My Lords, the British Overseas Territories are 14 tiny territories scattered throughout the world. They have been described as the remnants of a once great global empire that have freely chosen, for a variety of reasons, to remain in partnership with the United Kingdom. Their constitutional position, origin, population size, geographical location and politics make them exceptional in the international order of states, and I hope that today's debate will enable us to focus on both general and bilateral issues that affect the people who live in those territories-from Bermuda, now the largest with a population of some 60,000, to the Pitcairn Islands with its population of 50.
My own special interest in what were then known as dependent territories-they had previously been the Crown colonies, and the change to British Overseas Territories came in 2002-began when, as a Member of the first directly elected European Parliament, I was asked to be one of the six British MEPs to look after Gibraltar's interests in the European Union. Gibraltar had chosen to become part of the European Union when we joined in 1973, but it did not gain the right to vote directly for representation in the European Parliament until much later; I believe that it was 1999. That was after a long campaign, supported by your Lordships in debates such as this. I remain involved in Gibraltar as president of the United Kingdom-based Friends of Gibraltar Association.
Since becoming a Member of this House, my interest has broadened to include all the territories and I have had the privilege and pleasure of introducing previous debates on this theme. Today, my intention is to deal with some general issues, since I know that other speakers plan to concentrate on specific territories and issues.
Perhaps one of the most important recent developments in the overseas territories is a recognition of the importance of environment, climate change and biodiversity. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change class small island developing states among the countries which will be the first and worst affected by climate change, but which do not have the internal resources to respond to the challenge. There are, I know, a number of projects-some supported by the Government-to address these threats, to conserve biodiversity and to promote sustainable tourism. For example, DfID has funded a three-year Caribbean overseas territories climate change project to conduct vulnerability and capacity assessments, improve ecosystem monitoring, educate the public and develop climate change adaptation strategies, while Defra has funded a series of projects across 11 overseas territories to address alien invasive species and climate change threats.
In their United Kingdom Overseas Territories Biodiversity Strategy, the Government are committed to helping the territories access the large international funds for biodiversity and climate change which the territories cannot access directly themselves, because of their status. Will my noble friend the Minister confirm that the Government intend to help the overseas territories in this way, and will all those territories be able to access the £2.9 billion allocated in the recent comprehensive spending review to the international climate fund? Further, does he recognise the potential for the development and use of renewable energy in the overseas territories, and can he pledge government support in that area?
Biodiversity in the overseas territories is globally significant. There are many examples: Ascension Island supports the second largest green turtle rookery in the Atlantic; Gough Island, near Tristan da Cunha, is one of the most important seabird islands in the world; and the Great Chagos Bank is the world's largest coral atoll. Over 75 per cent of the globally threatened species for which the United Kingdom is responsible are located on these small islands, which hold more bird species under threat of extinction than the entire European continent. The work of the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and others is invaluable in calling attention to these issues but, again, can my noble friend reassure us that with regard to those challenges the Government will give their support and ensure that United Kingdom overseas territories are not disadvantaged in relation to EU policies, strategies and funding?
Another general issue that affects many of the territories is that of funding for cultural heritage projects. The built environment often links the historical ties between the territories and the United Kingdom. It is also important for the development of tourism perspective and for obtaining world heritage status, which I know is pending in Gibraltar and St Helena and may be elsewhere. St Helena, indeed, is a good example of this and I understand that much could be done to conserve and preserve the historic buildings in Jamestown. Let us not forget in this context that France also has an interest in the Napoleonic aspects of St Helena's heritage, so co-operation there may be a way forward. Is my noble friend able to give us any hope that the Heritage Lottery Fund could be made available for projects in overseas territories, which it is not at present?
Education is also of paramount importance to small territories, which in some cases cannot sustain a viable sixth form, let alone institutions for higher and further education. One of the battles that we have won in the past has been to change the rules for the charging of overseas student fees, and I am proud to have been associated with that campaign. Nevertheless, the need for more scholarships and fellowships remains, and I trust that the Minister will be able to convey to his honourable and right honourable friends in other departments the need to ensure that they realise that the overseas territories are a special case.
It appears that the current relationship between the European Union and overseas countries and territories, OCTs, was under discussion at recent meetings in New Caledonia. The United Kingdom, after all, is not unique in having overseas territories, and I understand that the Overseas Association decision and its extension that govern the relationships within the European Union are due to expire in 2013. It is important that any new decision is flexible enough to deal with specific cases and recognise that OCTs are at different stages of development. Some of our overseas territories, like Montserrat, St Helena and indeed Pitcairn, will still require development assistance. Because of geographical location, not all OCTs are able to integrate regionally. May we therefore hope that the Government will go in to bat on this to ensure that the United Kingdom OCTs are not disadvantaged?
I have made reference to tourism in relation to biodiversity and conservation. Tourism is of course of prime importance to all the overseas territories, and it is essential for their continuing economic development. The impact of air passenger duty is therefore of considerable concern. The Caribbean territories in particular-for example, the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and Montserrat-are all dependent on tourism and, together with all the other countries in the Caribbean, they fall within Band C, a more expensive tax category than the whole of the United States of America, including Hawaii. This inequality is punitive not only in tourism terms but to the diaspora of these territories looking to visit friends and family at home. The Falkland Islands are also at risk on this score as they fall within Band D, the most expensive tax category. Given that the United Kingdom is the sovereign Parliament of the overseas territories, imposing a tax on people flying to them-flying home, as it were-seems unfair and regressive, apart from the fact that the smaller numbers involved make for a special case as well.
I fear that time will not allow me to dwell in depth on the financial services status of many of the overseas territories, notably the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the currently troubled Turks and Caicos Islands and, closer to home, Gibraltar. I trust that others will cover these issues; suffice it to say that OECD guidelines and new financial regulation systems are in place and are being applied in the territories. Openness and transparency are much more evidence than perhaps they were in the past.
There are also individual political issues, such as the worsening of relations between the Falklands and Argentina, underlined in the UNASUR statement by the various countries of South America regarding the significant movement of ships whose route includes the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and South Sandwich. This, of course, could have repercussions not only for tourism but for fishing and petroleum exploration. On the other hand, Gibraltar is flourishing, and its relationships with the present Spanish Government is constructive. The main problem there appears to come from the mayor of the neighbouring town, La Linea.
I look forward to hearing from my noble friend, I hope with answers to some of these questions and an update on the Government's thinking in general. I also look forward to today's maiden speech and to hearing the contributions of all the other speakers. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of the British branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, which is most supportive of the overseas territories, and the various all-party groups that exist in this field. I voice my appreciation of how the representatives of the overseas territories work together and keep us parliamentarians up to date and informed on both the general and bilateral issues.
The most important effect of this debate is that the overseas territories are remembered and appreciated; remembered because of our common history and background, and appreciated because of their enduring and ongoing loyalty. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Hooper on securing this important debate. She has great experience of the overseas territories, as we have heard, and has been a constant supporter of these small and remote parts of the world. I also look forward to the maiden speech of our new colleague, my noble friend Lord Ribeiro.
I want to speak about three of the overseas territories, two of which I visited some time ago. The first is St Helena. I congratulate the coalition Government on deciding very early on that the airport on St Helena will finally be built. This is not controversial. The previous Labour Government came to the same conclusion because the economic and social case is unanswerable. Unfortunately, the world economic crash happened and the previous Government decided on a pause. Now that pause is over. Will the Minister give an update on how contract negotiations are proceeding, when he anticipates the contract will be signed, when he expects construction of the airport to start and, finally, when the airport will be operational?
Secondly, there have been budget problems in Anguilla which have led to discussions here, after which DfID funded two consultants to visit Anguilla from the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States-OECS-to examine the 2011 budget. The consultants advised that they believed that the global estimates of the 2011 budget which were approved by the Anguilla House of Assembly in December 2010 are achievable, albeit with some adjustments on the revenue side to tax mechanisms to make up for the lost time while the 2010 budget has been in abeyance. Currently, I believe, lawyers are determining whether a new budget needs to be brought to the House of Assembly, or, since the global estimates have not changed, whether the budget can be passed as a matter of procedure: that is, the Secretary of State signals his consent and the governor then signs it off. Whatever the options, the 2011 budget needs to be put to bed soon before more time is lost and more confusion arises from, in effect, having "two budgets" which have to be dovetailed. Will the Minister please give an update on the current situation on Anguilla's 2011 budget?
