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Postby RichardWSymonds » Sat Oct 29, 2016 3:03 pm

James Duddridge

I will try to give way in a second if I can.

On the main island, the military element of the island is not just a runway. There is space for tens of thousands of troops to be potentially deployed on hard standing. In the conservation area going up into the old town, the houses are falling apart. There is no real infrastructure there at all. I met British and American military there. During the whole of my trip I was with Americans and Brits. I am unequivocal as to the American position on a political and diplomatic level.

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con)

The former Minister is painting a wonderful picture for someone like me who would love to undertake such a journey. When he was a minster, a consultation was undertaken with members of the Chagossian community. The then Minister said on 12 April:

“I recognise that Chagossians have urged us to announce a decision soon, and we very much hope to do so.”—[Official Report, 12 April 2016; Vol. 608, c. 171.]

Can he give us his recollection of that time and when he thought a decision would be made by the Foreign Office?

James Duddridge

I think the hon. Gentleman is citing a debate in this room. It was certainly not my intention that things would be left quite so far. We have had a change of Prime Minister and the focus has been elsewhere, but at that time we were waiting for the full consultation to complete. I also met other hon. Members, so I extended the consultation. There is a broader process; it is not simply one Minister making a decision.

The islands have a great use for prepositioned ships. I went on board one of the five prepositioned ships. They have five or six storeys—like multi-storey car parks—with ​the smallest vehicles being almost the width of this room. Two Afghanistan and Iraq style wars could be conducted for a month using those ships. They are absolutely essential to American, British and global security. Many other nations use that area.

I also met the Filipinos who worked there. They lived in not great accommodation, in what I would describe as a prefabricated hut with rooms on either side and a shared bathroom in the middle. Those cost contractors about £1 million to put in place for accommodation for two, because of the costs of getting all the equipment on to the island. I do not think we can underestimate the costs.

I also visited a hospital that was used by the Americans, the Brits and the Filipinos. Provision was basic, so anyone giving birth or experiencing complications needed to be flown off the island, and it was very difficult to move around the island.

Andrew Rosindell

Is the former Minister suggesting that we go round the world and perhaps depopulate lots of other British overseas territories, such as Pitcairn, St Helena and Tristan da Cunha? Shall we just depopulate? Is that the right thing to do?

James Duddridge

Certainly, if Tristan da Cunha or Pitcairn were unpopulated, I think it would be wrong to repopulate those islands. If the Americans were not on the island I am not sure it would be the right thing to repopulate Diego Garcia. We cannot provide the level of services that people demand. In the United Kingdom we are already providing benefit to people in Diego Garcia as members of the British public. After I stopped being a Minister, I visited Mauritius, where I saw the community--[Interruption.]

I apologise for taking longer than I might have over my speech and for not taking more interventions. I am happy to attend the all-party group—and, indeed, to join the group, if I would be accepted as a dissenting member—and to discuss my visit and experiences with parliamentarians in a bit more detail.

Several hon. Members rose—
Mr Clive Betts (in the Chair)

Order. Members now have only four minutes for speeches, because we must start the winding-up speeches at half-past.

3.20 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)

I will make my comments very quick, but perhaps by saying less rather than speaking quickly.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) on making, as always, a cohesive speech to set the scene. The issue is full of uncertainty. The three issues of resettlement, the marine protected area and sovereignty are weighty, and much thought needs to go into them. That is why it has taken so long to come to firm conclusions and why I join the all-party group in asking for the right decision to be made.

We all know the history of the islands and the reason why the British Government took the steps they did to secure defence for us and our allies. What was done was ​necessary at the time. The human aspect is that more than 1,000 islanders had to move from their home. My heart goes out to the people who had to settle elsewhere. We cannot ignore that, but we need to think about it in the context of that time in our history, when defence was at a premium. We are not at the same point, internationally, as we were. Perhaps we no longer need the use of the islands, but that decision cannot be taken without regard to the pressures put on us by the UN tribunal judgment. We cannot ignore it. Clearly, decisions were made by Britain as a colonial power and we still have the right to make those decisions.

