[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

We have already received a number of written submissions from various organisations and individuals, including some hon. Members, on exactly those matters. When we conclude our report, we will no doubt have lots of submissions and evidence to take into account, but I cannot prejudge what the report will say. It would be remiss of me to speculate on that, because I am dependent upon the decisions of my colleagues. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] My colleagues agree vigorously.

The Committee also concluded that any resolution of the UK sovereignty dispute with Mauritius over the British Indian Ocean Territory must take the Chagossians' wishes into account. However, the Government response states simply that discussions about the cession of the territory would be

"between the sovereign states concerned" and that

"the views of other interested parties are welcomed".

That does not quite go as far as we would like, and I hope that, if and when that matter is on the agenda, the Government will give it further consideration.

A further issue has recently arisen as a result of reports coming out of the United States. An article in The Daily Telegraph on 30 March 2009 quotes documentation that has been revealed in the United States. It shows that the US had planned to use Diego Garcia, rather than Guantanamo Bay, as the place to hold al-Qaeda people and others whom they picked up in Afghanistan and elsewhere. That article quotes Karen Greenberg of the New York university school of law, who interviewed a number of the senior military officers involved in setting up the camp for a new book called, "The Least Worst Place". The article states:

"She said Gen Tommy Franks, in charge of the US invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, was desperate to move prisoners who had revolted at Mazar e-Sharif out of the 'theatre of war'. She says that Diego Garcia was considered but 'Europe posed a particular problem'. She wrote: 'Not only would the relocation of prisoners there require negotiations and the consent of the host country to conditions and practices, but the European Court of Human Rights would inevitably become involved'."

That means that, as far as we are aware, thankfully, there was no torture by waterboarding in Diego Garcia and no complicity on the part of the British Government in that action. That shows the importance of the European Court of Human Rights, the European convention on human rights and the international legal standards that we have in this country and this continent. Even though the US military have total control of Diego Garcia, in practice they did not think it possible to use it as the Indian ocean equivalent of Guantanamo Bay.

I shall mention a number of other issues before I conclude. In correspondence with us, the Government have confirmed that the question of overseas territory representatives being able to lay a wreath at the cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday is still under consideration. Given that we have six months in which to make the arrangements, I hope that a decision will be made and we will soon be informed of the outcome.

On human rights in general, we recommended that the Government should take steps to ensure that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender status is made illegal in all overseas territories. The Government have subsequently informed us that they raised the matter at the Overseas Territories Consultative Council, but that

"the Caribbean territories stated that there were political difficulties with changing the law and some said in terms that they would not be willing to do so."

In places that are British territory, someone can be discriminated against without any redress if they happen to have a different sexual orientation. That is not just in the Caribbean; concerns have also been expressed by people from Gibraltar who have contacted me about the issue.