Henry Bellingham, UK Minister for the Overseas Territories

1 Oct

Speech given by Henry Bellingham, UK Minister for the Overseas Territories, on Sept. 26, 2011 at Bermuda College, Bermuda

“Your Excellency, Honourable Premier, Honourable Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen

As I was flying in to Bermuda yesterday, I was reminded of a quote by Mark Twain, one of Bermuda’s most famous visitors and one of the people credited with first bringing tourists to Bermuda. He said: “You can go to heaven. I’d rather stay in Bermuda.”

After spending only one day here so far, I have to agree with Twain’s comment. Bermuda is incredibly beautiful and is a jewel of the Atlantic. It is therefore a particular pleasure for me to be making my first visit to Bermuda and the first visit by the Minister for the Overseas Territories since 2008.

My only regret is that it has taken me until now, 18 months into this job, for me to get here. So I am determined to take full advantage of the hospitality, warm welcome and the readiness to engage that I have experienced in my first day. I am very grateful for this and I have already seen and heard much  about Bermuda’s successes and its challenges.

The Premier and I have already met twice before in London and we have already met twice since I arrived.

My reasons for coming to Bermuda are twofold. Firstly, I want to learn more about how Bermuda has built its successful economy and democracy and the  challenges you face in these testing economic times.

My second reason for coming here is to explain the UK Government’s strategy towards our Overseas Territories and to launch a dialogue on how we can best take this forward and capture our shared vision and values in the forthcoming UK White Paper to replace the previous 1999 document “Partnership for Progress and Prosperity”.

In this context I want to focus on the opportunities for Bermuda’s example to inspire and for Bermuda to support other Territories in reaching their full potential.

In July the UK’s National Security Council discussed the Overseas Territories and endorsed the broad approach that I outlined to Territory leaders, including the Premier, in March. We confirmed that the UK Government’s fundamental responsibility and objective is to ensure the security and good governance of the Territories. We recognised that the 14 Overseas Territories are remarkably diverse; and that policies to meet these objectives need to be tailored to the specific circumstances of each Territory.

We have reviewed the constitutional status of the Overseas Territories. Each Territory has its own unique constitution. The previous UK government launched in 1999 a process of constitutional review and modernisation. New constitutions have been negotiated with eight Overseas Territories. We hope to bring this work to completion by agreeing an updated constitution for Anguilla. I note that Bermuda’s constitution was last revised in 2003. We expect these constitutions to continue to evolve and to require adjustment in the light of changing 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 make sure the constitutional arrangements work properly to promote the best interests of the Territories and of the UK, both now and in the
future.

Let me be quite clear on the question of independence. Successive British governments have said that it is for the Territories themselves to decide whether they wish to remain connected to the United Kingdom but that any decision to cut that link should be on the basis of the clearly expressed wish of the majority of the people of the Territory.

This government also supports that approach. I believe our links can bring mutual benefit and hope that our forthcoming White Paper will highlight the value of our mature partnership to the people of the Territories and the UK.

Our strategy therefore focuses on three practical policy goals: to strengthen the engagement and interaction between the UK and the
Territories. to work with the Territories to strengthen good governance arrangements, public financial management and economic planning where this is necessary; and to improve the quality and range of support available to the Territories

The strategy is an overall framework. We now need to work together to identify what we can do to improve the functioning of the relationship between the UK and each territory in the three broad areas identified above.To take this work forward I am inviting territory governments and communities to make an assessment of the challenges you face and your performance and capabilities,
particularly in the areas of good governance, public financial management and economic planning.

I am keen to hear your views on what the UK Government can best do to engage with and support the Territories on these issues. We believe it is important for the UK and Territories to work together to build partnerships with outside organisations and groups, such as the Commonwealth and the European Union. We would welcome your views on this too. I want this consultation process to
include as many people in the Territories as possible. I am encouraging Territory leaders to discuss with their Governor how best to do this, including through an online portal. And I encourage the private sector and the wider community to engage with their government and with their Governor.

The UK National Security Council agreed that the whole of the UK Government, not just the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence, should recognise its responsibilities to engage with the Territories. UK Government Departments are now looking, within current budgetary constraints, at ways to ensure strong and effective interaction with the Territories.

All Departments will set out in the next few months how they can engage with the Territories. As you know, all UK government departments are facing major cuts as the Government tackles the UK budget deficit. So we are encouraging Department and Territories to look for opportunities for partnerships where the UK can contribute specific technical expertise or help develop the capacity of Territory governments. I aim to review progress on this work with Territory leaders at the Consultative Council meeting in late November.

The UK Government proposes to publish a White Paper in 2012 setting out for the wider public our approach to the Overseas Territories. I hope this will set out our shared values and vision for the future.

I want to use the White Paper to showcase the achievements of the Overseas Territories and reflect the vital contribution of Territory governments. I want to hear about areas you think we should highlight.

As I visit each Territory I learn about more examples of where Governments are overcoming particular challenges, bringing about positive changes and setting high standards. But, at the same time, I do not want to shy away from acknowledging the challenges Territories face and setting out how the UK Government and Territory Governments can work together to tackle these. The White Paper should help people in the UK and in the Territories understand how we are working to strengthen our partnership.

There are already many examples of successful partnerships between the UK and Territories involving central and local government, the private sector, Non-Governmental Organisations and professional bodies. I want to see more.

The Overseas Territories Consultative Council in late November will be an important opportunity to discuss all these issues and to hear more from Territory leaders about their achievements and challenges.

This is an ambitious agenda but we have made good progress and I want us to continue to work together towards realising our shared ambitions.