My noble friend will also be aware that, after the last elections in Anguilla, the new Chief Minister wrote to our previous Foreign Secretary outlining his concerns about the manner in which the territory had been governed in recent years. There are still concerns about the constitutional arrangements of the overseas territories, particularly surrounding the powers of the governor. Can my noble friend say how these concerns are being addressed?
Thirdly and lastly, the Turks and Caicos Islands are currently under direct rule. I went home last night having prepared my speech, and arrived this morning to an e-mail about an anti-British demonstration which has been taking place over several days this week, blocking the road to the airport in Providenciales. My informant, a senior journalist, tells me:
"Flights have been cancelled and there are a lot of very frightened Brits here at the moment. For the first time ever I am really concerned for mine and my family's safety. What the protestors are asking for is election dates".
He wants to know what guarantees the British Government can give British people there in terms of their safety.
I realise this is not a situation of this Government's making. Direct rule was enforced by the previous Government more than a year ago. Since then, TCI has been in somewhat of an economic meltdown and a state of limbo. The economy has run into severe difficulty, caused partly, no doubt, by the global downturn. However, direct rule has led to many potential investors pulling out of the territory, causing an increase in unemployment and a decrease in government revenues.
A special investigator and prosecution team-SIPT-was set up to investigate allegations of corruption detailed in Sir Robin Auld's report. So far, no charges have been laid and I have no idea how much longer the legal team, which is costing several tens of thousands of pounds each month, is expecting to continue its investigations. I understand that this is a legal process, and that the UK Government, quite properly, should not try to influence the outcome of the inquiries. I was interested to read an article in the Turks and Caicos Sun, which claims to be the leading newspaper in the TCI; I think that the TCI Weekly News would contest that. It is an interview with the special prosecutor, Helen Garlick, who says:
"Money laundering investigation is a central part of the Special Investigation and Prosecution Team (SIPT) work and involves very considerable amounts of money, running into several millions of dollars ... We are investigating several cases of exceptionally serious corruption and misconduct allegations and we are also investigating complex money laundering allegations that includes investigations in many jurisdictions around the world".
However, Mrs Garlick dismissed reports that there would be about 50 trials:
"There may be several trials, each of which includes several people and many different allegations within a single indictment, but most certainly not 50 trials because that would be absurd".
Later on, the article refers to her as "the veteran prosecutor", which, having met Mrs Garlick, I think is a bit harsh. She is certainly experienced in this area: she was assistant director of the UK Serious Fraud Office when she was the first head of its overseas corruption unit. She currently has a team of more than 30 people in TCI investigating these serious allegations. Can my noble friend give any update on progress apart from the one that Mrs Garlick gave in that newspaper interview? How long does he expect this to go on until charges are laid and court action begins? Will my noble friend also explain who is paying the costs of the SIPT? Is it the UK Government or the TCI Government? I have my doubts about whether TCI has the capability to pick up these costs in the current economic climate.
Direct rule will eventually come to an end and elections will take place. There will be a return to local rule, albeit under a British governor. I pay tribute to the current governor of TCI who has been in a very difficult position and has carried out his duties as one might expect from an experienced diplomat. It cannot have been an easy or comfortable time for him. Can my noble friend estimate when elections might take place in TCI? Will it be this year, next year or some other year? Can he advise how political parties should be preparing themselves, including selecting appropriate candidates for these elections? May I suggest that when these elections do happen, it is important that experienced election observers from the Commonwealth should be on hand to ensure that they are free and fair?
One of the results of the increase in unemployment in TCI has been an increase in crime, some of it violent crime. I met recently with a magistrate from TCI who told me that his workload had increased dramatically. One aspect which concerned him immensely was that there are no facilities on TCI itself to deal with those sentenced to custodial sentences who have mental health or other special needs. In previous years these people have been sent to special units elsewhere in the Caribbean and the results in rehabilitation have been good. Now TCI simply cannot afford to send them to these special units. The result is that these people are banged up and eventually come out worse than when they went in, only to offend again. Will my noble friend please look at what kind of help can be given to ensure that appropriate treatment is given to these offenders so that they do not become long-term problems for TCI?
I am aware that many people in the Turks and Caicos Islands and, indeed, the other overseas territories, are aware of the importance of our debate today. I have received a submission from a senior lawyer in TCI. It is rather long and I do not have time to read it all, but I would be happy to share its contents with the Minister afterwards. One paragraph leapt out at me. It says that,
"the single-most egregious factor in the unhappiness of the population is the sheer daily tension that springs from the suspension, the imposition of a British-dominated Interim Government, which projects an attitude that the whole of Turks and Caicos Islanders are crooks, and are subject to arrest. The people of Turks and Caicos are a Christian people. They believe that where there is wrong, responsibility must be taken, and the right judgments are to be enforced. But what we have in Turks and Caicos, even in the face of the presumption of democracy in the heart of every British citizen and subject, even in the face of the European Convention on Human Rights and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, certainly appears very much like a dictatorship ... an Editorial in a local paper The Free Press warned on the day of suspension: 'You cannot reform what you disdain. And if the people feel that disdain, nothing rational can result'".
Those are harsh words.
However, it is not all bad news on the TCI front. I congratulate the TCI Government and InterHealth Canada on the new hospitals in Grand Turk and Providenciales. They will celebrate their anniversaries on
I should like to add to the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on air passenger duty. A family of four travelling to the Caribbean now pays £300 in economy and £600 in premium class in APD. Flights to the USA cost 20 per cent less in tax. The reason for this anomaly is that the different bands are based on the distance of the capital city of the destination country from London. Honolulu in Hawaii is 7,230 miles from London whereas Tortola in the British Virgin Islands is only 4,130 miles from London. However, because the bands are based on the distance to Washington and Tortola respectively, the APD on a trip to Hawaii is 20 per cent lower. Will my noble friend please ask the Treasury to look again at air passenger duty in order to recognise the special legal status of the overseas territories? Will he also ask about relaxing the rules on frozen pensions for those who qualify for UK state pension and now live in the overseas territories? They are in a different position from those people living in Canada, Australia and New Zealand because of their legal status on overseas territories. Those in Gibraltar and Bermuda have their pensions uprated each year; those in other territories do not. Correcting this anomaly would cost very little in Treasury terms. I understand that the full year cost would amount to around half a million pounds, which is loose change in Treasury terms. This is a price worth paying to put right an injustice.
Where do we go from here? I am grateful that the Foreign Secretary is looking again at the overseas territories with a view to making the partnership between them and their sovereign Parliament fit for the 21st century. As individual parliamentarians we have a role to play in keeping in contact with the people of the territories, taking up their concerns and making sure that our Government are aware of what is going on.
In replying to this debate, I hope that the Minister will set our minds at rest that the coalition Government will continue regular communication with, and treat properly, our overseas territories, where the wonderful people are loyal subjects of the Crown and think so much of being British.
My Lords, I am very pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, who knows an enormous amount about the overseas territories, has introduced this debate. After all, there are 14 overseas territories under direct British government responsibility, with a total population of about 239,000. These are important responsibilities and there ought to be regular opportunities to hold Her Majesty's Government to account for the performance in those territories. Of course, these 14 territories are an inheritance from the former British Empire, which has long since gone, but they have, for one reason or another, decided that they do not wish to proceed to complete independence or-to put it another way; due to particular constraints that they may face-they feel that it is impossible to proceed towards independence at this stage. It is right, too, that we now describe them as British Overseas Territories. I think that it was Robin Cook, as former Foreign Secretary, who decided to drop the word "colonial". In my view the matter has nothing to do with colonies now; there is simply a British responsibility for these territories.
I wish to make one or two general observations and then comment on three territories. On the general side, the Minister and I and many other noble Lords share a very strong belief in the value of the Commonwealth. I was glad that the noble Baroness mentioned the value of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. As I think the noble Lord will know, a number of Chief Ministers consider that it would be of value to them if they had a closer link with Heads of Government in the Commonwealth by means of a forum at the Heads of Government Meeting or perhaps by holding regular meetings once a year, or every other year, with the current chairman of the Heads of Government of the Commonwealth. This ought to be looked at because there are common interests, for example between the independent Commonwealth members of the Caribbean and the overseas territories of the Caribbean. I hope that the Minister will look at that.
