The United Kingdom Parliament is running two concurrent inquiries probing the UK’s relationship with its overseas territories. (File photo: WIKIMEDIA)

As part of efforts to strengthen the overseas territories’ voice in the United Kingdom’s House of Commons, a UK parliamentary committee recently heard testimony from a university professor and the head of the UK branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

Dr. Peter Clegg, an OT expert at the University of the West of England, and CPA UK Chief Executive Jon Davies provided feedback to the Procedure Committee regarding the impact of Parliament decisions on the OTs and how to better represent the OTs in the legislative process.

During the Oct. 16 session, Dr. Clegg and Mr. Davies advised the eight-member committee that Parliament should solicit early input from the OTs when making foreign policy decisions and hear testimony from OT governors more often, among other recommendations.

“If at all possible, there should be consent and discussion about how any legislation — either through the UK Parliament itself or orders in council — are implemented,” Dr. Clegg said. “I think that’s very important.”

He also stressed the importance of recognising the differences between the OTs.

“There are 14 overseas territories, all with different economic profiles, different populations, different geographies,” he said. “So I think there is a sort of greater resentment when legislation is imposed in a rather non-discriminatory way.”

Governor powers

Dr. Clegg added that areas of legislative concern for most OTs stem from the UK Parliament, orders in council approved by the Privy Council, and the powers of the governor.

Asked about OT governors, he used the Virgin Islands as an example.

“The position of the governor is a very tricky one. They’re representing the UK government — they have their own responsibilities — but also they’re sort of representing and promoting the territories themselves,” Dr. Clegg said. “They do have some power — the reserve powers — but actually, they’re quite blunt instruments, and when they are used it does cause significant disquiet within the territory. The [VI] is a quite recent one.”

Although governors are required to report regularly to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and occasionally to judicial reviews, Dr. Clegg advised that they also be asked to speak about their duties before Parliament.

“The FCDO has said that it’s the role of parliamentary committees to bring governors in to talk about their role, so maybe that’s something that doesn’t happen too often but would be a good mechanism,” Dr. Clegg said. “That could be quite a nice midpoint where the UK government does provide that oversight.”

Trade talks

Mr. Davies, of CPA UK, recommended reviewing how UK trade negotiations affect the OTs. He added that there is currently no mechanism in place for including the views of OTs in the terms of “treaty-like” trade agreements.

“I think looking at how this place includes talks to the various layers of government — whether it be the government in the territories, the legislatures in the territories, the governors of the territories — would be another good way to go to show that we’re listening,” he said.

OTs also weighed in on the inquiry by providing written submissions, which have been posted online.

Submissions for the inquiry — which are now closed — included input from governments like Anguilla and Gibraltar. Most submissions suggested that legislative arrangements be updated and modernised. There were no submissions from or related to the VI.

Two inquiries

The inquiry is running concurrently with another UK parliamentary inquiry into the constitutional relationship between the UK and its OTs, led by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. The PACAC welcomed online submissions starting April 20, asking people to answer six questions.

The written submissions are to be published online. As of Beacon press time, however, only eight were posted — with none from the VI — and the webpage appeared to be last updated in May.

Speaking with the Beacon last week, Dr. Clegg encouraged residents to submit as much written evidence as possible, citing the influence of such submissions in a previous inquiry in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

“The call is out and it’s still open, so anybody from across the [VI] — not just the government — they can make a submission to the inquiry,” Dr. Clegg said. “Once they’ve collected a good amount of evidence, they’ll decide who to call for oral evidence, and that would most certainly include government representatives.”