Previous Section Index Home Page

26 Jan 2010 : Column 228WH—continued

26 Jan 2010 : Column 229WH

The Minister will get the support of the House if he approaches the issue of the horn of Africa comprehensively and recognises that, even if resources are stretched, one of the most important areas is intelligence and intelligence gathering. I realise that the intelligence community is under enormous strain at the moment.

I congratulate my hon. Friend, who I know feels passionately about this subject, on securing and introducing this debate, which has led to contributions being provided from colleagues on an important matter.

12.13 pm

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Ivan Lewis): I congratulate the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) on securing this important debate, on his well-informed, passionate contribution and, more generally, on his thoughtful, important contribution across the foreign affairs canvas in the House. Not many new Members of Parliament specialise in foreign affairs and have that level of expertise and knowledge. The quality of debate is strengthened when the hon. Gentleman makes his contributions, which are usually based on a well-informed analysis, even if we will not necessarily agree on all the issues.

May I answer the first question posed by the hon. Gentleman, which was does the Horn of Africa matter? It matters significantly, in respect of stability in the international community, and in terms of direct United Kingdom national interest and the future of Africa as a continent. In every sense the horn of Africa matters. As the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) said, we have to be realistic about the complex nature of the challenges that we face. There is not one solution. There has to be a security and stability element to our response, a significant political response in terms of improved government and human rights and a well thought out, smart level of significant development support to tackle the problems of inequality and poverty. All of that has to be brought together in an integrated approach.

I want to talk a little about the background of the situation, give an update of the security situation, summarise our understanding of the extent and causes of the problem and then talk directly about the UK's response.

I will deal quickly with the Yemen question. It is important that we judge this week's meeting on Yemen by the decisions that are made, the quality of the participants and the follow-up to and implementation and delivery of whatever is agreed, not on the number of hours the meeting lasts. Too often at such international summits fine words are signed up to at the end of the process, but the test will be whether we are willing to ensure that there is a clear plan for delivery, implementation and milestones, and also roles and responsibilities for the different players that need to make their contributions.

The important thing to stress is that the Government of Yemen must be in the lead. It is not a failed state, but it is a fragile and vulnerable state, so the support the international community gives on security, effective government and development will be incredibly important. Let us judge the outcome of the meeting by the decisions that are made, the delivery and the implementation.

There is no doubt that the horn of Africa stands out because of the sheer prevalence and persistence of conflict at every level: within states, between proxies and, not that long ago, between armies. It poses severe
26 Jan 2010 : Column 230WH
threats to regional and international security. The drivers of conflict in the horn are longstanding and in many cases predate current country boundaries, a point we should be clear about. The end of the cold war brought seismic shifts in the region. Long-entrenched dictatorial regimes collapsed in Ethiopia and Somalia, and Eritrea and Somaliland declared themselves independent.

A region that had long been viewed as one of chronic conflict and poverty, and that had been the playground of cold war foreign policy, did at one stage offer new hope of popular, progressive and accountable government, but unfortunately that has not happened.

The situation, frankly, has deteriorated. The credentials of Ethiopia and Eritrea were tarnished when they went to war over the disputed borders, and in 1998 there were 100,000 fatalities. Their unresolved dispute continues to be an underlying cause of problems across the region, as hon. Members have mentioned. Somalia has never managed to establish state structures and effective government, with fragmentation, warlords, political Islam, as the hon. Member for The Wrekin made clear, and extremist networks gaining ground. Meanwhile, we all acknowledge the significant challenges that remain to the implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement in Sudan.

So what security threat do we believe the region poses? The analysis is clear. Al-Qaeda's allies and affiliates look to exploit ungoverned space and instability where they can, as the hon. Gentleman said, whether in the Sahel, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Iraq or Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the long-term instability in Somalia has resulted in an environment where both local violent extremists, and a small number of international extremist groups, have managed to gain traction and control over areas of territory. That control overlays a complex clan mix and a long history of insecurity. Terrorists and al-Qaeda, as has been said, are not interested in reality or the daily lives of the people of Somalia and offer nothing to improve their lives.

