Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence

Submission from Mr Kedell Worboys, Chair, The United Kingdom Overseas Territories Association (UKOTA)


  UKOTA welcomes the opportunity to give evidence to the Committee for its Inquiry into Overseas Territories. However, it asks the Committee to bear the following in mind:

    —  UKOTA's role is to act as a representative for the Overseas Territories in the UK and it is on this basis that this evidence is submitted.

    —  The views expressed follow consultation with the individual territories.

    —  Evidence given by UKOTA should not be seen as a replacement for evidence given by the individual territories.

    —  UKOTA cannot comment on the affairs of the individual territories.


  2.1  UKOTA succeeded the Dependent Territories Association following the 1999 White Paper, Partnership for Progress and Prosperity: Britain and the Overseas Territories which sets out the policy on the Overseas Territories.

  2.2  The members of UKOTA are: Anguilla (Representative: Robert Williams), Bermuda (Representative: Marc Telemaque), the British Virgin Islands (Representative: Dawn Smith), the Cayman Islands (Representative: Jennifer Dilbert MBE), the Falkland Islands (Representative: Sukey Cameron MBE), Gibraltar (Representative: Albert Poggio OBE), Montserrat (Representative: Janice Panton MBE), St Helena (Representative: Kedell Worboys), the Turks and Caicos Islands (Representative: Tracy Knight) and Pitcairn Island (Representative: Leslie Jaques OBE).

  2.3  The Governments of the Overseas Territories are represented on UKOTA, in the main, by their official representatives in the United Kingdom; Bermuda and Pitcairn send representatives to attend meetings when possible. The strategic direction for UKOTA is provided by the UKOTA Political Council which comprises the political leaders of the Overseas Territories.

  2.4  Officers rotate annually. The current Chair is Kedell Worboys, the St Helena Representative. Tracy Knight, the Turks and Caicos Representative, is the Treasurer and Janice Panton, the Montserrat Representative, is Secretary to the Association.

  2.5  The Objectives of UKOTA are:

    —  To provide a forum for exchange of ideas and discussion of relevant issues of common interest.

    —  To work for the mutual benefit of the signatories to the Mission Statement.

    —  To share information about issues of interest and benefit to the signatories to the Mission Statement.

    —  To make recommendations to the Governments of the Overseas Territories on appropriate courses of action where relevant.

    —  To develop relationships, as a group, with HMG, the European Union, the Commonwealth and other appropriate organisations and institutions.

    —  To share best practice in relevant areas.

    —  To defend the collective interests of the Members and to represent those interests.

  2.6 UKOTA understands that the focus of the Inquiry is the exercise by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) of its responsibilities in relation to the Overseas Territories and the FCO's achievements against its Strategic Priority No.10, the security and good governance of the Overseas Territories. We believe that for the Committee to obtain a good understanding of this, it is vital that the views of the Overseas Territories' Governments and their official representatives in the United Kingdom are taken into account.

  2.7  It should be noted that while the Government of Gibraltar is an active member of UKOTA, it is not affected by many of the issues that UKOTA is addressing in its evidence. Its views are not therefore represented in this submission.

  2.8  The principal relationships between the FCO and the Overseas Territories are strong and the proposition from the 1999 White Paper that the basis of that relationship be one of partnership is supported by the Overseas Territories. It is with this principle in mind that this evidence has been submitted.

  2.9  Many of the proposals made by the Overseas Territories to the Select Committee during evidence taken in preparation for the 1998 report were accepted by the Committee and then by the UK Government. These included the right to full UK citizenship with no reciprocal arrangements, the change in nomenclature from Dependent Territory to Overseas Territory, the closing of the Barbados Secretariat and the establishment of the Overseas Territories Consultative Council and its annual meeting. The Overseas Territories warmly welcomed these changes and were grateful to the Committee for its support.


  3.1  While the day to day relations with the Overseas Territories Directorate of the FCO are good, we are sometimes surprised at the attitude of other government departments where there is a lack of understanding about the status of the Overseas Territories. There are two current examples which typify the issue: pensions up-rating and National Health Service quotas.

