My Lords, I apologise for not being able to speak at Second Reading. I strongly support Amendment 11, which has cross-party support. I speak as a vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands.
My noble friend Lady Lister explained powerfully and clearly the position of this small number of people, whose ancestors were wrongly deported from their island homes and who have been caught up in big-power politics, denying them the basic human rights that we in your Lordships’ House enjoy. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, gave the whole context.
The fact is that, although all UK Governments agree that the exile of the Chagossians from their island homes 50 years ago was wrong and unjust, the present Government continue not to allow resettlement. They cite a range of reasons for continuing this injustice, including conservation, finance, feasibility, security and defence. This is irrespective of the fact that it is well known that the American base on Diego Garcia would not be threatened or impeded by resettlement on the 54 outer islands. Indeed, the UK Government committed in their 1965 Lancaster House agreement to returning the territory
“to Mauritius when no longer needed for defence purposes.”
The outer islands are not part of the defence framework. Conservation could be maintained by the Chagossians, as happens in other marine conservation areas, and there are various avenues for assistance with resettlement costs.
It is political will and respect for human rights that are lacking. This Government are acting in defiance of the UN charter on decolonisation and United Nations General Assembly resolutions, and contrary to the opinion of the International Court of Justice and the decision of the tribunal of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, in their obdurate refusal to countenance resettlement for this, I repeat, small number of people.
The all-party group strongly supports the international rule of law and the right of return. In respect of this amendment, which follows from all the events we have set out, we firmly believe that, until resettlement is permitted, Chagossians should not have to endure having loaded on them the further injustices that this amendment would remove: the separation of families, deportation and the unreasonable costs of excessive fees. The Government adopting this modest amendment, Amendment 11, would at least go some way to ameliorating the acknowledged injustice that Chagossians have endured by their exile.