They are a threat to the well-being of Somalia and the wider region, and that has been evidenced by two recent bombings in Mogadishu: one was on 3 December, in which three Ministers and many civilians, including journalists and medical graduates, were killed; and only yesterday five people were killed in an al-Shabaab bombing in a civilian hospital in Mogadishu. I am sure that hon. Members will want to offer our deepest condolences to the Government and people of Somalia in the aftermath of those tragic attacks.

We are aware that al-Qaeda is present in Somalia, and it is vital to confront the challenge posed by its hateful ideology. Al-Shabaab is seen as the ally of al-Qaeda, but it also has its own agenda, which is focused on attacking the transitional federal Government and neighbouring countries. The UK and the TFG have had discussions on counter-terrorism, and we will work with both the TFG and other regional Governments to deny those groups safe haven.

As hon. Members have said, Somalia has also become known as the breeding ground for piracy in the gulf of Aden and Indian ocean. Piracy is a criminal enterprise, which results in great distress for the innocent crews and their families who are caught up in the hijacking, and the escalating ransom demands place an increasing
26 Jan 2010 : Column 231WH
burden on industry. Our thoughts go to Rachel and Paul Chandler, who continue to be held in Somalia. We call on the hostage takers to release them immediately.

As hon. Members said, we remain concerned about the situation on the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Mark Pritchard: Before the Minister moves on from piracy, will he agree that although we welcome the co-operation of the Government of Kenya in dealing with the legal issues over the pirates who are taken into custody, it would be particularly helpful if the Governments of Tanzania and the Seychelles would also participate in trying to bring forward a legal process?

Mr. Lewis: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. All those countries with the capacity to make a difference should come together and do the right thing. It is important to place it on record that such countries have responsibilities in that respect and should take the necessary action.

To my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North who raised the issue of the border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea, I have to say that there was arbitration. The Eritrea-Ethiopia boundary commission made a very clear decision on the border. Despite our friendship with Ethiopia and our tremendous admiration for the progress it has made, we continue to press it to implement the decision following arbitration. The matter will continue to be a running sore and a cause of much instability until it has done so. I say to the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) who asked the question that we continue to make the case for that recommendation to be implemented, because it is a root cause of the significant instability.

Returning to the situation in Sudan, hon. Members have said that the situation remains fragile and difficult. However, I must stress that the comprehensive peace agreement between north and south remains on track despite all of the difficulties. There is now one year until the referendum on self-determination in southern Sudan. Irrespective of the referendum outcome, work needs to be done on many issues, including oil revenue sharing, security arrangements and border demarcation. Levels of organised violence and fighting between Sudan armed forces and armed movements in Darfur have declined significantly compared with 2003 to 2005, but lawlessness and insecurity remain high. The causes and consequences have yet to be addressed.

The hon. Gentleman asked about helicopters, and I will be very specific about the position. Since its inception, we have contributed more than £100 million towards the United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur. We have lobbied extensively in the UN and with countries in the region on the provision of helicopters. As an update, I can say to the hon. Gentleman that Ethiopia is to provide five helicopters for UNAMID, which is a step forward, but we need further information on how they are to be deployed. None the less, we should welcome that as a significant step forward.

Mr. Davey: I am grateful to the Minister for that, but five Ethiopian helicopters is not a new development. They have been promised by the Ethiopians for more than a year. When I pushed the matter with the Foreign
26 Jan 2010 : Column 232WH
Secretary and raised it with the UN Secretary-General, that was not the solution, because the Ethiopian helicopters are not the ones that we need for the heavy lift. The only ones that have those capabilities and that are not in conflict zones are the Ukrainians, Russians and Czechs. It is a question of underwriting those deals so that the helicopters can go into this mission. I do not think that enough is being done.

Mr. Lewis: I will write to the hon. Gentleman if I have any further information to give him. The point about the deployment is that it will take place in February. If the hon. Gentleman does not feel that that is enough, I can find out if any other plans, commitments or discussions are taking place at the moment.

