Previous Section Index Home Page

3 Dec 2010 : Column 1162

It is clear that an extension of gangmaster licensing is not the way forward, but there is a case for taking a fresh look at our compliance and enforcement arrangements. As the hon. Member for Midlothian said, existing enforcement functions are undertaken by a number of bodies, including the EAS, HMRC, the GLA and the HSE. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs also has a role, in enforcing the agricultural minimum wage, but that will disappear with the proposed abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board as part of the public bodies review.

The single pay and work rights line has drawn those bodies closer together and has been a major step forward in creating a single port of call for workers who want advice or to report an abuse. It has also been a powerful spur to more joint working between the enforcement bodies, which are now carrying forward multi-issue cases together on a regular basis. However, the time is right to ask whether it is possible to build on the progress that has been made. I am therefore announcing today an intention to review the Government's workplace rights compliance and enforcement arrangements to establish the scope for streamlining them and making them more effective. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that announcement. The review will be undertaken next year, when other priorities permit, and will be part of the wider rolling review of employment law being co-ordinated by my Department.

Mr David Hamilton: Who will undertake the review and who will be included in it?

Mr Davey: It will start in my Department and I envisage it looking at different ways of organising the Government's compliance and enforcement work. It will consider whether incremental improvements can be made to encourage further co-ordination and joint working, such as better legal information sharing gateways and governance machinery, which would allow priorities to be discussed and set on a broader, cross-agency basis. I envisage it considering whether online and helpline employment law advice channels can be linked and streamlined. I also want it to look at the potential cost and operational benefits of enforcement models that would consolidate enforcement functions in a single body or fewer bodies.

The review will initially be carried out internally within the Government, as I said to the hon. Gentleman, but will involve meetings with key interested parties to solicit views and test thinking. My Department will publish a statement of initial findings and intended next steps next year in the context of progress reports on a wider employment law review-

2.30 pm

The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 11( 2 )).

Ordered, That the debate be resumed on Friday 28 January 2011.

Business without Debate

face coverings (regulation) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

3 Dec 2010 : Column 1163

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 2 December 2011.

secured lending reform Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 21 January 2011.

Parliamentary Standards (Amendment) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Thursday 16 December .

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Is it recorded in Hansard that it was a Government Whip who objected to the Second Reading of the Parliamentary Standards (Amendment) Bill?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): I have not the faintest idea. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we will wait until Hansard is published. It is an accurate reflection of what is said in the House.

Adam Afriyie: Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Yesterday the House resolved unanimously that, if needed, the Government would allow time to amend the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009. If an amendment Bill does not come to Committee within the next few weeks, there will not be enough time even to leave that option open. Have you received information from the Leader of the House or news of a statement from the Leader of the House on this subject?

Mr Deputy Speaker: No, I have not received from the Leader of the House any statement or indication that a statement is to be made, but I am sure that those on the Treasury Bench will have heard what the hon. Gentleman said.

3 Dec 2010 : Column 1164

Turks and Caicos Islands

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. -(Angela Watkinson.)

2.31 pm

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members' Financial Interests.

The Turks and Caicos Islands are a territory of the Crown for which we in Parliament have ultimate responsibility. During the past few months, I have spent considerable time dealing with the multitude of issues relating to the Turks and Caicos islands, in my capacity as chairman of both the Turks and Caicos Islands all-party parliamentary group and the British overseas territories all-party parliamentary group, as well as in my capacity as a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. I am thus extremely grateful for the opportunity to address the House this afternoon on this most pressing of subjects.

The Turks and Caicos Islands are a territory of some 26,000 inhabitants situated just south of the Bahamas on the cusp on the Atlantic ocean. They have been British in one form or another for several hundred years and were a dependency of Jamaica until 1962, when they became a Crown colony or British overseas territory, as we now call them. The islands that encompass the territory are well known for their award-winning beaches, world-class hotels and spectacular climate. Indeed, the tagline of the islands, "beautiful by nature", could not be more appropriate. These aesthetic factors, coupled with a prime location for tourism, an English-speaking populace and a British constitution and judicial system made the islands one of Britain's most successful territories.

