§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Hooper rose to call attention to the current status of the United Kingdom's dependent territories and to plans for their long-term future; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, my good fortune in the ballot means that this debate, the first balloted debate of the new Parliament, comes at a most opportune time. We are able to bid farewell to Hong Kong and at the same time to draw attention to the status and long-term future of the remaining 11 inhabited dependent territories and ask the new Government to inform us of their intentions. Some 160,000 people scattered throughout the globe will therefore be noting what we say today. That is the combined number of those who remain overseas citizens of the United Kingdom. Perhaps I should emphasise that this does not mean that we shall forget the 6 million people of Hong Kong. I am glad that your Lordships will be discussing the rights and freedoms and law and order issues on Thursday of this week in a separate and specific debate.
§ Today, we are talking about those territories which range from Gibraltar, the only European dependent territory, with a population of some 30,000 people, to the far away Pitcairn Islands with a population of only 58. In between, we have the Caribbean dependencies of Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Monserrat, the Turks and Caicos Islands, as well as Bermuda, the Falkland Islands and St. Helena. In addition, a further three dependent territories are uninhabited—the British Antarctic Territory, the British Indian Ocean Territory, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands—but I do not propose to dwell on those today.
§ We last held a debate on a similar Motion in 1994 and I cannot let this moment pass without regretting the absence of the late Lord Pitt of Hampstead who made such a forceful contribution on that occasion. particularly on the Caribbean dependencies. I hope that that debate gave reassurance to the peoples and governments of the dependencies, and I hope that today's debate will do the same.
§ I am anxious today to ascertain how things have moved forward since 1994, as well as to ask the new Government about their plans and actions on certain general and constitutional issues. I know that a number of other speakers will tackle more specific issues.
§ One thing that I know has happened since 1994 is that the Dependent Territories Association, which was formed in 1993 and which organised a major conference that year, has provided a successful co-ordinating mechanism. The members hold regular meetings and understand each other better. As a result, they have a stronger voice. They now plan a second conference in January 1998. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that the Dependent Territories Association will have the wholehearted support of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in arranging the conference, as it did last time, and that the new Foreign Secretary will follow the precedent set by my right 894 honourable friend Douglas Hurd in showing high level involvement by himself addressing the conference. That would be a welcome signal of the new Government's intentions.
§ Two other issues are, I know, of particular concern. One involves the question of the status of the dependent territories within the European Union. Gibraltar is the only territory which is, as it were, a practising part of the European Union and which is affected by the particular pressures applied by Spain in the formulation and application of European Union policies. However, others are also affected by, for example, the banana regime and the rice regime—that is, apart from the question of aid—and it is hard for them to see the overseas territories of other European Union member states, such as France and Spain, being treated differently.
§ There is also the irritation of visas. Residents of the dependent territories (other than those of Gibraltar and the Falklands who hold British passports) hold what are called "British Dependent Territory passports", which not only give no right of abode in the United Kingdom, but also mean that the holders need to apply for separate visas to visit other European Union countries for business or holiday reasons. Again, that contrasts with the freedom of movement within the European Union enjoyed by citizens of French and Dutch overseas territories.
§ In this context, the other important issue—this may come as a surprise to many—is that although encouraged to participate in Commonwealth events, the dependent territories are denied full membership of the Commonwealth. That limits their direct participation in many key Commonwealth events, such as Commonwealth ministerial meetings. They would like to participate in the Commonwealth on a more systematic basis although not necessarily through full membership. It has been pointed out to me that Tuvalu, for example, which is not a dependent territory but is a member of the Commonwealth, has special conditions of membership. Since countries like Mozambique and even Palestine are talking about joining the Commonwealth, we must assume that the situation is flexible and that there is room for movement with regard to the dependent territories. After all, we live in a changing world. Although the United Kingdom Government have always represented the interests of our dependencies, would it not be appropriate to find some way to give those albeit tiny territories more opportunity to speak for themselves? A direct voice in the European Union and within the Commonwealth would surely be one way of doing that. Incidentally, I am also informed that the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association apparently has exactly the right relationship.
§ While on this theme, and in the great scheme of things, when we are being asked to look at the future role and composition of the House of Lords, should we not consider appointing to this House Members representing the dependent territories? I do not see that as supplementing or suppressing the developing role of the territorial governments, but rather as being an additional way of making their voices heard.895
§ I should now like to make some further brief points on matters about which much more could be said. Sometimes common solutions are proposed for the dependent territories, but they may not necessarily be appropriate to all. The level of regulation of financial services that is appropriate for the Cayman Islands—the fifth largest banking centre in the world after London, New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong—may not be appropriate for the Turks and Caicos Islands which have a much smaller and less significant financial services base. Similar points could be made—and I am sure that they will be—in relation to Bermuda which leads in the insurance field. We should look imaginatively at special issues and special needs and try to find very specific solutions to them.
§ Sometimes, too, solutions to problems, particularly the jobs problem, envisage people moving away to find work, but that is not necessarily what people from the dependent territories want. Tourism could obviously bring jobs, but communications are vital. St. Helena, for example, desperately needs a new airport and landing facilities. When considering this particular request from St. Helena one should not forget that the Cayman Islands were once described as the islands that time forgot. That was before the coming of civil aviation when their population was very small. Today, in addition to population growth the Cayman Islands have about 1.5 million tourists each year.
§ I should also like to explore ways of tackling the special expertise of the dependent territories that has been developed in the environmental and financial services fields. One takes the example of the Falkland Islands and the licensing and regulation of fisheries. I believe that our relationship with the dependent territories should be very much a two-way process. Perhaps the most important aspect is the requirement to review the British Nationality Act 1981, particularly in relation to the right of abode. Given that the citizens of Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands already have that right, one is now talking of about 150,000 people. Surely, that should not deter us from giving a greater welcome to the people of the dependent territories.
§ I am delighted that so many of your Lordships have chosen to speak in this debate without any special urging from me. I know that there are others who would have wished to speak had time allowed. I am aware that those who are listed will speak from personal knowledge and experience about individual territories and specific issues, not least my noble friend Lord Waddington fresh from his governorship of Bermuda. We all look forward to hearing the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, for the first time.
§ I end by asking the noble Baroness to respond fully and frankly so that we can demonstrate to our many friends in the dependent territories that we appreciate and value them and very much regard them as part of the family. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate so ably opened this afternoon by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper. The 896 dependencies may be left over, as it were, from the days of Britain's imperial past but they are not colonies in the way that we used to think about colonies. They are not populated by oppressed people who are anxious to throw off the colonial yoke. On the contrary, in most instances the people concerned are very anxious to maintain their status under the British umbrella.
I was recently in Gibraltar with a number of other noble Lords at the invitation of the Gibraltar Tourist Bureau. As I am sure all noble Lords are aware, Spain has been campaigning for some time for the Rock to become Spanish. On the face of it, this is understandable. It is a small promontory at the foot of the Iberian Peninsula which owes allegiance, as they see it, to a foreign power. It is not surprising that Spain should feel that Hong Kong provides an example. Here it is being handed back to China in a month's time. But Gibraltar is not Hong Kong. There is a leasing arrangement in regard to Hong Kong which expires this year. The British Government are rightly honouring that. But the Treaty of Utrecht ceded Gibraltar to the British in perpetuity, and in the almost 300 years since a population of mixed ancestry has grown up which regards itself as Gibraltarian rather than Spanish, although many speak Spanish as well as English.
During my recent visit I learned a good deal about Gibraltar's troubled past and the loyalty of its people to Britain. I was given the opportunity to talk to leading representatives of all political parties. I found that they were all in agreement on one vital issue: that the future of Gibraltar and its sovereignty must be a matter for the population as a whole. The last referendum in 1967 indicated an overwhelming vote in favour of retaining its present status. But there are major problems.
Spain has stepped up its campaign to acquire sovereignty. There are difficulties about passports. Gibraltarians as EU citizens should not be denied freedom of movement across Europe, but they are. For Spain, British passports issued in Gibraltar are not valid travel documents. This gives rise to problems at the land frontier and at Malaga and Barcelona airports. Britain and the European Commission maintain the validity of Gibraltar-issued passports, but Spanish immigration officers continue to harass the holders of such passports. This leads to difficulties and queues at crossing points along the frontier. Spain refuses to allow a ferry service between Gibraltar and Algeciras. Gibraltar is excluded from participation in the EU air liberalisation "Open Skies" policy, with resultant problems for the use of the airport. There are many other examples of Spanish harassment in pursuit of its ultimate objective.
In the meantime, changes in the economy of the Rock consequent upon decisions made in this country, notably by the MoD, have given rise to employment difficulties. The decline of dock work is one example; the down-sizing of the British military presence is another. Attempts are being made to build up alternative sources of employment. Tourism is one possibility. However, the difficulties of access arising from Spanish hostility ensure that this is likely to be limited. More success seems likely in the area of financial services. The Rock 897 is already emerging as a strong and competent financial services centre in its own right; but there are problems here too.
