Caribbean MPs pushing APD campaign even harder

| February 2, 2014

Caribbean news. The Air Passenger Duty (APD) is an excise  duty or tax  introduced by a Labour Government in 1994. In spite of the government’s claim that the tax was intended to be a “green” tax to tackle  issues of pollution caused by flying, it is clear this unfair tax is purely for revenue generation purposes earning the government some £3 billion over the last fiscal period 2012 to 2013.

This APD issue has haunted the Caribbean that now experience reduced tourism and Diaspora travel due to the airfares that can be described in no other way than, ‘prohibitive’.
CaribDirect

(L-R) Gilmour Smith, Diaspora Air Passenger Duty committee Chair: Diane Abbott MP
Luke Pollard, ABTA Dave Hodges, Parliamentary and External Affairs Manager Virgin Airlines. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

Caribbean Governments, for many years, have been working through their Caribbean High Commissioners in the UK to lobby an ‘uninterested and unsympathetic’ British government to lower the charge for flights to the Caribbean.
In recognition of the continued destruction of Caribbean economies reliant on tourism and the gross inconvenience suffered by Caribbean nationals accustomed to traveling home without financial difficulty, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington Diane Abbott organised a public panel discussion to address this matter.

On Wednesday 29 January 2014 Diane Abbott who also heads up the All Party Parliamentary Group on the British Caribbean conducted a vibrant discussion at the House of Commons.

The panel discussion which was aimed at stepping up the campaign against the iniquitous air passenger duty on flights to the Caribbean was chaired by Diane Abbott herself and supported by speakers Gilmour SmithDiaspora Air Passenger Duty committee; Luke PollardABTA; and Dave Hodges, Parliamentary and External Affairs Manager Virgin Airlines.

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(L-R) Gilmour Smith, Diaspora Air Passenger Duty committee Chair: Diane Abbott MP
Luke Pollard, ABTA
Dave Hodges, Parliamentary and External Affairs Manager Virgin Airlines. Photo courtesy CaribDirect

Notwithstanding the horrible weather and surviving the usual stringent House of Commons security the meeting started promptly at 6pm with a full house. Caribbean High Commissioners were represented by H.E Mr. Garvin Nicholas, High Commissioner for Trinidad and Tobago and H.E Mr. Joslyn Whiteman High Commissioner for Grenada Carriacou and Petit Martinique.

Fellow MPs David Lammy representing Tottenham and Baroness Rosalind Howells OBE of St David’s were also at hand to comment on and respond to points needing clarification.

The ABTA representative, Luke Pollard was very clear in his observation of the travel patterns of Caribbean nationals having shifted from entire families traveling back to the Caribbean to attend special functions such as weddings and funerals; to a family member being selected to represent the family due to affordability issues.

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H.E. Mr Joslyn Whiteman High Commissioner for Grenada Carriacou Petit Martinique making a point.

He also pointed out that the APD has, in effect, reduced bucket and spade travellers to the Caribbean from Britain, traditionally bigger spenders, while Americans and Canadians are increasing their trips to the region. He proclaimed that the APD is ‘bad for business’ and that the British government is naive to not recognise that.

He made the interesting point that bitter rivals, British Airways and Virgin Airlines are sitting at the same table working on initiatives to continue to provide a much needed service to the Caribbean while trying to convince the government of the merit of abandoning the APD altogether.

Luke reiterated the need for Caribbean nationals to lobby their MPs, particularly as there’s a general election next year and they need our vote. He also invited attendees to support the Fair Tax On Flying campaign here http://www.afairtaxonflying.org/.

High Commissioner for Trinidad and Tobago, Garvin Nicholas took to his feet and briefly pointed out his government and High Commission’s support for the APD campaign which has, in part, given rise to the Diaspora Air Passenger Duty committee, chaired by Gilmore Smith.

He pointed out that his is an unrelenting exercise to keep the pressure on the British government to ensure Trinbagonians and Caribbean nationals in the Diaspora can travel home without hindrance. To this end the High Commissioner informed the gathering that he and his High Commission colleagues pressured the organisers of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Shri Lanka to place the Air Passenger Duty Tax on the agenda; a decision that was not graciously welcomed.

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Baroness Rosalind Howells OBE of St David’s making a point

Nonetheless their bold action has enlisted the support of many African nations, New Zealand, Australia and to a lesser extent Latin and South America. He made the interesting point proffered by the St Lucia Foreign Minister, that Britain believes she has the right to charge people for flying into another sovereign state’s airspace. This High Commissioner Nicholas, a qualified lawyer himself, said is a matter that has legal implications that the affected countries may wish to consider.

David Lammy in his summation of the whole APD debacle stated Caribbean governments need to be ‘militant’ about this issue as clearly diplomacy, in the traditional sense has yielded nothing. He suggests a new approach that will demand attention and provide tangible out comes.

Sylbourne Sydial, director of Facilitators For  A Better Jamaica (FFBJ) drove home the notion that there is strong community interest in seeing the fares go down and baggage allowance increase. His new campaign has netted15,000 signatures from around the country in just three months.

So effective has been his campaign that the FFBJ met with executives of Virgin Airlines on 28th January 2014, the day before this panel discussion.

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Jamaica National executive, Paulette Simpson making a point to panel

As is customary much was said by many but the main outcomes were as follows:

1. The UK Caribbean community must truly recognise and believe the value of their vote and the potential that vote has to severely crippling the life of the Air Passenger Duty tax;

2. There should be a unified effort to the campaign and not have disparate organisations and or individuals pushing variations of the same agenda for re-banding or abolition;

3. The youth need to be involved in this effort given their adept knowledge of and proficiency in the use of myriad social media platforms.  The leaders of tomorrow ought to have some understanding of the APD and measured influence on the decisions made about it today.

Diane Abbott closed the evening’s session by calling on the community to take heed to the many proposals presented and to demonstrate our appreciation of the APD issue by ‘attacking our MP’ as suggested by APD Committee chair, Gilmour Smith, not physically but with emails and more appropriately, post cards which cannot be ignored.

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