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Diego Garcia

Volume 978: debated on Wednesday 13 February 1980

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asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement regarding the present use of Diego Garcia.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Richard Luce)

The present use of Diego Garcia as a United States communications and support facility is in accordance with the published exchanges of notes of 1966 and 1976. There is a British liaison team of 25 Royal Navy personnel.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that reply. Can he tell the House to what extent United States forces in the island are being built up and what is the extent of existing support facilities there? Can the hon. Gentleman further inform the House whether the Government intend to allow the former inhabitants to return? Is the present offer of further compensation contingent upon acceptance of the fact that they have been evicted from their island?

The size of the United States forces in Diego Garcia is around 1,900. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the two agreements of 1966 and 1976—signed by the then Labour Government—provide for comunications and support facilities for the United States. In recent weeks the United States has asked for an extension of those facilities in order to improve the staging and handling capacity there. These arrangements are within the understandings reached between our two Governments and are perfectly in order. We have agreed to meet the request. As far as the Ilois community is concerned, the issue goes back to 1965 and 1966 when the then Labour Government decided that the inhabitants should be asked to move to Mauritius. In the 1970s the British Government gave compensation of £655,000. With accrued interest, that figure totals almost £1 million. That is compensation, in particular for resettlement of the Ilois community in Mauritius.

Does the Minister agree that, in the context of recent events in the Indian Ocean, the Gulf and elsewhere, there are strong arguments for increasing the facilities available to the United States in Diego Garcia? Is not such an arrangement all the more relevant in the light of what seem to be unfortunate developments created by Russia's links with the Seychelles to the north?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about the threat posed by the Soviet Union. The growing instability of the area fully justifies the request of the United States for these facilities.

Is the Minister aware that what we do, or do not do, in Diego Garcia is a sensitive issue? Does not his statement supersede the clear statement made by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), on 28 November, that no further developments were planned for the island? Is the Minister saying that he now overrides that statement? Can the hon. Gentleman say whether the offer of £1·25 million made to the islanders has been accepted?

I will take the latter point first. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman in that I did not complete my earlier answer. There is an outstanding offer of £1·25 million, which is not for resettlement since that is a separate issue. It is an ex-gratia payment for the removal of those people from the Chagos archipeligo to Mauritius. That offer is outstanding and has not been finalised.

As far as the provision of additional facilities is concerned, the hon. Gentleman knows that there have been additional serious developments since then. Talks have taken place at official level between the United States and Great Britain and the Americans have asked for additional staging capacity in that area.