Previous Section Index Home Page

There are other issues in relation to crime in the Caribbean. An issue of concern in the Caribbean, which of course looks different from a British perspective, is deportation and the continuing stream of people of Caribbean origin being deported back to the Caribbean. I am not saying that we should not do that. Those people are criminals and it is right that, having served their sentence, they should be deported. However, the Government should give some thought to the help and support that they could give law enforcement in the region when those deportees return,
20 Mar 2008 : Column 1141
often highly skilled and motivated from their time with the British criminal classes. Often the local police feel somewhat overwhelmed by such people. I am not suggesting that the Government should spend millions on resettlement, but there are practical measures that could be taken to support societies that sometimes find themselves overwhelmed by the stream of deportees.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): The hon. Lady has taken a considerable interest in women detainees at Yarl’s Wood in my constituency. As she says, some extra assistance and attention paid to the circumstances to which detainees sometimes return might encourage people who would otherwise be fearful of returning to do so. A little infrastructure would go a long way and might assist us with some of the problems in dealing with some of the fears that people have, which then result in their going through the long judicial review process and everything else. If we could think a little more about what happens when people return home, the process might be made easier to the benefit of all of us.

Ms Abbott: I entirely agree. A little infrastructure would go a long way to making it easier to return people and to get countries to accept deportees and would minimise the danger of those people ricocheting back to this country in all sorts of subterranean ways. I am not talking about vast sums of money or huge deployments of staff or persons, I am simply saying that a little infrastructure and support would be to our long-term benefit and to those countries’ long-term benefit in enabling them to reintegrate those people, or at the very least to keep an eye on them and to supervise them to ensure that they do not further destabilise what in some cases is a fragile society, and certainly do not just come back through some route or another because there is no system of scrutiny, supervision or support of any kind. What incentive is there for people not to exhaust every appeal process if they know that they will be deported and end up on the pavement with nothing at all for them or their family? I put this to Ministers because I know that what happens to people when they are deported is a matter of concern to Caribbean Governments and other Commonwealth Governments.

I wanted to say a little about climate change issues, which are of particular concern to the Caribbean, which has seen more and worse hurricanes in recent years than before, and which is particularly at risk from rising sea levels. Climate change poses a particular threat to the tourist industry, on which so many of these islands now rely as their traditional cash crops collapse, and whatever support the Government can give the region specifically on climate change issues, from the types of insurance that are available for the private sector to the type of technical expertise on which it can draw, will be important. Being a small island state in the 21st century is a vulnerable existence, not only economically because crops cannot be produced with the economies of scale of other countries, but because of climate change.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: The Association of Professional Engineers is a marvellous organisation based in Trinidad and founded by a good chum of mine, Mr. Bob Yorke, which has some of the world’s foremost experts on
20 Mar 2008 : Column 1142
buildings for earthquakes and managing tidal waves, all brought about by the concerns about climate change expressed so eloquently today by my hon. Friend. It is doing the best that it can to attract engineers from all over the world to bring their expertise to bear in the Caribbean to help in the future.

Ms Abbott: I thank my hon. Friend for her expertise, which, with that of the person whom she mentioned, is very valuable. The Government can also help in making resources available for countries to take the fullest advantage of such expertise and to train people up—a point made earlier about capacity building. There is a need to build capacity in the region around those skills. Climate change for this region among others is not just an issue for next year or the year after, but for generations to come. Yes, there is expertise, but some of the countries need the resources and structures necessary to take advantage of that, and there is a real need for capacity building right there in the region. We heard earlier about the need for engineers and other technically skilled people in Sierra Leone, but I suspect that even in London there are Sierra Leone-born engineers and technicians. We have to provide a structure in which people from that country who have come here, been trained and got skills have some incentive to go back and contribute as they all want to.

As I said, I am concerned that the Caribbean region appears to have dropped down the agenda; I am also worried that the Government’s correct concern about crime and the war on drugs seems to exist at a complete remove from their thinking about trade and economic development. We cannot fight a war against drugs in the Caribbean without paying close attention to what is happening in the economy and employment there and to the transition from traditional cash crops to a modern economy. Any war on drugs that does not take those things into account is doomed to fail. It is important to put that on the agenda.

I want to draw my remarks to a conclusion. As I said at the beginning, one cannot overstate the loyalty and love that the people in the Caribbean have for this country, and I think that that applies across the Commonwealth. The Government have made some important initiatives in respect of the Caribbean region. There is a Caribbean Board, for example, although sadly it appears to have lost its way in recent years; I know that the Minister attended a meeting recently. I would like the opportunity to talk to the Minister at a later date about the Caribbean Board and how it can be given support, because it could play an important role in linking with the Caribbean community in this country and in helping the Caribbean as a region.

As I said at the beginning, there are fewer MPs on both sides of the House with personal links to the Caribbean than there were in the ’70s and ’80s. As one of the three Members of Parliament with a direct link to the region, I could not let this debate pass without standing up and speaking up for the Caribbean. Once upon a time, the Caribbean was considered one of the jewels of the British empire; I consider it to be a jewel of the Commonwealth to this day.

