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Hurricane Support

Volume 629: debated on Tuesday 17 October 2017

8. What steps his Department is taking to support British overseas territories and other countries recently affected by severe hurricanes in the Caribbean. (901178)

10. What steps his Department is taking to support British overseas territories and other countries recently affected by severe hurricanes in the Caribbean. (901181)

14. What assessment the Government have made of the current humanitarian and future rebuilding needs of those British overseas territories affected by Hurricane Irma. (901185)

The whole House can be proud of the way the country responded. We have committed £62 million to meet the immediate—[Interruption.] Excuse me, Mr Speaker; I am answering Questions 10 and 15 together with Question 8—

Or even Questions 10 and 14. I realise that these are not the sort of matters with which the right hon. Gentleman ordinarily has to preoccupy himself. They may seem a mere trifle, but they are quite important in parliamentary terms.

I am obliged and I stand corrected, Mr Speaker. I am answering Questions 8, 10 and 14 together, because they all relate to the impact of the hurricane.

The House can be proud of the way in which the country responded. We have provided £62 million to meet the immediate humanitarian needs. We deployed 2,000 military personnel and delivered 600 tonnes of aid. We fielded fantastic quantities of calls, not least from colleagues, some of whom I see are present behind me. I am chairing an inter-ministerial group to support a long-term recovery plan to get those overseas territories and British citizens back on their feet.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the swift UK response was unreasonably criticised by some? We should recognise the efforts of our outstanding aid workers and our military.

I am grateful for the sentiment that my hon. Friend has expressed and his willingness to come to the defence and support of our military and our aid workers. I saw from my own direct experience that they did an absolutely fantastic job. I will not hide it from the House: I was surprised to see on the news—before the hurricane had even finished—that I had received a letter denouncing the UK’s performance and our response from the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat). I thought that was hasty, and I hope to be able to explain to him when I appear before his Committee, as I shall shortly, that I thought it was a premature judgment.

Can the Foreign Secretary say what assessment has been made of the effectiveness of our help so far in getting the islands up and running again and open for business?

I really must advise my hon. Friend that the extent of the damage is so considerable that he must see it for himself. It is quite extraordinary. Hon. Members should understand that the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla have seen nothing like this for generations, and it will take time, but we are committed and we will be there for the long term.

The Foreign Secretary is right to pay tribute to the British armed forces for the part they played in the overseas territories, but it is also right to recognise that the contribution that the British Government made both immediately and in the days after Hurricane Irma was considerably less than that of their counterparts in Holland and France in their overseas territories. It is absolutely crucial that, going forward, the investment that the islands need means that those people no longer look with envy to their French and Dutch counterparts.

The hon. Gentleman is completely in error when he says that. In point of fact, both the French and the Dutch appealed to us at various times for help with their own needs, and, of course, we were very glad to supply that. We are now working with them and the Americans to make sure that we have a joined-up plan to react in the event of any future hurricanes.

19. I should like to recognise the significant effort that our servicemen and women and others are putting into the momentous task of the relief effort. After the emergency response is over, it is crucial that there is sustained support. What will the Secretary of State’s Department be doing to ensure that crucial infrastructure such as health and education get fully back up to speed? (901190)

As I have said, there is a long-term plan to restore those overseas territories to full economic health, and it will take a long-term commitment from this country. I want all those British nationals there to realise that this Government are absolutely determined to vindicate their rights and to give them the support that they need.

Following the hurricanes, the British overseas territory has a reconstruction bill of about £4 billion. The Government are providing grants to the Dominican Republic, but seem to be relying on private sector loans for the British Virgin Islands. With the loss of EU funding, is it not time that the Government stopped trying to fiddle the definition of overseas aid and set up a dedicated scheme and used the contingency reserve for the first year?

If I may humbly correct the hon. Lady there has been no loss of EU funding so far. As she will understand, EU funding will continue for some years—let me put it like that. [Interruption.] In the meantime, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has made it clear that, one way or the other, we will get through the very considerable sums that are needed—whether it is through the Caribbean Community or the Caribbean Development Bank. The assessments of the requirements are only now coming in. We must wait to see exactly what the bill and the requirements are before we start pushing out the money. When we have a full understanding of the requirements, we will ensure that the UK stands behind the plan.