HL Deb 10 January 2005 vol 668 cc26-41

4 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, I should like to repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows: "With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement following the earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean on the morning of Sunday, 26 December.

"In the early hours of 26 December the earth moved along some 1,200 kilometres of the seabed, creating first a sea in retreat, then a sea borne along by a wave of such force that it literally obliterated not just the area of the coast at Aceh nearest to it but land over 3,000 kilometres from its epicentre. It was a force of nature so unimaginable in its power and catastrophic in its impact, it quite simply washed the life out of villages, towns, tourist resorts and anything alive on the water in areas across the entirety of the Indian Ocean. It affected Indonesia, Sri Lanka, south India and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the Maldives, Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, the Seychelles and Bangladesh. The estimated number of people killed now stands at over 150,000, with millions of people forced away from their homes. As well as the devastating loss of life and immediate suffering, there are significant longer-term implications. Many people have lost their means of earning a living: fishermen have lost their boats and nets; farmers crops have been destroyed; and roads, bridges and buildings are damaged or destroyed, as are coastal areas where livelihoods are dependent on tourism.

"We should begin by expressing the total unity of this House in giving our deepest condolences for the loss of life in those countries directly affected by the tsunami and to all those in this country who have lost family members, friends and colleagues in this disaster. Scarcely any of us here will not know someone whose life has been touched by this event. None of us will have not been moved to tears as each night, we saw and with mounting horror, the human tragedy that followed the natural disaster.

"I can announce today that there will be a memorial service later this year for the victims of the tsunami which will be attended by Her Majesty the Queen. We will give more details in due course and will obviously wish to take account of the views of relatives in planning the service.

"I will divide my Statement into three parts: first, in respect of the loss of British lives; secondly, the immediate humanitarian help to the countries concerned; and finally the longer-term issues of redevelopment and reconstruction. I hope the House will forgive me if I go into detail.

"Let me begin with our own citizens. The number of confirmed dead is now 51. The number of category 1 of the missing—that is, highly likely to be dead—is, including the 51, now 453, up from 443 last Friday. Three hundred and seventy-one of those are in respect of Thailand; 50 in respect of Sri Lanka. Those numbers in category 1 have stopped rising so rapidly. Not all of them will end up as being actually dead, though many of them may.

"The category 2 figure—those unaccounted for in the region but not in the highly likely category— now stands at 871, down from over 2,000 late last week. Previous experience, I am advised, tells us that this figure may never fall to zero.

"On 26 December, the Foreign Office established temporary offices working in all the affected areas. There is now, for example, a temporary office the size of a medium-sized embassy in Phuket. Staff have also been deployed at overseas airports to help with any problems of British nationals and issue emergency passports to those without travel documents.

"There are 75 police officers also working in Thailand and Sri Lanka, both to assist in an international effort to recover and identify the dead and to give specialist advice to our FCO teams in those countries. Their work is enormously difficult as well as distressing.

"Sadly, many victims were swept away by the force of the tsunami and their remains may never be recovered. In other cases, and as time goes by, forensic identification of the remains becomes extremely hard. DNA testing may be required and this will take time. I know that this will only add to the agony of the families concerned but I am afraid no shortcuts are possible. The pain and upset which can be caused by mistakes would be even worse.

"The Foreign Office has funded the deployment of portable mortuary facilities to the disaster areas in Sri Lanka and Thailand and is working closely with international undertakers to facilitate the repatriation of bodies once they have been positively identified.

"British officials and police officers are now-working with the families of the victims to repatriate remains where appropriate and help the injured get home. The Foreign Office has assisted affected families with the cost of repatriating remains; immediate medical expenses for those seriously injured; medical evacuation; and return travel for two members of the victims family.

"The emergency call centre has taken over 40,000 calls at the peak, and has subsequently taken over 135,000 in total.

"Over 200 family liaison officers have been appointed to support every family of British nationals we think are highly likely to have been involved. This figure is lower than the number of likely deaths, I should explain, because many families have unfortunately lost a number of relatives in this terrible tragedy. We are also looking to provide family liaison officers for families in the affected countries where appropriate and are supporting families in the UK who have lost family members who lived in those affected countries, particularly, I should say, in Sri Lanka, where over 30,000 people were killed.