Turning back to some of the challenges, we all acknowledge that migration continues to be a problem both within the region and to Europe, with large numbers of internally displaced persons and refugees in the region itself. For example, the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya is temporary home to almost 300,000 Somali refugees, some of whom have been there since 1991. There are also high volumes of migration flows to the UK and wider Europe. In the first three quarters of last year, there were more than 2,000 applications for asylum from the region.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North said, it is important to mention that the vast majority of people who come to this country play a very positive role and make a positive contribution to their local communities. There is sometimes a danger that people from certain countries in the horn are demonised in the way we present them. We should always make the point that it is a small minority who are a difficulty and a problem. We have to be clear about the threat that they pose. The vast majority of people who have settled in this country from the horn of Africa make a positive contribution to their communities and the United Kingdom.

Jeremy Corbyn: I thank the Minister for that. His remarks are very helpful because the Somali community makes a huge contribution to ordinary life in London and other cities. We should pay tribute to them for that. On Somalia, does he envisage there will be any encouragement of the transitional Government to broaden their sphere of influence and their contact with other groups, so that they do not remain in the rather isolationist position they currently have?

Mr. Lewis: I think we are all aware-whether in relation to Somalia or Afghanistan-of the importance of reintegration and reconciliation with those with whom that objective can be achieved. In a situation where there is a history of conflict, bloodshed and mistrust, the more inclusive Governments can be, frankly, the better. I think my hon. Friend would agree that a line has to be drawn and that it is not appropriate to include some people in the political process, because they have an entirely different agenda or ideology. If such people were to become part of the political process, they would simply attempt to undermine it. However, there are other people who need to be brought in if there is to be long-term security and stability. A sophisticated and smart approach is required to do that and it must be led by people who understand what reconciliation and reintegration mean in the context of, in this case, Somalia.
26 Jan 2010 : Column 233WH
There is no doubt that people benefit from long-term security and stability if they have a Government who is as representative as possible.

I say to my hon. Friend that there is also the question of effective Government. In countries that are incredibly fragile and where there is a significant amount of stability, sometimes the first thing we must do is find a Government who have the capacity to begin a programme of reform in terms of governing that country effectively. Our relationship with the Government of Somalia is an important and positive one, but, of course, we hope that they will become more representative and inclusive over time.

I am running out of time, so I will quickly move on to Somalia. The African Union Mission to Somalia, which the hon. Member for The Wrekin mentioned, is supported by a UN logistics package and trust fund, as well as through bilateral support. We contributed £15.7 million last year to the support of AMISOM. Yesterday, the EU Foreign Affairs Council agreed to the next stage in the plan to launch an operation to train transitional federal government security forces in Uganda. That is a true example of the multiplier effect of international co-operation. The hon. Gentleman was also right to mention the positive contributions that Uganda and Burundi are making. The UN Political Office for Somalia works hard with other UN bodies and the international community based in Nairobi to ensure a co-ordinated approach to the situation. In her recent visit to Nairobi, Baroness Kinnock announced that we hope to welcome President Sharif to London soon, so we will be able to discuss directly with him the issues of security situation, governance and counter-terrorism.

We support the sanctions regime against Eritrea because we believe that country has consistently flouted international law, which is why we supported UN Security Council resolution 1907. However, that is not an alternative to engagement. Of course, we want to engage with Eritrea, as well as to insist that it does not behave in a way that undermines stability in the horn. It is very important to get that balance right. The same point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North in relation to Iran. We seek constantly to engage with Iran in a positive way, but the problem is that Iran shows no sign of engaging with the United Kingdom or the international community.

In conclusion, I believe this is a very-

Mr. Martin Caton (in the Chair): Order. We must move on to the next debate.

26 Jan 2010 : Column 234WH

Air Passenger Duty (Caribbean)

12.30 pm

Mr. Roger Godsiff (Birmingham, Sparkbrook and Small Heath) (Lab): I welcome the opportunity to have this short debate on a subject of great concern to members of the Afro-Caribbean community in my constituency.