3.22 pm

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), who spoke passionately
20 Mar 2008 : Column 1143
about the Caribbean. I have had the privilege of visiting the region on numerous occasions. Most recently, I was in the Cayman Islands, which are, of course, a British overseas territory; I believe that they were also once a colony of Jamaica, or closely linked to it.

The Caribbean is a part of the world with strong links to Britain. Every time I have been there, the people have shown enormous warmth to me as a visiting Member of Parliament and to Britain as a nation. I meet many people in my constituency whose origins are in the Caribbean. Many share so many of the same values: they are loyal to the Queen and the flag and are proud of being British, as the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington said.

It is important that we do not forget the Caribbean. It is the part of the world in which Britain has the highest concentration of remaining overseas territories—not only the Cayman Islands, but the wonderful island of Montserrat. I am proud to be the chairman of the all-party group on Montserrat, and we must not forget Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands. There are a lot of territories in the Caribbean for which we still have responsibility.

The hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) mentioned Bermuda. I am not sure that those islands would consider themselves as entirely Caribbean.

Ms Abbott indicated assent.

Andrew Rosindell: The hon. Lady and I agree on that. However, we should not forget Bermuda and all the overseas territories of the Crown.

I am delighted to have followed the hon. Lady and to have the opportunity to take part in this important debate. In the House of Commons, we debate so many things to do with international affairs. We spend an enormous amount of time talking about Europe and it is good that we are now spending a bit of time talking about countries with which we have close historical links and ties, and for so many different reasons.

The Commonwealth is born out of what our forebears achieved when they chose to sail around the globe to spread ideas, values, Christian beliefs and the English language, all of which made a huge impact on all the countries that were part of that British empire. I know that it is not politically correct to talk about the British empire, but I think that, of all the empires that have existed throughout history, ours gives us a lot to be proud of. We left good constitutional frameworks in many of those countries. We did a lot of good, as British people, and perhaps left a happier situation than was left by other countries that did not quite succeed in their colonial ambitions in the way that the United Kingdom did.

We have already had a debate about Welsh affairs for St. David’s day, and now we are having a debate about the Commonwealth. I hope, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you will take back the idea that on 23 April we should also have a debate about England for St. George’s day. This is an important opportunity to debate matters relating to the Commonwealth and the various parts of the United Kingdom, and I hope that we can do it on an annual basis.

20 Mar 2008 : Column 1144

The Commonwealth of nations is a proud organisation—enormously important and hugely diverse. I will not repeat much of what has already been said by colleagues on both sides of the House. I think that it is true to say that every one of us here today is strongly committed to the concept of the Commonwealth bringing everyone together—people of all backgrounds, all colours and all religions, from every continent in the world. The Commonwealth is developing. Most of its countries have very close links to Britain, but one or two other countries are now joining that do not have that same link. Mozambique is an example of a country that has chosen to join.

Last year, I was privileged to go to Madagascar as part of an Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation. That country has had some links to Britain, but for most of its colonial past it has been linked to France. The President of Madagascar has made it clear that he wants to move closer to and have much better relations with the United Kingdom and to promote English. The idea of joining the Commonwealth—I must admit that I fuelled that debate while I was there—met with huge support and great interest from everybody. I believe that the President would like that to happen. I hope that the Minister will take on board the appalling mistake that the Government made in closing the British embassy in Madagascar. At a time when that country desperately wants to develop closer relations and links with Britain, our Government shut down the British embassy—yet again, as a Labour Government have done that before. I hope that the Minister will decide to reopen that issue so that we can develop our links with Madagascar.

Systems of democracy, stability and freedom have been created in these countries on the basis of the constitution, Her Majesty the Queen, the monarchy and the Westminster model of democracy, which is slightly adapted and tweaked depending on the country concerned and which we are privileged to have as well. Most of the countries that have had British influence and are part of the Commonwealth—originally places that our forebears went to—have had a far greater chance of retaining, as they still do today, democratic values, stability, a constitution, the rule of law, and good education. There are all kinds of benefits to the people of those countries. As I said, we have a great deal to be proud of in what we have achieved.

Australia, New Zealand and Canada are three countries with which we have particularly close relations, but I also include India. Large numbers of people in this country are of Indian descent. I have many in my constituency; we have them in all our constituencies. What a great country that is, and what a country of the future it is. I am sure that the Minister agrees that it should be a priority in the next few decades that we work closely with India to develop our links in terms of trade and co-operation. Most people from India speak English and have close links to Britain, and we should work with that country as well.

Of course, 14 or 15 nations in the world today retain Her Majesty the Queen as head of state. The Commonwealth is diverse, but the countries that retain Her Majesty as head of state and continue with the British monarchy are the ones that we have the closest links to—a special relationship—and that should continue.

20 Mar 2008 : Column 1145

I commend the work in Parliament of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and of its secretariat—Andrew Tuggey and his team, who work in Westminster House. They do a great job and work hard to promote relations between the Parliaments of all the countries of the Commonwealth. I have been privileged to participate in a number of international delegations to Commonwealth countries, and to host Commonwealth parliamentarians in my constituency.

