Amendment No. 5, in clause 2, page 1, line 14, at end insert—
'(2) The constitution of Kiribati to be made under subsection (1) above shall make provision for a compact of free association between the Gilbert Islands (other than Banaba) and Banaba which grants self-government for the Banabans on Banaba under the overall sovereignty of the Government of Kiribati.
(3) Such constitution shall include provision that—
I indicated on the selection list issued this morning that I would be willing to allow a separate Division on amendment No. 2, if required. I have since heard that the hon. Members interested might prefer to divide separately on amendment No. 5 instead. As this is the amendment of substance to which amendment No. 2 relates, this will be quite in order, and I shall therefore give an opportunity for amendment No. 5 to be moved and divided upon when it is reached.
Perhaps I may preface my remarks, Mr. Weatherill, by saying that it gives me great joy—and I think that I speak for all hon. Members present—to see you presiding for the first time over a Committee of the whole House. Those of us who have had the privilege of knowing you for some years are aware of your great qualities of heart and mind, your kindness and generosity and, above all, your dedication to Parliament. You are truly a parliamentary man, and we should like to wish you a long, happy and successful enjoyment of your office.
What you have just said, Mr. Weatherill, about the arrangements for the debate is wholly acceptable to me and, I trust, to those of my hon. Friends who are supporting this group of amendments.
These amendments seek to prevent an injustice to a small Pacific community, the Banabans, who have already suffered grievously enough at the hands of successive British Administrations. The amendments concern their claim to return to their orginal homeland, Ocean Island, or Banaba, seized by Britain for its phosphate wealth three-quarters of a century ago and which, now ravaged and well-nigh destroyed, is to be included in the new Kiribati or Gilbertese Republic.
The amendments would effectively prevent the Banabans, who are mainly Fijian citizens, from being forced to live in a State to which they do not wish to belong and they would go some way towards making amends for a long and sordid record of maladministration almost without parallel in our history.
If carried, the amendments would not frustrate or delay Gilbertese independence, planned for next month. Neither would they slam the door on a reasonable compromise solution. On the contrary, they should clear the way for an inde- pendent Kiribati Republic to enter into a constitutional arrangement with the Banabans on an equal footing, which alone can ensure a peaceful and harmonious future for both peoples.
The Banaban people have only one request to make of Parliament. They make it with dignity despite all that they have endured and in the profound belief that, once the truth is known, Parliament will not let them down.
I do not say this with any relish, but the Second Reading debate was remarkable for the way in which the case for the separation of Ocean Island from the Gilbert Islands colony to which it was attached in 1916, without Banaban consent or even knowledge, was totally ignored by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker), who is in charge of the Bill, and his platoon of ex-Foreign Office Ministers.
It was an astonishing performance. If the facts fitted the brief, well and good; if they did not, so much the worse for the facts. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) let the ministerial cat out of the bag when he told us that it did not matter what hon. Members said; the Foreign Office had always acted in a practical, right and just manner. Anyone who has bothered to study the facts of this case knows that that is precisely what it has not done. I invite the Committee to consider whether it can recall any other instance in modern times of a High Court judge censuring successive British Governments for their breach of trust towards a small, defenceless people.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State contended that to grant the Banabans' request would run contrary to the long-established practice of British Governments not to fragment colonial territories when granting independence, to maintain existing boundaries, and to respect the wishes of the inhabitants as a whole. He was
unaware of any case in which separation has been pushed through in defiance of the wishes and without the consent of the elected Government of that territory."—[Official Report, 24 May 1979; Vol. 967, c. 1333.]
I am sorry to have to say that such a statement was palpable nonsense, as any student of Commonwealth history could have told him. Indeed, he was told in the debate that that was exactly what had
happened when we assented to Pakistan seceding from the Indian Union against the wishes of the Hindu majority, and when Nyasaland seceded from the Central African Federation and Jamaica seceded from the West Indian Federation against the wishes of the properly elected Governments concerned.
