Mauritius Independence Bill

Ways and Means – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th January 1968.

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Considered in Committee.

[Mr. SYDNEY IRVING in the Chair]

Clause 1.

(FULLY RESPONSIBLE STATUS OF MAURITIUS.)

Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

12.23 p.m.

Photo of Bernard Braine Bernard Braine , Essex South East

The Committee will appreciate that our debate today provides the last opportunity except for the debate which must follow in another place, to consider the conditions under which we relinquish our responsibilities for the people of Mauritius. On and after 12th March Her Majesty's Government will give up responsibility for the government of a territory which has been associated closely with us ever since the Napoleonic Wars.

As I said on Second Reading, it is unthinkable that we should part company without reflecting deeply on the future of a people whose destiny has been linked for so long with our own. This is all the more important since, as the Committee is aware, some reservations about the wisdom of independence were expressed at the Constitutional Conference held in 1965 and by 43 per cent, of the voters of Mauritius itself.

I would not wish to imply any lack of enthusiasm from this side of the Committee for the island's decision to become independent. The majority of the people of Mauritius wanted independence. The die is now cast and we must do all that we can in these remaining weeks of our responsibility to help the island stand on her own feet and to face the future with confidence. But, in all the circumstances, it would be quite wrong that we should agree to Clause 1 without having assurances about the conditions under which Mauritius assumes full responsibilty for the conduct of her own affairs.

I will not repeat here the doubts and misgivings that many people have about an economy almost wholly dependent upon the sugar industry, bearing in mind particularly how dependent that industry is upon the continuation of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement. I hope that what was said in the Second Reading debate by the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) on this important subject did not fall on deaf ears.

The mere fact that Her Majesty's Government have agreed to provide up to £1·3 million to cover the actual shortfall on the ordinary recurrent budget plus an additional sum of £1·5 million to meet the estimated deficit on the capital budget is proof that they are aware of the difficulties and are anxious to help. We on this side of the Committee welcome that approach. There were, however, a number of questions raised in the Second Reading debate which have a bearing on whether independence, when it comes to Mauritius on 12th March, will be a blessing or a curse, a challenge to its people which they accept cheerfully, or prison in which their dearest hopes will wilt and perish.

The first question, therefore, that I must put concerns continuing aid. It is clear from what the Prime Minister said on Tuesday that the overall aid programme for 1968 –69 will be held at the same level as for 1967 –68, namely, £205 million, which means—and the Prime Minister admitted this—that as a consequence of devaluation it will suffer a substantial reduction in real terms.

I should like to know how this will affect the promised aid to an independent Mauritius. Do Her Majesty's Government stand by their pledge, or is there a possibility that, as a result of the cuts imposed since we last discussed the matter, Mauritius can expect less aid in real terms than before? I make no comment on this. I am asking the question merely for information.

The second question which relates to this Clause is: what arrangements are to be made about defence? At the Constitutional Conference in 1965 Her Majesty's Government agreed in principle to negotiate a defence agreement with the Mauritius Government before independence. This is to be signed and implemented after independence, but it would be negotiated before independence. As far as I am aware, no such agreement has yet been concluded, and yet, as we know, the appointed day is now less than two months away. Therefore, I ask the Minister of State to tell us what stage the defence discussions have reached.

When I asked questions about this before, we knew that the Government would withdraw eventually from Singapore, that they had already withdrawn from Aden and that this might very well affect any defence arrangements they might have in mind with regard to Mauritius. We did not know at that time—we could not know—that they were proposing to abandon the Persian Gulf. In these circumstances, I must ask how credible any defence agreement can be.

It could be, against this sombre background of broken undertakings, of withdrawal from the whole of the area east of Suez, that either the Government intend to run away from another pledge to a Commonwealth country and that no defence agreement is now contemplated, or alternatively—and this is quite an important question—that Mauritius suddenly assumes a new importance. The Committee simply does not know.

12.30 p.m.

Neither do we yet know anything about progress on the other proposal discussed at the Constitutional Conference, namely, that there should be joint consultation on any request from the Mauritius Government for help in the event of a threat to the internal security of the island. Parliament should know now what we may be committing ourselves to in this regard. What responsibilities is it intended that we shall have? Is it intended that we shall keep the facilities at H.M.S. "Mauritius" and Plaisance Airfield? If so, why, in the altered circumstances to which I have just referred, do we wish to retain them?

It may be difficult for the Minister of State to answer these questions today, though one would have hoped that, with a Bill of this importance going through, we would have all such points answered before it finally left our House. However, because of the general discussion and rearrangement of defence matters in the past few weeks, it may be difficult for the hon. Gentleman to give precise answers now. Nevertheless, I ask him to give a firm assurance that the answers will be given when the Bill is considered in another place.

