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Labour’s response to the Humanitari​an Emergency Response Review

17 June 2011

This week the Government gave their response to the humanitarian and emergency response review carried out by Lord Ashdown.

The full debate was published on Hansard. Below is Labour’s response to the Governments announcement on the Humanitarian Emergency Response Review.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for advance sight of the Government’s response to Lord Ashdown’s report. May I advise the House that I am responding today because my right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Secretary of State is currently visiting Sierra Leone? We welcome Lord Ashdown’s important report. I pay tribute to him and to those who worked with him to produce an impressive and excellent set of proposals.

Over the past year, in Pakistan, Haiti, Chile, Japan, New Zealand and Indonesia, we have seen the terrible destruction caused by a range of natural disasters. In Libya and Ivory Coast, we have seen how humanitarian crises can develop incredibly rapidly, threatening the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people. Lord Ashdown’s report reminds us that the number of humanitarian crises is likely to increase, and we must be ready to respond rapidly and effectively. We welcome the report’s emphasis on working through multilateral organisations. Does the Secretary of State agree that working multilaterally is generally the best way to ensure greater co-ordination and coherence in response to disaster and to prevent it?

The report recognises that DFID has been widely praised for its leading role in the international humanitarian community. The Secretary of State will know that since 2005 the Department has been one of the leading voices in calling for reforms in the international humanitarian system. We welcome the fact that the Government’s response recognises the need to strengthen international leadership, but what specific steps will he take to bring about that change? Will the Government take the lead in initiating a new round of high-level talks at the UN to push for greater reform, as the Labour Government did back in 2005? Why have the Government rejected a recommendation in the report to encourage the convening of a UN high-level panel to look at ways of improving the international system to face future challenges?

Our efforts in government also led to an expansion of the important central emergency response fund, and the report says that the fund should be expanded further. We welcome the extra $40 million that the Government announced for the fund in December last year, but can the Secretary of State tell us what the UK is doing to push other donor countries to make a similar substantial contribution? Does he agree that, as well as improvements in its response to disaster, the international community must do more to help to prevent and predict disasters, as Lord Ashdown’s report underlines?

As we have recently seen in Libya, gaining access to deliver humanitarian relief can be extremely difficult. I pay tribute to the many organisations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, Islamic Relief, World Vision and Save the Children, which are often the first to reach those who need help. Will the Secretary of State assure us that he will do all he can to ensure that aid workers can operate in safety and that aid is delivered in a way that ensures its neutrality and impartiality?

DFID is indeed rightly recognised around the world for its leadership in responding at times of crisis, and I pay tribute to its expert staff. Does the Secretary of State agree that in anticipating and responding to humanitarian emergencies, it is essential to have expert and skilled people? As DFID is reducing its administration budget by a third, can he assure us the necessary investment in humanitarian skills will be made given the scale of such cuts?

Lord Ashdown’s report recognises that the international humanitarian system is poorly equipped to ensure an equitable response for the most vulnerable—for example, women, children, the elderly and people with disabilities. I welcome what the Secretary of State said in that regard and what the Government say in response to the full report. Will he assure us, however, that the Government will ensure that across the areas identified in the report, women in particular will be fully involved in the response to disaster, wherever it occurs?

Lord Ashdown’s report underlines the important role that diaspora communities play in responding to disaster, both through remittances and by raising awareness. I am glad that the Secretary of State recognised that in his statement. Can he give us more information on what he will do to ensure that there is greater recognition of the money that hard-working people in people in the UK send home to help people in the developing world?

The Ashdown report is an important step forward. Labour provided a strong lead on this issue in government, which produced real reform, but we know that there is much more to do. As Lord Ashdown said, humanitarian work

“cannot be the sticking plaster for a lack of political action”,

but it can make an important contribution to alleviating suffering around the world. Today’s welcome words need to be transferred into concrete action to ensure that in times of crisis, our aid helps those who need it most.

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