In 1969 several thousand Moroccans were offered manual jobs, mainly dock work. They and some of their descendants are still there, but they cannot easily be retrained for white collar employment. There is now no work for them. The government would like to be able to offer them compensation and resettlement grants, since many wish to return to Morocco where they still have their families, but this costs money, which the present Gibraltarian Government do not have. Therefore, they look to this Government for assistance, since it was at the behest of the then British Government that the Moroccans were invited to Gibraltar in the first place.
The Spanish Government claim that Gibraltar is a money-laundering centre, but this is hotly denied by the authorities to whom I spoke. There are admittedly drug smuggling problems, but it is claimed that policing is effective. While there with other colleagues I witnessed a police launch intercept a boat, the skipper of which immediately attempted to jettison his cargo, which in itself was a suspicious circumstance. He and his crew were later arrested for attempting to smuggle drugs, which were found on board.
The political leaders we met included an old friend of mine and of many Members of this House. I refer to Joe Bussano, who was once an official of the Transport and General Workers' Union. He is now leader of the official opposition and until last year was chief minister. Both he and his colleagues indicated that they would like a review of the 1969 constitution with a view to modernisation, as they put it. As I understand it, they seek the kind of status that is enjoyed by the Channel Islands. All were keen to emphasise their commitment to self-determination. That is not to say that they do not understand how important it is to strive for better relations with Spain. So far attempts in this direction have not met with success, but surely it should be possible to deal with these difficulties under the umbrella of the EU since self-determination is accepted as a principle within the EU and of course by the present Government.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Baroness for introducing this debate, inadequately short though it may be. This may well be an historic debate. It is the first debate dealing with the dependent territories to be held within spitting distance, if I may so put it, of the disappearance, for good or ill, of Hong Kong from their number. That will bring the number of citizens of the dependent territories to a size that should not daunt legislators or civil servants.
It is also the first debate held under a new Government. If they are to live up to the expectations of those who voted for them, many of them tactically—they might otherwise have voted for my party—they should be prepared to take new and fresh decisions. Some of these are small.
898 I believe that the FCO should have one department to deal with the dependent territories. They have different problems depending on where they are in the world, but what unites them is greater than what divides them. One also needs regulation of their status within the European Union.
Some of the problems and some of the steps which should be taken are moderately big. The time has come for the citizens of those dependent territories to be given full British citizenship, or rather to have it restored to them. It was understandable why that should not be done while the weight of the population of Hong Kong was poised above it. But now let right be done.
Your Lordships will be aware of my special interest in St. Helena—like several other noble Lords I have visited the island—and of the unfortunate events which have happened there recently. I do not want to go into the details of that now. I want to say merely that British citizenship would go a long way towards solving many of the problems. In that context I greatly welcome the maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, who I understand is to talk about St. Helena.
It is not that the Saints would want to emigrate here en masse: they are sane people. They have the example of the islanders of Tristan da Cunha who tried it and who, following Gandhi's example—when he came here he was asked what he thought of civilisation, and he said that he thought it would be a good idea—rejected it and went home. But the freedom and justice that it would represent and would give to the spirits of the people of the dependent territories must not be underrated by a party which has always stood for those things.
There is the problem of Ascension Island, which, as noble Lords will be aware, is itself a dependency of St. Helena. It needs help in the promotion of a tourist industry in that part of the world. A fresh start is required in the renegotiation of the Bahamas Agreement which would enable Ascension and St. Helena to set up such a tourist agency. The present governor, addressing the South Atlantic Group recently, said that he could not envisage St. Helena not having an airport by 2025. If that is so—almost any reasonable person would agree with that—let us start now.
I wish to pay tribute—it would be wrong not to—to the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, who in her dealings with the dependent territories, and in particular with St. Helena, showed great imagination and sympathy and tried as hard as she could. But the situation is different now. We have a new Government. We have the chance of a new start. Let us start in the way we mean to go on and put things right. I hope that at the end of the debate the Minister will be able to tell us that this has been an historic debate and that the Government are prepared to move along the lines suggested.
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ The Earl of Iveagh
My Lords, it is with great trepidation that I make my maiden speech. I am a farmer in East Anglia. I have very little experience of the south-west Atlantic, I must confess, but the more I read into the subject, the more interesting it became and the 899 more important the ethical and moral situation seemed to be. The situation needs to be put right. I feel that the UK has let down St. Helena.
It is also with great trepidation that I follow the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, with his great wisdom and knowledge of the subject. The St. Helenan population was put on the island by the British in 1659. There was no settlement on the island before then. In 1673 its Royal Charter was granted by Charles II. That charter incorporated various freedoms and rights.
The Saints of course speak English. Their religion is predominantly Christian. Since 1659 the island has been continually occupied by the British, although the Dutch occupied it for a few months. They have never stated that they wanted to be anything other than British. Throughout history they have shown themselves to be pro-Britain. For instance, they helped the supply ships en route to the colonies in days gone by and they voluntarily gave their supply ship "RMS St. Helena" to the Falklands conflict in the previous decade.
Have the Government done enough to help the island? Are they showing signs of creating a vision for St. Helena? A joint development paper states:A prosperous and peaceful democratic society for all should be achieved through sustainable economic, environmental, and social development".What is the island's infrastructure? I am afraid that it amounts to just a few decent roads. Landing rights for ships entering its waters are prohibitively expensive. It has no wharf big enough for commercial ships to dock. It has no air-links to the outside world. The nearest human contact is on Ascension Island which is two days' sailing time away.
The burning issue for the islanders to whom I have spoken, and which I have been researching, is their lack of representation in Parliament and potentially in this country. They are of course represented through Whitehall. The island is almost as much on its own as it ever has been during its history.
There is a major constitutional issue involved. The inhabitants have limited access to work permits in this country. The Saints can obtain a two-year non-renewable work permit, but other than that they are limited to a maximum of a six-month visitor's visa. Although they have British passports, these do not do a great deal for them.
Development initiatives have been undertaken by the Government. Although the percentage of people employed by the Government has fallen in recent years, it still amounts to between 60 and 75 per cent. of the working population. The people have low real incomes. The cost of living is high. Much of their food has to be imported. However, there is an 18.2 per cent. unemployment figure for the island, which is rather shaming.
I believe that the Government have tried to introduce some new ideas and initiatives, but, sadly, there has been a long history of government initiatives coming to nothing. Perhaps I may give two examples. First, Andrew Powell made recommendations on the creation of bathing and toilet facilities for the less advantaged. 900 Secondly, Alan Cheetham made recommendations on conservation and the restoration of listed buildings. In the same vein, another initiative, the elderly care scheme, came to nothing because it was too expensive. There have been great leaps and bounds in regional aid in many of Britain's territories. We might consider the success of the Scottish regional and enterprise boards. Perhaps the Government might take a leaf out of their book.
What potential is there on the island? There is potential for tourism, for coffee production, for agricultural seed production and for banking. Another example of the island being let down was the banking system, which failed to materialise on the island. A large banking group—I believe the 70th largest in the world—was willing to open a branch on St. Helena, thus creating opportunities for the island. However, due to the protracted negotiations with the then regulator of the bank, they came to nothing.
I conclude by making a plea that this Administration helps the St. Helena islanders to help themselves. They need help to fulfil their modest expectations and to give hope to the young.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, it falls to me to be the first to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, on his maiden speech. He spoke very movingly and from the heart about the problems of St. Helena. I am sure that we all have great sympathy with what he said and we hope that we may hear from him on this and other subjects many times in the future.
I thank my noble friend Lady Hooper for introducing the debate. I am glad that it follows a debate that she introduced on a similar subject some two or three years ago. In the time allowed, I wish to confine my remarks to the dependent territories in the Caribbean. In doing so, I must declare an interest as President of the West India Committee. The terms of the Motion before the House today refer to the status of the dependent territories. I wish to begin with their status. At present, most Caribbean dependent territories have been given advanced constitutions. They have a ministerial system of government based on a universal franchise and an ever increasing control over their legal affairs.
However, it seems to the dependent territories that London has sought to develop an ever more complex system of management and control. In the case of the Caribbean, this is exercised through a Whitehall committee, a significant proportion of the time and resource of the West Indian and Atlantic Department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Dependent Territories Regional Secretariat and enhanced governor's offices in dependent territories. At the same time, we have sought to exercise residual control, though making it clear that we will maintain reserve powers, exercising them only where they are necessary.
Quite clearly, it is important that Britain, which has a responsibility to the dependent territories, should ensure the maintenance of good governance. However, I believe that there is an opportunity to try to simplify the current system of management. Perhaps I may make 901 the following suggestions for areas of consideration. I understand—and I hope that the noble Baroness will correct me if I am wrong—that the Government are considering changing the name of the dependent territories and in doing so perhaps reviewing their status and their relationship with Britain. It is important that important recommendations in constitutional reviews, such as that carried out in the British Virgin Islands, are fully implemented.
