I would like to express our support for this new clause. I wish to be clear about its objectives and will read from the Member’s explanatory statement:
“This amendment would allow anyone who is descended from a person born before 1983 on the British Indian Ocean Territory to register as a British overseas territories citizen. They may also register as a British citizen at the same time. Both applications would be free of charge. The application must be submitted within 5 years, or in the case of a minor born before the date of coming into force, before they reach 23 years old.”
As we have heard, the proposed new clause is intended to rectify a long-standing injustice which impacts descendants of the Chagos Islanders who were forcibly removed from British Indian Ocean territory in the 1960s. I too wish to express my appreciation and admiration of all those who have been raising and pursuing this issue over a number of years, not least my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett and the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker—although I know they are not the only ones who have been working on behalf of the Chagos Islanders.
The issue has significant cross-party support, and the case for this change was powerfully made by a Member of the Minister’s own party in the Commons, Henry Smith MP, who was supported by Members across that House. The clause, as I have indicated, would extend the right to register for citizenship to the grandchildren and other descendants of this population, and it would, as has been pointed out, apply to only a small number of people.
In the Commons, the Minister’s response was not too encouraging, suggesting that this would be too significant a departure from existing law. However, he did say that the Government had heard the strong points made and would
“continue to consider what more we could do, particularly given the low uptake of the £40 million Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office fund designed to assist this diaspora community, and we will certainly be keen to look at that and, potentially, at how it could allow those people to settle here in the UK.”—[
What consideration of this issue has since occurred across Government? What have Ministers settled on as to
“what more we could do”?
In recent years, we have raised significant concerns about this Government’s ongoing foreign and defence policy as regards the Chagos Islands. The Bill provides an opportunity for a distinct and limited change to our own law—one which would have a significant impact for those affected by half a century of injustice. This is surely a unique case. Frankly, we are not setting a precedent, which is what the Government seem to have been arguing to date.