I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I have to inform the House that I have it in Command from Her Majesty to acquaint the House that Her Majesty places Her Prerogative and interests, so far as concerns the matter dealt with by the Bill. at the disposal of Parliament.
On 6th December, 1825, Captain John Clunies Ross, the master and part-owner of the "Borneo," described as a trading vessel and "Cruizer" for the suppression of piracy, dropped anchor at Horsburgh Island in the Cocos group. From this date the modern history of the Cocos Islands begins. According to the most reliable accounts, the Cocos or Keeling Islands were discovered in 1608 or 1609 by Captain William Keeling, holding a commission from King James I, in the service of the East India Company.
The Cocos group is an atoll, consisting of a number of small islands in the Indian Ocean. It was uninhabited when discovered and, except for an occasional visit, it remained so until Captain Clunies Ross decided to make his home there after his marriage. It was from his descendants, who, to this day, are the holders under an indenture of the whole territory, that were born the so-called "Kings of Cocos," who virtually ruled the islands for 117 years until the appointment of a military administrator by Admiral Lord Mountbatten, in 1944.
The foundation of the population, apart from some 20 white men belonging to Captain Clunies Ross's party, were laid by the arrival in the islands, shortly after the "Borneo's" second visit in 1827, of a remarkable character called Alexander Hare, in the service of the East India Company, a former Governor of Bangermasin in Borneo, and British Commissioner for Borneo during the Napoleonic wars. He brought with him a sort of oriental harem, together with a retinue of semi-slaves numbering about 200. They were, of course, Malays. Many of them succeeded in escaping from Hare's clutches, and they dwindled in number to a considerable extent. They remained in the islands, and from time to time were added to them people from almost every territory in the Indian Ocean and even from such distant places as China, India and the Cape of Good Hope. By 1946, the population had reached 1,660.
The territory was proclaimed part of the British Dominions in 1857 by Captain Freemantle of H.M.S. "Juno," who formally appointed Ross the second as Governor of the Settlement. As it so happened, this was, in fact, due to what we would now, no doubt, call a Departmental error, as the proclamation was intended to refer to the Cocos group in the Andaman Islands, and not to the Cocos and Keeling Islands at all.
In 1878, the Cocos Islands were placed under the Governor of Ceylon, and in 1886 under the Straits Settlements. It was in the years following this, under Ross the third, that the Settlement entered into its heyday. Cocos copra was said to command the highest price in any market; coconuts, coconut oil, dyes and other products were sold, and a small shipbuilding industry flourished, but from then on the economy of the territory began to go down.
In 1903, the Settlement was formally incorporated in the Settlement of Singapore. At the turn of the century, deep-sea cables connecting Africa, Asia and Australia were laid to the islands. The Settlement had its moment of fame in the First World War when, as a result of an emergency signal sent out from the islands, the German raider "Emden" was caught and sunk by H.M.A.S. "Sydney" after a German landing party had destroyed most of the installations on shore.
In the Second World War the islands again had their share of shelling and bombardment from the air by the Japanese, but were never occupied. At the end of the war a force of about 3,000 troops were stationed in the Cocos, and in 1945 a 2,500-yard airstrip was constructed for the use of heavy bombers of the Royal Air Force. It was, in fact, used by the R.A.F. for only a very short time in 1946.
In 1948, the question of the continued maintenance of the airstrip arose. The Australian Defence Department considered that the airstrip should be retained as it was an important link in an alternative route between the United Kingdom and Australia which, in time of emergency, might be of great strategic importance. The United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff, on the other hand, while they considered that the development of the airstrip would make the Cocos Islands a valuable base for the operation of aircraft in the event of any campaign in South-East Asia, did not feel able, on strategic grounds alone, to recommend the expenditure of United Kingdom funds on the development and maintenance of an airstrip in peacetime.
The Australian Government, therefore, themselves undertook the responsibility for the development and maintenance of the airstrip, but they urged upon Her Majesty's Government that, in view of the large sums which they would need to spend, and also as a matter of convenience to themselves, it would be desirable to transfer the islands to their own administration. This proposal was also administratively convenient to the Government of Singapore which found it difficult to maintain an administrative officer in the islands, where there was very little for him to do, having regard to the very small number of the inhabitants.
It was in these circumstances that the Labour Government decided to agree to the Australian Government's proposal to transfer to Australia the administration of the Cocos Islands.
On 22nd June, 1951, the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) announced, in answer to a Written Question, that, for the reasons which I have already outlined, the Government had agreed to the Australian Government's proposals. He said that on purely practical grounds it was desirable that, whichever Government controlled the airstrip should also control the islands. He went on to say that the rights of the Clunies Ross family would be kept unimpaired.
As for the inhabitants, who, by then, numbered only 1,200, the right hon. Gentleman explained that a considerable number had indicated their desire to leave the islands and that since 1948 emigration to North Borneo had been going on. He concluded his reply by saying that the Australian Government had agreed to enact legislation giving Australian citizenship, or the option to acquire it, to those who elected to remain in the islands after the transfer. This policy was endorsed by Her Majesty's present Government when they took office.
Hon. Members may wonder why, having regard to this decision, it has taken four years to conclude the final arrangements for this transfer. The main difficulty has been due to the legal problem of deciding exactly how the transfer should be effected. There have been transfers of territory from the United Kingdom to the Australian Government in the past, carried out by Instrument under the Prerogative. On the other hand, doubt has been expressed as to whether this procedure was wholly satisfactory.
As a result, discussions took place between Her Majesty's Government in this country and the Australian Government about the best method to be pursued—whether to proceed by Order in Council, by Order in Council under the Prerogative, or by an Act of Parliament. It was finally decided to adopt the latter as the most satisfactory and completely watertight method, if I may put it like that, and also, I have no doubt, the most acceptable method to the House.
It has involved, in the first place, the passage by the Australian Government of a Bill giving their request and consent to the enactment by the United Kingdom Government of legislation to enable Her Majesty the Queen to place the Cocos Islands under the authority of the Commonwealth of Australia. This Bill was introduced in the Australian Parliament on 2nd November by my right hon. Friend the Minister for External Affairs in Australia, if I may so describe him, having had the honour of serving under him in the Middle East for 18 months. In introducing it, Mr. Casey covered briefly the main points to which I have already alluded. This Bill has now passed all its stages.
In asking the House to grant a Second Reading to the present Bill, I think it is desirable that I should comment on the following additional points. In agreeing to this transfer, Her Majesty's Government, naturally, have given the greatest care and attention to the status and interests of the local inhabitants. Since the negotiations were started, a very large proportion of them have emigrated to North Borneo or elsewhere. There now remain only between 300 and 400. The latest figure, which was given to me this morning by someone recently arrived from Australia, is 303.