I know that we do not have—indeed, we may not even want—the reputation of a colonial power, but we do have responsibilities that must be addressed, such as the legacy of colonial nations. Despite the legal steps that Mauritius has taken recently, it should be hoped that we can work together to determine what is best for all involved. We are the closest of allies with another former colony, although after Brexit I do not know if that is still the case, considering President Obama’s “back of the queue” remarks. It is to be hoped that relations with Mauritius can be rebuilt. I am certainly of the belief that those who were resettled must have the option to return home, and must be aided in doing so, should it be decided that the issues have progressed enough for our security in the area to be solid without having the territory.

We asked the islanders to leave, and we must be of a mind to help them to go back if that is what is needed. However, we should not bear the responsibility alone. Our American allies were instrumental in the decision-making process in the 1960s and they should now facilitate the resettlement of islanders as a matter of urgency. The American military base in Diego Garcia plays a large part in considerations, and there are certainly responsibilities on the part of the Americans. Will the Minister explain what discussions have taken place with our allies to see what role they will play in resettlement in the near future?

The marine protected area was legally established—that has been a big issue in the debate—and is a further decision for the Government. I would again urge caution. The fact is that we had the right to take the steps that were taken. Now is the time to reconsider what is needed and how we can help facilitate the return of those who want it. However, the issue is not one for emotions alone. It requires in-depth thought, and consideration of our global defence and security strategy. We cannot ignore the human aspect, but we must understand that there is a larger picture to be considered.

3.24 pm

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con)

I will be quick, Mr Betts. Let us be quite clear. Diego Garcia is the largest US base outside continental America. Its strategic position is vital for the western world. It is clear that it has got to stay, because, in these troubled times, we should not give up such a positioning. Diego Garcia has a huge air base. It also has facilities for military ships and, clearly, it is a forward mounting base for a large number of troops—allied troops, not just Americans—if necessary.

We all understand the importance of the base’s strategic position in the middle of the Indian ocean. We understand ​why it was built there. We also probably understand why Chagossians were evicted between 1967 and 1973. I understand it, but it is wrong. It was wrong then and it is wrong now. A solution is required to this problem and compromise is necessary. The British Government—our Government—say they want to try to get people back. That is great, but it is clear that the base is going to have to stay there. It must stay there. It is too good a strategic military facility for us to give it up lightly. Well, I do not think we are going to give it up. It is not ours. It is America’s, but actually we own the territory—or do we? Actually the Chagossians own it. I am very much in favour of getting Chagossians back to their homeland.

My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) has suggested a way for that to happen. If there are about 3,000 Filipino people working there, and about 3,000 Chagossians want to return, how about slowly changing the mix, so that Chagossians can go back and have a job there if they wish? It is mad that Chagossians cannot work there but Filipinos can.

3.26 pm

Sir Henry Bellingham (North West Norfolk) (Con)

I will be very brief. I just wanted to comment on the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). I do not think there is any question of the base being given up in our lifetimes because it is obviously of key strategic importance. We should follow the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), whose speech introducing the debate revealed great wisdom and huge experience on everything to do with the overseas territories. We need to draw a distinction between the different arguments.

The argument about resettlement is incredibly important. We have had a report and heard many speeches. I personally feel that there is a powerful case. I take on board entirely some of the obvious practical objections and difficulties. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge), who was my successor as Minister with responsibility for Africa and the overseas territories, went to the British Indian Ocean Territory and the Chagos islands—I was removed from office before I had the chance to do so, unfortunately. The House appreciated his words of wisdom this afternoon. There are many practical difficulties, but with the help of DFID and with a great deal of imagination and innovation, the arguments are quite strong.

We need to separate that issue from jobs on the base. We need to be clear about the fact that the distances involved are huge. Diego Garcia is many miles from the outer islands. We are talking, therefore, on the one hand, about possible resettlement not on Diego Garcia as such but in the old villages and towns on the outer islands, and on the other about jobs on the base. We need to draw a distinction. There are a lot of jobs, provided mainly by the United States Air Force and the American military, but also by the smaller UK team there. It is a great pity that the old town is in a dreadful state, and that American corporate social responsibility has not put money into building up the old town and repairing some of the buildings and putting some of the Filipinos and other workers into them rather than Nissen huts or containers.

The logic behind my questioning of my hon. Friend the Member for Romford and my hon. Friend the ​Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) about what effort the Americans are making to employ more Chagossians in Diego Garcia is that there are many jobs available. I would like there to be some sort of outreach programme in Mauritius and the Seychelles, and in Crawley, to find out what the demand would be. That could be an important next step—it is absolutely doable and achievable now—and a key part in the negotiations about renewal of the agreement. There is a great opportunity to do that but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Romford pointed out, time is running out. The Foreign Office really needs to put a great deal of effort into seeing whether some form of scheme can be put in place immediately. I hope the Minister takes that on board.