"The Foreign Office has also ensured that there are full reception arrangements at airports for people returning to the UK. This includes tailored medical attention where necessary, assistance with getting home and access to psychological and emotional support services. The British Red Cross has also established a helpline for victims of the disaster and their families and a family support network for those affected.

"I would like to say one word about the Foreign Office, police and other staff involved in this operation. The complexity of the operation is obvious. The grief of the families is manifest and absolutely understandable. There could not be circumstances more taxing. There will inevitably be mistakes made or unintended insensitivity in certain cases. However, I am clear that these staff have done a quite magnificent and exceptional job and I would like to express our heartfelt thanks to them.

"Let me now turn to the action the Government have taken to alleviate the consequences of the tsunami in the countries affected.

Within hours of the disaster striking, DfID's crisis operations team was set up; it sent out its first assessment team and the next day DfID began airlifts of tents and plastic sheeting in response to an urgent request from the Government of Sri Lanka. A series of airlifts followed, including approximately 80 tonnes of water donated to the Maldives and enough basic emergency medical supplies to Indonesia to treat 100,000 people for three months.

"We focused our immediate effort on support to the United Nations humanitarian organisations, the Red Cross movement, NGOs and a range of practical actions, such as delivery of urgently needed relief items, including water, water containers, tents and blankets and plastic sheeting.

"As time has passed, it has become clear that the biggest challenges are in Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

"The UN is leading the international humanitarian response and Britain is supporting the UN co-ordination and logistics effort to improve delivery of assistance. In Indonesia, we have provided equipment to help establish the UN field office in Banda Aceh, plus five helicopters and some vehicles to the UN for use in the Aceh province. We have also provided two experts to its assessment team, two UK emergency teams and three military operations teams, which are working closely with local government and partner nations to assess needs. We also have a range of medium and heavy-lift cargo aircraft—including RAF Hercules and Tristar aircraft and a number of helicopters—involved in delivering aid in the region. We have sent some five flights to Indonesia carrying 3,750 family tents. We are putting together plans for further airlifts, from both Europe and other regions, of relief materials to the region. We are also deploying two fully equipped and manned helicopters from the Gurkha battalion stationed in Brunei.

"One of the main challenges in both countries is distributing the massive amount of aid which has been provided. UK forces are playing an important role in this. We are providing significant airlift capacity, including one RAF CI7 plane and five RAF CI30 planes. Two naval vessels—Chatham and Diligence—have been providing assistance off Sri Lanka, together with their Lynx helicopters.

"In respect of the money pledged, the first thing is to pay tribute to the remarkable, but typical, generosity of the British people. Their willingness to contribute—the funds they have contributed now stand at just over 100 million—is the best illustration of the British character and shows a warmth of spirit and a depth of compassion that has been uplifting, even as we contemplate the tragedy that gave rise to it.

"I should set out the Governments contribution so far. In doing so, I should mention that in my conversations with the Presidents of Sri Lanka and Indonesia, and this morning with the Indonesian Foreign Minister, they have all gone out of their way to express their gratitude, but also their admiration for Britains response, both that of the British people in their own right and through their Government.

"The international pledges now total some £2 billion. The EU as a whole has already collectively pledged or given 1.5 billion euros. A meeting of EU foreign ministers on Friday agreed to ask the European Investment Bank to consider an Indian Ocean tsunami facility of up to 1 billion euros.

"The British Governments contribution is as follows. I have agreed that the Government will increase their pledge to the immediate humanitarian response from £50 million to £75 million, with an additional £25 million from the Treasurys central reserve. Incidentally, none of this has been taken from our existing development programmes. Of this £75 million, around 30 million has already been disbursed to the UN and the NGOs.

"Our share of EU budget money allocated is a further £15 million. Gift Aid tax relief amounts to a further £15 million. We will also make a special donation to offset the VAT on goods sold to raise money for the tsunami appeal. DfID has offered to pay the cost of air freighting equipment and supplies paid for by donations from the public. Six flights have already departed; another goes tomorrow.

