Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Seventh Report

1  Introduction

1.  The 14 Overseas Territories[1] for which the UK continues to have responsibilities are spread across the globe (see Figure 1 below). The Territories vary greatly in their population and economic and social development. Bermuda has a population of approximately 66,000 people and is a leading financial centre. By contrast, the Pitcairn Islands are home to only 47 people and are reliant on UK aid.

Figure 1: Map showing location of UK's Overseas Territories

Source: National Audit Office

2.  With the exception of Gibraltar,[2] the Foreign Affairs Committee has not reported on the Overseas Territories for over a decade. Its previous inquiry into the Overseas Territories took place in 1997 when the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) was carrying out a review of the then-named Dependent Territories.[3] Since then a number of major policy changes have taken place, including: the extension of British citizenship to almost all citizens of Overseas Territories; the appointment of a FCO minister with specific responsibility for the Overseas Territories; the establishment of the Overseas Territories Consultative Council (an annual forum in London for heads of Territory governments); and the extension of the "home" university tuition fee rate to all Overseas Territories students wishing to study in the UK.

3.  In July 2007 we decided that another Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry into the Overseas Territories was overdue. We resolved to inquire into the FCO's exercise of its responsibilities in relation to the Overseas Territories and its achievements against its then Strategic Priority No. 10, the security and good governance of the Overseas Territories,[4] and announced the following terms of reference:

  • standards of governance in the Overseas Territories;
  • the role of Governors and other office-holders appointed by or on the recommendation of the United Kingdom Government;
  • the work of the Overseas Territories Consultative Council;
  • transparency and accountability in the Overseas Territories;
  • regulation of the financial sector in the Overseas Territories;
  • procedures for amendment of the constitutions of Overseas Territories;
  • the application of international treaties, conventions and other agreements to the Overseas Territories;
  • human rights in the Overseas Territories; and
  • relations between the Overseas Territories and the United Kingdom Parliament.

4.  We received over 200 written submissions. Many of these are published with this Report, but a significant proportion of submissions have been treated in confidence.[5] We are very grateful to everyone who contributed evidence to our inquiry. We also held five oral evidence sessions. In December 2007 we heard evidence from all the representatives of Overseas Territory governments who had travelled to London for the Overseas Territories Consultative Council, with the exception of Bermuda. We would like to thank Hon Osbourne Fleming, Chief Minister, Anguilla, Hon Ralph O'Neal, Premier, British Virgin Islands, Hon Kurt Tibbetts, Leader of Government Business, Cayman Islands, Councillor Mike Summers OBE, Member of the Legislative Council, Falkland Islands, Dr Hon Lowell Lewis, Chief Minister, Montserrat, Mr Leslie Jaques OBE, Commissioner, Pitcairn Islands,[6] Hon Brian W. Isaac MLC, Member of the Executive Council, St Helena and Dr Hon Michael E Misick LLB, MLC, Premier, Turks and Caicos Islands, for appearing before us. We are also grateful to our other witnesses: Louis Olivier Bancoult, leader, and Richard Gifford, legal representative, Chagos Refugees Group; Hon Joe Bossano MP, Leader of the Opposition, Gibraltar; Hon Peter Caruana QC, Chief Minister, Gibraltar; Mr. Jim Murphy MP, Minister for Europe, James Sharp, Head of Western Mediterranean Group, and Ivan Smyth, Legal Adviser, FCO; and Meg Munn MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Leigh Turner, then Director, Overseas Territories Directorate, and Susan Dickson, Legal Counsellor, FCO.

5.  In March 2008 we visited four Overseas Territories. We divided into three groups: one delegation visited Bermuda; the second group went to the Cayman Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands; and the third group visited the Falkland Islands, with a brief stop on Ascension Island. The discussions we had on our visits were very useful and we are grateful to our interlocutors for taking the time to meet us. Full details of our programmes are listed in Annex 1.

6.  Our Report is split into two parts. Part One is thematic. We consider the Overseas Territories' constitutional relationship with the UK, including the process of modernising their constitutions and the extent to which they are consulted and represented by the UK on issues that affect them. We also examine the quality of governance in the Territories; the FCO's management of the potential liabilities to which the Territories expose the UK; and progress on resolving sovereignty disputes. Finally we draw conclusions on the Government's overall approach to the Overseas Territories.

7.  In Part Two we consider each of the Overseas Territories individually. We summarise their geography, history and constitutions. We also outline the evidence received from each Territory in our inquiry, and highlight relevant recommendations from Part One of our Report. We hope Part Two will be a useful reference point for both the reader unfamiliar with the individual Overseas Territories and for the reader wishing to find all our recommendations on a particular Territory in one place.

8.  Our Report is published two months after the Public Accounts Committee reported on the FCO's management of risk in the Overseas Territories,[7] following a report by the National Audit Office on this issue.[8] While our Report has a wider focus, we have found the Public Account Committee's and National Audit Office's reports very helpful in informing our thinking on this particular aspect of the UK's relationship with the Overseas Territories.

1   The Overseas Territories are Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Antarctic Territory, the British Indian Ocean Territory (Chagos Islands), the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, the Pitcairn Islands, St Helena, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia in Cyprus, and the Turks & Caicos Islands. Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha are Dependencies of St Helena.  Back

2   Since 1999 the Foreign Affairs Committee has produced the following substantive Reports on Gibraltar: Fourth Report of Session 1998-99, HC 366; Ninth Report of Session 1999-2000, HC 863; Sixth Report of Session 2000-01, HC 319; Eleventh Report of Session 2001-02, HC 973; and Eleventh Report of Session 2002-03, HC 1024. Back

3   Foreign Affairs Committee, Second Report of Session 1997-1998, Dependent Territories Review: Interim Report, HC 347 Back

4   During the course of our inquiry, the FCO replaced its ten Strategic Priorities with a new strategic framework. The new framework's four policy goals do not make specific reference to the FCO's responsibilities with regard to the Overseas Territories. Back

5   See paras 127 to 131, Chapter 2 for further discussion of our reasons for doing so. Back

6   Mr Jacques is not an elected representative, but a Commissioner appointed by the FCO to play an intermediary role between the Governor (who is also High Commissioner to New Zealand) and Pitcairn's Island Council. Back

7   Public Accounts Committee, Seventeenth Report of Session 2007-08, Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Managing Risk in the Overseas Territories, HC 176  Back

8   Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Managing risk in the Overseas Territories, HC (2007-08) 4  Back

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Prepared 6 July 2008