However, the Turks and Caicos Islands of the present set a far more sombre scene. Endemic corruption, economic turmoil and violent crime are rife. The people of the Turks and Caicos Islands are currently hard pressed for optimism. Sadly, these previously dynamic islands have been in more or less perpetual stagnation for the past 18 months. The questions we all have to ask are: how has that been allowed to happen under the British standard, and why is so little being done to rectify that unacceptable situation?

The issues stem from the previous Administration, who presided over systematic corruption, selling off vast swathes of Crown land and running the islands as a personal fiefdom, despite the protestations of the resident populace, who fruitlessly whistle-blew to the UK Government. Finally, on 18 March 2009, after almost seven years of systemic corruption and on the advice of her UK Ministers, Her Majesty the Queen issued an Order in Council, giving the Governor the power to suspend the constitution. In August that year, the order was enacted.

Many saw the UK Government's intervention as a necessity, and on the day of the suspension people walked down the street waving Union Jacks, with every faith that, in true British spirit, Her Majesty's Government would restore the territory to its former glory. So, where has it all gone wrong? How has this proud and loyal British territory found itself in an arguably worse position than before the UK Government took direct control? I am sure the Minister will tell us shortly.

3 Dec 2010 : Column 1165

I intend to outline the issues facing Turks and Caicos, the root causes of those problems and how I feel Her Majesty's Government can address the urgent matters at hand. Let me preface that by paying tribute to the current governor, His Excellency Gordon Wetherell, and his team. I have seen at first hand the terrific challenges that they face, and I do not envy their task. They do a sterling job, and given the conditions we could not expect more of them.

There are, however, failures, and they are the fault not of the interim Government but of the completely insufficient support that they have been afforded by Her Majesty's Government and, moreover, the previous Labour Government, in particular, who grossly under-resourced the Administration and expected the impossible.

In August, I was fortunate enough to visit the Turks and Caicos Islands, where I met hundreds of local people, businessmen, politicians, Government officials, community workers and church leaders. All of them were desperate to have their voice heard, frustrated by the lack of action and deeply concerned about what the future might hold for them. The islands are truly in crisis.

On one afternoon during my stay at the Governor's residence, "Waterloo", on Grand Turk, there was an armed robbery only a stone's throw from the property. Violent crime has completely spiralled out of control; guns and illicit substances are being smuggled over on sloops from Haiti, and there is no way to enforce the borders or territorial waters. There is, however, a $2.5 million radar system that would significantly alleviate the problem, but for more than 18 months it has sat in a crate deteriorating, while sheer bureaucracy prevents its installation. Already, the storage fees exceed $50,000, and that is a disgrace.

Meanwhile, the once sound infrastructure of the islands is crumbling, education is declining and illiteracy is rampant. Schools and teachers have their limited resources stretched to capacity, and there is no meaningful approach to vocational training, with only 2% of students going on to college.

The prison on Grand Turk is desperately overcrowded, with minors and adults sharing cells, and it was called little more than a "training college to harden criminals" by some of the community leaders I met. That problem is compounded by a severe backlog in the justice Department, with courtrooms in meltdown and the local magistrates simply unable to deal with the backlog. I believe that many problems can be attributed to the civil service of Turks and Caicos, which needs to be completely rebuilt. There have been no audited financial records since 2006, and there are an untenable 2,300 people on the payroll. A large proportion of the civil service has been compromised by corruption, yet there is little attempt at reformation. It currently takes about six months to process a driving licence and 11 months for a work permit. The level of "pay to play" bureaucracy is utterly unbelievable. At the same time, the islands are, as one resident put it, "being micro-managed into oblivion". Layer upon layer of legislation is bottlenecking the last vestiges of enterprise. Until the civil service is reformed, the work of the interim Administration will continue to be undermined. That must be a priority.