"In addition, the G7 is agreeing to an immediate moratorium on debt repayments by afflicted countries for those countries that request it until a full needs assessment is completed. The suspension of debt servicing for 2005 for Indonesia alone will, for Britain, total over £70 million.

"So all in all, already committed or spent is around £200 million of British Government money. But as I indicated last week, we still have to await the full assessment of the World Bank on the long-term reconstruction needed. In all likelihood, that will require further disbursements. In addition, we will continue to meet any immediate requests for humanitarian assistance. I might add that the provision of so much military equipment also has a cost that the Government bear.

"Long-term reconstruction in Sri Lanka and, especially, in Indonesia, leads on to the lessons in respect of the international communitys response to any future such natural events. First, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development—and I may say that his department has, like the FCO, performed in an outstanding way in the past two weeks—has set out in a paper to the UN how he believes the UNs administration can be improved in its response capability. He will be going to New York next month to discuss it. Presciently, he made these suggestions first in a speech shortly before Christmas.

"Secondly, we need urgent work on early warning systems, and not just in the region affected. The Jakarta conference on Thursday agreed that a regional warning system was needed in that region. The World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Japan later this month will consider how this and other similar needs can be met. In addition, I have asked the Governments Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King, to put together a small group of experts to advise me on the mechanisms that could and should be established for the detection and early warning of global natural hazards.

"The past two weeks have shown a world in shock, but also in solidarity. It is not just the money given. It is the volunteering to help collect it, the doctors and nurses wanting to go out to help, and the experts from every field imaginable clamouring for a chance to serve and to give of their time, energy and expertise.

"Later this year, the world will turn its attention not just to a natural disaster but to one that is man-made: Africa. In that continent, daily, thousands die preventably from conflict, famine and disease. If the domination of this issue on our TV screens is less dramatic, the suffering of human beings is every bit as severe. If we were, as a result of the strength of our sentiment towards the victims of the tsunami, to turn that same sentiment into action on Africa, then perhaps those whose faith has been shaken by the monstrous consequences of the event we have witnessed, would have it renewed. There could be no greater good to come out of it"

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for repeating this sombre Statement from the Prime Minister this afternoon. Every now and again, there comes a natural disaster that is almost beyond comprehension, but which reminds us of the frailty of the human condition and of the unity of the human family.

I should like to associate this side of the House with all the expressions of grief and sympathy expressed by the noble Baroness and by the Prime Minister. Will she consider sending a message from this House to the Upper Houses of the legislatures of the nations most seriously affected to make them aware of Your Lordships concern and solidarity at this time?

Our prayers are with all who have lost family and friends and our thanks go to everyone who has been working so hard in so many ways to provide them with help and support. I also know that the experience of the noble Baroness will be of great value to the Prime Minister at this difficult time. Will she agree to effect a regular report to this House on the amount pledged and the amount spent and the results achieved from the British contribution? Does she agree that the UN should provide a regular audit of income received and expenditure made?

Will she join me in thanking the US administration for its truly staggering response, involving some 90 ships and 16,000 troops, as well as a formidable cash provision? Was it not disappointing that some who are the first to encourage the US to be more multilateralist were at the forefront of belittling this immense contribution?

Was another aspect of this tragedy—the heartfelt and overwhelming generosity of the British people— not equally compelling? From the moment the disaster broke, they spontaneously and selflessly offered money and time to help those in need. They waited for no government initiative or diktat. We welcome the fact that financial institutions have decided not to charge commission on credit card donations and we support the decisions of the Chancellor in respect of VAT. Can she tell us the latest position with regard to the gift aiding of contributions? How will the Government ensure that all contributions attract matching relief?

Is the Chancellors proposal to relieve the debt of the nations affected now government policy? Has there been any reaction from the various governments to that proposal and to the potential impact on the credit rating of the countries concerned?

Little could have prevented substantial loss of life and livelihood in the case of an earthquake of such magnitude and a tsunami shock of such ferocity. But what lessons have the Government learnt? Is the noble Baroness satisfied that all diplomatic help was made available with the necessary urgency? How many additional diplomatic support staff have been sent to the countries concerned? Are the Government satisfied with the back-up at home and the promptness with which British casualties were estimated and identified? Although the Statement mentioned the number of deaths, does the current estimate of 453 British deaths, as opposed to the 159 suggested in the Deputy Prime Ministers letter of 4 January, now represent a near-final tally?

