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Chagos Islands: Sovereignty

Volume 732: debated on Tuesday 2 May 2023

6. What recent discussions he has had with his counterpart in Mauritius on the sovereignty of the Chagos Islands. (904717)

My written ministerial statement on 17 March noted that the UK and Mauritius are continuing negotiations on the exercise of sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory and the Chagos archipelago. I met Foreign Minister Ganoo on 1 March, when we discussed a range of issues, including of course the British Indian Ocean Territory.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. At the invitation of the Foreign Office, some of us went to the British Indian Ocean Territory in 2019 and inspected the extraordinary naval and military installations on the islands. The Secretary of State will agree with me that the British Indian Ocean Territory is vital for our AUKUS agreement with America and Australia. Why are we negotiating with Mauritius—a third-party country 2,000 km away from the British Indian Ocean Territory? Why are we not putting at the forefront of this issue something that is essential for all British overseas territories, which is the right of self-determination? When will the Chagossians—the indigenous people of these islands—finally get their say?

The UK is committed to the agreements made in 1965, and while there are no plans for a referendum, we do of course consult with the Chagossians, among whom there is a range of views. I assure my hon. Friend that the issues that he raised in his question remain at the heart of our thinking during the negotiations.

I am sure that the Foreign Secretary accepts that the Chagos islanders were disgracefully treated in the 1970s by the British Government of the day, and that they were forcibly removed from the islands that they love so much. They have fought all these years to be able to go back. They have won international law recognition of their case, as the Mauritian Government won international law recognition for the relinking of the archipelago with Mauritius. As the Foreign Secretary correctly points out, it was agreed in 1965. Will he assure the House that the negotiations with Mauritius will go forward rapidly and in a positive frame of mind, and that he will welcome and endorse the international legal decision on the determination of where the islands should be in the future?

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we are pursuing the negotiations in good faith and with energy. We have held three rounds of negotiations to date, and we will meet again soon to continue the negotiations on the terms that we have discussed.

In addition to respecting the right of self-determination of the Chagos islanders, will my right hon. Friend agree that the military importance of Diego Garcia means that the islands should remain under British sovereignty?

My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. I can reassure him and the whole House that their importance to global security has been very much at the forefront of our minds throughout the negotiations and will remain so in whatever outcome the negotiations get to.

The Chagossians were indeed treated terribly by the British Government in the 1970s, but in the negotiations that are coming up, will the Foreign Secretary do everything in his power to ensure that we protect the marine protected area that we have set up? There are 220 coral species, 855 species of fish and 355 species of mollusc, and this food chain is vital to protect food sources for the whole of the eastern side of Africa. Will he make sure that that is preserved, whatever situation we end up with in terms of sovereignty?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that, as one of the leading voices in 30 by 30, we pay close attention to marine environments and habitats around the British Indian Ocean Territory, and more broadly we raise regularly the protection of maritime and marine environments when we speak to small island nations and those other countries around the world that have an influence in the oceans.