§ The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook)
With permission, Madam Speaker, I shall make a statement on the dependent territories.
We have completed a major review of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the dependent territories. Its objectives were to establish better and more effective communication between the Government of the United Kingdom and the Governments of the dependent territories; to improve the status of the residents of the dependent territories; and to ensure that the United Kingdom could discharge its international responsibilities in respect of those territories.
During the review we consulted widely. We listened to the Governments, Opposition leaders and governors of the dependent territories.
I am today publishing the White Paper "Partnership for Progress", which sets out the results of that review. It provides the basis for a renewed contract and a modern partnership between the United Kingdom and the dependent territories.
It is a striking measure of the degree to which the dependent territories value that partnership that none of their Governments expressed any desire during the review for independence. They all want to preserve the constitutional link with the United Kingdom, which has provided all of them with security, and most of them with a high level of prosperity.
The review has already led to a series of improvements in the arrangements within Government for our relationship with the dependent territories. the Secretary of State for International Development and I have established parallel structures to deal with the dependent territories in our Departments. We have established a ministerial liaison committee to ensure that our activities and policies are fully co-ordinated.
Within the Foreign Office, my noble Friend Baroness Symons has been appointed Minister with specific responsibility for the dependent territories. That responsibility was previously split between a number of geographic departments. The changes we have made will ensure a unified ministerial responsibility for policy on all the dependent territories except Gibraltar and the Falkland islands.
In order to improve liaison with the dependent territories, as well as within Whitehall, we will be establishing a Council of the Territories, which will include the Chief Minister or equivalent of each dependent territory and will be chaired by the Minister for the territories. Its first meeting will be convened later this year in advance of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, in order that the UK can fully reflect their views, particularly in the discussions on the special challenges to small island states.
The White Paper confirms our commitment to drop the title "dependent territories". It is the wrong name for today's territories, which are energetic, self-governing, and anything but dependent. It is also does not fit the concept of partnership on which we want to build our relationship. We will be introducing legislation to rename 1126 the territories "United Kingdom overseas territories", and in the meantime we will adopt that title in all Government communications.
There is a strong sense of grievance in many overseas territories that the right of abode in Britain was taken away from them; that is felt particularly strongly in St. Helena. The residents of the overseas territories are proud of their connection with Britain, but are often puzzled that Britain appears not to be proud to have them as British citizens.
I can announce today that we will be offering British citizenship to all residents of the overseas territories who wish to take it up. That improved status will be welcomed throughout the overseas territories. It will give their residents the right to travel freely throughout the European Union and enable their young people to support themselves through work experience while they study in Britain.
We do not expect that change of status to result in any substantial number of people taking up permanent residence in the United Kingdom—70 per cent. of the citizens of the overseas territories have a higher per capita income than citizens of the United Kingdom, and their residents have no incentive to leave on a permanent basis.
The offer of right of abode will be made on a non-reciprocal basis. The unanimous view in consultations with the overseas territories was that they were anxious that their small communities did not have the capacity to absorb uncontrolled numbers of new residents. Our decision on that follows the precedent set by Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands, whose existing right of abode is also non-reciprocal.
We are not extending the offer of citizenship to British dependent territories citizens who were associated with the British Indian Ocean territory and the sovereign base areas in Cyprus, all of whom have alternative nationality.
Although most overseas territories have prosperous economies, the United Kingdom recognises its obligations to promote the development of those territories that need assistance. In the Department for International Development, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has been appointed Minister responsible for the sustainable development of the overseas territories. The White Paper on international development confirmed:The reasonable assistance needs of the Dependent Territories are a first call on the development programme.It is not possible for all the smaller overseas territories to promote development on their limited resource base alone. We will therefore be maintaining a programme of development aid for the poorer territories to support their economic infrastructure, their social provision and their good government. In the case of the two least developed territories, Montserrat and St. Helena, we will be continuing budgetary aid.
