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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:28 am on 10th March 2010.

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Photo of Keith Simpson Keith Simpson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 10:28 am, 10th March 2010

Yes. The hon. Gentleman got in just ahead of me. The Chagossians have made that point, and there is a genuine question for the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence here, and the State Department and the Department of Defence in the United States to answer. Do they believe, objectively, that if the Chagossians returned and there were some form of economic development, there would be a threat to their security? What sort of threat do they believe there would be? It should be discussed to decide whether it is credible. The Department of Defence may well say that there is no such threat, and that if there were it could be monitored.

We have reached the stage where the sort of secret agreements and discussions that we were able to have 40 years ago under consecutive Governments-this is not a party political issue; it was a Government to Government matter-cannot continue in quite the same way. There will be issues of confidentiality, but whoever are the Government after the general election will have to consider the matter.

The whole business of economic development of the area is crucial, and the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady made the point that some crucial issues will arise if some Chagossians want to return, particularly the development of the fishing industry. Mauritius also has an interest, and a matter in the documentation that worries me is the marine protection area. If the United Kingdom decided eventually to hand back the islands to Mauritius, I am not certain whether Mauritius would be legally liable to continue the MPA. That will be crucial from the point of view not only of the Chagossians, but of any investment that the United Kingdom and other partners have made in the development of the area.

There is a series of connected issues, and I conclude by saying that we must put the interests of the Chagossians at the heart of them. I do not believe that the Foreign Office has entirely ignored them, but they have tended to be of second or third-level importance. That cannot continue. I am trying not to be too parti pris, but we know pretty well that there will be a general election on 6 May, given the announcement about the Budget, and if the consequence of that election is that my party finds itself in Government, I think we would want to revisit the whole issue with an open mind, because we cannot continue the present policy, given all the points that have been made by hon. Members today.

Finally, one of the first things that the newly constituted Select Committee on Foreign Affairs should do in the new Parliament is to consider the whole issue of the Chagos islands and all the matters that we have discussed today. I again congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the way in which he raised this important issue.