There is a third question which is relevant to the Clause, namely, recent developments on the Island of Rodriguez, which, it seems to me, have a somewhat disturbing ring to them.

Photo of Bernard Braine Bernard Braine , Essex South East

On 13th January, The Times reported that Mr. Ollivry, one of the two Members representing the island of Rodigues in the Mauritius National Assembly, had called on the Minister without Portfolio to put to him the island's demand for a right to secede from Mauritius after independence on 12th March. The report in The Times said that The people of Rodriguez complain that they were not consulted about the new constitution or independence, and reject both. They demand that their right to self-determination within a specified time be written into the British legislation granting independence. Lord Shackleton refused this request. There was no mention of this issue on Second Reading. If the feeling in Rodrigues is correctly reported and is expressing itself now in those terms, it must have existed then. A population of, I believe, 25,000 is not negligible, and their views should not be brushed lightly aside. I do not intend to take up a position on this question. I am concerned only with the facts. Did the noble Lord see Mr. Ollivry? If he did, I shall be interested to know what were the reasons for refusing his request. I make no apology for raising the issue now. We have already the unhappy spectacle of Anguilla's revolt against St. Kitts in the West Indies and the problem this has caused. I must, therefore, ask the Minister of State to tell us whether the report is correct, and, if it is, or if any other request has come from representatives of the people of Rodrigues for secession, what are the grounds for rejecting that request.

I wonder whether we are in danger of rushing into independence for Mauritius without proper safeguards for one of the communities in the new State. I shall be very glad to hear what the hon. Gentleman has to say about that. Depending on what he says today, we shall consider whether we should exercise the right to have the matter thrashed out when the Bill reaches another place.

Photo of Mr James Johnson Mr James Johnson , Kingston upon Hull West

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine), the official spokesman for die Opposition, began his speech on an amicable and auspicious note, echoing the tone of our debate on Second Reading not long ago, but he ended upon a slightly more controversial note, which moved me to say that we should be careful in what we say because anything said here can be picked up, whirled about, convoluted and twisted on the island in the somewhat hothouse political atmosphere which one occasionally finds in such circumstances.

I was glad to hear the hon. Gentleman make a comment about what he had said on the last occasion about the 43 per cent. We both know how one can talk in terms of percentages of voters, but what matters is the final result, the outcome of the majority ballot in the constituencies. There is no doubt that, by what we would term our constitutional system, which is the Commonwealth system, the Coalition Government were winners in the Chamber itself by almost two to one. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would be very happy if he had anything like that result in an election in the United Kingdom, without references to percentages of voters on cither side of the battle.

Photo of Bernard Braine Bernard Braine , Essex South East

The point the hon. Gentleman makes is quite fair and I do not quarrel with it, but he will appreciate that, where a sizeable number of people have reservations about an important constitutional step, we in this place who have responsibility for enacting it should be doubly careful about the conditions on which independence is attained. I am not taking sides on this. I am merely stressing our responsibility in the matter.

Photo of Mr James Johnson Mr James Johnson , Kingston upon Hull West

I was only commenting on the 43 per cent, and the outcome of the election as a whole, in which the Coalition Government were worthy winners and, indeed, wholesale winners almost by two to one in the seats in the Chamber itself. There is no doubt about that. As I said in the last debate, full marks should be given to the Leader of the Opposition, who accepted this gracefully and worked with the Government to build up a decent atmosphere before Independence Day on 12th March.

On the question of technical aid and the "cuts" which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, I cannot for a moment believe that his fears need be entertained. But I go a little way with him on the question of defence. What this island needs is what Singapore needs and what Hong Kong, perhaps, and other large entrepot bases, islands, or, so to speak, city states need. At the same time, Mauritius needs a good deal of help at the metropolitan end in invisibles.

There has been a lot of talk recently in the House, in which hon. Members opposite and I have been involved, on the question of Buccaneers, Hawker-Siddeley and aircraft for South Africa. The question of the base at Simonstown has come up, and it is in order to mention it in this debate for this reason. Whether it is thought, in the present situation as regards South Africa, that the Simonstown base is a good thing or a bad, is dispensable or indispensable, I could not care less about the Simonstown base because, in the context of this Bill, there is in the island of Mauritius a deep-water harbour which, for defence purposes and in the light of our leaving Singapore and the Persian Gulf, as well as, perhaps, Simonstown, could fit into our Indian Ocean security system. It could enable us to maintain the stability which is so often asked for through the use of a base of that kind.

