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Overseas Territories

Volume 518: debated on Tuesday 9 November 2010

12. What his policy priorities are for the overseas territories in 2011; and if he will make a statement. (22536)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are passionate about the overseas territories, as they are an important part of the British family. We are developing a new strategy for them involving the whole UK Government, with the aim of bringing renewed focus to our relationship with them. We have a particular responsibility to ensure the security and good governance of the overseas territories, as well as to support their economic well-being.

Specifically on the Turks and Caicos Islands, will the Minister update the House on the progress of Helen Garlick’s investigation into corruption there and when he anticipates its reporting in full?

I visited the Turks and Caicos Islands recently and had a couple of meetings with Helen Garlick. I also met her, along with my counterpart from the Department for International Development, the week before last. She assured me that the investigation is making good progress, and she is hopeful that she will be able to prefer charges early next year. That will be an important milestone in our plans to get the Turks and Caicos Islands back on their feet.

Following on from my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson), will the Minister tell the House how much money the UK Government have given to the Turks and Caicos Islands for the maintenance of their Government and public services?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question on the Turks and Caicos Islands. In a written statement in July, the Secretary of State for International Development announced plans for the provision of a temporary package of financial support. Work to put the package in place is currently under way. To address the immediate shortfall, the Department for International Development provided a loan of £9.7 million to the Turks and Caicos Islands between June and August, and provided a further loan of up to £10 million to cover the period from September to November. We are determined to get the territory back on a firm financial footing and to ensure that its finances are in order, and then we can announce elections. Hopefully, I will be able to make a statement on that later this year or early next year.

I congratulate the Government on their new, refreshing and positive approach to British overseas territories. Will the Minister tell us something about the Pitcairn Islands? It has been a British territory since 1838—it was the first British territory in the Pacific. Will the Minister confirm that the Pitcairn Islands will remain British for as long as there is a Conservative Government?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. He is an indefatigable champion of the OTs in this place. Let me assure him that both my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I are passionate about the overseas territories. I have waited 27 years, from first coming into the House, to become Minister with responsibility for the overseas territories. I have no intention of doing anything other than respecting their wishes and their right to self-determination and trusting them.

No Minister has ever visited the island of St Helena. [Interruption.] I acknowledge that the former president of a European nation was once there. Will the Minister please discuss with his colleagues in DFID the construction of the airport on the island, with a view to bringing it forward as quickly as possible?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, my coalition colleague, for that question. I will do all that I can to facilitate his visit to St Helena, which is an important overseas territory. I am delighted that one of the first things that DFID did was to put an end to the prevarication and delays in the announcement of the airport. The project, which will cost a substantial amount of money, will hopefully go forward apace. Although I do not want to prejudge the commercial negotiations that will have to take place, the news is, none the less, good.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury recently said that tax evasion and avoidance were unacceptable, and he announced a crackdown on those hiding money offshore. Will the Minister explain to the House why his Government have abandoned the demands of the previous Government for the Cayman Islands to give up their tax haven status and introduce some form of direct taxation?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question, and I congratulate her on her appointment. Having been a special adviser at the Foreign Office, she will have a great deal to bring to her new Front-Bench job. The previous Minister with responsibility for the overseas territories, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), approved last year’s Cayman Islands’ borrowings at £217 million with conditions attached. This year, I approved borrowings of £123 million, with the same conditions attached. For the Cayman Islands to get their economy moving again, we strongly feel that they need to maintain their offshore status, and we are following the policy of the previous Government.