[Mr. George Howarth in the Chair] — British Indian Ocean Territory

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 10th March 2010.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North 9:30 am, 10th March 2010

Even if they are good short speeches, Mr. Howarth, I understand your point.

The hon. Gentleman is also an extremely active member of the all-party group. I have two points to make in response to his intervention. The first involves the moral case and the damage that such activities do to this country's moral standing. I was at the United Nations Human Rights Council a few years ago when the Chagos islanders came in considerable numbers as a delegation of indigenous people denied the right to return to their homeland. I found it embarrassing to be there as a Member of the British Parliament while a delegation stated that they had been denied the right to live on their own islands by a series of decisions made in Britain as part of a colonial legacy or hangover. The Chagossians were there to petition the United Nations. Of course they had every right to petition the United Nations-I was there to support them-but I wondered what it was doing to this country's moral standing in the world.

My second point concerns Diego Garcia. It is not part of the case that the islanders should be able to resettle in large numbers, or indeed any numbers, on Diego Garcia, because of the arrangements to lease most of the island for the US base. However, we should remember that Diego Garcia is at this moment, in law, a British Indian Ocean Territory. It is a British possession, if that is the right word. The Americans were eventually forced to admit that they had been using the island for extraordinary rendition flights. When that came out, the Foreign Secretary, who had clearly not been informed of it by the United States, was forced to apologise to the House. I would imagine that he was extremely embarrassed, and probably very angry, at having to do so, as he had been told constantly that the islands were not being used for extraordinary rendition. A degree of openness is necessary on the issue.

Moving to the case at present, a legal debate is going on. I have argued that the legal case is strong for the islanders' right to return. I fervently hope that they win their case at the European Court of Human Rights. When the hearing takes place, some time this year, I intend to be there to support the islanders and watch the process in the Court. If the islanders win at the ECHR, as they probably will, the British Government-it will be after the election-will either have to accept that decision or introduce yet more legislation in the House to try to negate it. That can be avoided if the Foreign Office climbs down, accepts that there is an overwhelming case for the right of return and discusses with the islanders and the Chagossian community in the UK how it could be carried out, the cost, who would pay for it and the environmental impact on the islands.