6 HMG's overall approach to the Overseas
428. The Government's commitment to modernising
Overseas Territories' constitutions and thereby devolving more
powers to Overseas Territories poses a dilemma - having increased
a Territory's level of self-government, how appropriate is it
to step back in if things appear to be going wrong?
429. Our view, reflected in many of the recommendations
we have already made, is that as long as the UK retains ultimate
responsibility, and therefore has contingent liabilities, for
an Overseas Territory, it must be willing to act on issues of
very serious concern, even if they are in areas that have been
devolved to local governments. Our Report has focused on governance,
but other select committees have adopted the same approach in
relation to other issues. The Public Accounts Committee called
for greater willingness to use reserve powers to demand increases
in funding of crime prevention and disaster management from local
administrations and to bring in external investigators to investigate
money laundering; and, for different reasons, the Environmental
Audit Committee called for increased UK funding and involvement
in environmental management, conclusions which we have supported
in our Report.
430. Deciding whether a governance issue is serious
enough to merit intervention is a difficult assessment to make.
Governors play a key role in monitoring developments, reporting
them to London, and trying to persuade local governments to make
improvements themselves. It is therefore crucial that individuals
appointed have strong characters and good judgement. We agree
with Meg Munn, who commented that being a Governor "is a
Foreign and Commonwealth Office role unlike any other".
As the then Director of the Overseas Directorate told us, it is
an "extremely demanding" role and requires "the
ability to make things happen, often in environments where making
things happen is not that straightforward". 
A former diplomat, now head of consultancy BioDiplomacy, also
told us that the hardest aspect of being a Governor was the ability
to "remain sane and healthy in a society with which they
may be unfamiliar and where support from day-to-day friendships
may be lacking or compromised by their official position."
431. Meg Munn suggested that the right individual
might not necessarily be a career diplomat.
The head of BioDiplomacy said that although a case could be made
for having career diplomats as Governors, there were also questions
worth asking, including whether a diplomat with a career/pension
dependent on line managers in the FCO was best placed to defend
the interests of the Territory in Whitehall and whether an emissary
of the FCO was best placed to persuade Territory politicians over
sensitive local issues.
The then Director of the Overseas Directorate gave us an example
of a post (the Governor of St Helena) which had been advertised
externally, leading to the appointment of an external candidate.
However, this does not appear to be usual practice.
432. It is also vital that Governors receive
proper briefing and support from London. The Public Accounts Committee
has recently pointed out that the FCO has no dedicated training
programme for Governors.
We were concerned during our inquiry to hear some witnesses allege
that the Governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands had not received
sufficient backup from the FCO when trying to address allegations
of corruption. We also note that he had no previous Overseas Territory
433. The FCO must also monitor the performance
of Governors, a difficult task given that they operate in isolation,
unlike, for example, Ambassadors who will have other diplomatic
service staff in their Embassy.
Governors report back to the Director of the Overseas Territories
our visit to the Falkland Islands, the Islands' Legislative Council
expressed concern about the fact that the Director is actually
a more junior FCO official. When we asked Meg Munn about this,
[the FCO recruits
] people with the required
skills and abilities to take on the role. It is essentially competence-based.
]Those are different roles and competences, so it is not
a question of more or less experience: it is about the right competences.
434. Properly consulting and representing Overseas
Territories on issues that affect them is an important part of
creating the type of "modern partnership" which may
prevent the need for direct intervention. We have a made a number
of recommendations in this Report which we hope will strengthen
the mechanisms currently in place for this. We intend to continue
scrutinising the FCO's exercise of its responsibilities in relation
to the Territories during the remainder of this Parliament. We
trust that our successor Committees will also wish to take this
435. It is also important that the FCO lead by
example on governance. We have criticised the FCO for its treatment
of the Ascension Islanders in this Report. The leader of the Chagos
Refugees Group also told us that the FCO's treatment of the Chagos
Islanders "undermines any hope that the UK can provide an
example of good governance in regard to its own citizens."
436. The head of BioDiplomacy also suggested
that "an underlying issue" within the UK Government
was a "tendency to see the Territories as burdens" and
argued that HMG treated the Overseas Territories "as being
mostly of peripheral interest[
], but [
their potential to cause embarrassment to ministers, and to be
the source of unwelcome contingent liabilities"
He highlighted two key assets of Overseas Territories, which we
also recognise: their people, the overwhelming majority of whom
"are loyal to the UK [
and] part of Britain's heritage,
as Britain is part of theirs" and the great strategic value
of the geographical position of some Territories.
We also acknowledge that while we have highlighted governance
concerns and contingent liabilities in this Report, many of the
Overseas Territories have made great strides in their development
and in some, standards of governance and implementation of international
standards are equal to, or in fact exceed, the standards in the
437. We conclude that the Government
has acted decisively in some Overseas Territories, for example
in the investigations and prosecutions that took place on the
Pitcairn Islands. However, in other cases which should also cause
grave concern, in particular, allegations of corruption on the
Turks and Caicos Islands, its approach has been too hands off.
The Government must take its oversight responsibility for the
Overseas Territories more seriously - consulting across all Overseas
Territories more on the one hand while demonstrating a greater
willingness to step in and use reserve powers when necessary on
438. We also conclude that the
choice of Governor for a Territory, and the levels of training
and support they are given, are crucial. We welcome the recent
upgrading of the Governor post in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
We recommend that the FCO should give consideration to opening
up appointments of Governors more frequently to candidates outside
the diplomatic service. We also recommend that the Director of
the Overseas Territories Directorate should become a more senior
439. Finally, the Committee
concludes it is deplorable and totally unacceptable for any individual
who has assisted the Committee with its inquiry to be subjected
to threats, intimidation, or personal sanctions or violence in
any form. If the Committee is informed of any such retaliatory
measures being taken against any person who has submitted formal
or informal evidence to this inquiry, it will take all appropriate
steps within its powers.
670 Ev 144 Back
Q 275 Back
Q 275 Back
Ev 171 Back
Q 275 Back
Ev 171 Back
Q 275 Back
Public Accounts Committee, Seventeenth Report of Session 2007-08,
Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Managing Risk in the Overseas
Territories, HC 176, p 5 Back
Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Foreign and
Commonwealth Office: Managing risk in the Overseas Territories,
HC (2007-08) 4, Appendix Four Back
Q 277 Back
Except the Governor of Gibraltar, who reports back to the FCO's
European Union Department. Back
Q 279 Back
Ev 105 Back
Ev 171 Back
Ev 171 Back