Cook may give back passports to last colonies

Click to follow
Citizens of dependent territories - soon to be renamed British Overseas Territories - could be given the right to live in the UK, the Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said yesterday. Fran Abrams, Political Correspondent, followed a keynote speech.

Robin Cook told a conference of the Dependent Territories Association in London that he understood the "sense of injustice" which people in the 13 states had felt when they lost the right of abode here in 1962.

Despite reports that ministers had ruled out citizenship, and further claims that there had been a ministerial spat over the issue, he said it was still being examined carefully.

"There are complex issues involved in deciding the best approach but we are looking at the matter sympathetically and urgently. We have not yet reached a decision," he said.

Mr Cook promised continuing help for Montserrat, which has been devastated by a volcano, and for the isolated island of St Helena, whose people had shown "great fortitude and determination in the face of adversity. In both cases we are determined to help," Mr Cook said, adding that he would next week become the first Foreign Secretary to visit a Caribbean dependency when he goes to Montserrat.

Mr Cook was speaking as a Foreign and Commonwealth Office review of the dependent territories continued. He announced that their name would be changed to British Overseas Territories.

Instead of being run partially by the Foreign Office and partly by the Department for International Development - a situation which added to confusion over the handling of the Montserrat crisis - there would be a separate department set up to run the territories, he said. It would be headed by the Foreign Office minister Baroness Symons, who would become Minister for the Dependent Territories.

However, despite arguments that to fund a relatively affluent group of territories from the overseas development budget was an anomaly, that arrangement would continue.

The new relationship would be based on self-determination, self government, Britain's responsibilities to the territories and theirs to Britain and a commitment to help the diverse regions develop economically and assist them in emergencies.

Mr Cook said: "The Dependent Territories are a source of pride to Britain. We are proud because there is a family bond between the Dependent Territories and Britain that is unique, and matters to both sides."

The remaining British dependent territories are Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn Islands, St Helena and dependencies, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Leading article, page 18