Financial Security and Reducing Inequality in the Caribbean: Government Role — [Philip Davies in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:24 am on 8th March 2023.

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Photo of Fabian Hamilton Fabian Hamilton Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 10:24 am, 8th March 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your direction this morning, Mr Davies.

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend Clive Lewis for securing today’s rather timely debate, and for his powerful and impassioned speech. It gave us all a lot to think about. I knew that my hon. Friend had mixed heritage; I was not aware that he was part-Grenadian. We do not have a big Grenadian diaspora in Leeds, but we do have a large diaspora from St Kitts and Nevis, which I will elaborate on a little more shortly.

Our country has a long-standing and historic relationship with the Caribbean. Our friendship with our Caribbean partners and allies is rightly based on mutual respect, trust and shared values, which is especially true for those nations that are members of the Commonwealth. It is really important that we continue to nurture these relationships as Caribbean countries attempt to tackle the existential threats posed by climate change and widespread inequality, and it is vital that the UK plays its part through the United Nations and other international bodies to help ensure that people in the Caribbean can live prosperous lives, free from the threats of violence and poverty.

Of course, one of those bodies is the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and it is vital that Caribbean countries are able to engage with and work within the OECD to secure additional support for food security programmes, debt relief and other initiatives that seek to improve the lives of people living in the region.

As we know, much of the financial uncertainty in the Caribbean stems from the unfiltered flow of so-called “dirty” money into Caribbean countries’ financial systems, whether in the form of tax evasion, fraud or other financial misdemeanours, all of which undermine the economic stability of too many countries in the region. This has led to states such as Anguilla, the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and Trinidad and Tobago being severely limited following their inclusion on the European Union’s tax blacklist. I would be interested to hear from the Minister today how the UK is working with these countries to ensure that they are not centres for tax avoidance and other financial crimes, and how his Department is working with our European friends and allies on tackling fraud of this nature.

I turn now, as Patrick Grady did in his speech, to the crisis engulfing Haiti. As one of the poorest countries in the world and the poorest in the western world, as the hon. Member said, Haiti already faces a barrage of socioeconomic problems, alongside the threat posed by climate change. Labour supports the Haitian people in trying to restore political legitimacy to their country and in trying to bring the dreadful wave of gang violence and kidnappings to an end. There are over 200 gangs operating as the de facto authorities in Haiti, which is having a severe impact on the lives of all the Haitian people, as well as destroying their already significantly limited economic prospects.

As His Majesty’s official Opposition, we are willing to work with the Government to help to resolve these issues, which, at their heart, stem from vast inequality and financial insecurity. Alongside this, Haiti is currently facing a cholera outbreak, with the World Bank saying that this has led to high levels of infant and maternal mortality, with prevention measures stagnating or declining, especially for the poorest households. This outbreak has already claimed hundreds, if not thousands, of lives. Haiti is another country in the Caribbean that is having to suffer as a result of its tattered economy and political instability.

It is therefore vital that the United Kingdom supports free and fair elections in Haiti, so that its economy can begin to recover. Can the Minister say what plans he has to enhance the UK’s support to tackle criminal activities on Haiti through our contributions to the UN’s integrated office on the island? Working with our international partners and allies is the only way that this appalling situation will be resolved, particularly following the Haitian Government’s request for support from the international community, which must be considered properly at the UN Security Council. I hope that the Minister agrees and I would be very interested to hear his response to the Haitian Government’s request today.

We welcome the fact that the UK Government have joined our allies in the United States and Canada in imposing sanctions on the Haitian gang leader Jimmy Chérizier, after he was found to have committed acts that constituted serious human rights abuses. I think the Minister would agree that more must done, and quickly, to challenge those who threaten the peace and economic security of Haiti.

The situation in Haiti is extremely serious, and any further destabilisation would be catastrophic. Ninety-six per cent. of Haiti’s population is vulnerable to further earthquakes. As we have seen in Turkey and Syria recently, as well as in Haiti in the past, the financial implications for countries impacted by those natural disasters are horrific.

Daniel Kawczynski mentioned the rise of the Chinese Government in the Caribbean region. With a more aggressive Chinese Government, tackling financial security and chronic inequality in the Caribbean takes on a new geopolitical significance, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, for both us and our closest ally, the United States. As it is in many regions across the world, China is looking to expand its political influence in the Caribbean, owing to the extremely advantageous location of the islands.

