[Judith Cummins in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the sovereignty of the British Indian Ocean Territory.
Before I start to talk about this British overseas territory, I would like to say that I returned last week from another British overseas territory—the Falkland Islands—with my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland) and the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), who is the shadow Minister for the overseas territories. We have just spent nine days together in the Falkland Islands, inspecting the defences of the islands, meeting islanders and, most importantly, commemorating the 40th anniversary celebrations of the liberation of the islands in June 1982. I pay tribute to the shadow Minister. During our visit, he and I disagreed on almost everything: politically, culturally, socially—everything. But we were in unison and total agreement on the need to protect the Falkland Islands and their right to self-determination, a concept to which I will return over and again during my speech and this debate. It is the lesson we have learned from the conflict in the Falkland Islands.
I recognise that the British Indian Ocean Territory is different from the Falkland Islands, and there are different perspectives, narratives and parameters, but one thing that is not divisible and is equally important in any British overseas territory is the concept of self-determination; we cannot negotiate sovereignty of a territory without the legitimacy of consultation with the islanders and the people originally from that territory.
I mention the Falkland Islands because we have to learn from our mistakes and from the mistakes the Foreign Office has made in the past. Something I was told over and again during our visit to the Falkland Islands was that Lord Chalfont, a Labour Minister in the Foreign Office in the late ’60s, was sent to the Falkland Islands in 1968 by the Foreign Office to try to convince the islanders to abandon Great Britain, ditch their links with Britain and become Argentinian. The Falkland Islands’ people repeatedly referenced—and have written pamphlets and books about—that occasion, when a Labour Foreign Office Minister was sent to the Falkland Islands to try to entice, cajole and manoeuvre an entire people to abandon their cultural heritage, their links and their status as part of the British family. I am pleased that the Falkland Islanders sent Lord Chalfont back home with the unequivocal message, “We wish to remain British, we are British and we are determined to continue to be part of the British family.” I would argue that the poor handling of the Falkland Islands situation by the Foreign Office in the late ’60s and ’70s led and contributed to the war that then was instigated in 1982.
Something I will not forget from my visit to the Falkland Islands is when my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell, the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth and I were taken to the top of Mount Tumbledown, and saw the horrendous situation our armed forces faced in trying to retake the islands. We paused on many occasions during our trip to lay wreaths and spend time quietly together, commemorating the lives of the British soldiers who gave up their lives to protect that British territory.
When the Foreign Office makes mistakes and miscalculates, it is not civil servants or politicians who suffer, but British soldiers, who sometimes have to lay down their lives. Now I believe the Foreign Office is making the same mistakes with the British Indian Ocean Territory that it made with the Falkland Islands. I am deeply concerned that the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), made the decision in her extraordinarily brief premiership to start negotiations with Mauritius over the sovereignty of those 58 beautiful islands in the Indian ocean.
I have debated this issue with many colleagues, and the message from some of them is this: we are in negotiations with Mauritius, due to rulings against us at the United Nations and at the International Court of Justice, so let us conclude those negotiations and then at some stage we will consult the Chagossians. Those are the responses I have received to many written parliamentary questions: “Do not interfere in the negotiations now. Let us conclude these sensitive negotiations—it is all rather discreet—and at some stage in future we will consult the Chagossians.” No, no, no. That puts the cart before the horse. If the Government have any intention to transfer even one of those 58 islands, they need to have a referendum of the Chagossian people. They need to make a decision themselves, rather than our Government even starting to negotiate with Mauritius.
Right hon. and hon. Members will know that the Labour Government of the late 1960s expelled between 1,400 and 1,700 Chagossians. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) is here, as he represents a large contingent of Chagossians who settled in his constituency when they arrived in the United Kingdom. I look forward to hearing what he has to say. The hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) also represents 400 Chagossians. Between them, those two gentlemen represent the lion’s share of Chagossians who live in the United Kingdom.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way; he is making an excellent speech. Who would vote in that referendum—Mauritian Chagossians, Chagossians in the constituencies he just mentioned, second generation, third generation, people who have moved around the world? There is no one on the islands who is Chagossian. Who would the referendum be for?
That is a pertinent, sensible and critical question, but not one I have an answer to in this debate. I want to raise the concept and the extraordinary need to ensure that Chagossians are consulted. In written answers, the Government have stated they will consult the Chagossians. If we secure a commitment to a referendum of the Chagossians, it is for the Government to work with legal minds far superior to mine to create the framework in which a referendum could take place.
I want to apologise, as I am sure others will, to the Chagossian people. Those beautiful people were expelled from their islands in 1968 to make way for an American military base. Nothing can erase the shame we feel as British citizens that our ancestors treated the Chagossians in that way. To rip them away from their beautiful islands and cast them to the Seychelles, Maldives, Britain and Mauritius is unforgiveable. At this stage, we can only apologise for what happened to them.
The military base was set up to counter growing Chinese and Soviet belligerence in the Indian ocean and beyond. Today we see a similar belligerence from Russia and especially China. That is the point I want to get across in this debate: we have to look at what is going on in that region.
I may be one of very few parliamentarians, if not the only one, who has been to the British Indian Ocean Territory on duty as a military person, so I have seen at first hand how important that base is to NATO and beyond. For me, it is clear; we have two submarine Z-berths there and a large airbase, which was directly involved with the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is an American airbase that is owned by the British. To my mind, it would be pathological nonsense to concede access to that part of the world.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend and I am grateful to him for his intervention. I will not give way again for a few minutes, because I have a lot to get through.
Let me explain the key issue. I want to put it on the record and I want to criticise my own side. I am not prone to criticising the Conservative party, but I will enjoy myself this afternoon; I want to let rip.
Seven years ago, I started to ask questions of the Conservative Government, including on the Government’s understanding of the situation in relation to another member of the UN Security Council. By the way, it is a situation peculiar to only five nations in the world to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and with that status comes a tremendous amount of responsibility. I asked the then Foreign Secretary, Mr Hammond, “What is this Government’s perception of the fact that China has hoovered up hundreds of atolls in the South China sea—stealing them from Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines—poured concrete on them and turned them into giant military installations, which extends China’s reach by over 1,000 kilometres by stealing all those islands from all those countries?”
