The Minister for Schools and Learners (Jim Knight): My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Higher Education and Intellectual Property will be making a statement on the following: Post-Council Written Statement (5 and 6 March) Competitiveness Council, Brussels.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Gillian Merron): On 15 July 2008, Official Report, column 14WS, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, responsible for the Overseas Territories, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn), informed the House that on 10 July the Governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands had announced the appointment of a commission of inquiry into whether there is information that corruption or other serious dishonesty in relation to past and present elected members of the House of Assembly may have taken place in recent years.
I wish to inform the House that on 16 March 2009 the Governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) published the interim report of the Commissioner, the right hon. Sir Robin Auld (www.tci-inquiry.org).
The Commissioner states that the written information obtained in the first six months of the Commissions inquiries, when coupled with the evidence in the public hearings in TCI earlier this year, have provided information in abundance pointing to a high probability of systemic corruption or serious dishonesty. In his view this, together with clear signs of political amorality and immaturity and of general administrative incompetence, have demonstrated a need for urgent suspension in whole or in part of the constitution and for other legislative and administrative reforms, and change in other related matters.
In light of the accumulation of evidence in relation to TCI in the last year or so, and fortified by the Commissioners interim report, the Government have formed the view that parts of the constitution will need to be suspended and have decided to take steps to enable it to do so. I am today making available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website a draft Order in Council prepared by the FCO which
would suspend parts of the constitution, including those relating to ministerial Government and the House of Assembly, initially for two years, although this period could be extended or shortened. The draft order will be submitted to Her Majesty in Council at a meeting on 18 March. If made, the order will be laid before Parliament on 25 March. Unless the Commissioners final report significantly changes our current assessment of the situation, the order will be brought into force after the final report is received. However, the order could be brought into force sooner if circumstances arose in the territory prior to that date which justified suspending relevant parts of the constitution. This intervention is for an interim period only.
As drafted, the order would leave in place important elements of the constitution such as the fundamental rights chapter and provisions relating to the Governor, the courts and the public service, while removing the Cabinet, House of Assembly and references to ministerial and related powers. Powers and functions currently exercised by Ministers would be exercised by the Governor acting in his discretion, including in relation to public finances, legislation and necessary regulatory reform.
The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Douglas Alexander): I announced on 8 December, Official Report, column 40WS, a pause in negotiations over the St. Helena airport contract. Having reviewed the situation in the light of the current global economic climate, I have decided to hold a consultation on options for access to the island. DFID will issue a consultation document in early April. Any interested parties will be invited to submit their views. The Government of St. Helena and relevant commercial parties have been advised of the situation and will be kept updated.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): The hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) has been appointed as a full member of the United Kingdom delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Assembly of Western European Union and Lord Chidgey has been appointed as a substitute member.