We should develop a public education programme in all overseas territories so that governments and people alike understand the exact nature of the relationship with London and why decisions are taken. We should involve chief ministers more in the decision making process by ensuring that governors not only consult and exchange views on a regular basis, but have a two-way reporting function on political, management and commercial issues. I wonder whether in the course of a general review we might reconsider the present basis for selecting and appointing governors; whether it is an appropriate way; and whether there is a better way in which to inform chief ministers of decisions taken in London.
I long ago suggested that we might well consider bringing senior civil servants from dependent territories to work in London or in Brussels in order to gain wider experience of good government. I wonder whether anything has been done about that suggestion. I hope that we will explain decisions quickly and in a transparent fashion to elected governments.
That is important because there are real anxieties about the dependent territories in the Caribbean. In the next seven years, Caribbean overseas territories are likely to be marginalised by the free trade area of the Americas and a post-Lomé arrangement if it leads, as a growing body of opinion suggests, to an EU/Caribbean free trade area within the ACP partnership. It is therefore crucial that government not only consider the status of the overseas territories, but also their relationships with the wider world.
Dependent territories in the Caribbean have a good working relationship with the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. However, I believe that that could be improved if elected members from the dependent territories could participate in an appropriate manner in meetings of, for example, Ministers of Finance, or Ministers of Legal Affairs. My noble friend Lady Hooper touched on that issue.
As regards the European Union, there is a pressing need to consider now with the governments of all our dependent territories the nature of a post-Lomé arrangement in respect of both their own position and that of the region in which they are located. Since a post-Lomé arrangement would have a direct impact on the future fortunes of the overseas territories and the Caribbean region, it will not be sufficient to consult after a British position has been put to Brussels. I support the suggestion made by my noble friend Lady Hooper that the Secretary of State might take an early opportunity for a meeting with elected leaders of dependent territories in order to define policy and to understand the anxieties of elected governments.
902 Finally, none of the Caribbean dependent territories has any wish for independence. They are seeking an advanced relationship with London in which their maturity, relatively high levels of development and their desire to co-operate in good government are fully recognised. The Caribbean overseas territories effectively lock Britain into the Caribbean. Perhaps in reply the noble Baroness can say whether there is a possibility that the guardship in the Caribbean will be removed during a review of the defence policy. If she cannot answer today, perhaps she will write to me; but it is a serious matter in view of the difficulty concerning drugs in that area.
In my opinion, Britain needs to balance more closely its rights and responsibilities towards overseas territories and to build a new relationship as part of its overall approach towards the problems of the Caribbean region.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Lord Waddington
My Lords, my wife and I are deeply grateful to the people of Bermuda for the many kindnesses shown to us during our time there. I also received nothing but kindness from those in the Foreign Office with whom I dealt during the nearly five years that I was governor.
But I suspect that there are still some in that establishment who believe that the dependent territories are something of an embarrassment, presenting Britain with unwelcome contingent liabilities and attracting unwelcome attention from the UN Decolonisation Committee and that it would be a great relief if we were shot of them. In my view, that is a rather short-sighted and very mean-minded view when Bermuda, for example, has so recently demonstrated its wish to maintain the British link.
Whether the present relationship survives in the long term will be for the people of Bermuda to decide, but as recently as 1995 they voted convincingly—by 73.7 per cent. to 25.6 per cent.—against independence. I do not believe that they did that out of a sentimental attachment to the mother country. It was far more a matter of them believing that those minded to do business in Bermuda looked upon the British connection as a guarantee of Bermuda's stability and security. But whatever the reason, the people voted convincingly for the status quo.
Most of the press stories about Bermuda during my years were either plain silly, plain wrong or both. But the press reaction to the referendum had an entirely different flavour. Most commentators seemed genuinely delighted at what had occurred and reflected in their articles the pleasure felt by people in Britain that there were some in the world who were actually proud of and wanted to maintain the British connection.
Perhaps the British people could see what in recent years too many politicians and officials have failed to see or allowed themselves to forget: that when Britain has an influence, she has an influence because she has world-wide interests; because the Queen is head of the Commonwealth; and because of the historic relationship with America. It is not because we are an island off the coast of Europe.
903 And then your Lordships will be well aware that in recent years Bermuda has become a great international business centre, with insurance business in the lead. The links with the London insurance market are growing ever stronger and Britain has a clear interest in the continued expansion of that market and its development in a stable environment.
Nothing that I have said should be taken to suggest that if at some time in the future Bermuda decides to go it alone, it does not have the leaders capable of making an enormous success of an independent Bermuda. After all, Bermuda has for a long time been in almost complete control of its own destiny. It has the third oldest parliament in the world and a constitution which gives it as wide a degree of self-government as is possible short of complete independence. Under its own government, Bermuda has prospered, with its people enjoying a standard of living as high as almost anywhere else in the world. No, I am certainly not saying that Bermuda could not go it alone. But I am saying that at present the relationship with Britain is seen by Bermudians as advantageous and the British should feel the same way about their relationship with Bermuda.
Of one thing I am certain. It would be shameful if any British Government, out of antique, outdated and fundamentally ignoble notions that the process of decolonisation should continue to the very end, regardless of the wishes of the people concerned, were to bully, bribe and cajole Bermudians (or for that matter the people of any other dependent territory) into going independent against what they believed to be their own best interests.
I do not believe for one moment that that is in the mind of the present Administration. However, perhaps I may give one piece of advice. Sometimes steps are taken by government here with little appreciation of their likely effect on public opinion in Bermuda and at the risk of those steps being understood there as evidence of Britain's wish to abandon the relationship.
I shall give your Lordships one or two examples from the past few years. There was the decision to close the tiny naval station in Bermuda, HMS Malabar. The MoD hoped to achieve a saving of £1 million gross and I was assured that the announcement would not cause the row that some expected but that it would be a two-day wonder. In fact, and predictably, it caused Sir John Swan to launch his independence campaign. That campaign had a seriously destabilising effect on the island for more than a year and a half before, in August 1995, the referendum took place, with the result that I have mentioned.
Secondly, the people of Bermuda simply cannot understand how Britain, while remaining ultimately responsible for the island's defence, adopts the stance that when members of the Bermuda Regiment come to Britain to train they must be treated just like any other foreign soldiery wishing to avail themselves of Britain's training facilities. They are charged the full cost of the training. The result is that the Bermuda Regiment is cutting its reliance on Britain's training facilities, with 904 the risk of a fall in the efficiency of the Bermuda Regiment, on which Britain relies to carry out—I stress this—Britain's own legal responsibilities.
Lastly, and most important, there is the question of rights of admission to Britain. I too congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, on his maiden speech and I do not doubt that there is a strong case to be made for the granting of the right of entry to those who live in St. Helena. The case for the rest of the dependent territories cannot be put quite as strongly, but it is still quite powerful and was put powerfully by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley.
Many, though by no means all, white Bermudians are British citizens or have the right of abode here. The vast majority of black Bermudians are BDTCs and subject to immigration control. Not surprisingly, that causes resentment. It has already been said that the return of Hong Kong to China will mean that there will be a total of only 160,000 people left in the remaining dependent territories, and there will no longer be any immigration control justification for those people to have a different citizenship from those who belong to the mother country. Britain could win enormous credit and make a great contribution to the maintenance of a harmonious society in Bermuda by righting what is perceived to be an obvious wrong. The Government should secure a common citizenship.
By giving Bermudians and others the right to live and work in Britain, we shall be giving them a right which, of course, is afforded already to the Falkland Islanders and the Gibraltarians. I assure the Government that the change would not result in hordes of Bermudians flocking here. Their homeland is far too beautiful and prosperous for that. But that step, or simply an easing of the work permit restrictions, would allow Bermudians, and young black Bermudians in particular, who have business ambitions to gain experience in a wider environment than Bermuda and fit themselves for senior management. Above all, it would cement the mutually advantageous relationship to which I have referred.
I am deeply grateful to my noble friend Lady Hooper for initiating this debate.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Baroness Hamwee
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness for initiating the debate and, in my case, for giving me an opportunity to ask some very specific questions about Montserrat. As the noble Baroness anticipated, I am one of those who wishes to ask questions on a fairly narrow basis.
As your Lordships will know, Montserratians have spent the last 22 months waiting for disaster as the volcano there threatens to explode or overflow. I must declare something of an interest (not a financial interest by any means) because I work closely with someone who comes from Montserrat and who is much involved in the work in this country, in conjunction with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and previously with charities, in assisting people in Montserrat and people who come here from Montserrat.
905 I see the reports which are faxed to my office on a daily basis from the Government in Montserrat. Perhaps I may quote briefly from the report of the 6th June which starts by warning and strongly urging anyone still in the revised no-go area to leave immediately. It states:Pyroclastic flows and surges are extremely hot and travel at very high speeds, they may occur with no notice and cannot be outrun.I have quoted that because it seems to me to represent very vivid and very appropriate language for a government report.
