Previous Section Index Home Page

David Miliband: I hope that all UK citizens will be supporting the English team, and I am sorry if the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) wants to distinguish between English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish fans in respect of the World cup. Obviously, we talked about the issue when we met the South African President
6 Apr 2010 : Column 815
and South African Foreign Minister during the state visit last month. They are taking the issues of security and wider provision for fans extremely seriously. The bilateral engagement between our two countries is of a very high order on this important issue.

T7. [325380] Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State tell us what representations were or will be made by him to the Israeli Government in relation to the Palestinian and Arab Christians who were denied access to the holy places over Easter, the most important festival in the Christian calendar? Will he do all he can to ensure that access is given to these Palestinian Arabs, who are a minority, so that they can celebrate that important feast in future?

Mr. Ivan Lewis: First of all, I am sure I speak on behalf of Members on both sides of the House in paying tribute to my hon. Friend's unique contribution to the affairs of this House. I shared a corridor with him when I started my parliamentary career; I shall leave it at that. It was a tremendous privilege to get to know him.

My hon. Friend has raised an important issue. One of the constant conversations that we have with the Israeli Government is about ensuring that there is maximum support for interfaith harmony in Israel and that any restriction of movement is lifted, other than in the most extenuating of security circumstances.

T9. [325382] Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that it is his Government's policy to increase the British contribution to the European Union by billions of pounds and to pay for that by cutting back on the funding of British overseas postings run by his Department? Because that is the net result.

The Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant): The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, because he is quite an intelligent man; that that is not the policy of this Government nor, indeed, of his party.

Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab): I hope that my right hon. Friend recalls the Royal Society's prognosis of July last year that tropical coral reefs might survive on this planet for only another 40 years because the rate of destruction was so great. Does he understand the very real hope that his announcement on Friday of last week, about the designation of the marine protected area in the Chagos archipelago, has given ocean scientists around the globe?

David Miliband: Last week's announcement has been widely welcomed in the scientific and environmental community, and for good reason. A unique resource is being created for the future-for all future generations, for the planet, for scientific research and for the protection of the environment. It is a very good symbol of the sort of internationalism and the sort of responsibility that this country should stand for.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): As one who believes that our country is extremely well served and represented by our diplomatic service, may I ask the Foreign Secretary to assure the House that there are no plans to close or amalgamate any of our embassies?


6 Apr 2010 : Column 816

David Miliband: I have spoken to the hon. Gentleman on many occasions and have come to know his wisdom and his commitment to the House and to our political system. I hope that he will not be too embarrassed if I pay tribute to him from this side of the House and thank him for his very many years of outstanding service, not just to his constituents but to the House. I know that we have tried to remove him at successive general elections, but without much success.

In respect of the Foreign Office's 261 posts around the world, we keep all our posts under very close review but there are no plans at the moment to close any embassies.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): It is not just that Palestinians in Jerusalem and East Jerusalem are being prevented from praying; they are having their houses confiscated in ever-increasing numbers as well. Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of those Palestinians are having to seek asylum in this country, and should they be audacious enough to return to their own country and step off the plane at Tel Aviv, they are in danger of being tortured, put back on a plane and returned to Britain?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. I wish him well in his retirement and thank him for all his service to his constituents, and of course to our party and the House.

Jerusalem is rightly at the centre of all the great religions; it is a tinderbox. It is very important that all sides are very careful in the actions that they take in that respect, and that the rights of all denominations and all faiths are respected in that special place. The committees and other structures that have been created to govern the holy sites are there for a purpose, and the rules and norms that they have established need to be adhered to very closely indeed.

Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): The people of Estonia have held this country in particular regard ever since the intervention of the Royal Navy in their war of independence after the first world war. In fashioning the future foreign and defence policy of this country, will this Government and the next never forget the professionalism and sacrifice of Estonian forces fighting alongside British forces in Afghanistan and the professional and courageous military personnel who, on a tiny budget, show courage above all possible expectations?

Chris Bryant: I think that the hon. Gentleman is the last of the parliamentary swans making their swansong at questions this afternoon, but he is a very fine swan indeed. He has been a great Member of this House and I pay tribute to him and to the many other retiring sensible, pro-European Conservatives who still exist.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about Estonia and its contribution. Our troops, in Afghanistan now and in previous conflicts, have known perfectly well that the Estonians have been very strong and successful allies of ours.

Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): Further to the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), does the Minister agree that NATO should be the cornerstone of European defence?


6 Apr 2010 : Column 817

Chris Bryant: Yes I do, and I am delighted that the Lisbon treaty makes that clear.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): Following on from the question by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) about business in Iraq, is the Foreign Secretary aware that businesses that I speak to feel that the British Government are not supporting them adequately? Given that Iraq has the world's second largest oil supply and that there is a desperate need to rebuild its infrastructure after the war, what more can
6 Apr 2010 : Column 818
he do to build ties with the incoming Iraqi Administration so that British business can do more business with Iraq?