Over the past decade there have been one or two rather unfortunate examples of poor performance by people appointed to serve in those territories-notably by judges. One such case arose in Gibraltar, involving a chief justice, and another in the Caribbean. We need to be extremely careful how we appoint people to serve in these overseas territories. I suggest that the noble Lord consider a wider draw, including from Commonwealth countries, when appointing judges and others to fill important positions.
The principal approach, as I hope the Minister will confirm, should be to allow these territories to achieve the maximum possible level of self-governance. However, that has to be in keeping with Her Majesty's Government's ultimate responsibility for ensuring the good governance and, if possible, the financial viability of those countries. It is interesting to note that DfID has regularly to support only Pitcairn, Montserrat and St Helena. The others-with one or two exceptions, such as the Turks and Caicos-are expected more or less to finance themselves. That should be the right approach.
One thing that has already emerged in this debate is the number of territories that rely on financial services for their viability. The noble Lord, Lord Jones, rightly referred in detail to the Turks and Caicos, but other territories such as the Cayman Islands, the BVI, Bermuda and Gibraltar, as well as the Turks and Caicos, also rely on success in their financial services in one way or another. There is therefore an onus on the British Government to ensure that we satisfy ourselves that all these territories comply with international financial sector standards on, for example, transparency, financial regulation, money-laundering and counterterrorism financing.
I should like to comment on just three territories. The first, of course, is Gibraltar. I declare an interest as a former governor of that wonderful territory, with its remarkable people, in the late 1990s. I have noticed how much things have improved there in the past decade, since I returned from that job, and I should like to highlight three strands. First, Gibraltar has negotiated a new constitution which is in keeping with today's age. The Government of Gibraltar have more powers now, and there is a better balance between the powers of the governor and those of the Chief Minister. I very much hope that this new partnership will work effectively.
Secondly, Gibraltar now has a trilateral forum involving the British and Spanish Governments and the Chief Minister of the Government of Gibraltar. All three participate in regular discussions and I think that that is a notable improvement. For example, an agreement was reached in Cordoba on arrangements for practical co-operation between Gibraltar and the region-Algeciras and so on-in modernising the airport, sharing its services and contributing to the general development of the region as a whole. All that must be welcome.
The third issue is Gibraltar's financial services. Tourism is important to Gibraltar as well, but financial services have contributed to steady growth in the territory, at a rate which we and many other countries in the European Union would envy. This growth is possible because Gibraltar now has a well regulated authority, an independent financial services commission, and practices that are totally in keeping with OECD standards. There is proper transparency and tax information agreements; and on
It is disturbing that, over the past few months, there has been a dispute with Spain over the territorial waters around Gibraltar, arising from a particular EU directive. There have been incidents between the Royal Gibraltar Police and the Civil Guard based at Algeciras. It would be helpful if the Minister could say how this issue is progressing and whether there is any prospect of finding a resolution to it.
The final matter that I want to raise about Gibraltar is defence. At one time defence was the primary purpose of Gibraltar; but over the past two or three decades that purpose has diminished, and it now represents a much smaller proportion of our total activity in the territory. However, Gibraltar commands the entrance from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean; and in the past three or four weeks we have seen precisely the type of unforeseen circumstances that can lead to instability-on this occasion, in north Africa. Surely that reinforces the value to us, and to the West and NATO, of retaining a defence interest in Gibraltar. I therefore very much welcome the joint statement from the meeting on
I wish briefly to comment on the Turks and Caicos Islands, because it is important that the Minister should tell us where we stand on this difficult issue. It is a serious matter for any Government to decide to declare direct rule. On this occasion, it occurred in August 2009, and arose principally as a result of Sir Robin Auld's report which declared that there was systemic corruption in Turks and Caicos. Parts of the constitution have been suspended as a result. The elections proposed for this year have been postponed, as the noble Lord, Lord Jones, said, and it would be good to know what the plans are now. I hope the Minister will also say something about DfID's loan guarantee of £160 million over the next five years to enable Turks and Caicos to restore its fiscal surplus and eliminate its debt. I hope that this will not be a cost to the British taxpayer. Nevertheless, I welcome the fact that DfID has taken the lead.
The Minister will not be surprised to hear that the last issue on which I wish to touch is the British Indian Ocean Territory. This is a longstanding problem. In the late 1960s and the early 1970s, the territory's very few inhabitants-1,500 of them-were expelled to enable the United States to set up a base in Diego Garcia. This was an abuse of human rights. No successive Government-one of whom I was a part-have succeeded in restoring justice to these people. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that this Government are trying hard to find a way forward, bearing in mind that there is currently an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, as well as serious financial constraints on the Government. It is welcome that Mr Bellingham, the Minister dealing with this issue daily, is taking a positive attitude. In his letter to the chairman of the all-party group, which specifically mentioned the marine protection area which must never be set up at the expense of the Chagossians, he said:
"Nothing has been done to implement the marine protection area and nothing that is currently contemplated would be a bar to the British Government complying with any judgment of the European Court of Human Rights or a bar to any British Government choosing in future to change the policy on resettlement".
I welcome that very clear statement by the Minister on behalf of the Government, and I hope that it will provide an opening for a way forward. I appeal to the Government to develop a strategy involving discussions with the United States and Mauritius that could lead to compromise proposals which could be incorporated in the exchange of letters between the United States and Britain, which is subject to renewal in 2016. This is an ideal opportunity to ensure that justice is done to the Chagossians. Mauritius has a vital role as it claims sovereignty over those territories should the United Kingdom no longer need to continue with its sovereignty. Mauritius now has the support of all 52 countries of the African Union, and of a growing number of members of the Commonwealth.
It seems that the Americans will say that they need to retain Diego Garcia for the foreseeable future. If that is necessary, so be it. However, it should be possible to work out, for the outer isles that are a long way from Diego Garcia, co-management arrangements between Britain and Mauritius for the marine protection area, and to arrange for the Mauritians to work with the Chagossians on the outer islands on conservation matters to do with the marine protection area. If that can be done, and if they can be trained up and brought out from time to time to help with conservation, it would make a contribution. At the end of the day, we are entitled to look to the British Government to work for a solution, using the exchange of letters due in five years' time as the basis for a new arrangement.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for securing this debate, and for the breadth of her contribution and those of the speakers whom we have heard so far on the multifarious issues that affect the British Overseas Territories. I look forward to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro.
I will concentrate on the responsibility and opportunity for Britain in the role of many overseas territories as tax havens and on the need for us to face the financial element in the role of those territories to which attention was drawn by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Luce. The issues surrounding the tax haven status of some territories are made more important by the secrecy that has developed around them over the years. In the 2008 presidential election campaign, Barack Obama claimed:
"There is a building in the Cayman Islands that houses supposedly 12,000 US-based corporations. That is either the biggest building in the world or the biggest tax scam in the world".
At a time of cuts in this country that are bearing down hard on all of us, not least on the most deprived, it is crucial that no quarter is given to corporations that hide profits in tax havens in order to avoid tax. I hope that the Government will assure us that they will take the opportunity of the November G20 summit to ensure that the present secrecy laws will continue to be disbanded and that they will use their authority and influence over the overseas territories to ensure that they will be among those who give a lead. I am delighted by the developments in Gibraltar, to which the noble Lord, Lord Luce, referred. I am delighted at the way in which the OECD regulations are developing openness and transparency. However, there is a long way to go.
This is not just a matter of business integrity, crucial though that is. Much of the wealth that is hidden in the tax havens is siphoned from the poorest countries of the world. I am grateful for the Government's defence of the aid budget in tough times, but I remind noble Lords also of the comments of Andrew Mitchell, the Secretary of State for International Development, that 21st-century development is about much more than aid. It is about creating opportunities across the policy spectrum. This is an area where that could be crucial. Christian Aid estimates that tax havens cost poor countries some $160 billion per year in lost tax revenue. At worst, the aid budget pours into poor countries money that leaks out again to tax havens. What policies do the Government plan to promote to enable poor countries to collect the tax owed to them and to remove the structural barriers to their doing so?
One important point is the extent to which some British Overseas Territories have become dependent as communities on their status as tax havens. Among the responsibilities of the Government must be to help our overseas territories to diversify their economies so that the abolition of tax haven status does not simply create poverty for the people there. To live in a tax haven does not mean that you are rich. There is a desperate need in the Turks and Caicos, as we have heard, and in other countries as well, for the reskilling of people and the acquisition of new knowledge bases. I would be grateful to hear more about plans to support and encourage that diversification, whether it is into agriculture, fishing or tourism. More effort must be made to assist those territories to create economies that are not as dependent as they are now on the financial system.
