British Overseas Territories Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Trend: You have been tolerant and patient with us this morning, Mr. Butterfill, as has the Minister.

The new clause is at the heart of what I tried to say on Second Reading. All of a sudden, we have opened the window and many people have suddenly become walking encyclopaedias on the British overseas territories. That will last only for a short time before the window slams shut again and we lose sight of the territories.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk is right. We need to know how the Act will work. We also need to be updated regularly on the constitutional arrangements that are being made in the territories. We need to know how the public administration training is going, what is happening in higher education, and about the airport or the new ship for the islands. We also need to know about citizens' health rights.

I was intrigued to hear about the European Union and whether those citizens will need residency to fill in E111 forms for health care when in Europe. There are all sorts of complications, which will no doubt be sorted out in offices in the territories. We are making provisions for British citizens and have a grave responsibility to them. They have no other formal voice in the British Government who retain an enormous amount of power over them.

If there were a way of asking about the Pitcairn Islands and its complications, I would do so. It has a curious system in which its legislative authority appears to be New Zealand, although its police operate at a high level from Kent. There are complicated issues that it would be nice to raise from time to time. The White Paper ''Partnership for Progress and Prosperity: Britain and the Overseas Territories'' was excellent. There could be an annual report to Parliament, which we could debate if necessary, so that such matters could be raised.

I also suggested that the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs might want to consider such a report annually. The Public Administration Committee, on which I serve, has an appointment—once a year or more—with the ombudsman and a Cabinet Secretary to keep them in touch with where we are. I understand that there is an annual meeting in September in London of representatives of the territories, although I may be wrong.

I would be intrigued to know whether that meeting is held every year and always in London. If so, perhaps that would a good time for the Select Committee to plug into the system and have a sitting, or at least send a Clerk. There would then be a constant interchange. It is difficult, even in the age of the e-mail, to keep in touch with all the territories throughout the world.

Will the Minister consider whether there could be an annual report? He has, as always, been gracious about such matters, but I want to press him to make a commitment on this modest request.

Mr. Bradshaw: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. This is also my first Committee and I am pleased that there has been such consensus. So far, so good. My experience as a Minister has been brief and I am not immediately responsible for this subject. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is the immediate responsibility of my noble Friend Baroness Amos.

I have the impression that, far from being under-represented, the overseas territories are very well represented, not least by several hon. Members in the Committee. There are 200,000 people in those territories. On Second Reading, 12 or 15 hon. Members spoke with great expertise about issues ranging from the airport at St. Helena to the environmental impact of bird-lime in the Pitcairn Islands. My constituency in Exeter, with a population of 110,000, just has little me to represent it, but the residents of the overseas territories have many walking encyclopaedias, as they were described by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North. I do not think that the overseas territories need worry too much about their voice being heard.

As my hon. Friend said, representatives pay regular visits here. Next week, I am meeting a group of St. Helenians and my noble Friend in the Lords is meeting a delegation of Chagos islanders. There are always opportunities for hon. Members to secure debates on individual territories, or all of them, in Adjournment debates in Westminster Hall and for the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs to scrutinise our work. Indeed, there may be an argument for the Committee to invite annual delegations to give evidence on how the new legislation is bedding in and other topics. The Foreign Office publishes an annual report on human rights, which includes references to the overseas territories. I hope that the hon. Member for West Suffolk is content that that is enough and that they have full representation in the House.

Mr. Spring: I endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor in saying that the Minister has been unfailingly courteous and helpful during our proceedings. Although we will not press the matter further, I hope that efforts will be made to keep hon. Members informed about progress following the successful passage of the Bill. As he has reflected and we have noted, there is huge interest in and concern for the overseas territories, and it is important that the Bill's effect on citizenship is monitored and that we give the overseas territories a view on our relationship with them. I hope that we can get a commitment from the Minister and the Foreign Office on that, although it will not be as specific as we wanted.

Mr. Trend: I do not wish to detain the Committee on the matter at this stage, but will the Minister reconsider before the Bill is considered on Report whether an annual report could be made to Parliament?

Mr. Spring: I agree with my hon. Friend. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

        Committee rose at twenty-three minutes past Eleven o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Butterfill, Mr. John (Chairman)
Bradshaw, Mr.
Caplin, Mr.
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cruddas, Jon
Dhanda, Mr.
Grogan, Mr.
Hoyle, Mr.
Edwards, Mr.
Joyce, Mr.
Moore, Mr.
Picking, Anne
Randall, Mr.
Russell, Bob
Spring, Mr.
Starkey, Dr.
Trend, Mr.
Watkinson, Angela

 
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Prepared 6 December 2001