Chagos Islands

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:21 pm on 28th October 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun 5:21 pm, 28th October 2015

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. As a member of the all-party group on the Chagos islands, I am pleased to be able to speak in this debate, but it would clearly be better for everyone concerned if there was no need for a debate to be taking place after all these years.

We heard from my hon. Friend Dr Monaghan that the history of this starts in 1965-66. It was in 1966 that the agreement was made about the US naval base. That was before I was born, so I tried to imagine what drove the thinking at the time. There was the cold war. Did people believe that the actions were justifiable at the time? However, even if I try to put myself in the position of people then, there is no way to justify what happened—clearing the people from their homeland and trying to cover that up and justify it as involving only contract workers. Worse than that, we have had 50 years of cover-up and blocking since then. That is what is truly shocking.

I will give a flavour of the timeline. In 1971, the UK Government issued an immigration ordinance prohibiting return to the islands. In 1982, compensation was paid, whereby it was obviously hoped that the matter would disappear, but the compensation was paid only to Chagos islanders in Mauritius and not to those living in the Seychelles. That obviously forced the issue into the courts. In 2000, the High Court ruled that the ordinance was illegal, which the UK Government seemed to accept, but then decided not to accept—another shameful outturn. In 2004, new orders were issued prohibiting a return, which forced the matter back through the courts. In 2006-07, the Chagos islanders won in the High Court and then the Appeal Court, but unfortunately in 2008 the UK Government took the matter to the Law Lords and got a decision favourable to them, on a split decision.

The year 2009 is also very significant. The European Court had suggested that a friendly out-of-court settlement could be pursued, but that was not taken up by the UK Government. At the same time, the UK Government said that they had a moral responsibility to the Chagos islanders that would never go away. The Government actually said that the moral responsibility would never go away, but at the same time, behind the scenes, they were working on plans to create the marine protected area, so that was more double-dealing. Also in 2009, an immigration Bill was passed. The UK Government refused to accept an amendment that would allow special consideration for the Chagos islanders, so their dependants are not entitled to British citizenship. That is another strand of the story and it is very important now, because some of the people who were forcibly moved from their islands settled in the UK, but are now being told that UK descendants are not entitled to British citizenship.

In March 2015, it was ruled that the marine protected area violated international law. Unfortunately, we also discovered—from WikiLeaks of all things—that the MPA was, as was suspected, just a mechanism to prohibit the islanders from returning. That is more shameful deceit in recent times by a UK Government.

My hon. Friend touched on the KPMG report. At least, as was said, the recent Government commissioned a feasibility study in relation to allowing the islanders to return, but it is pessimistic about the costs. The estimates are £23 million for housing and public buildings for 150 people and £10 million for housing for a pilot involving 50. There is no doubt that those costs are designed to scare the Government and give them an excuse not to do that.

I will quickly conclude—apologies for having gone on. The Government now need to sort out three key issues: allowing a claim for resettlement; citizenship for dependants, who now, understandably, perhaps do not want to move back because they have been displaced for so long; and the future sovereignty of the islands. We need to get this matter sorted and remedy the wrongs of the past 50 years.