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Overseas Territories (Legislation)

17. Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester): What action he has taken since the publication of his White Paper on overseas territories to prepare for the introduction of the legislation. [86590]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tony Lloyd): Action to prepare a brief for an overseas territories Bill is under way. It is proposed that the legislation will cover three areas: changes to relevant legislation to reflect the new title of United Kingdom overseas territories; the offer of British citizenship to British dependent territories citizens; and minor constitutional changes. We intend to place legislation before Parliament at the earliest opportunity possible.

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Mr. Russell: So far, so good. Does the Minister accept that the sense of betrayal in the overseas territories is the same today as it was 18 years ago when full British citizenship was withdrawn by the Conservative Government? While I welcome his proposals, he did not mention the time scale. Does he accept that unless the Government introduce early legislation, the sense of betrayal will continue?

Mr. Lloyd: I do not accept that the sense of betrayal is still there. In fact, throughout the overseas territories there has been a warm welcome for the Government's positive tone. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who has valiantly fought this case over more than a few months. There is no doubt that the people of the overseas territories know that the injustice that they felt is in the process of being lifted. They welcome that, and our commitment is that it will happen.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On the British Indian Ocean territory, can something be done to help those wretched people who were shoved off their archipelago to make way on Diego Garcia for the biggest American base outside the continental United States? With the welcome seminar on reefs to be held at the Foreign Office next week, can something be done to protect their fishing grounds?

Mr. Lloyd: As my hon. Friend knows, there is a long and complex history to the position of the former residents of Diego Garcia. It is not a straightforward question. The issue has been resolved, returned to and re-resolved. While we have considerable sympathy for the plight of individuals, in every case the families of those moved from Diego Garcia received a compensation package. The overwhelming majority are citizens of Mauritius and are therefore not in the same position as residents of the overseas territories, who will now benefit by being given full British citizenship.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): As I am chairman of the Falkland Islands group and an active member of the Gibraltar group, the Minister will appreciate my interest in the answer that he gave the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell). Will he assure me and the House that the people of the Falklands, Gibraltar and the other overseas territories will be treated fairly? Will the Minister assure me that the people of Gibraltar will be given the same rights as the people of the overseas territories of France, who are able to vote in the European elections?

Mr. Lloyd: The fundamental guarantee that the people of Gibraltar, the Falklands and all the overseas territories seek and have received is that sovereignty will not be transferred without their express and declared approval. The hon. Gentleman raises the question of the right of the citizens of Gibraltar to take part in the European elections. I think he knows that the British Government have worked and will continue to work hard to guarantee that they obtain precisely that right.

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European Union (Reform)

18. Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston): If he will make a statement on the plans to reform the decision-making process of the European Union. [86591]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Ms Joyce Quin): The Cologne European Council decided that an intergovernmental conference should begin early next year to prepare the Union's institutions for enlargement.

The conference will cover three main subjects--the size and composition of the Commission, the weighting of votes in the Council and the possible extension of qualified majority voting. The Government welcome this timetable. We want European institutions that are effective, efficient and able to face up to the challenges that enlargement will bring.

Ms Stuart: I thank the Minister for that answer. We should never forget that it was the previous Government who allowed the culture of mismanagement to fester in the European Commission. I welcome this Government's commitment to reform it. May I urge the Minister to focus not only on a clear agenda but on the speed of its implementation, which is equally vital in view of the imminent enlargement?

Ms Quin: I agree with my hon. Friend that speed is important in this exercise and that we must apply ourselves to it assiduously. It is 10 years now since the Berlin wall came down and countries in central and eastern Europe have made a great deal of progress. We want to be able to welcome them into membership or closer association with the European Union. It is very important to us to keep that role firmly in mind.

Mr. Archie Norman (Tunbridge Wells) rose--

Hon. Members: Hear, hear.

Mr. Norman: Thank you, Madam Speaker. Does the Minister agree that the principle of subsidiarity in European decision making can be safeguarded only if national Parliaments have adequate time to scrutinise legislation? Is she aware of the real disquiet around the fact that in the past year on no fewer than 23 occasions the six-week time window agreed under the Amsterdam treaty for scrutiny of legislation has not been observed to the full? Will she undertake with her European counterparts to ensure that in future the time window is more precisely defined and that it is properly observed for all European legislation?

Ms Quin: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment. Like me, he was perhaps wondering whether he would be able to get to the Dispatch Box this afternoon. We are pleased with the arrangements that we have introduced for scrutiny, which are recent. We hope and expect that they will work well. We know that sometimes the pace of European business means that decisions get speeded up, but the Government have in all cases provided full explanation. Far from being aware of disquiet, I am very much aware of the widespread welcome in both Houses for the way the Government are approaching the issue.

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MOX Shipments

19. Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): What representations have been made to him by Caribbean states over the proposed shipment of MOX fuel to Japan. [86592]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I am aware of the interest of the Caribbean states in this issue. While no specific representations have been made to me by Caribbean states over the proposed shipment of MOX fuel to Japan, I have received a letter from the high commissioner of the Bahamas on behalf of his Commonwealth Caribbean colleagues requesting a meeting to discuss the more general issue of the movement of nuclear material through the Caribbean sea. Arrangements are in hand to hold such a meeting.

Mr. Chaytor: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he accept that there is continuing concern about the safety, security and proliferation implications of the international transport of MOX fuel? Does he accept that that is partly because for many years the nuclear industry insisted that MOX fuel could not be chemically separated into its constituent element of uranium and plutonium, whereas many scientists challenged that view and pointed

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out that it was a fairly routine scientific process for any terrorist group that had access to a university chemistry laboratory?

Is my hon. Friend aware that in documents published within the past few days by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and relating to the Department's latest round of consultation on the Sellafield MOX plant, the possibility of separating plutonium from MOX fuel has been confirmed? Will he assure the House that he will keep the safety, security and proliferation aspects of the transport of MOX fuel under the closest scrutiny?

Mr. Hoon: I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. I realise that there is concern about safety. I assure him that the solid nature of MOX itself, the integrity of the cask in which it is transported and the safety features of the ships mean that there is no credible accident scenario in which radioactivity could be released. With the benefit of my general science grade 5 O-level, I shall not argue with him as to the technicalities of the extraction of plutonium. I accept that that is theoretically possible, but I assure him that I am instructed that it would require a complex and highly specialised piece of equipment, and plant and skills, to achieve it. A considerable degree of nuclear sophistication would need to be available before what my hon. Friend describes could happen.

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