The island is divided into zones which denote comparative danger. A recent press report refers to the most dangerous zones—one, Zone A, is closed to everyone but scientists who will onlyenter the area when a helicopter is standing by to pick them up in an emergency".There is also Zone C, which includes the capital and the airport. It is the area which has in the past been the most productive agriculturally and has been designated for "complete evacuation". However, with a special permit, residents can go in during daylight hours,provided they have transport available to make a rapid exit".They are advised to wear a dust mask and to listen to the radio for advice on a more or less continuous basis.
It seems that almost any outcome is likely to be quite appalling for the island. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office reported in November that there were three possible outcomes: the least likely was a gradual end to the problem; the most likely was a major explosive or perhaps climactic eruption of the volcano, with little or no warning, which would destroy much of the infrastructure of the southern and most important part of the island; or, alternatively, continued growth of the dome of the volcano which might overspill in any direction with an explosion destroying it again.
Currently, there is quite a high level of alert with changes of activity anticipated soon; for example, pyroclastic flows—I believe that the technical language probably obscures what must seem to be a very unhappy reality—the ash fall, and the high level of seismic activity. Normal life is now impossible. It has been said that there is nothing good to say about the housing in Montserrat. I refer to the temporary housing that has been built for those who have had to be evacuated from the southern part of the island.
After only a moment's reflection, your Lordships will realise that the problems with environmental health regarding waste disposal among a group of people crammed together into quite primitive shelters on a long-term basis are very substantial. Again, a moment's reflection will enable your Lordships to understand the difficulties of continuing education for those who are still struggling to learn and take exams, not only because of the local environmental conditions but also because the evacuees from the island include a number of teachers. The teachers who are left are perhaps not as many in number as one would need to cope with the situation. Indeed, the environmental problems are substantial and the general health facilities are very limited.
906 Moreover, on an island where the crime rate has traditionally been very low, the strains which arise from a capital being evacuated have led to an increase in crimes of violence and burglary, and the criminal justice system is creaking. I have seen reference to the fact that the two police cells available are fully occupied by convicted prisoners. The temporary prison is a local library and community centre which is probably not adequate to contain the problem.
I have spent some time describing the issues because I believe that the citizens of our dependent territory deserve to have their plight mentioned. However, I gave the Minister notice of a number of questions that I would ask. I hope that the little time I gave her was adequate to enable her to give some answers in her reply today. First, there is a newly constructed jetty in the designated safe area. Can the Minister comment as to its capacity to deal with a mass evacuation? Secondly, can the Minister make any comments as to the preparations being made for a complete evacuation at short notice, if that proves to be necessary? I am mindful of the panic that is likely to be engendered if groups of people are required to leave in a very peremptory fashion. Thirdly, I have mentioned the long-term temporary housing, but I should add that the hurricane season is approaching and there is an increased danger in the island of mud slides as the area becomes deforested. Can the Minister say what assessments have been made regarding the robustness of that housing?
I turn now to matters of immigration. Can the Minister say what attitude the Government would take to an extension of the exceptional leave to remain in this country, which was granted to Montserratians who came here the best part of two years ago? Can the noble Baroness say what is to happen when that period expires? Further, what assistance is to be made available to those who are now in the United Kingdom on that basis to enable them to settle here? I use that term in its widest sense, because there are now about 1,000 Montserratians in this country.
It is only those who have been able to afford to come to the United Kingdom who have done so. Can the Minister say whether any assistance can be given to those Montserratians who cannot afford the fare? Further, can the Minister say what negotiations there are with other governments in the Caribbean to ensure the well-being of the Montserratians who are evacuated to other islands? Finally, I turn now to a matter which is of concern to the community resident in this country. Can the Minister say whether the Foreign and Commonwealth Office can assist in keeping records of the initial destination of the Montserratians who come to this country? The community is keen to retain that community so that the island can eventually be repopulated.
As I said at the beginning, I am very much aware through a personal link of the contribution which is being made by individuals in this country to the plight of their compatriots—relatives in many cases—who are in Montserrat. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has indicated that it cannot provide a full-time officer to act as a liaison person on the basis that the statutory services in the country are adequate. However, liaison 907 is badly needed in order to ensure that those statutory services are used to their greatest effect to help these people in their plight.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Lord Bethell
My Lords, I should like to join with others in welcoming the debate and in congratulating my noble friend Lady Hooper on her introduction to it. I am put in mind of the days in the early 1980s when my noble friend and I served as unofficial parliamentary representatives of Gibraltar in the European Parliament. We did so because, at that time, the territory of Gibraltar had no representative—and that is still the case—in the European Parliament, even though it is part of the European Community. I shall return to that matter later.
I was struck by the wealth of experience exhibited during today's debate by noble Lords who have spoken, not only as regards Gibraltar and St. Helena but also as regards other dependent territories. I should like to join with others in congratulating the noble Earl on his maiden speech which, as has been said, was delivered from the heart and made some very cogent points to which we look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.
I have visited Gibraltar on many occasions and, like others, I understand why it is that many people in Spain feel strongly that they would like to repossess the Rock for Spanish sovereignty. However, what is not comprehensible to me—and, indeed, not acceptable—is the anger and the strength of purpose which they endeavour to put on achieving that end. There is very little attempt on the part of the Spanish authorities to achieve the absorption of Gibraltar into Spain by osmosis, by persuasion, by wooing or by encouragement; it is done by threats, by beating the Gibraltar people about the head, metaphorically, and by imposing as many restrictions upon them as can be properly devised.
A number of those points were mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, who recently visited the Rock. I could add that there has been a whole range of restrictions imposed by the Spanish such as the prohibition on the entry of Gibraltar taxis into Spain, restrictions on the use of Gibraltar hire cars in Spain, and a recent work to rule by customs and immigration officers which resulted in the ticking off of spare equipment and spare parts for every vehicle against a list which meant that each car had to be examined for some 30 minutes before it was allowed to proceed. That was, of course, done for political reasons in order to impose a semi-blockade.
We all know that Gibraltar was fully blockaded for some 13 years from 1969. I still have as a reminder of that, a cutting from a Madrid newspaper, ABC, dated June 12th 1969 which states,Spain will cease every activity which directly or indirectly helps the life of the colony … Spain has it in her power to make life on the Rock very unpleasant".That, I am afraid, is true. Spain has it within her power to make life on the Rock unpleasant and from time to time she exercises that option and does her best to discomfort the people of the Rock in the vain hope that 908 they will fall into Spanish hands like a ripe plum. However, that, I believe, will not happen. Even after the recent siege Gibraltar emerged not as a bedraggled community but as a defiant community determined to remain British and to preserve her independent link with this country.
It used to be said during the Cold War that East/West relations could be gauged by the speed at which traffic was allowed by the Communist powers to pass through or into or out of the German Democratic Republic of those days. By the same token the state of the frontier between Spain and the Rock is a measure of the general relationship between Spain and the UK. During the recent fishing dispute between Spain and the UK Spanish sources made clear their determination to make Britain pay for its attitude and to make it pay in Gibraltar. At that time for some weeks the frontier became a seething mass of distressed people, many of whom had to wait five or more hours in the summer heat to cross the line. Holidaymakers from Spain could not get back to Gibraltar airport, as a result of which many of them missed their flights and were deprived of large sums of money. Anyone who visits the Rock risks spending many hours in long queues of people and cars going into and out of Gibraltar. Why this should be allowed between two European Union territories I do not quite understand.
I have given the Minister notice of two points which I shall mention in conclusion. Spain does not allow any other airline to fly out of Gibraltar airport into continental Europe or to other parts of the European Union. The only flights permitted are from Gibraltar to the UK. One will not find any flights between Gibraltar and the main continental centres such as Amsterdam or Frankfurt. This is the result of pressure on the part of the Spanish authorities. I know that Gibraltar is excluded from the present directive on free air travel within the European Union; nonetheless I believe that Gibraltar has a good case before the Court of Justice in Luxembourg as regards this restriction on free movement. I wonder whether the Government will encourage Gibraltar to bring such a case against the Spanish authorities and enforce the free use of Gibraltar airport.
The other point on which I have given the Minister notice concerns voting in European elections. That is where, if you like, my noble friend Lady Hooper and I came in in the early 1980s. We are not the only country with dependent territories. There are the Canary Islands, Guadeloupe, the Azores, St. Maarten, and there was Greenland. Citizens of those areas were and are entitled to vote for the European Parliament just like other citizens of Spain, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, or, in the case of Greenland, Denmark. I very much hope that the Government will bring in provisions to allow Gibraltarians to vote in the elections of June 1999. I thank all those who have taken part, and especially my noble friend for introducing this debate.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, unlike the other speakers in this debate I can claim no specialised knowledge of the dependent territories. I was moved to speak by 909 a reference in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, to bananas. Bananas are an interest of mine. The banana regime affects not merely dependent territories in the Caribbean, but also other islands which have a Commonwealth status. It is one of the occasions where we have been neglectful of possibilities open to us in the way of manipulating—to the advantage of people who are dependent upon us in part for their livelihood—the legal situation that exists.
