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6 Apr 2010 : Column 823

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): The Minister has still not explained the reason for the urgency. The consultation ended only on 5 March, and the facilitator herself said that the process would take three months, so why has this been rushed through? Will he also answer this question: does this decision not rule out the Chagossian people ever going back to live there?

Chris Bryant: As my hon. Friend knows, we do not believe that the Chagossians will be returning to the islands-[Hon. Members: "Ah!"] But this particular decision has nothing to do with that. It is completely separate from the decision, in its entirety. As I have already said, the House of Lords has made it clear that the position of the UK Government is correct in law, and the only place where there is now contention is in the European Court of Human Rights.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Does the Minister accept that he has just let the cat out of the bag? What he has just said clearly indicates that he is trying to separate the MPA from the rights of the Chagossians, who, as the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) said in our debate the other day, are regarded as having been subjected to a terrible wrong. Given the Minister's much vaunted interest in human rights, would he be good enough to understand that some of us believe that when we are offered consultation, we expect to get it?

Chris Bryant: There has been substantial consultation. This has been one of the most far-reaching-and the most replied-to-consultations that the Foreign Office has engaged in. More than 250,000 people took part in it, and 90 per cent. of them supported the idea of creating an MPA. However, this decision has nothing to do with the rights, or the lack of rights, of people to return to the islands of Chagos. Yes, I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman that what happened in the 1960s and early '70s was absolutely shameful. I agree with him that the early compensation that was paid was also shameful. Later compensation has been paid-something in the region of £14 million in today's terms. However, it would be unrealistic to expect the Chagossians to return to those islands, however much individual Members of this House might want that to happen.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend accept that he cannot hide behind environmentalism to mask what many of us fear is an encroachment on the rights and legitimate expectations of the Chagossian people? He argues that the consultation he carried out approved a measure of support for further marine protection, but does he not accept that very few people want further marine protection at the expense of the Chagossian islanders, which is what the House is concerned about this afternoon?

Chris Bryant: The extension of the marine protected area and the new measures we are taking will not have any direct or indirect effect on the rights or otherwise of Chagossians to return to the islands. These are two entirely separate issues. Some have suggested that one should protect humans and not bother to protect the marine environment -[Interruption.] I know that that is not what my hon. Friend is saying, but in order to protect those who fish across the whole of the Indian ocean I believe that we have to protect the marine environment.

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Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): Given that the Minister has called the treatment of the Chagossians "shameful", does he not understand the concerns reiterated on his side of the House by the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) that this is being rushed through in double-quick time? That will lead many-and not just the usual suspects-to suspect that the Government are using the environmental issue as a fig leaf for the continued abuse of these human rights.

Chris Bryant: I have to underline for the hon. Gentleman that the environmental issues are very significant. The tuna that pass through the British Indian Ocean Territory feed many people across the east coast of Africa. Those supplies are being rapidly diminished. We need a no-take policy across the area. There are many other elements of biodiversity on the islands that we need to protect, but the decision has nothing to do with the rights or otherwise of the Chagossians to live on the islands.

Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): One of the most important groups of Chagossians were consulted-the large group who live in Crawley. They were very clear that they wanted the marine protected area, but they were keen to keep a foothold in their history. Although most will decide to remain in Crawley-I am very glad they will do so-they are keen to have a stake in the islands' future. Can the Minister give us any assurance about that?

Chris Bryant: I should pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has one of the largest Chagossian communities in the country in her constituency; I know that various Foreign Office Ministers have met her and the community. She is absolutely right that there should be an ongoing connection between the Chagossians and what happens with the MPA. That is why, as I said earlier, I am keen to ensure that, if I still hold this post after the general election, we have ongoing discussions with the Chagossian community in this country and further afield so that the implementation of the MPA meets the requirements and needs of the Chagossians.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Will the Minister clarify what would happen if the islanders returned and were unable to fish, as that would make it difficult for them to live? If they return, will they still be able to fish under the new regime?

Chris Bryant: As I said earlier, we believe it difficult and next to impossible to create a sustainable fishing regime in the British Indian Ocean Territory. Wherever it has been attempted elsewhere, it has failed. At the moment, the Chagossians have chosen not to take up any of the three fishing licences available within the British Indian Ocean Territory, but there are many elements involved in the question of whether life would be sustainable on the islands for the Chagossians-not least the fact that many of the buildings in which they lived back in the '60s and early '70s are no longer habitable.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend needs to be aware that this issue will not go away. Will he explain why conservationists and scientists feel that they have been used by the Government in their introduction of the marine protected area as a way of stopping the Chagossians from going home?

