Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Second Report


The organisation of Government responsibility for the Dependent Territories


  52. Primary responsibility for Dependent Territory matters rests with the Foreign Office. However, some matters, such as provision of aid, are the responsibility of other departments, such as the Department for International Development.[101] Baroness Symons told us that the transfer of the Department for International Development's responsibilities for Dependent Territories to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was being considered as part of the review. She also pointed out that interests were shared with other departments, such as the Department of Trade and Industry.

The Caribbean Regional Dependent Territories Secretariat

  53. The Caribbean Regional Dependent Territories Secretariat is based in Barbados. Although the Secretariat answers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, its responsibilities include the delivery of development aid to those Caribbean Dependent Territories which receive it. Mr Russell, of the Dependent Territories Association (DTA), and himself a former Governor of the Cayman Islands, was critical of the role of the Secretariat, describing it as an "administrative nightmare."[102] He added:

    "The triangular business raises a conceptual issue. An official writing from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to a governor or to people in dependencies writes under the fiction that it is the Secretary of State writing; he does it under the Secretary of State's name or a minister's name. That fiction is perfectly supportable when the letter is coming from London, but when it is coming from Barbados to governors it is less discernible and does not carry the same authority."

He considered that the role of the Secretariat should be examined in the course of the Review. Baroness Symons conceded that the machinery in relation to the Caribbean territories in general was "rather cumbersome" and told us that it is subject to review.[103]

  54. We agree that the role of the Caribbean Regional Dependent Territories Secretariat should be thoroughly examined in the course of the Dependent Territories Review. We understand that, as part of the streamlining of decision-making in relation to aid to Montserrat, it is no longer involved in these decisions.[104] We are glad to note that both the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development recognise the deficiencies in the present machinery. We recommend that consideration be given to the abolition of the Secretariat.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Organisation in London

  55. At present, the Dependent Territories are handled in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office by the appropriate geographical department. As a result, four Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers each have one or more Dependent Territories within their portfolios although the bulk of them fall within the Ministerial responsibilities of Baroness Symons. An alternative would be to bring all the Dependent Territories together under one Minister: there are, as we have already observed, a number of issues of common interest that might be more effectively handled by a single Minister.

  56. There are pros and cons of each approach. As Baroness Symons commented:[105]

        " must be acknowledged that when one looks at different dependent territories it is important that they are viewed in their geographical context. It is very difficult to divorce a dependent territory from its immediate geographical context and its relationship with neighbours over issues such as international crime, drug-running or whatever the issues are...."

Against this must be balanced the risk that, within a large geographical department, the special interests of Dependent Territories will be marginalised. In consequence, they may be liable to be subordinated, or perceived as liable to be subordinated, to broader policy interests. The Falkland Islands Legislative Council, though, is strongly opposed to one department for the Dependent Territories, which it feels would be dominated by Caribbean concerns.[106]

  57. Baroness Symons suggested keeping Dependent Territories as they are in their own geographical location under different Ministers, but ensuring that there is better coordination, both within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and across departments.[107] We prefer this option, subject to our recommendation in the following paragraph.

  58. Baroness Symons told us that, within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ministers meet and have discussions about some of the generic issues relating to Dependent Territories. There is, in our view, some parallel with relations with Commonwealth territories.[108] These are primarily handled in geographical departments, but there is policy co-ordination through the Commonwealth Co-ordination Department. We believe there is also a case for a similar specific department to co-ordinate Dependent Territories' matters. We therefore recommend the establishment within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of a Dependent Territories Co-ordination Department to act as a focus for matters of general interest relating to Dependent Territories.

Interdepartmental Co-ordination

  59. As Sir John Kerr's evidence to the Public Accounts Committee makes clear, a number of government departments have interests in different aspects of policy towards the Dependent Territories. Sir John was unable to offer the Public Accounts Committee an assurance that all risks had been properly weighed and properly covered. Baroness Symons, who chairs interdepartmental Dependent Territories Ministerial meetings,[109] commented that "Government departments jolly well have to work together."[110] We believe there is a need for strengthening of the inter-departmental co-ordinating arrangements. We recommend that changes to achieve this objective must emerge from the Review.

  60. The International Development Committee has drawn attention to future sources of aid funding for Montserrat and wider questions of the appropriate source of funds to meet the developmental needs of the Dependent Territories. That committee considered the United Kingdom's responsibilities to Dependent Territories citizens to be of "a greater and different order to our more general humanitarian responsibilities to the developing world and involve different priorities",[111] and concluded that responsibilities and resources should go together. Baroness Symons commented that "it is hard to see what department it should be if it is not the FCO."[112] This proposal raises a number of complex questions and we are therefore glad to note Baroness Symons' assurance that it will be considered in the course of the Review.

Parliamentary Access and Accountability

  61. Various witnesses argued that there is what amounts to a "democratic deficit" in the United Kingdom's relationship with Dependent Territories. The deficit exists both for the Dependent Territories elected representatives, who have no direct constitutional mechanism for making representations to Parliament, and Members of Parliament, who have no formal way of assessing the performance of the Governor or the local Administration. Despite a notional chain of accountability to Parliament, from the Governor through the Foreign Secretary, there is, in our view, insufficient access for Members of this House to examine the conduct and stewardship of either the Governor or the local Administration. It should be remembered that ultimately Westminster is the Parliament of all Dependent Territories, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are, in many respects, also their Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary and it is in London that their external relations, defence, and many other matters are decided. Although some territories undoubtedly have good and passionate advocates in both Houses, such advocates can only reflect the views of legislatures, not present them directly.

  62. We received a number of suggestions[113] for improving the arrangements for bringing the views of elected representatives of the Dependent Territories to the attention of Parliament. Direct representation and direct access to Parliament - two of the options suggested - raise a number of substantial constitutional questions on which we have taken little evidence. We do not therefore propose to offer an opinion on these at this stage. However, we consider that the matter of the democratic deficit is a serious one and we recommend that it should be a major issue for the Review.

Other matters

Representation in the United Kingdom

  63. Many Dependent Territories enjoy permanent representation in the United Kingdom through their own government offices,[114] enabling them to have a closer relationship with Whitehall and with Parliament. In cases where territories are unable to provide a permanent representative in the United Kingdom by reason of cost, we recommend that consideration be given to providing financial assistance to enable such representation to be set up, if the territory so wishes.

Environmental Matters

  64. We received evidence[115] from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds about aspects of the environmental importance of some of the Dependent Territories. St Helena also draws attention to the potential of its flora and fauna as a tourist attraction.[116] The RSPB drew attention to a number of apparent obstacles to effective wildlife conservation in these territories. We recommend that the Government give careful consideration in the context of the Review to ways in which wildlife conservation can be enhanced in all the Dependent Territories, inhabited and uninhabited.

101  Q129. Back

102  Q34. Back

103  Q126, 130. Back

104  HC 267 (1997-98), para. 47. Back

105  Q131. Back

106  Appendix 12, p. 70. Back

107  Q130-131. Back

108  Q131-132. Back

109  Q131. See also Ev. p. 2. Back

110  Q130. Back

111  HC 267 (1997-98), paras. 98-101. Back

112  Q129. Back

113  See, for example, Q55-57 and Appendix 12, p. 70. See also Q145 and 148. Back

114  For example the Cayman Islands, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar and St Helena. Back

115  Appendix 15, p. 76. Back

116  See Ev. p. 48 and the St Helena web-site: Back

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