Ascension : It was requested that the following letter be published in the Islander.
Submitted by The Islander (Islander Editors) 07.04.2011 (Article Archived on 21.04.2011)
It was good to meet your representative at the Overseas Territories Consultative Council (OTCC) in November 2010 and to talk through various issues with her.
Legislative Council ( St Helena ) has received the following letter from Henry Bellingham MP, Minister for Africa, the UN, Overseas Territories and Conflict Issues. Before Legislative Council responds, they are inviting comments from members of the public and any groups. These comments can be given directly to Councillors or submitted via the Clerk of Councils at the Castle by mid April 2011.
Dear Members of the Legislative Council,
THE OVERSEAS TERRITORIES
It was good to meet your representative at the Overseas Territories Consultative Council (OTCC) in November 2010 and to talk through various issues with her. I was also pleased to participate in the first South Atlantic Co-operation Forum during the OTCC. I was glad to hear that the work on co-ordination across the region is underway.
As I explained at the OTCC, the Foreign Secretary has asked me to lead work on reviewing our policy towards the Overseas Territories and framing a new strategy to guide our relationship in the future. I outlined some or our thinking at our meeting in November. I have since discussed aspects with Ministerial colleagues and a range of interested organisations and individuals as well as with some of you bilaterally. I write now to let you know the point we have reached in our thinking and to seek your views.
I believe that the UK Government should work more closely with elected governments in the Territories and that there should be stronger links between our Territories and Parliament, the UK public service and British society as a whole. Some Territories have suffered more from the recession than need have been the case; the reputation of others has been questioned in the context of the financial crisis. In some cases standards of governance and public financial management have been allowed to fall below the standards people in the Territories and in the UK have a right to expect. Awareness of the Territories in the UK has also fallen. These are all trends which we plan to reverse.
We will continue vigorously to uphold the principle of self-determination and to ensure the continued security of all the Overseas Territories. We want the Territories to be vibrant and flourishing communities, proudly retaining aspects of their British identity and generating wider opportunities for their people. We want to help the Territories plan their futures in a competitive and unpredictable world. In the cases of Territories that are struggling economically, we will help avoid unnecessary financial dependence on the UK. In the cases of Territories that already rely on UK financial support, we will help to reduce UK financial dependence and support their paths towards economic sustainability.
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.
We are not starting with a blank sheet of paper. The relationship set out in the Territories’ constitutions is that the UK, often through the Governor, retains certain powers and responsibilities proper to the UK’s position as the sovereign power, but that the Territories are empowered largely to run their own affairs. I believe that this relationship is fundamentally right. It is a distinctly British political arrangement and it is essentially the same as that which underlies the UK’s relationship with the Crown Dependencies, and, in a different context, the Devolved Administrations within the UK. I do not propose any change in the fundamental structure of our relationship. This is not to rule out constitutional evolution or reform where this is necessary – I have recently agreed a new constitution for Montserrat and we are working on a reformed constitution for the Turks and Caicos Islands. My aim is not to change the constitutional relationship, but to see that it works better.
There is also much I can support in the 1999 White Paper: Partnership for Progress and Prosperity, although not all the aspirations in that White Paper have been delivered. Of the aspirations that have been delivered, I attach particular importance to the granting of full British citizenship.
I see three strands in taking forward our strategy:
i. We want to strengthen the engagement and interaction between the Territories and the UK. This is partly about getting the whole of the UK Government engaged with the Territories where they have expertise to share, but also about pursuing partnerships between local government, the private sector, NGO and professional bodies in the UK and their counterparts in the Territories.
ii. We want to work with territories to strengthen public financial management, economic planning and good governance arrangements where this is necessary. There is no blueprint for this. Each Territory is different.
iii. We want to demonstrate our commitment through improving the quality of support from the UK. We have recently demonstrated a willingness to consider strategic investments in those Territories where the needs are greatest. We are also working on some of the specific issues you raised at the OTCC.
The Foreign Secretary plans to present the thinking outlined above to the National Security Council this spring.
I would welcome your thoughts and reactions. I hope you will be able to share this letter with your colleagues in Government and more widely. I repeat the invitation I put to you at the OTCC to let me know what are the specific issues or areas that you think should be pursuing under the three strands identified above. It would be helpful to have your input in the near future.
I envisage that we will discuss with each Territory the detailed substance of the relationship with the UK. We will create opportunities for exchange of views and discussion as we work towards a new White Paper later in 2011 which sets out in detail our path to a sustainable and successful future.
The year 2011 will be important for us all. I hope we will be able to make significant progress in our Overseas Territory policy by the time of the autumn 2011 OTCC.
HENRY BELLINGHAM MP
Minister for Africa, the UN, Overseas Territories and Conflict Issues