Introducing legislation to support the Chagossian people

One way for an issue to be raised in the House of Commons with a view to becoming law is a Ten Minute Rule Bill. These are put forward by MPs looking to pursue a particular topic with the government of the day.

I’ve secured a slot on Tuesday 16th January for a motion I’ve been working on; the British Indian Ocean Territory (Citizenship) Bill.

Anyone not aware of the story of the Chagossian people would be forgiven for thinking that they were reading an account of events happening hundreds of years ago. When I first read about their treatment a few decades ago, I could barely believe what I was looking at.

It was as recently as the late 1960s when Harold Wilson’s administration, through Orders in Council, forcibly evicted the people of the Chagos Islands from their homeland. They were dispersed, mainly to Mauritius, but also to the Seychelles and other parts of the world.

The Bill seeks to allow those descended from individuals born on the British Indian Ocean Territory to register as British citizens in recognition of the fact that their parents were forcibly exiled from the Chagos Islands. The motion would simplify nationality law so that anyone who can prove that they are of Chagossian descent becomes eligible to register as a British Overseas Territory Citizen (BOTC).

Chagossian descent is defined as anyone who can prove that they have one family member in the ascending line born on what is now the British Indian Ocean Territory. Were it not for exile, those born on the Chagos Islands would already have BOTC status.

Much is made of the tribalism of our parliament, however I’m grateful to MP colleagues across five different political parties in the Commons for co-sponsoring my Bill. As Vice Chair of the Chagos All-Party Parliamentary Group, I have seen at first hand how this issue crosses traditional political boundaries.

Today, Crawley is home to perhaps the largest Chagossian population in the world and it is my privilege to stand up for this community in Parliament.

Henry Smith MP