Chagos Islands

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:13 pm on 28th October 2015.

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Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley 5:13 pm, 28th October 2015

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Rosindell. I congratulate Dr Monaghan on securing this important debate.

There are more Chagos islanders in this Grand Committee Room than exist on the Chagos archipelago; that great injustice is visible here today. I first came across the issue of the Chagos islands when I was a teenager, reading a book about the remaining British overseas territories, and I was appalled then by what happened under the Wilson Administration in the late 1960s. It was the sort of appalling colonial abuse that one would associate with what happened 150 or even 200 years ago. Little did I know that, later on, I would have the honour and privilege to represent in my constituency the largest Chagos islands community anywhere in the world, first as leader of West Sussex County Council, where we were pleased to do what we could to support the community arriving at Gatwick and into this country. Latterly, over the last five-and-a-half years as a Member of Parliament, I have also been pleased to be a member of the Chagos islands all-party group and to advocate on behalf of the Chagos islanders.

The hon. Gentleman has set out many of the arguments, which I will not repeat because of the constrictions on time. However, it is important to state today that we cannot turn back the clock, but we can do the right thing now. He mentioned that people live next to airbases all around the world, and it should be no different in the Chagos islands. I commend this Government and the previous coalition Government on at least starting the process of a consultation, which of course finally ended yesterday evening. With the anniversary of the creation of the British Indian Ocean Territory in a couple of weeks’ time, now is the moment that the Government should follow through and agree to the resettlement. Funds are available, such as European Union funds or the international aid budget. We have one of the most generous international aid budgets anywhere in the world, and we should be using it for the benefit of these British citizens and their right of return to their homeland.

I want briefly to mention those Chagos islanders who would prefer to stay living in this country, although I absolutely accept the need to acknowledge that the majority rightly wish to return. I appreciate that this is an issue for the Home Office, but further work needs to be done on passports and visa issues, which are something that many of my constituents grapple with. I thank members of the Chagos community in this country for the respectful way in which they have fought for their rights, given the appalling injustice that has been done to them.

On sovereignty, I would probably disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I believe that the ideal solution is that the Chagos islanders should be allowed to return to their homeland and then, just like every other overseas territory, it should be up to them to decide under which sovereignty they wish to live in the future. I could say much more, but given the time, Mr Rosindell, I will finish, because I would like to encourage other Members to contribute as well.