disasters such as the Pakistan floods. Can the Secretary of State therefore tell us whether or not he intends to continue the drive of the previous Government in pushing for global humanitarian reform and investing in a reformed international system, what lessons he believes need to be learned from this particular crisis, and what discussions he plans with the new UN Secretary-General?
The Secretary of State was of course right to point out the common bonds of history, culture and family that unite the UK and Pakistan. We must continue to be resolute in our support for the poor and vulnerable in Pakistan, particularly at this troubling time. Be assured, Mr Speaker, that the Government will have our support on this side of the House in their continued efforts to do so.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the statement and I will try to answer his questions.
First, may I thank him for his comments about the hard work of officials across Whitehall and the brilliant work that is being done by British charities throughout the flooded area? He asked me about the meetings that have taken place. Off the top of my head, I cannot speak for all the meetings that the Deputy Prime Minister has had, but I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that I had a raft of meetings when I was in Pakistan and New York, as well as having numerous phone calls since I got back. I talked to the Finance Minister and the Prime Minister in Pakistan, to all the leading non-governmental organisations, and to the head of the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Islamabad, who has responsibility on the ground for the cluster system. I also had bilateral meetings with Canada, Norway, the United Arab Emirates, Japan, Australia, and with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Union while I was in Pakistan. In New York, I had meetings with the UN Secretary-General and John Holmes, and I lobbied hard with the UAE Minister for Foreign Affairs. I also spoke to my opposite number in the United States, Raj Shah, the Pakistani Foreign Minister, the Swedish Development Minister, the Irish Development Minister and Lord Malloch-Brown. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman feels that the British Government have used this opportunity to lobby hard and to get across the points on which he and I are agreed.
The right hon. Gentleman asked how much of the funding is new money and how much is coming from existing programmes. I cannot tell him that at the moment. Obviously, we first ensured that we found the money required, and in due course we will see what budget line it will come from.
The right hon. Gentleman next asked whether I am satisfied with the preparations made to tackle the secondary health crisis. He will be aware that the water is draining from Sindh extremely slowly because it is built on clay, and it might be many months before that drainage takes place. He is right to identify water-borne diseases and the dangers from them spreading rapidly through the vulnerable community, particularly among children and older people. All I can say is that we are on the case. I have spoken personally to the Secretary-General about that specific point, and all the money announced by the Deputy Prime Minister when he was in Pakistan last week will go directly to confronting that issue, which the right hon. Gentleman rightly raised.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned leaks. I have seen these leaks, and I think that he will understand, having held this office, that there is probably less to them than meets the eye. However, he made two specific points. On the central emergency response fund—this proves my point—when his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), announced the setting up of CERF, we gave it strong support in opposition. I pressed in New York for additional amounts from that fund to be made available, and as part of our review, we will certainly see whether we can build on the substantial benefits accrued from that decision.
The right hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander) made another point about the lessons to be learned from this disaster. I am sure that there will be lessons—although obviously at the moment we are focused on confronting the emergency phase of this disaster—and I hope very much that they will be picked up and learned by the emergency humanitarian review that we have set up and is being chaired by Lord Ashdown.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and agree with him that the UK’s response, from his Department, across Whitehall and the private sector, and from private citizens, has been a leadership to the world, and also cements the relationship between the United Kingdom and Pakistan, which is very close and important. In the reconstruction effort, will he ensure that there is co-ordination between the World Bank, the United Nations, the IMF and the European Commission so that reconstruction is done to a standard that will ensure that, even if floods like this never happen again, future floods will not result in the same scale of devastation, because the standards will be higher and able to withstand the pressures? Finally, Pakistan has suffered from earthquakes and these devastating floods, and is tackling a very difficult insurgency. In those circumstances, would it not be appropriate for Pakistan to be promoted probably to the top of our bilateral aid list?
On the last point raised by the Chairman of the International Development Committee, I said before these floods hit Pakistan that I thought it likely that, as a result of the bilateral aid review, Pakistan, within a comparatively short period, would become Britain’s most significant bilateral aid programme—so I underline the point that he made in his third question.