David Miliband: This is the only European country that has held an Iraq investment conference and we are committed to UK Trade and Investment and other embassy functions that support commercial diplomacy. The hon. Gentleman's question would be better if he could give me any details of companies that he says have been frustrated. We would be very happy to work with them, because I assure him that many other companies are delighted rather than frustrated.


6 Apr 2010 : Column 819

Chagos Islands

3.33 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab) (Urgent Question): To ask the Foreign Secretary if he will make a statement on the declaration of a marine protected area around the Chagos islands and what consultation took place before the announcement was made.

The Minister for Europe (Chris Bryant): On 1 April 2010, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary announced the creation of a marine protected area in the British Indian Ocean Territory. It will include a no-take marine reserve where fishing will be banned. The creation of the MPA is a major step forward for protecting the oceans not just around the territory itself but throughout the world.

The decision to establish a marine protected reserve was taken following a full public consultation and careful consideration of the many issues and interests involved. The response to the consultation was high, with more than a quarter of a million people registering a view. The great majority of those responses came in the form of petitions, but the response was so wide-ranging that it was global, including from private individuals, academic and scientific institutions, environmental organisations and networks, fishing and yachting interests, members of the Chagossian community, British Members of Parliament and peers and representatives of other Governments.

The great majority of respondents-well over 90 per cent.-made it clear that they supported greater marine protection of some sort in the Chagos archipelago in principle. However, the views on the proposal were mixed and the responses were not confined to the options listed in the consultation document. The announcement is the first key step in establishing an MPA. There is still much work to be considered and we intend to continue to work closely with all interested stakeholders, both in the UK and internationally, in implementing the reserve.

Jeremy Corbyn: The Minister must be aware that on 10 March I was given an undertaking in a Westminster Hall debate that consultation with interested parties, Members of Parliament and the Chagossian community would take place before an announcement was made. No such consultation has taken place, and there has been no communication with me as chair of the all-party group on the Chagos islands or with the Chagossian communities living in Mauritius, the Seychelles or this country.

The Minister will also be aware, because he gave the apology on behalf of the Government, that a terrible wrong was committed against the Chagos islanders in the 1970s and 1980s, when they were driven out to make way for a US base. Every other marine protected area proposed anywhere in the world by anybody includes a local human element to protect the zone. He knows full well that the Chagos islanders support the MPA, but not with a no-take policy; they support it with a sustainable fishing policy that will enable a sustainable community to return to their islands to live and look after the MPA.

Finally, the Minister will also be aware that later this year the islanders' long fight for justice and human rights, which has been fought so that they can return to
6 Apr 2010 : Column 820
their islands, will be heard at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Many of us believe that the islanders will be victorious. At that point, will he accept that the islanders' return can also be protective of the environment from which they were so cruelly snatched all those years ago?

Chris Bryant: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that he does as chair of the all-party group. He has brought the views of the Chagossians to the attention of many people in this House and further afield, expressing with clear articulateness their rights and needs. However, I should just say to him that our decision to set up the MPA has no effect on our relationship with Mauritius; it does not change one jot the guarantees that we have made to its Government. Nor does it have any effect on our relationship with the Americans in respect of Diego Garcia or on the hearings that will be held later this year at the European Court of Human Rights-this decision is entirely without prejudice to those.

I apologise to my hon. Friend and to the House, because it became clear to us that, notwithstanding the commitment made to him in the debate, no further information could have come in that would have made any difference to the decision on the protection of the marine environment in the British Indian Ocean Territory. He referred to the question of whether there should be a no-take agreement or a sustainable fishing arrangement. The truth is that very few sustainable fishing arrangements around the world have ever been successful, which is why we believe it vital that there should be a no-take arrangement in this area. Extensive consultation did take place over several months, including with my hon. Friend, part of which was, of course, the Westminster Hall debate that he led.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) on raising this urgent question. He initiated the debate in Westminster Hall and the Minister might wish to think again about what the hon. Gentleman said about the lack of consultation with the Chagossians; at the very least, even at the public relations level, that was unfortunate.

It is appropriate that the House considers these issues before Parliament is dissolved, given that the Chagos islanders' case is before the European Court of Human Rights. There is a great deal of sympathy from those on both sides of the House for the plight of the Chagossians, and their interests must be placed at the heart of any decisions made about their homeland.