The historical ties between the United Kingdom and its overseas territories need to be cherished. They are highly valued by the people of the territories. I look forward to promises from the Government that they will enhance those links by aiding the development of those economies in ways that cease to encourage them to be an instrument of oppression for the poorest countries of the world.
In conclusion, I return to the ecological point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper. The territories have an extraordinarily exciting and important ecological base. They contain a significant number of the species of birds, animals and plants that are in danger and under threat of extinction. Britain is committed to the target of ending the loss of global diversity by 2020, which I very much welcome. The overseas territories are crucial to this aim and I hope that the Minister will tell us more about what plans there are to maintain that diversity. There is a right and developing concern about animal, bird and plant species in the UK. The challenge is far greater in these beautiful and exciting islands.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for her comprehensive introduction to this subject, in which she demonstrated the enormous diversity of the islands. I propose to follow up a slightly different angle, following on from the right reverend Prelate, who in the latter part of his speech talked about ecology. I am going to talk about Antarctica, the largest overseas territory. It comprises some 660,000 square miles and has a resident population of 50 in winter and 400 in summer. Antarctica holds 80 per cent of the world's fresh water locked up in the ice mass, which in places is 5 kilometres deep.
British Antarctica is part of a mutual recognition agreement with four other sovereign nations and their Antarctic claimed territories. The UK is an active participant in the Antarctic Treaty system, which is extremely important and provides the framework for how operations take place there. However, today I propose to concentrate on some of the events that will take place this year in connection with Antarctica.
I start with the International Maritime Organisation, which at a meeting at the end of March will consider a polar shipping code for all passenger and cargo vessels with more than 12 passengers. This is very important, as every year there are accidents in the tourist season. The last season was no exception, as the "Polar Star", a Bahamas-flagged vessel, hit a rock and passengers had to be evacuated, fortunately with no loss of life. However, I believe strongly that Her Majesty's Government should press for the code to include fishing vessels and yachts. I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about that when he replies to the debate. A Korean shipping vessel sank in the Ross Sea in December with 22 fatalities, while a Norwegian yacht sank last month also with loss of life. This needs to be rectified and clearly the IMO should extend its plans to include such matters. The organisation moves very slowly, so I hope that, as we are an important participant, the Government will start to press for that to happen.
The next important event is the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, which is scheduled to take place in Buenos Aires in June, marking 50 years of the Antarctic Treaty. It has been an enormous achievement and it is important to recognise that. An Antarctic Bill concerned with environmental protection and safety planning is in the pipeline. Indeed, that was mentioned in part by previous speakers in connection with what the IMO is doing. The wide consultation phase has been completed and the Bill awaits parliamentary time. On present progress, it does not look as though it will get on to the statute book before spring next year. So far, only four countries have ratified the treaty out of a total of 28. As we are one of the most important, and original, consultative members, we should be the first to ratify and not among the last.
At the next treaty consultative meeting in June, the UK will present an environmental evaluation of a scientific project to drill into a sub-glacial lake in the Ellsworth mountains. In order to find a freshwater source, drilling will be required to take place some 3,000 metres through the ice, taking it to below mean sea level. It is a fascinating concept, which could reveal much about the evolution of organisms and so on. This lake has never seen sunlight and one wonders what might be growing there. Therefore, science is of the essence in this matter.
Next year marks the centenary of Scott's last expedition to the South Pole. Scott reached the pole on
The final event taking place this year is the construction of the new Halley Research Station, which is going well. The handover to the British Antarctic Survey is expected to take place in February 2012. It will be a worthy successor to the first Halley station, which was established by the Royal Society in 1957. Halley is the furthest away from the cluster of bases on the peninsula on the eastern coast of the Weddell Sea and it is therefore likely to be rather colder than the others.
In summary, all in all Antarctica is a vital continent with regard to science. It is recognised by everyone concerned as being exclusively for science, so we need to, and indeed do, support it. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will not in any way diminish any funds that may be available for the extraordinary work of the British Antarctic Survey, which is very worthy of support and needs to be continued at full speed and without any diminishment.
My Lords, I rise with all due humility and pride to give my maiden speech in your Lordships' House. I have learnt much in the weeks since my introduction in December, and I owe a debt of gratitude to my supporters, the noble Lords, Lord McColl of Dulwich and Lord Patel, and to my mentor, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, for guiding me through what can only be described as a minefield of parliamentary procedure and protocol. The personal attention of the staff has been remarkable, particularly given the heavy workload that they have experienced in the past two months.
My territorial title, Achimota, denotes my birthplace and is also home to a boarding school in Ghana, then the Gold Coast, where my late father taught history and Latin. It was founded in 1924 by three visionaries: the governor, Sir Frederick Guggisberg; the first principal, the Reverend Alexander Fraser; and the assistant to the principal, Dr James Kwegyir Aggrey. They founded the first co-educational school in West Africa and, in doing so, spawned the architects of Ghana's independence movement, which saw the introduction of self-rule in 1951 and independence in 1957.
The motto of the school, Ut Omnes Unum Sint, meaning "That all may be the same", is a reference to the abiding philosophy of the founders that, starting in the context of school life, black and white, male and female, should integrate and combine synergistically for the good of all. This is also graphically represented by the symbolised black and white piano keys-the emblem of the school. Dr Aggrey observed that:
"You can play a tune of sorts on the white keys and a tune of sorts on the black keys, but for perfect harmony you must use both".
This defining principle of harmony has guided me throughout my career and has emboldened me to achieve my aims in life. Such an attitude was uncommon in the British Empire as a whole and yet my father experienced nothing but friendship and support during his degree course at London University before the last war. One of his pupils at Achimota, Major Seth Anthony, became the first native-born African in British military history to be commissioned from Sandhurst in April 1942. Serving with the 81st Division of the Royal West African Frontier Force, he was promoted in the field and awarded an MBE after the Battle of Myohaung in Burma, in January 1945.
Some 374,000 Africans volunteered to serve in the British Army in theatres such as Ethiopia, Somaliland and Burma during World War II and it was a pleasure to discover that the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, had presented Major Anthony with his Burma Star badge, three months before he died in 2008.
My father, like Seth Anthony, was able to serve his country as an ambassador in Africa, Europe and America and, as a young student, I observed how effectively British diplomacy had translated to its newly independent states. Following the "wind of change" which passed across Africa, Britain is now left with 14 overseas territories which, as we have heard, fall roughly into three categories: military bases, areas of biodiversity and financial interests. Within the military context, the strategic defence and security review appropriately entitled, Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty, gives an undertaking to defend the UK and its overseas territories. It goes further, stating that Britain requires,
"an independent ability to defend the Overseas Territories militarily".
I hope events over the past few weeks in North Africa have not reduced our resolve to defend these territories from opportunistic attack.
In the 1850s, Herman Melville, in his book Moby Dick, described a real event of a giant sperm whale which attacked and capsized the whale-ship "Essex". Some of the survivors landed on Henderson Island in the Pitcairn group of islands in the Pacific, no doubt accompanied by a cargo of rats. This Government are to be congratulated on meeting the challenge of eradicating the rats from Henderson Island in order to protect the eggs and the chicks of the native birds, in particular the petrel bird, some 25,000 of whose eggs are eaten each year by the rats, representing 95 per cent of their population. Protecting the bird life of these and other islands in the overseas territories is essential to maintain biodiversity, and despite cuts in the public sector, the UK Government have found £413,000 to support a £1.7 million project by the RSPB to remove Polynesian rats from the island.
We have heard mention of financial services. It is interesting to note that the legacy of a tax-free zone, promised by King George III to the Cayman Islanders, has provided a tax haven in the Caribbean, which has benefited many, but not always the indigenous islanders, many of whom came originally from Africa. As a child of the empire and an African, I have some sympathy for the citizens of the Turks and Caicos Islands, the majority of whose population are of African decent, and who, having tasted a period of self-rule, find that elections promised for July 2011 are now postponed, with no date set for further elections. What steps will the UK Government take to ensure that the loan guarantees made to the islands will lead to the announcement of elections in the foreseeable future?
