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Diego Garcia

6. Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): What advice is given to the people of Diego Garcia currently living in Mauritius and the Seychelles who choose to take up their British passports and live in the UK. [190319]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): When passports are issued to Chagossians in Mauritius and the Seychelles, our high commissions there provide written advice on what they can expect when they arrive in the UK. It makes it clear that able-bodied Chagossians without care needs cannot expect to receive automatic support when they arrive in the UK and should ensure before travelling that they have the means to support themselves. That is the same for any other United Kingdom citizen without habitual residence in the UK.

Laura Moffatt: I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. He will know that both inside and outside the House there is considerable concern about the plight of the Chagos islanders who moved to Mauritius. For me, the issue has been around people who may have been exploited entering the UK. Immediately on their arrival, a judgment in the High Court is sought on whether they should be given assistance through the local authority. That has caused enormous difficulty. May I ask my right hon. Friend to make sure that all Departments involved in what can be a difficult and painful issue work together to seek a solution?

Mr. Straw: I give my hon. Friend that undertaking. It is a difficult issue. I understand that the High Court's judgment against the county council is the subject of an appeal right now. We do our best to work closely together. I will make sure that we are doing that as well as we can. I repeat that the rules in respect of United Kingdom citizens arriving from Mauritius and the Seychelles are exactly the same as those for any other United Kingdom citizens who do not have habitual residence in the UK. There is no discrimination. Although I understand some of the difficulties that the
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Chagossians have encountered in Mauritius and the Seychelles, it is also fair to say that we have provided a large amount of compensation to those families.

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh) (LD): What efforts have the Government made to ensure that compensation paid to these displaced persons through the Mauritian and Seychellian Governments has reached the people who expected to benefit from them?

Mr. Straw: My understanding is that the British Government have made two payments of compensation in relation to the resettlement of the Chagos islanders. Those payments in today's terms total more than £14 million. I have had no representations to the effect that the intended beneficiaries have not received the money. I am happy to follow up the matter if the hon. Gentleman writes to me.

Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): Given last week's excellent ITV programme, which chronicled the appalling treatment that the Chagos islanders have received from successive British Governments and the fact that many of them signed away their rights to compensation without realising what they were signing, is there not a strong and clear moral case for the British Government to look again at making further compensation payments to some of the islanders who are living in the most appalling poverty?

Mr. Straw: I understand how controversial has been the history of the moves made many decades ago to remove the Chagossians from their natural territory to Mauritius and the Seychelles, but this Government and, I think it fair to say, our immediate predecessors have not acted in an appalling way. We have acted to the best of our ability and large amounts of compensation, given the relatively small numbers involved, have been paid.

Maghreb Countries

7. Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South) (Lab): What plans his Department has to increase its engagement with Maghreb countries during the UK's EU presidency in 2005. [190320]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): We plan to work closely with the Maghreb countries in advance of our EU presidency in the second half of next year. During our presidency, we will organise a high-level event to mark the 10th anniversary of the Barcelona process—that is EU jargon for the EU's engagement with the Mediterranean countries. The conference with the Maghreb countries, which my hon. Friend chaired in June, is an excellent example of how Members of Parliament, on behalf of all Members of the House, can increase our engagement in the region.

Mr. Marsden: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Foreign Ministers and ambassadors from the Maghreb countries who participated in that conference were delighted at the commitment that the Foreign Secretary and Baroness Symons showed to the meeting. I am delighted to hear that the momentum will continue with the conference next year on the Barcelona process. I offer two suggestions to my hon. Friend. The first is that,
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as part of that process, we do our utmost to encourage dialogue and engagement between the Maghreb countries and the newly acceded EU countries. They would be valuable allies for the Maghreb countries. The second is that, in preparation for the conference, we concentrate on building up the economic and financial infrastructure of the Maghreb countries, because that is close to our national interest in terms of encouraging trade with this country and reducing pressures on migration and potential recruitment to terrorist organisations.

Mr. MacShane: I agree very much with those points. Britain does not want poor neighbours; the European Union wants richer neighbours, growing in wealth and job creation in their own countries, to lessen some of the pressures of economic migrant flows. Indeed, I will have talks with Spanish opposite numbers in a couple of weeks on how, together with Spain, we can engage more positively with the Maghreb countries ahead of the UK's EU presidency next year.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, whichever party is in power, the real thrust of the UK presidency should be to improve literacy, to reduce poverty in the Maghreb countries and to look at serious security and human rights issues, as well as the situation of women in those countries?