Will the noble Baroness pledge support for the proposal of my right honourable friend Mr Howard to help long-lasting contacts and reconstruction by enabling the establishment of links between local authorities, communities, sports clubs, schools, mosques, churches and charities and counterparties in stricken countries? Might this not be the right time for the Government to act urgently to advance the Howard plan?

Finally, will the noble Baroness urge her colleagues in other EU governments to suspend those parts of the common agricultural policy and the EU regulatory regime which prevent open access to the EU by agricultural products from the stricken countries? Would not that be a lasting contribution that the EU could make to the revival of these areas?

We pray never again to witness such a horrific disaster, but does not the overwhelming response of the British people—with no regard to race or religion—demonstrate the real nature of the British public, and give the lie to the politically correct fanatics in the discrimination industry who paint the British people as institutionally racist and call for ever more money to monitor them? In these past few weeks, the British people have shown their true humanity, and a prolonged period of silence from those who portray them as racist or religious bigots would be profoundly welcome.

4.21 p.m.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine

My Lords, as a relative newcomer to this House, I thank my noble friend Lord McNally and other senior colleagues for the confidence they have placed in me in asking me to reply to the Statement on their behalf.

We, too, welcome the Statement and wish to add our heartfelt condolences to the many individuals, families and communities in Britain who have suffered the injury and loss of loved ones through the horrific events of that morning of 26 December. The country at large, having led an unprecedented response to the crisis, will wish to share our sympathy with the many hundreds of thousands whose lives have been so utterly devastated in the many countries which saw such widespread loss.

I know the region well, having been responsible for three of the affected countries in my time working for the Commonwealth. I and my family were on the beach in Phuket when the tsunami struck. Thailand has also been home to my sister for many years, in her work for the head of UNICEF for the region. I bring up these personal experiences as an illustration of my confidence that the people in these countries will retrieve what they can from their shattered lives and start to rebuild. That is the nature of the Asian spirit.

The response of British people has been humbling to one who has come from those Asian shores to settle here. It is a lesson in solidarity which gives one hope that this globalising world is becoming a true global community, where individuals acting alone and together can and do make a difference.

I have a few observations about the tsunami itself. While we have heard of the many good and useful things done by the Government, what we experienced in Phuket in the early days did not indicate that UK help was to hand. I understand that a UK help desk was set up at Phuket town hall, but the reality is that, in many holiday resorts, tourists do not visit the main town but instead spend their time in these very self-contained resorts. In this case, many survivors followed the advice of the Thai Government, as we did, and tried to leave the island via the main entry/exit point—the airport—where no assistance appeared to be evident.

I do not wish to criticise any individuals, but could the Leader of the House tell us whether the FCO asks post to draw up its own local contingency plan to react quickly and generously in crisis situations? Would our missions in the various countries have been equipped with the full local information and planning needed to be able to assist large numbers of injured and displaced, and will they be so in future? I say that in the consciousness that while nature may be kinder in future, international terrorism—here I am thinking of the Bali bombing—or even industrial disasters or transport accidents may also require a co-ordinated response.

We also query the speed of response in terms of deploying forensic scientists to assist with the identification of bodies. We understand that many bereaved families will have to wait for months for identification and repatriation of the remains of their loved ones. Can the Minister say why this process took as long as it did and how we might learn the lessons for the future?

On the broader issue of assistance to these countries, while we welcome the support provided, we have concerns that relate to Sri Lanka and Indonesia in particular. Both countries have experienced internal conflict and it would compound the tragedy if international assistance should become a tool of manipulation against any of the communities affected. Could the Minister press the Indonesian Government to agree a ceasefire so that both sides can join in the relief effort, including unrestricted movement for relief agencies and relief workers? Could she also give an assurance that monitoring and oversight will continue to ensure that this does not happen?

Unprecedented disasters call for a global response. In this case, we have seen that the United Nations, and the United Nations alone, is the world body equipped to act on behalf of us all. Knowing the region as I do, I know that individual countries forming their own groups, even with the best of intentions, are bound to be viewed with some political sensitivity in some of the capitals concerned.

