Thursday, August 31, 2006

Chagos Islands - letter to David Triesman

From Lord Avebury P0630081

Tel 020-7274 4617

August 30, 2006

Dear David,

I wrote to the Foreign Secretary on May 19, after a discussion with Mr Olivier Bancoult, expressing the hope that the Crown wouldn’t appeal against the decision of the Court of Appeal in the Chagos Islands case ([2006] EWHC 1038 (Admin), Case No: CO/4093/2004, between LOUIS OLIVIER BANCOULT and THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH AFFAIRS), and you replied on June 6 saying that you were then deciding how best to respond. You didn’t say that my representations would be taken into consideration, and I assume that when you finally decided to appeal, you made up your mind to ignore any opinions expressed by Parliament and Parliamentarians, a not uncommon experience.

In Bill Rammell’s written statement of June 15, 2006, he paraphrased the “general conclusion” of the Feasibility Study [‘FS’], delivered in July 2002, as follows:-

“in effect, therefore, anything other than short term resettlement on a purely subsistence basis would be highly precarious and would involve expensive underwriting by the UK Government for an open ended period – probably permanently. Accordingly, the Government considers that there would be no purpose in commissioning any further study into the feasibility of resettlement……..we have therefore decided to legislate to prevent (resettlement)”.

The FS was flawed, however, in two respects.

First, there were unrealistic restrictions on the scope of the consultants’ work. For example. they were forbidden, by Clause 12 from considering the circumstances of Diego Garcia, and thus were unable to compare them with the outer islands. The height above sea level, climatic conditions and water resources are the same in the whole of the archipelago. The US has recently spent several million dollars on protective hangers for Stealth bombers, as well as facilities for nuclear submarines, and accommodation for 4,500 people of whom 2,000 are civilians. Against this strong indication of confidence in the future of Diego Garcia, the generally negative comments about the outer islands are untenable.

Second, Clause. 6(1) confined the FS to underground water resources. It is well known that in general, small islands have little of a fresh water lens, but in the Chagos Islands, the population has for centuries drawn its water supply from the skies. These are amongst the wettest parts of the world, receiving about 4,500 mm of rain per year, a factor the consultants were not asked to consider

Although the Government’s decision was based largely on cost, consultants were precluded from considering costs and benefits of resettlement . There was no evidence, therefore, on which to base the conclusion which Ministers always misquote (eg in your letter to Glenys Kinnock MEP of August 17), that ‘the costs of maintaining long-term inhabitation [sic] are likely to be prohibitive’. The report does not say that ‘any long-term settlement would be precarious and costly’, a much firmer conclusion than the consultants drew. Among the “general conclusions” of the FS there is no reference to life being “precarious” for a resettled population, but that ‘natural events…. are likely to make life difficult for a resettled population’, as they would equally for civilians and service personnel on Diego Garcia.
I respectfully suggest that in letters to MPs, MEPs and peers, the report should be quoted verbatim, not paraphrased in a distorted way to support Government policy.

Clause 17 of the published terms of reference provide that:-

“A draft report will be produced for the FCO and the Government of the BIOT. On receiving comments on the draft report from the FCO and the Government of the BIOT, the consultant will finalise the report and provide the text in both paper and electronic form to the Government of the BIOT and the FCO”..

The drafts were delivered to BIOT several months before publication in July 2002, and this implies that there was extensive redrafting. Would you please lodge a copy of the original draft in the Library of the House of Commons (since that is where the final report was deposited), so that the extent of the changes can be seen? Will you also please explain why, notwithstanding the consultants’ recommendation, the Government decided not to consult.them on the conclusions of the FS.

The Lord Triesman,
Foreign & Commonwealth Office,
London SW1A 2AH.

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