In his Ministerial Statement of
A Pathé News clip-I am sure noble Lords remember them-of the Gold Coast elections in 1951 said of Dr Nkrumah's party:
"They have caused trouble in the past; will power breed in them a sense of responsibility?".
Sixty years on, one may ask the same question of the Turks and Caicos Islands, although in slightly more diplomatic language.
I very much hope that the UK Government will continue to meet their obligations to the overseas territories and support self-governance and independence for those who wish it. I look forward to making further contributions to this House and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for initiating this debate.
My Lords, I know I speak for the whole House when I say what an enormous privilege it is to be the first to congratulate my noble friend Lord Ribeiro on a very distinguished maiden speech. He describes himself as a child of the empire and he brings to this debate what my noble friend Lady Hooper called the remnants of the empire, a unique perspective. It must be unusual, to say the least, to have in his territorial designation a title which includes both his birthplace in Ghana and Hampshire. As someone who comes from Hampshire, I am delighted to welcome a neighbour.
After qualifying at Middlesex Hospital Medical School, my noble friend embarked on his career in surgery and he culminated as an outstanding president of the Royal College of Surgeons from 2005 to 2008. He has been a major participant in the restructuring and modernisation of surgical training and he has overseen the introduction of a new surgical curriculum. He brings with him a great deal of expertise and I hope he will speak frequently. I look forward to further interventions from my noble friend.
I join others in thanking my noble friend Lady Hooper for giving us this opportunity to talk about developments in the British Overseas Territories. Like her, the right reverend Prelate and others, I want to concentrate on environmental issues. It has already been pointed out that our territories are of enormous significance as regards habitats and ecosystems and that they impose on the UK Government responsibilities and obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Many of these territories support a large number of endemic species-that is, species that are found nowhere else in the world. Of course, in some of the territories that very biodiversity underpins the economy. Nowadays, the Falkland Islands depend largely on their fisheries for their viability and in other territories which have been discussed tourism is dependent on the natural environment. Therefore, biodiversity plays a critical role in helping to achieve sustainable development for the local population.
I should declare an interest as chair of the Living with Environmental Change partnership, which brings together 22 publicly funded organisations for collaboration in designing, undertaking and delivering research programmes, not just in the United Kingdom but overseas as well, and which addresses environmental change issues.
The cost of conservation and restoration projects undertaken in overseas territories-sometimes, but not always, with a contribution from the British taxpayer; often from the British public via NGOs-can be high. Invariably, there are demands for support from government agencies and sources such as the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, which at one time I chaired. The demands are always that those sums be increased.
My noble friend Lord Ribeiro referred to the control of rats in Henderson Island. Indeed, there are programmes for the control of other alien species in the Falkland Islands, Tristan da Cunha and St Helena, all of which have rat control programmes as well as trying to control other alien species.
We have not always been as successful as we should have been in attracting European Union funding for such projects. Frankly, France has stolen a bit of a march on us on this, and I hope that we can be more successful in future. I was heartened, therefore, that last week the European Commission announced a €2 million pilot scheme for biodiversity projects in overseas territories. The project will be used to prepare the ground with a view to longer-term support. We should take a close interest in that; we must ensure that we have our own pilot schemes so that we can get longer-term funding for our overseas territories from European funds.
I shall concentrate my remarks on two territories in which there is no permanent local population: the British Antarctic Territory, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, referred; and the British Indian Ocean Territory, to which the noble Lord, Lord Luce, referred. I was fortunate enough to visit the British Antarctic Survey's research station at Rothera, on the Antarctic Peninsula, in January. For just a few days, I represented a significant proportion of the population to which the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, referred.
Thanks to the Antarctic treaty, to which the noble Viscount also referred, despite competing territorial claims from Argentina and Chile, we are able to collaborate harmoniously, conducting research of great importance in those unusual conditions. For example, I saw some of the research on marine organisms, climate change, telecommunications and much else, all of which is of enormous significance. Again, the noble Viscount referred to that.
A massive cleanup is under way on the Antarctic continent, as detritus from earlier generations is dismantled and removed, often from remote locations. Everything which is now taken to the Antarctic has to be removed; no waste is ever allowed to stay there. So we are imposing far higher standards of care on that pristine continent than was the case in previous generations. That is an example of excellent international co-operation and a scientific treaty which is really working.
I turn, as did the noble Lord, Lord Luce, to some of the problems in the British Indian Ocean Territory, where, in April, the previous Administration agreed to the establishment of a marine protection area in what has been described as probably the richest marine ecosystem under United Kingdom jurisdiction. My noble friend who will respond later told us in June that the intention to proceed with the MPA was confirmed. That designation has been widely-but, it has to be said, not universally-welcomed. The problem, to which the noble Lord, Lord Luce, referred is, as with anything to do with the Chagos, the smouldering sense of injustice arising from the clearance of the entire archipelago between 1968 and 1973. Generation after generation, or decade after decade of politicians since then-including David Miliband as Foreign Secretary last April-pointed out that we have to accept responsibility for that long-term suffering. That responsibility will never go away.
Although I, like most others, welcome the designation of the marine protected area, I must say that the way that we are negotiating for it to be established leaves something to be desired. Whatever the outcome of the apparently interminable litigation now in the European Court of Human Rights, we have accepted that if in future-it is probably a long way off-the defence base at Diego Garcia is no longer required, the archipelago will be transferred to Mauritius. Therefore, in all conscience, we simply must get the Mauritius Government's support for any initiative in the long-term interests of the environment and, of course, for any future population there.
The Great Chagos Bank is the world's largest coral atoll, as my noble friend reminded us. It is clearly appropriate that the Mauritius and the Chagos refugee groups should recognise what great service can be done to the economy and to the environment by that designation, but, at the moment, the Mauritius Prime Minister and some, but not all of the Chagos refugee groups, are deeply suspicious of the designation. That is not helped by Wikileaks-which, as always, complicates the issue terribly.
We need to do what has been done so much more successfully in the British Antarctic Territory: demonstrate how we can have an international initiative in which the Mauritius Government and Chagos refugee groups can participate. It is no good us thinking that we can impose a designation without their having any opportunity to contribute to the design and management of the project.
Conservation projects around the world, however worthy-and this one is as worthy as they come-will invariably fail if the interests of the indigenous population, even when they have been moved elsewhere, and of sovereign states with sovereignty claims, are not taken into account. Much more fundamental claims have been accommodated in the Antarctic. We need to follow that example in the Chagos Archipelago.
My Lords, at the time of the Statute of Westminster in 1931, before I was born, if I recall it right, one-quarter of the land mass of the world was British. More than that, I believe that we controlled perhaps half of the oceans of the world, having the best and most effective Navy.
I suffer from several weaknesses. I am an islander at heart. I love islands; I love the sea. There are about 70,000 islands in the world, and every territory that we are discussing today is an island. Beyond that, we look at the resources of the sea. I have raised the point in your Lordships' House before that the Commonwealth has the longest coastline in the world at about 44,000 kilometres. I have to declare certain past interests; in my banking days, the bank that employed me was the main correspondent bank in London to the British Dependent Territories. We were always concerned about their future.
When I have my noble friend Lady Hooper, the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, the noble Lord, Lord Luce, and others together, I know that these are the professionals in this world. I am only the amateur, and a very gifted one at that, but I love this subject. Therefore, I thought that I might advance a little into the world to make certain suggestions. If what I say is true-that we are still, with the Commonwealth, the most effective and impressive land mass of friends, and have the sea-it is our duty to take initiatives at certain times.
I was brought up to believe that you did not read in your Lordships' House, even with electronic devices, and that you could not even have visual aids, but today, as a bit of support for what I have to say, I have two pieces of paper. One shows little red spots where the territories are. Strategically, they are most extraordinarily presented. If our ancestors planned, as I am sure they did, they would have put points here and said, "This is where we need British representation to the future of the world".
They were also wise in some ways in making sure that those who wanted to support their initiatives followed certain cultural relationships. For example, if you wish to know which countries have claims in Antarctica, all you need to do is say "rugby". All countries that play rugby-Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina-have claims in the Falklands, the biggest single land mass. Then you would ask about the origins of these territories. My family mottos are "Per mare, per terras" and "God will provide", although God is sometimes not as generous as I would have hoped.
On this paper, you see the remarkable name of Bermuda, whose motto is "Whither the Fates carry". We are being a bit unkind about Bermuda in many ways because we use the phrase "tax havens". We are coming up to the feast day of St Giuseppe-St Joseph-the patron saint of work. If I recall correctly, the Pope normally at this time delivers an address to one of the Vatican towns on the lines of "man works to live; he does not live to work".
