Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office


  1.  This Memorandum is in response to the request from the Foreign Affairs Committee for written evidence covering the background to and purpose of the British Overseas Territories Bill, and how the Government is pursuing or intends to pursue non-citizenship aspects arising from the review of the overseas territories set out in the 1999 White Paper "Partnership for Progress and Prosperity: Britain and the Overseas Territories" (Cm 4264).


  2.  The results of a review of the relationship with the overseas territories were reported to Parliament in the 1999 White Paper. Consultations had revealed a wish among the people of the Overseas Territories to hold British citizenship and the rights flowing from it, in particular the right of abode in the United Kingdom. There was a sense of grievance that these rights had been lost as a result of legislation enacted in the 1960s and 1970s, with immigration controls imposed on people having only British Dependent Territories citizenship.

  3.  The Government had examined how to address these concerns and had concluded that British citizenship, with the right of abode in the UK, should be granted to British Dependent Territories citizens who did not already enjoy it and wished to do so. Those not wishing to take up British citizenship would be able to renounce it and retain their existing British Dependent Territory citizenship. This commitment was set out in the White Paper, subject to certain exceptions. The White Paper envisaged that those whose British Dependent Territory citizenship arose from a connection with the Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus or the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) would be excluded from the offer of British citizenship. But following a High Court ruling in November 2000, the Government decided to include British Dependent Territory citizens connected with BIOT in the citizenship offer.

  4.  The White Paper consultations also revealed a widespread view that it was inappropriate in the modern era to continue to refer to the territories as "Dependent Territories". The Government and the territories wished to develop their relationship as a partnership, with mutual responsibilities. In the White Paper, therefore, the Government announced that the "British Dependent Territories" would in future be known as "British Overseas Territories". That name is now in common usage but there remains a need to update references to the "Dependent Territories" in legislation.


  5.  The purpose of the British Overseas Territories Bill is therefore:

    (i)  To effect the change of description from "British Dependent Territories" to "British overseas territories" and "British Dependent Territories citizenship/citizen" to "British overseas territories citizenship/citizen".

    (ii)  To confer British citizenship on all holders of British overseas territories citizenship from qualifying territories.

  6.  The first purpose is covered in Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill. These Clauses change the relevant references in the British Nationality Act 1981; introduce the term "British overseas territory" into the Interpretation Act 1978, so that it can be conveniently used in future legislation; and state that references to the old names in any other existing legislation are to be read as the new.

  7.  The citizenship provisions of the Bill are covered by Clauses 3 to 5 and Schedule 1. The Bill provides for British citizenship to be conferred on all existing British overseas territories citizens (as renamed) automatically on commencement. It also enables those who become British overseas territories citizens after commencement of the legislation to acquire British citizenship by registration. Finally, it makes the necessary amendments to the 1981 British Nationality Act to enable the future acquisition of British citizenship by virtue of a personal or ancestral connection with the Overseas Territories. Exceptions from these provisions are persons whose British overseas territories citizenship derives solely from a connection with the Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus.

  8.  Clause 6 and Schedule 2 of the Bill repeal provisions of the British Nationality Act 1981 and the British Nationality (Falkland Islands) Act 1983 which are overtaken by the provision of the Overseas Territories Bill.

  9.  The provisions relating to citizenship (Clauses 3 to 5, Schedule 1 and the related repeals) will come into force on a day to be appointed by the Secretary of State, by Order made by Statutory Instrument. This is in order to ensure that the practical arrangements for implementation, such as arrangements for issuing British citizens' passports to those who wish to take up their right to hold one, are all in place before commencement. The non-citizenship provisions (the changes to nomenclature referred to in paragraph 6(I) above) will come into force on Royal Assent.



  10.  The Government is committed to the principle of developing a modern relationship with the overseas territories based on a more collaborative partnership. The foundations have been laid through changes in structures, practices and attitudes. Progress has been made but much remains to be done. There remains a perception in the Overseas Territories, which needs to be addressed, that the balance in the partnership may be too heavily weighted in the Government's favour.

