[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

Absolutely. The islanders do not have the right of return, but they have recognition as stakeholders who will contribute to the consultation exercise. It is a non sequitur to say that we will consult them, but do not trust them to live there. In other words, we trust their opinions, but do not trust them to look after the place should they have the right of return.

I mentioned that I attended a seminar at Royal Holloway college in January. There were 100 scientists and conservationists from around the world who had prepared various petitions and statements. Some supported the marine conservation zone and others supported it, but also wanted the rights of the islanders to be taken on board. There has been a marked reluctance by some who support the zone to acknowledge any human involvement or considerations in the matter, which I find extraordinary.

The islanders have made their case. The legal position is that Britain separated the Chagos islands from Mauritius. As I said, I believe that that was contrary to the UN General Assembly resolution of the time. There is an issue about our relations with Mauritius to be resolved. I hope that the Minister will say something about the ongoing discussions with the Mauritius Government.

The Foreign Secretary has an interest in considering this matter. I commend him for meeting the Chagossian community in this country and hope he will give the same service to the Chagossian community that lives in Mauritius on his next visit. The community in this country has lived in some poverty, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley will explain. They have been denied access to benefits because of the habitual residence test, which is bizarre considering that they are British citizens following an amendment that Tam Dalyell and I tabled at Committee stage of the British Overseas Territories Act 2002. I hope it will be recognised that, as British citizens and passport holders, they are entitled to the same rights as anybody else in our society.

I have mentioned several people in this debate and will conclude by recognising two people who should be acknowledged and thanked. The first is Richard Gifford, a lawyer who has shown steadfast support for the islanders' right of return over decades. He has been to Mauritius and the Seychelles on many occasions. He has led the case through all the courts and all the chicanery. Such people, who go far beyond their professional demands, should be recognised, thanked and supported. The second person is David Snoxell, the former British high commissioner to Mauritius, who, in retirement, has given a lot of energy and support to the Chagossian community and to the case for their right of return.

Finally, I mention again Olivier Bancoult, the chairman of the Chagos refugees group, whom I know well and have known for many years. It is remarkable that this small community, which was taken from its islands all those years ago and literally dumped in Mauritius and the Seychelles, did not spread asunder over the world, go to the four winds and disappear as an entity, but has stayed together and campaigned and petitioned together. There was a great sense that justice had been achieved in 2000, when the High Court in Britain gave the islanders the right of return. It is up to us to follow that through.

Olivier sent me an e-mail that said:

"Regarding the Marine Protected Area we will support it as long as it takes into consideration the fundamental right of the Chagossians. May I ask you to put a request to Foreign Secretary David Miliband who visited a Chagossian group in Crawley, that he considers meeting all the Chagossian groups as well?"

I know the Foreign Secretary met Allen Vincatassin, who is one of the prominent people in the Chagos community in Crawley, but he should also meet Olivier and his group when he next visits Mauritius. We have a chance to do something good: withdraw the case from the European Court of Human Rights, reach a settlement, allow the islanders to return, and protect the environment and the pristine marine life there by letting the islanders themselves look after it. We can right a wrong; we can correct an injustice. Apologies and catharsis are a good thing, but one has to go the whole way and finish the case by allowing the islanders to return. I hope the Minister can give us some good news when he replies to the debate.