At the same time, it is obviously necessary that all those who decide to remain should be afforded every safeguard about their future. This matter has been fully discussed with the Australian Government and I am quite satisfied, from the assurances which they have given us, that the interests of the remaining local inhabitants of the Cocos Group will be fully safeguarded. The islanders will, of course, retain their United Kingdom citizenship. In addition, they will enjoy the right to opt for acquiring Australian citizenship. Islanders born after the transfer will automatically become Australian citizens, but they will remain British subjects, with all the rights attaching thereto.
The Government of Singapore have also promised to make special arrangements so that the islanders will continue to enjoy their existing rights of free entry into Singapore. At this point I might perhaps mention that when the negotiations were first under discussion in 1951, unofficial members of the Executive Council of Singapore were consulted about the transfer, and agreed. Should any more islanders wish for facilities to remove to North Borneo, the Government of North Borneo will be willing to admit them, subject, of course, to their usual immigration regulations. In fact, in view of the shortage of population in North Borneo, I have no doubt that any who choose to go there will be very welcome.
The rights of the Clunies Ross family will remain unaltered. The solicitors to the family have been kept in touch with the position, and they will continue to be informed of developments.
Further, the Royal Navy operate a wireless station on Direction Island in the Cocos Group, and the Australian Government have agreed that the operation and tenure of this station shall remain undisturbed by the transfer. The Admiralty are satisfied with this assurance.
In addition, there is a dispute between the Admiralty and the Clunies Ross family about the Admiralty's occupation of some of the land on Direction Island. Negotiations for the lease of the disputed part are nearing completion and the position of neither party will be affected by the transfer.
Cable and Wireless Ltd. operate a cable relay station on Direction Island. The Australian Government have agreed that arrangements will be made in accordance with the Telegraphs Agreement of 11th May, 1948, for the Overseas Communications Commission (Australia) to acquire the interests of Cable and Wireless at an agreed price if the Australian Government so desire. They have also agreed, pending such acquisition, to extend to Cable and Wireless Ltd. the same facilities for operating their services as the Singapore Government have given in the past. Cable and Wireless have stated that they are satisfied with this undertaking. All the above assurances will be embodied in an exchange of letters between the appropriate Australian Minister and the United Kingdom High Commissioner in Canberra.
This Bill is an enabling Bill which, after reciting the request and consent of the Australian Government to the transfer, gives power to Her Majesty to put it into effect by Order in Council. My right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, who will be replying to this debate, will deal with any points which I have not covered. I hope, however, that in the light of the explanations I have given, the House will have no hesitation in giving the Bill its Second Reading.
I do not think that even the most unsentimental among us can contemplate without a pang of regret the passing of this group of islands, which were discovered by an Englishman and administered for nearly 120 years by Scotsmen, from our own into other hands. Still, British Governments, over the last 100 years, have not perhaps as much right to be proud of what they themselves have done for the Cocos as they have in some of our other territories. For, ever since they took on the formal administration of the islands in 1944, administrators have been there only at irregular intervals. It is, in fact, mainly the Clunies Ross family who deserve the credit.
Now Ross the fifth reigns in Cocos, even if he is no longer Governor either in name or in fact. It is he who, as pater familias, continues to watch over the interests of the islanders, whose ancestors have shared the destinies of the Cocos Islands with his own. It was he who, with his wife, had the honour to receive Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh during their short visit to the Settlement last year. I have no doubt that when the transfer takes place, he and his family will continue to exercise their influence in the interests of the inhabitants as heretofore.
I repeat, that in other circumstances it would be with a pang of regret that we in this country saw the Cocos Islands go. But the knowledge that once this Bill is passed administrative authority there will be exercised by Her Majesty's Government of the Commonwealth of Australia must comfort and reassure any who may have doubts or regrets; for, in making this transfer we could surely entrust the destinies of these loyal British islands to no safer hands.
I suppose there is no one in the House, and very few in the country, for whom little islands lying in the middle of the ocean do not exercise a very great fascination. Most of us have read "Treasure Island," "Coral Island" and similar books in our youth. I think all of us will share the feelings of the Minister, possibly a sense of regret and certainly a sense of sentiment attaching to the passing of these small islands from our jurisdiction.
Most of the islands that have been taken from time to time by this country have had very little importance. There are large numbers of islands dotted about all over the world and they are represented on the map simply by red marks. They make little contribution to the welfare of this country except that we have the privilege of knowing that they belong to us. But of recent years some islands have assumed a very remarkable importance, an importance which was quite unexpected when they were first taken over—the importance of becoming areodromes in the midst of the ocean.
The Cocos Islands are among these and for that reason the Australian Government wanted to have them. For that reason this Bill has been introduced. As the Minister said, this is a small Bill, but it is a very important Bill. We are glad that there has been a long time before it has been brought before the House so that sufficient discussions could be undertaken and a sufficient degree of importance attached to it. We are concerned with the welfare of only a very few people—the Minister said that at the moment there are only 303 there—and most of them, no doubt, are uncivilised—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—many of them are uncivilized—
On a point of order. As probably the only hon. Member of the House who has been there, I must say that my right hon. Friend is grossly exaggerating. There are no signs of lack of civilisation.
I am very happy to withdraw what I said. What I meant was that they are not people with standards that we are used to. Many of them lead a very simple life. We might remember the words of Mr. Gladstone, who said, many years ago:
Remember that the sanctity of life in the hill villages of the Afghans, among the winter snows, is as inviolable in the eye of Almighty God as can be your own.
That is a point worth remembering. These people are in an outlying island, a simple people, and we have a responsibility for them. We want to see their welfare properly protected.
It may be said that if they were to be transferred within the Commonwealth that would ensure their protection, but I do not think that that is so these days. Unfortunately, there is at least one country within the Commonwealth to which they could not be transferred without feelings of very deep concern among hon. Members on this side of the House and, I think, among hon. Members opposite. They are to be transferred to the Australian Government, but were they to be transferred to the Government concerned with this particular route—the route between Australia and South Africa—it would be quite another matter.
We want to be certain that the people who are to be transferred to Australia will receive the treatment we expect they will get from the Australian people, which is much better treatment than they would have got had they been transferred to South Africa. In about three weeks' time there is due to be a great removal of population in South Africa—a removal from Johannesburg against the people's will. The people are to be moved—
With great respect, Sir, I was only using that as an illustration to show that we cannot just say that any transfer within the Commonwealth is a matter which does not really concern us very much and that all will be well with the local inhabitants.
