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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:38 am on 10th March 2010.

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Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 10:38 am, 10th March 2010

That goes to the heart of the question about access to the islands. My hon. Friend referred to the two visits that were facilitated and funded by the Foreign Office. That was entirely appropriate and we should certainly consider doing more of that in the future. There are a variety of ways in which we can demonstrate sensitivity and respect for the islanders and their relationship with their homeland.

Through financial compensation we have recognised our legal responsibilities, but of course there continues to be a moral responsibility, which is not as neat as a statutory or legal responsibility. How we deal with that moral responsibility needs to be an ongoing source of reflection for any responsible and reasonable British Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North asked about the European Court of Human Rights, and why the Government are using that to defend themselves. Let me explain why we are doing so. First, in the view of UK courts, the ECHR is not applicable in the British Indian Ocean Territory. Secondly, as I have said, the compensation that has been paid was in full and final settlement of all claims, and the UK has no legal obligation to pay any further compensation. Thirdly, the BIOT constitution is lawful, and hence there is no right of abode in BIOT. That is why we are defending ourselves through the European Court of Human Rights and have not felt able at this stage to settle out of court.