So where does Bermuda fit into this overall vision and how can it help? As I have already said, I believe that the other Territories, especially those in the Caribbean, can learn from Bermuda’s successes and, in some cases, from its mistakes.

I believe that Bermuda is well placed to lead the discussion with other Territories. Years ago, it was people who, through their innovation and ideas, created the success that Bermuda enjoys today, despite current financial challenges.

And it is people like them who today help to ensure that Bermuda maintains its position as a leading and high quality financial services centre. It is new ideas that will shape the Territories’ relationships with the United Kingdom and promote the mutually beneficial co-operation that our new strategy seeks to capture.

I think that Bermuda, as a sophisticated and high quality business and tourist destination and with a highly devolved and developed government system, can play a central role in defining the partnerships and the future relationship between the UK and the Territories. I have already discussed with the Premier ways in which Bermuda might do this and I will explore this further during the
rest of my visit. But I can think of two specific examples. Firstly, I spent yesterday afternoon with the Bermuda Police Marine Unit and the Bermuda Regiment.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable and fascinating insight into how these two organisations can work together and they are both well placed to support and help the other Territories if they need it. The Regiment has in the past assisted the Cayman Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands following hurricanes in recent years and I believe there is scope for it to expand its role.

Secondly, I have heard about the Premier’s recent initiatives to strengthen governance mechanisms and applaud her for this. This is a broad and important agenda.

It is not easy to get this balance right but strong governance mechanisms are vital as we all face the challenges of the very unsettling times for the global economy. The situation that we are now handling in the Turks and Caicos Islands is one that we do not want to see repeated in other Territories and we will be seeking, through the strategy and other mechanisms, to ensure that we do not.

The Premier has said that the road to economic recovery will be long and hard and that there is no silver bullet to deliver faster growth, employment and poverty reduction. That is the reality we all face as we take and implement the difficult decisions necessary to ensure that our economies are ready  to quote the Premier  “to grasp the opportunities of tomorrow”.

For many governments around the world a key challenge is getting government debt back to sustainable levels.

Firm control of public expenditure, delivering value for money and effective risk management will also be necessary.

Looking ahead, 2012 is a milestone year for the United Kingdom and the Overseas Territories. It is, of course, the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty The Queen. There will be major celebrations throughout the country and I know there are plans to invite the Overseas Territories to play a full part in those.

You will be hearing more about that in the coming months. Secondly, London and the UK will host the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the greatest sporting occasions in the world. We look forward to welcoming the sporting world to London for the first Olympic Games in London since 1948! And I particularly look forward to welcoming the athletes from Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands, who have their own Olympic teams.

And Anguilla has an athlete who is competing for the United Kingdom. I am looking forward tomorrow to meeting some of Bermuda’s Olympians and Paralympians who hope to compete in London and I wish them every success and a wonderful experience.

And just a few words about London 2012 itself. I think it is fair to say that the whole country is tremendously excited about the Olympics coming to London and the UK. A few facts and figures that I hope give an impression of the scale and breadth of the Games and their impact.

London 2012 is the equivalent of staging world championships in 26 Olympic and 20 Paralympic disciplines back to back. Around 14,700 participants, 120 Heads of State, 22,000 journalists, estimated 320,000 extra foreign visitors to the UK, Potential TV audience of 4 billion people.

Stoke Mandeville is the birthplace of the modern Paralympic movement  `Mandeville’ being the name of the London 2012 Paralympic mascot. The Olympic mascot is called `Wenlock’ after the village called `Much Wenlock’ in Shropshire, where Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympic Games, got inspiration from the multi-sport Games the village held. But London 2012 has always been about more than just the Games. We won the bid with a promise to make it:

More than just sport  It will have an impact on every part of our lives, from culture to health, from education to the environment, from the economy to our local community;

More than just six weeks  It is a four-year festival of national pride and culture that will last have impacts far beyond the Games.

More than just London  The excitement and benefits will be felt right across the UK, and around the world, including in the Overseas Territories;

More than just a great spectacle  It will be accessible to everyone, and the whole country will have a chance to take part in activities, from Open Weekends to cultural events, from the nationwide Torch Relay to local volunteering, from  educational projects to community sport.

And across the world, the International Inspiration programme aims to `reach young people all around the world and connect them to the inspirational power of the Games so they are inspired to choose sport.’ The aspiration is to reach 12  million children in 20 countries by the London 2012 Games.

So I hope that the athletes from the Territories, and their friends and families and others coming to the Games, will take a full part in these celebrations.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a pleasure for me to be here this afternoon and I would like to thank Dr Greene for allowing us to use the facilities of the Bermuda College and for this opportunity to speak to you all. I look forward to seeing more of Bermuda tomorrow and to hearing more about where it came from and where it is today.

Bermuda has a wonderful past, stretching back 400 years. I am confident that it has an equally wonderful future.

As I leave tomorrow evening, I will be reminded of another line by Mark Twain, written in a letter dated 12 March 1910 sent from Bermuda just over a month before his death:

“You ought to be here now. The weather is divine; and you know what it is to drive along the North Shore in such weather and watch the sun paint the waters. We had that happiness today. The joy of it never stales. . . .”

Now that I have been to Bermuda, and seen what Twain described so beautifully, I can only agree with that recommendation. That alone is a reason to return and I hope to do so again soon.”

Falkland Island News Network: http://www.falklandnews.com/public/story.cfm?get=6095&source=3

http://falklandislands.fco.gov.uk/en/

http://ukoverseasterritories.readandcomment.com/

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