[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 hope that my fellow Committee members will have a chance to make their speeches after my own and to go into more detail than I have time to do.

When we set up our inquiry, we were shocked by the large number of submissions from the Turks and Caicos Islands. In its submission to us, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office did not refer to issues in the TCI as being of particular concern and expressed no concern about corruption or standards of governance. We received more than 200 submissions for our report, of which the largest group—more than 50—related to that territory. That was a great surprise to us.

Many people wrote to us in confidence, afraid that their names might be revealed, to allege corruption, especially in regard to the sale of Crown land, the distribution of contracts and development agreements, the granting of belongerships and the misuse of public funds by Mr. Michael Misick and his cronies and relatives. There was also a deep concern, borne out by my colleagues when they visited the TCI, about free speech and people's ability even to be seen to talk to hon. Members. People wished to speak to us only in confidence, away from the eyes of friends or officials of the Administration. That was extremely worrying, and we reported back on it.

As a result of our visit and the publication of our report on 6 July, the Government announced on 10 July through the outgoing Governor that they would establish a commission of inquiry into the Turks and Caicos Islands. On 16 March 2009, after the publication of the interim report by Sir Robin Auld, the Government announced that they would make provision to suspend parts of the TCI constitution through a draft Order in Council unless the final report significantly changed their view of the situation. Premier Misick had resigned and been replaced by Galmo Williams as leader of his party. However, when the Government made their announcement, they did not pay tribute to the work of our Committee. We are disappointed by that. We issued a press notice on 31 March welcoming the Government's action and pointing out the fact that we had been instrumental in making the Foreign and Commonwealth Office at last take seriously the problems in the Turks and Caicos Islands.