3.30 pm

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts, and to speak on this matter in Westminster Hall for the second time. The first was exactly a year ago, in the debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan), who sends his apologies that he cannot be here today. I congratulate the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) on securing the debate, on giving us a comprehensive introduction to the current situation and on replacing the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn)—I am sure some Labour Back Benchers wish that that was as easy in all circumstances as he appears to have found it.

This has been a comprehensive debate. To leave plenty of time for the Minister to respond, I will dwell briefly on just a few points: resettlement of the Chagos islanders as a human rights issue; the weakness of the various arguments that we have heard against resettlement; and a couple of broader questions about the sovereignty of the islands and their use as a US base.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) said, the Scottish National party clearly stands for the principle of self-determination. It is great to hear so many Conservative Members standing up for that principle today, and I hope they will want to endorse it again if the Scottish Parliament considers another referendum Bill. We have stood in solidarity with the Chagossians for a long time; indeed, in 2004 my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) said in this Chamber:

“The more we discover about the matter, the more disgraceful, underhand and thoroughly disreputable the long-term treatment of those few thousand people is shown to have been.”—[Official Report, 7 July 2004; Vol. 423, c. 277WH.]

That disgraceful treatment continues to this day, at the cost of the United Kingdom’s reputation as a defender of fundamental human rights. We remain guilty of double standards and hypocrisy; as was said earlier, if the situation took place today, it would be considered a breach of fundamental human rights under international law.

In 2009, the right hon. Member for Broadland (Mr Simpson), who was then a shadow Foreign Office Minister, said in this Chamber:

“There is no doubt that there is a moral imperative.”

He mentioned

“what I suspect is the all-party view that the rights of the Chagossian people should be recognised, and that there should at ​the very least be a timetable for the return of those people at least to the outer islands”—[Official Report, 23 April 2009; Vol. 491, c. 176WH.]

That was the Conservative position in 2009; it would be interesting to hear whether it still is, now that the Conservative party is in actually a position to do something about it.

We have heard a number of objections about the feasibility of resettlement, not least from the former Minister, the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge). I say to him with the greatest respect that there may well be logistical challenges to resettling people on the islands, but that—as the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) said—this is about their right to return almost as much as it is about whether they do return. As for logistics, there is a US naval base, which I presume has electricity and running water, on the island. If it is possible for the United States Government to build such a sophisticated base of operations in such a remote location, surely it is possible for people to choose to make their own lives on the island in the way that their ancestors did for generations.

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)

I apologise for the fact that I could not be here for the start of the debate. Hon. Members will recall my position on the matter as the shadow Foreign Office Minister in the last debate: I am a strong supporter of righting this historical injustice. With respect to logistics, we have been able to move ahead with building an airport in St Helena, and we have done many other things in the overseas territories that have cost an awful lot and have been logistically difficult.

Patrick Grady

Absolutely. I do not think any of this is beyond the wit of man. The point has been made several times that if the Government diverted some of the money they spend on litigating the issue towards helping the people they forcibly removed to resettle in their own homes in their ancestral territory, the infrastructure issues could be overcome.

I am excited to hear what the Minister has to say about the US position, given the differing views we have heard on what that might be, but perhaps we should flip our perspective. Perhaps we should think about not whether resettlement is a barrier to US activity, but whether US activity has to get in the way of resettlement. Those things ought to be able to co-exist, although perhaps there are questions about the US use of the area as well. The former Assistant Secretary of Defence under Ronald Reagan, Lawrence Korb, has said that there is “no good…reason” to oppose the Chagossians’ return. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun said, yachtists seem to visit the island pretty frequently, so there does not seem to be much of a security concern there.

