Henry Smith MP (Crawley)
It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns) for securing it.
It has been a fantastic week of visibility for the variety of the British overseas territories: first, with their participation in the coronation of King Charles III last Saturday; with the always wonderful display of their flags and those of the Crown dependencies in Parliament Square; and with the Joint Ministerial Council going ahead this week. Yesterday, it was good to see the UK Overseas Territories Association conference take place in Portcullis House, where we heard powerful contributions about their sheer variety and the contribution made by the British overseas territories, from the Antarctic, to Europe, the Caribbean, and the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans, to this country and to the world. Mr Speaker was very generous in hosting many representatives of the British overseas territories in Speaker’s House just the other day, where we had the unveiling of a beautiful window at the entrance that displays all the emblems of the British overseas territories and Crown dependencies.
At yesterday’s UKOTA conference, we heard again about the significant environmental contribution that the overseas territories provide, not only to protecting and enhancing biodiversity for the British family of nations, but to the globe, by protecting and enhancing our environment. Some 2.5 million square miles of ocean are protected through the Blue Belt and Darwin initiatives, which is a positive contribution indeed.
In the short time remaining, I briefly wish to mention a few issues that have already been touched on by other right hon. and hon. Members. The crisis that is occurring in Haiti is causing intolerable immigration pressure on the Turks and Caicos Islands and is resulting in serious criminality. I ask the Government to continue fully engaging on that. On Gibraltar it is important that its pragmatism and patriotism are recognised and supported by the UK Government as it continues its negotiations with the EU.
Following on from what my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) said, I must, of course, mention the British Indian Ocean Territory. As I have said many times in this House, the Chagos islanders have been appallingly treated over more than half a century, from being exiled from their homeland to being dumped in other countries that have treated them badly, to having their citizenship rights denied. I am glad that last year an amendment that I tabled to the Nationality and Borders Bill righted that final injustice on citizenship, but now yet another injustice Toggle showing location of Column 513is being visited on them: they are being completely disregarded by the UK Government when it comes to being consulted and to their right of determination over the future sovereignty of the Chagos islands and the BIOT. That is appalling and, as my hon. Friend has said, it is a security risk for us and the democratic world; where we step back, China will step in.
Finally, the British overseas territories and our Crown dependencies are not properly represented here in London. They should have a separate Department and a Secretary of State; they are neither foreign, nor Commonwealth, which must be recognised and respected. We also need representation here in this UK Parliament—
Alicia Kearns (Rutland and Melton)
One thing I did miss out earlier was that in 2019 our Foreign Affairs Committee said that there should be an overseas territories Committee of the House of Commons, made up of members of the Select Committee chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), and of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Defence Committee, and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee; it should involve all those Committees that best care about the issues that matter to the overseas territories. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) agree that it is deeply concerning that four years on the Government have given no consideration to the need for such cross-party, cross-Select-Committee working?
Henry Smith MP
I should perhaps declare an interest, as a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and of many all-party groups on the overseas territories. We need far greater recognition here, both in how Parliament scrutinises policy towards the overseas territories and Crown dependencies, and how they are represented here. Could there be some sort of representation in the other place? Alternatively, as the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) was saying, if they chose to be a part of this country, could there be representation here in this Chamber as well? We need to do far better on this.
Our overseas territories are not backwaters. They are the very frontier of protecting our environment, providing defence for the world and enterprise. It is about time the UK Government properly paid them respect.