I have met the ambassadors of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and others, who have expressed to me great concern about what the Chinese are doing. It is only because of British and American freedom of navigation exercises through the South China sea that this waterway, through which 65% of the world’s trade passes, is still open. Otherwise, the Chinese would have tried to turn it into a Chinese lake.
The Government’s response was extraordinary. Mr Hammond said: “The British Government does not get involved, nor has any opinion, on the disputes about uninhabited atolls in the South China sea”. How regrettable that that answer came seven years ago, because I would argue that it was the Government’s lack of action in response to China stealing hundreds of atolls that was the thin end of the wedge; Britain’s inaction gave the brutal Communist dictatorship of China a green light: “Yes, it’s okay for us to steal other people’s territories. Yes, it’s okay for us to pour concrete on to these atolls and turn them into military installations, because the British aren’t going to do anything about it”.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way; he is making very strong points about China and its influence on the atolls. Is it his impression that that is about China setting up military bases, or is it about telecoms—listening in and disrupting global communications—rather than establishing military bases? That would be even more worrying than the assertion he has made.
I agree with my hon. Friend; of course, it is a combination of both factors, with the Chinese trying to extend the tentacles of their reach throughout the whole region in order to put smaller countries under pressure.
The Chinese control Mauritius through their belt and road policy, as they do so many other small nations around the world. Guess which is the first African nation that received a free trade agreement with China? Mauritius. Guess which country—a tiny island, with a small economy—has received over $1 billion in investment from China over the last few years? Mauritius. The moment that we give Mauritius some of the outer islands, of which there are 58, it will lease one or some of them to the Chinese almost instantaneously. We do not know what conversations are taking place between Beijing and Port Louis, but we cannot discount what the financial statistics say about Chinese control of Mauritius.
Certain politicians and colleagues have made a nuanced argument to me: “Do not rock the boat; these are very delicate negotiations. We have to maintain our control over Diego Garcia. If that means giving away some of the other islands and coming to a compromise, so be it.” No. If the mantra is to keep Diego Garcia while giving some of the other islands away, imagine what would happen to the viability and sustainability of UK and American bases on Diego Garcia. It would be absolutely intolerable for us. I have visited our military bases on Diego Garcia. I have spent days meeting with American officials on the islands; they briefed me and showed me around the naval vessels and installations. Having those huge military bases with the Chinese just a stone’s throw away from us on the other islands would be completely unacceptable.
I visited Peros Banhos, one of the outer islands, after sailing overnight from Diego Garcia, which is where the military base is. Islanders on Peros Banhos were expelled in 1970 because the island was perceived to be too close to our military base. The Chinese have shown form. They are the world experts on turning atolls into military installations. There is an argument that Peros Banhos and the other islands are too small, too insignificant and too far below sea level for them to be viable. Well, the Chinese have proved that concept completely wrong; they have created installations successfully in the South China sea.
There has been an appalling injustice, which we must now right. Rather than accommodating the spurious demands of Mauritius, we need to consult the indigenous people living in Britain, Mauritius, the Maldives and the Seychelles. I want to read a statement from Frankie Bontemps, who is a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley. He is an NHS worker at the hospital in Crawley, and is from the Chagos islands. I had a long and somewhat emotional telephone conversation with him last night. He is a tremendous man, whom I look forward to meeting in the House of Commons. He writes:
“I am a founding member of Chagossian Voices. I don’t agree that islands should go to Mauritius. Chagossians have never been consulted at any stage and Chagossians were never represented, either at the International Court or before. Chagossians have been used by the Mauritian government at ICJ to get sympathy by providing an account of suffering…Then they were dismissed…as ‘Mauritians of Chagossian origin’. They have erased our identity.”
That is the allegation: “they have erased our identity”. The statement goes on:
“The Mauritian Government was also complicit in the exile of Chagossians and the ‘sale’ of the islands in 1965.”
That is a fascinating concept. Mauritius took £3 million of our taxpayers’ money in 1965. Think for a moment how much £3 million was in 1965. It took our money as final settlement for the islands. It was complicit in helping the removal of the Chagossians from Diego Garcia and the other islands, and now, 60 years on, it wants to overturn that agreement and take away from us islands that are more than 2,000 km away from it.
Mr Bontemps goes on to say:
“Chagossians do not feel they are Mauritians and Chagossians feel they are still being exploited by the Mauritian government. Mauritius wants sovereignty of the islands for financial gain and I do not think there will be resettlement of Chagossians”
under Mauritian rule. He goes on to say this, which is very evocative, powerful and emotional:
“It is wrong to describe Chagossians as Mauritians. Their origins are as slaves from Africa and Madagascar. The Chagossians have been there for 5 or 6 generations with their own language and culture, food and music traditions. It is a remote and unique culture different to Mauritius…The judgment of Lord Justice Laws & Mr. Justice Gibbs in November 2000 said Chagossians are the ‘belongers’ on the islands. As ‘belongers’ Chagossians should be their own deciders of their futures, not the Mauritian Government. Self-determination should have been for the Chagossians, not for Mauritians who have their own island more than 2,000 km away. So far only UK and Mauritius have been consulted. Chagossians have never been allowed to participate in decisions about their future, from exile until now. Chagossians should now be asked to decide the future of the islands. Chagossians should be around the table. It’s our human right.”
Mr Bontemps then goes on to say that he has written a letter to the Foreign Secretary asking for those assurances, dated 11 November 2022, and he has not as yet received a reply.
I would like to thank Rob Crilly, a reporter from The Daily Mail USA edition, who has written a story about this debate. As a result of it, I was contacted this week by Republican Congressman Mike Waltz, a ranking member of the military readiness sub-committee of the Congress of the United States of America. He is now likely to become chairman of that powerful and important group, as the Republicans recently won the congressional elections. US bases are under its jurisdiction. I had a long, fruitful discussion with Congressman Waltz’s team and highlighted my concerns about the negotiations that our Government have entered into with Mauritius. I briefed them about this debate, and they are extremely concerned by the news. They are worried about the ramifications for them and what will happen to their naval base if they have to share the archipelago with the Chinese.
