DFID – RELIEF WORK CO-ORDINATION – 10 October 2005

Dr Julian Lewis: Clearly, the initial search and rescue operation and the speed of our response have been excellent, but does the Secretary of State recall the correspondence that we had quite a few months ago about constituents of mine who went as volunteers into areas which had been devastated by the tsunami only to find that no aid whatsoever for reconstruction had got through months after those vast sums had been raised? Therefore, the [Red Cross] report should not have come as a surprise to any of us. Can he suggest measures which will address that concern, which has been expressed from every corner of the House?

[The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. The issue is partly about ensuring that the right relief supplies come, and I made that point earlier. If things are sent that are not immediately needed, they may rest on one side while more important things pass on their way through. There may be bureaucratic obstacles, but the UN team and, I am sure, the co-ordinating office of the Prime Minister of Pakistan will be working very hard to ensure that they do not happen. A practical example of that here in the United Kingdom is that the Pakistan High Commission has set up emergency arrangements for issuing visas for people from Britain who want to travel to Pakistan and Kashmir quickly. I applaud it for what it has done. We will keep the situation under very close review. If difficulties arise, we will do our best to have them sorted out. It is important that we learn the lessons.]