Nor should conservation and the right to return be mutually exclusive. I imagine that people who want to live on remote islands want to live in harmony with nature, ensure that their lifestyles are as sustainable as possible and respect the sustainability of the environment, even if the marine protected area is on questionable legal ground—or in questionable waters.​
There are general questions about the sovereignty of the islands. It is not just a question of the right to return. We are in a critical phase, with the roll-over of the 1966 agreement about to take place. I would be interested to hear whether the Minister believes that part 2 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 applies. That Act places treaty ratification into statute and requires parliamentary scrutiny of it. We may be faced with the roll-over of a treaty, but surely the particular circumstances of the 20-year extension mean that it should be subject to the affirmative procedure in Parliament, and surely the Government have nothing to hide or to be concerned about. If the Minister cannot answer that question today, I hope he will do so in the not-too-distant future. In any event, not only Parliament but the Government of Mauritius must be included in any future dialogue.

Finally, there are issues relating to the use of the naval base, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun alluded to. It is important that we get assurances that the British Indian Ocean Territory has not been used for the illegal rendition or torture of detainees during the so-called war on terror. If it has, people should be brought to justice. We call on the Government to recognise that Diego Garcia is part of the internationally recognised African nuclear weapon-free zone and to give assurances that no nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction have ever been placed there. They must also give assurances that military installations on Diego Garcia have not been used to store cluster bombs, in violation of their treaty obligations under the convention on cluster munitions.

The SNP stands fully behind the right of the Chagos islanders to return home. As recently as 16 September, we heard that the Government want to keep the matter under review, but we need an answer at long last. As several hon. Members have noted, it is not clear what makes the Chagos situation so unique. Why are the Government so insistent on standing in the way of the right of return? Is it cost, is it security, or do they simply not want to admit that successive Governments have got it wrong? Britannia has not ruled the waves for some considerable time; the sooner the UK Government realise that, the better.

3.37 pm

Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab)

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) on securing this important debate and on the work of his all-party group, which has relentlessly promoted the issue in Parliament.

The Chagos islands attract cross-party consensus on the right thing to do. Today is the day to break through the institutional inertia, the sense of paralysis and the 17 years of expensive litigation that has amounted to millions of pounds of public funds wasted. This could all have been sorted if it had been looked at from the beginning as a fundamental human rights issue.

Many Members have made excellent contributions today. The hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) described the appalling irony that Filipinos who work on the base in Diego Garcia are permitted to live there, but indigenous islanders cannot—a very important point. Mr Bryant, the Member for Rhondda, observed that ​while the US position should definitely be taken into consideration, it should not be the defining principle for this Parliament. Mr Duddridge described—

Mr Clive Betts (in the Chair)

Share this contribution
Order. It is not appropriate to address hon. Members by name; please refer to them by constituency.

Catherine West

Thank you for that timely reminder, Chair—Mr Betts. [Laughter.]

The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) described vividly his journey to the British Indian Ocean Territory islands. He also described some of the difficulties of any resettlement package, which are of course understandable after 50 years. However, there remains a question simply of justice. It is some 51 years since the creation of the British Indian Ocean Territory and 49 years since the expulsions began—that must be one of the longest exiles in world history.

Nearly four years ago, on 20 December 2012, the then Foreign Secretary Lord Hague announced a review of policy, and in 2013 he commissioned the much mentioned KPMG study into the feasibility of a return for the islanders. That study was concluded in 2014 and published in February 2015. It found no insuperable obstacles to resettlement. In a further consultation with the Chagossians, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office found that 98% of the 825 who responded were in favour of resettlement.

With the extension of the 1966 UK-US agreement on the use of the British Indian Ocean Territory due by 30 December this year, now is the ideal time to allow Chagossians who want to do so to return to their homeland and rebuild their fives. In any case, all Chagossians want to be able to visit their islands at will. The all-party group believes that the extension should be conditional on both parties agreeing to support and facilitate resettlement, and that that should be reflected in a new side agreement.

It has been clear for some time from various discussions, including those between my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and President Obama last autumn, that although there are concerns that need to be addressed, the US has no strong objections to resettlement; otherwise, I am sure they would have come up at that meeting. We need to look carefully at the conservation issues, but we know that there are several miles around the islands in which fishing can be undertaken as a subsistence occupation.

The cost of resettlement could be reduced by simple infrastructure and the supply of goods and services from elsewhere in the region, such as Mauritius. We should look to the US, the European development fund and the DFID budget for that—after all, the Secretary of State for International Development said this morning that she was looking for some new projects to fund. I am sure that there are British companies that would be interested in infrastructure projects on the islands. Resettlement need not be much of a burden on the taxpayer, particularly compared with how much has so far been spent on expensive legal fees.