On his first point, I thank him for what he said about British leadership. It is encouraging to note that there has been a significant increase in support for the Secretary-General’s appeal fund. On his second point, about the reconstruction effort, he is clearly right that there needs to be strong co-ordination between all those taking part, and I hope that it will be provided by the pledging conference, which undoubtedly will take place before too long, and which I hope will take place in Islamabad.
The Secretary of State will know that concern has been expressed about the effectiveness of Pakistan Government agencies in responding to the terrible crisis that has engulfed that country, perhaps with the exception of the Pakistan army. However, he has rightly drawn attention to the contribution of NGOs—he mentioned Save the Children, Oxfam and Islamic Relief. What is his judgment of the right balance for the deployment of his Department’s funding to, on the one hand, agencies of the Pakistan Government and, on the other hand, the NGOs that he has mentioned and others?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to focus on those points. It is fair to say that no Government in the world would have been able to handle a catastrophe of this scale, and there are many who believe that the Government of Pakistan have done rather better than might have been expected. Despite the experience from the earthquake gained by General Nadeem, who is in charge of the disaster authority on behalf of the Government, and whom I met during my visit, there has clearly been a struggle. However, the Government have done better than many people expected.
The right hon. Gentleman asked how British taxpayers’ money and the money so generously donated to the Disasters Emergency Committee by the British people is being allocated. None of it goes through the Government of Pakistan; it all goes through the United Nations or through the NGOs that he mentioned, which are doing such good work in very difficult circumstances.
I join the welcome for the Secretary of State’s statement. There will be widespread public support for the international lead that this country has taken in responding to this immense disaster. Does it follow from what he just said to the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) that British aid is being administered through his Department and through NGOs and charities directly and promptly, so that the public can have confidence that the money being spent by the Department and the money that they are generously donating is getting through directly and promptly to those in need?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the money that is going from the British taxpayer and from people’s generous donations to the Disasters Emergency Committee does not go through the Government of Pakistan. It goes through the UN cluster system, with which he will be familiar, and through the NGOs that have been mentioned. If he cares to visit the DFID website, he will see an easily accessible monitor that enables people to track where British aid is going and what it is buying.
I join the Secretary of State’s tribute to the British people. Every time there is a disaster, they put out their hands in friendship and donate generously. They have done so again now, and we must pay tribute to them for that. I also agree with his comments about the woeful response of the international community, and I understand the answer that he gave to the shadow Secretary of State about the discussions that he has had. It is always easy to get a response and donations when people can see the sad scenes and the high waters on their television screens, but what will happen when the waters subside and the cameras are switched off? The communities and the people of Pakistan will not overcome this tragedy in a matter of days; it will take months, if not years. The message that we need to get across to the international community is that, yes, Pakistan needs its support now, but it will also need it in the months and years to come. On that last point, what work is DFID doing alongside the NGOs and other international organisations on the ground to ensure that there is a co-ordinated response through the Disasters Emergency Committee?
The hon. Gentleman speaks eloquently about the needs that will continue for many years as a result of this crisis and of the development needs of Pakistan. Three phases are involved. The first is the emergency phase, which I hope can be brought to a conclusion as swiftly as possible. The second is the rehabilitation and rebuilding phase, which will involve the pledging conference, to which I referred, in order to co-ordinate the international effort. The third will involve the long-term development programme. We are currently reviewing Britain’s contribution to that through the bilateral aid review. There will need to be great co-ordination between all members of the donor community and the Government of Pakistan to ensure that the programme addresses the long-term needs of the country and offers hope to the people who are in a pretty desperate position today.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and commend the swift action that he and his Department have taken. He will know, however, that the Pakistani state is unfortunately riddled with corruption on many different levels of bureaucracy and politics. Will he reassure us that his Department is taking whatever action it can to ensure that British taxpayers’ money is being spent wisely and used to provide relief and humanitarian aid?
My hon. Friend is right to focus on the importance of bearing down on corruption, but I have made it clear that, in regard to all the emergency relief work that is being done through my Department on behalf of the British taxpayer, and through the Disasters Emergency Committee, none of the money goes through the Government of Pakistan.
