[John Bercow in the Chair] — Overseas Territories

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 23rd April 2009.

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Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee 2:30 pm, 23rd April 2009

I am pleased to introduce the report. It had been more than 10 years since the last report on overseas territories by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. That is probably far too long. When the Committee decided in 2008 to set up an inquiry into the overseas territories, we initially thought that it would last only a few months, but in fact it was far more detailed and intensive than we originally envisaged.

The overseas territories are diverse and are found in all parts of the world. There are 14 remaining British overseas territories, which vary greatly in size. For example, Bermuda has 66,000 people, whereas Pitcairn has only 47, or perhaps 48—I have seen different figures—but our report said 47 at the time. The administration of such diverse overseas territories has presented the British Government and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with some difficulties.

The journalists of the Evening Standard and the Daily Mail, who I assume are not here reporting our debate, sometimes choose to put pictures in their publications denouncing hon. Members for travelling to the Turks and Caicos Islands. They should understand that the work of three members of the Foreign Affairs Committee, two of whom are here with me—there is another behind me as well; that makes three—led to a change in the Government's attitude and approach. As a result, the Government have intervened to deal with serious corruption and other difficulties that had been occurring for some time in the Turks and Caicos Islands but had not been dealt with until then. The journalists who write about Committees' work and travel do not understand the role of Members of Parliament, which is to hold the Executive to account and scrutinise the work of different Departments. No doubt, my remarks will not be reported, but if they are, they will be reported adversely. However, I am prepared for that.