Let me make it clear at the start that I am not challenging the concept of the air passenger duty, which is charged on all passenger flights from UK airports. In 2008, the Government consulted on proposals to replace air passenger duty with a per-plane tax and subsequently chose not to go down that road. I have no complaint about that or about the Treasury's decision to retain air passenger duty and add a greater number of distance bands. The reason why I am raising this issue is that the changes in the banding system impact unfairly on the Afro-Caribbean community, whose members began coming to the United Kingdom more than 50 years ago, but who retain strong links with their extended families in the Caribbean and regularly travel backward and forward to maintain those links.

I acknowledge that aviation could account for 21 per cent. of total UK greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and I totally support the Government's desire to address the problem as part of their commendable action to combat the effects of climate change. I am sure that the Minister will elaborate on that when she responds, but I repeat that I am not challenging the concept of air passenger duty or the way in which the Government chose to increase the number of distance-based bands. However, I cannot accept that it is fair or equitable for someone visiting family in one of the poor countries of the Caribbean to pay a higher rate of air passenger duty than someone visiting America, the richest country in the world, purely and simply because the capital of America, Washington, is on the east coast rather than the west coast of the USA.

The criterion on which the four new geographical bands are based is the distance from London to the capital city of the country to which somebody is travelling. That might appear sensible, but it depends solely on where the capital city is, even in a large country such as America. Washington is on the east coast of the USA, so the whole country falls into a lower band than the Caribbean countries. No account is taken of the fact that many states in the USA, such as California on the west coast, have larger GDPs than many Caribbean countries and are considerably richer. Furthermore, the criterion relating to the distance between London and the capital city of the destination country is not uniform throughout the world, and the Russian Federation is treated as two separate entities, one to the east and one to the west of the Urals.

Many Caribbean countries are extremely concerned about the impact that the inclusion of the whole Caribbean in band C could have on their tourist industries. Those industries are crucial to their economies, particularly when a competing destination- Honolulu in Hawaii-is in a lower band because Hawaii is part of the USA.

I am particularly concerned, however, about the effect that the new banding will have on the Afro-Caribbean community in my constituency and in the rest of the United Kingdom. The Afro-Caribbean community has
26 Jan 2010 : Column 235WH
been an integral part of the life of the United Kingdom since the first large-scale arrivals on these shores on the Windrush in 1948. Not long ago, we saw the 60th anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush, and the Government rightly recognised it and the continued contribution of the Afro-Caribbean community to the development of the United Kingdom.

Many of the first arrivals from the Caribbean started by working in poorly paid jobs in the public sector, and the Minister of Health in the Conservative Government of the 1950s actively encouraged young women from the Caribbean to come to the United Kingdom to take up nursing positions in the NHS. That they did, and it would be true to say that they have been crucial to the workings of the NHS ever since. The fact that the Minister of Health in question was a certain Mr. Enoch Powell, who subsequently became notorious for his "rivers of blood" speech in Birmingham in 1968, is one of the interesting contradictions of British history.

I make these points to emphasise the fact that the Afro-Caribbean community has played a huge part in the development of our society, and it continues to make a massive contribution. The Afro-Caribbean community, particularly the older generations, have a reputation for being law-abiding, religious and family-oriented. They travel regularly to and from the Caribbean in order to maintain contact with their extended families. Because the Caribbean is classified as band C, a family of four in my constituency who wish to travel to the Caribbean will pay £300 in air passenger duty for a return flight from November 2010. That is a lot of money for families living in my constituency, which has some of the largest pockets of deprivation in the country.

Even more bizarre, and it rightly angers the Afro-Caribbean community, is that other British families-such as David Beckham, his wife Posh and their three children, who are domiciled in California-can travel there from 1 November 2010 and pay the same £300 in air passenger duty as my constituent, his wife and their two children.

I accept entirely that the Government understand the problem. During a debate on the Finance Bill in 2009 the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, now the Minister for Pensions and the Ageing Society, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle), acknowledged that there were anomalies in the new four-band system. She said:

Next Section Index Home Page