Even if we retain Diego Garcia, the other islands will be up for lease to the Chinese. We have seen what Mauritius is doing with Agaléga—
In a second.
Agaléga is one of the Mauritian islands, which it has leased to the Indians. The indigenous population of that atoll has been removed and massive destruction has taken place on it to accommodate an Indian military base, so the Mauritians have form. They understand the importance of the Indian ocean and how geographically significant it is. Mauritius is in the market to gain as many of these atolls as possible and ultimately to sell them to the Indians, the Chinese or whoever is the highest bidder. That is in stark contrast to the United Kingdom, which is seeking to protect the 58 islands. A massive conservation area twice the size of the United Kingdom has been created around the islands, which is protecting marine and wildlife. There is no fishing and no oil drilling—nothing takes place. Anybody interested in what Mauritius is doing with these atolls should google that information. Mauritius wants the islands to sell them to make money. Ultimately, if we allow it to do that, it will facilitate the militarisation of the Indian ocean.
I am concluding my arguments—I will give way in a second—but what I would like to say is this. We have beaten the French to secure participation in AUKUS, which is one of the most important miliary agreements signed in the Government’s tenure in office, and we are re-entering the Indian ocean and the Pacific through our arrangement with the Americans and the Australians. AUKUS is essential.
It was Lee Kuan Yew who remonstrated with the United Kingdom when we left Singapore in 1971. He understood the ramifications for that region were the United Kingdom to abandon her bases. In that period of retrenchment and lacking in self-confidence that we went through in the early ’70s, we left all those areas, and Lee Kuan Yew and others foresaw the difficulties that would ensue. Finally, we have the confidence to re-enter the Indian ocean and the Pacific. The AUKUS military agreement is essential, in conjunction with our membership of the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership—the far east trading bloc—which we are entering next year.
The islands are essential for our geopolitical strategy of supporting allies in the Indian ocean and the Pacific from growing Chinese belligerence. I speak as the only Member of Parliament to have been born in a communist country and the only British Member of Parliament who has lived under communist oppression and tyranny, so I know what the communists are capable of and I know how the Chinese communist Government threaten and bully many smaller countries in the region. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland) said, it would be madness to allow the Chinese to enter the Indian ocean through its puppet client state of Mauritius.
I hope that the Chagossians following the debate across the United Kingdom, as well as those in Mauritius and the Seychelles, listen to us and hear the strength of feeling that many hon. Members have, demonstrating that we, as a former imperial power, recognise the mistakes we have made and that, in a new modern era, we will put the concepts of integrity and self-determination at the forefront. If any of the islands is to be abandoned, that can be done legitimately only through the acceptance of the Chagossian people, and the fascinating thing is that I do not think that that is there. I look forward to hearing from my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) and will stop shortly so that he can speak. However, in all my discussions with the Chagossians, I hear that they are up for this—they are up for remaining British. We can convince them to vote to remain British in a referendum. Will the Minister tell us why we are negotiating with the Mauritius Government before the Chagossians have been consulted?
The last thing I will say—I will use parliamentary privilege for the first time in 17 years—is that British citizens, who I will not name, are actively conspiring to aid and abet Mauritius to take these islands from the United Kingdom. I will not begin to tell hon. Members what I think of those individuals, but I very much hope that they will be thwarted in their actions.
I am not entirely sure where to begin. I suppose I congratulate the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), and I welcome his interest in this issue. Many of us in the Chamber are members of the Chagos islands (British Indian Ocean Territory) all-party parliamentary group and have spoken frequently in Westminster Hall and the main Chamber on the question of sovereignty and the rights of the islanders and their descendants. I do not recall ever seeing the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham at those APPG meetings. I have not gone through the minutes of all 30 meetings that have taken place since I joined in 2016, so perhaps I missed him.
I am happy to stand corrected on that. As far as I could tell from a search of Hansard, the hon. Gentleman has mentioned the British Indian Ocean Territory once in his career in this place, which was last year in a debate on AUKUS. His peroration probably gave us a sense of the real priorities behind this debate.
At base level, I do not disagree. The Chagossian community should absolutely be involved and consulted in the negotiations on the future of the islands—many of us who have been involved in the all-party group have been campaigning on that for many years. I say “good luck” to him getting the United Kingdom Government to recognise the sovereignty of a people and that their democratic future should be decided in a referendum on the future of their territory, because the UK Government are very clearly against that kind of democratic process. It is important that we find a way to make sure that the community are properly consulted.
I suspect that the issue will divert away from the specific question of sovereignty and to their rights and the future of their connection with the islands themselves. As the hon. Member recognises, the community is quite widely dispersed because of the historical actions of the United Kingdom Government. It is incredibly diverse as well, and different groups will have different views on exactly what a resolution should look like.
A mechanism that can include the diaspora would be welcome. It might be impossible, as he alluded to, but there is no reason that the Governments that represent them cannot put their interests at the forefront when they are at the table. He is right that there is a Chagossian community represented by the United Kingdom Government. There is a Chagossian community represented by the Government of Mauritius and a Chagossian community represented by the Government of the Seychelles, and there will be smaller diasporas elsewhere in the world. That is what parliamentary democracies are for and what democratic representation is for. That is what many of us would want to see achieved.
Human Rights Watch, which I am sure is an organisation that the hon. Gentleman engages with on a regular basis, has called for the inclusion of community voices, saying:
“Righting the half century of wrongs to the Chagossian people means full reparations – their right to return in dignity and prosperity; full compensation for the harm they have suffered; and guarantees that such abuses never happen again.”
That is where we ought to try to find some kind of consensus.
I come from a political tradition where sovereignty lies with the people; not with a Crown, not with a Parliament and certainly not with a Government. In reality, sovereignty always ultimately lies with the people. People have the fundamental human rights to freedom of speech, thought and assembly. Those are manifested in the right to live under the rule of law. Those rights can be denied, as they have been in the case of the Chagossians, but they cannot be taken away. That is why among all the negotiations are questions about the future of the base on Diego Garcia, which, incidentally—I wanted to ask about this in an intervention— probably took quite a lot of concrete to establish.
