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4.31 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): The hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Trend) referred to Pitcairn in his thoughtful speech. May I ask the first of the questions of which I have given notice to the Foreign Office? Even more remote than the Pitcairn Islands is Henderson island, which is uninhabited, but which has a pristine ecosystem. That ecosystem may be in danger, and I wonder whether the Minister could comment on that?

The second point that I want to make is that, for many years the fount of all parliamentary knowledge on St. Helena was the father of the present Government Chief Whip, my friend the late Ernie Armstrong, who sat in your Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with considerable distinction for a number of years. He recalled that, when he was sent to St. Helena, as Tony Greenwood's Parliamentary Private Secretary, all the inhabitants, it seemed, turned out to welcome his arrival with "God Save the Queen." Things may have changed since then.

Jeremy Corbyn: A lovely man.

Mr. Dalyell: The late Ernie Armstrong was a marvellous man.

My third question is about Anguilla. A fortnight ago, William Whitlock died there. He was the unfortunate Under-Secretary who was turfed off the island with maximum publicity, and his parliamentary and ministerial career suffered accordingly. May we have an update on what has actually happened on that tiny island and on whether it is, in fact, as stable as we would like to believe?

I now wish to ask a number of specific questions on the Chagos. Will the Minister confirm that those Chagos islanders born off the Chagos Islands since 1965 to a Chagos-born mother but not a Chagos-born father will equally qualify for British citizenship? Will he confirm that anyone so born before 1 January 1983 is not a British dependent territory citizen because, before the British Nationality Act 1981, United Kingdom citizenship was inheritable only by legitimate descent through the male line—a piece of gender discrimination remedied with effect from 1 January 1983?

Does the Minister accept that article 73 of the United Nations charter, which requires an administering power to promote, as a sacred trust, the social, political and economic advancement of the population of a non- self-governing territory, is as binding on Her Majesty's Government today as it was when the population of the Chagos were unlawfully removed between 1965 and 1973? What steps do Her Majesty's Government propose to take in furtherance of that sacred trust?

I should like to tell my hon. Friend the Minister that I feel very strongly about that, because it so happened that, in 1969, on the way back from Australia, I went to Mauritius to stay with the Governor-General, a former general-secretary of the Labour party. His name was Len Williams and his wife took me to see some of the Ilois on Mauritius. It was a very sad and moving occasion. Those people, who had come from an archipelago, had

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been just dumped in that thriving commercial society. When people see such things, they stay with them and they can feel a bit emotional about it.

Does the Minister accept that the so-called feasibility study, which calls into question the return of the population to the Chagos Islands, is a totally inadequate response to the finding of illegality by the High Court, and a breach of the sacred trust? In particular, why do the Government refuse to enable the Chagos islanders to conduct a reconstruction and rehabilitation study in accordance with the request made to the Secretary of State on 5 October in their solicitor's letter. I associate myself entirely with what my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) said—those people have their own ideas. They are able people, and they should be brought into the process.

Why have Her Majesty's Government refused to make available the birth records of the Chagos islanders who were born between 1976 and 1983, which were previously lost by the Government but are now located in the registry on the Seychelles—where Chagos islanders are currently forced to live—to enable them to prove their identity and benefit from the Bill?

Does the Minister realise that the failure to make any substantial progress in relation to the Chagos islanders' schedule of requested steps, dated 7 December 2000, for nearly a year was unlikely to persuade that community that it should trust the British Government to act promptly in accordance with English and international law? Does the Minister agree that the Chagos islanders are a community who have been driven to the edge of despair by the immoral and illegal actions of the British Government, carried out on a rather grand scale for 30 years?

A letter, dated 12 October, from the British Indian Ocean Territory states that a visit to the islands was, in effect, refused. Those involved particularly wanted to go on 3 November this year—the date when Chagossians mourn their dead. That had been agreed in principle a year before in the wake of the court judgment. Her Majesty's Government have, however, done nothing to facilitate that visit, and, of course, the events of 11 September were used as a final reason to refuse it. I ask, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North, whether that is a reason or an excuse. It does not seem immediately self-evident that, although a huge base operates there, those people should be refused something that was agreed in principle.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but it is not immediately obvious to me how that issue comes within the Bill. I have been very indulgent with the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), and to repeat some of the same issues would stretch too far the boundaries of this debate.