If the transfer had, in fact, been made to another member of the Commonwealth it might have been very bad for the inhabitants, and we do not want to consider this as a precedent. That is the important point I want to make about transfers being made of other protectorates and territories in the Commonwealth. We need to be particularly careful that this is not regarded as a precedent.
When the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations replies to the debate I want him to be a little more explicit about the guarantees he has received from the Australian Government. In particular, we want to be certain that there will be no colour bar within these islands. We want to be quite certain that there is to be no forced labour. We also want to be quite certain that there will be full educational opportunity and that, eventually, there will be an opportunity for these people to have adequate representation.
Finally, we want to be certain that they will be allowed, if they so desire, not only to go to Singapore but to their own mother country, which will be their mother country of Australia. We presume that that will be the case, because they will have Australian citizenship. We want to make quite certain about that, and we hope that the Under-Secretary will tell us that that is so.
In passing this short Bill—a Bill to which we on this side of the House give our approval—let us make quite certain that the inhabitants of these islands have a future at least as good as they would have had if they had remained under our rule. There are only a few of them. They are very defenceless and unable to speak for themselves. We have to speak for them. I would remind the House of the words of a great Englishman who said many years ago:
Every he hath a life to live as every other he.
In view of some of the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale), I think it would be a pity if we allowed this small but, nevertheless, important Bill to pass without an opinion being voiced from this side of the House.
On the face of it, this transfer is a perfectly logical development. It is an extension of developments which have been going on for quite a number of years. I think that it was before the 1914–1919 War that our own British Protectorate of New Guinea was transferred to the new Australian Commonwealth.
After 1918, the former German territories in the South-West Pacific were handed over under the League of Nations Mandate to Australia and New Zealand, and today, Nauru, which, I believe, is not far from the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, is jointly administered by the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.
I think that that is geographically and in every other sense a little outside the orbit of our discussion today, and I do not want to be drawn by the hon. Gentleman, although, as the House fully knows, he has very intimate knowledge of all these remote places.
These islands are quite clearly of strategic importance to Australia upon whom, in the conditions of the modern world, the defence of our lines of communication across the Indian Ocean would probably fall. I think that there is a strong case for regional arrangements of this kind.
I do not think that, subject to the safeguards being adequate, any one of us need regret this transfer, because the islands are merely passing to the sovereignty of another member of the Commonwealth. They are not leaving the family. It is not inappropriate to remark, having regard to some of the things said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bromwich, that they are passing under the sovereignty of a member of the Commonwealth family that already has a fine administrative record in New Guinea.
I agree, of course, that we are transferring not land but people, and even if there are only 303 of them their welfare is very much our concern. Because of that I am glad indeed to hear from my right hon. Friend that the Cocos Islanders will retain their British citizenship and can opt for Australian citizenship, and that they will have the right of free entry either into British North Borneo or Singapore. These safeguards are, in my view, adequate, and for that reason I welcome the Bill.
The Minister emphasised the importance of this transfer in the matter of military air strategy and the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine) touched on this reason, but I think that it would be a pity to pass the Bill if we did not emphasise the great importance to civil aviation of these islands. Indeed, I thought that that was the prime reason for this transfer.
I was rather sorry that the Minister did not find time, in his very interesting speech, to make reference to the enterprise and initiative of Qantas in developing this route from Australia to the Continent of Africa. I think it would have been generous if he had mentioned a name such as Captain Ambrose, one of the great band of Australian airmen, who undertook the pioneering which made possible this new Commonwealth air route.
I think the House would be fully aware of the very special importance of the Cocos Islands in these Commonwealth air communications if we look at the map. We see that there is a most strange and curious significance in this particular route, running from the Continent of Australia to the Continent of Africa. Hitherto, the lines of communication from Australia and New Zealand had been wholly through Asia. It is an understandable, if somewhat exaggerated fact, that the Australians have been very conscious of this position of living, as they conceive it to be, under, shall I say, the shadow of Asia and the South-East Asia islands.
I have heard Australians describe their great Continent as being only another island off Asia. As a result of this particular route they will be directly linked with other member nations of the British Commonwealth, not only the Union of South African States, but also to the huge potential market of the Federation of Central African States. Undoubtedly, along this air route will follow more and more trade, and it may be that this development will be of great importance in the years to come.
I would add only one other word. I think, like the hon. Member for Billericay, that we rather pricked up our ears when the Minister used the word "passing" in referring to the transfer of these territories from United Kingdom responsibility to Australian responsibility. I feel that in no sense are they going out of the British climate and atmosphere and I only regret that it should have been necessary to have had any legislation on this matter. I should like to see some sort of Commonwealth constitution within which we might possibly hold in common some of these territories. I see no reason why different members of the British Commonwealth should not share equally not only in the privileges but the responsibilities of the administration of these different territories.
I am sure that in the development of the British Commonwealth we have to extend the field of common responsibility and, indeed, common ownership, and it is only in that sense that I have any regret at all about this Bill being necessary. As it is, in present circumstances, I feel that we should give it every opportunity for a speedy passage.
I gather from the contribution of the hon. Members who have spoken so far that there are two considerations behind this proposed transfer—the civil aviation consideration and the strategic consideration. Important as they are, they are not more important than the considerations of the people themselves, who are to be transferred in this way.
Those of us who have not been to the Cocos Islands and who, like a great many other people, had to rush to the gazetteer to find out (a) where they are and (b) what this is all about, nevertheless are encouraged in the knowledge now that the Cocos Islanders, few though they may be, are, in fact, civilised people. The suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) that they were uncivilised people has been refuted with great vehemence. We know that they are civilised people and that they will be transferred to a people who, we believe, despite their appalling licensing laws, are civilised people; and, therefore, it will be a transference of civilised people to civilised people.
We know that in the Cocos Islands there is a school, and we appreciate that under our indirect administration the Cocos Islanders have been educated to those spheres of responsibility such as working on the airfield, in the office of Cable and Wireless, and so on. One assumes that the Australian Government will, as its responsibility, continue with the education of the Cocos Islanders in the way that we have done. What concerns me, if it does not concern anybody else in this House, is that that is only so far and not good enough.
It is true that the Cocos Islanders will be able, as we have heard, to go to Borneo and to Singapore and will be able to come to this country, but they will not, I am afraid, be permitted to go to Australia. It may be argued that they do not want to go to Australia. We have seen in the last 50 years—
Yes, I think they will have Australian citizenship, but I am not sure whether in this case Australian citizenship will carry the right, irrespective of colour, to go to Australia. If this right is to be granted, if the Australians say that in this case the "White Australia" policy is to be waived and the Cocos Islander will be as free to go to Australia as to Singapore or to this country, I shall be deeply satisfied; for I am confident that the Australian Government will treat the Cocos Islanders, so far as its administration of the Colony is concerned, just as generously, benevolently and disinterestedly as we would.