The hon. Gentleman spoke of the future of the two bases. I think that the Secretary of State for Defence has stated that H.M.S. "Mauritius" and Plaisance Airport are both to continue to be used by us. In this context, I hope that we shall make more use of Mauritius, now that Singapore, the Persian Gulf and other places are beginning to pass out of our ken as defence bases.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

The hon. Gentleman is using the word "base" in a rather dangerous context. There is no base in Mauritius. A base is the industrial backing of a port or airfield, and no such facilities exist in Mauritius.

Photo of Mr James Johnson Mr James Johnson , Kingston upon Hull West

I was using the word in a technical or almost etymological sense. A station exists where a ship can call and men can go there, whether they are technicians for the airport or otherwise. Without saying any more, I would suggest that, Simonstown or no Simonstown, here is an island which will be part of our system of Dominions within a few weeks, and it can be used in the way I have suggested. It would result in invisibles "and money coming into the island which it sorely needs.

The hon. Member for Essex, South-East made a reference to the island of Rodrigues. That island has a population of 25,000 people, which is quite a substantial number when compared with Anguilla and other islands in the West Indies, which claim independence by association.

Here are two deputies who fought the last election under the flag of the opposition party, Parti Mauricien. The constitutional future was debated in pamphlets, leaflets and speeches during that campaign. I was appalled when I saw in The Times last Saturday that a little known back bench Opposition deputy from the island of Rodrigues was allowed to come here and see the noble Lord who is now Leader of the House of Lords on a constitutional matter. It was never within my knowledge that a back bench deputy of a colonial assembly could have direct access to a Minister of State. I have always understood that direct access to Ministers was reserved for the Dom Mintoffs, the Lester Pearsons and official deputations on constitutional issues led by distinguished statesmen. This meeting has caused a great deal of misunderstanding in the island. The Timesstated that this deputy has come to ask for the secession of an outlying island, possibly to a non-Commonwealth territory like Réunion or Madagascar.

The noble Lord, incidentally, has denied The Times report. He says that it is false and that he did not see the gentleman. I should like some information about it. It is a dangerous, delicate and difficult situation if a back bench Opposition deputy can come to the Leader of the House of Lords a few weeks before independence, so that statements go back which greatly embarrass Dr. Seewoosagur Ramgoolam.

I have always understood that deputies from overseas saw officials in the Commonwealth Office and did not have direct access to a Minister of State. It gives a misleading impression back in the country concerned, particularly when Mr. Gaetan Duval is not behaving quite so helpfully as he was a few weeks after the election. I know what their newspapers are saying, and it is causing enormous embarrassment to Dr. Ramgoolam and his Cabinet. I hope that the Minister will shed some light on this unhappy incident which has occurred in the last few days.

12.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Henry Clark Mr Henry Clark , North Antrim

I was in the privileged position of being one of the Commonwealth observers who went to see the Mauritius election in August of last year. It was a very worthwhile experience to be on such a team. It was a most refreshing occupation. The team consisted of a man from Trinidad, a local government commissioner from the Punjab, an economist from Malta, a Q.C. from London, Ontario, and two hon. Members of this House. At no time did we find ourselves in a position where we could not argue freely and reach a point of agreement on any subject. The team worked very well, and I like to think that we produced a worth-while report.

I am afraid that I did not hear the relevant part of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine), but perhaps I might take up the cudgels with him. Whatever may be said about the percentages of voters, it cannot be disputed that the election was well and truly won by the present Government. The really refreshing fact about it was that, for the first time in the history of Mauritius, people began to some extent to vote away from race and religious affiliations.

Mauritius is blessed with many advantages, but not a good newspaper service. It has a larger number of third-rate newspapers than any other country in the world, and they do nothing to increase political stability. I am quite sure that they will pick up that remark.

Reference has been made to technical aid, and it is vital that there is a continuation of technical aid on a commercial level and the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement. A number of people suggest rather glibly that Mauritius can solve her problems by diversifying her products, but that is nonsense. In terms of arable land, approximately 200,000 acres are under sugar, with about 5,000 acres under other crops. No other crop than sugar gives the same high employment per acre. The sugar estates use one man for about five acres, which is a very high employment rate. In Norfolk, for example, one man is used for 120 or 150 acres. If Mauritius changed to another crop, the amount of employment on the land would be reduced drastically.

Unless and until agriculture is replaced by industry, sugar is the only crop which Mauritius can grow, and it is probably true to say that sugar is grown there more efficiently than in any other country, including the West Indian islands. The Commonwealth Sugar Agreement is vital for the foreseeable future but, at the same time, secondary industry must be developed there.

