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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:00 am on 10th March 2010.

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Photo of Laura Moffatt Laura Moffatt Labour, Crawley 10:00 am, 10th March 2010

I am delighted to take part in the debate and I congratulate my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn on securing it. This important subject requires proper consideration. In Parliament, when we talk about overseas issues that have a direct impact on our streets in the UK, this matter must be at the top of the agenda.

Most of us who have grown up understanding the injustice that has taken place and how islanders were treated like cattle and removed to Mauritius and the Seychelles have a great sense of the wrong that has been done. Those people were subsequently given access to a British passport and turned up in the centre of a town virtually destitute, with just a great sense of hope to see them through. The system let them down in many ways and they needed to be supported, helped and guided through very difficult early days, so it is inspirational to look at that community now.

That sense of inspiration comes from watching a community establish itself in the UK and making sure that it is part of what we are-our fabric-through, for example, participation in the voluntary sector. It is very special to realise that the children of that community are doing extremely well at school and that its first students have gone to university. We need to congratulate that community on establishing itself in such a way. However, those people are not the only Chagos islanders whom we need to consider. Many others have, for whatever reason, not been able to make that move, and their views must be considered.

This matter has given rise to hugely diverse views, which are deeply and passionately held. We sometimes become over-excited if we hear someone saying something that does not accord with our particular view, but it is right and proper that I should articulate the views of the islanders who have settled in Crawley. I have very close contact with those people, and I spend a great deal of time listening to the issues that have become a running sore for them. The work to secure visits to the island has been tremendous for the community-not only for the two groups of six that were able to visit the islands and come back with their reports of that pristine environment, which I understand everyone wants to protect, but for those who could not travel, as they attended presentations to see the beautiful pictures.

That, however, is not good enough. No one can survive on a dream that existed decades ago. For the community, creating contact between the islands and those who have been removed-who may still be in Mauritius and the Seychelles or in the United Kingdom-is vital. I firmly believe that people must have a choice about the right of return. That is the cornerstone of all the work that has taken place, but it does not mean that everyone will wish to return, and we need to make that very clear.

When the court cases were under way, many people who had settled from the islands came to see me to say, "It doesn't mean that I'll have to go back, does it?" They felt there was a sense of compulsion about the matter. It is important that the sense of the right of return remains, and that it is achieved. How that is managed is the big issue we are debating today, which can often become a little overheated.