New Clause 5 - Report

Part of British Overseas Territories Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 am on 6th December 2001.

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Photo of Mr Michael Trend Mr Michael Trend Conservative, Windsor 11:15 am, 6th December 2001

You have been tolerant and patient with us this morning, Mr. Butterfill, as has the Minister.

The new clause is at the heart of what I tried to say on Second Reading. All of a sudden, we have opened the window and many people have suddenly become walking encyclopaedias on the British overseas territories. That will last only for a short time before the window slams shut again and we lose sight of the territories.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk is right. We need to know how the Act will work. We also need to be updated regularly on the constitutional arrangements that are being made in the territories. We need to know how the public administration training is going, what is happening in higher education, and about the airport or the new ship for the islands. We also need to know about citizens' health rights.

I was intrigued to hear about the European Union and whether those citizens will need residency to fill in E111 forms for health care when in Europe. There are all sorts of complications, which will no doubt be sorted out in offices in the territories. We are making provisions for British citizens and have a grave responsibility to them. They have no other formal voice in the British Government who retain an enormous amount of power over them.

If there were a way of asking about the Pitcairn Islands and its complications, I would do so. It has a curious system in which its legislative authority appears to be New Zealand, although its police operate at a high level from Kent. There are complicated issues that it would be nice to raise from time to time. The White Paper ''Partnership for Progress and Prosperity: Britain and the Overseas Territories'' was excellent. There could be an annual report to Parliament, which we could debate if necessary, so that such matters could be raised.

I also suggested that the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs might want to consider such a report annually. The Public Administration Committee, on which I serve, has an appointment—once a year or more—with the ombudsman and a Cabinet Secretary to keep them in touch with where we are. I understand that there is an annual meeting in September in London of representatives of the territories, although I may be wrong.

I would be intrigued to know whether that meeting is held every year and always in London. If so, perhaps that would a good time for the Select Committee to plug into the system and have a sitting, or at least send a Clerk. There would then be a constant interchange. It is difficult, even in the age of the e-mail, to keep in touch with all the territories throughout the world.

Will the Minister consider whether there could be an annual report? He has, as always, been gracious about such matters, but I want to press him to make a commitment on this modest request.