[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

As far as I am aware, that is the case. Clearly, if I am told differently after the debate, I will write to my hon. Friend. However, that is my view, based on the information that I received in the run-up to the debate.

Let me deal now with the marine protected area. When the Foreign Secretary launched the public consultation on it in November last year, he pointed to what he described as a

"remarkable opportunity for the UK to create one of the world's largest marine protected areas and double the global coverage of the world's oceans benefiting from full protection".

Potentially, this is a very significant project, with wide ramifications.

We extended the consultation period because, as hon. Members said, we needed to consult as widely as possible, and the consultation concluded only last Friday. The all-party group has formally responded, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North. In addition to taking written contributions, we made sure that an independent facilitator was made specifically available to speak directly to Chagossians in Crawley and the Seychelles and by video teleconference to those in Mauritius.

I am not being coy when I say that the consultation genuinely closed last Friday, and we are not in a position at this stage to announce its outcome or how we intend to proceed. However, I would like to place on record that is important that hon. Members are briefed-I suspect that this may be the responsibility of someone else, who will, I hope, come from the Labour party-when the Government decide what to do next about the marine protected area. I am cognisant of the fact that hon. Members feel that there was not sufficient consultation with parliamentarians on the Chagossians in the past before apparently unilateral decisions were made. I therefore put on record a commitment to make sure, wherever possible, that interested hon. Members are briefed before we make final decisions on the marine protected area.

Let me turn briefly to the specific point that Jo Swinson made about extraordinary rendition. Other hon. Members, including Mr. Simpson, made the same point. We are all aware of what happened in 2008, but the key point is whether any assurances have been given that it will not happen again. It is important to put on record that in February 2008, when the issue came into the public domain and the Foreign Secretary made his statement to the House, the then US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, publicly underlined the firm US understanding that there will be no rendition through the UK, our overseas territories and Crown dependencies or our airspace without our express permission having first been received. Hon. Members may say that that was our understanding in the first place, but it is important that we have on record a reiteration of the fact that the US understands that these things were not acceptable and should never happen again. In terms of our special relationship with the United States, we are not happy with the way it has behaved historically on this issue, but we have to accept in good faith the assurance that the then Secretary of State gave.