[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

Of course, we have to take all possible steps to make sure that our laws and policies are respected, and that should be the case especially in the context of our special relationship. Historically, we were obviously given assurances that turned out not to be true, and that is totally unacceptable, whether it was the United States that did that or any other country with which we had any kind of diplomatic relations, let alone a special relationship. All that I would say to the hon. Lady is that we have now had an assurance, and we have to respect it. The United States was certainly left in no doubt, as has been said, about the fact that the Foreign Secretary was not only embarrassed, but angry that a country with which we pride ourselves on having a special relationship had, on this occasion, undoubtedly misled the British Government.

To conclude, the difference between legal and moral responsibility is not a simple issue. As hon. Members have said, there is no doubt that we owe the Chagossians justice, fairness and respect for the fact that we treated the population badly all those years ago. Subsequently, we tried to offer redress through compensation and by resettling Chagossians in this country, and my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley has spoken of her experiences in her constituency. Equally, the Government are defending their position for good reason. In the context of our responsibility to do what we believe is in the national interest and our moral responsibility to the Chagossians, we must continually review whether we are getting the balance right. We have no choice at this stage but to defend our position in the courts, but we must remember that we are culpable for what happened historically. That moral responsibility will never go away, and we have to find ways, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North said, of constantly recognising that, accepting our responsibility and being held to account.