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British Overseas Territories: International Negotiations

Volume 712: debated on Monday 13 July 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether negotiations between British Overseas Territories and the Government of the United States for the acceptance of detainees formerly in United States custody fall within their delegated authority for conducting international negotiations.

My Lords, negotiations between British Overseas Territories and the Government of the United States for the acceptance of detainees formerly in United States custody does not fall within the delegated authority for conducting international negotiations which has been given to any overseas territory. The external affairs of a territory remain part of the special responsibilities of the governor under each territory’s constitution.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer and I thank the Foreign Office for its useful briefing on general entrustments and individual entrustments, and the technical terms of which I had not been previously aware. Is it not extraordinary that the Government of Bermuda negotiated directly with the United States Government that senior members of the White House staff would accompany the Uighurs from Washington to Bermuda without informing the British Government? Do the Government think that it is possible to sustain the current relationship with our overseas territories in the western Atlantic and the Caribbean, given the extent of their dependence on the United States for American money—legal and illegal—in those territories and the extent to which the American Administration now expect to influence what goes on in those territories, and I have not even mentioned Grenada yet?

My Lords, it is extraordinary. Clearly, there was a real breakdown here. The United States has assured us that it understood that the Prime Minister of Bermuda had the right to negotiate in this case because he asserted such to them. It has led us to announce a review of the operation of this entrustment, but it is clear that there was a breakdown.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there is a case for a wider review of the position of our overseas territories, given that the Turks and Caicos Islands are subject to direct rule from the United Kingdom because of events there? Given the problems in relation to the use of overseas territories as tax havens, as well as the remarkable issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, is it not about time that overall, comprehensive consideration was given to the role of the overseas territories, their constitution and their future?

My Lords, I certainly think that the overseas territories, which have probably lived in the shadows of British foreign policy for a while, are for a number of reasons becoming more central, most of which have been mentioned in the previous two interventions. Tax havens and the impact on the economies of a number of these territories as a result of removing tax privileges, the broader impact of the economic crisis combined with the criminal issues with which some have been grappling because of their location and now this issue have put them front and centre again. It is in understanding what we do and do not delegate to them, and ensuring that they understand it, that the solution lies. I am not sure that a wider review is necessary for that common sense to prevail.

My Lords, they did. I suppose that we had hoped that they had been resolved then and that we had an understanding from future Administrations, particularly one as typically sympathetic as the Obama Administration. But it shows that even in this situation really unfortunate slips can occur.