The continuing damage to the UK’s reputation for the promotion of human rights far outweighs the cost, liabilities and risks of trying out a resettlement. The UK’s reputation is tarnished by the ongoing violation ​of fundamental human rights. It is clear that this is not a one-party issue; it is cross-party, and we agree about it. As the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) said, it was wrong then and it is wrong now.

In June, the Supreme Court concluded that in the light of the KPMG study, maintaining the ban on the Chagossians’ return may no longer be lawful. The court noted that if the Government failed to restore the right of abode, it would be open to Chagossians to mount a new challenge by way of judicial review on grounds of irrationality, unreasonableness and disproportionality. The court castigated the FCO, noting that, in withholding important documents, its conduct had been “highly regrettable”. Surely, after all these years of expensive litigation, costing several million pounds, this should be the day on which we proclaim that we will do the right thing. If we do not rectify the situation, it will be forever on our consciences. I note the presence of several former Ministers; I think that is because this issue must be resolved.

In 23 April 2009 the right hon. Member for Broadland (Mr Simpson), then a shadow Foreign Office Minister, said in this Chamber on behalf of the Conservatives something that the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) quoted earlier. It is worth repeating:

“There is no doubt that there is a moral imperative…I suspect…the all-party view”


“that the rights of the Chagossian people should be recognised, and that there should at the very least be a timetable for the return of those people at least to the outer islands…The Foreign Office should recognise that the House of Commons feels very strongly on that.”—[Official Report, 23 April 2009; Vol. 491, c. 176WH.]

More than seven years later, can we now expect the Government to fulfil that commitment?

Mr Clive Betts (in the Chair)

If the Minister could leave a couple of minutes at the end for the mover of the motion to wind up the debate, that would be appreciated.

3.44 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Tobias Ellwood)

It is a pleasure and an honour to respond to this very important debate, in which Members have eloquently summed up the wrongs and challenges facing the Chagossians, as well as the length of time it has taken for us to work towards a solution. Like the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), I am conscious that there are present many previous Ministers who covered the portfolio. At one point I thought I could just stand back and allow them to answer all the questions, such is their detailed knowledge, which I shall draw on as I develop my points.

I begin as others have by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) not only on securing the debate and raising the issues, but on his work throughout the Commonwealth. He gives a sterling effort in ensuring that the voices from the British overseas territories are heard and that these matters are debated. The whole House pays tribute to him for that. I also congratulate him on his election to chair of the all-party group, which is important in promoting these debates and in ensuring that these matters are considered.​
I apologise on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe and the Americas. Normally he would respond to the debate, but is currently travelling. We have been keeping notes on all the questions that were raised, and I will ensure that they are in his in-tray when he returns from his overseas visit.

I shall be up-front straightaway and, like successive Governments before this one, make it clear that we need to express our sincere regret about the manner in which the Chagossians were removed from the British Indian Ocean Territory in the late 1960s and early 1970s. We can all agree that what happened was wrong. That has been summed up by many of the voices we have heard during the debate, but most powerfully by my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), who made the case very clearly indeed. What happened in the ’60s and ’70s was unforgivable.

We are aware of the Chagossian community’s strong attachment to the islands and their long-stated wish to resettle. It is the job of the Government to examine the issue dispassionately. We must consider the interests of the Chagossian community as well as the wider UK interests, including our security and the interest of UK taxpayers, and we must be honest and realistic about the lifestyle that a resettled population might expect. That is why, as we have heard, in 2012 the Government launched a review of the resettlement policy to understand the demand, viability and cost. We have taken great care over that work, commissioning an independent feasibility study, consulting widely, including with our US allies, and visiting and listening to all those with expertise and interests.

I must be clear that, as has already been articulated, establishing a small and remote community on the territory would not be straightforward. The independent feasibility study published in 2015 found that resettlement could be viable, but also highlighted significant practical challenges, including the difficulty of establishing modern public services, healthcare, education and economic opportunities, particularly job prospects. The challenge that we face, even if we want to pursue this ambition, was best and vividly described by the former Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge)—he described the challenges we face on some of the outer islands that might be considered for resettlement. It would be a very difficult task indeed.