We have to look at each of these territories and ask where their economic future is. In some way or another, they have carved out a financial services future. Given the comments that have been made about our own financial services sectors in recent years and the losses that have been incurred, I do not think that we should lecture others.
Let us take the simple example of Bermuda, which is the base for most insurance companies. Is there anything wrong in setting up a corporation in a place that has tax advantages, which are of course within the control of the governing body of that country? I am not sure that there is, but I have certain views. Surely, if a nation is overtaxed, it will not be valiant and glorious-I do not know who said that. At one level, we have Bermuda with its significant financial services business, which perhaps is under attack. Other smaller islands with relatively little alternative economies are also classified as tax havens. Perhaps they could be offshore financial centres. Surely, if the majority of these countries are British Dependent Territories, it would not be beyond the realms of possibility for the Government to introduce certain codes of conduct and behaviour, which could be supervised by the Bank of England and could effectively restore confidence.
The right reverend Prelate referred to the Cayman Islands, which has the motto "For he has founded it upon the seas". However, the only sea business that Cayman can do apart from tourism lies in the turtle sector, but those turtles are now relatively rare. A ban was introduced on, I think, Lusty, that it could no longer produce turtle soup. In all these areas we have to look for alternative uses. I will try to explain to your Lordships that if 70 per cent of the surface of the earth is sea, and we by chance have bits of land stuck in important places and could declare a 1,000-mile exclusion zone or protection zone around all those, we might be able to introduce quite a lot of new business and activities.
We know that the United States has a difficulty when it wishes to go off on military exercises. It does not have many places to land. It is often forbidden from overflying, which is why I have never been supportive of exclusion zones because they are difficult to enforce. Here we have territories, bits of land, located in strategic places. When we look at global warming, we are looking at all sorts of activities for which these bases could be developed for surveillance, for monitoring and even for do-gooding, as it is called. When I chaired a body for sport and recreation for a previous Government, it was suggested to me that, instead of trying to reintroduce national service, we should gather together groups of young men and women and send them off to the dependent territories to do some research and studying. The mottos of some of the territories relate to research and development.
As I speak today I have a certain sense of optimism, but I wonder what the British Government can do. It is not really a question of providing grant aid to many of these places. Under the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, the one thing that these places have is British citizenship, which should never be taken away. There could or should be some form of collective plan, which I suggest might be advanced under Commonwealth supervision. We know that to this can be added the bailiwicks of Her Majesty's realms. The dominance of the British culture in the world is demonstrated perhaps by the fact that one-third of all people speak English as their first or second language, or they are learning it. We have certain communication advantages.
I hope that this debate has created certain thoughts and ideas. I am always most grateful to my noble friend Lady Hooper, who has a habit of popping up in most unusual places. When she takes up a cause, those who oppose her should be very careful indeed.
My Lords, this has been a wonderfully varied debate, culminating in the typically discursive speech of the old seafarer, the Lord, Lord Selsdon, moving from motto to motto. For me, the debate seemed to depend on the three Es: that is, the economy-the tax havens and tourism; the ecology, particularly the British Antarctic territory referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, and the British Indian Ocean territory as mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne; and the ethical obligations set out by the right reverend Prelate as regards dealing with people and not financiers.
I was particularly struck, as I am sure all Members of your Lordships' House were, by the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro. He is a distinguished surgeon and perhaps, more relevantly, a distinguished son of Achimota Hospital, which has sent distinguished Ghanaians around West Africa and beyond as the pioneer providing the new colonial experts from West Africa.
We owe a debt to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, who has been a long-time campaigner for overseas territories. I was delighted that she mentioned the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the role that it plays in focusing our attention on the overseas territories. I note that at the current 60th Westminster Seminar on governance, parliamentary procedure and practice, of the 67 participants, 12 come from the overseas territories. That is so important in making these people, who are often from remote territories, walk tall in the world.
With regret, I note that there is often a prevailing attitude in this country to the overseas territories of ignorance and neglect. I am very ready to concede initially that that neglect did not begin at the time of the previous election, nor did the problems we have in looking to the future. Save at times of crises, there is little mention in the UK of the overseas territories. An exception was the interesting series of articles in the Times in November 2009 by Michael Binyon. About the overseas territories, he wrote:
"They feel abandoned, forgotten, former strategic assets that are now seen in Whitehall as costly liabilities".
The temptation in a debate of this nature is to give a Cook's tour of various overseas territories. I congratulate the noble Baroness on taking up several key themes, rather than taking us around places she has recently visited.
I shall concentrate on only a few reflections and will not mention all the overseas territories. How would one explain now to the man-perhaps one should say person-from Mars the nature of our overseas territories? In the old empire there were swathes of red all over the map. Now there are but pinpricks. One is struck by the fact of diversity in the fullest sense. Fourteen islands and territories are scattered around the globe, the only nexus being a fierce loyalty to the Crown as remnants of a once-proud empire and too small to be viable on their own. Some are large, some are small; some are constrained by old treaties such as Gibraltar and Utrecht; some are rich-indeed, Bermuda and the Caymans have among the highest GDP per head in the world-some are poor, such as St Helena and Pitcairn; and some are inhabited and some uninhabited, like the British Antarctic Territory mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, and of course the Chagos Islands, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Luce, and the noble Earl, Lord Selborne.
Some of the territories have a recent history that makes us feel somewhat ashamed. There have been criticisms that we have not been as quick and ready to deal with the new Government of Anguilla as we should. We think also of the corruption scandals that have characterised the Turks and Caicos Islands in the recent past, the sex scandals affecting eight of the 50 or so inhabitants of Pitcairn, and the disgraceful attitude of this country towards the Îlois, the Chagossians. The noble Lord mentioned the Wikileaks material which showed a certain hypocrisy on the part of the then Government who talked about the marine protection area as if it had been devised for environmental reasons, but it seems that key consideration was that it was a device for denying the Îlois the right of return. Before the election, the coalition partners were generous in their promises to the Îlois. One can cite statements made by both the current Foreign Minister and Nick Clegg, who said:
"It is a disgrace that £2m of taxpayers' money ... has been squandered in order to uphold this injustice".
In replying, can the Minister say whether we intend to spend yet more taxpayers' money in opposing the application before the European Court of Human Rights? The coalition has called for a new approach to the overseas territories, saying that it regards them as assets and not liabilities. Obviously we need some indication of how this approach is intended to work.
My second reflection is this. Rather like the title of the film "The Empire Strikes Back", there are a number of problems left for London, along with a number of contingent liabilities. A 2007 National Audit Office report stated:
"Our overall conclusion is that since 1997, whilst progress has been made in managing and mitigating some risks; the degree of success in both individual Territories and across key risk areas has been mixed".
An earlier report from the Public Accounts Committee, published 12 years ago, pointed out the difficulties we faced as a result of our international responsibility for the territories in terms of social matters, the death penalty and so on.
Equally, there are the problems of financial regulation and the tax havens mentioned by the right reverend Prelate. The Cayman Islands is the largest centre for hedge funds. Gambling is becoming an increasing provider of employment on Gibraltar, as many companies move from this country to the island as a result of its favourable tax regime. Another general question in the report was: what was in the past a benefit to the UK in terms of trade routes but which perhaps is not a continuing benefit, what are the obligations to the territories which remain? These were covered generally in the NAO report. The noble Lord, Lord Jones, pointed out that the Government underwrote £160 million of bank loans to the Turks and Caicos Islands following the corruption scandal. What are the potential liabilities on the aid budget because that sum represents a substantial amount for each of the inhabitants?
In July, Ministers approved the use of aid funds for the construction of a long-promised airport on St Helena. I concede that it is a moral obligation, yet there has to be a question mark over the viability of the population of St Helena, particularly following the grant of citizenship in 2002. Swindon has benefited from the many Saints who have gone to live there, and one wonders how demographically St Helena will survive when so many of the younger people have tasted the good life in Swindon. I made this point to some representatives of the Saints at the time of the granting of citizenship in 2002. Perhaps it is, alas, one of the unintended consequences.