I am directing my remarks to finding out whether the granting of Australian citizenship gives the right for the Cocos Islanders to go to Australia. If it does, we are witnessing a revolutionary change in Australia's domestic policy, which has the support of every political party in Australia. I am not entering into an argument about interfering with Australia's rights in this matter; she does what she likes in her own country.
I know that Australians argue that they have never had any race riots or lynching bees or the mass disturbances as in South Africa, and have never suffered Mau Mau, and that because of their present "White Australia" policy they have a happy, integrated white population. I suggest, however, that these arguments would not necessarily appeal to all the Cocos Islanders if there were a repetition, for example, of the appalling cyclone which 50 years ago decimated the islands, destroying half a million coconut palms and leaving only five buildings standing. It was the worst recorded cyclone in history.
We know what weather can do. We have lived through some of the worst recorded weather in history, and we know that Nature does repeat these terrible tragedies. Let us suppose, for example, that the Cocos Islander who wants to leave the islands to go to Australia makes application and then finds that he is not to be admitted. Would he not then say that the country standing in the relationship of paterfamilias will not allow him to come in? Would he not, therefore, feel a grievance against us and against this Parliament for having transferred him in those circumstances?
The position of coloured people all over the world is today so tense that if we quite unwittingly commit an offence or an affront to one group of coloured people, we do it automatically to all coloured peoples. If in this case the bell were to toll for the Cocos Islanders, it would toll for coloured peoples throughout the world. Our job, it seems to me, is essentially to try to abolish the colour bar and to remove wherever we possibly can the racial tensions that exist, undoubtedly, in other parts of the Commonwealth. The meeting of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers today gives to the Secretary of State for the Colonies an opportunity of making representations to Mr. Menzies of the way that some of us here feel about the future of these people.
If, as I believe I am right in saying, Australian citizenship will not give the right of entry to Australia for the Cocos Islander, that is a luxury which the Australians are perfectly entitled to give themselves—that is, the luxury of saying, "We will not have these people in." But it could also be put to that great statesman, Mr. Menzies, that there is another obligation: "If you can afford that luxury, you can afford the luxury of being supergenerous to the races of the world who need your assistance."
If we are to be told that the Cocos Islanders will not be allowed to enter Australia and that it is impossible to alter the "White Australia" policy, I suggest that one of the ways of trying to right that act is for Australia to make a more than generous contribution to the United Nations Agencies, which are trying desperately to tackle problems similar to this all over the world.
I had not intended to intervene in this debate, but I should like briefly to take up one or two points that were raised by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick). I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, who will reply to the debate, will deal with the points which the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) has raised. I should hope that in this matter, which, as the hon. Member for Deptford stressed, obviously has very tricky aspects, every attempt will be made to secure rights for the people who will be affected.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge referred to a matter of the greatest importance. He pointed out that at present a transfer of territory in this way is necessary. Certainly, it seems that our Commonwealth system is still most inadequate. The territory which will be transferred will now be administered, presumably, by officials of the External Affairs Department of the Australian Government, while our own Colonial Territories are administered by people in our own Colonial Service.
Carrying a stage further the most interesting argument of the hon. Member for Uxbridge, it seems that our ultimate ideal should be an inter-Commonwealth service in which people from all the different self-governing countries of the Commonwealth should serve in far greater numbers than they do now, and that such a transfer as this one today should be rendered quite unnecessary. In that sense I am hopeful that this may be one of the last Bills of this kind, as it is, indeed, one of the first, that we shall have to pass through this House. Let us hope that when such a case occurs again, some such instrument or document as the hon. Member for Uxbridge implied will be substituted. I certainly hope, however, that the House will pass this Bill.
I am glad to be able to intervene in this debate, because things have been said today about different parts of the world which need correcting. I hope that in correcting them I shall not embitter anyone.
In the first place, this transfer displays to the world that the transfer of a territory from one national sovereignty to an- other can take place peacefully between friends. All over the world there are territories which ought to be so transferred, but national pride prevents that happening. So we, the British, are giving to the world, perhaps unwittingly, an indication of what ought to be done on a large scale. We want peace and friendliness in the world, we want to do the best for the territories themselves, and if the people concerned are not so well off under one sovereignty as another, then a peaceful transfer ought to take place despite national pride.
The hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) referred to Australia. I do not know whether he has been there, but when I was there thousands and thousands of the islanders used to go to Queensland every year for the sugar crop; indeed, that crop could hardly be reaped without the islanders. In the same way all the great fruit farmers in New Zealand are Chinese. So I do not know how my hon. Friend can say that the Australians do not like people of other races to go there. In fact, if he went out on to the stations in Australia he would find that the Chinese, as an honest trader, is respected; the person who is not respected in Australia is the Japanese.
I do not know when my hon. Friend went to Australia last; but is he aware that in Northern Queensland the sugar cane is cut by Italians because Chinese and Kanaka boys are not admitted, since it is an established practime in Australia not to admit people from the islands? Also, some of the Chinese living in Australia went there more than a generation ago.
I admit that I have not been to that country since 1920. As for combined Commonwealth responsibility for all territories, I have advocated it in this House over and over again. It is time that the entire Commonwealth became responsible for the imperial part of our great Empire.
I believe that this transfer is a thoroughly good thing for the Cocos Islands, which are of inestimable importance to Australia. I interrupted the Minister to point out that the Australian wanted a civil air line which would be free from any military happenings or unfriendliness in Asia, one which would give them a direct line from Western Australia through to the Cocos Islands, Mauritius and South Africa.
I found the Cocos Islanders the friendliest people I have ever met. It is untrue to say that they are uncivilised; I found them childlike.
In this case, Mr. Speaker, I am on firm ground, because if those people were not uncivilised many years ago they certainly would not be uncivilised now. During the life of the Labour Government we saw the transfer of Newfoundland from Great Britain to Canada. When I was in Newfoundland, last year, I went up to see the new iron-workings. I found satisfaction about the transfer to Canada, which has been of great benefit to the Newfoundlanders, though it was fought strongly at the time.
The great merchant captains—which is what Ross. Brooke of Sarawak and others were—established these territories in different parts of the world and, in time, those territories became incorporated in our system. Now our system should be incorporated into the much larger system of the entire Commonwealth. I welcome this Bill, therefore, and I like everything about it. As I have said, it is a demonstration to the world of how a peaceful people can so understand the rights of individual territories that they raise no objection to the transfer of a territory from one sovereignty to another. By this Bill we are giving this territory to a Dominion Parliament without misgiving and without loss of pride, and I hope that it will have the unanimous blessing of Parliament.