The Government told us today of their proposal for an EU Indian Ocean (sunami facility. We wonder whether they might consider a European civil disasters capability to build in EU-wide contingency planning.

Finally, I turn to my personal experience of the people of the affected countries. All share a level of fortitude and resilience which is humbling. It would be fitting tribute to this spirit if we continued to visit these countries and take our holidays there as a mark of our confidence in their efforts to return to normality. We say this because the response of people across the world to the Asian disaster shows that a new-found solidarity now exists between all countries. If we are truly to use this spirit of giving to provide a better world for the very poorest people, then we will have tried to leave a more lasting legacy for those who did not survive.

4.27 p.m.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, for their tributes to the response of the British people. I entirely endorse those comments. Before I deal with specific points, let me say how pleased I am to see the noble Baroness here. 1 am sure that the whole House will join me in saying that it has been very helpful to hear of her personal experiences.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for his suggestion that we should write to the Upper Houses of the legislatures affected. I think we would all agree that that would be very useful.

We already have a regular report on the amount pledged and spent. The Department for International Development publishes a daily update on its website. It indicates in bold type exactly where the changes have been made.

With respect to a more regular audit from the UN. I shall take that back with me. In the DfID update, we tend to indicate what is happening overall in terms of the UN appeal. I shall find out whether we can go into any more detail and let the noble Lord know.

I totally agree with the noble Lord that the response from the US Government was a significant contribution. We all want to acknowledge not only that contribution but that made by other donors around the world. Globally, we have seen the world community really working together in this instance.

On gift aid and the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about matching relief, I am not entirely certain what the noble Lord was asking me. Basically, if an individual makes a contribution to charity using the gift aid process, the charity is then able to reclaim money from the Government. I am not certain what the noble Lord meant when he asked about matching relief, but perhaps the noble Lord will write to me clarifying that point and I will get back to him.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I understand that at the moment charities can claim only up to the standard rate of income tax. For higher-rate earners, charities have to put in an extra-special application. What will the Government do to deal with the bureaucracy of all that?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we have simplified the process with respect to gift aid provisions so I was not aware that seeking the additional contribution from higher rate taxpayers was causing any problems. However, I will take that matter away and examine it.

I am not sure what the noble Lord was asking about debt relief. He will know that debt relief has always been government policy. The deal that was brokered by the Chancellor and the G7 countries with respect to debt relief to the affected countries is part of the Governments overall contribution. On the wider issue of credit rating and so forth, of course, that concerns some of those countries. The noble Lord will have noticed in the Statement that I talked about a moratorium from those countries that request it. That is precisely because it is important to give those countries the option, because some countries will be concerned about a possible longer-term effect on their credit ratings. The Paris Club will meet on Wednesday. There will be a meeting of G7 finance Ministers on 4 and 5 February when these issues will be further clarified.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, that there are always lessons to be learnt from this type of emergency. I was the consular Minister at the Foreign Office when we suffered the devastation of 9/11 and of Bali. We learnt many lessons from those two disasters which resulted, for example, in our establishment of the rapid response unit in the Foreign Office. My noble friend Lady Symons is now responsible for consular matters in the Foreign Office and I know that she has worked tirelessly with consular officials and others over the past few days on these matters. I am well aware that the Foreign Office will want to learn from all the lessons. If the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, has any further information, she can feed it to me or to my noble friend Lady Symons. We can then feed that into our process in examining the lessons that can be learnt.

To return to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, we have been very careful about estimating and identifying casualties. One problem that occurs is that people will ring up and say that a friend, member of the family or colleague is missing, but they do not necessarily ring us back to say that that individual has been found. That is partly why we have category 1 and category 2 figures. We hope that the figures that I mentioned today are as near as possible to a final tally, but as the Statement made absolutely clear, it may be that those figures in category 2 never go down to zero. With respect to category 1, figures have gone up slightly, but we think that they are as close as possible to final figures.

We are extraordinarily careful about the way that we deal with these matters. Noble Lords may recall that in the first couple of days after the tsunami, we were being pushed to publish figures. We were careful not to release them because it was important to try to identify as quickly as possible those who had actually been affected.