I see a great future for Mauritius as a relatively stable political entity without racial affiliations of any great significance. Lying as it does off the coast of Africa, its sophisticated population is in a position to supply the manufactured goods which Africa needs. That is the future for Mauritius, and that is what I hope our technical aid will build up.

There are one or two matters arising out of Clause 1 on which I should like some information. Mauritius is one of a large number of islands in the Indian Ocean. We know of the Seychelles, Reunion and Mauritius, and some of us have heard of Rodrigues. More recently, one or two atolls have come into the news, with hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies taking a particular interest in them.

If one looks at a map of the Indian Ocean and sees the very large number of atolls that exist there one begins to accept the idea of the name given to the area. Just as we have Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean, so we have Lemuria in the Indian Ocean. I wonder whether that name came from Lemuel Gulliver or not. The area is a considerable one, including Mauritius, Rodrigues and a vast number of smaller atolls, some inhabited and some not, but purely for administrative convenience these, with the exception of the Seychelles, have been governed by the Government and Governor in Chief of Mauritius.

Can the Minister tell us what administrative arrangements have been made to look after Lemuria, this huge number of atolls in the Indian Ocean, when we cease to have a Governor of Mauritius and independent Mauritius merely governs the island of Mauritius and the island of Rodrigues. There was a certain doubt about one of the off-lying islands of Mauritius being included in the constitution, but the people there had no vote in the election. There were only 25 of them.

This is very relevant to the report in The Times of the bid by Rodrigues to secede. I am prepared to accept that this is probably not a particularly serious bid, but we have the recent evidence of Anguila. We know that there was no question of Rodrigues voting other than heavily for the Parti Mauricien which stood in the election not for independence but for association, remaining in the Commonwealth with internal self-government.

The islands of the Indian Ocean were governed by the Governor and Government of Mauritius largely for administrative convenience. It would be very hard for anyone to say that there was a closer association between the people of Rodriguez and the people of Mauritius than between the people of Rodrigues and the people of the Seychelles or the people of Rodrigues and the people of Reunion. I do not think there is. It was purely a matter of colonial convenience.

I do not take the protest particularly seriously. I do not know Rodrigues, not having been there, but I know that it would be extremely dangerous if in the euphoria created by the announcement of independence we papered over a number of cracks and pretended that difficulties were not there. Difficulties may well be there. Rodrigues has had a disastrous storm in recent weeks. This could perhaps set off a new political attitude depending on whether the people of Mauritius are prepared to help the people of Rodrigues in getting over that natural calamity.

I ask the Minister not to give us an answer now about Rodrigues but fully assure himself that we shall not have an Anguila situation arising, if he can get someone to Rodrigues and back before the independence celebrations take place. It is a remote place and its connection with Mauritius is through administrative convenience rather than any direct trade, racial or kith and kin association.

Needless to say, as a Northern Irelander who objected bitterly to home rule on one occasion I have a certain sympathy with people who do not want to be carried on by a large number of people with whom they are not in agreement. As I say, let us not paper over the cracks. Let us find out what is happening. It is probably nonsense, but let us make certain that the first few months of the future of Mauritius as an independent country are not blackened by troubles with Rodrigues and a non-legal form of secession.

With regard to the question of aid to Mauritius, people have mentioned the idea of its being an ideal site for a British base. I am not certain that it was not King Charles II who said that he who would be the master of Mauritius would hold the key to the Indian Ocean. It is a vital place strategically for us. I am glad that some of the airways and shipping services of the world are discovering this. But let us be clear about it and say that we do not want in 10 years' time, having signed a defence agreement with Mauritius and having assured Mauritius that there will be British forces there for all time, thus providing employment, suddenly to have to get out as we did in Malta and as we shall have to in Singapore. If we are to give aid to the defence installations there, let us make certain where we are going before we give false assurances.

I am sorry to bring this bitter note into the debate, but it is better to leave Mauritius in the comparatively stable economic situation that it is in, poor though it may be, than to bolster up its hopes and let them crash down again as we have done in other parts of the world.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

The Committee, through the three hon. Gentlemen who have spoken, has expressed warm affection for Mauritius. The very name conjures up affection in this House. The name Mauritius is honoured and respected, and it is natural that care should be taken as Clause 1 is dealt with, which removes responsibility from the House of Commons for the government of Mauritius, to ensure that every aspect of independence should be looked at.

I make no complaint that both hon. Gentlemen opposite scored some political points, a sort of hangover on a Friday morning from a Thursday evening debate. I have not experienced a hangover except of that sort. But we are political animals and must not complain if partisans make their points as hon. Gentlemen opposite, who perhaps were not called last night, have succeeded in doing this morning.

