"Our overall vision is for our Territories to be vibrant and flourishing communities" said Foreign Secretary William Hague.
Our overall vision is for our Territories to be vibrant and flourishing communities, proudly retaining aspects of their British identity and generating wider opportunities for their people. We want to cherish the rich environmental assets for which, together, we are responsible.
We will continue vigorously to uphold the principle of self-determination and to ensure the continued security of all the Overseas Territories. We set this commitment out clearly in the Strategic Defence and Security Review. We want to help the Territories plan their future in a competitive and unpredictable world. We will help Territories that are struggling economically to avoid unnecessary financial dependence on the UK. We will help Territories that now rely on UK financial support to reduce their dependence and pursue the path towards economic sustainability. We will ensure a sustained and robust British presence in our uninhabited Territories to protect them for future generations.
We are determined that the situation we have found in the Turks and Caicos Islands is not repeated, there or elsewhere. We therefore want to work with Territories to make sure the right controls are in place to ensure good governance and sound management of public finances.
I am clear that, as well as seeking greater engagement with the Territories from all Government departments, the FCO must increase the resources allocated to this important work. Despite our challenging Spending Review settlement I have ensured that this is so. As I informed Parliament on 1 February, I have decided to increase the Overseas Territories Programme Fund to £7m per year. I have ensured the resources available to run the Overseas Territories network are maintained at a level which will permit the upgrading of a number of Governorships which were downgraded in recent years. This will help ensure that we are able to recruit Governors with the skills and experience to do these unusual and challenging jobs.
In addition I have reallocated resources in the current financial year to help rectify some of the budgetary weaknesses which have emerged in some territories in recent years.
Most importantly, and mindful of the recommendations of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I have approved a discretionary grant of £6.6m to the Turks and Caicos Islands Government to reimburse the costs incurred in the past year pursuing corruption and violent crime. This is for the Special Investigation and Prosecution Team; related civil recovery work; and the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police. My officials have coordinated this carefully with DFID’s work to underpin the Territory’s public finances.
This is an exceptional case. Our basic principle remains that it is an integral part of good governance for a Territory government to ensure that the criminal justice system is properly funded. Territories should not look to the UK to fund criminal investigations or prosecutions that they are reluctant to pursue themselves. But the burden in this case has been exceptional. The fiscal rescue package put in place by DFID should enable future costs to be met from the Turks and Caicos Islands Government public purse in the normal way.
I have also approved the following smaller grants.
- £1m to the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) Administration to strengthen the Territory’s reserves. This is necessary in the face of rising costs of operating the BIOT Patrol Vessel. These funds will also enable the Administration to support new measures to help Chagossians visit the Territory for humanitarian purposes and to contribute to environmental work in the Territory. In this context I would also like to inform the Committee that the BIOT Administration has concluded an agreement with the Blue Foundation and the Bertorelli Foundation by which the Bertorelli Foundation will donate £3.5m over the next 5 years to offset the loss of fisheries revenue which has flowed from the establishment of a full no-take Marine Protected Area. I am most grateful to these Foundations for their generous support.
- £1m to the Government of South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands to strengthen their reserves in the face of recent reductions in fisheries revenue.
- £100,000 to the Government of the British Antarctic Territory to enable them to grant a similar amount to the Antarctic Heritage Trust. This grant will be used to support the Trust’s work repairing and maintaining heritage sites in the British Antarctic Territory, as we prepare to mark the many forthcoming centenaries of the heroic age of exploration. Maintaining British heritage sites is part and parcel of demonstrating UK sovereignty in Antarctica.
- £1m in capital grant to the Ascension Island Government to enable them to replace the harbour crane - a critical piece of infrastructure. This grant will facilitate the restructuring of AIG’s public finances which is necessary to put them on a sustainable footing for the future.
I also plan to bring all aspects of the Government’s policies on the Overseas Territories together in a new White Paper in the course of the year ahead. We will want to consult widely on this. I am working with relevant Departments on a new strategy to underpin this Government’s approach to the Territories. I intend to seek agreement to this strategy across Government through the National Security Council and will update the House further once this is complete.
I will inform Parliament of the outcome of discussions in the NSC in due course.