Pensions Up-rating

  3.2  The UK Government's policy on this issue is that it up-rates the UK State Pension of those living abroad where there is a legal requirement to do so or where there is a reciprocal agreement in place. Up-ratings are currently paid to all UK pensioners living anywhere in the EU, including Gibraltar and Switzerland. It is also paid in a number of individual countries and territories where reciprocal agreements are in place, including Bermuda and Gibraltar (although the latter's agreement has largely been superseded by European law). However, there are a number of countries where UK pensioners live where there are no reciprocal agreements including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. Pensioners in these countries have run a campaign for a number of years calling for a blanket up-rating agreement on the basis that they have worked in the UK and made the requisite payments and therefore should have right to the up-rating. This is a call that the UK Government to date has resisted on the grounds of cost and its declared focus on pensioners in the UK. However, in addition to pensioners living in the major commonwealth countries, UK pensioners living in the other Overseas Territories do not receive an up-rating. The UK Government's reasoning for this is that it would not be appropriate to single out the residents of the British Overseas Territories with UK pensions as any more deserving of the up-rating provisions than those living in former colonies or Commonwealth countries.

  3.3  In fact UKOTA believes that on the contrary the Overseas Territories should be given special consideration. Unlike the Commonwealth countries or former colonies, the Overseas Territories are sovereign British Territory. Therefore any UK citizen living in an Overseas Territory should not be discriminated against by any UK law. Indeed, this argument was accepted by the UK Government when it changed the basis on which tuition fees were charged to students from the Overseas Territories. The change recognised that the Overseas Territories were a special case and that the requirement for a certain period of residence in England, Scotland or Wales should no longer apply. As a result Overseas Territory students are now charged the same as UK resident students by UK universities and colleges provided that they have resided in an Overseas Territory for a period of three years prior to the 1st of September in the academic year in which they are to commence their studies in England, Scotland or Wales.

  3.4  In terms of numbers, the up-rating would currently affect about 600 people. According to an answer given in the House of Lords (June 2007), the cost would be just under £500,000 for 2007-08 on the assumption that the frozen pension is brought up to the current value and then up-rated. We believe that by acceding to this request the UK would not be setting a precedent either for other countries or in terms of law.


  Given the unique status of the Overseas Territories, low cost and small number of people concerned, the UK Government should up-rate the pensions for UK citizens living in the Overseas Territories and in receipt of UK state pensions.

Medical Treatment

  3.5  There are currently reciprocal agreements in place to allow British Overseas Territories' citizens to be treated in the UK by the National Health Service (NHS) and for British nationals to be treated in the Overseas Territories in the case of primary care. However, there are significant disparities when it comes to secondary care. Some Overseas Territories are allowed an annual quota of patients who can be treated in the UK, some are allowed to have as many as necessary to be treated and some have no quota at all.

  3.6  There are signs that the Department of Health is now questioning this system querying the value the Overseas Territories bring to the British taxpayer to allow its justification. It is a question that does not make sense. If British visitors are in need of primary medical assistance in the Overseas Territories they will receive it as the reciprocal agreement indicates. In the case of secondary care, British citizens would receive it in the UK. Overseas Territory citizens themselves only travel for secondary care if they cannot receive it in the territory itself so there can never be reciprocity in the way that the Department of Health envisages. Indeed, the standard wording in the agreements requires that the patient sent to the UK must be " . . . in need of hospital care, for which, in the opinion of the competent authority . . . adequate facilities do not exist in the [name of Overseas Territory]". It should also be noted that under the various agreements, the Government of the Overseas Territory sending the patient(s) is responsible for all their transportation and living expenses while they are staying in the United Kingdom.

  3.7  All Overseas Territory citizens have the right of abode in the UK and the right to a British passport. If they were to move here they would gain automatic access to the NHS, based on residency, so it seems strange that the Department of Health is questioning the quota system.