  11.  Many of the recommendations made by the Committee in its Interim Report of January 1998 on the review of the Overseas Territories have been implemented. Responsibility for the Overseas Territories has been unified in the FCO and a Minister for the Overseas Territories designated. A structured political dialogue has been established, with annual meetings of UK Ministers and Territories' Chief Ministers and their equivalents at the Overseas Territories Consultative Council. The third such Council was held from 24-26 September 2001.

  12.  In the spirit of strengthening the co-operation between the United Kingdom and the Overseas Territories, and between the Territories themselves, the Government has encouraged and facilitated regular meetings between specialist personnel from the Territories' administrations and their equivalents in the UK. For example, annual conferences have been held between Attorneys General, Financial Secretaries, Police Commissioners and Prison Governors, which have been useful opportunities for tackling common problems and spreading good practice.

  13.  The Government takes seriously the need to ensure that Governors carry out their difficult and sensitive role in representing the Government's interests in the Territories and the interests of the Territories in London and externally. The FCO will continue to take the greatest care to ensure the suitability of Governors to the territories to which they are appointed and to support the development of close working relationships between Governors and the Territories' administrations. At the Overseas Territories Consultative Council in September, Chief Ministers argued for greater Overseas Territories involvement in the selection and appointment of Governors. The Government agreed to consider this again.

  14.  The Government also recognised the need to improve the structures underpinning its own co-ordination and management of Overseas Territories business. Annual Governors' Conferences have been established to review and co-ordinate business at official level between the territories and spread best practice. And, as foreshadowed in the Government's Response to the Committee's Interim Report, dedicated Overseas Territories Departments were established in the FCO and in DFID in July 1998, which have improved inter-Departmental co-ordination on Overseas Territories business.

Constitutional Reform

  15.  As recommended in the Committee's Interim Report, the Government has encouraged the territories to review their constitutions with the assistance of UK Government experts. The reviews take full account of the Government's obligations to uphold the rule of law and the principles of good government, and to ensure that legislation and practice in the Overseas Territories complies with the United Kingdom's international obligations in areas such as financial regulation and human rights. Reviews are now underway in Anguilla, the Cayman Islands, the Falklands Islands, Gibraltar and St Helena, and are in preparation in Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands. The British Virgin Islands are working to consolidate earlier constitutional reviews. Future reviews will be undertaken as and when circumstances in the territories permit, and when the territories express a wish to see constitutional change.


  16.  Observance of human rights has also been promoted through the abolition of capital punishment by all the Territories for all crimes. Judicial corporal punishment has also been abolished throughout the Overseas Territories. Legislation to decriminalise private consensual homosexual acts was enforced by Order in Council. A debate on domestic violence and abuse has been opened up in several territories.

  17.  The Government continues to work for improvements in the observance of human, civil and political rights throughout the Overseas Territories. An FCO/DFID group has been established to identify strategies to help the territories to meet their human rights commitments and to assist in training development, policy formulation and reporting regimes. Two major programmes of work have been commissioned. National Childrens' Homes (NCH) Caribbean, in collaboration with UNICEF and the Eastern Caribbean Court, are working with the local governments of the Eastern Caribbean Territories and TCI to help revise legislation and services for the protection of families and children. A second programme covering all the Overseas Territories has been commissioned to assist territories in raising human rights awareness throughout the community and to identify priority areas for action and help strengthen civil society to take these forward.

  18.  Recognising the value of independent and competent media in maintaining human rights, the Government has supported the establishment of an independent media trust for St Helena, and has supported the training of media personnel and the establishment of independent media in other Territories.


Financial Regulation

  19.  Steps have been taken to ensure that the Overseas Territories with significant financial sectors meet international standards and good practice with respect to financial regulation, money laundering and international co-operation. The 1999 Overseas Territories White Paper recommended a view of financial regulation in the Caribbean Overseas Territories and Bermuda. The review was commissioned and funded jointly by the United Kingdom and the Territories themselves, and was completed in October 2000.

  20.  The review identified three priority areas for action: the establishment of independent regulatory authorities, comprehensive anti-money laundering systems, and measures to enhance international regulatory co-operation (compulsory powers). The Overseas Territories are now engaged in implementing the recommendations all of which are to be put in place soon on the basis of plans submitted in February 2001. Regular meetings with Overseas Territories Financial Regulators have taken place over the last year. A further meeting is schedule for October 2001 to assess progress on the priority areas and other recommendations that remain to be addressed.