My hon. Friend was also told that his sacred principle of non-fragmentation had been shattered in the case of tiny Anguilla, where one of his precedessors was chased off the island by a small community who were determined to have nothing to do with another of our Whitehall concoctions, the associated State of St. Kitts-Nevis Anguilla—a situation which we had finally to accept. The experience had its comic aspect, but it was humiliating indeed to the Government at the time and I can well understand that my hon. Friend does not wish to recall it.
What the Anguilla episode did, however, was to teach the lesson that people who feel that their freedom and identity are threatened will protest and rebel. I find it sad in the extreme that in some quarters that lesson has still not been learned.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State derived some comfort and support from the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands), who spoke of the 1960 General Assembly resolution condemning disruption of the territorial integrity of a country. That, if I may say so with respect, was a somewhat one-sided view of the resolution. As the Wooding Commission on Anguilla put it squarely,
There is … an unresolved conflict between the pursuit of the right of self-determination and the preservation of the national unity and territorial integrity of an established state.
The truth is, of course, that both these contradictory principles are enshrined in the United Nations resolution. It would have been fairer had the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and my hon. Friend told the House that the United Nations also certainly endorses the inalienable right of self-determination.
I mean no disparagement of the United Nations when I say that it is essentially a political organisation, and that its resolutions are not sacrosanct; nor are they consistently interpreted. The United Nations recognised the secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan, but not that of Taiwan from China. It was not prepared to accept the 1967 referendum in Gibraltar which had resulted in an overwhelming vote in favour of staying with Britain rather than joining Fascist Spain. These examples hardly suggest that my hon. Friend was on firm ground when he called the United Nations in aid.
It is not for us, I suggest, in this sovereign Parliament to explain United Nations attitudes. Our task surely is to decide for ourselves what are the merits of the case and, if I may borrow the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey, to determine what is "practical, right and just".
Here, alas, my hon. Friend the Minister of State was not very helpful. When he sought to show how wrong we were to fragment the Gilbert Islands colony against the wishes of the majority of its people, he cited at length the case of Kenya, where at the time of independence we refused the Somalis of the Northern Frontier District permission to secede and join their brothers in Somalia. In defending that decision, he made no pretence, as he has done in the case of the Banabans and the Gilbertese, that the Somalis were of the same race and spoke the same language as the Kikuyu, the Masai or the Kamba. On the contrary, in Kenya the ethnic principle was totally ignored because to have recognised it would have violated the principle of territorial integrity. It was the colonial boundaries that had to be respected there, not the principle of ethnic affinity, let alone the wishes of a minority.
It is true, of course, that frontiers which divide distinct ethnic groups are treated as sacrosanct in the Third world. The Somali nation is but one victim; there are many others. But the Minister's contention and that of the Gilbertese Government that the Banabans should be forcibly confined within Gilbertese frontiers because they are ethnically similar is a novel one indeed. It is not only a novel argument but a dishonest one fabricated in order to conceal the true motive—the need to justify past and future exploitation of Banaban resources.
In any event, as the Minister of State admitted, both the principles of territorial integrity and of self-determination have already been breached in the Gilberts by allowing the secession of the Ellice Islands, now known as Tuvalu.
I am not forgetting that my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal anticipated the point by telling us that the Tuvaluans are Polynesian as opposed to the Gilbertese and the Banabans who are Micronesian, and, what is more, they separated with the consent of the Gilbertese. In a tight corner, all Ministers choose whatever argument suits them. None must mind, therefore, if we probe a little deeper, as I intend to do, and uncover the whole truth.