As noble Lords will be aware, the preferences which are available for Caribbean bananas, and which are due to expire in a short time, are allowed on the basis of previous access to markets. However, the likelihood appears to be that the French islands will continue to enjoy the preference because as they are legally speaking part of metropolitan France they are not regarded as outside the European Union. I did not give the Minister notice of my next suggestion because I do not expect an answer today. I seek to launch an idea which has come to me. Perhaps we ought to think of reversing part of our decolonisation. Would it not be possible, by agreement with some of these territories, to say that they are from some points of view part of the United Kingdom? I do not think many of us would object to their having a number of representatives not merely in this House but also in another place. If the French say, "That is not right" we could say, "You say the French islands are part of France because they are represented in the French Assembly; these territories are part of the United Kingdom because they are represented in our much older and more prestigious Parliament".
Of course there will be objections, but when we hear—as we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Bethell—about the way in which Spain, which is one of our partners in Europe, violates all the principles of the European Union as regards free movement in pursuit of its territorial demands on Gibraltar, I do not think we need worry about being accused of being somewhat legalistic. I put that proposal to your Lordships because I think there is a moral case—it was put by the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, in his maiden speech—for saying that as regards people in countries which in one way or another have been associated with this country (whatever their legal status now) we are under some obligation to look after their material interests. To enable a few thousand people to continue to grow excellent bananas seems to me to be an unanswerable case. I hope that the FCO will look into that possibility.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Baroness Strange
My Lords, we are all especially grateful to my noble friend Lady Hooper, with her expert knowledge on the subject, for raising the issue of dependent territories, particularly at this time of the hand-over of Hong Kong. I should also like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, on his very heartfelt speech on St. Helena.
My intervention, which, mercifully for your Lordships, will be brief, is to be about the Falkland Islands, but I was tempted by my noble friend Lord Bethell, when he talked of the difficulties of getting through the Gibraltar-Spanish border, to mention an 910 occasion when we had to abandon our Gibraltar-based taxi in Gibraltar because it was not allowed to set its wheels on Spanish soil, drag our heavy suitcases, which did not for some reason have wheels, through the pouring rain to the other side of the border, where the queuing Spanish taxi drivers then proceeded to fight each other with their fists in order to drag us into their rival taxis. It was not an easy way to pass from one part of the common market to another.
However, to turn to the Falklands, my eldest son served in the conflict in 1982 and I have subsequently visited the islands. Like all dependent territories the Falkland Islands wish to remain under the sovereignty of the British Government, where they have been, with a brief interregnum in 1982, for the last 163 years. Eleven years after the conflict the Argentines again attempted to claim sovereignty—which of course makes it difficult for the Falkland Islanders to work amicably with them as they would like to do. How can you work with someone who does not believe that you exist? It may be a little longer in the time schedule, but I have not noticed Britain claiming sovereignty over Poitiers and Anjou, nor indeed Calais; and Austria is keeping pretty quiet about Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The fundamental principle of self-determination is enshrined in the Falkland Islands constitution. They also have friendly relations with both Chile and Uruguay, where they now have air and sea links. The Falkland Islands now have a healthy and well-managed fishing industry, which keeps them financially buoyant, and they hope in the next 20 years or so to develop the oil potential in their offshore waters. Already they are self-supporting, building new roads, a new hospital, which I have visited, and a splendid hydroponic farm in which they grow all their own lettuces and cucumbers. There is a new school, a new indoor swimming-pool, and they already contribute to our defence costs. When the oil comes on schedule, as it will do early in the millennium, they are optimistic that they will be able to cover the whole cost of our military presence there.
This is a success story, and a very happy one. But we must always remember those who made it possible: my noble friend Lady Thatcher, the Falkland islanders themselves, all the men and women of our services who fought there, their back-up teams at home and, above all, those who are still suffering from that combat—those who gave their lives, and their parents, widows and children. Without them, none of this would have happened.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Lord St. John of Bletso
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for having introduced today's debate, and join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord Iveagh on a very moving maiden speech. When, at his age, I gave my maiden speech in this House I had an acute stutter. I was absolutely petrified, but could not have had a more sympathetic audience. I hope that we shall hear a lot more from my noble friend.
As most speakers mentioned, today's debate is extremely opportune, coming on the eve of the hand-over of Hong Kong to China later this month. That 911 has resulted in a resurgence of tabloid coverage on the current status of the United Kingdom's dependent territories, with headlines ranging from:Imperial relics happy to he pink",to,No honour left in what is left of the Empire",to the recent Financial Times heading on 30th May:Outposts of Empire still a burden".Despite their geographical mix across the globe, one point about the dependent territories made quite clear by previous speakers is that none of the remaining territories appears likely to demand independence, and all appear to value their links with Britain.
I was fortunate to be a member of the all-party group led by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, which visited Gibraltar last month. It provided an extremely worthwhile insight, not merely into the views and concerns of all the political parties there, but also into the major obstacles to the ability of Gibraltar to establish itself as a thriving financial services centre. I shall touch on a few of my concerns in my closing remarks.
It is acknowledged fact that this House has played a key role in addressing and representing many of the concerns of the citizens of the dependent territories and has been successful in a number of cases in securing full citizenship for some of the dependencies.
In preparing for today's debate I drew up five themes that I felt should be addressed. Unfortunately, some have not been addressed and time precludes me from elaborating on them. After listening to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, on bananas, I must add a sixth. The issues I thought should be raised are: the ramifications of the British Nationality Act and the likely calls for full British citizenship by some of the territories; the United Nations resolution on the eradication of colonialism by the year 2000; the right of self-determination, an issue raised by almost all speakers—I am pleased that the noble Lords, Lord Iveagh and Lord Beaumont, raised the current problems being experienced on St. Helena; and finally, the important issue of the contingent liabilities of the dependent territories to Her Majesty's Government.
There appears to be a feeling in the territories that to varying degrees they are misunderstood and to a certain degree neglected by the Foreign Office. Will the Minister clarify whether the dependent territories will now fall under the responsibility of the new Minister for International Development, Ms. Clare Short? I hope that the Minister will also answer the question raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hooper and Lady Young, as to whether the Government will be pressing at the Commonwealth Summit in October for the dependent territories to have representation within the Commonwealth.
One of the conclusions of the recent National Audit Office report into contingent liabilities in the dependent territories was:the United Kingdom remains exposed, especially from financial sector failures, corruption, drug trafficking, money laundering, migrant pressure and natural disasters".912 Against those concerns it should be recognised that in the past five years there have been considerable improvements in the administration of most of the territories—I say the past five years as during that time there has been a considerable tightening of financial supervision regulations. It is also a fact that all major financial centres are vulnerable to international commercial crime.
Most of the dependent territories, with the marked exception of St. Helena, are financially self-sufficient. I am sure that in her closing remarks the Minister will address the measures that Her Majesty's Government will continue to take to encourage all dependent territories to introduce legislation equivalent to the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Act to extend co-operation to all criminal investigations.
I should like to make brief mention of Gibraltar. When the new government was elected last year, the Chief Minister, Peter Caruana, extended an olive branch to the Spanish Government, inviting a relationship of co-operation and dialogue. His attempts at establishing a friendly relationship have, as several noble Lords have already mentioned, been firmly blocked by the Spanish Government. It should also be recognised that his government have taken strong measures to eradicate drug trafficking and have introduced tight money-laundering legislation. However, the territory remains a siege economy, continuously being harassed and blockaded by Spain.
Chief Minister Caruana has called for a change in the constitution to allow for a new status, not unlike that of Guernsey and Jersey, a point already raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner. This change in status would certainly not breach the Treaty of Utrecht. Will the Government give some consideration to this suggestion and outline their policy for resolving the impasse in Gibraltar?
Finally, I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for giving us this opportunity to discuss this wide-ranging issue today.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Lord Merrivale
My Lords, I propose to confine my remarks to Gibraltar and two issues with a distinct human element which recently culminated in peaceful demonstrations. I refer to the closure of the dockyard and to Spain's denial of European Union rights to the people of Gibraltar.
On 28th May a representative group of former dockyard workers held a silent demonstration outside the House of Assembly to expose the plight of 138 men and their families. It is now over four months since the labour force received their redundancy notices. I would therefore recall the agreement between the Government of Gibraltar and Her Majesty's Government on the closure of the Royal Naval Dockyard and associated measures dated 26th July 1983.
When the dockyard reopened as the Gibraltar Ship Repair Company, it was managed by A & P Appledore International Ltd. They closed down, as did the later managing firm, Kvaerner. On 3rd June I received a Written Answer to my Question as to what assistance 913 Her Majesty's Government were prepared to give towards reopening the dockyard. The answer was that they had offered to help the Government of Gibraltar find a new operator. The matter is urgent. I regret that there was no mention of financial assistance, bearing in mind the plight of the redundant, fully qualified, trained labour force and taking into account, too, that in Gibraltar there is no welfare state.
