Relations between the EU and the Overseas Countries and Territories

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Andrew Mackinlay: I listened carefully to what the Minister said and I shall read it in the official record. I think that I heard her say that that matter has not been raised by the Governments of the overseas territories, but I do not suppose that they were aware that that option was open to the UK. Therefore, will she undertake expressly, albeit without commitment—I am not so naive to expect her to give a commitment—to canvass the Governments and legislatures of the overseas territories on whether they would like that to be considered? I would go away a happy man if she were prepared to do that today.
Gillian Merron: From my recollection of having been my hon. Friend’s Whip some years ago, I would never call him naive and I do not intend to start doing so now. I am reluctant to give the assurance for which he asks simply because I am about to spend the next three days with representatives of the overseas territories. I shall meet them both as a group and individually, so they will have every opportunity of raising this matter. I will give an undertaking, however, that should I be approached in that regard, I will gladly inform him and anyone else who wishes to know.
On why the territories are not represented in Parliament, I must report that no overseas territories Government has made such a request. They do not form part of the metropolitan UK, and they have their own, separate jurisdictions. The Government believe that the interests of voters in the overseas territories are served well by their local legislatures, established under their own, respective constitutional arrangements.
I am pleased that human rights have formed an important part of the debate. While the protection and promotion of human rights in a territory is primarily the responsibility of the territory Government, it is ultimately the responsibility of the UK. We ensure that territories fulfil their obligations under international human rights treaties that have been extended to them. During the consultative conference, this week, we will raise the issue of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. It is important to us to ensure that constitutions fulfil obligations.
The British Indian Ocean Territory has been mentioned, in relation to the recent ruling by the Law Lords, in the highest court in the land. The policy remains that no person has the right of abode in the British Indian Ocean Territory, or the right to enter it, unless authorised. I restate—this is not the first time that a Minister has put this on record—that the resettlement of people from the Chagos islands in the ’60s and ’70s was carried out in an unacceptable way, and we strongly regret the hardship that resulted from that. Although that is the end of legal process in Britain, it is not the end of our caring for the people of the Chagos. The ruling is not about what happened in the ’60s and ’70s; it is about what we do now. With the greatest will in the world, we cannot turn the clock back. We have to consider security and the fact that changes in the British Overseas Territories Act 2002 have allowed members of overseas territories to claim British citizenship, which a number of people from the Chagos islands have done. The courts have previously ruled that fair compensation has been paid, and we have no legal obligation to pay further compensation.
Last week, I was in close consultation with my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt), who represents many people who were originally from the Chagos islands. She has welcomed, on their behalf, the actions that have been taken so far and the way in which we are working closely with the community. I shall continue that work, to ensure that those who wish to go back to visit will have the chance to do so and will be financially supported by the UK Government in doing so.
Andrew Mackinlay: I mentioned the Chagos in the context of the European Union. I wanted to know whether the Government would consider adopting the recommendation of the Foreign Affairs Committee that the right to UK citizenship—and, ipso facto, the right to EU citizenship—should be extended to third-generation Chagossians.
Gillian Merron: My hon. Friend did ask about that, but that is all governed by the 2002 Act. The Act applies to people from the Chagos islands and their descendants, as well as to other overseas territories, and the matter is therefore provided for in current legislation.
The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire raised the issue of rendition and Diego Garcia. Contrary to earlier assurances that Diego Garcia would not be used for rendition flights, investigations revealed that that occurred on two occasions in 2002. However, since February the US Government have confirmed that, with those exceptions, there have been no other instances of US intelligence flights landing in the UK, our overseas territories or the Crown dependencies with a detainee on board since 11 September 2001. Importantly, Secretary Rice has underlined the US’s firm understanding that there will be no rendition to the UK, our overseas territories, the Crown dependencies or our airspace without first receiving our express permission. The Foreign Secretary made a written ministerial statement to that effect on 3 July 2008 to update the House on the matter.
Jo Swinson: I welcome the Minister’s assurance. However, have the Government had an independent investigation to determine whether that is the case or are they merely relying on what the US has said? Surely it would make more sense for the Government to try to ascertain whether that is the case using the information available to them. The Government might want to get involved with some of the human rights organisations that have compiled significant dossiers on the subject, which would be helpful in ascertaining whether that is the case.
Gillian Merron: This matter was discussed only last month at the UK-US political-military talks. I do not wish to restate all of the details that I have just mentioned. I say to the hon. Lady that if there is evidence to the contrary, I would be glad to see it. I refer her to the Foreign Secretary’s written ministerial statement.
In closing, it is in all our interests to ensure that the overseas territories enjoy a stable and ever prosperous future. I believe that getting the relationship with Europe right is an important part of securing that future. That is why this Government are committed to ensuring that we get the best deal possible. The Green Paper that we are discussing is very much part of that process.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 11238 and Addendum 1, the European Commission Communication: Green Paper: Future Relations between the EU and the Overseas Countries and Territories; recalls that such Communications are consultation documents and are not legally binding; welcomes the Commission’s Communication as the start of the process of the renegotiation of the Overseas Association Decision; and supports the Government’s response.—[Gillian Merron.]
Committee rose at twenty-three minutes to Six o’clock.
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Prepared 28 October 2008