On the noble Lords point about establishing long-lasting contacts, he will know that establishing links through education, trade unions and so forth has long been part of the way that we have worked. Most recently, forging education links between schools in the United Kingdom and schools in Commonwealth countries and elsewhere has been a priority for this Government.

On trade and CAP reform, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will know that we have been working tirelessly on this, partly through the World Trade Organisation negotiations, but also through negotiations within the European Union itself. We will continue to work tirelessly.

The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, mentioned forensic scientists. The noble Baroness will know about the state of the bodies. In particular, the fact that they were in water for such a long time meant that many of them have deteriorated rapidly. We have had to move to DNA testing, which means getting DNA from members of the deceased's family. That process will take a long time, as I know from personal experience post-Bali, and this time we are working with even greater numbers.

In the first few days, the authorities tried to use visual identification. Obviously, that has become more and more difficult. The worst possible thing would be to have mix-ups, because that would bring even more difficulty and tragedy for the families concerned. I recognise that families want to know as quickly as possible and we are doing everything that we can to try to speed up that process.

Finally, I turn to the issue of Indonesia and the ceasefire and the implication in terms of access for NGOs and others. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, the we have urged the Indonesian Government to grant permission for NGOs and foreign aid workers to return to Aceh. The International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN have already been granted permits, but there is still a problem with security that we need to monitor very carefully indeed.

4.37 p.m.

Lord Renton

My Lords, having on three occasions had lovely family winter holidays in Sri Lanka, I welcome the Governments attitude and indeed the support that they have had from the people of this country. Of all the countries overseas, especially in Asia, Sri Lanka is one of the most pro-British, largely through the large number of British people who go there. As a result, English is the principal foreign language spoken there. As the Government pointed out, the destruction to the south-east coast, parts of which I visited on each occasion, is not only terrible but it will take years to restore.

Meanwhile, because of the dependence upon holiday income, which supports the government of Sri Lanka, that government will suffer financial problems for years to come. I was very glad that my noble friend on the Front Bench pointed out that the Government should make frequent statements to us about steps taken to help Sri Lanka.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we have included Sri Lanka in our multilateral debt facility, which will deliver £5.5 million in multilateral debt relief. However, we are looking with the World Bank, the IMF and others at the long-term implications for Sri Lankas infrastructure and the rebuilding of livelihoods in that country.

The Lord Bishop of St Albans

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her initial Statement and join with everyone else in the House in expressing the profoundest sympathy for all those whose lives have been devastated by the tsunami. On behalf of these Benches and in conjunction with other Churches, I want to assure all those people of our prayers.

Noble Lords will know that all Churches throughout this country have been open, and remain open, for prayer and for the lighting of candles for hope and solidarity. It is my belief that the links between Christian Churches and people of other faiths in our country can only be strengthened by the sense of national and world solidarity that this terrible event has engendered among us.

Like other noble Lords, I believe that the response to the disaster by the people of our country has been very remarkable. Naturally we want to highlight the personal and public stories of giving to the various appeals. I think of the congregation of a very tiny rural church who raised £220 immediately, in a single collection, on top of what they normally give, and that of an urban church in Bedfordshire who gave £3,000 immediately, on top of what they normally give. I think of dioceses such as Lichfield and Ripon, in Leeds, which are already making contact with their overseas links. But it is now the long-term haul that is important, and I know that the Churches of our country will want, through CAFOD, Christian Aid and the Tearfund, as well as through their own links— and that we will all want, as far as humanly possible— to be in there for the long haul. We shall want to keep up our pressure about debt relief and fair trade. I welcome all the statements that have been made in that regard.

I shall make one pastoral comment. It hardly bears talking about in the light of the scale of the tsunami disaster, but within a couple of days after the Hatfield rail crash I had the privilege of going to the hospital to meet the hospital chaplain. He, quite rightly, took me straightaway not to the chief executive of the hospital trust but to the staff in the mortuary. People in our own nation and elsewhere who work in the field of forensics and identification deserve our profoundest thanks. 1 hope that when they get back, somehow the appropriate pastoral care can be offered to them, not because they necessarily need it, as it were, but as an expression of our enormous gratitude to people who undertake the grimmest of tasks and do so out of profound respect for our common humanity. So I hope that our pastoral care can be expressed.