My final reflection is this. How stable and long-lasting is the current relationship? Each territory presents its own problems. Is there any vision on the part of this country, any overall plan for the next decade or two, to ensure that the territories will be assets and not liabilities? For example, will the relationship between the FCO and DfID concerning the overseas territories be the same? Do we assume that Bermuda, with its large and prosperous population, will remain an overseas territory for, say, the next decade? If Bermuda becomes independent, that would make the overall population substantially less than 200,000. Have we considered new options, such as the precedent of the French territoires d'outre mer and other interesting constitutional devices to give the overseas territories a greater voice here in Westminster? Why should not selected representatives of the territories sit in your Lordships' House? It would not be difficult and it would mean that the voice of the people of the overseas territories could be heard quite directly. France is able to benefit substantially from EU funds as a result of the DOMs and the TOMs, and equally through representation of French people from overseas in the French Parliament.
I turn to the position of Gibraltar and the Falklands, referred to so well by the distinguished former Governor of Gibraltar, the noble Lord, Lord Luce. We have successfully resisted pressure from neighbouring countries on both Gibraltar and the Falklands, and perhaps the lesson of 1981, in which the noble Lord, Lord Luce, played a distinguished part, is that we need to consult more closely with the inhabitants of those countries on any constitutional change. In Gibraltar, the Chief Minister has indeed made contact with the Spanish and recently sent up an interesting trial balloon by talking about a sort of Andorra solution for the future of Gibraltar. Can the noble Lord say whether Ministers are willing to give this a hearing or not?
On the Falklands, had there been someone from the islands here, no doubt they would have spoken rather more clearly about their vulnerability to defence cuts than the distinguished former military people who speak on their behalf. We recognise that relations between the Falkland Islands and this country are good, which was particularly evident at the Overseas Territories Consultative Council held last November. Like others, I shall raise three issues on behalf of the Falklands and the overseas territories.
Based on the fact of UK sovereignty and the need to boost the economy, the fees for Air Safety Support International, which has not been mentioned so far, have risen greatly. The Department of Transport is seeking to recoup higher fees from, for example, the Falklands, amounting to around £125,000. The impact of the air passenger duty has already been mentioned. It has a specific impact on the Falklands, because they fall into band D. Since last November, there has been an increase in duty per passenger to the Falklands of £85 in economy and £170 in other categories, which is clearly a potential blow to tourism in the Falklands.
Pension payments to UK citizens have been already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Jones, and others. Her Majesty's Government have already accepted the principle that there should be no discrimination in UK law in respect of fees to students from the overseas territories.
There is a need for some innovative thinking, a consideration of what it means for these territories to be assets, and a recognition that we cannot continue to stumble along with no fixed aim as we are doing currently.
My Lords, as one would expect in this House, this has been a dazzling debate full of expertise. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Hooper on instigating a valuable debate on the overseas territories. A lot has happened since the previous one in 2008 and it is certainly right that we should mobilise some of our collective expertise. It is right as well for the Government to make their comments, which I shall seek to do in a moment, on the overseas territories as a whole. I was particularly delighted to listen to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Ribeiro, who brings to this House, with his enormously distinguished record, great expertise and clarity. I shall comment on some of the things that he said as I go along, but I think that we are all extremely pleased that he has joined us and hope often to hear from him in the future.
The only way of tackling this vast range of subjects, issues and territories is for me to go through those subjects, issues and territories in turn and then to relate to noble Lords who have spoken on them as I go along. I may not succeed in 20 minutes in referring to every noble Lord; I may not succeed even in covering every one of the issues, although I shall have a very good try. I shall therefore proceed on a themed basis.
To reassert a point made by noble Lords, the Government are responsible for ensuring the security and good governance of the overseas territories and promoting the well-being of their inhabitants-that is not in question. We are talking about almost a quarter of a million people, most of whom are British citizens, and some of the smallest and most remote communities in the world. We have a responsibility to provide effective stewardship, even for our uninhabited territories-they include some of the world's most pristine and varied environmental assets, to which some of your Lordships have referred. We take these responsibilities extremely seriously and none of them should be underestimated. I do not deny that the territories create substantial challenges for the UK Government, but they also have the potential to offer common benefits for all. In our view, we need a vigilant and active approach to managing the risks and problems, especially at a time when a number of the territories have been extremely hard hit by the global recession and the shrinkage of trade, particularly tourism, in some areas. It is a broad and complex agenda that involves many government departments, but I shall endeavour to give the overall picture from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's point of view.
This Government have to some extent lived up to their responsibilities already-we have been office for some eight or nine months. In the strategic defence and security review, we identified defence as a core mission. We relaunched the air access project on St Helena and initiated the task of underpinning public finances in the Turks and Caicos Islands, to which I shall come in detail in a moment-a number of your Lordships rightly and unsurprisingly raised that issue. The Foreign Secretary commissioned a review of our policy towards the overseas territories, led by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Henry Bellingham, with a view to framing a new strategy to guide our relationship in the future and addressing some of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, rightly raised. Mr Bellingham has discussed aspects with ministerial colleagues and a range of interested organisations and individuals, including the leaders of the overseas territories. The Government intend to announce the conclusions of that review shortly. In the mean time, we have already announced, back in February, that the overseas territories programme fund will be raised by £7 million a year. By way of a further update, we have just announced additional funding to meet certain problems to which I shall again come in detail as I go along.
We continue to stand up for the Falkland Islands, to which the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has just referred. We have no doubt about their sovereignty. The principle of self-determination enshrined in the UN charter underlies our position. There can be no negotiation on sovereignty unless and until the Falkland islanders so wish. Members of the Government, including the Prime Minister, have consistently made this clear. We are also wholeheartedly committed to the Falkland islanders' right to develop their economy, including a hydrocarbons industry within their waters. We are fully aware that Argentina's neighbours support its call for negotiation over the Falklands' sovereignty. That is nothing new; it just maintains endless persistence. We are in close touch with partners in the region. We are enhancing our relationship with Latin America through forthcoming high-level visits and engagement. The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, has been a tower of strength in developing those relationships. We will continue to defend robustly the Falkland islanders' right to self-determination and to develop their economy both in private, with partners, and publicly. I do not have anything to add at the moment on the detailed point about fees raised by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, but I shall look into it. If I obtain more detailed and useful information, I shall write to him.
I turn to the British Antarctic Territories-the order in which I address each territory is not a reflection of its importance; it is merely the order in which it was referred to in the debate-on which the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, the noble Lord, Lord Selborne, and others spoke with great expertise. We have a long-term, strategic, scientific, environmental and sustainable management interest in the Antarctic, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. These interests are linked to but in many cases distinct from the Falklands issue that I have just discussed. We will continue to protect our interests and sovereignty by taking a leading role in the Antarctic Treaty system and through a policy of presence, governance and commitment to deliver our international obligations. As to the draft Antarctic Bill, we remain committed to meeting our treaty commitments and will introduce legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows. The Government are considering all options for an expeditious introduction of that Bill, a matter on which there has been a certain amount of comment.
Perhaps I should say a little about our investment in Antarctic science. The particular issue is a matter for the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, but I believe that detailed announcements will be made in due course. In general, the UK directly invests some £50 million a year. It is difficult to quantify the total investment, as there are many cross-cutting programmes and in practice a range of research council activities contribute directly to polar science. For example, the UK's European Space Agency subscription is about £48 million per annum and includes earth observation work. The main funding in the Antarctic is provided by the Natural Environment Research Council primarily for the British Antarctic Survey. Similarly, many UK universities are involved in Antarctic research. There are too many of them to mention individually. However, I should highlight Cambridge University's involvement, not least via its support for the Scott Polar Research Institute.
On Gibraltar, the noble Lord, Lord Luce, of course, was a distinguished governor and knows probably more than many people about the situation there. Again, the position is quite clear: the UK will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their wishes. Furthermore, the UK will not enter into a process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content. We will continue to stand up for Gibraltar's rights and interests, including in the European Union. We are fully committed to the trilateral process of dialogue, which has been working rather well between the UK, Spain and Gibraltar, and Spain and Gibraltar share our commitment. We hope that the trilateral forum will continue to make progress on enhancing co-operation for the benefit of all the people of Gibraltar and the surrounding area.
