Amendment 11

Part of Nationality and Borders Bill - Committee (1st Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 2:28 pm on 27th January 2022.

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Photo of Baroness Ludford Baroness Ludford Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 2:28 pm, 27th January 2022

My Lords, I thoroughly endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, has said, and I am very pleased to co-sign this amendment. In the first two groups that we discussed this morning, we talked a lot about righting injustices. This is an opportunity to right a gross historic wrong—a forced eviction and exile that was, indeed, ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2019.

I was one of those who raised this issue very briefly at Second Reading. I do not think the Minister referred to it in her response, although I know she had a lot of issues to cover. It should be noted, though, that the amendment in the other place from Henry Smith MP at Report stage, which the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, referred to, had the sizeable support of 245 Members, displaying the strength of feeling about the trauma and hardship of the Chagossian community that the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, referred to.

The all-party group on Chagos is a strong and active group that has long campaigned to right, in so far as is possible, the wrongs of the 1960s when, having resisted independence from Mauritius, of which Chagos was part, Britain secretly acceded to an American request to make one of the islands, Diego Garcia, available on a long lease as a “communications hub”. Of course, it later became notorious as a site for rendition flights. Anyway, the then British Government of, I am afraid, Harold Wilson, detached Chagos from Mauritius and then emptied Chagos, chucking out its inhabitants. This appeared, apparently, to be compensation for the Americans for the UK declining to get involved in the Vietnam War.

The saga is littered with lies and about-face. The UK told the UN that the Chagos Islands had no permanent population and the Chagossians were merely contract labourers. The British Indian Ocean TerritoryBIOT—comprising all the Chagos Islands was detached from Mauritius and, between 1968 and 1973, the entire population of Chagos was removed. Some 2,000 people were deported to Mauritius, some went to the Seychelles and some arrived in the UK, particularly in Crawley, perhaps because it is near Gatwick, in Sussex.

As was discussed this morning, the purpose of Part 1 of this Bill is to address long-standing discrimination in British nationality law. I put to the Committee that Amendment 11 fits perfectly in this context. The original appalling injustice of the late 1960s and early 1970s perpetrated against the Chagossians has been compounded ever since, not only by their continuing enforced exile from their homeland but by the deprivation of their descendants of their citizenship rights. Had they not been evicted but had stayed in BIOT, they would have passed British Overseas Territory citizenship from generation to generation and some would have had the entitlement to be registered as British citizens or at least benefited from the Home Secretary’s discretion to so register them.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, said, Ministers in the other place have provided no justification for resisting the rectification of this injustice suffered by the Chagossians. The Government simply rely, in a sense, on the injustice of eviction to perpetuate the injustice. Because we had chucked them out, they were not BIOT citizens and so they cannot benefit from any subsequent citizenship rights. The Government now have an opportunity with this new clause to make substantial amends—hardly complete amends—for the wrongs done half a century ago. I suggest that it is wrong to seek to assert that correcting the nationality law consequences of this wrong would create any wider precedent, as the noble Baroness said.

By the way, if anyone wants to read the history of the UK’s perfidious treatment of the Chagossians, I recommend this booklet of a lecture by Professor Philippe Sands QC entitled Chagos: The Last British Colony in Africa – A Short History of Colonialism, a Modern Crime Against Humanity? and I will give this to Hansard so it can correctly identify it. I urge the Minister to give a positive response.