  3.8  It is not in the interests of the Overseas Territories to flood the NHS. Like most people their patients would prefer to be treated closer to home where they can be visited by family and friends. However, there are cases where this treatment is not possible and where, therefore, UK assistance is required. It seems unnecessarily harsh to impose an inflexible quota system which dictates that the best chance of accessing secondary care on the NHS is to become ill early in the year rather than later.


  UKOTA recommends that where a person is in need of medical treatment for which, in the opinion of the competent authority of that Overseas Territory, adequate facilities do not exist in the Overseas Territory, the person concerned will receive that medical treatment in the United Kingdom.

National Curriculum

  3.9  It is not only across government that knowledge of the Overseas Territories is sporadic. The same is true across society and while the Overseas Territories do undertake some degree of public information in the UK, there is unfortunately a limit to what any one can achieve. If knowledge about the Overseas Territories was communicated to school children, there would be far greater societal understanding of the Overseas Territories, their status and the role they play. To achieve this we believe that more should be done to insert information about the Overseas Territories into the National Curriculum.


  UKOTA recommends that teaching about the Overseas Territories be inserted into the National Curriculum to ensure that over time there is a better understanding among the general public of the Overseas Territories and the position they occupy.

  In the case of both of the pensions' up-rating and the health quotas, support has been expressed by FCO officials but they have difficulty in persuading other departments to listen to them or convince other departments of the duties they have towards the Overseas Territories.


  There is still a need for a greater knowledge and understanding among other government departments and the FCO must support this process by ensuring that the requisite communications systems are in place.

Student Loans

  3.11  One issue that has recently arisen following the long awaited acknowledgement that students from the Overseas Territories qualify for home student fees, is their ineligibility for UK student loans and this factor may deter students from applying for a place at a university in the UK.


  UKOTA recommends that the FCO investigate the feasibility of students from the Overseas Territories becoming eligible for student loans from Student Finance Direct.


  4.1  The individual territories may wish to comment in more detail. However, UKOTA asks the Committee to note that the experience of the official representatives is substantial and they can provide a degree of insight in pre-briefings that the FCO and other UK Government departments may lack. As a result the FCO frequently ensures that the relevant Representative briefs a Governor before he/she is appointed. We believe that this practice should be extended to other officials appointed by, or on the recommendation of, the United Kingdom Government.

  4.2  Furthermore, there is a tendency for the FCO to use the Governors as an exclusive channel to Overseas Territories' Governments when in fact using the Representatives in addition to the Governors would be more efficient. This is something, for example, which the Commonwealth and Parliamentary Association (CPA) has recognised and as a result knowledge and information exchange with that organisation has improved. The Overseas Territories' Governments assume that we are kept informed and use us to co-ordinate meetings and as a channel to the UK Government. It is important that this is recognised by the FCO as well and that it is a two way channel.


  UKOTA recommends that all office-holders appointed by, or on the recommendation of, the United Kingdom Government are briefed by the appropriate Representative on UKOTA before they leave for their respective Overseas Territory. Furthermore, we recommend that the FCO recognises the link that UKOTA and the Representatives can collectively and individually provide between the UK and the Overseas Territories and acts accordingly.


  5.1  The OTCC has become an important component in relations between the FCO and the Overseas Territories. The annual meetings give the political leaders of the Overseas Territories an opportunity to meet their political counterparts and senior officials in the UK, and to discuss a range of issues of interest and concern to the Overseas Territories.

  5.2  However, it may be that the time has come for a change in format. The new Constitutions that are being discussed and adopted give a greater degree of variation in terms of autonomy for local governments so the "one size fits all" approach can no longer be taken. In addition, in recent years there have been signs that the partnership approach taken so successfully has not been followed through by the FCO. For example, it is UKOTA's view that any changes to the composition of the meetings should be agreed by the political leaders of the Overseas Territories before such changes are implemented. However, in 2005 the FCO took the decision to invite the Governors to attend without consulting the Overseas Territories. The lack of consultation on this proposal not only flew in the face of the partnership approach, which had been successful to then, but created a lot of unnecessary tension.

  5.3  UKOTA believes that the format be refined to ensure that the partnership approach is effectively continued by the FCO.