  21.  As outlined in the Overseas Territories White Paper, the Government is committed to ensure sound financial practice and prudent borrowing policies in the Overseas Territories. Guidelines setting out the criteria for approving borrowing were circulated to the Overseas Territories in 1999 and measures are in hand to agree overall borrowing levels with each territory.


  22.  A number of international tax initiatives affecting the Overseas Territories, particularly those with significant financial sectors, are in train, designed to prevent cross-border tax evasion and harmful tax practices, and to promote transparency and exchange of information. The United Kingdom ensures that the Overseas Territories are kept informed and consulted, on discussions in multilateral organisations such as the OECD and the EU. The Overseas Territories have been encouraged to co-operate fully with such initiatives.


  23.  Drug related crime is relatively low in the Overseas Territories. The main threat involves the transhipment of drugs by air and sea through the Caribbean to the US and Europe. The Government has been working to deliver practical help to strengthen the capacity of Overseas Territories' law enforcement authorities. The Overseas Territories Good Government Fund (GGF) provides over £2 million of direct assistance (eg training, equipment, advice and personnel).

  24.  The FCO has funded and set up a secure regional criminal intelligence system for the Caribbean Overseas Territories to enhance intelligence and information sharing on drugs and other policing matters. The FCO supports the police air wings in the Turks and Caicos Islands and the British Virgins Islands. An FCO-funded regional Drugs Law Enforcement Adviser was appointed in early 2000. Based in Miami, his role is to support local law enforcement agencies, through the preparation of national drugs strategies and training plans, the development of multi-agency counter-drugs units with modern equipment, and improvements to improving regional co-operation. Training is also being provided by the British Military Advisory and Training Team (BMATT) based in Antigua. Joint UK/European Commission funding has enabled personnel from the Caribbean Overseas Territories to receive drug investigator training.

  25.  The FCO also funds the Miami-based White Collar Crime Investigation Team (WCCIT), staffed by FBI and British police officers, a joint UK-US initiative to tackle financial crime, especially fraud, and to facilitate investigations with a connection to the Overseas Territories.


  26.  Only two territories—Montserrat and St Helena—cannot match revenue with expenditure and so continue to need budgetary aid. DFID has continued to provide considerable support to them. For both, the focus is on increasing self-sufficiency and developing the territories' capacity to take greater responsibility for managing their own affairs and finance.

  27.  DFID plans to spend £24.4 million in Montserrat in 2001-02 and a further £47.6 million until 2005-06 which will take the Government's financial commitment to Montserrat since the onset of the volcanic crisis beyond £200 million. Much of the money has been used primarily to develop an infrastructure in the previously undeveloped north of the island. There have been major projects on roads, water, electricity, housing, schools, a hospital, police and volcano monitoring. The focus is now moving away from infrastructure and towards building capacity within the local government to deliver effective and efficient public services. However, major new investments in an airstrip and further housing development are anticipated.

  28.  DFID is providing £29 million of development assistance to St Helena from 2000-01 to 2002-03. Funding covers technical assistance (including funding for a number of specialist personnel such as the Chief Secretary, Financial Secretary, Attorney General, Public Solicitor, teachers and others); project aid (covering additional electricity generation capacity, water development and waste disposal, as well as the development of an elderly care policy); and budgetary aid, including an annual subsidy for the cost of operating the RMS St Helena. DFID remains committed to meeting the lowest capital cost option for maintaining access to St Helena. The options are a new ship or an airport, with the latter currently favoured by the St Helena government. DFID also provides small amounts of development assistance to Tristan de Cunha.