Understandably, the emphasis at the moment is on the immediate assistance required, and tributes have rightly been paid to the magnificent response of the people of the United Kingdom in that regard. Towards the conclusion of his statement, the Secretary of State referred to the need to drive forward a radical economic reform agenda. How does he envisage that panning out over the next few months as the Government and people of Pakistan prepare for the future?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that discussions are ongoing between the IMF and the World Bank and the whole of the donor community. A number of plans, particularly for macro-economic reform in Pakistan, are already in train. The point I sought to make in my statement was that an unprecedentedly strong offer of support from the international community also merits an unprecedentedly strong focus by the Government of Pakistan on implementing the reforms that everyone is agreed need to be made, but which perhaps seem to be taking quite a long time to get through.
I thank the Secretary of State for delivering this ministerial statement. I am glad to see that he is conscious of the developing problem in Sindh province and also, as he mentioned, in parts of Punjab. Does he share with me the general concern he highlighted about the lack of a proper response and the poor response from the international community? It is crucial in this politically sensitive area to address this issue because it affects hearts and minds. He may be aware of initial media reports showing that Taliban-inclined elements were helping with the very initial relief. If it were ever the case that people remember who their friends are in times of need, it applies now.
I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution. On his first point, all the money announced in New York—the second tranche, which is the doubling of our funding—is now being spent in Sindh and Punjab, for reasons that a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have underlined.
My hon. Friend is right to identify the poor response, although while I was in New York there was a big increase in support from Saudi Arabia, Canada and Australia, and a number of other countries have followed since. I very much hope that at the European Union meetings taking place in the next fortnight, there will be a strong focus on ensuring that all the countries that can come to the assistance of Pakistan in its hour of need do what they can to help.
In respect of flood risk management in the future, to what extent will the UK Government support sustained investment in the adaptation of Pakistan to climate change, therefore making the country’s infrastructure and communities more resilient to future flooding?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to talk about the importance of ensuring that there is effective investment in flood defences. It is something that the international community and the Government of Pakistan will want to look at in all three of the phases I described.
May I ask my right hon. Friend to focus a little more closely on the second point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West (Paul Uppal)? Was the Secretary of State as appalled and disgusted as I was to hear of the threats being issued by the Pakistani Taliban to murder “infidel” aid workers who presume to try and help their fellow countrymen? I know that his emphasis must be on the relief of suffering at the moment, but when that issue has moved further forward, will he have conversations with Foreign Office Ministers on how best to make it clear to the Pakistani people in future what sort of atrocious attitude and immorality is rife among those who say that people who want to help the people of Pakistan ought to be murdered?
My hon. Friend makes an eloquent contribution and I can assure him that we discuss on a regular basis these and every other matter related to the emergency in Pakistan with colleagues right across Whitehall. It seems to me that in confronting the specific issue he raised, it must be right to try to ensure that the international community and the Government of Pakistan get the relief as effectively as possible to the people who are earnestly waiting for it because they have been cut off from it. In a sense, that is the answer to his question about what the international community can do to combat the malign influences that he described.
In comparing the inadequate and belated response of the international community with the heartwarming and generous response of the British public, may I draw the right hon. Gentleman’s attention to the numerous fundraising activities that are taking place in my constituency? Many of my constituents have relatives in the afflicted area. Will he enable his Department to work closely with Manchester airport to ensure that goods sent as a result of those fundraising activities are conveyed from Manchester to Pakistan as soon as possible?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the encouragement that he has rightly given to communities in and around his constituency. I will certainly refer his point about Manchester airport to my officials, who will write to him shortly with an answer.
The right hon. Gentleman is also right to pay tribute to the extraordinary generosity of the diaspora communities in raising funds. I am thinking particularly of Islamic Relief, which is doing incredible work, but it is not the only organisation involved. Last Friday I had a chance to spend time with the Pakistani diaspora community in Birmingham, where I experienced a thought process very similar to the right hon. Gentleman’s.