Why was it that, with the encouragement of the British Government, the Gilbertese were willing to let the Tuvaluans secede but have been adamantly opposed to letting the Banabans go? The answer has nothing to do with ethical considerations but everything to do with money. The Tuvaluans were allowed to go because they agreed to give up any claim to their share of the remaining revenues from Banaban phosphates. Not only would this ensure that the Gilbertese would be able to enjoy these revenues, building up a massive reserve fund until the phosphate deposits were exhausted—I do not hold that against them—but the British Government would be relieved thereby from the cost of administering a poverty-stricken State. That was the reason why the Banabans could not be released, and everyone in the Pacific knows it. It is greatly to the credit of the Tuvaluans that they preferred to take their freedom rather than to continue drawing the phosphate money.
Greed has been the motivation for denying Banaban self-determination, and nothing else. A fortnight before Mr. John Lee, who was an hon. Member in the last Parliament, and I visited the area in March 1975, the then Prime Minister of Australia told the House of Representatives in Canberra that for decades since the First World War the inhabitants of phosphate islands in the Pacific and Indian Oceans—and he specifically mentioned Ocean Island—had subsidised Australian and New Zealand farmers. He could have added that they had also enabled the British Government to run the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony on the cheap.
In our report to the British Government in April 1975, following our visit to the Pacific and discussions with Australian Ministers and officials and New Zealand officials, there and elsewhere in the Pacific, Mr. Lee and I stated that we had
the distinct impression that their governments are profoundly uneasy about what has happened in the past to the remote island peoples of the Pacific
a readiness exists in Canberra and Wellington to join with the United Kingdom in accepting a settlement which would enable Ocean Island to become associated with Fiji (which is what the Banabans always wanted) provided the Gilbert and Ellice Islands were given both compensatory support and continuing aid for some years ahead.
Accordingly, we recommended that there should be immediate discussions between the Governments concerned with a view to wiping the slate clean and making a fresh start. It is our belief that had that recommendation been accepted the Banabans would have called off the proceedings they were taking against the British Government and the British Phosphate Commissioners. Alas, our report was totally ignored. The Banabans plunged into their long High Court actions and the opportunity to resolve the problem in a statesmanlike way had been thrown away.
I have stated this at length because I must put a question to the Committee: if the United Nations fails to provide us with a clear guide as to how best to proceed, and if our decolonising experience elsewhere is of little help, to whom and to what principle can we turn for guidance?
My hon. Friend was, I thought, a little over-sensitive when I suggested on Second Reading that we might seek the advice of our Commonwealth partners in the Pacific with whom the new Kiribati Republic will have to live after our withdrawal. I had in mind the States closest to the problem in both the political and geographical sense—Fiji, Nauru and Tuvalu.
I find it disturbing that Ministers and their predecessors have deliberately not consulted the Fijian Government on the possible separation of Banaba from the Gilberts. With respect, I think that this is a case of not asking a question to which they already know, and do not like, the answer.
The Prime Minister of Fiji, a greatly respected figure in the Commonwealth and a good friend of our country, has behaved impeccably throughout these years. He has never openly criticised the British Government, but he certainly has views on the subject, as many of us know, and it would be surprising if he had not, for most Banabans are Fijian subjects.
Let me remind the Committee of what the Fijian Prime Minister told his own Parliament as recently as 7 March, shortly after the abortive visit of Mr. Evan Luard. He reported that he had told Mr. Luard that his Government fully sympathised with the position now taken by the Banabans, and said:
The Banabans were bent on demanding separation of Ocean Island because they had never been governed by the Gilbertese. They felt that if Britain, which had governed Ocean Island for the Banabans and on their behalf since 1916
—the year in which they were attached to the Gilbert Islands—
now wanted to withdraw constitutionally from the region, Ocean Island should be returned to the Banabans, and not handed over to the Gilbert Islands Government. After all Britain had agreed to return sovereignty over the Ellice Islands to the Ellice people.
The Prime Minister went on to say:
As far as the Government of Fiji was concerned, I told Mr. Luard that we could not remain insensitive to what the Banabans feel strongly to be just and fair. As island peoples we are all extremely sensitive to our homeland and heritage. We have never submitted ourselves to be ruled or governed by outsiders.
