Haiti - Private Notice Question

– in the House of Lords am 4:13 pm ar 12 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port:

Asked by Lord Griffiths of Burry Port

To ask His Majesty’s Government what support they are providing to CARICOM and the people of Haiti following the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry and the reported collapse in law and order in that country.

Photo of Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The UK is concerned about the worsening violence in Haiti and the impacts on the neighbouring Turks and Caicos Islands. We remain committed to supporting a Haitian-led political solution. We commend the efforts of partners across the Caribbean and beyond to support orderly political transition in Haiti. We urge all parties to move swiftly to bring much-needed security and stability for the people of Haiti and the region. We continue to support Haiti through our contributions to the United Nations agencies and the World Bank, and are committed to help secure the Turks and Caicos Islands, particularly their borders.

Photo of Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Llafur

I am most grateful for that reply, particularly the words “Haitian-led solution”. That has not been the case in just about every other initiative that has been attempted. Just how low Haiti has sunk can be illustrated by the report I just heard of the putrefying body of a patient in a hospital on a bed, alongside another bed where a patient who was very much alive was awaiting treatment. In just such a hospital, my two boys were born. I cannot bear to think of the kind of suffering that the people of Haiti are undergoing at this time.

I am very glad that there is a regional initiative coming from Caricom. I hope that His Majesty’s Government will feel able to contribute in a significant way to the discussions. The diplomatic skills necessary for a good outcome will be considerable. I believe that we have those skills in this country and that the United Kingdom, if it chooses to be involved, will find a great welcome from the Haitian leaders and people.

However, there are lessons to be learned and my question comes from those. I have in my hand an internal document from the United Nations: a cry session after 15 years of failure, in which 2,500 troops were deployed in Haiti to stabilise the country from 2004 to 2019. I will not do much more than read two sentences, if the House will oblige. I can see that I am being asked to wind up; it is the first time I have done this, and noble Lords will just have to be patient:

“The last 20 years of the international community’s presence in Haiti has amounted to one of the worst and clearest failures implemented and executed within the framework of any international cooperation … Instead, this failure has to do with 20 years of erratic political strategy by an international community that was not capable of facilitating the construction of a single institution with the capacity to address the problems facing Haitians. After 20 years, not a single institution is stronger than it was before. It was under this umbrella provided by the international community that the criminal gangs that today lay siege to the country fermented and germinated, even as the process of deinstitutionalization and political crisis that we see today grew and took shape”.

Will the noble Lord give me an assurance that His Majesty’s Government will learn from the mistakes that have been badly made? We are a country that provides money to the United Nations to do this work. Can he give me that assurance?

Photo of Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

I can certainly give the noble Lord the assurance that we should always try to learn the lessons of history, particularly when we are trying to help with fragile states. This is something I have spent some time trying to think about. I can tell him that we will be making a contribution to the multinational security mission to Haiti. It has principally been established by the United States, which will be providing $300 million. There should be over 1,000 troops, including from Kenya, to try to bring much-needed security. One of the lessons, although it is not the final answer, is that providing basic security will be fundamental.

I will be frank with the noble Lord and the House: Haiti is not where Britain has tried to lead. There are many countries and places that we feel we have either special knowledge of or a special relationship with, or existing partnerships. Haiti has always been somewhere we contribute—I think our contribution is £30 million per year through the international bodies—but it is not somewhere where we have chosen to lead. We have left that to the Canadians, Americans and others who have more expertise. The points the noble Lord makes are very good ones.

Photo of Lord Swire Lord Swire Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, the problem is that every time something awful happens in Haiti, we put a sticking plaster over it and the situation deteriorates. It is now completely lawless; there has been a complete breakdown in law and order. My noble friend the Foreign Secretary is absolutely right that this is not within the sphere of British interests, but he should not underestimate—I am sure he does not—the influence and good will we have in the wider Caribbean. Can he commit that, rather than just providing finance through organisations such as the UN, the United Kingdom will be prepared to play a role in a long-term solution for that benighted country?

Photo of Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

I know that my noble friend has considerable experience, having done this job in the Foreign Office for many years. We will certainly talk with colleagues and friends in Caricom about what they intend to do. Our priority should be to focus on the Turks and Caicos Islands; they are our responsibility as an overseas territory. We are looking to deploy a reconnaissance team there because of concerns about their borders and security. That should be our immediate focus while offering help, assistance and advice, as my noble friend suggests, to the people of Haiti and the Caricom nations that are coming together to try to help.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, 4,000 inmates have been freed from the prisons in Haiti by the gangs, with police stations being burned to the ground. Generally, there is complete anarchy. I welcome what the Foreign Secretary said about Secretary of State Blinken’s announcement of the $300 million programme to send a security mission. When is that mission likely to be sent? I also welcome what the noble Lord said about the United Nations agreement with Kenya to send 1,000 police offers. When are they likely to be sent to restore order in this urgent situation?

Photo of Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

I am afraid that I cannot give an update on exact timings. As the noble Lord knows, the UN has given backing through a Security Council resolution to the existence of this force, so it is not a UN force but it is UN-backed, which is important. I agree about the general point that it is so important for it to be able to do its work. People who follow these things use what I think is the rather odd phrase that the state has to have a monopoly on violence, but it is true: we cannot possibly have development, progress and success when there are quite so many different armed groups in charge of different parts of that country.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Kenyan judges have indicated that the deployment of the Kenyan police forces would be illegal under Kenyan law unless there was a reciprocal agreement with the Haitian authorities. That is why the former Prime Minister of Haiti was in Nairobi. Now there is no vehicle by which to have this authorised by the Kenyan Government. What is the Foreign Secretary’s assessment about the capability of having those forces deployed, since there will be no functioning Government of Haiti with whom to have a reciprocal agreement? Given that there have been no elections for eight years, no functioning Parliament, no functioning judiciary and the warning signs last week of the violent gangs, Haiti is potentially slipping towards becoming a failed state. What technical support are we providing to those who may provide security assistance?

