Photo: Gail Johnson
The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-Party Parliamentary Group held its 4th Annual General Meeting and 30th meeting on 11 July 2012.
The Group re-elected the current office holders (Chairman, Jeremy Corbyn MP; Vice Chairs, Lord Avebury, Lord Ramsbotham, Henry Smith MP, Andrew Rosindell MP; Secretary, Andrew George MP). David Snoxell was reappointed Coordinator and Richard Gifford Legal Adviser – they were thanked for their dedicated support and service to the Group.
The Group discussed developments in the 4 legal cases. There was no news from Strasbourg; final submissions had to be in by the end of July for the UNCLOS case brought by Mauritius; the appeal to the Information Tribunal was heard on 10/11 July and pre-trial applications were currently under way for the Judicial Review of the MPA. The BIOT Commissioner and another officer had been cross-examined at the Information Tribunal – the judge might give his decision by the end of July. In the pre-trial applications for the MPA Judicial Review it had been decided that wikileaks was admissible evidence.The judge was considering whether the BIOT Commissioner and the Administrator, who were quoted by the US Embassy in their 2009 cable to Washington, would be required to give evidence under oath. This was being opposed by the FCO. It looked as if the MPA JR would therefore drag on until October.
Note was taken of Lord Avebury’s intervention in the debate on the Queen’s speech on 17 May, concerning a just and fair settlement, the MPA, the wikileaks and the mounting cost of continuing to fight legal cases. Lord Avebury was asked to draw his comments to the attention of Ministers.
The media reports and the Answers to PQs on the outcome of the meeting between the Mauritian Prime Minister and Mr Cameron on 8 June were discussed. It was noted that both sides had different understandings of what was discussed.The Group was surprised at the apparent contradiction of the two accounts of the meeting between the Prime Minister and Dr Ramgoolam. Members felt that the meeting had raised expectations and offered a unique opportunity, during the Diamond Jubilee week, to begin to address an overall political settlement. They were disappointed that the British side seemed to prefer to prolong the legal battles. It was agreed that in view of the sensitivities of the situation members would talk personally to Ministers.
The Group discussed the chapter on BIOT in the White Paper on the Overseas Territories released on 28 June. They were unhappy about the way some aspects of BIOT had been described and decided to raise these points when the White Paper is debated.
A recent statement by Olivier Bancoult concerning the difficulties over passports, visas and benefits had been circulated to members. The Group was very sympathetic and would continue to raise these issues, most recently on 22 February when Mr Corbyn, Mr Rosindell and Lord Avebury had a meeting with the Immigration Minister.
The next meeting of the Group will be after the summer recess on 17 October 2012.