I am not sure if I completely understood the hon. Member’s argument. It appeared to be that in the 1960s it was okay for the United Kingdom to buy an island, militarise the south Indian ocean, pour lots of concrete on Diego Garcia and forcibly displace a population in doing so, but now it would be completely wrong for any other Government to consider such course of action.
The notion that we should tell other countries to do what we say and not what we do is not always the most conducive to building world peace and stability. In among all those questions, we have to put the interests of the community first. We as Members have a duty to scrutinise the Government and speak out on behalf of our constituents, whether they are members of the Chagossian community or—like those who contact me—committed human rights activists who believe that everyone in the world should enjoy the rights we too often take for granted here in the United Kingdom. I hope the Government’s movements on this issue will at last lead to some kind of equitable status that resolves the question of sovereignty in international law, but more importantly, achieves justice at last for the people of the Chagos islands.
Thank you, Mrs Cummins, for calling me in this important debate on the future of the British Indian Ocean Territory. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) and thank him for securing the debate and for the very powerful comments that he made in his introduction.
Injustice has been visited on the Chagos islanders for well over half a century. It was the Harold Wilson Administration that forcibly removed them from their homeland in the late 1960s, exiling them mainly to Mauritius, but also to some other locations such as the Seychelles. That was not a decision made by this democratic Parliament, but by Orders in Council. The way the Chagos islanders have been treated in Mauritius is really quite appalling: they have been treated as second-class citizens in that country, and the injustice upon injustice that they have suffered is intolerable.
I believe that the Chagos islanders should have a right of return to their homeland. I am pleased that as a result of the Nationality and Borders Act passed earlier this year, they and further generations have a right to settle here in this country: they are British citizens, and should be so by right. I am pleased that that has been recognised. However, the future of the Chagos islanders should be determined by them. The prospect of their future being decided by London, Port Louis, the UN in New York, the International Court of Justice in The Hague or wherever else—as has happened throughout the past half century or more—is fundamentally wrong. The Chagos islanders must be able to determine their own future.
Mention has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham of the strategic importance of the Chagos archipelago. Those islands were very strategically important during the cold war and during the actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, and they are very strategic again with a new cold war now seemingly having started as a result of Russian aggression. The point about the threat from China has already been made: the Chinese belt and road initiative has already resulted in Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean and the Pacific ocean coming under Chinese coercion and influence. There is a very real danger that if the British Indian Ocean Territory is ceded to Mauritius, there will be significant pressure to put Chinese military installations on those extremely strategic islands. That would be a major military and strategic error for the global community, and I wonder what discussions have been had with Washington regarding its views on defence and foreign policy should those islands be ceded to Mauritius. Perhaps the Minister could address that point.
I will conclude my remarks by saying that as my constituent Frankie Bontemps of Chagossian Voices, who has already been referenced, has said, the vast majority of the Chagos community that I represent—I probably represent the largest Chagos community anywhere in the world—want to remain British, despite the appalling history that this country has visited on them. They must be consulted.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins. I congratulate the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) on securing this debate. Since becoming a Member of Parliament, it has been my great pleasure to get thoroughly involved with the Chagos community in my constituency, which numbers 300 to 400 people. What a wonderful community it is! They celebrate their annual mass on Chagos Day at St Anthony’s in Woodhouse Park, to which I am invited. The food is fantastic as well.
What a wonderful community, but what a horror story. I describe the Chagossians’ removal from those islands in that era as the mother of all injustices. I have about 13 constituents who still remember the days and weeks that it happened; they have told me about having their crops burned and their animals shot, being forcibly lined up on a boat to sail 800 nautical miles away to wherever—the Seychelles or Port Louis, Mauritius—and having their way of life ripped asunder. They are some of the most horrific stories I have heard in my eight years in this place. Then, to compound what I have called the mother of all injustices, there was then the injustice of their treatment in Mauritius.
We have had 50 years of systemic failure—failing these people who live in systemic poverty. It is passed on from generation to generation. The reason why so many Chagossians live in the constituency of the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), I would say, is because they get jobs at the airport, as they do in my constituency. We have to do more. We have to go further and faster to begin to break down the systemic poverty that the Chagossians have suffered generation upon generation. I think we can do it.
The UK is subject to the rule of international law. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham is right. We see at first hand China’s tentacles everywhere in my constituency and in my city. There is no need to tell that to a Mancunian at the moment—we see what China is doing in its consulate in my city, where the consul general came out and dragged in Hong Kong protesters, beating them up. A foreign state in my city is perpetrating this. We had a wonderful relationship with that consulate for 60 years, but, in the last five or 10 years, we have seen the change in the authoritative tone of the Chinese Government.
But we are subject to the rule of law. This International Court of Justice ruling against us at the UN has forced us into a position. The UK has to enter some form of negotiations, and we should carry those out in a way that, as the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) said, achieves good outcomes for the Chagos communities. Good outcomes mean the Chagossians getting British passports—how many of us who represent Chagossian communities have struggled, following the treatment of the Windrush generation in the past few years, to get them ordinary British passports? It means getting the right to remain to do that, to allow them to get better jobs and bursaries for education and to enable them to send back the natives who came here if they want a burial on those islands.
I have, for all sorts of reasons, taken over the chairmanship of the APPG, on which I have sat for eight years. We have campaigned religiously to highlight the plight of this community. Next week, I will meet with Chagossian Voices again to hear at first hand their thoughts on these negotiations. In my first act as chairman, I wrote to the Foreign Secretary, who has now kindly agreed to come and address the group early in the new year, so we will get first-hand information about the stage of these negotiations and what the intent of the British state is.
Many of us present have campaigned for years on this subject. Let us make sure that we put the Chagossians, their rights and their dignity at the heart of everything we do going forward.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) on securing this debate.
What happened to the Chagossians between 1968 and 1973 was wrong. Britain pretended the Chagossians did not exist and that the islands were not permanently inhabited, and then we participated in forced mass deportation. These people were abandoned by Britain; in turn, in Mauritius, they faced poverty, disease and discrimination. The British Government made a mistake, but mistakes can be excellent learning opportunities. The first thing to do is to own the mistake and admit when we get it wrong. I think the British Government have tried to right that historical injustice. They have recognised the Chagossians as British subjects and there is now a thriving community here in the UK, but there is plenty more to do.
