HL Deb 07 November 1961 vol 235 cc213-5

2.40 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they can state the amount of the damage to property caused by the recent hurricane in British Honduras, and whether they will give financial assistance towards the cost of reconstruction.]


My Lords, it is now clear that the devastation caused by the hurricane in British Honduras is widespread and very severe. Casualty lists have not yet been received, but the latest available information is that the dead in Belize, the capital, will be more than 160. There are 70 people still known to be missing, however, and it is feared that the final death roll may be a good deal higher. In outlying districts also there has been heavy damage and casualties. In Stann Creek destruction of life and property may be even greater than in Belize.

It is impossible for anyone to live in Belize at present, and the work of establishing essential services, such as shelter and supplies of food and drinking water, is being carried out with the help of the naval and military forces which have been brought in by the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. We have had the greatest assistance from the United States Navy, which sent two destroyers and an aircraft carrier, together with doctors, nurses and other medical personnel.

I fear that it will be a long time before it will be possible to make any assessment of the damage to property, and meanwhile I can only say that in disasters of this kind a Colony like British Honduras will naturally look to the United Kingdom for help in reconstruction.

Co-ordination of supplies to cope with the immediate situation is in the hands of the Government of Jamaica who tell us what they require from the United Kingdom. In all this we are in close touch with the Red Cross, which is rendering the greatest possible assistance. Apart from military reinforcements, including Royal Engineers and medical personnel, we have despatched engineering and medical supplies, tarpaulins and other temporary roofing material. This will continue, both by sea and by air.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Earl, as I am sure the House is, for his full statement about this catastrophe. I should like to ask him two supplementary questions. The first is whether he is satisfied that all possible steps have been taken to prevent the outbreak of epidemics; and the second is whether, in view of the fact that it seems most unlikely that it will be possible to reconstruct the capital, Belize, on the same site, he will consider the possibility, indeed the desirability, of the Government's aiding the Government of British Honduras to rebuild the capital on a satisfactory site. Furthermore, if the Government are willing to help in that way, could they announce their willingness as soon as possible, so as to give some comfort and encouragement to the Sorely striken people in British Honduras?


My Lords, in reply to the first part of the question I think one can say that one is fully satisfied, whether as to medical personnel or medical supplies, that all possible is being done. We rely, as we must rely, implicitly on the Jamaican Government to co-ordinate the needs and inform us what they want. In regard to the second part of the question, I think these are rather early days to try to give an answer, because, quite frankly, we do not know what is the degree of the damage or the situation in general. This is a matter which calls for a difficult decision and needs a great deal of thought; but it will be in our minds, as will everything else, in relation to what has happened.