This Bill has come before us with all the innocence of a wide-eyed child and in some senses it is cloaked with a venerable Liberalism. After all, here are we, a sovereign Parliament, handing over a territory to Australia, which has another sovereign Parliament. And we are saying, in effect, "Your need is greater than ours." It all sounds very fine, and certainly innocent, but I believe, as some hon.
The hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) was forthright in expressing the hope that the interests of the islanders will be attended to. I want an assurance that their interests have been considered. It may well be that they have, but we should have an assurance on this matter. I know that there are only a few hundred inhabitants and my knowledge of the Cocos Islands does not come even from 1920; it comes from reading the most interesting accounts of certain circumnavigating yachtsmen who are attracted to those idyllic islands where the Clunies Ross family has held sway for so long, and where, apparently, money is not considered necessary. However, I note with some apprehension that 300 or more of the islanders have already gone to North Borneo. Why? Are they frightened that something will happen when the transfer takes place? We should have the most definite assurance on this point, and I am sure that we shall have it from the Under-Secretary of State when he replies to the debate.
Transference of territory from one part to another part of the Commonwealth may not be serious in some instances; but it may be in others, and all our fears about this and kindred matters boil down to a realisation that there is here an extremely serious problem which is not just one of colour. After all, with colour come differences in outlook, customs and institutions and, it may very well be. in progress towards what we call civilisation. I am not a biologist or an anthropologist, and I should not care to lay down any very strict laws as to whether any of these apprehensions about the differences between the races are well founded; but it is only realistic to appreciate that some people honestly believe that there are differences.
Therefore, it seems to me that the problem of colour or race, or whatever else we like to call it, is one which we in a multi-racial Commonwealth should be prepared to face honestly and courageously. Are we doing it? Is there any sort of machinery for that purpose? One does not like the word "machinery" in connection with the British Commonwealth, but is there means whereby we in the various parts of the Commonwealth, whether our skins are brown, black or white, are coming together to face the problem honestly and courageously? I doubt it.
I should have felt far easier about passing from the Bill had the Government said, "Here, at this moment, is the Commonwealth Conference in session. We are going to put it to the Conference, not as an ultimatum but as a friendly notice, that we intend at some not far distant future to ask all our fellow members in the Commonwealth to come together to see whether we can hammer out a principle about the great question of race." It is one of the most serious questions which the world has to face today.
I should like to see the great example in co-operation which the British Commonwealth has shown to the world extended—let us at least see whether we can extend it—to cover the tackling of this infinitely important problem of race. If the Government had told us that the Bill had focussed attention on this great problem, and that we were going to give a lead in our own Commonwealth Conference, I should have felt happier about passing from the Bill. I hope that some words will be said on behalf of the Government to show that we need not be without hope in this direction.
—but I wish to refer to a rather outlandish part of my own clan. Although the Cocos Islands were discovered by an Englishman, they have been ruled for many years by a Scotsman, and so it is appropriate that I should take part in the discussion.
The right hon. Gentleman said with reference to the well-being of the inhabitants that we had nothing much about which to pride ourselves in relation to our administration and that tributes should be paid to the people of the Clunies Ross family who had carried on the burden of government and day-to-day contact with the people for so long and that the wellbeing of the people—this is important—was more dependent on the continuation of the interest of that family than upon anything else.
I am in a difficulty. I welcome the opportunity of discussing the matter. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick), I do not want the present position to be changed. My hon. Friend may find himself in the unenviable position of being quoted by the supporters of the Malan policy in South Africa. There are certain territories in South Africa, such as the High Commission Territories, which it would be handier for South Africa to administer, but before anything is done about those territories I want the matter discussed in this House.
No, but my hon. Friend suggested that there should be some kind of general agreement. I can read his own words to him. It may be that he had not thought them out properly. He may not have thought out their consequences.
If my hon. Friend will read his own words he will find that his phrases were inclined to create the impression to which I have referred.
To me, the essential point is the future well-being of the 300 islanders. This action would not have been necessary but for the increasing importance of the islands strategically and from the point of view of commercial aviation. I read into this that more and more the traditional life of the islands will be subject to disturbance. If we are to have the new development to which my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge has referred, it means that the traditional life of the 300 people will be disturbed and that, more than ever now, we should be concerned about the preservation of their way of life, if that is possible, or,
at all events, we should ensure that with the commercial activity will also come full educational facilities and opportunities for the proper development of the islands.
It is not just an easy matter of passing something between friends. If the commercial development had not taken place the Bill would probably never have come forward. We want a little more than just the odd assurance that we had from the right hon. Gentleman. We need to be told that the future of the islanders is being properly looked after and that the Government are satisfied that the freedom of opportunity and of movement within the Commonwealth which was available to them while they were under our administration will continue in the new circumstances.
As my hon. Friend has been making these remarks and seems so concerned about the people, I wonder how much interest he has shown in the islanders during the years that they have been under our administration.
I leave it to my hon. Friend to look up the record in HANSARD. I am not prepared to answer that question at the moment.
I wish to get from the Government the assurance that they are satisfied that the change which will take place in the lives of these people as a result of the commercial activity in the islands will be to their advantage.
The Minister of State made a remark during his speech which I regard with a certain amount of disquiet. If I heard him aright, he gave us to understand that as recently as 1948 the population of the islands was about 1,600 and that it is now about 300. That means that within that comparatively short period the population has been reduced by about 80 per cent. That is a substantial figure. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will be able to tell the House why there has been this very large movement from the islands, mainly, I believe, to North Borneo.
Has there been some sort of policy on the part of the Administration that the population of these islands should be reduced? Is it a process that is likely to continue? Is it likely in the long run to result in the complete disappearance of the native population from these islands? In that case, will the Cocos Islands be inhabited solely by people from Australia, or by such other persons as the Australian Government may choose to admit? That is a point on which the House is entitled to some information.
It is unfortunately the case, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu) pointed out, that there are many parts of the world in which, as a result of migration, or historical circumstances, there is danger of racial tension. It is most unfortunate that at a time like this there should be one part of the world, however small, which has hitherto been able to provide for a coloured population, which now finds itself incapable of continuing to provide for them. That makes all the more important the questions on which I hope that we shall have further enlightenment.
The hon. Member keeps referring to the native population as if it had been there indefinitely. Is he not aware that no people had lived there for some time when ships first visited the islands?
I do not know what happened years ago. My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Follick) knows what happened there years ago.
I can base my argument only on what I have heard here today, and which would have been impossible to discover without the most extensive researches. We have been told that the population of these islands has fallen from 1,600 to 300 in a very short time. I do not know from whence they came generations ago.