The White Paper demonstrates that the United Kingdom is fully committed to meeting its obligations to the overseas territories. Any partnership, though, must have obligations on both parties. The United Kingdom accepts its responsibility for the defence of the overseas territories and for their international representation. In return, we have to insist on the Governments of the overseas territories fulfilling their obligations to meet the standards of international organisations in which the United Kingdom represents them.
1127 There are two issues which are of priority in meeting those obligations. The first is to match the best international standards in financial regulation. Many overseas territories have made substantial progress in proper and transparent regulation of their large financial sectors. They have recognised that a sound reputation for financial regulation is a prime asset in maintaining the prosperity of a sound financial sector.
Nevertheless, some overseas territories do not yet fully meet international standards. We will therefore be requiring all overseas territories, by the end of this year, to meet in full international standards on money laundering, transparency and co-operation with law enforcement authorities, and independent financial regulation. The globalisation of international finance means that we cannot tolerate a weak link anywhere in the chain without exposing investors everywhere to risk.
The second area of priority is in human rights. Those overseas territories that choose to remain British must abide by the same standards of human rights and good governance that we demand of ourselves. We require our overseas territories to maintain legislation that fully complies with the European convention on human rights and the international convention on civil and political rights, to which the United Kingdom is a party.
Specifically, we require changes in the law in a minority of overseas territories which retain corporal punishment and criminalise consensual homosexual acts in private. Our strong preference is that the overseas territories should enact the necessary reforms themselves, but we are ready to make such reforms by Order in Council if they fail to do so.
One important duty of the United Kingdom, as the sovereign authority for the overseas territories, is to preserve their rich and unique environment. Taken together, the overseas territories contain 10 times as many species of animals and plants as the United Kingdom. The British Antarctic territory acts as a barometer for climate change and atmospheric pollution—it was there that British scientists discovered the hole in the ozone layer. Coral reefs in the Caribbean territories and Bermuda are as beautiful as they are fragile.
We propose to develop an environment charter between the United Kingdom and our overseas territories. That will help the overseas territories to build their capacity to protect their environment, and will ensure that the United Kingdom can fully reflect their interests in international agreements. As support for work under that environment charter, the United Kingdom will provide funding of £1.5 million over the next three years.
The White Paper sets out the basis for a modernised and strengthened partnership between the United Kingdom and our overseas territories. We already have a firm basis for that partnership founded on three centuries of shared history. I believe that the proposals in the White Paper will give us a confident basis for our future partnership in the next century.
§ Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)
Anyone who read this morning's newspapers or listened to the "Today" programme will have had a feeling of déjà vu listening to that statement. BBC radio reported not only that a White Paper would be published today and that it would extend British citizenship to 150,000 1128 residents of overseas territories, but that the overseas territories would have to adapt their legislation accordingly.
Will the Foreign Secretary therefore follow the example of the former Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the right hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), who apologised to the House for the premature disclosure of his White Paper on freedom of information—and earned your gratitude in the process, Madam Speaker? Can the Foreign Secretary assure the House that neither his office nor any of the offices of his ministerial colleagues briefed the press prior to this statement? Does he share the annoyance of the right hon. Member for South Shields at such press reports, and does he agree with him that details of White Papers emerging in this way does a disservice to the House?
On the substance of the White Paper, there is much in it that we would welcome and support—the provisions on aid, defence, financial regulation and many other issues. The House will, of course, recall that the review that led to the White Paper was initiated on 27 August 1997 at the height of the golden elephants farce, when Montserrat was the subject of an unedifying tug of war between the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Development.
On citizenship, as the Foreign Secretary said in his response to the Foreign Affairs Committee report, the extension of full British citizenship to the citizens of overseas territories who do not at present have it raises significant and complex questions. For example, the Foreign Secretary will be aware of the need to ensure that citizens of third countries cannot secure a right of abode in Britain by becoming citizens of an overseas territory. In his discussions with the Home Office, what reassurances could he offer on that issue? How does he intend to allay such concerns from this House and from members of the public?
Can the Secretary of State confirm that there will be a review of each territory's constitution to ensure that it meets the needs of that territory? Will he also confirm that he will not impose a "one size fits all" policy?
