Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group meeting: Coordinator's Summary
Thanks as ever to volunteer Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group Coordinator David Snoxell for providing the below summary of the latest meeting of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group.
The Chagos Islands (BIOT) All-party Parliamentary Group held its 54th meeting on 13 April.
The Group paid tributes to Lord Avebury who died on 14 February. He had founded the APPG in December 2008 and was its vice chairman. Members affirmed that Eric Avebury had done much to hold successive governments to account over the treatment of the Chagos Islanders and the failure to rectify this on-going human rights violation. He was a great loss to the Chagossian cause which he had campaigned for over many years.
The Chairman welcomed four new members - Roger Godsiff, Daniel Kawczynski, Catherine West and Tania Mathias which brings the membership to 46. Lord Steel was elected to succeed Lord Avebury as Vice- Chairman.
Members considered the correspondence between the Chairman and the Prime Minister and the Chair's letters, as agreed at the last meeting, to President Obama and the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. They commended the letter from Roger Godsiff to the PM and also the letter from Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Opposition and Hon President of the Group, to the US Ambassador in London.
The Group was pleased that during the Easter recess the Chairman and Daniel Kawczynski had met Sabrina Jean and Olivier Bancoult, Leader of the Chagos Refugees Group who also had other meetings including with the Archbishop of Canterbury. They were pleased that the Chairman, on behalf of the Group, had accompanied Mr Bancoult to 10 Downing Street to deliver a letter to the PM on 7 April, subsequently reported in the UK and Mauritian press, but were disappointed that officials had declined to meet Mr Bancoult whilst in London.
PQs and parliamentary interventions by members since the last meeting on 10 February were discussed. They noted that the FCO Minister, James Duddridge had said on 23 February that he had welcomed discussing the issues with the APPG at the Foreign Office but in fact the APPG had not met the Minister despite the Group's long standing invitation to him to meet members before a decision on resettlement was taken. The Group also noted that Answers to PQs on 21 March from Lord Luce and Alan Brown as to whether Parliament would be consulted in advance of that decision and time made available for a parliamentary debate, had not answered these aspects of the PQs.
Members also noted Mr Duddrige's oral answer to Tania Mathias' Question on 12 April, as to what progress the FCO had made on allowing the Chagossian people to return, had been answered with cost estimates for resettlement. However the KPMG estimate (option 3) was for 150 Chagossians, not 50. It was noted that the Labour Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Catherine West, had followed up with a question asking if the FCO would commit these financial resources to recognise the human rights of the Chagossian people. The Minister declined to answer. The Group agreed that further PQs would be tabled, debates requested and discussions with Ministers sought.
Members discussed the delay in the Government's decision on resettlement. The KPMG study had been published in January 2015, a further consultation with the Chagossians was completed in October, the results of which were announced in January. A decision on resettlement had been expected since Christmas. The Coordinator informed the Group that the FCO line was that "the Government is still considering its policy and would announce developments to Parliament and the public in due course". Members thought that the National Security Council, chaired by the PM, which had been considering the issues since early March, was divided. It was believed that the PM was sympathetic but some ministers were opposed on financial grounds. It was thought that the PM had therefore asked a neutral minister to carry out a further review. The Group hoped that this would be completed quickly.
The Group also expressed concern about the length of time it was taking the Supreme Court to give its judgment on the case which it had heard on 22 June 2015.
The next meeting and 8th AGM of the APPG will be held on 8 June.