The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Rt Hon William Hague MP):
In my statement to the House of 10 March I set out this Government’s overall vision for our overseas territories and explained that we were working with Departments across Government on a new strategy to deliver this. The National Security Council (NSC) agreed the main principles of a new strategy in July.
The UK Government’s fundamental responsibility and objective are to ensure the security and good governance of the territories and their peoples. The strategy recognises that our 14 overseas territories are remarkably diverse. Policies to meet these objectives need to be tailored to the specific circumstances of each territory. The strategy is designed to provide a framework in which these policies can be developed and implemented consistently and effectively.
Much of the Government’s work on the territories is rightly concerned with meeting our responsibilities to the territories with settled populations. Our new strategy aims to ensure that proper attention is also given to the UK’s extensive sovereign territory where there is no settled population. We want to ensure that the significance and value of this territory is better understood.
We have reviewed the constitutional status of our overseas territories. Each territory has its own unique constitution. The previous Government launched in 1999 a process of modernising the constitutions of the inhabited territories. We are continuing this work with a view to equipping each territory with a modem constitution. We expect these constitutions to continue to evolve and to require adjustment in the light of circumstances. But we believe that the fundamental structure of our constitutional relationships is the right one: powers are devolved to the elected Governments of the settled territories to the maximum extent possible consistent with the UK retaining powers necessary to discharge our sovereign responsibilities.
We believe that at this point in the history of our relationships with the territories, when a decade of constitutional revision is coming to a close, the time is not right to embark on further constitutional change. Rather our strategy is to ensure the constitutional arrangements work effectively to promote the best interests of the territories and of the UK. We are therefore focusing on three practical policy goals:
(i) to strengthen the engagement and interaction between the UK and the territories.
(ii) to work with territories to strengthen good governance arrangements, public financial management and economic planning where this is necessary; and
(iii) to improve the quality and range of support available to the territories.
The implementation of these policies will take different forms in each territory. We are now engaging in discussion with the territories and our many stakeholders to identify the priorities for action in each relationship.
To support this process the NSC also agreed that each UK Government Department should recognise its responsibility to engage with the territories in its area of competence and expertise. Departments will set out in papers by the end of January 2012 how they can support the territories. The FCO will retain leadership and oversight of the Government’s policies towards and relationships with the territories and continue to provide advice, where needed, to other Government Departments on engagement with the territories. If ministerial co-ordination is required we will chair a ministerial committee to resolve any issues. This is a clear demonstration that the Government as a whole are committed to the territories.
The Government will publish a White Paper on the overseas territories next year, Her Majesty’s diamond jubilee year. The White Paper will set out in detail this Government’s approach to the overseas territories. We will continue to report progress regularly to Parliament.