Another lesson that comes from making a mistake is to look to the future, communicate and not repeat that mistake. On the issue of communication, I think all MPs received a letter from representatives of the British Indian Ocean Territory citizens here in the UK, also signed by representatives of the British Indian Ocean Territory citizens in Mauritius. They say:
“We are aware of the negotiations discussing the future of the British Indian Ocean Territory and the Mauritian Government. We want to express our strong disagreement with this negotiation, which will have a negative impact on our ancestral islands.”
There is still time for the British Government to act on this.
A ban on resettlement of the Chagos islands in 2016 followed decades of unsuccessful legal challenges in the UK. The Government decided against resettlement of the Chagossian people to the British Indian Ocean Territory on the grounds of feasibility, defence, security issues and the cost to the British taxpayer, as well as the fact that there would be limited healthcare and education and a lack of jobs and economic opportunities. We all accept that it would not be easy, but I think that to try is the very least we owe the Chagossians. We have many successful overseas territories with small populations.
It is worth pointing out, by the way, that Mauritius is not next door to the Chagos islands. It is 1,300 miles away. For context, if we look at the difference between the Falkland Islands and Patagonia, we are talking only about 300 miles.
I had hoped we would right this historical wrong. Consultation with the Chagossians displayed 98% support for resettlement and a Government-commissioned feasibility study deemed resettlement practically feasible. However, to enter into negotiations on sovereignty of the islands with Mauritius without talking directly to the Chagossians is not right. When it comes to the Falkland Islands or Gibraltar, we do not accept that it is a bilateral issue between Argentina and the UK or Spain and the UK, respectively. No, we ensure the Falkland islanders and the Gibraltarians are of equal status.
Self-determination is not something we can choose when it is convenient to recognise. It is either important or it is not. Will the Minister meet representatives of the British Chagossians? I am pleased to hear the report from the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) that that will happen.
Will we allow the people who we removed decades ago to have a say on what happens to their homeland? They deserve representation. Let us not let history repeat itself because despite everything—and everything we have done to them—Chagossians are proud to be British. They deserve our respect, and they deserve self-determination. Let them have their say. We must not compound the error we made decades ago, because I do not think any of us want to be here in 30 years’ time, admitting another historical injustice.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) on leading today’s debate. It is good indeed to discuss the sovereignty of the British Indian Ocean Territory. I understand the hon. Member undertook a visit to the islands back in 2020—maybe even further back—after claims that the UK’s exit from the European Union could hinder the sovereignty of the British Indian Overseas Territory. The hon. Gentleman indicated his knowledge in how he delivered his speech today.
We have maintained and created a stable relationship with our territories abroad and must ensure that we continue that, so it is good that we can be here to do just that. How do we do it? Some hon. Members have laid out their thoughts, while others are of a slightly different point of view, but we all wish to see the same delivery when it comes to solutions, because solutions are what it is all about. I always seek justice for those who have been wronged. The hon. Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow) spoke about that earlier on. The first thing to do when something is wrong is apologise, recognise it and try to right it, and the hon. Gentleman has set out how to do that. Hopefully the Minister will be able to give us some help.
The UK shares an extraordinary defence facility with the US at Naval Support Facility Diego Garcia. The base is crucial to Anglo-American power in the region and extends upon the order we created throughout and after world war two. There have been discussions on handing over the sovereignty of the islands to Mauritius, undermining the legitimacy that Britain has over the islands. Many Members here today have also raised concerns, which I will reiterate, about the potential for Chinese aggression across the world, especially in the Chagos archipelago. It is important to remember that international support must be built in order to retain the legitimate sovereignty that we already have.
In 1982, Margaret Thatcher set a precedent that the United Kingdom would do everything necessary to defend our overseas territories, especially when it came to the Falkland Islands. We have a duty to honour that same commitment, which we had to the Falklands, and also to Gibraltar, to which the hon. Member for Peterborough referred. It is important that the current Prime Minister carries on those legacies and promises to protect the sovereignty of all British territory abroad. The risks of handing sovereignty to Mauritius, with its deepening economic ties to Beijing, offer no guarantee to anyone that China will not soon have its own defence base on that very island.
The geography of Diego Garcia is also posing a problem, given its close proximity to China. It is only a few hundred miles south of the Chinese border, and it is the UK’s only defence base situated between Iran, Russia and China. We have to be honest for our own safety in the role that we have. We simply cannot allow the base to come under Chinese control. Any insinuations that that will be discussed are very concerning. The naval base serves as a logistics and support base for naval vessels, warplanes, and special forces. I understand it is the only one of its type in that location.
The wildlife and environment of the British Indian Ocean Territory are exceptional. The territory has the greatest marine biodiversity—
On that point about the environment, which is critical, a couple of years ago a Japanese oil tanker ran aground just off the Mauritian coast, and the Mauritian response was appalling. There are deep concerns that the pristine marine environment that we have around the British Indian Ocean Territory could be at risk. Will the hon. Gentleman join me in calling on the Government to ensure that that is not the case?
The hon. Gentleman anticipated my next sentence. The territory has the greatest marine biodiversity in the UK and its overseas territories. It is unique and has some of the cleanest seas. We always hear about how the oceans are full of plastics and so on, but it has the cleanest seas and the healthiest reef systems in the world, so we must protect the environment it surrounds.
The territory also represents a nearly untouched ocean observatory, which provides researchers across the world, from all countries, with a place like no other for scientific research. It is a unique location for scientific study, and expeditions have contributed towards the development of the territory as an observatory for undisturbed ecosystems. The UK respects that, but we have to guarantee that there will be no further threat from China in relation to marine biodiversity.
In conclusion, China poses a threat not only to the sovereignty of the islands, but to aspects of our world, too—particularly the environment that I referred to. Although the UK holds complete legitimate sovereignty over the islands, we must encourage our other colleagues to stop the calls for sovereignty going to Mauritius. The success of the relationship has been maintained so far, and we should do what we can to prolong that for our own safety and as a base for our defence. It is time, as Margaret Thatcher said in 1982, to honour the people and citizens of these islands in the same way.