Photo of Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The noble Lord is certainly right that the failure to hold elections is one of the contributing factors to the chaos that we now see. After the assassination of the former President, the fact that elections were not held was clearly one of the aggravating factors. The role of the Kenyan forces is a matter for Kenya to decide. I think that, with the United States providing $300 million and the backing of the UN Security Council, it will be possible to put together a mission. As I said, it is not something that Britain will contribute to in terms of personnel, but we are happy to make a small financial contribution.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, the dramatic escalation of violence has had a severe impact on the humanitarian situation, particularly the food security of millions of Haitians. Last year, I discussed the dire situation that existed then because of the violence with the World Food Programme’s country director for Haiti, Jean-Martin Bauer. What steps will we take to respond to the WFP’s warning of a potential hunger catastrophe in Haiti, and are we supporting assistance to ensure unimpeded humanitarian access and the free flow of food commodities into Haiti?

Photo of Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The reassurance I can give to the noble Lord is that whenever the World Food Programme or any of the other operations in the United Nations come forward with a call for support, the United Kingdom always steps up; we are a funder of their programmes. As I said, although we do not have a bilateral aid programme with Haiti, our annual contribution is some £30 million, when we add up what we do through the various UN bodies. It sounds as if the problem will be not so much the availability of food but the lawlessness and lack of safety, so the security aspect has to come first.

Photo of Lord Bellingham Lord Bellingham Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, this is obviously a horrendous humanitarian crisis. I agree with the shadow Minister’s assessment of it and the need for the UK to do what we can to help to abate it. However, as the Foreign Secretary said, our principal responsibility lies with the Turks and Caicos Islands. Will he look back on the lessons to be learned from the 2010 earthquake, which triggered at least 2,500 refugees coming from Haiti to the TCI? Many of them arrived illegally. Although the Foreign Secretary will obviously put an emphasis on trying to help the TCI with security and its borders, some refugees will need help on the ground. Can he tell the House exactly what he will be doing, in working with the Government of the TCI, to help with that problem?

Photo of Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

What I can promise my noble friend is that we will work very closely with the Turks and Caicos Islands Government. As he knows, we are currently funding police officers there and helping with border security. As I said, we will send this reconnaissance mission to help them with their border security. If there are additional burdens and needs, I am sure that we will entertain them. My colleague, Minister Rutley, who has worked very hard at all the Caricom relations, will be leading on this issue.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

My Lords, we have not had many questions. If I may say so, the Labour Party has had two questions, one of them one of the longest I have heard in this House, and I think we should hear from the noble Baroness.

Photo of Baroness Hoey Baroness Hoey Non-affiliated

My Lords, does the Foreign Secretary agree that there is sometimes a limit to what His Majesty’s Government can do in different countries in turmoil—and there are many such countries all around the world—that actually we have to have priorities, and that other countries should be doing more, such as France? Does he agree that although we give diplomatic support, we should be very careful about tying ourselves up with putting lots and lots of extra money into a country such as Haiti?

Photo of Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The noble Baroness makes a very good point; as they say, if everything is a priority then nothing is a priority. We should be frank, as I was in my answer to the noble Lord who asked the Question, about our capabilities here. We have a mission, but it is based inside the Canadian mission, and Canada has taken one of the leading roles in helping Haiti over the years. We have two country-based staff who are currently working from home rather than in that mission, because of the dangers in Haiti, and the other staff that we have work out of the Dominican Republic. We should be clear that in some countries we have a scale whereby we are able to act and scale up quite rapidly, but that is not the case in Haiti.

Photo of Lord Cashman Lord Cashman Non-affiliated

My Lords, it was a pleasure to give way to the noble Baroness. I refer to my entry in the register of interests, in particular as a member of the Haiti APPG. The problems in Haiti have been going on for a number of years. The UN estimates that nearly 400,000 people have been displaced internally since 2021, half of them children. Therefore, does the Foreign Secretary agree that the external imposition of solutions has failed, and that we must use our influence within the region to ensure that the solutions to these problems come from within Haiti and the Caribbean?

Photo of Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The noble Lord speaks with considerable expertise, as he sits on the APPG. If you look at any of the situations where we have tried to help to stabilise a country, after the first requirement of security, which is clearly the priority now, all the evidence shows that unless you can build a Government who have the support of all the different parts of the country—it may well be a provisional Government to start with—very often you are sunk right from the start. We can look at examples from Afghanistan to Yemen, Libya and elsewhere, where the need for an inclusive political settlement that is designed in that country by the people of that country is absolutely crucial.

Photo of Viscount Waverley Viscount Waverley Crossbench

My Lords, a country that shares a border with Haiti is the Dominican Republic, which has a record of sending back into Haiti the refugees that came from there. Is the Secretary of State minded not to forget the Dominican Republic, because it is very much in play and not often remembered in this place?

Photo of Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Foreign Secretary, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

I am sure that it will have an important role in advising Caricom countries, and the Canadians and Americans who are taking the lead in this operation, about what needs to be done to try to bring some stability and security to this very bad situation.