Finally, will the Secretary of State explain why he is imposing European Union human rights obligations on those territories that are not part of the EU? Does he not have confidence in the instincts and abilities of legislators in those territories to reflect the cultural and political wishes of their inhabitants? Why does he not devolve those powers to the overseas territories if, as he says, he believes in devolution and partnership? Is this not legislation without representation?
§ Mr. Cook
The promise of early retirement has not made the right hon. and learned Gentleman any more emollient. I am glad that he included the sentence saying that he welcomed our proposals because, apart from that sentence, it was hard to tell that he did.
The bones of what I have announced today have been in the public domain since 4 February 1998, when I addressed the Dependent Territories Association. Nothing in the White Paper will particularly surprise those who have paid attention to the debate since then.
On citizenship, of course it is important that we are protected against an unreasonable number of people taking advantage of the proposal. We are fully protected, because the White Paper makes it plain that British
1129 citizenship will be available only to those who already have a residence qualification for British dependent territory citizenship. Those residence qualifications are quite severe in most of the territories precisely because, as I have said, they themselves are anxious about uncontrolled settlement in their area.
I can assure the House and the right hon. and learned Gentleman that nothing in the White Paper threatens changes to the constitution of any territories. Their constitutions will continue. What the White Paper is about is how the Government relate to them and how we can better service their Governments.
I am surprised that the shadow spokesman on foreign affairs does not understand that the European convention on human rights has nothing to do with the European Union. Indeed, this country was committed to the convention long before we joined the European Union.
I make no apology for the proposal. Britain is committed to the European convention. We accept any obligations that are imposed on us by the European Court of Human Rights. We also are fully signed up to the two international covenants—on civil and political rights and on economic and social rights. We abide by them. We have a perfect right to tell those overseas territories that we represent throughout the world that we expect them to abide by them, too, so that we can defend them throughout the world. We have a particular obligation to all the residents of those territories, including any minorities within them, to ensure that they have the same rights that we claim for ourselves.
§ Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)
May I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement and plead with him to ignore the hypocrisy from Opposition Members? He is aware that the nationality legislation that the previous Government introduced some 17 years ago treated residents of dependent territories shamefully. The previous Government made them carry the buck for the problem that they foresaw arising from Hong Kong. To resolve the problem of Hong Kong, they withdrew the right of abode of all residents of the dependent territories. It is right and proper—great credit is due to the Government—that they have decided to give back those people their right of abode in this country and, with it, Britain citizenship. May I welcome that?
Clearly, there will be a—
§ Madam Speaker
Order. I cannot allow hon. Members to make speeches on the matter. I am waiting for a question on the statement, so that the Foreign Secretary can answer.
§ Mr. Marshall
I prefaced my remarks by asking whether my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary agreed with my comments—if I did not do so, I do it in retrospect.
Clearly, there will be a time lag before the legislation comes in. Will my right hon. Friend give those people who are resident in dependent territories an assurance that, if they wish to come to the United Kingdom before the 1130 legislation is on the statute book, they will not have to apply for visas, as they do at the moment, but will be able to travel freely?
§ Mr. Cook
I appreciate my hon. Friend's question and am happy to say that the answer is yes, I accept his welcome.
I have put right something that has long been wrong. What we have said today will be welcomed throughout the dependent territories, particularly by people who felt a strong sense of grievance that they were cheated out of their right of abode in the UK.
I give an assurance that British dependent citizens will not require a visa to come to Britain and do not require one at present. Of course, whether it is possible to anticipate the change in legislation is a matter for my colleague at the Home Office, but we will seek to put the changes in the legislative programme and to bring them into effect as quickly as we can. It should be appreciated that that is important for their access not just to Britain, but to Europe.
Many citizens of British overseas territories find it an affront that, when they visit other European countries, they are treated as non-EU citizens. They see a contrast between their treatment and that of citizens of territories of the Netherlands and of France. After the legislation and in the light of the White Paper, that insult will have been removed.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)
I welcome both the statement and the White Paper. Given the rather febrile atmosphere of the times, may I assure the Foreign Secretary that I have not seen a pre-publication version of the White Paper?