Thank you, Mrs Cummins, for calling me to speak. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) for securing this debate. He said he was going to focus on self-determination in particular, which is important. As other hon. Members have said, what happened originally when the base was set up and what happened to the Chagossian people was outrageous and wrong, and we apologise for that. However, I am not going to focus on that. There are bigger issues than self-determination and sovereignty—global security and defence.
The base was set up in the 1960s for very good reason: to mitigate against the Soviet and Chinese threat. Those threats are greater and more complex now than they were in the ’60s and throughout the period of the cold war. It is unfeasible for the islands to be repopulated. I visited some of the outer islands, where there were lots of graves of small children, as people died very young. The business related to palms that sustained the islands was reducing even before the atrocity of the removal of the individuals.
On the main island, the base is absolutely essential. It is home to an airport from which multiple aircraft, including spacecraft, can be flown. There is hardstanding from which tens of thousands of troops can be deployed around the world. In a protected area, there are a large number of ships storing military equipment. It is perhaps wrong to call them ships. They are seven or eight-storey car parks. On each level, there is bulletproof machinery, diggers, tanks, and armoured personnel vehicles that drive off the seventh floor into the water and can then invade land. There are 350 places around the world from which to deploy and sustain that level of troop commitment. It is a massive facility for global security and the defence of the world. We need to consider that alongside legitimate sovereignty and self-determination issues.
There was originally a 50-year lease that was rolled over to a 20-year lease, and there is now talk of an offer from Mauritius of a 99-year lease. I urge the Government to think about Hong Kong. A 99-year lease seems a long time, yet we have seen what happened in Hong Kong with China. Whatever we do, the global community, which to be honest relies heavily on the Americans, needs that facility to protect global citizens. That should be at the forefront of the Government’s mind, while trying to protect and improve the lives of Chagossians here, in the Seychelles and Mauritius. I have met with all of them and there is a pragmatic understanding. There is a desire to move back, but there is a practical understanding that that would be very difficult, even without the American base and British sovereignty issues.
It is good to see you in your place, Mrs Cummins. I congratulate the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) on securing this interesting debate. We have had a good exchange of views this afternoon. I am delighted to hear that so many colleagues are in favour of the right to self-determination, and we will be back in touch about that on more domestic matters.
On the Chagos islands, I will try to strike a note of consensus with the old story of the American tourist who was lost in rural Ireland and asked his way to Tipperary, and the local farmer answered: “Ah, for sure, if I was going to Tipperary, I would not start from here.” I think we can all agree that an historic injustice has been done to the Chagossian people, and I hope we all agree that that injustice continues. Frankly, I am not interested in which Government or Department did it or how it was done. The British state has a debt to these people, and there is an injustice to focus on above all else.
Starting from first principles, the SNP believes that people, not crowns or Parliaments, are sovereign, as my good hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North said. We believe that the state should serve its people, not the other way round. Indeed, we believe that people should choose their state, not the other way round. We also believe in the right to self-determination, which is one of the main reasons why the SNP exists and is in business.
We also recognise, of course, that international law is sometimes messy. Black and white is not necessarily one size fits all, especially when it comes to the Chagos islands. The way that this was done and the situation of the Chagossian people has been analysed in international courts and a number of credible, serious organisations. In February 2019, the International Court of Justice ruled that the UK’s occupation of the archipelago is illegal: that is a matter of fact. In May 2019, the matter was taken to the General Assembly of the United Nations and there was an overwhelming vote to condemn the UK’s continuing occupation of the Chagos islands. In January 2021, the UN’s International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea upheld the view of the General Assembly that the UK is in the wrong.
What we have heard today is the reality of power politics and big-state politics, but we cannot have both. The Chagossian people are owed a debt by the Government, the Administration and all of us. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) apologise, as I think we all owe an apology to the people of the Chagos islands.
I have some concrete questions for the Minister. Talks have started with the Mauritian Government, but what is their timescale? I have seen one timescale that suggests they will be wrapped up in a matter of months, early next year, but that strikes me as a little ambitious. What is the Minister’s assessment of that timetable?
Lord Ahmad announced funds to compensate the Chagossian people, but what progress has been made with them? The funds struck me as inadequate and the 10-year timescale seems rather longer than it need be. What are the ramifications and the details of that proposal?
Where does the Minister think the UK’s credibility lies on this matter? I have spoken to a number of colleagues in the European Parliament and to representatives to the UN, and the issue is doing real damage to the UK’s credibility. The UK says it believes in the rule of law and in international co-operation, but this is an example where that is not the case. The UK Government need to take the issue far more seriously than they have done so far. The priority has to be the Chagossian people themselves and the historic injustice that has been done to them.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Mrs Cummins. I thank the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) for securing the debate at this critical time of change for the Chagos islands, and I thank colleagues for the range of comments and contributions they have made to the debate.
I am not sure whether to thank the hon. Gentleman for the comments he made about me at the start of the debate, but we had a very enjoyable trip to the Falkland Islands. I will be making declarations about that trip in due course. I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of our united position on the Falkland Islands and our resolute support for them. That is the Opposition’s long-standing position, which I have reiterated on many occasions, including well before the visit and in relation to our position on other British overseas territories.
From the outset, I gently say that I do not accept a number of the hon. Gentleman’s historical analyses and comparisons. Neither are they supported by the House of Commons Library briefing that has been provided for this debate, or by statements made by the Governor of the Falkland Islands and the Chief Minister of Gibraltar. When we talk about our overseas territories, it is important that we understand their distinct and different situations. The situation around the Chagos islands is particularly complex and nuanced, and we should take it in that vein and not make comparisons to other overseas territories.
I pay tribute to colleagues across the House, particularly those with Chagossian communities in their constituencies, for the advocacy and support they have provided over many years on this issue, which is sensitive and painful for those communities, and for raising concerns about our diplomatic standing and commitments internationally. I express my gratitude to the all-party parliamentary group on the Chagos islands, of which I am a member, for its tireless efforts in keeping the Chagos islands on the political agenda and for meticulously scrutinising the policies of successive Governments.