I turn now to the demonstration (by means of a march of 10,000 citizens of Gibraltar) on 13th May, which included a petition to our Prime Minister through His Excellency the Governor. It states:We the people of Gibraltar being British citizens of the European Union have all united today in a public demonstration to protest against the policies of the Government of the Kingdom of Spain which amount to a blatant disregard and denial of our fundamental European Union rights".Her Majesty's Government are well aware of those rights, and I will mention some of them. Spain operates a land frontier with Gibraltar in a most unconventional manner, with restrictions and capriciously caused delays. Gibraltar is excluded from air liberalisation measures on account of Spain's attitude. Spain alone refuses to recognise Gibraltar's international telephone area code (350). Spain objects to an air link between Gibraltar and Madrid and to a maritime link between Gibraltar and Algeciras. Spain refuses to recognise Gibraltar's identity cards, which have been accepted by the Commission. Spain insists that Gibraltar should be excluded from the proposed European Union convention on external frontiers. Finally, Spain advocates the exclusion of Gibraltar from certain directives. It is therefore interesting that Senor Javier Perez-Griffo should state last Friday before the United Nations Committee of 24 that:Spain had no intentions that were harmful to the people of the colony of Gibraltar".These are issues of considerable concern to every Gibraltarian. When the Minister replies, will she say which of these issues are currently being raised by Her Majesty's Government in Brussels and Madrid with a view to an acceptance by Spain of some of her Community obligations vis-à-vis Gibraltar?
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Lord Holderness
My Lords, over the years I have been lucky enough to visit a number of our remaining dependent territories and, in common with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and perhaps one or two other Members of your Lordships' House, I am one of the few Members who have been even more fortunate to visit the Island of St. Helena. I was delighted that the noble Lord and the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, mentioned some of the problems of the island.
I greatly enjoyed the maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh. He may not know it, but I should like to claim him as my noble kinsman. However, when I confess that I am a first cousin not of his father but of his grandfather, it rather suggests that I am getting a little ancient. I was delighted to hear his speech and I hope we shall hear from him again. He made a number 914 of very constructive suggestions about economic opportunities on the island which I hope the Minister will follow up when she replies to the debate.
When I was in St. Helena I examined some of the economic possibilities, particularly agriculture, fishing and tourism. I found all of them rather more promising than I had expected, and I think that that remains the situation. However, as noble Lords will readily understand, I found that all the economic possibilities facing the island are dogged by its geographical position as a small island in the middle of the vast south Atlantic ocean, which only Almighty God can change. Despite the wishes, and no doubt the prayers, of the Emperor Napoleon, so far the Almighty has shown no disposition to do so. It is therefore something that the island has to put up with.
The associated problem of inaccessibility is obvious to all of us, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. When I was on the island, I examined the possibilities of reducing that inaccessibility. Certainly, the airport and air travel was one possibility. I looked at the site where an airport or a big landing strip might be constructed. The conclusion to my ignorant mind was that it was possible technically but that the problems of infrastructure, weather and long distance, even supposing complete co-operation from Ascension Island, which is the nearest point, would all be fairly difficult to overcome.
I was still left with the opinion that the existing RMS "St Helena" which took me there and took me away is probably the best alternative suggestion that exists at present and probably will exist in the future. The "St Helena" is very comfortable, friendly, well administered and, considering the technical difficulties that it had, remarkably reliable. I hope that the new schedule that has been introduced will meet the travel needs of passengers and the import/export need for goods in and out of the island which are so essential to its well-being.
So far, I have resisted the temptation to press the obvious question that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and other noble Lords have asked about the possible future of the island's status. I hope that this afternoon the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, will give us answers which are as satisfactory and constructive as the answers that I have heard her give to questions over the past two weeks. If she can do so, a number of us will be extremely satisfied. I should like her to give firm hope to the just claims of the islanders—or the Saints—for the restoration of the right that they enjoyed for 300 years and for them to be met without delay.
I bear some responsibility and a little guilt because the Government of whom I am a supporter allowed St. Helena only dependent territory citizenship. Like a number of other people, I judge that the claim of the island for full citizenship is at least as strong as that of the Falkland Islands or Gibraltar, if not stronger. Let us not have any misunderstanding. For the life of me, I cannot see that the restoration of that right and the grant of full citizenship would lead to a large proportion of the very small population of the island suddenly deciding that they wanted to come and settle in this country. St. Helena is a very pleasant place. I do not 915 believe that many people are tempted to leave the delightful surroundings which they enjoy in St. Helena in order to live in a more sophisticated, more complicated and less tranquil society. I do not believe that restoration would lead to wholesale migration.
However, I do believe that the psychological importance of moving, as they see it, from what they consider now to be second-class citizenship would transform the present loyalty that they feel into a deep affection, which, to people like myself who take pride in past empire, present commonwealth and the achievements of Britain all over the world for the past 200 or 300 years, would give enormous pleasure. It would, I believe, be a proper reward.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Lord Redesdale
My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, on his maiden speech. I was the same age as he when I made my maiden speech and it was one of the most terrifying events that I have ever lived through. I also want to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for initiating the debate.
I should like to reflect on what the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, started to say in his speech. He used the words "fresh start". I think it is quite a good time to bring forward the issue of dependent territories when we are so soon to discuss the subject of devolution in Scotland. We on these Benches support devolution in Scotland and wish the Government every success in the forthcoming referendum and the Bill to follow.
But devolution in Scotland should not be equated immediately with independence. Independence is quite different and is not something that most of the colonies have shown that they either wish or actively seek. Devolution means moving power to the regions. In the case of the dependent territories, self-determination is an issue that goes to the core of the debate this afternoon.
The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, mentioned the issue of Bermuda. I confess that I did not realise that Bermuda has the third oldest parliament. But the very success of Bermuda and the stability that it has shown, which is reflected in the financial community that has adopted Bermuda, shows how important self-determination can be. Other dependent territories also seek self-determination, particularly the Falklands and Gibraltar.
Although mismanaged rather badly before the conflict, the Falklands has transformed itself in the past 15 years. It now has a vibrant fishing industry. Indeed, it is building up an economic reserve for the hard times ahead, should the fishing industry happen to fail. It is also building up a rather impressive tourism industry—though I understand that to reach the Falklands one has to take a rather basic Tristar and it is a rather expensive and uncomfortable flight. But it is not just that, potentially the Falklands is one of the oil states of the next century. Even though the Falklands is on the brink of becoming a very wealthy state, the fact that it is so keen to remain under the aegis of Britain should give an indication of how closely it views those connections. Indeed, the Falklands now attracts immigration from 916 this country. I have a personal friend who immigrated to the Falklands in the past year. He has married and has added by one to the population.
One of the issues that both the Falklands and Gibraltar both raise is the importance of Britain—not just Britain itself but Britain in its place within the European Community. It seems strange that most people outside Britain can easily see the importance of Britain being a member of Europe whereas that seems to be lost on many people within Britain itself.
There are many important issues associated with our access to Europe, not least of which is trade. But the territory which has most to gain from closer access to Europe has to be Gibraltar. Although Gibraltar is on the continental land mass of Europe, it seems to be having more difficulty than any other dependent territory. I was recently part of the delegation led by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, which went to Gibraltar. Many different issues were brought home to me about the difficulties that Gibraltar faces, not least the difficulty it has with its borders. It seems that the Spanish, by making access through the border checkpoint as difficult as possible, are intent on killing any tourist industry that wants to enter and grow in Gibraltar. Indeed, it is hardly coincidental that the longest queues seem to follow the rush hour traffic. The queues are greatest entering Gibraltar in the morning and leaving Gibraltar in the afternoon, which can hardly be coincidental. I ask the Minister, as did the noble Lord, Lord Bethel], what action the Government are taking to push Spain into easing those problems.
The other issue of great importance is that concerning passports. It seems outrageous that people carrying British passports issued in Gibraltar should have difficulty in airports around the world. Another issue is telephone access. The noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, mentioned the code of 350. If Gibraltar is to have a growing economy, it is unbelievable that it should be allowed only 30,000 telephone lines. I realise that its population is under that figure, but anybody who runs a business will know that there is a vast need for an increase in the number of telephone lines.
If the economy of Gibraltar is to grow and flourish in the future, there will need to be a change of attitude on the part of the Spanish. I hope that the Government, with their new and improved relations within Europe, will press the Spanish to ease the problems that they are causing.
The position of the dependent territories has changed markedly over the past 15 years. The economic position of many has grown significantly. The fact that Bermuda and the Cayman Islands are now financial centres and the Falklands is on the brink of becoming a wealthy oil state means that we can no longer treat them as we have in the past. According to most members of the dependent territories our treatment gave them the sense of not being wanted. In many cases that charge of mismanagement is justifiable.
I hope that the Government will look carefully at the issue of the nationality Act. It may be time to review the situation and go forward and give full British 917 citizenship to those dependent territories that wish it. Greater access to the Commonwealth is also an issue on which the Government could take immediate steps.
