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Baroness Benjamin (Liberal Democrat)

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to maintain and secure the United Kingdom's long-standing friendships with Caribbean nations.

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Lord Howell of Guildford (Conservative)

My Lords, the Government are committed to maintaining and strengthening our excellent relationship with the Caribbean. The Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary led a strong delegation of Ministers, senior officials and businessmen to the UK-Caribbean Ministerial Forum in Grenada in January. At that forum an action plan was agreed with the Caribbean nations that will benefit both the region and the United Kingdom. This plan focuses on security, economic resilience and sustainable development.

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Baroness Benjamin (Liberal Democrat)

I thank my noble friend for that encouraging Answer. However, I am sure he is aware that the Caribbean nations are feeling very vulnerable at the moment, partly due to the unfair air passenger duty and the crippling EU banana and sugar agreements. Also, an increase in drug trafficking is corrupting the area. Can my noble friend tell the House when the fine words that came out of the UK-Caribbean forum will be put into action to avoid Caribbean nations having perhaps to turn to untested friendships for support?

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Lord Howell of Guildford (Conservative)

I assure my noble friend that the decisions reached at the forum will lead to action. A new strategic partnership has been agreed with the forum and we have undertaken to engage the Caribbean nations before every G20 and OECD to see that their interests are at the fore. As my noble friend knows, there is a large DfID programme. We want to make the European economic partnership agreement really work and we will press our EU colleagues on that front. As for the APD issue, I agree that this is contentious and difficult. It was agreed at the forum to continue the dialogue on APD-related issues and we are open to further discussion. For the time being, it has been decided to retain the existing banding but, as I said, this matter is very much in our minds.

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Lord Tomlinson (Labour)

Is the noble Lord aware that this year is the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence? In view of the large number of Jamaicans forming a diaspora in this country, can he say whether Her Majesty's Government have any plans to celebrate that anniversary and what form it will take?

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Lord Howell of Guildford (Conservative)

This is obviously a celebration in which we wish to participate. To mark the Diamond Jubilee this year-which of course is not the same as the anniversary to which the noble Lord has referred-Prince Harry will visit Jamaica and the Earl and Countess of Wessex will visit a whole range of other islands in the Caribbean. I think that that is all I can tell the noble Lord about the matter at the moment but it is very much in our minds.

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Lord Boswell of Aynho (Conservative)

My Lords, does the Minister consider it important that there should be a continuing and visible Royal Navy presence in the area?

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Lord Howell of Guildford (Conservative)

Yes, we agree that there should be. A Royal Fleet Auxiliary Ship is there all the year round. It has a royal naval presence on it for six months of the year, and it has had some success. The noble Lord is absolutely right.

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Lord Harrison (Labour)

Will the Minister report on the levels of trade between the United Kingdom and the Caribbean and whether it is on an upward or a downward trend? Can he further report whether he has confidence in the Commonwealth Business Council to promote that trade?

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Lord Howell of Guildford (Conservative)

On the second point, we have both confidence and hope: the Commonwealth Business Council has gatherings in the Caribbean and is very much on an upward trend as an organisation. As the noble Lord will know, down at the Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, which was attended by most of the Caribbean nations, there was a vast concourse and an enormous deal-flow generated by the Commonwealth Business Council. So I think that it can certainly help. As for direct bilateral trade between this country and the Caribbean region, it is the biggest chunk of trade of the whole area, taken for Caricom as a whole. It is, I think, on a steady upward trend, and it is one that we certainly intend to encourage.

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Lord Phillips of Sudbury (Liberal Democrat)

Can my noble friend tell the House whether there are plans to renegotiate any of the tax arrangements between this country and those Caribbean countries that are tax havens?

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Lord Howell of Guildford (Conservative)

I cannot give a specific answer, but these matters are always under review.

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Lord Morris of Handsworth (Labour)

My Lords, I note the Minister's reply that Prince Harry intends to visit Jamaica as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations. Would it not be more economical if the newly elected Prime Minister of Jamaica, the right honourable Portia Simpson-Miller, were invited to visit the United Kingdom?

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Lord Howell of Guildford (Conservative)

The more exchange of invitations and the more visits on both sides-which would certainly be very welcome-the better. I cannot give a specific response to the noble Lord's suggestion, but the more we travel between our regions and the more we understand dialogue together the better the future will be for both the UK and the whole Caribbean region.