Mr. MacShane: Those are important, valid points. On human rights, there are problems to do with journalists imprisoned in Tunisia. Algeria, of course, has had to deal with some pretty bad Islamic fundamentalist politics and a lot of violence. In Morocco, where the situation is easier, there still remain problems of poverty and illiteracy. The British Council is engaged in combating those problems, with the help of the Department for International Development. Britain can play a useful role because of the increase in the proportion of our gross domestic product that goes to overseas aid generally, but this is a priority for Europe. In the past 10 years, Europe has perhaps focused on its eastern and northern borders, but now we have to look south from Turkey to Cyprus and the Maghreb to see what we can do to improve the condition of all the people there.

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a strong desire in all the countries of the north African littoral to enhance their relationship with NATO, the EU and, of course, with our own country bilaterally? We have a great deal to offer, and that is very much in our interests because we need to manage immigration and, of course, given the fight against terrorism. Will he indicate what sort of specific initiatives—for example, scholarships and other means—we have, apart from the ministerial conference, to seek to promote stability and improve our general relationship with that region, our new neighbours?

Mr. MacShane: Yesterday, at the conference of European Foreign Ministers, a very important decision was taken to lift the arms embargo on Libya, as a direct—I hate to use the word "reward" because that sounds a little condescending—and correct reaction to
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the fact that Libya has given a commitment, thanks to the initiative that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and his US opposite number took in getting it to do so, to resile completely from the development of weapons of mass destruction. Much progress is still to be made, and the Government are greatly concerned about some Bulgarian medical staff who are under the most appalling and unfair pressure in Libya. None the less, the progress made shows how engagement works, how working through the EU works and why Britain must stay engaged fully in the region, through the EU, and reject the isolationists temptations that we have heard from some right-wing political parties in recent months.


8. Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the situation in Iraq. [190322]

13. Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): If he will make a statement on the situation in Iraq. [190328]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): I will make a statement on Iraq at the end of questions.

Mr. Illsley: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that successful result to my question—17 years, and the first positive response.

On a more sombre note, may I express my sincere condolences to the family of the murdered British hostage, Ken Bigley, and ask my right hon. Friend whether the coalition forces can take any measures to try to increase the security of western workers in Iraq, to try to prevent or limit any more of those horrific kidnappings, given the fear and terror and, of course, publicity that they generate, particularly in the run-up to the Iraqi elections in January?

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his expression of condolences to the Bigley family because I know that such things are making a great deal of difference to them.

The coalition has a number of measures in place, which it is always seeking to improve, to ensure the safety and security of non-Iraqi and Iraqi workers in the country. We give a lot of advice on our website. It is crucial for those who work in Iraq to register with the British embassy in Baghdad, provide full details of where they are and take detailed advice on appropriate protection. That does not eliminate risk, but it certainly reduces it.

Mr. Carmichael: Who is responsible for the reported disappearance of dual-purpose nuclear material in Iraq?

Mr. Straw: That is not clear. I am seeking many more details following the receipt of the International Atomic Energy Agency report overnight, but it appears that most of the unauthorised removal took place in the immediate aftermath of the major conflict in March and
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April 2003. I asked for a detailed report before I came to the House and I shall ensure that its results are made available to hon. Members.

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary has launched another pre-emptive strike on those of us who wanted to raise now matters that will come up later. In the aftermath of the horrific kidnapping and murder of Ken Bigley, may I put on record the real appreciation of the Bigley family and the city of Liverpool to the Foreign Secretary? He has handled a very difficult situation with great dignity and sensitivity, which has been to his utmost credit.

Mr. Straw: I thank my hon. Friend for that. May I express my appreciation to him, as the constituency Member for the Bigley family, for all the help and support that he gave the family, which I know that they have greatly appreciated?

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): May I associate the Conservative party with remarks about the Foreign Secretary's efforts in relation to Mr. Bigley? I know that the Foreign Secretary will make a statement on Iraq in a moment, but is he aware of a report in The New York Times on 8 October that said that the Pentagon had identified 20 to 30 Iraqi towns that must be brought under control before elections can take place next January? As part of the coalition forces in Iraq, are British troops likely to take part in that campaign? Does the Foreign Secretary have a view on how much of Iraq must be brought under control before valid elections can take place?

Mr. Straw: Assiduous though I am about reading The New York Times, I was not aware of that report—I shall look at it afterwards. Such a list was not discussed with me when I was in Iraq last week. It is perfectly plain, as I shall spell out in more detail in my statement, that there must be a better level of security throughout Iraq. We are not putting a figure on that any more than we did in Afghanistan because that would play into the hands of the terrorists. Although the situation remains difficult, there are indications that things are getting better, not least the agreement brokered last week between Moqtada al-Sadr and Prime Minister Allawi, which looks as though it is holding and will lead to peace and reconstruction in Sadr City.

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