The Opposition welcome the Government’s decision to begin discussions with Mauritius about the future of the islands, but I will set out some detailed questions and concerns on the matter. We have to be guided by a few key principles, so my questions are not in order of priority. We must understand concerns about our national security and that of our allies and strategic partners; our compliance with international law and upholding our international obligations, and the consequences if we do not do that; and the rights and wishes of the people of the Chagos after decades of pain and hardship.
I have personally met and heard from many different representatives from the Chagos community over many years. I have heard different views expressed by different parts of the community, but it is crucial that their distinct and different voices are heard in the process. We should also be concerned about other crucial issues, particularly the protection of the environment and the marine ecosystems around the archipelago, which a number of hon. Members have raised.
This is a deeply complex issue, and I want to start with the question of the rules-based international order, which must be central to UK foreign policy. This historic injustice continues to prevent us from adhering to that, and I share the absolute and deep regret for the past actions of previous Governments, including Labour Governments. The actions taken in the late 1960s and early 1970s were completely unjustifiable. A number of us will have read the shocking documents from that period and the language expressed in them, which was completely and utterly unacceptable. We have a fundamental moral responsibility to the islanders that will not go away. I remain convinced that there must be a lasting resolution to this challenge that lives up to our moral and legal obligations, that draws on the views of Chagossians around the world and that is reached in co-operation with our partners and allies. There must be an apology from all of us—there certainly is from our side—for those past actions, but we need to look to the future and to what is being done for Chagossians today, not just in relation to the situation in the archipelago, but for Chagossians here in many communities.
The ICJ in 2019 was unequivocal in its ruling that
“the United Kingdom is under an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible”.
That was adopted after a vote of 116 to six by the United Nations General Assembly, which called on the UK to
“unconditionally end its occupation of the Archipelago as soon as possible.”
That was supported by the 2021 ruling of the special chamber of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. Although the tribunal did not have competence on territorial disputes, it stated that
“Mauritius’ sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago can be inferred from the ICJ’s determinations.”
Unfortunately, the Government have spent several years simply ignoring and denying these developments, and that has damaged our diplomatic reputation with not just Mauritius but many other countries across Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and with a range of international legal and human rights bodies. Even the Maldives, which historically has been aligned with the UK Government position on this matter, recently changed its position to align with the rest of the international community.
I take on board the comments made by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham on China and its expansion in the South China sea, the Indian ocean and beyond, and he raises some legitimate concerns, although I do not accept his wider characterisations of Mauritius. It is a fact that China has made increasing encroachments into the territorial waters of its neighbours and vast claims in the South China sea while ignoring judgments against itself. That has been matched by a growing assertiveness, and even belligerence, towards some of our allies and partners in the region, so I hope the Minister can set out what assurances we have had on these matters and on China’s activities in the region.
It is my view that the inverse will play out if we do not resolve this matter, because if this is unresolved in terms of international law, it will only play into the hands of China and others who seek to undermine international judgments and law. When we want to call on China to comply with the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s judgment on the South China sea, it will say, “Well, you are not in compliance with the ICJ or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea”. That could be the case for a number of other maritime and territorial disputes that it is in our interests to pursue and defend resolutely. We cannot have one hand doing one thing and the other doing the opposite.
Of course, we must also do the right thing for the Chagossians. The various support packages that were announced have not been followed through, and very little money from that £40 million package has been spent. The last answer I had said that only £810,000 of it had been spent. That is completely unacceptable, and I hope the Minister can say something about that. What discussions has she had with all the different Chagossian groups located not just here in the UK, but in Mauritius, Seychelles and elsewhere?
I am conscious of the time, so I will not. I want to speak about the costs the UK Government have incurred defending the indefensible on the legal position. An answer I received said the UK had spent nearly £6 million on external legal services relating to defending cases that the Government then lost in the ICJ. That is clearly unacceptable at this time of pressure on the public purse. Could the Minister update us on how much money has been spent on defending the previous position?
Citizenship has rightly been raised by a number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane). The Nationality and Borders Act 2022 created an entitlement for direct descendants of Chagossians who were not already citizens to acquire British nationality. I understand that the process opened in November, but I hope the Minister can set out what will be done to address the issue of Chagossians being denied that right to British nationality and to ensure they get what is rightfully theirs. We know that previous negotiations have not gone well and that they broke down in 2009, 2016 and 2017. Will the Minister speak about the tenor and tone of the negotiations and how we will ensure that they go forward in a constructive spirit to achieve an agreement?
On defence, it is crucial that we understand, as many Members have rightly said, that the United Kingdom-United States defence facility in the territory plays a vital role in keeping us and our allies safe. It plays a role in monitoring drugs and piracy, and in the national security activities of regional partners. It supports allies from many countries, and it carries out nuclear test ban monitoring and regional humanitarian efforts. Can the Minister say what discussions have been had with our allies, particularly the United States, about those negotiations and ensuring we maintain our defence capabilities in Diego Garcia?
On the environment and the maritime importance of the islands, we recognise the judgment in relation to the Mauritius Ports Authority, but, given the importance of the archipelago, it is clear that we need to protect that environment. What discussions have been had on that with Mauritius and other partners in the region, as well as with the Chagossians, who believe in protecting their environment and historical homeland?
I will conclude by saying there have been some important questions asked today and some very reasonable contributions. I do not agree with all of them, or with the tenor of some of them, but this is a complex and nuanced issue and it requires a complex and nuanced solution. We want to engage with Chagossians here in the UK, and we will work constructively with the Government to find a permanent and equitable settlement that will end decades of pain for so many, while addressing legitimate concerns about defence, security, the environment and the right of return for Chagossians.
The ultimate problem here is that this issue is hampering our diplomatic position in the world and having much wider implications. We must remember that this was an historic injustice committed against a people by a past Government, and those people have to be at the heart of any solution.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) for securing this important debate. Hon. Members have all highlighted the UK’s recently opened negotiations with Mauritius on the exercise of sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory, also known as the Chagos archipelago. The Foreign Secretary announced the beginning of the negotiations on 3 November. That followed discussions with Mauritius at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in June and at the UN General Assembly in September.