I echo the Secretary of State’s thanks to our overstretched armed forces for their assistance to people who have been devastated by the flood. Does he agree that their logistic capabilities represent a uniquely effective resource for conveying aid to where it is needed, quickly and flexibly, at such times of crisis? Will his Department be making a submission to the Ministry of Defence as part of the strategic defence review, urging it to preserve that capability?
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the strong support that has been provided across Whitehall throughout the weeks of the emergency. I have already mentioned the work of the Royal Air Force and the assistance that has been given with the supply of bridges. MOD officials in Islamabad are working more than 18 hours a day with officials from the Foreign Office and from my Department. Moreover, NATO has offered to provide 300 hours of flying time in support of the United Nations and others involved in the relief effort, and I know that they are considering how and when to take up that offer.
My constituents with families in Pakistan will welcome the statement; they will also welcome the web monitor enabling them to track progress. Given the scale of the emerging public health problems and the need to consider long-term reconstruction, will the Secretary of State tell us a little more about his discussions with the World Bank about debt cancellation?
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. I know that she is heavily engaged with the community in her constituency on these matters. As I have said, we are doing everything we can to support all who are involved in combating the public health crisis, especially in Sindh, where the problem of water-borne diseases is so dangerous and prevalent. As for public debt, it amounts to only about 3% of Pakistan’s budget, so it should be seen in context. However, all those issues will be considered during the ongoing discussions with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
Like other Members, I have received an incredible response from people in my constituency. I am sorry that I cannot attend this evening, with the lord mayor of Leeds, a late breakfast at the Makkah mosque, where there has been some wonderful activity.
May I take the point made by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) a little further and refer the Secretary of State to the ONE International Pakistan debt campaign? Surely, as happened in the case of Haiti, we should consider diverting some of Pakistan’s debt payments over the next couple of years to people who need the money so desperately now.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s final point, and I know that the IMF and the World Bank will show great sensitivity in that regard. As I said in my previous answer, we are dealing with relatively small interest payments, but he is right to suggest that we should be sensitive about the matter at this time. I also refer him to my earlier remarks about the importance of macro-economic reform. That will undoubtedly be one of the issues dealt with in the discussions on that subject.
The Secretary of State spoke of the devastation caused when a wall of water travelled 1,200 miles down the country. A question that his officials will, of course, have considered is why it was able to do that, and no doubt the answer that they will have given the Secretary of State is that there was demand for wood from the forests to provide cooking fuel and enable construction to take place in Pakistan. Once the immediate need no longer exists and reconstruction is under way, will the Secretary of State consider the need for reconstruction of green infrastructure and the forests that would, in the past, have stopped that wall of water from travelling those 1,200 miles?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for both asking and answering his question. He is right to talk about the importance of developing green infrastructure as part of the recovery phase, and I can assure him that that will be considered, but the truth is that a flood of such a completely unprecedented scale would have swept away almost everything in its path.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. I also thank him on behalf of my constituents, many of whom have family in Pakistan, for the work his Department has done. While declaring an interest as a member of the Rotary club of Bury, may I ask the Secretary of State to join me in paying tribute to the work of Rotary International for the work it has done in helping to relieve the suffering of those in Pakistan who have been affected by the floods, particularly through the work of its ShelterBox scheme?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments, and he is of course right to say that the 1 million or so members of the Pakistani diaspora, many of whom have relations directly affected by the flooding, have been extremely concerned and worried. We have been able through a number of mechanisms to give both information and reassurance. I pay tribute to my noble Friend Baroness Warsi, who has been very heavily involved with all the diaspora community and who came with me to Pakistan. I also join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the work of Rotary, which makes such a tremendous contribution in this and so many other areas of development.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. I remind the House that the community in my constituency has, with the rest of the British public, been working hard to raise money. A third of my constituents are of Bangladeshi origin and they are no strangers to floods causing such devastation as has happened in Pakistan.
I urge the Secretary of State to work with the EU countries to focus on what steps can be taken to tackle the long-term challenges of climate-related disasters. What additional funding, on top of what has already been committed and Government aid funding and emergency aid, is he committing to climate change adaptation?