This Parliament has never been told of those strong feelings. Ministers have chosen not only to ignore Fijian susceptibilities but to conceal from us the unease that their policy is causing a respected Commonwealth partner. And there is good reason for unease, since the ludicrous constitutional proposals in this Bill will divide the Banabans, who by law have two homes—one on Rabi in Fiji and one on Ocean Island in the Gilberts—between two independent sovereign jurisdictions.
Ministers have also chosen to ignore requests in the past from both the Gilbertese and the Banabans for a round table conference bringing together all concerned, including the British, Austra- lian and New Zealand Governments, as the partners in the BPC, first to discuss the financial issues which lie at the root of the problem and then to deal with the constitutional future of Ocean Island. While this has caused great and continuing concern to Fiji, it is apparently a matter of no concern to British Ministers.
What is the attitude of the other Commonwealth countries in the Pacific? Has my hon. Friend informed himself of the views held by President Hammer De Roburt of Nauru? Is it not the case that the President would be happy to see Banaba detached?
What is the attitude of Tuvalu? When I indicated on Second Reading that its Prime Minister had made it plain that the problem was not difficult to solve—that Ocean Island should be allowed to separate from the Gilberts and that this was a matter which should be decided solely between Her Majesty's Government and the Banabans—my hon. Friend said that he had no evidence of this. He went further and claimed that to allow separation would not please other countries in the Pacific. What countries are they? Where is his evidence? The three countries closest to the Gilberts, the three most likely to be disturbed by any unrest caused by the Government's insensitive policy of forcing the Banabans into a State to which they do not wish to belong, would have no objection at all.
So much for my hon. Friend's arguments. If he is unable to convince us as to what should be our guide in deciding where the path of duty lies, there is, I suggest, one infallible counsellor:
Coleridge told us,
is but the pulse of reason.
To get at the heart of the matter, I suggest that we seek the answers to three questions. First, are the Banabans so distinct a community that their right to self-determination should be conceded? Secondly, have the Banabans been so ill used by successive Administrations that Britain must make amends now while we still have the power to do so? Thirdly, have we an obligation to conduct our withdrawal from the South-West Pacific in a way which leaves the area in a state of peace and tranquillity; and, if so,
is the final betrayal of the Banabans proposed in the Bill likely to strengthen or weaken that obligation?
Let us take first the question of identity. Hon. Members may have noted the repeated suggestions by Ministers and ex-Ministers, on both sides of the House, that Ocean Island is, and always has been, an integral part of the Gilbert Islands. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil described it on Second Reading as
an integral and intrinsic part"—[Official Report, 24 May 1979; Vol. 967, c. 1256.]
of the Gilbert community and State. It is neither.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw), who is not favouring us with his presence this afternoon, described Ocean Island as merely one of 33 Gilbert Islands. It is not.
Perhaps we can jointly ensure that what I am about to say is conveyed to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud at the appropriate time, because it needs to be said.
Sixteen of the islands are the Phoenix and Line Islands, none of which has an indigenous population. My hon. Friend told us that he had heard no criticism of the inclusion of either group in the new Kiribati State. That is hardly surprising, because there is no one to complain. The Phoenix Islands, as far as I am aware, have no permanent population, while the Line Islands are mainly populated by a few imported copra workers.
Having disposed of the Phoenix and Line Islands, we are left with 17 others. One of these is Ocean Island. The remaining 16 are known as the Gilbert Islands as a result of a visit by Captain Thomas Gilbert in 1788. He did not include Ocean Island in the Gilberts for the simple reason that he knew nothing of its existence. It was not discovered until 1804, some 16 years after the -Gilberts had been discovered, listed and named to the satisfaction of Western navigators.