Is the Foreign Secretary satisfied that the arrangements for ministerial responsibility that he has described will prevent a repeat of the rather undignified scramble—almost a turf war—of the summer of 1997, which erupted, to coin a phrase, over the island of Montserrat? Is he aware that many hon. Members regard the events of the early 1980s that resulted in citizenship being taken away from people living in overseas territories as a particularly shameful chapter in the history of the United Kingdom, and will welcome what he has said today about the restoration of those rights? The sense of grievance to which he referred has been entirely justified, has it not?
There is to be no extension of the offer of citizenship to citizens of British dependent territories who were associated with the British Indian Ocean territory. Am I right in thinking that will apply to the Chagos islanders? If so, why?
If there is any procrastination or unreasonable delay in the introduction of domestic legislation to deal with the issue of homosexual rights, will the Foreign Secretary ensure that the necessary Order in Council will be promoted through the House of Commons at the earliest opportunity?
§ Mr. Cook
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for what he has said. For the record, I should say that a pre-publication copy of the White Paper was given to the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, which is today on a welcome visit to one of the overseas territories, Gibraltar.
1131 I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman about what has been done in the past to the citizenship of islanders and other citizens of overseas territories. We put that right after taking office, as quickly as we reasonably could.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is correct is assuming that what I have announced will not apply to former residents of the Chagos archipelago. That is because they left 30 or 40 years ago, and no one has lived there since. Moreover, they all have access to Mauritian citizenship. The offer of British citizenship that I have made today applies to residents of our territories to whom no other national citizenship is available.
I can give the right hon. and learned Gentleman the assurance that he seeks. If there is no progress to put right the legislation on human rights to which I referred, we shall do it by Order in Council. We would prefer not to do that; we would prefer those concerned to do it themselves, because that would respect the principle of self-government on which our relations are founded. Should they fail to do so, however, we will carry out our obligations to the international community, and also to minorities in the territories.
§ Mr. Peter Bradley (The Wrekin)
I should not presume to speak on behalf of St. Helenans, but I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement, and assure him that the restoration of those citizens' rights—withdrawn by the last Government in 1982—will be very welcome. I imagine that the islanders will be celebrating joyously today.
Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge the tremendous contribution made by the few relatives but many friends of St. Helenans in this country who have campaigned so tirelessly on their behalf, and whose appeals for justice fell on deaf ears throughout the lifetime of the last Administration but have been met in full today?
§ Mr. Cook
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. When hon. Members have a chance to read the White Paper, they will note that we have made a number of specific commitments in relation to the development of St. Helena. Today's statement will be welcome in relation to its citizens' constitutional status, and our commitments to the development of their infrastructure and communications with the outside world will be almost as welcome.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)
European treaties contain many references to overseas territories of member states. Is there any difference in the rights, entitlements or obligations of their citizens as a consequence of the change of name? In order to avoid any misunderstanding, will the Foreign Secretary also make it abundantly clear that the statement has no relevance to the Channel islands?
§ Mr. Cook
I am happy to respond to that point by saying that the hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct—it has no relevance to the Crown territories, such as the Channel islands or the Isle of Man. The statement was purely on those legally defined as dependent territories, which will now become overseas territories. I am also able to tell him that the statement does not change the status of the overseas territories in relation to the European 1132 Union. All of them, with the exception of Gibraltar, are outside the European Union. Gibraltar is within certain competencies of the European Union, although it is not a member of the customs union. Today's statement and White Paper do not change any of that.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Thirty years ago, I stayed for three days with Len Williams, who was the general secretary of the Labour party and—appointed by Harold Wilson—governor of Mauritius. His wife took me to see some of the Ilios people, from the Chagos islands, who were at that time absolutely traumatised by their removal. They are very different from the Mauritians.