On that final point, the hon. Lady must wait for the outcome of the spending review, which will be announced on 20 October, but I assure her that the points she made so eloquently are being actively considered. This morning, I discussed with the Foreign Secretary the point she made about ensuring that we work closely with EU members to take forward our common endeavours. Her comment about closer EU co-ordination is very well made.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and join him in thanking all those across the country who have given so generously. This weekend, Staffordshire county council will host a dinner involving members of the local community to raise funds for disaster relief.
The Secretary of State will be aware that there are great concerns about the effect of the floods on agricultural land. Will he keep under review the long-term effect on agriculture, particularly the effect on upcoming planting, and how the UK can assist in relieving the problems that Pakistan is likely to suffer?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the devastation that has struck both livestock and crops, upon which people in Pakistan are absolutely reliant. I set out in my statement the scale and extent of that devastation. We are already providing funding for seeds for the forthcoming planting season and we will keep under close review the important aspect my hon. Friend highlights, which will directly affect the extent of food security in Pakistan in the forthcoming year.
I, too, welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, as will many of my constituents in Leyton and Wanstead. On the question of economic reform, in his discussions with the IMF and other international bodies, will he guard carefully against any suggestion of anything that resembles structural adjustment programmes? They might not be called that any more, but the fact is that elements in many international bodies are still keen on such programmes, which in the past have wrought the kind of devastation that we have seen in many countries, including environmental devastation.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. After my discussions not only with the IMF but with the Minister of Finance, who is working so hard in Pakistan on these reforms, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that a measured approach is being taken on those matters.
The Secretary of State’s statement and answers show our solidarity with Pakistan and practical aid. Is he willing to add to what he has said by continuing to press both European and Commonwealth colleagues to increase their contributions, by exploring expressly with the IMF a two-year moratorium on the repayment of debt, and by seeing whether the good experience on Haiti, where a trust fund was established, might be repeated, to give reassurance internationally as well as nationally that money will continue to be spent well and in a way that is acceptable to the whole community?
On the hon. Gentleman’s third point about a trust fund, that is a mechanism for which there might clearly be a significant role, but we must allow the pledging conference and the other discussions that are going on in the donor community to develop to see precisely what role it might play. He is right, in particular, to identify the Commonwealth. A number of fellow Commonwealth members came quite rapidly to the support of Pakistan, but it is important that all European countries and donor nations that have the significant ability to help do so at this time.
Does the Secretary of State agree with me that the generosity that our constituents have shown puts to shame the laziness and inadequate support of other countries? In Slough over the past couple of weekends, I have been involved in bucket collections that have raised more than £3,000 in a small town. Will he ensure that as well as a short-term urgent response to the health crisis, he makes a more strategic long-term investment in improving Pakistan’s health infrastructure, which is grossly inadequate? That is illustrated, more than anything else in my view, by the fact that the maternal mortality rate is much worse in Pakistan than in many much poorer countries.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to draw attention to the maternal mortality figures in Pakistan. That is one of the reasons why, at the G8 summit earlier this year, the Prime Minister focused on millennium development goal 5 and maternal mortality—a strong priority for the United Kingdom. I hope that this is something that we will be able to take forward at the forthcoming MDG summit. On her other points, I pay tribute to the work that she is doing to support fundraising efforts in her constituency. I know that Members on both sides of the house are doing that, and we need to continue to do it.
I welcome the statement from my right hon. Friend. In my constituency, there has been huge support for the victims of the floods, and I pay tribute to the work of the Secretary of State and his Department. However, I have attended a number of fundraisers for the flood appeal where many people have expressed concerns about the effectiveness of the Pakistani authorities. I know that he has already provided the House with reassurances that the aid to deal with the immediate crisis is being delivered through non-governmental organisations, but what reassurances can he give us that similar scrutiny will be given to long-term infrastructure and reconstruction projects?