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Chris Bryant: Well, I am sorry. I am fond of my hon. Friend and I am sad that he has made that point this afternoon, as what he said is not my experience. The non-governmental organisations that I have spoken to have made it clear that they fully support the MPA.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): Impressed though the House may be with the Minister's marine knowledge of the Chagos islands and his Rumsfeld-like impressions in not needing to know what he does not know, will he tell me what livelihoods remain for the Chagossians, many of whom live in my area of West Sussex? Secondly, will he tell us whether any pressure was brought to bear on him by his American counterparts in the naval base nearby?

Chris Bryant: Absolutely no pressure was brought to bear by the United States of America on me or anybody else. I am not in charge of the community in the United Kingdom; I have responsibility only for the British Indian Ocean Territory itself.

Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab): May I urge my hon. Friend to stick with the science, because he is absolutely right? A no-take zone in the area is vital; upon it depend the livelihoods of more than 500 million people in the Indian ocean territories, because those coral reefs represent the seed bed for most of the marine fish life in the Indian ocean. It is an absolutely vital resource, and he must absolutely stick with the science. May I further urge my hon. Friend to understand that the coral reefs there are so sensitive and pristine that the scientists who work there do not even wear sun tan lotion for fear of contaminating the coral?

Chris Bryant: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to him for his long-term interest in these matters. The larger grouper fish and the wrasse are almost fading into non-existence in other parts of the Indian ocean and, without the protection that we will be able to provide in the British Indian Ocean Territory, they could well become extinct, thereby depriving many millions of people around the Indian ocean of any means of living at all.

Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend think that the late Robin Cook, who is the only Foreign Secretary really to have recognised the rights of the Chagos islanders, would have endorsed this decision-and if Robin Cook had taken this decision, does my hon. Friend not think that the least he would have done would be to come personally to the Dispatch Box to defend it?

Chris Bryant: Well, I am absolutely certain that Robin Cook would have wanted to bring forward the protection for the biodiversity in the British Indian Ocean Territory.

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Business of the House

3.57 pm

The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): I should like to make a business statement. Following the Prime Minister's announcement earlier today, the business for this week will now be as follows:

Wednesday 7 April-Consideration of a business of the House motion to facilitate business to prorogation, followed by remaining stages of the Bribery Bill [ Lords], followed by consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill [ Lords], followed by motion relating to the draft Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) Order 2010, followed by remaining stages of the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill, followed by all stages of the Appropriation Bill, followed by all stages of the Finance Bill, followed by consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Digital Economy Bill [ Lords], followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments. The House may also be asked to consider any Lords messages which may be received.

Thursday 8 April-Remaining stages of the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Crime and Security Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Children, Schools and Families Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Energy Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Financial Services Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Flood and Water Management Bill, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments. The House may also be asked to consider any Lords messages which may be received.

The House will not adjourn until Royal Assent has been received to all Acts. The House will be prorogued when Royal Assent to all Acts has been signified. Parliament will be dissolved on Monday 12 April by proclamation.

As the Prime Minister announced this morning, Her Majesty will summon the new Parliament to meet on Tuesday 18 May.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her statement. May I say how delighted we are on these Benches that the Prime Minister has at last pushed the button and called the election? We relish the prospect over the next four weeks of taking our argument for lower taxes on jobs, less waste and reduced debt across the country.

On the forthcoming business, will she confirm that there will be Prime Minister's Question Time as usual tomorrow, oral questions to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change on Thursday and no interruption to the schedule for Adjournment and Westminster Hall debates? Does she accept that we will enter into constructive discussions with the Government about the Bills in the pipeline, balancing the need for scrutiny with the need to get certain legislation on the statute book without further delay?

For the benefit of the whole House, will she tell us how long the debate will be on tomorrow's business motion? So that the House can pace itself, will she tell us how long she expects the House to spend on each of the Bills whose titles she has just read out?

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Finally, as she has made no announcement about the draft Standing Order on the Committee on Reform of the House of Commons, will she now confirm that the Government have finally kicked into the long grass the proposals to set up a business committee? Will she confirm that it will fall to the next Government to introduce this important House of Commons reform?

