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Notification of Contingent Liability: British Virgin Islands Inquiry

Volume 704: debated on Monday 22 November 2021

It is normal practice, when a Government Department proposes to undertake a contingent liability in excess of £300,000 for which there is no statutory authority, for the Minister concerned to present a departmental minute to Parliament, giving particulars of the liability created and explaining the circumstances; and to refrain from incurring the liability until 14 parliamentary sitting days after the issue of the statement, except in cases of special emergency.

I have today laid a departmental minute proposing to provide an indemnity that is necessary in respect of a Governor-established independent inquiry in the British Virgin Islands, tasked with establishing whether there is information that corruption, abuse of office or other serious dishonesty in relation to officials, whether statutory, elected or public, may have taken place in recent years. The then and current Governors take any such allegations extremely seriously, and the inquiry reflects their commitment to a full and independent investigation into any wrongdoing. The Governors have the full backing of the UK Government.

Earlier this year (2021), the previous Foreign Secretary announced that the then Governor had established the Commission of Inquiry [Official Report, 18 January 2021; Vol. 687, c. 32WS] to be led by the right hon. Sir Gary Hickinbottom as Commissioner. On the 14 July 2021 the current Governor announced that he had granted the Commissioner a six-month extension, taking the deadline for the Commissioner to report to the Governor to January 2022.

The indemnity will cover the Commissioner and his team against any liability for any act done or omission made honestly and in good faith in the execution of his or her duty as such, or in the purported execution of his duty as such. The indemnity will only apply to acts done or omissions made during the course of or in connection with the Inquiry. If the liability is called, provision for any payment will be sought through the normal supply procedure.

The Treasury has approved the proposal in principle. If, during the period of 14 parliamentary sitting days beginning on the date on which this minute was laid before Parliament, a Member signifies an objection by giving notice of a parliamentary question or by otherwise raising the matter in Parliament, final approval to proceed with incurring the liability will be withheld pending an examination of the objection.