Papua New Guinea (Gift of a Clock)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th March 1978.

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11.6 a.m.

Photo of Mr Robert Mellish Mr Robert Mellish , Southwark Bermondsey

You will remember, Mr. Speaker, that on 15th December the House passed a resolution that a clock should be presented to the Parliament of Papua New Guinea, which has recently become independent. On 20th February another resolution was passed by the House that the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Le Marchant) and myself, with a Clerk, Mr. Lankester, should perform that task. That mission has been accomplished and we have followed the instructions of the House.

On Monday 27th February, the hon. Member for High Peak and I went to the Parliament of Papua New Guinea and presented the clock, and I also personally delivered a letter from you, Mr. Speaker. The Speaker was most grateful and asked me to convey his personal thanks to you. I understand that he is coming to this country soon and will thank you personally. The ceremony was short but effective. We received great support and applause from the Members of their House.

I should like to convey to the House my impressions of that country after staying there for three or four days. The sentiments of the people of Papua New Guinea for Britain were quite emotional. As you know, Mr. Speaker, they decided voluntarily to become members of the Commonwealth. No one forced them to do it. The people's affection for this country has to be seen to be believed. We need plenty of friends, and we have one there. The country is a member of the Lomé Convention through the EEC and is playing an important part.

We visited Bougainville, which is part of Papua New Guinea. There we saw the largest copper mine in the world. It is an incredible sight. We also went to Rabaul, another part of the country. We saw some of the voluntary workers from Britain who are doing a tremendous job there.

Papua New Guinea is a highly civilised country. Its people are charming, courteous and pro-British. They badly need our help. They need money to build roads. Port Moresby is the only city in the world with only 10 miles of road communications. As a result, everything has to be brought in by air. The people need our help very much indeed.

We met a number of British people who are doing a first-class and excellent job. Our exports last year were up by 30 per cent., so there is a great potential for trade. I hope that the Ministry of Overseas Development will understand that the hon. Member for High Peak and I came back determined that these people shall receive the help that they are entitled to expect. It is incredible that they have already learnt to devolve powers to their provincial governments. We have been talking about devolution for some time recently. They have actually devolved powers to their regions.

Papua New Guinea is a country of 3 million people. It has more than 1,000 tribes, and the people speak 750 dialects. But that did not stop them devolving power, and somehow—believe it or not—it is working. You will not be surprised to hear, Mr. Speaker, that in my speech I referred to the fact that we in this House are watching their activities with very great interest to see whether there is anything that we can learn from them.

I conclude by paying tribute to a number of people. Our country is very well served by Mr. Middleton, the High Commissioner. He is an outstanding man who has a first-class record. He was in Nigeria and then at the Northern Ireland Office. He has been in Papua New Guinea just over a year, and he is a great credit to this country. His work is tremendous.

I am delighted that the Conservative Chief Whip is present. I should like to tell him that his colleague, the hon. Member for High Peak, who was with me throughout the trip, was a credit to his party. I am delighted that the hon. Member came with me. The House will be glad to know that we did not miss one appointment. Whenever we were due to do anything, we did it, and we were on time to do it.

I should like, Mr. Speaker, through you, to tell the Clerk of the House that I am much obliged to his Mr. Lankester, who accompanied us on the trip and did a first-class job. I am obliged to him and I thank the Clerk of the House for having recommended that he be sent.

Finally, I should like to say to you, Mr. Speaker, and the House—and I know that I speak also for the hon. Member for High Peak—that I am most grateful for having had the opportunity to visit a country that I was proud to see and for which I now have a great affection. I shall do all I can to ensure that its people have the aid, affection and respect of this country, which they deserve.

11.12 a.m.

Photo of Mr Spencer Le Marchant Mr Spencer Le Marchant , High Peak

I should like first to thank the House for the opportunity that I was given to visit Papua New Guinea. I thank you, Mr. Speaker, personally for the interest that you have shown in our trip, both before and after our visit.