  29.  DFID financial support for activities in other Overseas Territories is gradually reducing as their capacity increases to fend for themselves: but technical assistance programmes totalling some £7.25 million in FY 2001-02 are still providing valuable development support for Anguilla, the Turks and Caicos Islands and regionally among the poorer Caribbean Overseas Territories. The FCO provides support from its Good Governance Fund (GGF) for the Overseas Territories (£3.2 million annually), from a newly-created Economic Diversification Fund (£1.5 million over three years) and from the Environment Fund for the Overseas Territories (see below). The Economic Diversification Fund is designed to assist the Overseas Territories to exploit regional and global trade opportunities in a sustainable way. Particular focus in on small businesses and entrepreneurs seeking seed-corn funding, or improving the business environment in the Overseas Territories (eg through the provision of assistance with telecommunications liberalisation) or assistance with government economic planning and development. The Fund was launched in 2001 and assistance has already been provided to or is planned in Anguilla, Turks and Caicos and St Helena. An FCO-funded study into the feasibility of settlement in the outer islands of BIOT continues.

  30.  The conferral of British citizenship through the Overseas Territories Bill, and with it the right of abode and removal of immigration restrictions, will also improve access to education, training and work experience in the United Kingdom and other countries of the European Union. This should also help to boost the economic and social development of the territories.

  31.  At the recent Overseas Territories Consultative Council, the representatives of the territories expressed deep concern about the impact of the terrorist attacks in the US on their economies. The Government will keep this under close review.


  32.  The Government has undertaken a major consultation with the Overseas Territories which has resulted in the participation of the Territories in relevant international agreements and the production of a Charter on the protection of the environment in the Territories, which was signed at the recent Overseas Territories Consultative Council by the representatives of eight of the Territories present (Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Falklands Islands, Montserrat, St Helena and the Turks and Caicos Islands). The Government hopes that the remaining territories will follow suit shortly, with the exception of Gibraltar, which has expressed support for the principles of the Charter, but will not sign the Charter, on the basis that the environment is a defined domestic matter. The Charter sets out for the first time the roles and responsibilities of HMG and the Overseas Territories regarding the environment. The Overseas Territories have participated enthusiastically in the development and use of an Overseas Territories environmental database. The FCO and other government departments hold six-monthly meetings with a range of non-governmental organisations under the umbrella of the Overseas Territories Conservation Forum.

  33.  Progress on extending multilateral environmental agreements to the Overseas Territories has been slow, but will shortly be given a boost shortly with the extension of the Convention on Biological Diversity to cover Bermuda and the Falkland Islands. The Government is giving consideration to the provision of more capacity-building assistance to the Overseas Territories to enable them to tackle the complex legislative issues involved in enacting the provisions of the international treaties. But a wide range of actions in support of international Environmental Treaties has been undertaken by Overseas Territories and UK Government Departments. In relation to key provisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity, for example, research has been carried out into coral mortality in the Chagos Archipelago—a Darwin Initiative project on in situ conservation of turtles in Ascension is underway and DFID is funding a coastal resources monitoring project on the Turks and Caicos Islands. Overseas Territories have also participated in UK delegations to conferences on multilateral environmental agreements. The Cayman Islands attended the Eleventh Conference of the Parties to CITES, and the British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands and Anguilla attended the Fifth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

  34.  The FCO has continued to provide support through its £1.5 million Environment Fund for the Overseas Territories, launched with the publication of the White Paper. More than 30 projects have been funded, covering capacity building, environmental education, networking, baseline research, pollution and habitat regeneration. Additionally, £0.5 million has recently been provided for habitat restoration on Ascension Island. DFID is looking at how best to take forward the commitment given in the White Paper to provide more help to poorer Overseas Territories in addressing global environmental concerns. It hopes to secure funding for Overseas Territories environment work in FY 2002-03.

  35.  The Government attaches importance to ensuring that the administrative and legal arrangements of the Overseas Territories give them the best possible basis for responding to emergencies, especially natural disasters, a point highlighted in the Committee's Interim Report. The Government has encouraged all the Overseas Territories to appoint full-time, properly resourced disaster management co-ordinators and to exercise their emergency plans regularly. In order to provide expert advice and spread best practice, the Government has appointed a DFID-funded Disaster Management Adviser for the Overseas Territories, who will initially be based in the British Virgin Islands. The Government also has mechanisms in place to provide urgent assistance in the event of a disaster.


  36.  The Government recognises the unique nature of the relationship with the Overseas Territories, and remains firmly committed to strengthening that relationship by implementing the agenda set out in the 1999 White Paper. The introduction to Parliament of the Overseas Territories Bill, which has been widely welcomed, is evidence of that commitment.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

October 2001

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