I welcome the tone adopted by both hon. Members opposite and my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson). The hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) expressed good will towards Mauritius, and I know that both sides of the Committee will echo the sentiments that he proclaimed. Economic difficulties face the new Government of Mauritius as they face us in this country. Mauritius, with a rapidly expanding population, has need of other industries, although I take the point of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Mr. Henry Clark) about the difficulty of employing more people in diversified industries there. It is not as easy a problem to solve as it is to see.

The question of economic aid for the year 1968 –69 is not yet settled. Conversations are to take place. If I might say a word about what the hon. Member for Essex, South-East mentioned, our overall aid for developing countries will have to bear the relatively small, though important, reduction due to devaluation. But it is remarkable, and a tribute to this country, that at a time of very great economic difficulty we are resolved to keep the ceiling of aid for overseas developing countries at the high figure that we are. There are, I believe, not many countries in the world with their backs to the wall in economic terms as we seem to be just now who would respond in this way. I know that this is appreciated in developing countries.

1.0 p.m. I was asked whether Mauritius would get any loans. I think that it would be wrong for the Committee to anticipate the way the talks will go. I know that we would not want to add to the difficulties of those who, within a short while, will carry responsibility for negotiating the aid terms.

On the question of defence, I can tell the Committee that the hon. Member for Essex, South-East is right. No agreement has been reached. The discussions were delayed, but I hope that they will soon be finalized.

With regard to internal security, we all hope that their forces will be able to maintain law and order, but I have no doubt that this may well form an aspect of he overall discussions which are to take place within a short while.

All three hon. Gentlemen referred to Rodrigues. There is anxiety about this. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West seemed to be a little agitated, because he said that a little-known Member of Parliament had been received. My hon. Friend is, of course, well known. He travels the Commonwealth, and is, and was when he was in Opposition, received by various Governments, and the Commonwealth Office is a citadel of courtesy.

Photo of Mr James Johnson Mr James Johnson , Kingston upon Hull West

I do not think that anyone in the House, particularly on the back benches, has ever been allowed, either overseas or here, to see a leader or a Cabinet member to discuss constitutional changes, and in this case possible secession. I am, of course, open to correction.

Photo of Mr Anthony Royle Mr Anthony Royle , Richmond (Surrey)

I visited Mauritius some years ago, and discussed those very subjects with the leading members of the Government at that time, both on my own, and in company with my colleagues in the House.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I am not seeking to produce evidence of what has happened to other hon. Members All I want to say is that my noble Friend, the other Minister of State, saw this gentleman who said tht he was speaking on behalf of Mr. Duval, the Leader of the Opposition. I am sure that my hon. Friend and the Committee would feel that my noble Friend would have failed in his duty if he had declined to speak to a Member of Parliament purporting to represent, as I believe he did, the Leader of the Opposition.

I want, now, to say a few words about Rodrigues. We are bound by the decisions of the 1965 Conference, and there can be no going back at this stage. We are seeking, as far as possible, to create a viable independent country. It would be out of the question for us to treat Mauritius as a whole on any other basis. I believe that the interests of Rodrigues lie in making a success of her partnership with Mauritius. We could not, of course, possibly include a right to secede in the constitution unless the Government and the Opposition there agreed that this was something which ought to be included.

It is very difficult for us to give assurances, either, about what will happen after independence. It is true that this island is 350 miles away from Mauritius, that its people are largely Creole—it is called general population, I think—that they voted 98 per cent, for the Opposition, and undoubtedly there is a different attitude there, but their future lies with Mauritius, and I earnestly hope that the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister of Mauritius will be able to have discussions before independence to remove the difficulties which appear to exist.

It would be a pity if this island reached independence with quarrels looming large. For the ordinary working people of that part of the world, I earnestly believe that nothing could be more to their good than for them to realise that these islands have common interests. It is customary when independence constitutions are drawn up for there to be safeguards for minorities, and I am satisfied that on this occasion there will be such safeguards.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North referred to the Commonwealth delegation of which he was part. I have already congratulated both the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend on the part they played, but it is music to my ears when I hear emphasis put on Commonwealth agreements, and the way in which the Commonwealth acted on this occasion. The Committee will be pleased to know that the whole Commonwealth has now been consulted about Mauritius, and that agreement has been expressed that Mauritius should be an independent member of the Commonwealth. This is good for their status and dignity, and it is good for us, for the contribution which her distinguished leaders will make to the Commonwealth.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North has a remarkable knowledge of the islands and atolls in that area. Apart from Rodrigues, there are Cargados Carajos, or St. Brandon, and Agalega, all three being dependencies of Mauritius. The Bill will not alter their relationships with Mauritius, of which constitutionally they will form a part. I hope that the Committee will agree to Clause 1 standing part.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3.