I should like to thank the two High Commissioners—Mr. Reiher, who was the acting High Commissioner for Papua New Guinea, for the help that he gave us before we left, and I am delighted that he has now been confirmed in his appointment as High Commissioner, and I confirm what the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) said regarding our gatitude to Mr. and Mrs. Middleton for what they did.

Obviously one wishes to thank the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, the Leader of the Opposition, the Speaker and every Member of Parliament there for the courtesy they showed us. They seemed to enjoy us, too—which was surprising.

It goes without saying, after what the right hon. Member for Bermondsey has said, that one has enormous admiration for what these people are doing. As the right hon. Member said, they have chosen to belong to the Commonwealth, and not only that, but they want to play, intend to play, and will play a part in the world. They want to be part of the developing world. They want to play a full part as an independent nation, and they are showing to the full that they are capable of doing that.

One cannot but be impressed by what they have done in education and health. All the actions that they are taking are thoroughly well thought out and are in the highest traditions of democracy. It is perhaps in regard to democracy that we look to these people, because they believe in it. They believe in our way of life. They are going to lead it to the very full, and they are prepared to fight for it.

One can be proud of what Britain did in Papua way back in the 1800s and, indeed, proud of what our fellow Commonwealth members in Australia have done for so long and are still continuing to do.

It is perhaps surprising that there are about 4,000 or 5,000 British people in Papua New Guinea who are playing a very full part in helping this new country to get ahead. In our Voluntary Service Overseas people there we have our second largest number of people anywhere in the world after Nigeria. They are doing extremely well.

I would hope that perhaps at some time our Government will be able to help those very worthwhile people at the end of their term of duty. In the VSO, we are no longer getting only 18-year-olds or 19-year-olds but people in very responsible jobs in their middle twenties, married couples in many cases, who are doing really worthwhile work to develop Papua New Guinea and other places. I would hope that perhaps the Government will see fit at some time to see that they get some sort of annuity when they come home after their years out there, to be able to set up here.

Recently the Sunday Mirror had a lovely cartoon which showed how politicians, when they go abroad, lie on the beach with a very pretty girl beside them. The House would not expect the right hon. Member for Bermondsey to have led me on that type of visit. I would have tried it, but, equally, I was so interested in what we were doing that there was nothing lost by not doing that.

The right hon. Member led us superbly. However, to lead me and a Clerk who is as qualified as Mr. Lankester must be so easy in comparison with the lot he has had to control. The right hon. Gentleman led the delegation in his own inimitable way. I believe that he represented us to the very highest standards of this House.

I came back from Papua New Guinea with great feelings of affection for a people who are working hard for their own future, and confident that the people who lead the country will successfully achieve their aims. I return with a feeling of gratitude for the friendship that one received, and, of course, as I have said, Mr. Speaker, gratitude to you and to the House.

I am very proud that those people are members of our Commonwealth. One realises that you understand only English, Mr. Speaker, but pidgin is English, is it not? Therefore, I conclude by saying that they are the people who are confident in their future, and I say it in pidgin: Pipal bilong Papua New Guinea i gutpela pipal na ol i bilip arce long girapim kantri bilong ol.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I am sure that the House will wish me to thank the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) and the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Le Marchant) for the way in which they have discharged the task entrusted to them. I cannot remember hearing two speeches from the right hon. and hon. Members who have represented this House abroad presented to the House in a more moving way. I believe that it is the House at its best when hon. Members on both sides can pay such tribute to each other. I was waiting for the hon. Member for High Peak to say that the right hon. Member for Bermondsey was worthy of his party, but I think that it was understood in the high tributes that they paid to each other.

I should also like to thank Mr. Richard Lankester for the service that he rendered to the House and to our two colleagues. I shall see that when the right hon. Member for Bermondsey obtains the resolution of the Parliament of Papua New Guinea, it is entered upon the Journal of the House.