Ms Harman: I can confirm that there will be questions to the Prime Minister in the usual way and that there will be questions to the Department of Energy and Climate Change. We will table the programme motion this afternoon, so hon. Members will be able to consider it, and it will then be debated. Obviously, the length of the debate on the programme motion will be a matter for Mr. Speaker.

As far as the draft Standing Order is concerned, following the Committee on Reform of the House of Commons, we have agreed-the House has agreed-the election of Select Committee Chairs, the election of members of Select Committees and that Back-Bench Members should be able to-

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): That's a no, then.

Ms Harman: I am just trying to explain to the House the progress we have made. Back-Bench Members will be able to table motions that can be voted on. The House has resolved to agree that there should be a Back-Bench committee for House business. We have drafted the Standing Orders that would give effect to that and they have been tabled. I think it is wrong for hon. Members who did not win the vote to table amendments that serve as an objection and I would therefore ask hon. Members who have tabled amendments to withdraw them so that we can approve the Standing Orders. They do no more and no less than give effect to the resolution that the House has already expressed of wanting to proceed with a business committee. I think hon. Members should withdraw their amendments, which serve as an objection, so that we can conclude the matter in this Parliament. If that is not the case, and Members persist with their amendments, we will at least have made progress on all the things I have listed. The House will have decided in principle to make progress but the Standing Order change, which we have already drafted, could be done as the first act of the next Parliament.

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): I apologise for the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) who, for obvious reasons, is in Somerton and Frome, from where, I am sure, he will be deservedly returned, as will my other right hon. and hon. Friends who are standing again.

May I ask the Leader of the House about the Digital Economy Bill? The proposal appears to be to take the Second Reading today and all the remaining stages tomorrow. Given that there are a number of highly controversial proposals in the Bill, especially that about web blocking, surely now that we are in the wash-up, the most appropriate thing for the Government and the Leader of the House to do at this stage is to say that the Government will not proceed with those controversial parts of the Bill. That will save us all a lot of time and trouble over the next two or three days.

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I welcome the fact that the vulture fund Bill-the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill-and the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill are both on the list. That is very welcome. It seems to me to be extraordinary, however, that the proposals of the Wright Committee on a Back-Bench business committee, which the Leader of the House has herself put forward, are not on the list. She seems to be saying that those measures are not on the list simply because a few Members are opposing them, but there are, equally, a tiny number of reactionary Members opposing those two Bills. Surely those three measures are in the same position. It is in her gift to bring forward the Wright Committee proposals at this stage. On three separate occasions-three weeks in a row-she undertook to put those proposals to the House. Surely it is a breach of faith for her to refuse to do so now.

Ms Harman: As far as the Digital Economy Bill is concerned, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that there will be a full Second Reading debate today, so it will have a normal Second Reading debate. It has had considerable scrutiny already in the House of Lords: it had seven days in Committee, which is more than any other Bill in the programme, and three days on Report, whereas every other Bill in the programme had only one day. However, I know that Members want it to be scrutinised in this House too, and there will be a further chance for scrutiny at the time of making the regulations to give powers to the courts to block access to internet sites in relation to copyright infringement. As that element of the Bill has generated much debate, those regulations will be subject to a super-affirmative procedure, which will operate in the following way.

There will be a public consultation on the draft regulations prior to their being laid in Parliament and they will be laid in draft in the House with an explanation of why they satisfy the necessary thresholds required to make the regulations. Those thresholds are set out in the Bill. At the same time, the public consultation response will be published. Draft regulations will sit in the House for 60 days and, at the same time, Committees of both Houses will consider them. That is the critical part of the super-affirmative procedure. It allows Committees, including Members of this House, to consider the provisions even though there will not be Committee stage in the normal way. Final regulations that take into account the recommendations of the Committees will be laid in Parliament and will be subject to the normal affirmative procedure. Of course, the Bill will make progress in the wash-up only on the basis of consensus.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): May I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on including the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill in tomorrow's business? That demonstrates not only the Government's profound commitment to international development but the fact that they listen to the House of Commons. Has she received any indication that the Bill's passage through the House of Lords will be facilitated so that it can receive Royal Assent before Dissolution?

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