I should like to conclude by reflecting the sentiments put forward by my noble friend Lady Hamwee on the appalling situation in Montserrat. I hope that the Minister will look closely at the situation there. It is an issue that has been raised many times in this House. It seems that what were short-term solutions to the crisis are turning into unacceptable long-term solutions.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Lord Chesham
My Lords, if one ever wanted evidence of the value of the existing skills of the House of Lords, I believe that today's debate has encapsulated it. It would be difficult to devise a system that would introduce more expertise into a debate such as this. I add my congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, on his excellent maiden speech.
We have been given such an excellent overview of the whole situation regarding the dependent territories that I do not intend to repeat all the arguments—I am sure your Lordships will be delighted to hear—made by those far more qualified and experienced than myself. I should perhaps mention that I too took part in the recent visit to Gibraltar and will return to that subject shortly.
It frightened me the other day when I read that in 1982 Tony Blair was clear on his policy on the Falkland Islands. The Sunday Telegraph reported him as saying:I want a negotiated settlement and I believe that, given the starkness of the military options, we need to compromise on certain things. I don't think that ultimately the wishes of the Falkland Islanders must determine that position".We are told now that Labour's attitude is that,Labour has consistently re-affirmed its position that the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands is a matter for the islanders themselves".The two statements are hardly consistent. Can we believe the latest version? The Government of Argentina certainly do not take recent declarations at face value. The Argentinian Minister of Defence, Senor Jorge Dominguez, stated on 23rd April this year in Jane's Defence Weekly,We believe that the English stand will be modified … I believe that after the 1st May, a new phase of review of the Malvinas with a new Labour administration will start".He also confirmed that his colleagues at the Argentine Foreign Ministry had already had meetings with "several" politicians, including Tony Blair. Does that show consistency and confidence? Perhaps the Minister could comment on that.
My noble friend Lady Young made a definitive speech on the situation in relation to the Caribbean dependent territories. One major concern must be that the threatened economic collapse—brought about by the banana problem referred to by my noble friend Lord Beloff—may result in a significant increase in criminal activity and those territories close to US territories could well become the front line in a drugs war.
My noble friend Lord Beloff rather stole my thunder on the situation between the French islands in the Caribbean and our own. Perhaps I may add one point to 918 his remarks; that is, as overseas departments of France and being in the EU, they receive handsome subsidies from the common agricultural policy, to which of course the British taxpayer contributes.
In the reducing days of our influence in Hong Kong, I and everyone else would greatly appreciate from the Government today a commitment that they will make every effort to protect the human rights of those in Hong Kong and indicate how they intend to go about it. After all, the Foreign Secretary stated in his highly expensive presentation of the new "mission statement"—£58,000 is the reported cost of that jamboree—Our foreign policy must have an ethical dimension and must support the demands of other peoples for the democratic rights on which we insist for ourselves … human rights will he at the heart of our foreign policy".Perhaps the Minister will comment on those remarks. We will watch closely that commitment in Hong Kong and other areas.
As many noble Lords have stated, Gibraltar is an enigma. Others have spoken at length on that territory and we would like to know where the Government stand on the rights of Gibraltarians, particularly on the aspect of Spain's intransigence. Perhaps the suggestion of the Chief Minister that Gibraltar might take on a status similar to Guernsey merits consideration.
I am aware that I have not been able to mention every dependent territory. I hope that those not mentioned individually will not believe that they are unimportant to us in any way. I thank my noble friend Lady Hooper for tabling this well-timed debate and congratulate her on the way in which she introduced it. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in reply.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on raising this important and highly topical issue. When the noble Baroness spoke she urged me to reply fully and frankly and I shall certainly attempt to do so. However, she will appreciate that a wide range of issues have been raised and some in great detail. If I am not able to cover everything, I shall write to noble Lords who raised points I am not able to cover.
With the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong fast approaching and the publication on 30th May of the National Audit Office report on the dependent territories, it is right that this House should have an opportunity to debate and consider the current status of the dependent territories and plans for their longer-term future. At this point I thank the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, for his extremely well researched and well informed speech. He spoke with real feeling about St. Helena.
A successful transition for Hong Kong is one of the Government's highest priorities. We are committed to doing all we can, with China, to secure Hong Kong's continued stability and prosperity on the basis of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration.
919 I do not wish to pre-empt parliamentary examination of the NAO report. But the NAO found that, while the UK remains exposed in a number of areas, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has undertaken a number of significant initiatives since the NAO's first report in 1991, to identify and minimise the risk of contingent liabilities in the dependent territories. Indeed, the noble Lord, St. John of Bletso, drew our attention to that.
The remaining 13 British dependent territories are dependent territories because, in all cases where there is a permanent resident population, that is the clear wish of the overwhelming majority. We should, I believe, be proud that those people continue to place their trust for their well-being, defence and security in the United Kingdom.
The populations of these territories will number only 180,000 people. But, despite their tiny populations, the dependent territories will continue to rank high in the United Kingdom's external policy priorities. Their reasonable needs are a first charge on UK aid funds; the defence of the dependent territories is in the forefront of the Ministry of Defence's tasks and objectives. Their governments enjoy a degree of access that is much higher than independent countries of comparable size, and Her Majesty's Government's representatives in the territories are intimately involved in the daily lives of these communities.
Of course, the territories vary dramatically in their geographical location: from Pitcairn to the British Indian Ocean Territory, from Gibraltar to the Falklands, from Cayman to the British Antarctic Territory. They vary greatly in their degree of economic development; from Bermuda, with a per capita GDP of 28,000 dollars, to Montserrat and St. Helena, with incomes respectively of just 6,000 and 3,500 dollars per head, and aid programmes amounting to many millions of pounds.
And they vary in the threats they face to their short-and long-term stability and viability. Some, as we have heard, are the subject of territorial claims. The Caribbean dependent territories are on the narcotics routes to the United States. Their rapidly expanded offshore financial services sectors are at risk from funds with dubious origins. Cayman and Turks and Caicos are faced periodically by waves of illegal migration. As we have heard today, much of Montserrat has been rendered uninhabitable by a volcano. St. Helena's isolation and limited resources oblige special consideration. The Government are alive to all these challenges and threats and, through the deployment of diplomatic, material, financial and legislative resources, are committed to assisting the territories to counter them.
Our governors, commissioners and administrators, as representatives of Her Majesty's Government, in all cases save the Falklands remain responsible for defence, external relations and security. However, elsewhere in the constitutional area there is variety. In some territories our representatives retain greater reserve powers than in others, and the legislatures are variously constituted. A common feature of all is a very high degree of internal self-government and in most instances, where there is a permanent resident 920 population, power lies with locally elected Ministers and councillors. The degree of central control which permeated nearly all levels of government in the former colonies is a thing of the past. The relationship is now much more one of partnership.
In all good partnerships there are obligations and expectations. The UK side is committed to ensuring the good administration, economic and social development of the territories, as well as to guaranteeing their security and defence. We also have the right to minimise the extent to which the UK is exposed to contingent liabilities in the dependent territories, and to expect high standards of probity, government and adherence to the international agreements to which the UK and the dependent territories are party. The governments of the dependent territories recognise that it is in the interests of both the United Kingdom and the territories that there should be a positive and collaborative relationship. An atmosphere of uncertainty and confrontation damages confidence, essential to the survival of the global economy of which the dependent territories are very much a part.
Looking forward to the future, I wish now to assure the House that the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong will not lead to any decline in the level of the Government's interest in or concern for the remaining dependent territories. There will be no change in our policy towards them. We will continue to support the principle of self-determination, exercised in accordance with the other rights and principles of the UN Charter, as well as other treaty obligations. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, that we will not seek in any way to influence opinion on independence, but we will remain ready to respond positively wherever this is a clearly and constitutionally expressed wish, and where it is an option.
Similarly, I wish to assure the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that there are therefore unlikely to be any fundamental changes in the relationship between the United Kingdom and the dependent territories for some time to come. However, we shall nevertheless shortly be looking at ways of improving our administrative structures in the light of the NAO report and the creation of the Department for International Development. The purpose will be to arrive at arrangements which serve both the requirements of the UK and the interests of the dependent territories. However, in response to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, I assure the House that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will continue to retain overall responsibility for the territories.
I wish to pick up some of the detailed points made by noble Lords in their speeches. I begin by assuring the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, that we recognise the valuable work undertaken by the Dependent Territories Association. Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials regularly attend meetings of the DTA, with which they enjoy a very good working relationship, and we are supporting the DTA's plans for its second conference, which will be held in London next year.
921 EU immigration and labour policies towards non-EU nationals are a matter for individual EU governments. It is open to the dependent territories to pursue bilateral arrangements with individual states and we remain happy to assist through diplomatic channels.
On the question of the Commonwealth, it is for member states of the Commonwealth to agree the criteria of membership and participation. Membership of the Commonwealth is confined to independent sovereign states, but the dependent territories can and do participate at Commonwealth ministerial meetings as part of the UK delegation when the subject matter is relevant to them.