  UKOTA recommends that the fundamental reason for the creation of the OTCC must remain to provide a forum for direct discussion between the political leaders of the Overseas Territories and their UK political counterparts in the United Kingdom and as such, it would be beneficial for the proceedings of the Council to include:

    —  A series of individual bi-lateral meetings arranged with other Government Departments around the time of the OTCC on issues requested by the individual Overseas Territories. Most importantly, other Departments should be briefed on the issues to be raised beforehand so that they can prepare their responses.

    —  A final round up meeting to be organised with the political leaders of the Overseas Territories, the relevant Ministers and officials.

    —  Governors should not be in attendance—they have a separate meeting with the FCO which the Overseas Territories' political leaders do not attend.


  6.1  Many of the Overseas Territories have either recently completed constitutional talks or they are still ongoing. This is huge step for all and the partnership with the FCO has worked well. In the Overseas Territories there has been extensive public consultation and the FCO policy and legal teams have worked with the Overseas Territories to ensure that, so far as possible, each Overseas Territory has the autonomy that is required without exposing the UK's contingent liabilities.


  7.1  With a few exceptions most international treaties, conventions and other international agreements which the UK ratifies must also be transposed into law in the Overseas Territories. Individual Overseas Territories may wish to comment on this process. However, from UKOTA's perspective, there are two elements which need to be brought into consideration.

  7.2  Firstly, the Overseas Territories should be alerted to such agreements at an early stage. Frequently, the FCO only alerts the Overseas Territories at a relatively advanced stage when it is too late for them to make representation. Such delay can lead to a break down of trust in the relationship between the Overseas Territories and the FCO.

  7.3  Secondly, it is important that other UK Government departments have a clear understanding of what can and cannot be applied to the Overseas Territories and the FCO must communicate this adequately to them. UKOTA recognises that the Governor is the formal link between the Overseas Territories and the UK Government. However, this does not have to be an exclusive channel. All the UKOTA representatives maintain strong and regular links with their individual Overseas Territory Governments and if this channel is also utilised then messages and alerts have a greater chance of being acted upon.


  UKOTA recommends that the FCO institute a system whereby UKOTA representatives are alerted early to prospective new international treaties, conventions and other agreements to ensure that Overseas Territories' Governments are informed of such developments on a timely basis.

  7.4  Secondly, the transposition of such agreements often requires a significant amount of legal drafting which can be difficult for Overseas Territories because, although willing, they may have limited resources. It is important that the FCO takes this into account when considering what it expects of the Overseas Territories and within what timescale.


  UKOTA recommends that each transposition is taken on a case by case basis but that the FCO always consider what legal drafting assistance the Overseas Territories might require and provide this support if requested.


  8.1  The UK has signed the European Convention of Human Rights and these rights have been extended to the Overseas Territories as part of this agreement. In addition, as part of the constitutional review process, Overseas Territories are adding a substantial Human Rights chapter to their Constitutions to enshrine these rights on a Territory by Territory basis for the first time. This has already happened in Gibraltar, the British Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos and the other Overseas Territories are following suit as they review their Constitutions.


  9.1  Relations between the Overseas Territories and the UK Parliament tend to be driven either by the Overseas Territories or MPs who have a specific interest. There are All Party groups representing most of the Overseas Territories and one group, the All Party Overseas Territories Group, which acts as an umbrella for all of the Overseas Territories. In addition all Overseas Territories engage with Parliament on a regular basis and a number arrange Parliamentary visits to ensure MPs and peers obtain direct experience of them.


  10.1  There has been much improvement in the way that national events in the UK have been expanded to include the Overseas Territories and this is welcomed. However, there is one area which has not. This is attendance at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday. Many Overseas Territories' citizens have fallen in defence of Britain. The Overseas Territories all now have democratically elected Governments who have representatives at many international events. It seems strange and anachronistic for their representatives to be excluded from the Remembrance Sunday ceremony at the Cenotaph.


  UKOTA recommends that Representatives of the Overseas Territories are invited to join the ceremony at the Cenotaph and lay wreathes on behalf of their individual Overseas Territory.

10 October 2007

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