3 Dec 2010 : Column 1166

Even with all those problems, the islands are primed for investors. I have it on good authority that there are businesses and individuals waiting in the wings to plough investment back into TCI. Turks and Caicos desperately needs to bring that business back. Business built the islands and it has been their lifeblood over the past three decades. To put it simply, if the Government continue to allow an unfavourable climate for private enterprise, the islands will not recover.

The people of Turks and Caicos have not given up; they will do everything possible to put their islands back on track and we have a duty to help them. The overwhelming majority of people want to create a climate of genuine partnership. The interim Administration and the Governor's office can depend on assistance from the private sector in almost every aspect of restructuring. Those in the private sector have offered office accommodation, professional services and even their own money to assist, but they are continually met with barrier after barrier. Their frustration is completely understandable. They appreciate that finances and resources are tight, and that we live in a climate of austerity. They are looking not for handouts or bail-outs, but for stability and economic security. Her Majesty's Government have a duty to provide that.

Hanging over all these matters is the remorseless task of discovery by Helen Garlick and her officers, who compose the special investigation and prosecution team that has spent the past 18 months uncovering the web of scandal, fraud, bribery and corruption that silently choked the islands into their current condition. Although I appreciate that their task is complex, there have been no prosecutions. Given that the cost of the investigation is about $500,000 a month and that it is funded exclusively by the Turks and Caicos interim Government, people on the islands are understandably in uproar. It is in everyone's interest that there should be prosecutions imminently, that the uncertainty is cleared up and that a line is drawn so that the territory can move forward. Clear and concise parameters must be set. The people of Turks and Caicos cannot be expected to entertain open-ended speculation about when the problems will be resolved.

Finally, the constitutional reform process is one of the more emotive problems. It has been met with fierce hostility by the "belonger" population and the political parties, which have conducted their own review. All I will say is that the Government need to remember that a political system cannot and should not be imposed on an unwilling population. Such reforms must be conducted in conjunction with the people-there is no other way to go about it in a modern democracy. The next election in the Turks and Caicos Islands has been announced for 2012. That deadline must be met so that democracy is restored to the people of the islands by that time at the very latest.

The perpetuation of the current situation is unthinkable. Turks and Caicos is in crisis and if immediate action is not taken by Her Majesty's Government, the territory will continue to deteriorate. A letter dated 4 February 2010 from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to a resident on Grand Turk stated:

That is an appalling and inexcusable stance. The people of the Turks and Caicos are British, too, and they deserve our support. The previous Government should be ashamed of how they handled the situation there, and of the relationship that they fostered with the overseas territories in general.

I can assure the House with certainty that the bill for the UK taxpayer will be far greater in the long run if urgent action is not taken now. I have every faith that our new Conservative-led government will do everything in their power to ensure that the current wrongs are righted and that the failings of the past are corrected. We need to deploy more civil servants from the UK to reform the TCI civil service and more police to crack down on crime, and we need to draw a line under prosecutions to ensure that the full weight of the law is brought down on those who were deceitful. We also need to ensure that more funds are made available to the TCI, and not simply to tide the islands over for a few more months. It must be enough to stimulate the economy back into action radically.

I speak frankly when I say that there is no use in a package of support that is aimed merely at maintaining the status quo. I recognise that in the current climate of austerity no decision on finance is taken lightly, but I put it to the Government that they have committed to giving millions of pounds in aid to foreign countries, and yet let poverty and despair be fostered on our very own soil. Her Majesty's Government now have an ideal opportunity to change that in the Turks and Caicos, and with the right attitude and approach we can show our citizens overseas that they are not on the periphery of government and that no matter where one is in the world, British is British is British.

The Government need to show the global community that just because someone happens to live in a different time zone from London, it does not make them any less British. With that in mind, the people of the Turks and Caicos should be afforded the full support of the Government to ensure that they realise a secure and prosperous future. They will not be impressed by more rhetoric.

At this point, I wish to commend Her Majesty's Government in Canada, who, despite having no responsibility for the Turks and Caicos, are sending over members of the Royal Canadian mounted police to help us rescue the situation. Should that not be our responsibility? It is, after all, a British territory, not a Canadian territory.

