[John Bercow in the Chair] — Overseas Territories

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:13 pm on 23rd April 2009.

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Photo of John Stanley John Stanley Conservative, Tonbridge and Malling 3:13 pm, 23rd April 2009

With his usual acuity the hon. Gentleman has anticipated the next sentences that I was going to say, almost word for word. That was indeed our experience when we went to the Turks and Caicos Islands. The written evidence clearly demonstrated that there was a climate of fear. When we arrived there, that was wholly confirmed. We had to arrange meetings with individuals who were prepared to see us only on condition that the place, date and time of the meeting remained absolutely a secret. Some were not prepared to see us at all, under any circumstances, because they feared that it would result in reprisals against them.

My experience was exactly the same as that described by the hon. Member for Hyndburn. The only other occasion on which I as a member of the Committee have had to meet people in such circumstances was on visits that the Committee made to the People's Republic of China, when we had to take steps to meet political or religious dissidents in certain circumstances. That is the only other time when meetings had to be conducted in such a way, and it was truly shocking to us that such a situation was prevalent in a British overseas territory.

The Committee recommended that a commission of inquiry should be set up. The Foreign Office, to its credit, accepted the recommendation and announced the setting up of a commission of inquiry within days of our recommending it. The interim report of Sir Robin Auld has wholly vindicated our recommendation and the decision of the FCO to accept it. I shall give the House just a few sentences from Sir Robin Auld's interim report. He stated that the Government of the territory

"is at a near stand-still. The Cabinet is divided and unstable...The Territory's finances are in dire straits and poorly controlled. There is a settled pattern of recourse to disposals of Crown land to fund recurrent public expenditure, for want of governmental revenue from other more fiscally conventional sources. I should have added that the financial position is so bad that the Government cannot pay many of its bills as they fall due. Governmental and other audit recommendations lie ignored and unattended. In short, there are wide-spread fears on the part of the people of the Territory that they are leaderless and that their heritage is at risk of continuing to drain away...I am also satisfied on the information before me under Part (a) of the Commission's Terms of Reference of a high probability of systemic corruption and/or other serious dishonesty involving past and present elected Members of the House of Assembly and others in recent years."