Ilois People

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th December 2000.

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Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow 12:00 am, 12th December 2000

If he will conduct an environmental and ecological assessment in those areas of the Chagos archipelago and Diego Garcia which have been uninhabited for 30 years, before considering facilitating the return of Ilois people to the land of their ancestral graves. [141975]

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I am pleased to inform my hon. Friend that we have already completed the first phase of a study into the possibility of settlement on the outer islands of the Chagos archipelago. The study identified the significant difficulties in establishing a resident community after three decades in which the islands have been uninhabited. We are now preparing the second and third phases of the feasibility study. They will include an assessment of how best we protect the rich ecology on islands that have long been left undisturbed.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

In light of the document of 13 November 1970, which was recently released under the 30-year rule and which I have given my right hon. Friend, do not the Ilois and, indeed, my right hon. Friend and I, who asked questions, and the House of Commons as a whole, have a right to feel aggrieved and deceived at the cynical attitude of the Foreign Office of those days? In the light of the documents revealed in the Public Record Office, do not we owe it to the Ilois to make it up to them?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Foreign Secretary

I would have to agree wholly with my hon. Friend's comments on the document, which I have read. The only accurate sentence that I can find in it is the one that says: Mr Dalyell is not, however, giving up. That was 30 years ago. In the recent court case, we were open in disclosing hundreds of documents from that period. I am grateful to Lord Justice Laws for commending the openness of the Foreign Office of today, perhaps compared with that of 30 years ago.

We have accepted the judgment; we are not appealing against it. We are now looking hard at whether it is feasible to restore a settlement on the outer islands of the archipelago. That is the best way in which we can take the matter forward and do the justice for which my hon. Friend asks.