I would like briefly to put two or three questions to the Minister. What discussions have the Government had with the Government of Mauritius since the Foreign Secretary's announcing the creation of the marine protected area in the Indian ocean, which the Conservative party welcomes? The Foreign Secretary said in his statement last week that the creation of the reserve

Will Mauritius be legally liable to continue the marine protected area when that occurs? What safeguards will be put in place to ensure the long-term protection of the marine area and, in particular, any investment that the UK and other partners make in the development? Furthermore, what discussions have been had with regional
6 Apr 2010 : Column 821
states, such as Maldives and Seychelles? Are they supportive of the idea of a marine protected area? Finally, what steps are the Government planning to take to ensure effective enforcement of the ban on illegal fishing in the zone, and how will they ensure that the marine protected area is not simply a paper proposal without practical impact?

Chris Bryant: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his broad support for the measures that we are undertaking. I think that all Members of the House are keen to ensure that one of the areas of greatest biodiversity in the world, which is within British territory, can be protected for the future.

The hon. Gentleman asked some specific questions, including about what consultations and discussions there were with Mauritius. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke on Thursday with the Prime Minister of Mauritius, and there have been extensive discussions with others in the area. I should say, in answer to the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North, that one of the things we have to do over the next few months is lay out precisely how the reserve will function. During that process, of course we have to discuss specific elements with the Chagossians, their representatives and Members of both Houses, and we are keen to do that.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the fishing. He will know that the British Indian Ocean Territory is particularly important not only because 784 different kinds of fish live on the coral reefs, but because many fish migrate through the territory, and it is the fishing of those migratory fish in the territory that is providing a major problem for fish stocks across the whole of the Indian ocean. That is why we believe that this is a particularly important moment. We will be suspending the three licences presently made available, which bring in something like £1 million a year, and finding the money elsewhere.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford) (LD): I also congratulate the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) on raising this issue. Following the hon. Gentleman's important question about consultation, will the Minister say whether the Chairman and Members of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, which in this Parliament carried out an inquiry into our overseas territories, were consulted? Again following on from the hon. Gentleman's questions, will the Minister assure the House that the creation of the MPA, which the Liberal Democrats would, of course, automatically support, will not affect the ability of the Chagos islanders to return and have a sustainable community? Finally, will the presence of nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed US warships be permitted within the zone of the MPA?

Chris Bryant: I hope that the hon. Gentleman understands that the Government feel deep regret-many right hon. and hon. Members have also expressed such regret-for how the Chagossians were treated in the late 1960s and early 1970s. However, we believe that that has now been settled in the highest court of this land by the Law Lords. Yes, a court case will be heard in the European Court of Human Rights, but this is an important step to take, notwithstanding any possible discussions or judgment handed down by the Court, because we believe that the biodiversity in that territory is essential to the world. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman asks
6 Apr 2010 : Column 822
from a sedentary position whether the Foreign Affairs Committee was consulted. The whole House was consulted, the country was consulted, and we extended the consultation process by weeks so that others could take part. I must say that many Foreign Office consultations get hardly any replies at all, even from the Liberal Democrats, and yet in this case more than 250,000 people expressed their view-90 per cent. of them in support of the MPA. Notwithstanding the rows that some people want to raise about the process, I hope that they support the policy that we are adopting.

Several hon. Members rose -

Mr. Speaker: Order. This is a matter of considerable interest, as is reflected in the number of Members seeking to catch my eye, and I should like to accommodate everybody. There is, however, pressure on time, so pithy questions and answers are the order of the day.

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend the Minister will know that the vast majority of endangered species are in British overseas territories, rather than on the UK mainland. The Government have been criticised in the past for not paying enough attention to this aspect of our overseas territories. What effect will the proposed area have on protecting endangered species?

Chris Bryant: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, and I pay tribute to her because, when she had responsibility in the Foreign Office for the overseas territories, she started a lot of the work that has enabled us to undertake such work now. Reference was made earlier to the coral reefs in the British Indian Ocean Territory. Actually, it is one of the few areas in the world where the coral reefs have been rapidly growing again, and that is because of the work that we have been able to do in recent years. We will now be able to do more. There are 220 species of coral there, many of which are specific to the Chagos islands, and we will be able to protect them by establishing the MPA.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): Will the Minister try again to explain what happened between 10 March and 1 April, the first day after Parliament rose for Easter? Will he also kindly explain the size of the proposed area, and tell us whether the Chagossians' return to the islands will be affected by these proposals?

Chris Bryant: There will be absolutely no effect on whether Chagossians have a right or do not have a right to return to the islands by virtue of the announcement that we have made. I thought that I had made that clear already-

Peter Bottomley indicated dissent.

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman is shaking his head, so I have obviously misunderstood the precise nature of his question. Doubtless he will inform me of it later. He also asked what happened between 10 March and 1 April. We made the decision that no further information could possibly be garnered that would affect whether it was right or not to establish a reserve now. That is why we decided to act. We believe that it is in the interests not only of the territory itself but of the whole of the Indian ocean and of the biodiversity of the planet that we start the MPA as soon as possible.


Next Section Index Home Page