I can confirm that negotiations have formally begun. Officials from the United Kingdom and Mauritius met on 23 and 24 November, and they had constructive discussions. They will meet again shortly to continue those discussions and negotiations. Hon. Members will appreciate that we will not provide any detail on the content of ongoing discussions or speculate on the outcome. However, I commit to and reassure Members that we will keep them and Parliament informed at key junctures through the process.
The UK and Mauritius intend to secure an agreement on the basis of international law to resolve all outstanding issues. I anticipate any agreement will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 in the usual way. Let me be clear that both the UK and Mauritius have reiterated that any agreement between us will ensure the continued effective operation of the joint UK-United States defence facility on Diego Garcia. For more than 40 years, this joint base has contributed significantly to regional and global security. It is the result of a uniquely close and active defence and security partnership between two longstanding allies.
The base helps the UK, US and other allies and partners to combat some of the most challenging threats, including from terrorism, organised crime and instability. The base is well positioned as a key enabler for maritime security, including the protection of regional shipping lanes from threats such as piracy. Diego Garcia also plays a key role in humanitarian efforts, ready for a rapid response in times of crisis or disaster in the region. That includes during the 2004 earthquake and tsunami in the Indian ocean, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the 2013 typhoon in the Philippines. The base plays an important part in assisting the operation of the global positioning system, GPS, and helping the international space station to avoid space debris and prevent satellite collisions.
We are alive to concerns about influence from malign actors in the Indian ocean. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary acknowledged these concerns when he gave evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee on 14 November. He assured the Committee that this is an issue we take very seriously and that we will ensure it is at the heart of our position during the sovereignty negotiations with Mauritius.
Reaching a negotiated agreement on the archipelago will allow the UK and Mauritius, as close Commonwealth partners, to work even more closely together. This will help us to tackle the regional and global security challenges that we both face, along with our wider partners, and avoid the expansion of malign influences into the Indian ocean. It will include promoting human rights and maritime security while tackling illegal migration, drugs and arms trafficking.
We are also keen to strengthen significantly our co-operation with Mauritius on marine and environmental protection in particular. My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) set out some historical issues where those challenges were perhaps not managed as well as they needed to be. The archipelago boasts incredible marine biodiversity, as well as some of the cleanest seas and healthiest reef systems in the world. They support six times more fish than any other Indian ocean reef.
The marine protected area is one of the largest in the world. It prohibits all commercial fishing and extractive activities, such as mining for minerals, oil and gas, and it forms a substantial part of the UK Government’s Blue Belt programme. The area hosts many scientific expeditions, as part of our call for an international target to protect at least 30% of the global oceans by 2030. We will push for this ambitious target at COP15 in the weeks ahead.
We recognise the views of the diverse Chagossian communities in the United Kingdom, Mauritius and the Seychelles. We recognise the diversity of views in those communities and we take those views very seriously. Although the negotiations are between the UK and Mauritius, we will ensure that we engage with the communities as negotiations progress, and I note the kind invitation from my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow) to meet some of those communities.
The UK has expressed our profound and deep regret about the manner in which Chagossians were removed from the islands in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and colleagues have done so again today. I hope that sense of horror and dismay at what happened all those decades ago continues to be reiterated. We are committed to supporting Chagossians, wherever they live, through the £40 million Chagossian support package, which is funding projects in the UK and overseas. I commit to writing to the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) to set out in more detail how that work is progressing.
We have taken other steps to support the community. On 23 November, the UK Government launched a new route to British citizenship for all Chagossian people and their children, free of charge. This new route will give anyone of Chagossian descent the opportunity to build their future in the United Kingdom should they wish to do so, holding British citizenship.
I have talked about ways in which the UK and Mauritius could strengthen our work together. The backdrop to this is our close Commonwealth partnership and our deep historical ties. We are the second biggest export market for Mauritius, while Mauritius is our sixth biggest market in Africa for trade and investment. We are proud of the active Mauritian diaspora in the UK, and hundreds of Mauritian students study in our universities every year. Meanwhile, our tourists flock to Mauritius, accounting for 15% of its visitors annually.
Mauritius is a leader among small island states in tackling climate change. The UK welcomes it as a new pioneer country for the Taskforce on Access to Climate Finance and will act as an anchor donor for Mauritius.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. The main tenet of my discourse this afternoon was to try to get a commitment from her for a referendum of the Chagossian people before any decision is taken. Can she give me that commitment?
As I have set out, we will be making sure that we have close discussions, not only with Mauritians but with those communities as well. As the negotiations progress, we will keep colleagues and Parliament abreast of how they are developing.
As we look forward, we aim to work even more closely with Mauritius to tackle the incredibly important regional and global security challenges that we all face. We remain fully committed to ensuring the effectiveness of the base on Diego Garcia, for the benefit of regional and global security.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for the assurances that she has given, and for agreeing to write to the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), on some of the points that he raised.
I heard the Minister say that there will be extensive consultation with the Chagossians, but I still have not heard from her lips that there will be an internationally recognised referendum. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (Sir James Duddridge) rightly asked questions about how it would come about—the matrix, framework, dynamics and legality of it. I could not agree with him more. There have been referenda in other parts of the world under difficult circumstances and people were able to cast a vote.
I should let my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) know that I hope to meet Mr Bontemps next week. Mr Bontemps told me in no uncertain terms that, wherever the Chagossians are—Mauritius, Seychelles, Britain or anywhere else—they are up for remaining British. As part of the British family, our duty and responsibility first and foremost—trumping even international court decisions—is to those Chagossians.
On a point of order, Mrs Cummins. I have spoken to the Doorkeepers about this room. It is so cold you could hang dead people in here and they would not go off. The Doorkeepers have asked the staff to do something with the heating. They say the heat is turned on. I am not sure where it is, but it is not on here. Can I ask, Mrs Cummins, that you use your power as Chair to do something about that?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. I know that the Doorkeepers are busy, and I am very aware of just how cold it is in here. I am sure that that will be on the record.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the sovereignty of the British Indian Ocean Territory.