The people of the Turks and Caicos islands want to see fast and radical action from Her Majesty's Government here in London to restore to their homeland the governance that one would expect for a British overseas territory, a territory of the Crown.

2.47 pm

The Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury (James Duddridge): It is a particular privilege to speak at the Dispatch Box on this important issue, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) for securing the debate. He has a long history of support not only for the proud and loyal Turks and Caicos Islands but for other overseas territories, an
3 Dec 2010 : Column 1168
advocacy that I am sure he will continue not only as chairman of his all-party groups but as a senior member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Following his visit in August, he produced an interesting report on the Turks and Caicos Islands, which I have read in detail and reviewed with civil servants. I hope to address a number of points raised in that report as well as in the debate.

As my hon. Friend knows, this Government's approach to the overseas territories is very different from that of our predecessors. We are proud of our shared history and value the territories as part of the wider British family. We want our relationship to be mutually beneficial and successful. We know there are many challenges, but our relationship is strong enough to tackle them as they arise. Our support for the islands is a good example of our new approach.

My hon. Friend referred to the islands as being our very own soil. We are committed to the principle that the overseas territories should have the first call on the UK's aid budget. However, that cannot be in the form of unconditional handouts of UK taxpayers' money. We are providing support in the Turks and Caicos Islands where it will have the most lasting benefit by, for example, funding advisers to develop the wide-ranging reforms that are needed, giving temporary financial support to help protect the islands from financial collapse, and funding the deployment of UK police officers. We are doing what we can to support the territory despite the financial crisis here in the UK. In exchange, we want the territory to manage its affairs as successfully and effectively as possible. In today's world, that means sound public finances, with high-quality and accountable government and public services.

The Government will change how we handle overseas territories business. We plan to involve other relevant Departments in our new strategy. The FCO will continue to lead and co-ordinate the work of Her Majesty's UK Government on the overseas territories, but there is a role for much wider and deeper engagement and commitment by other Government Departments and bodies in the UK. We have already adopted such an approach in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

We want to open doors between the territories and the UK. We want to see more co-operation between central and local government, and the public and private sectors, which my hon. Friend mentioned. We want to do more to support economic and commercial development in the territories. My hon. Friend is right to say that fostering such development is essential. However, we cannot ignore the importance of good governance and a strong, independent public service. That is in everybody's interests and is crucial in returning the islands to prosperity. A very important part of that is public financial management, but there are other weaknesses, such as a lack of transparency, a failure to follow due process, and-frankly-poor performance by some public officials, which must be addressed.

An enormous amount of work has gone into the islands since the constitution was suspended in August 2009. Much progress has been made on tackling the considerable financial, economic and governance challenges that the Governor and the interim Government inherited. A team of UK-funded technical experts is working hard with the Turks and Caicos Islands public service. Together, they are making improvements across a wide range of areas for the benefit of the islands. The FCO
3 Dec 2010 : Column 1169
has funded experts in fields such as immigration, Crown land, good governance, revenue and customs, constitutional and electoral reform, and very importantly, economic development, to which my hon. Friend referred. The Department for International Development has funded experts in public financial management, including a chief financial officer, who arrived in September.

However, as my hon. Friend pointed out, much remains to be done. The UK Government have monitored the work of the current Turks and Caicos Islands Government since the suspension of parts of the constitution in August 2009 and considered carefully the challenges that lie ahead. Taking those factors into account, in September, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham), announced during his visit to the Turks and Caicos Islands that the UK Government did not want to postpone elections any longer than absolutely necessary, but that they could not, alas, be held in 2011. He said that before the end of this year, he would set out milestones that would need to be met before elections could take place, ensuring clarity for everyone involved, both here and on the islands. I expect him to come forward with those in the coming weeks.

The Under-Secretary made many recommendations in his recent report, and I should like to address those in the seven minutes remaining. The UK's support for the Turks and Caicos Islands cannot take the form of unconditional handouts of UK public money. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Romford will agree that ultimately, we want the Turks and Caicos Islands to stand on their own two feet, but within the broader family.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development said in a written ministerial statement in July that DFID had decided to propose a temporary package of financial support to the islands. That support is conditional on the Government strengthening their capacity and systems to manage their public finances and balance their budget within the next three years, which is a very tough challenge, as we know from the ones that we face on the mainland.