When the House last debated this issue almost a year ago, a 12-week public consultation had just concluded. The results of that consultation were published in January 2016. It found that, although resettlement was a key issue for the 832 Chagossians who responded, there were more nuanced views about the resettlement scenarios. Only a quarter of those who were in favour of resettlement were also content with the realistic scenarios of how it might work in practice. Our consultations highlighted that further work was needed to refine those policy options—what actually works in practice? That work is under way and when it is complete, the final policy decision will be taken and announced to Parliament and the public. As yet, there is no fixed date for that announcement, but I assure hon. Members that we expect it to be before the end of this year.

Alan Brown

Will the Minister elaborate more fully on what exactly that additional work, which he says is ongoing, is in terms of policy, lifestyle and presumably the viability of a settlement?

Mr Ellwood

As I touched on, the work is on some of the economic opportunities that exist, lifestyles and the ability to provide the necessary support. We need further work to ensure that the proposal is viable. I think that it was mentioned in one of the earlier contributions that it is simply not enough just to find a solution to return those who want to go back; there needs to be a viable and sustainable community. The options need to be examined in more detail.

Dr Offord

I am very grateful to the Minister for setting out a time frame—he said he hoped to make an announcement by the end of the year. He will correct me if I am wrong, but did I understand that he just said that a quarter of the respondents to the consultation said that they did not want to go back? I ask because the House of Commons Library is under the impression that 89% of the 895 Chagossian respondents supported resettlement.

Mr Ellwood

If I may, I will get a more detailed report on the analysis that came back from the consultation and write to my hon. Friend so that he is fully appraised of the response to the consultation. However, the bottom line is that the details about how a resettlement would work in practice need to be pursued. We hope to make sure that that happens, but I will articulate to the Minister responsible that we want an answer and a report back to Parliament within the year.

Many hon. Members have stressed the strategic importance of the military location. Anybody with a military background is soon made aware of the significance of Diego Garcia and its role internationally for our allies, for NATO, for the United States and for Britain. The joint UK and US military facility on Diego Garcia contributes significantly towards global security—I cannot stress it any more than that. It is central to our operations, and to those of the United States and our international partners, to counter threats in the region, including terrorism and piracy. The continuing operation of the base is a key factor that we must take into account in our considerations.

One hon. Member asked about dual accounting in official development assistance and defence spending. I will make it very clear that there are occasions when military activity comes under the Ministry of Defence budget and qualifies for ODA activity. I complained about that when I visited Afghanistan and found that Britain was doing work in military training, mine clearance and so on, which is “ODA-able” but we were not charging for it. We were doing things that did not go towards that figure. It is very important to put into context that this is not a competition as such. Those who make the ODA rules—it is not us—recognise that certain minimal activities to do with stabilisation, reconstruction and peacekeeping can be paid for by military personnel. There are not many activities but there are some.

Bob Stewart

On that very point, would it be possible to use the Royal Air Force’s Voyager aircraft—the big ones—to take Chagossians back for a visit, and then bring them out again?

Mr Ellwood

That is another point I will pass on to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe and the Americas to consider when he gets back.

The British Indian Ocean Territory marine protected area in the north, which the UK declared in 2010, is highly valued by scientists from many countries. They consider it to be a global reference site for marine conservation in an ocean that is heavily overfished. We are aware that some concerns have been raised about the motives for the creation of the MPA, but those concerns are unfounded and I was pleased that previous Ministers were able to clarify exactly how the MPA came about.

The UN convention on the law of the sea arbitral tribunal found no evidence of improper purpose in the creation of the MPA. This issue has been scrutinised by UK courts, which have consistently found, including as recently as May 2014, that there is no substance whatever to the allegations of improper use. The arbitral tribunal found that we should have consulted Mauritius about the establishment of the MPA, so as to give due regard to its rights, and we have started a series of bilateral meetings to implement the tribunal award. The most recent of those meetings took place in August.

I reassure the House that the Government are very aware of the views and concerns of the Chagossian people, and of all those who support them. Those views have been fully and passionately represented by hon. Members today. We want to make the right decision, based on all relevant factors, including what we have heard during the course of our consultations with Chagossians living here in the UK, and with Chagossians in Mauritius and the Seychelles. We have to balance the Chagossians’ views against the practical difficulties that our feasibility study has highlighted, the very real concerns about costs, and our need to operate a military facility that is vital to our security.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Romford for securing this important debate, and all hon. Members for their contributions. The Minister for the Commonwealth and the United Nations, Baroness Anelay of St Johns, is looking forward to meeting the all-party group in due course.