Mr. Dalyell: You have been very generous, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so I simply say that many people are interested in such issues; they are not quite as arcane as might be thought. The Friends of the Chagos—led by the former senior Foreign Office official, Nigel Wenban Smith, with expertise from Professor David Stoddart of the University of Berkeley—ask about the Charles Shepherd report on global warming and the rising sea levels around the Chagos and the changing ecology.

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Time is of the essence, so I conclude by pointing out that the U.K. Chagos Support Association and its secretary, Celia Whittaker, are deeply interested in such debates. I hope that the Government will take seriously, as I am sure that they will, the plight of these people.

Andrew Mackinlay: The relevance of my hon. Friend's remarks to the Bill has been questioned. However, when Mr. Speaker was in the Chair, I pointed out that the Bill will make the Chagos islanders citizens of the European Union. If they are citizens of the EU, they will have the additional rights that result from that. Those rights are relevant to this case.

Mr. Dalyell: I do not dispute Mr. Deputy Speaker's ruling, and I recognise that there is a problem of time. However, my hon. Friend is right to say that it is a matter of rights. The European Union should be as involved as the British state.

4.40 pm

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh): I know that time is of the essence and that other Members wish to speak. I therefore wish to make one brief point. Like many Members, I welcome the Bill. However, I have slight reservations not about its purpose but about what it does not include. It is perhaps guilty of sins of omission rather than sins of commission.

The Bill rightly restores to the citizens of the overseas territories the rights that they lost quite unacceptably many years ago. It recognises the UK's responsibilities to its overseas territories which, over the centuries—let us face it—we took possession of for our interests and our commercial and military benefit.

I welcome the fact that the Bill will enable the citizens of the overseas territories to enjoy rights similar to those enjoyed by UK citizens. Citizens of the territories will be able to live and work in the UK if they so choose. That is the first step—but an important one—towards the UK recognising its responsibilities to treat all its citizens equally wherever they happen to be domiciled in the UK's sovereign territories.

The Bill also reinforces the importance of upholding our values and principles even when they might run counter to our perceived short-term interests. In the longer term, defending our values and principles must always be in our over-riding interest. Many Members will recall that point when we eventually debate the Government's proposals for the UK's citizens in Gibraltar. We should defend our values and principles rather pursue our short-term interests.

The White Paper, "Partnership for Progress and Prosperity: Britain and the Overseas Territories" has been mentioned several times. It understandably points out that no reciprocal rights have been considered between the British citizens in the UK and the citizens of the overseas territories. That was a response to the unanimous views of the overseas territories and their concerns about migration. I certainly do not quibble with that.

The total population of the overseas territories is less than 200,000. If all those people were to migrate to the UK, which is hardly likely, they would not have a significant impact on a population of 60 million. Equally clearly, however, the demographic structures of the overseas territories are fragile and vulnerable. Montserrat

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has a population of 4,500, St. Helena a population of 6,500, and the Pitcairn Islands a population of about 50. Any change in the overseas territories could be traumatic in the face of the influx from the UK that might arise from the introduction of reciprocity. I fully understand that that might be a real problem.

The overseas territories already enjoy significant protection through their own immigration laws. For example, the Cayman Islands have been mentioned a number of times and they have a population approaching 40,000. Only 10,000 of them are "belongers", the indigenous people of the overseas territories who are protected by specific rights. Baroness Amos explained:

That is the crux of the matter.

The Bill rather skates over the issue of maintaining the rights of all UK citizens equally wherever they happen to be domiciled. Those rights are the human rights that we, as a nation, have a duty to uphold under our international obligations.

The main thrust of my contribution relates to a particular case. The hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) referred to the fate of UK citizens intermarrying citizens from the overseas territories who will become British citizens with the passage of the Bill. I have been contacted by Mr. James Stenning, an industrial chemist who is now training as a lawyer. He is a UK citizen and he met and, after three years, married a Cayman islander, who was at the time a postgraduate law student at Sussex university. They assumed that, on marriage, they would have no problems living in the Cayman Islands, because they are a UK overseas territory. However, when Mr. Stenning arrived in the Caymans with his bride, he was granted just a two-week tourist visa—and that only on the production of a return air ticket to the UK. He is now able to renew his visa on a three-monthly basis, but he is expressly forbidden from working in the territory.

The ultimate irony is that Mr. Stenning understandably considered the option of returning to the UK with his bride and settling here to raise a family only then to run into major obstacles with the UK immigration authorities. Basically, he cannot live and work with his wife in the Caymans, and she cannot live and work with him in the UK.

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