The Secretary of State is quite right: at that time, it was hoped that there would be integration and Mauritian citizenship; alas, that has not happened. Will he talk to Professor Tony Bradley—former professor of public law at Edinburgh, whom he will know well—and Bindmans, the lawyers who are operating for the Ilios people, about the possibility of their returning to one of the areas of Diego Garcia? Whereas it might be unreal to think that the biggest base outside the continental United States would be moved for the sake of relatively few people, none the less, could their interests be considered, with a view to returning after 30 years—which is what they desperately want to do?
What is the future of the Diego Garcia base? What are our relations with the Americans on that absolutely crucial, huge base?
I welcomed in particular the reference to coral reefs. As the Under-Secretary of State for International Development will remember, there was an Adjournment debate on coral reefs. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will give the Under-Secretary total support in his good deeds in that matter.
§ Mr. Cook
I am well aware of Professor Bradley, and am always happy to seek his advice. However, I am not entirely sure whether it would be right to discuss with him a legal case taken out against the Government. However, I respond to my hon. Friend's point sympathetically. The position of the Ilios in Mauritius is a troubling one and is very unsatisfactory. In fairness to Britain, it should be noted that, over the years, we have made available £5 million in aid for the settlement of the Ilios and to help them to integrate into Mauritian society. We very much regret that more progress has not been achieved on that.
The current status of Diego Garcia is that it is a dependent territory. However, as my hon. Friend knows, it is subject to a defence agreement with the United States that is of value to both the United States and the United Kingdom.
When my hon. Friend reads the White Paper, I think that he will be pleased at the very strong emphasis that we have placed on the environmental dimension of the overseas territories and on our commitment to improving and safeguarding that environment. I hope that the environment charter will deal with many of the problems, including security of the coral reefs.
§ Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey)
When the Foreign Secretary mentions St. Helena, will he also add the two words "and dependencies"? Will he confirm that his statement applies equally to Tristan da Cunha and 1133 Ascension? On democratic rights and Gibraltar—which, as he said, is a member of the European Union—and following the European Court's decision that the British Government are in breach of international law by denying the people of Gibraltar the right to vote in European elections, what will the British Government do to give them that right in time for the European elections on 10 June?
§ Mr. Cook
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that what I have said about St. Helena applies also to the two dependencies with it. When he has an opportunity to study the White Paper, he will see that we are making specific proposals on examining the constitution of Ascension. We accept the ruling of the European Court on Gibraltar, as we accept all its rulings. We shall also seek to deliver the right to the people of Gibraltar to vote in the European election. We are already raising that issue in Brussels, in discussions on the common position on the European Parliament. In fairness, however, I should tell the House that there is no prospect of our being able to secure that in time for the elections this June, as that is beyond any realistic timetable. However, we accept the obligation in principle and shall seek to implement it.
§ Mr. John Austin (Erith and Thamesmead)
As chairman of the all-party—I stress the words "all-party"—group on overseas territories, may I assure my right hon. Friend, following the churlish comments from the Opposition Front Bench, that many hon. Members on both sides of the House will warmly welcome his statement? I heard his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) about the British Indian Ocean territories, but has consideration been given to the right of the Ilios to return, if not for residence, then to visit the burial grounds of their ancestors? Will he comment on the anomaly that citizens of the Spanish colonies or overseas territories of Ceuta and Melilla on the north African mainland are able to vote in European elections, but citizens of Gibraltar, which is part of the territory of the European Union, cannot?
§ Mr. Cook
My hon. Friend offers a valuable argument which will be useful ammunition for me in the debate that I am sure that we are going to have with our European Union partners. I am aware of the desire of some of the Ilios to visit their burial grounds. We are examining the issue with understanding. The problems are not simple. Mauritius is 2,000 miles from the Chagos archipelago and there are tight security requirements at the defence base, but it is a legitimate aspiration that we shall continue to consider and try to find a solution to.
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent)
The Foreign Secretary will accept that some reciprocity would make the settlement even more acceptable. I understand that, given the numbers, it would be unreasonable to expect dependent territories to accept British citizens going out in large numbers, but will he give us an assurance that those who have a legitimate desire to seek employment, work experience or research projects in the territories will have an appropriate opportunity?