3.56 pm

Andrew Rosindell

I thank hon. Members from all political parties who have contributed to this important debate today. However, we still do not know what will happen. We are still waiting anxiously to find out what Her Majesty’s Government’s decision will be. It is not ​only those of us here in Westminster Hall today who are waiting but the people of the Chagos islands, whose spirit has been broken these last 50 years.

We in this House have a duty, first and foremost, to stand up for the interests of the British people, and the Chagossians are British. They are as entitled to their human rights, their dignity and their right of self-determination just as much as we are in this Chamber and just as much as our constituents are. We defend our overseas territories and their rights to remain British and to self-determination, and yet we single out one of them and say, “Your rights are not at the same level as the others.” There is no moral justification for that.

I say to the Minister that my right hon. Friend the Member for Broadland (Mr Simpson) made it clear when he was shadow Foreign Minister that this issue had to be addressed when we were in government. Why after six years have we failed to do so?

I do not buy for one moment the idea that the islands cannot be inhabited. That is propaganda. Other remote islands around the world—the Maldives are not that far away from the Chagos islands—are fantastic tourist destinations. If they can be inhabited and used, whether for marine conservation or as a military base—we defend the importance of the military base on Diego Garcia—there is absolutely no reason why we cannot come up with a plan to put right this situation, which has gone on for far too long.

I know the Minister is a defender of the rights of British subjects to self-determination in the rest of the overseas territories. I ask him please to take this back to the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister. Please say to them that this is the last chance—the very last chance—that we are going to get, prior to the potential renewal of the agreement between the US and the UK, finally to resolve this injustice and to give the Chagossian people the same rights that we would always defend for our own constituents.

The British way is to stand up for human rights and self-determination, and to give people the right to determine their own destiny. As my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) said, let us do the British thing and give the people of the Chagos islands the right to continue to be British in their own homeland.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered Government policy on the British Indian Ocean Territory and Chagos islands.
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Postby RichardWSymonds » Fri Mar 03, 2017 11:00 am


The Bertrand Russell Society Invites Trump and Putin to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons Once and For All

The president of the association of scholars and admirers of the famous philosopher and anti-nuclear war advocate, Bertrand Russell, writes both presidents to endorse the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s recent open letter calling for negotiations and a nuclear weapons-free world.

Nobel Laureate, Philosopher, Mathematician, and Anti-nuke Activist, Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
... commit your governments to the realizable objective of a nuclear weapons-free world.

The president of the Bertrand Russell Society, Dr. Timothy Madigan, has written Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin on behalf of the Society to encourage them to work together towards eliminating nuclear weapons. Madigan, a philosophy professor at Saint John Fisher College in Rochester, New York, tells both presidents that his organization supports the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s recent plea and “open letter” to the White House and Kremlin regarding nuclear weapons, wherein it asks both presidents to “commence negotiations to reduce the dangers of a nuclear war, by mistake or malice, and immediately commit your respective governments to the realizable objective of a nuclear weapons-free world.” The letter was signed by many scholars and luminaries, including members of the Bertrand Russell Society such as Daniel Ellsberg and Noam Chomsky.
Madigan also sent the leaders a copy of what might have been Bertrand Russell’s shortest book, History of the World in Epitome, which in only a couple of spare drawings and 21 words summarizes human folly throughout history and its ultimate doom in the event of a nuclear holocaust. Russell published the little book on his 90th birthday in 1962, only a few months before the Cuban Missile Crisis, a time when the world stood at the precipice of nuclear catastrophe, and, as we now know, a horror that was only barely averted. Russell, a renowned mathematician, philosopher, and Nobel Prize laureate, worked tirelessly to reduce the nuclear threat during the Cold War until his death in 1970 at age of 98. Russell and the great physicist, Albert Einstein, issued their famous Russell–Einstein Manifesto in 1955 to highlight the dangers posed by nuclear weapons, calling for world leaders to seek peaceful resolutions to international conflict.
The Bertrand Russell Society is an international association of scholars and admirers of Russell, and it seeks to promote the study and furtherance of his ideas and ideals. Information about the Society may be found at its website http://bertrandrussell.org/ and individuals may apply for membership at http://form.jotform.us/form/31117633909151
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