For example, China has already offered Jamaica loans and expertise to build miles of new highways, and it has donated security equipment to military and police forces across the region. Those initiatives are clearly an attempt by China to gain influence and expand its footprint in the Caribbean through Government grants and loans, investments by Chinese companies, and diplomatic, cultural and security efforts. As the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham pointed out, China has done just that in Africa.

That Caribbean financial markets are generally small and there is a lack of raw materials in the region shows that China is keen to secure geographical strategic advantages, which could pose a direct threat to democracy and freedom in the Caribbean. Alongside the obvious moral reason, that is yet another reason why we must play our part on the international stage to secure a safer future for all the peoples of the Caribbean.

I am proud to represent Leeds North East, a constituency that prides itself on its rich diversity. We have a large Caribbean diaspora, and many of the families came to this country to contribute to the economy and to our local culture. As I mentioned earlier, that includes the large community of people of St Kitts and Nevis heritage—indeed, it is the largest diaspora outside the islands themselves.

Many years ago—before 1997, when I was elected as the Member of Parliament for Leeds North East—I was privileged to attend a meeting in the Leeds West Indian Centre. I was the only white person, and the only person not of St Kitts and Nevis heritage. The occasion was to hear a speech by the then Leader of the Opposition on the islands, Dr Denzil Douglas. If a politician could be combined with a hellfire preacher, that was embodied by Dr Douglas. He was absolutely brilliant and captured the attention of the 200 or so people there. He also wished me well as the Labour candidate for Leeds—we actually have eight MPs in Leeds, but he thought I was the candidate for Leeds. We kept in touch over the years. When he became Prime Minister, he made another visit to the United Kingdom, and he came to Leeds to meet the diaspora. Indeed, his sister was one of my constituents.

I feel a strong connection to St Kitts and Nevis—not least through my connection to the high commissioner, Dr Kevin Isaac, who is in the Public Gallery, but also through one of my closest friends, Arthur France MBE. Arthur France is of St Kitts and Nevis heritage, and he is proud of the islands he came from. He was the founder of the oldest West Indian carnival in the United Kingdom, the Leeds West Indian carnival. It is one year older than the Notting Hill carnival, and celebrated its 50th anniversary a few years ago.

More importantly, Arthur was very active on the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the United Kingdom earlier this century. He led the way, with people descended from all over the Caribbean but based in Leeds, to make sure that those in Leeds who were not from the Caribbean understood the important effect of slavery on those islands, and how they were trying to overcome the terrible catastrophe that had happened to the people of his heritage and background.

When I am out and about in the constituency, I am sometimes reminded that my constituency is made up of people of different heritage. We have a large Caribbean diaspora—I mentioned St Kitts and Nevis, and I should also mention the Jamaican and Barbadian peoples who make up the diaspora in my constituency—and we also have a big Jewish community. When I go to the West Indian centre, people say, “But you do not understand, Mr Hamilton, what it is like to be the child of an immigrant.” I say, “Well, I do, because my father was an immigrant.” They say, “But you are not black.” But that does not matter. As the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham pointed out, a person does not have to have different colour skin to be the child of an immigrant and to understand the trials and tribulations of being an immigrant to this country—especially when one’s first language, as in my father’s case, is not English. Indeed, today, I am going to the United Nations in Vienna, and I will do some further work to study my father’s background; he was born in Vienna, and his parents married there in 1921. That should be very interesting.

One of my closest friends, who is sadly no longer with us, was a man called Norris Pyke. Norris was from Nevis. He was terribly proud of the fact that he met my mother, who visited Leeds some years before her death, and I introduced the two. They could not have been from more different backgrounds and could not have been more different from each other, but they got on very well. Norris died of cancer about 15 years ago. His life’s ambition was to see a bridge built between St Kitts and Nevis. He never achieved it, but he never stopped talking about it. I will never forget Norris Pyke, whom I want to commemorate today, and the contribution that he made to the people of those islands.

We share a long history of friendship with Caribbean countries, particularly those in the Commonwealth. It would be morally, politically and economically wrong to abandon them as they face truly difficult economic circumstances and rising inequality.