Here is a situation which calls for explanation. It may be that this process of causing the native, or coloured, or present population to disappear will be arrested as a result of this transfer. If that is so, there will be some 300 Cocos Islanders who will in due course acquire Australian citizenship. It cannot be argued that if they stay there a little longer and acquire Australian citizenship, they can be debarred from leaving the Cocos Islands, if they wish.
What will be the position if they stay and acquire Australian citizenship and then decide that they want to settle in Australia? Will the Commonwealth Government accept them as immigrants who are free and equal, for example, with immigrants from this country, or other parts of the Commonwealth? That is a matter on which we ought to have an assurance before the House can be expected to accept the advice of the Minister of State and allow the Bill a Second Reading.
—I wish my hon. Friend had been a little quieter when he was making his own speech.
I want to say quite frankly, as I have done on many of these colonial questions, that I am terrified when hon. Members start to address the House. No one in this House, except a very few hon. Members, seems to take in colonial problems of this kind that deep human interest that they take in questions affecting the population of Great Britain.
Here is a question which involves not only Australia, a self-governing Dominion, not only South Africa. with an entirely different policy towards human beings and also a self-governing Dominion, but also a small Colony on the lines of the West Indies in between the two. Here, in Great Britain, we have to decide exactly how much government, how much latitude and how much restriction is to be allowed these people. I am terrified of what I have seen so often over the small affairs of the Colonies.
How will the Bill affect similar people in small Colonies? Take the people in the Cocos Islands vis-à-vis Australia on the one side and South Africa on the other. Australia has one colonial admission policy and South Africa another, especially towards coloured or native inhabitants. We are discussing these problems today with an hilarity and superficiality that is absolutely—
The hon. and learned Gentleman is very fluent in addressing the Chair and, of course, I would never dare to challenge his opinion. But I have heard his manner of address in this House and outside and I must say that I prefer to hear his language in this House than the sometimes rather crude language he uses outside. The circumstances in which I was brought up lead me to believe that his language at times did not seem to be quite gentlemanly.
May I proceed with what I was saying? I was trying to point out—[Interruption.] You are interrupting me too. One of these days I am going to give it to you hot and you will understand.
I am not Scottish. I was lucky enough to go to a Scottish university and to be allowed to take medals and money from them and to gain my professional qualifications; but that is a different matter.
Here are these islands, with inhabitants settled on them, between two Dominions with entirely different policies towards certain colonial people and with different points of view towards colour and race. Here is Australia with one policy, partially democratic and certainly much better than another Dominion on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. Suppose an inhabitant of the Cocos Islands lands in South Africa.
The Cocos Islanders have Australia on one side with one racial policy and South Africa on the other with another policy. A Cocos Islander going to South Africa will find himself up against a strict racial colour policy. If the same man goes to Australia he will find another policy with a different twist. It is unfair to these people to whom we have pretended to give the citizenship of Great Britain that we have not taken any steps so far to make uniform their treatment in the various Dominions.
I have experienced this kind of thing personally. For 20 years I was in the West Indies. That is where I learned English. My origin was Irish when Ireland was supposed to be British, but I will not mention that because some people would disapprove.
Somebody disagrees with everything I say about Ireland. The Cocos Islanders will find that one Dominion has one policy and that another has an entirely different policy. We are discussing a Bill which will not give them the slightest protection.
For 20 years I was in the West Indies. I was educated there, to such an extent that I was able to win bursaries in Glasgow against competition from the best schools in Scotland. I do not want to boast, but I am very proud of what I managed to do in Scotland. I mention it because the same kind of treatment was given to me. When I left the West Indies to go to Canada en route to Britain the Canadians wanted to know whether I was black. I said "Blood counts. Call in the doctors and take a bit of skin out," and they kept me waiting for two days at Halifax undergoing medical examinations before I was allowed to go on to Glasgow. When I arrived in Glasgow they said, "We do not care whether you are a Hottentot, or whether you are white, pink, blue, purple or any other colour." I said that there was no purple blood in me.
The Bill will subject the islanders to the indignity of having no nationality. They will not be Australian. When they leave either Australia or South Africa to travel to America or anywhere else, what will they call themselves? This is superficial legislation without previous study and proper scrutiny of the deeper problems. That is what I hate. The House of Commons is a wonderful place for its intuition and knowledge and for the way in which it passes its laws, but sometimes it treats important matters superficially. I have seen Welsh, Scottish and English legislation as well as colonial legislation treated superficially.
The Bill should be sent back to the appropriate Ministers. The whole question should be reviewed microscopically and should not be dealt with in this slipshod way. I have always hated this superficial-but-pretending-to-be-deep legislation. I can only say that I record my disappointment on this occasion.
All of us know and respect the feelings of my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Dr. Morgan) on these matters of colonial and similar legislation, of which he has had great experience. I can understand the warmth of his feelings and the strength of the language he used, but I do not think that it is quite fair to suggest that the House approached the Measure with flippancy. I have heard from both sides of the House speeches of deep seriousness covering the very subjects on which my hon. Friend feels so passionately.
There were serious topics to be raised, and they were approached with a feeling of responsibility. If one or two remarks did excite a little friendly, humorous comment that only showed that the House was taking a deep interest in everything that was said. I should not like it to be thought, either here or in any part of Her Majesty's Dominions, that on a subject such as this the House is ever other than very seriously concerned.
This is one of the first, if not the first, Measure since the alteration with regard to the various citizenships within Her Majesty's Dominions. We were all British subjects, but during my tenure at the Home Office we introduced a Measure which, owing to the complexity which had arisen about the meaning of the words "British subject" in different parts of the world, established citizenships within the general term "British subject."
I am sure that the Ministers concerned with the Bill would not expect that we should do other than be very meticulous in our consideration of the exact changes which we are making in the status of these 300 or so people in this remote part of Her Majesty's Dominions. At the moment they are citizens of the United Kingdom and the Colonies. That is a generic term which covers everyone not in a self-governing Dominion, but in the areas of Her Majesty's Dominions. As such, they have the right of free admission to this country. If a person can prove that he is—
As British subjects. That they will continue to have. No matter what may be their status in Australia, they will remain British subjects. I think that everyone has acted on that assumption today. But I understand that they are to become Australian citizens—
Children born after the transfer will all be born British subjects, but Australian citizens. They will not be citizens of the United Kingdom and the Colonies.
It will be to Australia that they will have to look for the enforcement of such rights and privileges as they may claim or wish to enjoy in other parts of Her Majesty's Dominions. That is to say, a child born after the passing of this Bill who wishes to enter South Africa or Canada, and who has difficulty at the port of entry, would have to look to the Australian Government, and not to the Government of this country, for the enforcement of a right or the gaining of a particular privilege.
