[John Bercow in the Chair] — Overseas Territories

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:10 pm on 23rd April 2009.

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Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office 5:10 pm, 23rd April 2009

My hon. Friend is right—indeed, that is contained within the Antarctic treaty. Much of the discussion was about the very strengths that he has just mentioned. The treaty was based on putting sovereignty claims aside; it was about peace and science, and it retains that position. We re-committed ourselves to that, so there is no change in relation to the matters about which he inquires.

The last example of development that I want to mention is that the Government of Bermuda opened a London office for the first time in February. That is fitting because Bermuda celebrates its 400th anniversary this year.

I shall now turn to the specific points made, which have been many and various. On the Turks and Caicos Islands, from the outset, I would like to say that there have indeed been concerns for many years about poor governance. The Blom-Cooper inquiry in 1986 into allegations of arson and corruption led to the suspension of ministerial government in Turks and Caicos for some two years. It is also true that rumours of corruption continued. Successive Governors have said that anyone with concerns about corruption will need to provide evidence. In 2006, a previous police investigation failed due to lack of evidence.

I have listened closely—not only today, but on other occasions—to the concerns that Committee members have raised. Let me also clearly put on the record that without any doubt the Committee itself played a key role in uncovering and bringing to the Government's further attention deeply worrying information relating to the TCI. I commend the Committee's energy, dedication and commitment in that regard. I pay particular tribute to the right hon. and hon. Members who visited the TCI in pursuit of that matter. I continue to be grateful for the efforts, insights and attention given to what is undoubtedly a difficult problem.

As mentioned, we all know that on 10 July last year, after careful and detailed deliberation, the then Governor appointed a commission of inquiry. We await its final report, which is expected in May. Questions have been asked about the delay and extension of the date for the final report. Sir Robin Auld has asked for the extension because of the work generated by what is called a Salmon letter exercise. The purpose of such letters is to give recipients an opportunity to make representations to the commission before it makes it final findings and recommendations. The reality is that there are recipients who have failed to meet the extended deadlines set by the commission of inquiry.

I can confirm to hon. Members that, unless the commission's final report significantly changes our current assessment of the situation in the TCI, we will act to deal with the problems and restore the principles of good governance to the islands. That intervention is, of course, for an interim period only. In the current climate of financial uncertainty and vulnerability, it is vital that the Turks and Caicos Islands establish, adhere to and promote principles of good governance to restore their international reputation.

Let us also be clear that the Turks and Caicos Islands Government, not the UK Government, are responsible for the present crisis, but, ultimately—I am sure that we all share this view—the Turks and Caicos islanders will want to see the right solutions found to the challenges that they face. In all our actions, it is the interests of those islanders that is uppermost in our minds, and that will continue to be the case.