Ilois People/Chagos Islanders

Oral Answers to Questions — International Development – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 16th June 2004.

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Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow 11:30 am, 16th June 2004

What aid is being given to (a) the Ilois people and (b) the Chagos islanders.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party

My Department provides no direct assistance to the Ilois people or the Chagos islanders at present. In the early 1970s, however, £650,000 was paid to the Mauritian Government to assist with the resettlement of the Chagossians. Under a 1982 agreement between Her Majesty's Government, the Government of Mauritius and representatives of the Chagossians, a further £4 million was paid by the UK into a trust fund for the benefit of the Chagossians. This was agreed at the time by all parties to be in full and final settlement of all claims.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

But how about compensation now?

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party

I know that my hon. Friend has followed this matter for a considerable time. He will be aware that the Government do not accept any legal obligation to pay compensation to the Chagossians, not least because of the money that we have given on two previous occasions. It was agreed with the Mauritian Government and representatives of the Chagossians that that money was in full and final settlement of all claims. The High Court judgment in October last year established that the UK Government had no legal obligation to pay any further compensation beyond what had been provided already. However, I accept that there is a possibility that that judgment may be appealed.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Does the Minister not accept that many Chagossians live in desperate poverty in the Seychelles and Mauritius, and that they won the right to return to their islands in the court order of 2000? Does he not agree that it is disgraceful that, last week, the Foreign Office tabled an order before the Queen preventing those Chagossians from ever returning to their islands? Should not the historical injustice of the 1970s and 1980s, when the Chagossians were removed from their islands, be corrected? Should they not be allowed to go back home; and if that is what they wish to do, should we not assist them?

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party

I do not share my hon. Friend's view. We have looked at the question of resettlement, as he knows. It was concluded, by independent experts, that long-term inhabitation, of the outer islands in particular, would be precarious and prohibitively expensive. Even short-term settlement arrangements—which, by definition, would be on a subsistence basis—would leave the Chagossians exposed to natural events such as periodic flooding from storms and seismic activity, and that would be likely to make their lives very difficult. I therefore think that we have taken the right decision.