A question was raised by some of my hon. Friends to which I think we should receive a specific answer today. Does Australian citizenship mean that the islanders have the right of free travel in, and access to, those parts of Her Majesty's Dominions which are under the control of the Australian Parliament? Some of my hon. Friends have suggested—I think it was mainly by way of questions, without making the definite assertion—that after the passing of this Measure, and the corresponding Measure in the Australian Parliament, it may be that although these people would have the right of opting for Australian citizenship, if they so opted—and their children became, willy-nilly, Australian citizens at birth—they could be excluded from what I might call the mainland of Australia by some act, either legislative or administrative, on the part of the Australian Parliament.
That is a question to which we should have a clear and emphatic answer before we agree to the Second Reading of the Bill. If there be any doubt about this, I hope that steps will be taken between now and Committee stage so that a definite statement may be made on Committee stage regarding the exact position of these people. We have been responsible for them for a long time, and in this country we hold definite views regarding the equality of Her Majesty's subjects in different parts of the world.
We ought to see that there are sufficient safeguards provided for these people when, by a Measure of this kind, we transfer them to some other jurisdiction—still within the British Commonwealth of Nations—that of one of the self-governing Dominions. I hope that the Government will be able to give a quite specific assurance on that point.
In introducing the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman said that the appropriate Measure had gone through all Its stages in the Australian Parliament. Does that include the giving of the Royal Assent? Usually, when we talk about a Bill going through all its stages here, we mean everything up to the giving of the Royal Assent. I merely ask the question because, of course, if the Measure has not received the Royal Assent in the Australian Parliament, and if there are any doubts about matters that I have mentioned, it might be possible to get them resolved by means of Amendments before the Bill actually becomes law in Australia.
My hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) alluded to the question of education. I do not know the standard of education in the Cocos Islands. As it has been under Scottish administration, I imagine that the standard is fairly good, though somewhat academic in type. But there is this further difficulty. Education in our Colonies has generally been carried on in conjunction with the churches, by missionaries, and by other people. Australia administers education publicly and makes contributions from public funds on a secular basis only.
Having suffered considerably from the difficulties of denominational education in this country, I do not want to impose it unnecessarily on a people who, so far, have managed to escape it. But, if that question is in issue, I hope that there will be an arrangement whereby schools which would not be recognised on the mainland of Australia can, if they have a reasonable tradition of good service in these islands, continue to be regarded as meriting support from State funds.
We all enjoyed the speech of the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs. This story of the way in which, more or less accidentally, the British system of government has grown up in some of these remote places, under a form of paternalism from which we in this country have long since passed, but the studying of which in these other places which are united with us, gives us considerable enjoyment, is a fascinating subject. I think that the gem of the speech was when the right hon. Gentleman said that certain people had escaped from Hare's clutches. Let us recognise that it was a "two-legged Hare."
I gathered that it was someone who was not observing too closely the fundamentals of the British way of life. Some of the people who were being treated badly suddenly discovered, having reached this island, that Lord Justice Mansfield's dictum applied even in the Cocos Islands, and that a slave could not breath on British, as well as on English, soil. That is something in which we may all take pride. That feeling makes it apparent and is regarded as being one of the proofs that British rule exists.
I recall an almost similar incident in connection with the basis of the Venezuelan boundary. Some natives in the remotest part—
—of the territory we were discussing said, when asked why they were sure that a certain river was the boundary, "Because our fathers told us that no slave could exist on the other side of it."
What the right hon. Gentleman said this afternoon showed how firmly implanted that view is even in such remote places as the isolated islands with which we are now dealing. It is because of that fact, and the way in which the islanders have relied upon our tradition in the past, that it is essential to make quite certain that they will enjoy the fullest benefits of citizenship in the Dominion which has arranged to take them over from us.
First, I should like to thank the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) for what he said about the seriousness with which this House regards the Bill. I know that hop. Members on both sides of the House take a great and deep interest in these matters. Although only about 300 inhabitants are concerned, the Bill raises matters of principle of which the whole House is deeply conscious. I am sure that anybody who reads this debate—as I hope many people overseas will read it—will be struck by the fact that the House has taken this as a most serious Measure.
The right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale), the right hon. Member for South Shields and the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) raised the most important point of substance in this discussion, namely, the future status of the Cocos Islanders. As the right hon. Member for South Shields said, since the 1948 Act the position is more complicated than it was when we were all British subjects, and that was all there was to it. We are now British subjects as well as citizens of different territories or groups of territories. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Colonies pointed out that only 300 or so Cocos Islanders are left at the moment. I shall later refer in detail to why only 300 are left.
It is not expected that any substantial number of Cocos Islanders will desire to go to Australia, but in the course of negotiations the Australian Government have indicated that such applications for transfer would be most sympathetically considered. I am confident that this fully covers any applications for transfer of residence, whether permanent or otherwise. I realise that we are dealing with a point of principle rather than of substance, but I would remind the House that there are now just these 300 people and that those wishing to seek greater opportunities have, to the number of 1,300, already gone to North Borneo, under the policy of the former Labour Government, which agreed to the transfer of these islands in 1951.
Upon the point of citizenship, I stress that the islanders lose nothing but gain much from this transfer. They retain their citizenship of United Kingdom and the Colonies, unless they renounce it under Section 19 (1, a) of the British Nationality Act, 1948, which the right hon. Member for South Shields introduced, and they also gain Australian citizenship and the right to have each individual application for transfer of residence most sympathetically considered by Her Majesty's Government in Australia.
To Australian territory. They remain citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies and, therefore, have the right of entry into the United Kingdom and Colonies, as they have now, but by the Bill they also acquire Australian citizenship if they so opt, and, as I have said, the right to have each individual application for transfer of residence most sympathetically considered by Her Majesty's Government in Australia.
I should like to ask the Minister two questions. First, what is the position of those who are born after the Bill becomes an Act—if it does? Do they still remain British citizens of the United Kingdom? Will they not have to depend entirely upon Australia from then onwards? Second, are we to understand from the hon. Member that all that they will have is the right to have their application sympathetically considered? If so, they will have no more right than anybody else who wants to go to Australia.
The last point of the right hon. Gentleman's is not correct.
We are dealing with a group of Cocos Islanders about whom the Australian Government have said, in the course of negotiations, that any applications for transfer of residence will be considered most sympathetically. That is not a consideration which they apply to any other group.
As far as the right hon. Gentleman's other point is concerned, those children born after the date of transfer will be Australian citizens but will remain British subjects and, as such, will have right of access to the United Kingdom and Colonies, as they have now.