Of course, I welcome all the announcements that have been made, and have been deeply moved by the work of all those in the Government, the armed services, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, DfID and everywhere, who have done so much on behalf of us all. I hope that I can speak not only on behalf of all Churches in this country but, symbolically, on this occasion, not for but with all those people of other faiths, to say how much we all want to work together to create hope and bring goodness out of a most devastating event.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, first, I thank the right reverend Prelate for his comments, which I endorse. In. particular, he made an important point in reminding us of the grim task facing not only those trained for it but those who have volunteered to work in mortuaries, for example, in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. The right reverend Prelate is absolutely right: we need to be concerned about the health of those individuals, in its widest possible sense. The right reverend Prelate used the words pastoral care"—and I entirely agree with him in respect of that comment.

Lord Radice

My Lords, I join other noble Lords who have expressed their sympathies for the families of those who have lost their lives and those who are missing. My family feels that particularly strongly, as we had an extremely fortunate escape. My daughter, her husband and two of my grandchildren managed to escape at Tangala in Sri Lanka. We express our strong sympathy to the families of those who have lost their lives and those who are still missing.

All of us welcome the tremendous response from the British people—and not just from the British people but right across the West—and from governments. I urge the Government to do all that they can to ensure that their own efforts and money are used effectively and quickly. Finally—and this is a point that my daughter made to me—it is essential that an effective early warning system is quickly introduced in the Indian Ocean. It is probably true that if one had been in place, the casualties would at least have been reduced. It is also probably the case that, looking forward, an effective early warning system would do a lot to bring back tourists, which is absolutely essential, and to get the local people back. At the moment, they are traumatised and frightened by what could happen in future.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, perhaps I may first say how pleased I am that my noble friends family escaped.

On my noble friends two specific points, I can confirm that we will use the money effectively and quickly. My noble friend will be aware that one problem has been that there is now such a volume of aid coming through that co-ordinating the effort and ensuring that the money is being used in the most effective way possible is something with which we are having to grapple.

The question of an effective warning system was raised at last weeks conference. We all agree that it is something that needs to be done as quickly as possible. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has asked the Governments Chief Scientist to look at that matter. The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, raised with me the question of a European civil disaster capability. All those issues will be considered.

Baroness Northover

My Lords, clearly we have much to learn from this terrible disaster, not least in acknowledging the British publics magnificent response. But it seemed to me at the time, simply listening to the news as I was, that sending 200 tents to Sri Lanka in the first 24 hours was a woefully inadequate response by DfID. Compare that with a Tamil relief group in West London, which had four doctors in Sri Lanka—one of them from my husbands hospital—in the same period of time. Could there not have been an official appeal for medical and other help, given the obvious scale of the disaster? The Secretary of State said on day one that we must wait to see what countries wanted, but James Jackson, Professor of Seismology at Cambridge, said that societies were often too traumatised in these situations to make such a response.

I want to ask about gift aid, too. It is not usually counted in to DfID's budget; why is it being counted as part of the money raised by the Government in this case? I should like clarification of that matter.

Above all, can the Minister assure us that in the rebuilding that must now take place we will do our best to make these people less vulnerable? Buildings need pillars underneath, for example, so that the water can run through if another such flood occurs. Those are preventive measures that already exist in the Pacific Ocean. Surely those sorts of measures, education and rebuilding are vital, and we have all learnt that lesson.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, it is absolutely critical to have assessments in the immediate aftermath of a disaster such as this one. The worst thing that could happen is for people to volunteer and then get to a country where it is then impossible for them to use their skills, talent and expertise because they do not have the right kind of experience, have not done such work before, and are using up scarce resources needed for other things. That is precisely why the assessments are so very important. Part of what one is doing is using up the countrys resources in order to facilitate people coming in from outside. It is, therefore, very important that we co-ordinate the effort. That is why we always say that it is important to have one agency, the United Nations, co-ordinating efforts and why donor countries such as ours work to ensure that that happens as quickly and comprehensively as possible.