The DFID-funded chief financial officer is heading this difficult work, and to address the immediate shortfall, the Department has provided short-term loans to the islands. That will help. Our aim remains to restore and firmly embed the principles of sound financial management, sustainable development and good governance, which will help to rebuild confidence in the Turks and Caicos Islands and their ability to manage their own affairs. A public sector reform adviser has been funded by DFID, but only arrived in the Turks and Caicos Islands this week. I am sure that that person will have a big impact. Also an immigration adviser has been seconded from the UK Border Agency, and is already making an impact. That secondment was funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The UKBA adviser has been there since September and is doing well.

The constitutional and electoral reform adviser published her latest recommendations on the Turks and Caicos Islands in mid-November, and the people of the islands have until 14 January next year to submit further comments on those recommendations. The political parties on the islands have been encouraged to participate in the
3 Dec 2010 : Column 1170
consultation process, and I encourage them further in that, because it is incredibly important that all parties engage during these difficult times to produce the right solution, not just for the UK Government but for the people of those islands. Importantly, that consultation process will include an invitation from the Turks and Caicos Islands advisory council and the consultative forum to discuss their recommendations and those of the adviser.

In the light of the commission of inquiry's recommendations, improvements will be made to a number of areas of the islands' constitution. Some of the issues under consideration are more sensitive than others. For example, there will be a need for increased oversight by the Governor, whom my hon. Friend met-I am glad that the visit went well. He holds the Governor, who is doing a very good job, in high regard. However, there might be a need for increased oversight by the Governor in a new constitution. There is also the sticky issue of who will be able to vote in a forthcoming election, so we will have to consider the franchise in a lot more detail. There are a number of difficult issues, but there is no reason to duck them. The future stability and good governance of the Turks and Caicos Islands is at stake.

It is critical that we get the investigations right. The UK Government have agreed to provide the initial funding needed to set up a special investigation and prosecution team. The FCO funded the team from its creation in August 2009 until February 2010, at the significant cost of approximately £600,000. The cost of the team has now transferred, as my hon. Friend is aware, to the Turks and Caicos Islands Government, and the DFID-funded chief financial officer has included the cost of the team in her budget calculations.

My hon. Friend talked about the speed of prosecutions. That, quite properly, will be a matter for Helen Garlick and the Attorney-General, rather than the UK Government. I agree with my hon. Friend that there has been a worrying increase in violent crime on the islands-he witnessed it himself. Steps have been taken to increase the penalties for gun crime and increase the police presence on the islands, particularly on the main island of Providenciales. I am pleased to say that the FCO has funded the deployment of five Metropolitan police officers, in addition to the Canadian officers whom he has already mentioned. The Metropolitan police officers arrived last month and are working well with the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands police to review current unsolved cases of violent crime, including murder and armed robbery. The officers are also providing guidance and advice on lines of inquiry for intelligence and investigations.

My hon. Friend asked about prisons and radar. I will write to him on those subjects.

As I said at the start of my speech, the Government are taking a new approach to the overseas territories-an approach exemplified by the support that we are giving to the Turks and Caicos Islands. Much work has been done and much progress made, but I acknowledge that much more remains to be done. We will work with the Governor and all the other bodies to ensure that this happens. The UK Government and the current Turks and Caicos Islands Government, led by the Governor, will continue to work hard to ensure that the principles of good governance, sound financial management and sustainable development are firmly embedded across the public service and the wider society.

3 Dec 2010 : Column 1171

I commend my hon. Friend for his interest and support, which I am sure will continue, and which stands the Turks and Caicos Islands Government in very good stead. I promise to write to him with a full and proper reply on prisons, rather than rush one in the remaining time available to me at the Dispatch Box today.

3 Dec 2010 : Column 1172

Question put and agreed to.

3 pm

House adjourned.

    Index Home Page