(RETENTION OF CITIZENSHIP OF UNITED KINGDOM AND COLONIES BY CERTAIN CITIZENS OF MAURITIUS.)

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I beg to move, in page 2, line 38, leave out "any associated state or".

This is a simple Amendment to correct a mistake. These words should never have been inserted and I hope that the House will accept their removal.

Amendment agreed to.

Question proposed,That the Clause as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Bernard Braine Bernard Braine , Essex South East

I want to make a brief reference to something said by the Minister of State a few moments ago. The Committee is delighted to hear that the formal consultations with the Commonwealth have taken place and that there is agreement that following independence Mauritius should become a full member. May she find her membership as so many of her partners have done, a fruitful association which helps her in the task of finding her feet in the modern world.

On Second Reading, I asked a number of questions about the Bill's citizenship provisions to which, at the time, the Minister of State was unable to give an answer. He kindly indicated that he would let me have the answers by the Committee stage and I am grateful to him. He has been good enough to answer some of my queries, but I know that he will forgive me if I seek some additional clarification.

Clause 3 provides for four categories of persons who will be able to retain their United Kingdom citizenship and therefore will have dual nationality. We were anxious to know who these people are and how many there are. For example, we felt that if, as a result of Clause 2(2), a Mauritian born in Mauritius and who had possibly served the Crown with distinction and was anxious to retain his British citizenship, nevertheless automatically ceased to be a British citizen on 12th March, it was hardly right to grant dual citizenship to someone who had come to Mauritius from a foreign country and was naturalised there or from another Commonwealth country and was registered there as a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies. This seemed an unfortunate discrimination.

The Minister of State cleared this up by making it clear that, by virtue of subsection (5), the persons referred to in subsection (1) do not include those naturalised or registered in Mauritius. He has also made it plain, although he cannot be precise, that the number of persons who will retain their citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies by virtue of Clause 3 is not likely to be large, and we fully accept that from him. It seems that they will chiefly be people born in Mauritius of British fathers employed there, possibly in Government service.

I mention these matters now since the Committee will want to know whether, since we asked these questions in the first place, we are satisfied that they have been answered. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his explanations. But there is still one question to which we have not yet got an answer, and there is also a new question which I should like to raise. If the hon. Gentleman is unable to answer either at this stage, since, I understand, talks on the constitution have not yet taken place but are to start next week, perhaps he will give an assurance that he will see that the answers are given by the time the Bill is considered in another place.

The first question entails referring back to Clause 2(2), which reads: Except as provided by section 3 of this Act, any person who immediately before the appointed day is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies shall on that day cease to be such a citizen if he becomes on that day a citizen of Mauritius. As I said on Second Reading, this has little meaning unless we can be told exactly who will become a citizen of Mauritius on the appointed day. I understand that the hon. Gentleman is not in a position to tell us this today because the discussions on this aspect of the Constitution have not yet taken place. Annexe E to the White Paper on the Mauritius Constitutional Conference, 1965—Cmnd. 2797—states: The Constitution should either automatically confer citizenship or a right of registration on the following classes of persons—All persons naturalised or registered in Mauritius as citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies, andAll persons born outside Mauritius of fathers in this category, providing that in both cases they are still citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies on independence day. We do not know at this stage whether the Constitution will automatically confer citizenship or the right of registration on these two categories of persons. If it confers citizenship automatically, then all is well and there is no cause for anxiety. But, if it merely gives a right to registration, what happens to a person who does not apply to be registered? What will his position be? Presumably he will not become a Mauritan citizen. What will then happen? Will he automatically get British citizenship?

I ask this because no binding agreement appears to have been entered into at the 1965 Constitutional Conference yet it is unsatisfactory that Parliament should be asked to enact legislation touching upon citizenship—one of the most precious of human rights—without a clear idea of what will happen to people who have hitherto had our protection.

It is even more important to get this point clarified because of the reservations many Mauritians have had about the venture into independence. I do not wish to stress that, but citizenship—I know the hon. Gentleman feels very keenly about this, too—is one of the most precious of human rights and we must not leave any doubt or uncertainty in the minds of people who, for a long time, had the privilege of British citizenship and will now lose it.

