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Asian Tsunami

Volume 670: debated on Wednesday 2 March 2005

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2.44 p.m.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they propose to take steps to ensure that the public are informed of the benefits provided to each country affected by the tsunami disaster by public donations and government aid.

My Lords, Ministers have made a number of statements to Parliament, the media and the public about the United Kingdom's response to the Indian Ocean earthquake tsunami disaster. The Department for International Development has regularly reported details of its response through its website. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development is meeting the Disasters Emergency Committee this month to consider how it and the Government will report fully to the British people on the unprecedented response.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that her Answer goes halfway to answering the Question I asked? Is she further aware that the amount collected by the British public is now close to £400 million, and that, if I am correct, the Government agreed to match that figure? That being the case, do the British public not have a right to know to which country the money has gone, how much has gone to each country, that all the money raised will go to the countries affected, and, not least, that the smaller countries, such as the Maldives, will get their fair share?

My Lords, all the information that the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, is requesting with regard to the Government's contribution is on the website. It is also available to Members of Parliament through our regular updating. I recognise that members of the public may be interested in individual countries, which is part of the reason my right honourable friend and the Minister in the Department for International Development have been keeping members of the public from particular communities up to date with what is happening in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and elsewhere.

With regard to the Government's contribution, my understanding is that some £300 million has gone to the Disasters Emergency Committee. The Government have given their humanitarian response. We have not yet said how much we will give for longer-term reconstruction. The needs assessments will be completed over the next week or so and there will then be a reconstruction conference in Manila. I agree with the noble Lord that we have to ensure that all the countries affected are part of the reconstruction effort.

My Lords, what help is the UK now able to give to Indonesia, bearing in mind that many foreign aid workers are being turned away? In particular, is the noble Baroness aware that all the staff at the Banda Aceh hospital were killed in the disaster? Is there anything we can do to support distance learning to enable accelerated training at the Banda Aceh medical college?

My Lords, Indonesia's needs are enormous, but I am pleased to be able to tell the noble Baroness that immediate assistance has now reached most areas. Transitional and permanent shelters remain an issue of critical concern, but comprehensive food distribution and health surveillance systems have been established.

On the longer-term point raised by the noble Baroness, the needs assessments are currently being carried out. We anticipate that those assessments, including Indonesia, will be completed over the next week or so. We will then be able to look at the point raised by the noble Baroness with regard to support for distance learning and other areas of activity.

My Lords, I am not clear from the Minister's answers whether she is saying that the Government will match the £300 million or £400 million. The Prime Minister and other Ministers gave a clear commitment at the time. Will the noble Baroness make it clear to the House that the Government will be providing at least £300 million?

My Lords, I shall repeat what I said, and it remains the case. The Government said at an earlier stage that we would match the amount. We have established new money for emergency relief and we have made it absolutely clear that, once the needs assessments are complete, we will look at the longer-term reconstruction efforts. That is in addition to, and completely separate from, the programmed budgets we already have in the affected countries. So I am not able to say from the Dispatch Box that we will simply match the amount, because we may well go beyond it.

My Lords, will the Government remove any funds for development from countries that are not affected by the tsunami to boost funds in the affected region?

My Lords, as I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, we have not anticipated that we will be reprogramming any of the money that we have currently programmed to countries in southeast Asia. A number of countries have put out their response to the tsunami. They have not only said how much they have given in emergency relief but they have reprogrammed current budgets. We have not done that. That decision will not be taken until we see the needs assessment later this month and look again at what we think countries will need.

My Lords, how much money has been committed in existing schemes, and what proportion would that leave out of the £300 million that the Government have promised?

My Lords, I think that the noble Baroness does not understand the point that I am making. When the initial humanitarian needs were made clear, the UN, for example, had a flash appeal, which is now 95 per cent funded. We have given some £75 million to the humanitarian effort. We have not made any allocation for longer-term reconstruction efforts because, in our view, we need to wait for the result of the needs assessment being carried out by the World Bank and the IMF before making that kind of decision.

In addition to that, and completely separate from what we are giving to the tsunami-affected countries, we have made allocations to India, Sri Lanka and other countries, which are part of our ongoing development budget. That is the point that I am trying to make.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness lean on the Disasters Emergency Committee? The British public have given more than £350 million. Is it not their right to know to which countries the money has gone?

My Lords, that is absolutely right, but we must recognise that the amount of money given to the Disasters Emergency Committee is substantial, so it will take time to allocate it. As the noble Lord knows, the committee has made a very clear commitment that only 2 per cent of the resources will be spent on administration. It meets regularly; indeed, it meets colleagues in the Department for International Development fortnightly and will meet my right honourable friend the Secretary of State later this month to talk through those issues. I am absolutely confident that it will keep the British people involved and informed, given the unprecedented nature of the response.