[John Bercow in the Chair] — Overseas Territories

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:54 pm on 23rd April 2009.

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Photo of Keith Simpson Keith Simpson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 4:54 pm, 23rd April 2009

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. When I said that it was a typically British compromise, I was perhaps trying to hide the blushes of the Secretary of State for Justice, but of course the hon. Gentleman would never hide his blushes.

The hon. Gentleman's second point, about the different perms that we could have, is something that we need to consider. Indeed, we need to hear the views of the overseas territories, as they will not have a unified view on that.

My next point is about what was widespread corruption in the Turks and Caicos Islands, and about the issues that hon. Members have identified about the G20 demand that pressure should be brought to bear on tax havens, and about the letter written by the Prime Minister. I urge the Minister to throw some light on that, if at all possible, because it seems strange, to say the least, that we have a list identifying seven overseas territories that are on the OECD blacklist, the finances of one of which are directly administered by the Treasury. I will restrain myself from making any party political points about the Treasury's inability to come up with any accurate figures to do with the Budget—oh, I have not restrained myself, but I know that hon. Members will know what I mean. This is a very serious issue indeed and it has to be gripped, not only because the Government and Parliament are responsible, but because, whether they like it or not, the overseas territories have to realise that it is not in their interests to appear on such a blacklist. If the overseas territories department at the Foreign Office is not responsible for this issue, then it will have to be the Treasury's responsibility. As a consequence of this debate, the Select Committee on the Treasury might want to consider this issue.

On corruption within the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the suggestions that there could be corruption elsewhere, we know that from the 1950s onwards in Hong Kong there was widespread, systematic corruption on a vast scale, particularly within the police. It was only after the establishment of a permanent corruption commission, which was given enormous powers, that the corruption was rooted out. I am not suggesting necessarily that we should establish corruption commissions within individual territories such as the Turks and Caicos Islands, but perhaps the Foreign Office should think about having an establishment in Whitehall that is able to root out that kind of corruption. I merely float that as an idea, but it should be borne in mind.

I want to give the Minister time to respond, so I shall move to the final issue that I want to raise. On the Chagos islands, as several hon. Members have said, we find absolutely incredible today what happened there only 40-odd years ago, in which successive Governments colluded—particularly the treatment of those people who were literally dumped in Mauritius. Other peoples have been evacuated in the past, as I found out when I went to Gibraltar. As a military historian, I am ashamed to say that I did not know that large numbers of Gibraltarians were forcibly evacuated during the second world war. Indeed, Miss Gibraltar 1999, who was showing me around, said that her parents had experienced the blitz. They had been put in one-star hotels in South Kensington, and had endured the blitz, whereas many others had gone to the Canary Islands. However, at least those people were brought back at the end of the war and received some form of compensation.

There is no doubt that there is a moral imperative, but there is also a political problem that we cannot shy away from. Perhaps the Minister will be able to resolve this issue. I suspect that the British Government's change of mind relates directly to 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan. They might be legally locked into the situation, but that should not mean that they do not take into account what I suspect is the all-party view that the rights of the Chagossian people should be recognised, and that there should at the very least be a timetable for the return of those people at least to the outer islands, if not the inner islands. The Foreign Office should recognise that the House of Commons feels very strongly on that.

I praise the Committee's report. This Government or the next Government, which I hope will be Conservative, should look again at the strategic policy of our relationship with the overseas territories. That should be done in 2010—perhaps after the next general election—when we should establish a new relationship and strategic vision.