Does not this mean that the Australians are now creating a kind of second-class citizenship and are going to apply to the Cocos Islanders restrictions which they do not apply to any other Australian citizens? Is not this sufficient reason for our concern that these people are not being admitted to full Australian citizenship?
The hon. Member said that he realised that a question of principle was involved, but that it would affect only a very few people. As the numbers involved are so very small, would it not be better to try to keep the principle intact, and press this point a little further, in order to preserve the character of citizenship as it is at present understood?
I did put it the other way round. Although only very few people are concerned, I said that I was aware of the question of principle which was involved.
One of the points made by the Labour Government when they reached agreement with the Government of Singapore was that this agreement, which carries added advantages to the Cocos Islanders without taking anything away from them, was a satisfactory solution of the matter.
It was clear from the beginning that these people would, if they so opted, become citizens of Australia. I gather from what the Minister has said that quite recently—I believe he said last year—a Bill was presented to the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia and passed through that Parliament. Can the Under-Secretary of State tell us whether that Bill defines very clearly the citizenship of these people once this transfer takes place? Does it make any difference between these people as citizens and the other citizens of Australia? If it puts them in exactly the same category, they will presumably have the same right as any other citizen to go to that country.
No, Sir. That was an enabling Bill asking for consent to, and accepting, the transfer of these islands which the right hon. Gentleman himself undertook when he was Colonial Secretary. The question of Australian citizenship and everything connected with it comes under other Australian legislation. The undertaking to which I have referred was given in the course of negotiations with the Australian Government and will, of course, be embodied in an exchange of letters which will amplify any final act of transfer.
I think that is a bit hard, coming from the right hon. Gentleman, because he answered a Question on 4th July, 1951, about this matter. He may remember that he did, in fact, as I understand it, accept what we have now put into the form of this Bill, and the points on which we have answered Questions. He then told the House that the transfer of the islanders was made without consulting them.
He also said:
The Governor of Singapore consulted the unofficial members of the Legislative Council, who agreed unanimously with the proposal and suggested certain conditions regarding the future status of the remaining islanders, which the Australian Government has readily accepted."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th July, 1951; Vol. 489, c. 222.]
This was, of course, in reference to a settlement which he and his right hon. Friends had agreed in the summer of 1951.
It is not for us to agree or disagree, but for the Australian Government to decide the matter. We are concerned in it, but the Australians have the power to decide it, and we want the hon. Gentleman to make representations to them in order to see, even at this late hour, whether we may be reassured on this point.
I think it would be difficult at this late stage, even at the request of the right hon. Gentleman, to go back on an agreement which he and his right hon. Friends reached in July, 1951.
I am confident that this undertaking which the Australian Government have given adequately covers any likely requirements for the transfer of residence, either permanent or temporary. I ask the House to give credit to Her Majesty's Government in Australia, and our friends there, that they will do their best to improve the lot of these islanders, who are now, by the agreement of both sides of this House, to pass to Her Majesty's Government in Australia.
I am sure that those concerned will note the concern of both sides of this House that these individuals should be regarded as full citizens of Australia, and I hope and believe that Members in all quarters of the House who have made these points will be satisfied that the assurance which the Australian Government have given will cover the cases which they have in mind.
I am afraid that, as far as I am concerned, that is quite outside this narrow Bill concerning the future of the Cocos Islands.
Another point which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bromwich raised concerned the colour bar and forced labour. I do not want to go into details, but I believe that, at this moment, it is going a bit far to suggest, that our friends in Australia will introduce a colour bar where none exists now, or that they are thinking of introducing forced labour.
On a point of personal explanation. I really did not suggest that they would do so. I only said that it would be a good thing that we should have satisfactory guarantees that it would never be introduced, and that that might well be incorporated in the Bill.
I am delighted to hear that the right hon. Gentleman does not mean what I understood him to mean by the words he used when he was speaking. As far as forced labour is concerned, the Australian Government, like that of the United Kingdom, supports the International Labour Office Convention No. 29 concerning forced labour. I am sure that both sides of the House concerned about this matter can rest on the knowledge of the good will of our Australian colleagues in seeing that these individuals are properly cared for.
Both right hon. Gentlemen opposite mentioned education. In the past, the educational facilities have been provided by the Clunies-Ross family, who, until recently, acted as a kind of feudal paterfamilias. I am certain that that will be carried on, and that our Australian colleagues will take early action to see how they can improve these facilities. It may be—I do not know—that some of these individuals may have their education in Australia, as, since the Colombo Plan was started, the Australian Government have generously assisted a considerable number of students from South-East Asia, with very great benefit to the students and to the peoples of South-East Asia.
The third point of substance was raised by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick), who used to be Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, and who has taken an interest in this point for a long time. My right hon. Friend kept his opening remarks brief, but he paid, as of course I do, the fullest tribute to those responsible for opening up this air route, and particularly to Captain Ambrose.
It is interesting, if one considers the civil aviation world, using a pair of dividers, and looks at the range of new aircraft, to realise how the cutting of a corner, so to speak, may bring other points into range, thus saving hundreds or thousands of flying hours per machine, if a particular route can be used. At the moment the Cocos Islands are used only for weekly services between the Cocos Islands, Mauritius, and the Union of South Africa. There is no reason, however, why civil aviation developments should not be extended in other directions, and the islands become an important point in the civil aviation communications of that part of the world.
The Australian Government are quite prepared to accord without question full operating rights on the airstrip to B.O.A.C. and colonial airlines, and they will inform both the United Kingdom and Singapore Governments before according any such rights to foreign airlines. The Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation has been consulted, and is satisfied with this assurance. The final details are being negotiated with Mr. Townley, the Australian Minister for Civil Aviation, who has just arrived in this country, and we shall take advantage of his visit to tie up the final details and settle these points to our mutual satisfaction.
I think that those are the main points raised in the debate. The hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) raised one point about there being only 300 in the population of the islands. The population of the islands increased fairly steadily from 1903, but the economy never really recovered from the devastating effects of a cyclone in that year. After the war, it was decided by the Labour Government, with the Governments of Singapore and Borneo, to find an alternative livelihood for the islanders, and, of the 1,700 more than 1,300 went to Borneo, where they settled happily, where there is plenty of work for them, and where they will have an opportunity to increase their degree of prosperity that otherwise would not have been accorded to them.
I am sure that the House will welcome the initiative taken by the Labour Government in 1951, and now carried through by this Government, enabling us to forge another link in Commonwealth communications and solidarity, which will enable us to bring happiness to the Cocos Islanders who remain in those islands, who, we very much hope, will not be overwhelmed by the introduction of too many jet engines.