§ Mr. Cook
Those are essentially points for the Governments of the overseas territories. By and large, it 1134 is possible to visit, to work and to carry out research in the territories. The more successful of them have a number of people working there who are not citizens. They guard the right of residence in their islands jealously. We recognise that our offer of citizenship is non-reciprocal. However, I hope that, in the better spirit of co-operation and partnership that our offer and other commitments in the White Paper will generate, we may be able to resolve some other areas of friction.
§ Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley)
In welcoming the White Paper, hon. Members on both sides should, in fairness, welcome the fact that we are putting right the mistakes of the previous Government. I am pleased to be associated with that. Allowing for that, what assurances are there for people crossing from Gibraltar into Spain, particularly after the plight of three of my constituents from Chorley, who were held for 15 hours in the Spanish customs post, not being allowed to go on into Spain or back into Gibraltar? I hope that my right hon. Friend will look into that.
§ Mr. Cook
I am aware of my hon. Friend's concerns about his constituents. He raised the issue in the House during the statement on Gibraltar. The delays at the border post at that time were wholly exceptional and wholly unacceptable. I am pleased that there have been considerable improvements in the border situation since then. Nevertheless, the rate at which vehicles and now pedestrians are being cleared is unacceptably slow. There has not been a return to normality.
I saw the Spanish Foreign Minister as recently as last weekend to raise the matter. We hope to discuss it again in the near future and shall be looking for progress that will enable people on both sides of the border to travel freely. It is proper for the House to note that a large number of Spanish residents and workers on the Spanish side of the border have complained just as vigorously as the residents of Gibraltar about the border delays. It is in the interests of Madrid to respond to their concerns as well as those of Gibraltar.
§ Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire)
Financial regulation is obviously extremely important. Does the Foreign Secretary accept that, although a number of the dependent territories are highly sophisticated, a number will need considerable help if they are to reach the required standards this year, unless rapid changes are made? What steps are being taken by way of a suitable package of training to enable those dependent territories that have such problems to meet their obligations?
§ Mr. Cook
I am pleased to assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we provide funding for good government, and specialist advice. In fairness, the deadline of the end of this year has not been announced for the first time today; it was announced in my speech of February 1998. There has been a long lead-in, and it is a reasonable deadline. We will give assistance to those who require it, but those overseas territories that have acted, and acted well, to bring themselves up to the standard are keen that others should do so as well, because they recognise that their own reputation is at stake.
§ Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok)
Many of my constituents are interested in the overseas territories, 1135 particularly given that Fergus McCann, the owner of Glasgow Celtic, is seeking political asylum in Bermuda—and, after the goings-on in Scottish football, who could blame him?
May I follow the point made on the need for the highest possible financial standards? I seek further clarification on whether the British Government will do all they can to ensure that any territory that changes its rules and regulations does not then face unfair competition from external jurisdictions that adopt much laxer standards, causing a leakage of trade, business and commerce away to such jurisdictions.
On the environment, what steps are the British Government taking to try to ensure that the Americans clear up bases that they have left behind—particularly in Bermuda, where they have made no effort to clear up the pollution that has been left behind? That is in noticeable contrast to the British Government—under the previous regime—who did everything they could to ensure that the British base was cleared up and completely ready to be handed over and redeveloped.
§ Mr. Cook
I assure my hon. Friend that there is nothing in the White Paper or my proposals that would give Fergus McCann a reciprocal right of abode in Bermuda. My hon. Friend can look forward to the return of his constituent.
We remain exercised about the environment in all our overseas territories. I cannot comment on the specific point to which my hon. Friend referred, but, if we can influence an allied country in its conduct on overseas territories, we shall certainly do so.
§ Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester)
It may be premature to be dancing in the streets of Jamestown, but I welcome the announcement this afternoon; I am sure that all 5,500 residents of St. Helena welcome it. Has the Foreign Secretary received any apologies from the Conservative party for its legislation of the past 18 years, which made the residents of the overseas territories—and in particular St. Helena—second-class citizens when they are, in fact, as British as we are? When precisely will full British citizenship be restored? Is there a timetable? How difficult will it be to legislate? Can any other methods be used so that those people return as soon as possible as full members of the British family?
