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James Gray MP

James with the Prime Minister visiting the UK Aid Disaster Response Centre at Kemble Airport

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2014-08-14-pm-kemble

Parliament is deep in its Summer Recess, and domestic politics is very much taking second place to world events. I was glad to welcome the Prime Minister down to Kemble Airfield last Thursday. He helicoptered in and then back to London in time to chair a meeting of the Cobra Committee at 12 to discuss the situation in Iraq. (‘Cobra’ sounds dramatic with images of snakes ready to strike and so on. It is the Whitehall bunker in which Minsters and officials meet in time of National or International crisis. However it actually stands for the much more mundane ‘Cabinet Office Briefing Room A.’ Very British in its understatement.)

Mr Cameron came to Wiltshire to see the UKAid Emergency Supplies Depot. It’s in a former hangar on the old RAF base and keeps at instant readiness non-food stores and equipment for emergencies. Vehicles, tents and tarpaulins, re-usable filtration containers filled with clean water, solar lights and so many other stores of an essential life-saving kind. The stores are deployed anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice – in this case by air-drop from Hercules aircraft over Mount Sinjar. It was good to meet the people responsible – many of them constituents – and to thank them for the vital work which they do.

2014-08-21-bertie-and-kittyThe UK has spent £8 million on the effort- £2 million on emergency supplies, £3 million for DFID’s Rapid Response Facility, £2.5 million for the International Red Cross and £500k to help Kurdish and UN aid efforts in the region. On top of that we gave £5 million to the UN and NGOs to provide food, medicine and shelter. Add to that charitable giving epitomised by my step-children, Bertie and Kitty, who cycled 3000 miles from Toulon to Istanbul to raise funds for the Disasters Emergency Committee, and as a nation we can be proud of our generosity to the Yazidis and Christians being targeted by the evil fanatics of ISIL.

It is only right and proper that we do what we can to help in situations like this one. Yet by very definition they are unexpected and unquantifiable in advance. That is why I strongly support the UK overseas aid efforts. Yet I will not be supporting the attempts by a LibDem backbencher to write the UN target of 0.7% of GDP on overseas aid into law. I have two reasons. First, we should be ready to spend whatever is necessary whether that be more, or in some years perhaps less than that figure. What would happen if at the end of a year it had not been spent? Who would pay a penalty for breaking the law in that way? And second, these must be decisions for Ministers who must weigh up the competing demands of health and education at home, defence and diplomacy overseas. Tying their hands by writing the 0.7% figure into law seems to me both foolish, and also unconstitutional. There is a cloying self-righteousness about the proposed private members bill, as if it says more about the MP proposing it than it does about our Global compassion.

We must do what we can to help in the world, insofar as our economy allows us, and in response to urgent and identifiable need. I am proud of the contribution which North Wiltshire makes to that effort.

2014-08-14-pm-kemble“I was delighted that the Prime Minister came down to North Wiltshire this morning to see the fantastic work which the DFID UK Aid base are doing in supplying vital humanitarian relief in Iraq,” said North Wiltshire MP James Gray after visiting the UK Aid Disaster Response Centre at Kemble Airport this morning.

“Many local people work on the former RAF base, and I am immensely proud that my constituents are making this vital contribution to helping the great need of the Yazidi people on the ground on Mount Sinjar.”

“The situation in Northern Iraq remains deeply troubling, and we must continue to help all those stranded on Mount Sinjar with airdrops of emergency aid. I was pleased that the Prime Minister at Kemble and the Secretary of State for International Development in London both pledged to continue supporting the Yazidi refugees.”

The UK has, thus far, committed £13 million in response to the crisis. This includes:

  • £2 million of emergency humanitarian supplies for 75,000 people, including aid that can be air dropped to help those trapped in the Sinjar Mountains as quickly as possible. Supplies include reusable filtration containers filled with clean water, tarpaulins and basic shelter equipment, and solar lights that can also recharge mobile phones to enable communication.
  • £3 million of fast-tracked funding for Mercy Corps, the International Rescue Committee, who are already on the ground and helping displaced people in northern Iraq. This will go via DFID’s Rapid Response Facility, which has now been activated to deal with the crisis.
  • £2.5 million of support for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to provide immediate medical and humanitarian assistance.
  • A further £500,000 that will ensure Kurdish and UN systems are able to coordinate and respond to humanitarian needs in the region.

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