Archive for May, 2009

Latest from the Chagos APPG

Posted in Uncategorized on May 20th, 2009 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

The Chagos Islands all party parliamentary group held its fifth meeting on 13 May. The next meeting will be on Tuesday 30 June. Below is the report from coordinator David Snoxell:

Allen Vincatassin, Leader of the Diego Garcian Community in Crawley was invited to address the Group. He explained the aspirations and position of his community who, whilst supporting the right of all Chagossians to return to their homeland, wished to remain in the UK and to be known as Diego Garcians. They wanted Diego Garcia to remain under British sovereignty.

In private session the meeting went on to discuss the correspondence between the Chairman and the FCO Minister, Gillian Merron. Members noted that whilst the FCO wanted to continue a dialogue with Parliament their position remained unchanged. The meeting endorsed the Chairman’s letter to the Foreign Secretary inviting him to meet the Group before the summer recess.

The meeting noted the 23 April Westminster Hall debate on the FAC Report on the OTs and that Chagos issues had been addressed in detail by the Chairmen of both the FAC and the APPG, and by the Conservative and Lib-Dem shadow ministers for Foreign Affairs who had stated that resolving these issues was ‘a moral imperative’ calling for the restoration of the right of return and for a timetable to be established.

The Group considered a report on a meeting that the Chairman and Coordinator had had on 31 March with the Mauritian High Commissioner concerning future sovereignty of the Chagos Islands and resettlement which he said were inseparable issues. Mauritius firmly supported the right of return and would make this possible.

The Group continued to support the amendments tabled in the Lords (concerning British citizenship for Chagossians who had been excluded in 2001) to the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill which would shortly have its second reading in the Commons.

The APPG was informed that the White House had decided that there would not be a reply to the Chairman’s letter of 28 February to President Obama. But they were encouraged that the US Embassy continued to take a close interest in developments and that the US side was ready to discuss the issues with the FCO. In view of this the Group felt that it would be helpful if the Chairman’s letter were made publicly available. The Group noted that Lord Luce had raised the issues with the State Department in early April.

The resolution of the European Parliament of 25 March, ‘considering that the Union should work towards trying to find a solution for the Chagossians to allow them to return to their rightful homeland islands’, was felt to be very helpful. The meeting was informed that the European Court had accepted a delay proposed by the FCO of their response to the Chagossian Application, from 12 June to 17 July, and that the Court had asked the UK about its position concerning an out of court friendly settlement.

The Group discussed the Radio 4 programme, (12 May, ‘What’s the use of the Privy Council?’) and comments by the former Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, who had submitted the 2004 Orders in Council depriving the Chagossians of their right to return. The Justice Secretary invoked his predecessor, Robin Cook (who restored the right of return in 2000) and admitted that in retrospect the Orders should have been submitted to the FAC for parliamentary scrutiny and that by not doing so he had exchanged legitimacy for speed. The implications for the Lord’s majority verdict and the European Court case were clear. The meeting also took note of the debate in the Lords on 12 May on the Privy Council in which Lord MacNally had drawn attention to the ‘shameful case’ of the Chagos Islanders and Mr Straw’s admission. It was also noted that Baroness Royall, replying on behalf of the Government, had agreed with Mr Straw that he should have engaged in parliamentary scrutiny to debate the issues of the Chagos Islanders.

The Privy Council… what’s it for?

Posted in Uncategorized on May 18th, 2009 by Robert Bain – Be the first to comment

The media have been taking a close look at the Privy Council recently, asking tough questions about what it is, what it’s for, and… err… why.

In an article for The Times on 8 May, Frances Gibb touches on the Orders in Council used by the government in 2004 to block the Chagos islanders from returning home:

“The Privy Council (which wields the Royal Prerogative and issues Orders in Council) is one of the most obscure and murky corners of the British constitution — yet its powers are far from antiquated or redundant. They can range from commuting the death penalty on prisoners in the Caribbean to dispossessing the Chagos Islanders of their homes. Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council is a body of advisers to the monarch, whose members are chiefly senior politicians who were members of the Commons or Lords, including bishops and hereditary peers.”

A few days later in BBC Radio 4’s ‘What is the Point of the Privy Council?’, Quentin Letts took a witty but thought-provoking look at the institution. He described the Royal Prerogative as ‘discretionary powers in hands of the crown but exercised by ministers which create laws which do not have to pass through Parliament or comply with human rights legislation.’ Patrick O’Connnor QC described it as a route entirely to evade debate and scrutiny in Parliament whilst making ‘real laws that affect people’s lives in fundamental ways…. Exclusion of the Chagos Islanders from their homeland was one of the worse political scandals of the second half of the last century.’ David Snoxell, UK’s High Commissioner to Mauritius at that time said ‘In June 2004 the Foreign Office decided to get rid of the problem altogether and used the device of Orders in Council – in effect they overturned a court order and bypassed Parliament. It’s inconceivable that it could have gone through Parliament because Parliament would never have accepted the permanent exile of the people from their homeland.’