§ Mr. Cook
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome, and I am aware of his long interest in the issue. The proposal will require legislation, and the House will understand that I cannot give a commitment as to precisely when that will take place. We will look for as early an opportunity as is practical because we want to give effect to our commitment.
I have not received any apology, but an apology would be a bridge too far. I will happily settle for an afternoon free of gratuitous insult.
§ Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley)
I welcome the statement, particularly as it affects St. Helena. My right hon. Friend will be aware of my correspondence to the Department over a considerable time concerning constituents who served in the armed forces with the Saints and have campaigned for the measure—which is to 1136 be welcomed. What plans do the Government have regarding the economy and jobs; and will recruiting into the armed forces continue?
§ Mr. Cook
My hon. Friend raises an important point about our connection with the overseas territories. Every year, as Foreign Secretary, I lay a wreath at the cenotaph to honour those in the overseas territories who gave their lives in wars on behalf of Britain. Those who served in that way are entitled to the recognition and citizenship that we have given today.
I can assure my hon. Friend that the armed services will remain open to people from St. Helena, and indeed I understand that there are 20 to 30 currently serving. The White Paper contains several proposals to help with the economy; in particular, we commit ourselves to £26 million of continuing development aid over the next few years. We will work hard with the people of St. Helena to ensure that they have a future in their own community.
§ Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford)
I welcome the Foreign Secretary's statement. A wrong has certainly been made right. He stressed that one of the benefits of the changes would be that people from the overseas territories would no longer be treated as second-class citizens compared with those of French and Netherlands overseas territories. Citizens in French overseas territories have votes in European Parliament elections, and we now learn Gibraltar has been awarded the same right.
I recognise that Gibraltar is different from the other dependent territories, in that it is already in the European Union, but does not the Foreign Secretary believe that another step forward must be the consideration of how British citizens in those other territories can be given votes in European elections?
§ Mr. Cook
That is not a request that has been made by any overseas territory other than Gibraltar. It is hard to see how it could be contemplated as long as they choose to remain outside the European Union. The parallel with the French and Netherlands overseas territories halts on one leg, because those territories have a long tradition of being highly integrated with the Government systems of the metropolitan country and, in the case of the French ones, are in the European Union. For those reasons, I cannot see a precedent to build on, and I am not aware of any such demand from those overseas territories.
§ Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on ending an injustice that has lasted not only since the British Nationality Act 1981 but, in effect, since 20 years before, and on the associated recognition of human rights standards in the dependent territories. Does the White Paper deal with the administration of justice in some of those territories? I have been concerned about the administration of law in Anguilla and have written to him about it. Is he satisfied that we have efficient and effective ways of delivering justice in the overseas territories?
§ Mr. Cook
By and large, the administration of justice in the overseas territories is of a high standard, but one reason why we maintain governors is to ensure that we have an oversight of law and order and of due legal process; if we have concerns, we certainly air them. We will take up the point about which my hon. Friend has 1137 written to me and ensure that she gets a full reply. As a general principle, I would not want the House to believe that it should not have faith in the judicial system in the overseas territories.
§ Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)
I understand that, now that Hong Kong is no longer a colony, the White Paper, the publication of which I welcome, refers to about 150,000 people. Did the Foreign Secretary consider or discuss with any of the people with whom he was negotiating in the dependent territories whether they would want any representation, not in the European Union, as has been suggested, but here in the House of Commons? Was there any suggestion that they would like representation, perhaps by only two or three Members of Parliament, which would give some legitimacy to our issuing them with Orders in Council?
§ Mr. Cook
Although I am confident that, after today's White Paper, we could expect strong support from the overseas territories, I believe the Government's majority to be sufficiently strong without such a gesture. There is no demand from the overseas territories for the change that the hon. Gentleman proposes. It would mean that they would have had to accept a much greater integration with our government system than they have at present. The overseas territories have wide autonomy and self-government and that is more precious and important to them than any risk of compromising it to gain representation here.