My second query is a new one in the sense that I did not raise it on Second Reading. Those of us who have Mauritian friends—and I have had a number over the years—know the value that many of them put upon their British citizenship. If they are resident in Mauritius on the appointed day, they will lose that citizenship. I do not say that that is unreasonable. Mauritius is becoming independent and needs the service, devotion and loyalty of all her citizens. Therefore I do not make a complaint on that score. Of course, the vast majority of Mauritians will remain in Mauritius. But there may be a few who, for one reason or another in the years ahead, may wish to claim back their British citizenship.

There are some whose families have served the British Crown for many generations. Some of our most reliable and bravest agents dropped in France during the war were Mauritians. The memory of their courage and sacrifice, like those of all who took part in the resistance against the Nazi tyranny, is imperishable. Some of them were very brave people indeed. I think not only of people like them but also of others as well who, for some special reason, may wish at some time in future to claim back their British citizenship.

I do not press the Minister for a firm answer today, but I do wish to put this question to him. Should there not be some discretionary provision in the Bill for the Secretary of State to grant British citizenship to those Mauritians who apply for it and can show special reason? I would expect the Minister of State to reflect on this especially as the discussions on citizenship are likely to start next week. I do not press the matter now, except to say that we will expect to return to it when the Bill is considered in another place and the Government spokesman is ready to answer all our queries.

Subject to assurances that all these matters will be carefully considered and opportunity provided in another place for discussion of them, we agree that the Clause should stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I am deeply grateful, again, to the hon. Gentleman for his reasonable attitude. He is quite right: few things are more precious to a man than his rights of citizenship. My heart goes out to the stateless, because this condition brings great difficulties in its train.

The hon. Member is also right to say that the discussions on citizenship have not yet reached finality. They will take place in a very short time, and I give the Committee the firm assurance that the answers which I had hoped to give today will be provided in the next stage of the Bill in another place. The hon. Gentleman's noble Friends will be able to pursue the matter and, I trust, be given satisfactory answers. Everything which the hon. Gentleman raised, of course, depends on the discussions which are about to take place.

I hope that the Committee will accept my assurance that all the information for which he asked will be provided in another place.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 4 to 6 ordered to stand part o\ the Bill.

Schedule 1.

LEGISLATIVE POWERS OF MAURITIUS.)

Question proposed, That this Schedule be the First Schedule to the Bill.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

I understand that, under the new procedure, the Third Reading is to be taken formally, so I should like to say a few words, on the Schedule, which I had expected to deliver on Third Reading. My remarks are covered by all die headings in the Schedules, if my proposal is in order.

We on this side welcome the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) and all the speakers from this side have welcomed its provisions and schedules because it represents the free choice of the majority of the people in Mauritius.

It is fair to say, since this is also covered in the Schedules, that we believe that the success of the Bill, which we will undoubtedly pass today, will depend largely on adequate long-term financial help from this country. We know that the Mauritius Government have started an austerity programme and have had to receive £1·3 million in British aid to balance their Budget and that their difficulties will be increased by devaluation.I hope that the Bill will promote trade. All hon. Gentlemen will agree, I think, that trade rather than aid is what the people of Mauritius want in future. I am rather alarmed to see that their late —

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

For the benefit of the Committee in future I should point out that, since the rules have been changed and the Third Reading debate has been abolished, unless notice is given, it is, not competent to use the opportunity of Committee debate on the Schedules to make what would, in effect, be a Third Reading speech. It is competent to discuss anything in the Schedule on the Question, That the Schedule be the Schedule to the Bill, but it is not competent to make a Third Reading speech on that occasion.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

I bow to that Ruling, Sir Eric, but there is mention in the Schedules of finance, visiting forces and ships and aircraft, all of which I would have thought would have been broadly covered by the brief remarks which I proposed to make.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Again, the hon. Gentleman is wrong. At the moment, we are dealing with die First Schedule. The matters to which he referred are contained, if anywhere, in the Second Schedule. At the moment the Question is, That the Schedule be the First Schedule to the Bill.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

Would it then be possible, Sir Eric, to discuss both Schedules together? Would that be in order?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

That can be done, with the consent of the Committee. Is it your pleasure that the two Schedules be considered together?

Hon. Members:

Aye.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

I am grateful to you and to the Committee, Sir Eric. I apologise. This difficulty was due to my not checking the new procedure. The Minister of State and I discussed the Third Reading earlier, so I think that we must share the blame.