In fact, a group of Commonwealth parliamentarians visited me the Friday before last—I have their programme here. I was delighted to take them around Romford market and thrilled to show them our brand- new hospital and one of the local churches, St. Alban’s. We had representatives from Australia—the deputy speaker of the New South Wales Parliament—Jersey, New Zealand, the Turks and Caicos Islands and Montserrat, and an observer from Somaliland. What a great day that was, and how wonderful it was to bring parliamentarians from the Commonwealth to our constituencies. I hope that the next time there is a Commonwealth parliamentary delegation, those of us who have south-east London constituencies will invite them and give them an opportunity to see the work of British MPs on our home turf, as well as the work that we do in Parliament.

I am pleased to be involved in a number of all-party groups that do valuable work. I mentioned Montserrat, and as the Minister will know, I am the secretary of the all-party group on the Falkland Islands, and chairman of the Anglo-Manx all-party group on the Isle of Man. I am involved with the all-party groups on Gibraltar and the Channel Islands. All of those groups do great work in co-operating and fostering closer relations with our friends in those nations and territories. A lot of effort and finance is put into supporting the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association—which is wonderful—the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the American group, but we have special links with Australia and New Zealand. It is time that the all-party group on Australia and New Zealand—the Anzac group, of which I am secretary—was elevated. Perhaps there should be direct funding for work with Australia and New Zealand; it is so important that we strengthen our links with those two countries in particular. We spend a lot of time working with the United States, which is very important.

Andrew Mackinlay: That is funded.

Andrew Rosindell: It is funded, but the work that we do with Australia and New Zealand is not. Perhaps the Anzac group could be elevated, and the Foreign Office might like to consider that.

Hon. Members will remember my Adjournment debate of a year ago about relations with Australia and New Zealand. I passionately believe that among all the debates that we have about Europe and our future with the continent and our relations with the United States, it is a big mistake to forget the importance of countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada, with which we have the most in common. Of course we want to work with all Commonwealth countries on an equal footing, but no one can take away the fact that those
20 Mar 2008 : Column 1146
countries have special links with us because of ancestry. It was British people from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland who travelled to those countries and made them their home. Today, generations are descended from those British people, something which can never be taken away. There is a special link there, closer than the ones that we have with many other countries, perhaps.

I want to repeat some of the important things that have been said about the Government’s current proposals. Like many hon. Members here today—I refer in particular to my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford)—who spoke eloquently on this subject, I am deeply concerned about proposals to remove the ancestry route from Commonwealth subjects. I refer to the early-day motion tabled by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), which has now been signed by 51 Members. What the Government propose would be a bad mistake, and I hope that they will draw back from changing the rules. I think that that would send out a terrible signal to our dear friends in those countries.

The recent Home Office Green Paper, “The Path to Citizenship: Next Steps in Reforming the Immigration System”, suggests the removal of the ancestry route of entry for Commonwealth citizens with ancestral links to the UK who wish to migrate here. It says:

Hon. Members will understand when I say that I accept that the Government are only consulting at this stage, but I am fearful that the consultation may well prove to be similar to the current one on post office closures—and we all know that that consultation is a sham. I hope that the Minister will reassure me and others that the consultation is genuine and that if the majority are opposed to this change, the Government will not press ahead with it, but will leave well alone. I hope that we can all have that reassurance from the Minister later. Perhaps I am being uncharitable, but I suspect that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Home Office, if not the Government as a whole, may have predetermined a desired outcome—to remove the ancestry route. Let us hope that the Minister will tell us that that is not true.

I know that the Minister is aware of a number of concerns raised throughout the Commonwealth, particularly in Australia, New Zealand and, indeed, South Africa, about the proposed changes. As I have already said, I am secretary of the Anzac group, so I feel a particular affinity with those Commonwealth citizens who would have their historic right ripped away from them if the proposal were adopted. What a shameful decision that would be, especially when we consider that Australia and New Zealand lost so many of their people—they died for king and country—fighting for us, for the Commonwealth and for freedom in the second world war and the first world war. In that light, we should draw back from any changes, as altering the rules would be an appalling slap in the face. Once again, I hope that the Government will confirm that they will not press ahead with that idea.

20 Mar 2008 : Column 1147

Ms Abbott: I am moved by the fervour with which the hon. Gentleman addresses this subject. He will, of course, be aware that thousands of people from the Indian sub-continent also died in the first and second world wars and that many people from the Caribbean also volunteered to fight and die for this country.

Andrew Rosindell: I completely endorse that; we should remember those people as well. We have stood shoulder to shoulder with people in the Caribbean before and many such people still serve in the British forces today, as was mentioned earlier. I, the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington and all MPs—I know that the hon. Member for Thurrock agrees—are proud of all those Commonwealth citizens, whoever they are and whichever particular part of the Commonwealth they come from, who serve alongside British people and are prepared to sacrifice their lives in order to defend freedom and serve Her Majesty’s armed forces.

I have met the Labour Prime Minister of New Zealand, the right hon. Helen Clark, before and I met her again in January when she visited the House of Commons. She has promised to take up the case of thousands of New Zealanders who could lose their right to live and work in the UK if the ancestry visa were abolished. She said:

Next Section Index Home Page