Last week Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group Chair Jeremy Corbyn brought two issues Chagossians care deeply about to the floor of the House of Commons; the feasibility study into return and trips back to the islands for Chagossians. Little hint was offered on how the Government will react to the study. Confirmation was though provided regarding the cancellation of a Government funded trip for Chagossians to the islands. The full text of these questions can be found below our summary, or in the links. Do please comment with your thoughts.
Firstly, Mr Corbyn questioned how the Government planned to react to the publication of the final version of KPMG’s report into Chagossian return. Specifically he queried if an official statement would be made by Government, and called for a “full debate” before the end of this Parliament.
In response, Leader of the House William Hague said it was “up to the Foreign Office” how they chose to respond to the report. He did though note the “considerable interest” in Parliament. Mr Hague also referenced his own role is setting up the study in his previous position as Foreign Secretary.
Our Analysis: Having a full debate in Parliament is absolutely vital. Previously decisions about the Chagos Islands have been taken in a truly anti-democratic fashion, via Royal edict or deliberately obscure Government order. It would be a national disgrace if yet again Parliament was not afforded the opportunity to at least consider providing Chagossians with a long overdue measure of justice.
On a wholly different matter earlier in the week, Mr Corbyn asked in a written question why Zoological Society of London scientists had been permitted to go to the Chagos Islands.
Responding for the Government, Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire stated that ZSL scientists were conducting observations “ecology within BIOT’s marine protected area.”
In a separate question tabled the same day, Mr Corbyn asked “what steps are being taken to ensure that the Chagossians are taken to the Chagos Islands as soon as possible, since the cancellation by his Department of their scheduled annual trip in November 2014.”
Replying, the Minister attributed the cancellation of what is supposed to be an annual event to a “mechanical failure” with a ship intended to be used in the trip. A trip for a small group of UK Chagossians would be organised, he added, in April. He also confirmed that his department was “discussing” the possibility of using funds intended for cancelled trips to support Chagossian community projects.
You can find the full text of Jeremy Corbyn’s questions below.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): At the end of this month, the Foreign Office will receive a copy of the consultant’s report on the feasibility of the Chagos islanders returning to their homeland from which they were disgracefully removed many decades ago. Will the Leader of the House confirm that that is the case, that there will be an imminent statement from the Foreign Office shortly after the report is received and that there will be an opportunity before the end of this Parliament for a full debate on the situation facing the Chagos islanders and the assertion of their right to return to the islands from which they were so wrongly removed all those decades ago.
WilliamHague: The hon. Gentleman is a long-standing campaigner on this issue and I had discussions with him when I was Foreign Secretary. Indeed it was my decision as Foreign Secretary to set up this further feasibility study about the Chagos islands. It has always been intended that it would report at the beginning of this year; in other words, very soon. He will have to ask a Foreign Office Minister specifically about the Department’s approach. It is Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions on Tuesday, so he might have an opportunity to do so then, but I will remind the FCO that there is considerable interest in the House as to how the report will be handled and the FCO response to it.
Cancelled Chagos Trip
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what steps are being taken to ensure that the Chagossians are taken to the Chagos Islands as soon as possible, since the cancellation by his Department of their scheduled annual trip in November 2014.
Hugo Swire: We are committed to the Chagossians visiting the British Indian Ocean Territory in April 2015. BIOT Administration officials judge that this is the earliest time that safety concerns caused by mechanical problems on board the BIOT Administration’s vessel will be satisfactorily addressed, and the logistics of such a complex trip completed. Additionally, the community leaders are working with us to reallocate the funds set aside for the postponed 2014 visit to community projects.
ZSL Chagos Trip
Jeremy Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, when and for what reasons permission was given to representatives of the Zoological Society of London to travel to the Chagos Islands.
Hugo Swire: On 14 October 2014, the Administration of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) granted permission for a consortium of scientists, led by representatives of the Zoological Society of London, to undertake an expedition to BIOT (which includes the Chagos Archipelago) in January 2015. The purpose of this expedition, now underway, is to conduct observations on the pelagic ecology within BIOT’s marine protected area. The BIOT Administration is committed to promoting research that increases scientific understanding and informs global conservation efforts, and has identified the documentation of pelagic ecosystems as a priority.