Written statement to Parliament

British Indian Ocean Territory policy review

Foreign Office Minister Mark Simmonds has announced Government’s intention to commission new feasibility study into resettlement of BIOT.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Mark Simmonds

Foreign Office Minister Mark Simmonds said:

On 20 December last year my Right Hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary announced that we would take stock of our policy on the resettlement of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). I wish to update the House on this process.

This Government has expressed its regret about the way resettlement of BIOT was carried out in the late 1960s and early 1970s. We do not seek to justify those actions or excuse the conduct of an earlier generation. What happened was clearly wrong, which is why substantial compensation was rightly paid. Both the British courts and the European Court of Human Rights have confirmed that compensation has been paid in full and final settlement.

Decisions about the future of the British Indian Ocean Territory are more difficult. Successive British Governments have consistently opposed resettlement of the islands - on the grounds of both defence and feasibility.

The Government must be honest about these challenges and concerns. Long-term settlement risks being both precarious and costly. The outer islands, which have been uninhabited for 40 years, are low-lying and lack all basic facilities and infrastructure. The cost and practicalities of providing the levels of infrastructure and public services appropriate for a twenty-first century British society are likely to be significant and present a heavy ongoing contingent liability for the UK tax-payer.

However, the Government recognises the strength of feeling on this issue, and the fact that others believe that the resettlement of BIOT can be done more easily than we have previously assessed. We believe that our policy should be determined by the possibilities of what is practicable.

I am therefore announcing to the House the Government’s intention to commission a new feasibility study into the resettlement of BIOT.

Whilst we believe that there remain fundamental challenges to resettlement, we are resolved to explore these in partnership with all those with an interest in the future of BIOT. We are determined that this review will be as fair, transparent and inclusive as possible, so that all the facts and factors affecting the issue of resettlement can be shared and assessed clearly.

As part of the process, officials are meeting with a wide range of interested parties, including Chagossian communities in Mauritius, the UK and in the Seychelles. We know that there are strong views and expertise within the House and we welcome contributions from all.

The results of these consultations will inform directly the detailed shape of the new study. Though this will be a study commissioned by the Government, we will ensure that independent views from all interested parties will be used when considering how we take the study forward. Our intention is to make the remit of the study of resettlement as broad as possible, so that all the relevant issues - practical, financial, legal, environmental, and defence matters - are given full and proper consideration.

It is important that we take this forward carefully. The last feasibility study 10 years ago took eighteen months. The new study is unlikely to be concluded any more quickly. I will update the House once the initial consultation has been concluded.

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Published 8 July 2013