My hon. Friend is right to talk about bearing down on corruption and ensuring that for every pound of hard-earned taxpayers’ money, as well as of hard-pressed donor money that is spent, we get 100p of value. That is a preoccupation in all the work we do in my Department, and it will continue to be so throughout all the phases of recovery that we have discussed today.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s response. News reports from Pakistan in recent weeks seem to indicate a high level of support from the Pakistani people for the actions of the military, but a much lower level of support for the actions of the civilian Government. I do not want to be alarmist about the future of civilian rule in Pakistan, but will the Secretary of State give me an assurance that his Department will continue to make improvements in governance a very high priority indeed, and will make bolstering civilian government in Pakistan an important part of our aid programme over years to come?
The people throughout the United Kingdom have raised an amazing £47 million, in addition to the money coming from Government. Can the Secretary of State assure me that there is proper co-ordination of where all that money is being directed, to ensure that those who need it most will be able to get that aid?
I believe I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he rightly seeks. All of the taxpayers’ money is allocated through my officials in Islamabad, after careful discussion of what results will be delivered by the spending of that British taxpayers’ money. Sometimes it takes a little longer to allocate the funds precisely, but we do so with the confidence that it will have the effect that those who have provided the money would rightly insist on seeing.
If the international community’s initial response was so woefully inadequate, can the Secretary of State tell us that he is now confident that it will be better geared in response to the secondary humanitarian public health crisis that he anticipates; and will others be there for the long-term reconstruction needs, in the way that he has underlined in the commitments that he has given today?
The answer to the hon. Gentleman can only be that time will tell, but I am confident that we are all focused on trying to ensure that is indeed the case, and that focus will continue throughout not only the emergency phase but the subsequent two phases, which I have described.
Members across the House have rightly spoken of the work being done by people in their communities. I mention the work being done by the small non-governmental organisation, Edinburgh Direct Aid, which is headquartered in my constituency; it does various work in the areas concerned and is working on this issue as well.
On the question of a long-term response, the rather general information that the Secretary of State is able to give about the EU response—this is no criticism of him—makes me worried that the EU response is not building up as quickly as it should. When does he expect next to meet some of his EU colleagues to try to get not just a short-term response, but a longer-term response of the type that my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) just mentioned?
The hon. Gentleman is right to point to the inadequacy of the response from members of the European Union in the early days of the crisis. I think there was a significant improvement in the second week. I had a discussion this morning with the Foreign Secretary, who will attend a significant EU meeting within the next two weeks, where he will make precisely the points that inform the hon. Gentleman’s question.
As in the past, the Department for International Development and its leadership have risen to the challenge of the crisis and have done our country proud, but I wonder whether the Secretary of State would consider involving more directly the Pakistani diaspora community leadership in our country, perhaps by organising a common trip to Pakistan of himself, the shadow DFID Secretary and the Chairman of the International Development Committee, to show how our Parliament, our Government and our community are now working with British citizens to help solve some of the terrible problems that their linked communities face in Pakistan.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his generous remarks about my officials, which I will pass on to them, and to others in Whitehall. He is right to stress the importance of the very inclusive approach that we are taking in working with the diaspora communities and with all people who want to assist in tackling this dreadful crisis. The spirit of what he said is embodied in the decision by the Government of Pakistan to take up a proposal from the Opposition to set up a high-level committee to co-ordinate the Government response to the crisis, so I hope he feels that notice is being taken of the importance of everyone putting aside any differences and concentrating on helping in a disaster, which even today is still leaving millions of people without any form of support.
I thank the Secretary of State for his very positive response. In my church on Sunday, as in many churches in my constituency and further afield—in fact, right across the United Kingdom—there was a collection for the people of Pakistan. It is therefore disturbing to be made aware that there is discrimination in some cases—more localised than systematic, I have to say—against people in the Christian community, who say that they are not receiving the relief aid that they should. In his statement, the right hon. Gentleman said that “every penny spent achieves a meaningful output that alleviates the suffering” of all the victims. Will he assure us today that the people in the Christian community in Pakistan, who have been discriminated against through no fault of their own and who are equally subject to the effects of the floods, will be looked after, and will receive the relief that we in the United Kingdom wish them to have?