I cannot tell the noble Baroness how many people have volunteered their help to deal with this disaster. They have done so very much as a result of seeing events on their television screens. It would have been absolutely chaotic if that assistance had not been co-ordinated. I totally understand how difficult it is for people who feel that they have the right skills and expertise and want to do something, but it is very important that we co-ordinate the effort and ensure that we undertake it appropriately.

I am not at all aware of gift aid being included within the DfID budget. If the noble Baroness listened to the Statement, she will have heard me make absolutely clear where the contributions in the overall government response were coming from. Some of the contribution entails debt relief, which counts against the Treasury, and some of it is money that comes directly out of the DfID budget. Some of it comes from the Treasury reserve. So the contribution comes from across government. And of course gift aid is a cost to government.

The noble Baroness was right on her final point about putting in place preventive measures. That issue emerged from last weeks conference as a priority. We are looking at it as a matter of urgency.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

My Lords, the noble Baroness will know that all quarters of the House wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy offered today by herself and by her right honourable friend the Prime Minister, and in particular to associate ourselves with the comments of the Leader of the Opposition in your Lordships House that some record of the expressions of sympathy and promises of help made here today should be sent to the Upper Houses of other legislatures.

Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness to return to the point that she has just addressed in answering the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, about the reconstruction of the maritime areas alongside the coasts and the buildings that are most likely to suffer if there were to be another tsunami, and whether we will be working with the local governments and agencies in those countries to ensure that design and engineering projects take into account the importance of constructing buildings that are better able to withstand such quakes in the future.

Will the noble Baroness also say a word about the situation in Burma which, because of the authoritarian and secretive nature of that regime, has been rather passed over in the public accounts of what has happened in the Indian Ocean area, and whether international agencies have been allowed to go into the maritime areas of Burma to assess the levels of the fatalities, injuries and displacements that have occurred there?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, on the longer-term rebuilding and the infrastructure, we will, of course, work with the governments concerned and the relevant agencies to try to ensure that any rebuilding is done in a safer and more secure way. As the noble Lord will be aware, the government of Sri Lanka, I think, have already made it absolutely clear that building should not take place too close to the seashore. That decision has already been taken.

As I understand it, there is no acute emergency in Burma. The UN, the IFRC, the ICRC and NGOs have held a co-ordinating meeting, and reconstruction is now the main focus of activities in Burma.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Baroness two very quick questions. She mentioned the Treasury reserve. Can she tell me whether the excellent work done by our armed services is being paid for from that reserve? Secondly, does she agree that it has become very important to have a sufficient number of consular and diplomatic personnel on the ground where they know the people and the conditions? In the light of that, does she think that the FCO and the Government should review their decision to make a very large number of cuts in the representation of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office abroad?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, DfID usually funds such Armed Forces deployments, and does so on a marginal cost basis, covering, for example, fuel costs but not the full costs of the assets and personnel involved. The £25 million that has been announced on top of the £50 million, which takes our funding to £75 million, will come from the Treasury reserve.

As for our diplomatic presence on the ground, the noble Baroness will be aware that the FCO has conducted a major reorganisation. If she has looked at the proposals in detail, she will see that a small number of posts have been closed. What has happened is that, within country, posts that could, if you like, be described as subordinate have been closed and covered from elsewhere, particularly in the area of UK trade international.

Baroness Whitaker

My Lords, in applauding the fact that none of the £75 million has come from our existing development programmes, may I ask my noble friend about the other DfID contribution—for instance, to the EU budget, bearing in mind that the number of people dying from preventable causes in one week in Africa is the same as the total number of tsunami victims? Will the other DfID money, other than the 50 million, be at the expense of programmes for poor countries?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I am not entirely certain what my noble friend means in referring to the other DfID money. The amounts in the Statement refer to the £50 million that has already been announced— which comes out of the DfID humanitarian budget and is separate from its bilateral aid budget—and the DfID contingency reserve, the additional £25 million, which brings the figure to £75 million and comes from the Treasury reserve. There are also contributions as a result of debt relief and so on, which make up the figures that I gave to the House today. My right honourable friends the Secretary of State for International Development and the Prime Minister have made it absolutely clear that our ongoing development work and our bilateral programmes will continue.