31st Meeting of the Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group – Co-ordinator’s Summary
The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held is 31st meeting on 17 October 2012.
The Group considered legal developments since its last meeting on 12 July. It was hoped that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg would take the Chagos case this month. If so, judgment was likely before Christmas. Members noted that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) had suffered three legal reverses, viz the decision in July that wikileaks was admissible evidence and that two FCO officials (the Commissioner and former Administrator of BIOT) would be required to give evidence under oath to the Judicial Review of the MPA (set for 21-23 November in the High Court) on the wikileaks (US cables) in which they were quoted; the judgment of the First-Tier Information Tribunal (FTT) in September that two submissions in 2002 to FCO Ministers from their officials, concerning the Feasibility Study, must be disclosed; a recent decision by the Information Commissioner that the Freedom of Information Act and Environmental Information Regulations apply to BIOT. Regarding the Mauritius case against the MPA it was understood that Mauritius had submitted its memorial to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and that the FCO had until the end of October to submit their response.This case would therefore continue until well into 2013. The Group felt that the FCO ought to be settling these cases quickly out of court rather than spending time and taxpayers’ money fighting them through the courts.
Members discussed the answer on 18 September to a parliamentary question from Andrew George MP about the proposed MPA Management and Conservation Plan. They were pleased to note that the Chagos Conservation Trust (CCT) had amended its website to make clear that this was not a final plan. They also noted that the answer from the new FCO Minister, Mark Simmonds (the 9th incumbent of the post since 2000) had welcomed constructive comment from all stakeholders on the drafting of the Management Plan.The Group thought that it would be sensible to hold off submitting comments until the two cases against the MPA had been decided.
It was noted that Mr Simmonds would give evidence on the FCO White Paper (The Overseas Territories: Security, Success and Sustainability, June 2012) to the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) on 20 November. This was an opportunity for FAC members to raise issues concerning BIOT, arising from the report and also the omission of Overseas Territories, governed exclusively from the FCO in London, from scrutiny of the Parliamentary Commissioner, on which the Chairman of the Group had submitted evidence to the FAC in June 2011.
The Group discussed Anglo-Mauritian relations in the wake of the meeting between the two prime ministers on 8 June 2012. It was noted that both sides had had different understandings of the outcome, leading to a contradiction in what was reported to the two Parliaments and the media. Four months later it was disappointing that nothing tangible on Chagos had emerged from this, the first prime ministerial meeting since 1994. It was felt that relations between the two countries were bound to suffer as a consequence. The Group would wish to discuss the future of Anglo-Mauritian relations with ministers.
The Group agreed to a request from Philippa Gregory for the Comite Chagos to meet them before the next meeting. This will take place on 5 December.