[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. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members will understand that the extensions were given purely to ensure that the work is done and not for any other reason; but of course, we need to draw the matter to whatever is the appropriate close.

Sir John Stanley raised several general points which I want to address about the reaction of the FCO to problems on Turks and Caicos Islands, the Pitcairn Islands and so on. I can give reassurance on several points. We have instructed Governors to review the Turks and Caicos Islands commission interim report and to ensure a thorough assessment of any systematic controls that need improvement in their territory. From my discussions with representatives of the territories, I am in no doubt about how exercised they themselves are about the report on Turks and Caicos Islands, because they wish to keep their reputation. I hope that we can use the report to great benefit across the overseas territories.

We have also revised the requirements on those being appointed to governorship to ensure that they have the right capabilities for the job and that they are clear about their responsibilities for good governance. We have also made it clear—I hope that this will be welcome—that Governors who raise concerns about good governance will have support from the FCO. I speak from my experience of giving that assurance to the British Virgin Islands.

Mr. Simpson asked about the appointment of Governors. They are appointed by the No. 1 personnel board of the FCO, which is chaired by the permanent under-secretary. I can advise him that no ex-politicians are Governors. Indeed, there is diversity, and they are now recruited from beyond the FCO. As was reported to the Select Committee, all Governor positions are advertised to all members of the diplomatic service and home civil service through the civil service recruitment gateway, and they are also open to employees of non-departmental Government bodies.

On St. Helena, I would say to Bob Russell that the announcement of a pause in negotiations over the airport was a blow to many, and I understand that. Unfortunately, as has been acknowledged, no territory is immune from the effects of the current economic crisis. There must be consideration about whether building an airport in times such as these is the most appropriate choice, particularly as we find ourselves not just in these times but in somewhat rapidly changing circumstances.