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Chagos Islands

Volume 765: debated on Tuesday 10 November 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they expect to complete their policy review of resettlement in the Chagos Islands.

My Lords, the Government’s public consultation about a potential resettlement of the British Indian Ocean Territory concluded on 27 October. We are now examining the results and hope to take a decision on the way ahead soon. This 12-week consultation drew views from around 1,200 Chagossians and continues the conversation with Chagossian communities as part of our review of resettlement policy, which started in 2012. That included an independent feasibility study, which concluded at the end of January 2015.

My Lords, this week is the 50th anniversary of the decision to provide a United States base in Diego Garcia, on British territory and in the Indian Ocean, which then led to the decision to deport 1,500 Chagossians, most of whom were indigenous inhabitants. As the KPMG report, commissioned by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has this year concluded that there is no reason why resettlement should not take place, will the Government make next year’s renewal of the agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom conditional on a commitment by both parties to facilitate and support resettlement of the Chagossians, thus rectifying a grave human rights injustice?

My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government regret the way the Chagossians were removed from the British Indian Ocean Territory in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Government, along with successive Governments before them, have said that what happened was clearly wrong. This is why substantial compensation was rightly paid. The noble Lord mentioned the renewal of the agreement with the American military for occupation of Diego Garcia and we will, no doubt, take these matters into account.

My Lords, we are getting out of our habit here. I suggest we go to the Labour Benches first and then to the Lib Dem Benches.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, when I wrote to my noble friend Lady Ashton, who was then at the European Commission, to ask whether the United Kingdom was eligible for European Union funding for resettlement, the answer was that we certainly were? Does the Minister agree that the cost of these settlements should not fall exclusively on the British taxpayer and that, apart from the European Union, the United States, international organisations and the private sector should be approached for funding and investment?

My Lords, we will consider all these factors once the consultation is finished. As I said earlier, the feasibility study concluded on schedule. As there were still uncertainties about how any resettlement could work, and potential costs, we went into the consultation system. That is also why we are examining the results of the consultation very carefully.

My Lords, will the Government publish a draft of their decision for consultation with the All-Party Group on the Chagos Islands? Will they also give both Houses an opportunity to debate the review before a final decision on resettlement is made?

My Lords, I draw attention to the dedication of the all-party group on this issue over many years. Whether or not there will be an opportunity for this to be debated at some stage will depend on whether noble Lords try to get parliamentary time for it. Once the analysis is made, the Government will make an announcement. I will write to the noble Lord about whether it will be published.

Will my noble friend make quite sure that whatever arrangements are made, they protect and support the remarkable new ocean reserve which is around the Chagos Islands? This is a proud part of Britain’s dealings in this area.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Deben, refers to the marine protected area. He is quite right that this is one of the most important areas of biodiversity in that sort of environment on the planet.

My Lords, the Government now appear to accept that this was one of the more disgraceful episodes of our colonial history. Does the Minister also accept that the Chagossians—the victims—will find it difficult after exile in Mauritius, in the Seychelles and in Crawley to return to life on those remote islands? What is being done about the provision of jobs? Is the US, for example, prepared to offer jobs on their base in Diego Garcia to those Chagossians who choose to return?

The noble Lord makes a very good point, particularly relating to the Chagossian communities in Crawley and Manchester. Of course, they are going to want a certain lifestyle if they return to those islands. I know that the KPMG report looked at the numbers that could be employed by the authorities on Diego Garcia, but I can tell the House that, until we make a final examination of the results of this consultation, nothing can be agreed.

My Lords, as a member of the All-Party Group on the Chagos Islands, I ask the Minister to be more precise about the word “soon”. This is a word that has been used by successive Governments for the past eight years, to my certain knowledge. Frankly, we would like some more precision.

My Lords, somebody whispered in my ear, “Very soon”. I and other noble Lords who have been Members of this House for a very long time have used the term “soon”, but I can assure the noble Lord that it will be soon.

My Lords, there have been 16 years of litigation, which has been very costly to the taxpayer and to Britain’s reputation for human rights. Will the Government undertake to abide by the forthcoming ruling of the UK Supreme Court concerning the right of abode and the marine protected area?

My Lords, I cannot comment on cases going through the courts at present, but if there is any more detail I will write to the noble Baroness.