The latest import figures for Mauritius show that imports totalled 298½ million rupees, but only 96 million from this country. Officials have gone out there to study our trade with Mauritius and I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us something about their success.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give clear answers on the questions raised on the nationality and immigration provisions, particularly on the question of permanent non-residents, which I cannot, with all my ingenuity, fit into the discussion of the Schedules. We discussed this on Second Reading and my hon. Friend mentioned it on Clause 3. I hope that we will be given full replies, because many people who are no longer permanent residents of Mauritius and have gone to Commonwealth countries would like to retain their British citizenship, subject to the authority of the Home Secretary, which gives certain safeguards.

Defence is covered, because visiting forces are mentioned in the Schedules. Without making a party political point, I would say that the Government's recent decision, right or wrong, to withdraw from the Indian Ocean must affect Mauritius both economically and from the point of view of defence, and, therefore, politically. The Government must reassure Mauritius about the future long-term help and defence which they can give the island.

I would say to my friends in Mauritius, including the Prime Minister, that they would be very wise to extract clear undertakings on these matters from Her Majesty's Government before indepen- dence. There are probably rough waters ahead for the island. That applies to this island as well and probably to most of the world. We on this side wish the island people well and pray that the action which we take today will lead them to a happy future.

Photo of Mr Henry Clark Mr Henry Clark , North Antrim

support my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) for very much the same reason. One matter which is relevant to the last paragraph of Schedule 2 is the question of the name of the new country. A rumour has reached me that the Mauritius Cabinet is contemplating changing the name to a new name which, unfortunately, I cannot now recall.

Any change of this sort would be most ill-judged. It has been the fashion for a number of countries to change their names on independence. New countries usually give up the Anglo-Saxon termination of "land" and the Latin termination of "ia" when they change the name. Some have done so for historical reasons. One can see, certainly, why Northern Rhodesia changed its name to Zambia. But there is no reason why Mauritius should change and every reason why it should not.

There is no question that, in Mauritius, there are encouraging signs of the beginnings of a real loyalty to Mauritius as such. People are beginning to talk of themselves not as Hindis, Muslims, Creoles or whites, but as Mauritians. That is the future of the country, and that is a point which must be made when the House speaks, possibly for the last time, about Mauritius. If there is any good advice which we can give, it is that we should encourage, above all else, the concept that everyone who lives in Mauritius is a Mauritian and that his race, origin and family is of much less importance than the fact that he is a Mauritian.

1.30 p.m.

Arising out of the remarks which the Minister made earlier, about the territory included in the independence of Mauritius, we cannot help observing that Mauritius is one of the first Colonies to obtain independence which, at the same time, is presented with a considerable colonial empire of its own. There are a number of islands which will be governed by Mauritius, some of them with no representation in the Legislature of Mauritius. I hope and trust that the Government of Mauritius will treat those islands which are now their Colonies as they would have had us treat them when they were our colonies.

Those islands may be merely bits of sand and rock today, but who can tell whether the time will not come when they are vital counters in the international war game or are found to contain vitally important national resources in fishing or mineral rights of some sort? I believe that research is taking place already on some of these atolls in connection with the production of fertilisers. I hope that the Government will be conscious of their responsibility as a colonial power with a number of small Colonies —

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. The hon. Member cannot venture on a Third Reading speech, as distinct from discussing the contents of the Schedule.

Photo of Mr Graham Page Mr Graham Page , Crosby

On a point of order. Paragraph 3 of the First Schedule states: The legislature of Mauritius shall have full power to make laws having extra-territorial operation. With respect, I thought that my hon. Friend was well within that paragraph.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

The hon. Gentleman was in order when dealing with the colonial territories of the new State, but he then proceeded much wider than that.

Photo of Mr Henry Clark Mr Henry Clark , North Antrim

I was not aware that I had left the colonial territories of Mauritius, but I will draw my remarks to a close as quickly as possible.

As Mauritius moves to independence, we all wish her well. Those who know Mauritius have a great deal of affection for the country. We perhaps love Mauritius because of her problems and not just because of the beauty of the country and the charm of the people who live there. We wish Mauritius and the Government of Mauritius the best possible fortune in the years ahead.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I will reply briefly to the discussion on the Schedules, which I understand are being taken together.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) on his ingenuity and I confess to you and to the Committee, Sir Eric, that I, too, was caught out in that I had not caught up with the changes in procedure. I therefore confine myself to saying that the hon. Member need not tell the Prime Minister of Mauritius that he ought to extract clear assurances from us. I am sure that he is on his toes, eager and anxious to start with the very greatest advantages.

I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House wish Mauritius well with all our hearts. I promise the hon. Member for Haltemprice, as I promised his hon. Friends—and I am grateful to them—that in another place, through my noble Friend, they will have answers, when these discussions have taken place, to the most important issues which they have raised.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Bill reported, with an Amendment; as amended, considered.

Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 55 (Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.