A number of noble Lords raised the question of UK and EU citizenship. I should be clear on this point. Her Majesty's Government have no plans at present to grant British citizenship to remaining dependent territories after Hong Kong returns to Chinese sovereignty. To do so would require reciprocal action in the territories, where we believe the governments are not keen to allow unrestricted access to British citizens. It is wrong to draw an analogy with the Falklands or Gibraltar. The Falklands gained citizenship through a Private Member's Bill and Gibraltar through its position within the EU as part of UK membership. It is also wrong and misleading to compare citizenship of the dependent territories with that of the French territories, whose constitutional status is different and which involves reciprocity.
It is important on this point to remember that there will still be 3.5 million British nationals in Hong Kong who would argue that any such change should include them. It really would be seen as highly cynical if we waited until sovereignty over Hong Kong had passed to China and then granted British citizenship to the remaining dependent territories.
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, and the noble Lords, Lord St. John of Bletso, Lord Redesdale and Lord Bethel], raised the issues surrounding Gibraltar. The Government stand firmly by the commitment made to the people of Gibraltar in the preamble to Gibraltar's 1969 constitution. We will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes. But of course we want a constructive relationship with Spain across the board, including issues surrounding Gibraltar. The Foreign Secretary met his Spanish counterpart in Luxembourg on 2nd June in the margins of the General Affairs Council. They discussed subjects of mutual interest, including Gibraltar. The Spanish Foreign Minister has given a public assurance that Spain has never questioned—and will not do so in future—the right of Gibraltarians to free movement in the EU and of course we expect Spain to respect that.
Allegations have been made too about money laundering. Gibraltar has introduced tough legislation. It is fully up to UK and EU standards. The Gibraltarian authorities have set up a regulatory mechanism, which we believe is being rigorously enforced. The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, raised questions about Gibraltar airport. 922 Since 1987 Gibraltar has been suspended from EC air liberalisation measures, including open access to air routes within the EU. We believe that the development of the airport would contribute significantly to the development of Gibraltar's economy and we are prepared to consider any practical proposal.
The noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, raised questions concerning Gibraltar dockyard. We are of course aware of the concerns felt by Gibraltarians on this issue. We have offered help to the Gibraltar Government to find a new operator. We will consider any other requests for assistance. The noble Lord also raised the issue of the Gibraltar demonstration. The Government recognise and understand the concerns about Spain's denial of their EU rights expressed by Gibraltarians in that demonstration. Gibraltar is part of the European Union by virtue of UK membership. It is important that Gibraltarians' rights are fully and clearly respected.
The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, and the noble Lord, Lord Holderness, spoke about St. Helena. We recognise the difficulties imposed by St. Helena's isolation. It is a beautiful and unique island struggling to develop a viable and a self-sustaining economy. The Department of International Development provides £8 million in budgetary aid annually and subsidises the Royal Mail ship, which is the only regular means of communication. We have set up a special UK training and work experience scheme to build up St. Helena's skill base. We are discussing with other Whitehall departments the possibility of extending the scheme to allow some to obtain work in the United Kingdom. We hope to secure European funding for a major wharf improvement project and we are discussing with our American allies the possibility of opening Ascension Island to commercial traffic. That might allow an air link to St. Helena to become a commercially viable proposition. We have also been encouraged by the response to our Business Forum, which aims to support the work of St. Helena's Development Agency in attracting new investment to the island. All these measures are aimed at bringing real improvement to the people of St. Helena.
The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, raised issues about Bermuda. We all thank the noble Lord for his service to Bermuda as Governor and Commander-in-Chief. But may I tell him that the murmurings that he heard in the Foreign Office about "getting shot of"—I believe that those were his words—the dependent territories are not murmurings that I have heard. Indeed, as the Minister responsible for a number of dependent territories, I would be very shocked and disturbed to hear them. As the noble Lord pointed out, the island of Bermuda overwhelmingly rejected independence in a referendum in 1995 and the Bermudians have put this issue behind them.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, spoke well in a very detailed way, about conditions in Montserrat. I see detailed reports about Montserrat almost every day and I recognise all too well the appalling problems which she detailed to the House. She raised a number of extremely detailed points and I hope that she will forgive me when I say that I shall write back in detail to her about all the points she raised and put a copy of 923 my response in the Library of the House. Time does not permit here for me to answer in as much detail as I would wish.
The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, drew our attention to the problems surrounding the banana industry in the Caribbean and he gave us a rather ingenious plan for the future. We are examining the implications of the panel report of the World Trade Organisation, which remains confidential. It looks likely that some of the findings will be tested at an appellate body, but it is too soon to say what the eventual outcome of the dispute might be. We shall aim to minimise any disruptive effects on the fragile economies of the ACP banana producers. We are all too well aware of the possibilities of that going badly wrong.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, raised a number of issues about the appointment of governors. Noble Lords should not be in any doubt about this. When we appoint governors we take particular care to establish that they will have a good working relationship within the dependent territories and we draw on a wide range of backgrounds. We shall continue to do so.
A number of noble Lords raised issues about money laundering in the Caribbean. I assure the House that the Government are working with the dependent territories to introduce a number of measures to strengthen their legislative and regulatory regimes and to improve their ability to co-operate with overseas law enforcement agencies and the appropriate regulatory authorities.
I cannot close without returning to the issues of the Falkland Islands and Hong Kong, particularly in the light of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Chesham. I would like to assure the House of the commitment to uphold the right of self-determination and the security of the Falkland Islanders, which remain unchanged. Her Majesty's Government are not prepared to discuss the transfer or sharing of sovereignty in the Falklands. Similarly, the House should not be in any doubt of Britain's strong commitment to Hong Kong beyond the handover. We shall be reporting to Parliament at six-monthly intervals about the implementation of the Joint Declaration until at least the year 2000.
There are some who contend that the dependent territories are an anachronism at the end of the 20th century and that the United Kingdom has no business to be involved with such places at this time. Let there be no mistake. That is not this Government's view. We accept our responsibilities to these far-flung territories because it is the express wish of their people to continue to have the protection of the United Kingdom. The territories are an important part of the United Kingdom's history, which deserve to be, and which will be, appreciated and valued.
Finally, I would like to say how much I am looking forward to the conference which the Dependent Territories Association is organising next year and to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, referred. It will be an opportunity to affirm the importance of the dependent territories and to explore ways further to secure their future. I will myself be taking a very close interest in the remaining dependent territories, starting, 924 as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, may be pleased to learn, with a visit to Montserrat next week and a meeting with the governors of the Caribbean dependent territories at the same time.
§ Lord Bethell
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may say that I did give her notice of the point that I raised on the voting rights of Gibraltarians in European elections. Has she a note on that?
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
My Lords, I am sure that in the enormous volume of excellent briefing that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has given me, I probably have such a note. But perhaps I may write to the noble Lord and place a copy of my answer in the Library of the House as it is such an important issue.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Baroness Hooper
My Lords, I have been fortunate and have visited some of the dependent territories, but by no means all of them. This afternoon, however, I feel that I have had a whirlwind tour because between us I believe that we have touched on every dependent territory. I thank all noble Lords who have participated in the debate, who have given us the benefit of their specialised knowledge and who have made some most constructive suggestions. I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, on his masterly maiden speech. I feel sure that all those contributions will be much appreciated by all those who read Hansard —and not only in the dependent territories.
I am glad that we were not too constrained by time. I am sure that if they had realised that, other noble Lords who may have wanted to participate would indeed have been present to express their point of view. As there is a little time remaining, perhaps I may pick up on one or two points which have been made, some of which were to be anticipated. Nevertheless, it is important to draw the Government's attention to them and to ask for an early response. Indeed, I am grateful for the response that we have been given.
It is clear that the impact of the Government's policies in other fields which are outside the direct responsibility of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—obviously, that covers the European Community—is also important. I refer, for example, to defence policy and to the slimming down of garrisons, as well as to various constitutional proposals within the United Kingdom, not to mention law and order issues both in terms of the regulation of financial services and the battle against drugs, all of which could have an impact on the dependent territories. It is important that they are given a high profile to ensure that their importance is appreciated throughout government.
I believe that today may have marked the Minister's first reply to a debate from the Front Bench—it is certainly her first reply to a balloted debate—and I congratulate her on covering so much ground and on giving us so many positive answers and assurances. Perhaps I may pick out one or two of her responses and say how glad I am that she has given the dependent 925 territories the go-ahead to pursue bilateral relations with individual EU countries. If I heard the Minister correctly, the dependent territories may also try to alter their status within the Commonwealth. I believe that the noble Baroness said that there was nothing to prevent that, so I hope that the dependent territories will have the Government's support in doing that.
Finally, my plea to the Minister is that she maintains the momentum which has, I hope, been created by this debate. When she returns to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I hope that the noble Baroness will convince her ministerial colleagues and any officials who may need convincing that all the issues and suggestions raised in this debate should be given the highest possible priority. This is a good time to consider a fresh start. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.