[John Bercow in the Chair] — Overseas Territories

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

Alert me about debates like this

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

As the hon. Gentleman knows, DFID is responsible for the matter; but of course, it crosses several Departments. Like me, he will have seen the DFID consultation document, to which contributions are invited until 31 July. I strongly urge him—I am sure that he has done or is doing this—and anyone else who has an interest in the matter, to participate and make their views known. I openly discussed that with the representatives of the overseas territories when they met me in London.

I reaffirm the Government's commitment to ensuring access to and from St. Helena, and we will not contemplate a lesser service than that provided by RMS St. Helena.

I wish to turn to the British Indian Ocean Territory and put on the record once again—I am glad to do this—that we deeply regret the forced resettlement of Chagossians and the hardship that resulted from it. The Foreign Secretary said:

"We do not seek to justify those actions and do not seek to excuse the conduct of an earlier generation."

However, the truth is that we have to look forward. I have said many times in meetings with interested parties that we cannot turn the clock back. As hon. Members have said, an application to the European Court of Human Rights has been communicated to the Government, and we will respond to it.

I continue to keep in touch with the many communities. In addition to the meetings referred to by my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn, I have also visited the community in Crawley at the invitation of my hon. Friend Laura Moffatt and the Diego Garcian Society, and the FCO will continue to organise and fund visits to the territory by Chagossians. We have received several further requests in that regard. However, the reality is that following the judgment of the Law Lords, our policy will remain that no one has the right of abode in the territory or the right to enter it unless authorised. Our reasons are well rehearsed. I accept that they are not well received by several hon. Members in the debate, but they include reference to defence and security and to the reality and feasibility of resettlement.