Chagos Questions in the House of Lords
Following October’s successful Westminster Hall debate, the Chagos question was put to the House of Lords last week, with peers from across the political spectrum attempting to reconcile ‘one of the more disgraceful episodes of our colonial history’.
Questions were put to the Government Whip, The Earl of Courtdown, who began by acknowledging the Government’s public consultation on Chaggosian resettlement, concluding on 27th October. It was noted that the peers’ discussion fell during the 50th anniversary of the decision to provide the United States with a base on Diego Garcia, a decision that led to the deportation of 1,500 Chagossians.
A number of important issues were raised in the chamber, with many peers citing the KPMG report which ‘this year concluded that there is no reason why resettlement should not take place’. Conservative peer Lord Luce proposed that the upcoming renewal of the agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom be conditional on a commitment to resettle the deposed Chagossians. This request was acknowledged by the Minister who confirmed that it was an issue being taken into account, reiterating the ‘regret’ of the present Government for ‘the way the Chagossians were removed from the British Indian Ocean Territory in the late 1960s and early 1970s’.
A call for the cost of resettlement to be shared between Britain, the European Union, the United States and the private sector was proposed by the Labour Baroness Whitaker, who confirmed that European Union funding was feasible. The question of employment was also put to the Minister by Lord Anderson of Swansea, who noted the lifestyle difficulties faced by Chagossians upon return, asking whether employment on US military bases was being considered. Both these issues where acknowledged by the Minister who noted the KPMG report’s consideration of employment on US bases. However, in both cases he stressed that until ‘final examination of the results of this consultation, nothing can be agreed’.
The frustration of continued delay was articulated by Lord Ramsbotham of the Chagos All-Party Parliamentary Group, who asked ‘the Minister to be more precise about the word “soon”’, noting that ‘this is a word that has been used by successive Governments for the past eight years’. Indeed, the response of the Minister was an uncomfortable, “very soon”, attributing further vagueness to the ongoing analysis of the recently concluded consultation.
Further debate in both the Lords and the Commons was proposed by Lord Avebury of the All-Party Group, of which the Minister accepted if members of both chambers made Parliamentary time for it.
It is critical that whatever the Government's conclusions, and whenever they are eventually published, Parliament has a chance to scutinise the proposals in full.