The Turks and Caicos Islands were mentioned by my noble friends Lord Jones, Lord Ribeiro, in his remarkable maiden speech, and Lord Selborne, and by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. I shall spend several minutes on this matter because it is very important and I know that it concerns your Lordships considerably. We are determined to sort out the problems in the Turks and Caicos Islands and to put the islands back on the path to a sustainable future under a democratically elected Government. There are three main strands to what we are trying to do: rebuilding public finances; implementing systemic reforms, including a modified constitution; and ensuring that the special investigation and prosecution team can pursue its work.
The Minister of State at DfID announced in a Written Statement at the end of February that DfID has now finalised a loan guarantee to provide the Turks and Caicos Islands Government with access to a maximum capital amount of $260 million over the next five years. The intention is that that guarantee should cost the taxpayer nothing but will enable a return to fiscal surplus. We are pursuing reforms in nearly every aspect of the territory's administration. Following extensive consultation, the Government have now published a draft constitution that makes proposals for the months ahead. This is an important opportunity for the political parties in the territory to engage in detail. We must ensure that reforms are well advanced and embedded before we can safely return the territory to elected government.
I say to my noble friends that we do not want to postpone elections any longer than necessary, but they cannot be held this year. A joint FCO/DfID Written Ministerial Statement last September set out the milestones-I think that there has been reference to those because I have commented on this since-an assessment of which would need to be met before elections could take place. These milestones do not include everything that will have to be done before elections take place, but they are, in the Government's view, at this stage, minimum preconditions before the Turks and Caicos Islands can return to elected government. It is hoped that the milestones will be met in time for elections in 2012.
It is true that very recently there have been demonstrations in the Turks and Caicos Islands calling for a date to be set for the elections. One fully understands the pressure and concern and no one questions the right of everyone in the TCI to have the freedom to express their views, but I cannot condone the use of lawbreaking in support of freedom of expression. Such actions could easily deter future tourists and investors from visiting the islands and could have a disastrous effect on the islands' already fragile economy. The governor remains open to dialogue with responsible community representatives to discuss their concerns and I hope that the demonstrators will use this avenue to convey their grievances.
In addition, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has announced that he is approving a discretionary grant of £6.6 million to the Turks and Caicos Islands Government to reimburse the costs incurred in the past year pursuing corruption and violent crime. That is for the special investigation and prosecution team, for related civil recovery work and for the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police. Officials in the Foreign Office are co-ordinating this carefully with DfID's work to underpin the territory's finances. That is the scene on the Turks and Caicos Islands. If I had more time, I would go into more detail, but I have not.
I turn now to another issue that greatly concerns your Lordships, the British Indian Ocean Territory, to which the noble Lord, Lord Luce, my noble friend Lord Selborne and others have referred. Let me set out the position as we see it now. Successive Governments have expressed regret for the way in which the resettlement of the Chagossians was carried out in the late 1960s and 1970s. I repeat those regrets today and do not seek to justify many of the things that were done at the time. However, the UK courts have considered the issues very carefully. The Law Lords upheld the validity in law of the BIOT Orders in Council 2004, which mean that no person has the right of abode in BIOT or the right to enter the territory unless authorised. A High Court judgment given by Mr Justice Ouseley on
The Chagossians have taken their case for resettlement and further compensation to the European Court of Human Rights, as we all know. The Government will continue to contest the case, as we believe that the reasons for not allowing resettlement on the grounds of feasibility and defence security are clear and compelling; nor do we see the case for paying further compensation, as it has already been paid in full and final settlement of all claims. Obviously, I and my colleagues fully understand the disappointment felt by Chagossians on hearing that the Government have decided not to change the fundamental policy on resettlement, compensation and the marine protected area, but I stress strongly that we are most keen to continue engaging with the Chagossian communities. The Minister for the Overseas Territories, Mr Bellingham, has already met Mr Olivier Bancoult and Mrs Sabrina Jean of the Chagos Refugee Group and Hengride Permal of the Chagos Islands Community Association to hear their concerns. Our high commissions in Port Louis and Victoria continue to meet Chagossian communities in Mauritius and the Seychelles, while officials from the BIOT Administration keep in touch with Chagossian communities in the UK.
We are looking at ways of mitigating the impact of our policy on the Chagossians through continuing to enable them to visit the territory and engage in humanitarian, cultural and environmental activities. We are arranging a further visit by Chagossians to the territory later this month and Mr Bellingham is very keen that such visits should continue. We want to involve the Chagossian communities in implementation of the marine protected area-although there is a certain difficulty, obviously, as the Chagossians are seeking annulment of the area in the UK courts-and we are seeking practical ways in which we can continue to help the Chagossian communities in Mauritius, Seychelles and this country.
I say finally on the issue that, while we have no doubts about the UK's sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory, we value our bilateral relationship with Mauritius and would welcome a constructive dialogue with its Government on these issues. We will continue to look at this policy in detail and engage with all those with an interest.
I have a long list of many more other issues. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds raised the issue of tax havens and I have not commented on the Caribbean, which covers some of the same issues. We are working closely with these territories to stabilise public finances and to strengthen regulatory regimes, to help them to meet international tax transparency standards, which is very important, and to support them in longer-term economic planning.
I should like to spend more time on the Commonwealth but time does not allow. The case for full participation in all Commonwealth meetings is based on membership of the Commonwealth. Of course, the OTs are not strictly individual members of the Commonwealth, but they are associated. We are looking at ways to strengthen the links between the OTs and the Commonwealth.
On advanced passenger duty, the Government are exploring changes to the aviation tax system. Any major changes will be subject to consultation. On St Helena, the Secretary of State stated last July that we have made progress on a wide range of aspects. The invitation to tender has gone to bidders. Air Safety Support International has approved the use of engineered material arresting systems for the St Helena airport and the Secretary of State for International Development will consider issuing a further Statement when he is in a position to report on all the conditions that he set out in the July Statement. On Anguilla, we have accepted the package of measures and actioned the recommendations by the UK-funded experts to deliver the Chief Minister's commitment to balance Anguilla's overall budget by the beginning of 2013. I do not have time to cover offshore financial centres, but I have mentioned them in referring to the Caribbean.
In the last minute, let me reassure noble Lords who raised matters about defence that part of the strategy for the protection of the overseas territories is the maintenance of a minimum credible deterrence and reassurance posture on the islands. There are many more details that I could give about defence, but time does not allow me to cover them. Therefore, I must simply end this debate by saying that we are determined to see a policy of strategic engagement with the overseas territories. We share the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, that new and positive thinking is needed and we believe that we can carry forward the proposals that we have in mind with some of the suggestions of your Lordships. This is a complex and wide-ranging portfolio. There are many other points that I would dearly have liked to cover with your Lordships, but under the rules of this engagement in your Lordships' House I must here call an end to this debate.
My Lords, this Motion has been on the Order Paper for some time and I was delighted at last to be fortunate in the ballot. Not so fortunate is my noble friend the Minister. The luck of the draw means that he is faced with winding up two major debates on subjects of considerable importance to this country today. What was topical at the time when my Motion was tabled may have moved on, but it is clear that sufficient matters of topical interest remain. The debate has been truly global and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated and given us the benefit of their wide knowledge and experience. In particular, I add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Ribeiro on his excellent maiden speech. I found it fascinating to hear how he blended his African background with an interest in the overseas territories in the six Caribbean countries in particular.
The Motion was widely drawn by intention. I am therefore particularly pleased that areas such as Antarctica, the least populated but by far the largest territory geographically, were given due consideration. I thank in particular my noble friend Lord Selborne and the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery. I welcome the news of the early introduction of the Antarctic Bill and look forward to it. The Chagos Islands case was advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Luce, and my noble friend Lord Selborne and the Minister dealt with it thoroughly. Nevertheless, I think that we will all have to read Hansard carefully in this respect. It is a very difficult issue.
This debate is not party political. Indeed, I think that it is probably the least contentious area of government policy. It is therefore disappointing that a number of our colleagues who have visited the territories and who generally participate in events relating to them have not been able to be in their places to join in the debate. I therefore congratulate in particular the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, on being the sole contributor from the opposition Benches, carrying out his task thoroughly and making the important point that any future reforms of your Lordships' House should bear in mind possible representation from the overseas territories.
Finally, I thank the Minister, who dealt with the many and varied issues raised. It is always the fate of Lords Ministers that they have to deal with all subjects arising in relation to their departments, not just with those relating to their departmental responsibilities. My noble friend does this with what appears to be ease and authority and always with evident interest. I have certainly been reassured and informed by his reply, as, I hope, have the representatives of the overseas territories. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.