Chagos Islands

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:25 pm on 28th October 2015.

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Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development) 5:25 pm, 28th October 2015

That is a very fair point well made. We will perhaps have the Minister’s response to it.

The Scottish National party has for many years expressed its solidarity with the Chagossian people, and I want to take this opportunity to do so again today. At our spring conference in 2015, we agreed a resolution expressing frustration with the ongoing approach of the UK Government in relation to the Chagossian people and agreeing that the behaviour of the UK Government has consistently been contrary to well established laws on decolonisation and self-determination. These are, admittedly, complex areas of international law, but certainly the tradition in Scotland is that sovereignty should lie with the people, so irrespective of territorial claims by the United Kingdom, Mauritius or any other third party, the fundamental right to live and work on the Chagos islands should lie with the people who lived there until their forced removal at the hands of a UK Government.

We can welcome what slow progress there may have been, but the terms and conditions of the pilot resettlement proposal are minimalist to say the least. My hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross went into that in considerable detail and highlighted the views of the Chagossian community. I hope that if the Chagossians, supportive organisations or any other people come forward with alternative suggestions or proposals, the Minister will listen to those, and that what is in the current consultation will not simply be presented as a fait accompli. I know that the APPG has suggestions about possible sources of funding for resettlement and has questioned the cost of resettlement highlighted in the KPMG report. The highest cost that I can find is £267 million over six years. Although that is not a small amount, I imagine that it pales in comparison with the amounts spent on building, maintaining and running a US defence base—a defence base, of course, that the Government admitted was used for rendition of prisoners. That only compounds the injustice that has happened in that part of the world.

Time is extremely short, so I cannot go into all the detail that I wanted to. That shows that this matter deserves time on the Floor of the House, once the Government reach a decision—or, indeed, before then—so that the whole House can have its say. The debate raises a huge number of wider questions about the sovereignty of peoples and the role of current and former colonial powers—questions of geopolitical and military-industrial significance. If so-called developed countries can trample on the rights of small nations and communities out of military or political expediency, it makes it difficult for those countries to lecture so-called less developed countries or encourage them to smarten up their act on respect for human rights and the rule of international law. There are far too many historical—and current—examples of forced removal and migration of peoples, with the impact that that has on culture, economies, ways of life and the environment.

In the case of the Chagos archipelago, there are clear paths to restoration and the chance to right an historic wrong. If the Government can show some political will and make the kind of progress that has been called for, not only will some kind of justice be done to the Chagossian people, but there will be hope for other communities in similar situations elsewhere. If they cannot, the only conclusion that can be reached is that attitudes that should have set with the sun at the end of the British empire are, in fact, still stubbornly and unnecessarily at work at the heart of Government today.