Consider, too, Mr. Weatherill, the authoritative view of Professor H. E. Maude, the distinguished Pacific historian and former Resident Commissioner in the Gilberts:
Banaba was not one of the 16 Gilbert Islands given by informants from Kuria and Butaritari to the ethnographer Horatio Hale in 1841 as constituting the Group, nor was it included in the list given by Captain Richard Randell, the most knowledgeable European connected with the Gilberts prior to annexation, to the Rev. L. H. Gulick in 1861. Nor was Ocean Island included among the 'Gilbert Islands' which Captain E. M. Davis was directed to declare a British Protectorate over.
I must go into this detail in order to dispose of the kind of arguments that the Government and their predecessors have seen fit to place before Parliament on the rare occasions when we have had the opportunity to discuss the matter.
I appreciate that to establish that Ocean Island is not one of the Gilbert Islands, which I think I have done, does not necessarily prove that Banabans are not Gilbertese. There have been strenuous efforts on the part of Ministers and ex-Ministers—no doubt on the advice they have received; they are honourable men, and no doubt they believe what they were told—to suggest that the Banabans are the same people as the Gilbertese and that they have no separate identity. Indeed, my hon. Friend had the temerity to call Professor Maude in aid of his argument. My hon. Friend should have pursued his researches further, for in 1968 the professor wrote:
The Banabans had never at any time formed a part of the Gilbert Islands, whether geographically, politically or through social cohesion … the community is basically composed of a non-Gilbertese stock on which has been superimposed an overlay of Gilbertese driftaways and a single party of settlers from Beru. The racial composition of the Banabans is therefore similar to that of the Nauruans. …
For full measure, the professor added:
Forgotten in Gilbertese tradition, unrecorded in the Gilbertese genealogies, it may be doubted if a single Gilbert Islander was aware of the existence of the Banabans at the time of their first contact with Europeans.
There is no need to provide the Committee with further evidence, except to comment upon the fact, so often mentioned by British and Gilbertese Ministers, that the Banabans speak the same language as the Gilbertese as though that was a convincing argument.
Professor Maude compared the loss of the Banaban language, due to the introduction of the Gilbertese Bible, of the use of Gilbertese in mission schools and the influence of Gilbertese phosphate workers, to the loss of the Cornish and Manx languages.
The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) and other colleagues from the far West of our country might well remind us that the Cornish revolted against the new liturgy in 1549 on the grounds that
we Cornish men (whereof certain of us understand no English) utterly refuse this new English",
and that William Scawen, writing in the late seventeenth century, attributed the decay of the Cornish language to the neglect of the Church to translate the Prayer Book into Cornish.
Professor Maude concluded that the former existence of the Banaban language
is an indication of separate identity while its extinctioin is attributable to pressures emanating from European contact".
Thus there can be no doubt that Banaban identity was distinct and separate from that of the Gilbertese until we Europeans arrived and linked the two peoples for our commercial and administrative convenience and advantage. It is contemptible for Ministers and officials to deny that identity, as they have done consistently, as an excuse for what they have done in the past and now for their final act of betrayal.
Having established Banaban identity beyond peradventure, let us not be led astray by observations, such as those made by hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper), who made such an excellent speech on Second Reading, to the effect that the Banabans have Gilbertese blood. They have. It is hardly surprising that they have intermarried due to the contacts forced upon them by us between 1900 and 1942 when we abandoned them to the mercy of the Japanese. There is no significance whatsoever in this intermingling of two distinct peoples, save perhaps that it augurs well for future collaboration between them once the idea of forcing the Banabans into a unitary state is abandoned.
I would only add that, whatever admixture of blood there may have been in the early decades of this century be- tween Banabans and Gilbertese, the Banaban community has been living now in Fiji for the past 34 years. It has therefore been separated geographically and politically for more than a generation from the Gilberts colony and is indelibly identified by its connection with Fiji.
Although the Banabans have been living on Fiji, together with quite a number of Gilbertese who moved to Fiji with them, is it not the case, as I pointed out on Second Reading, that when a party of Banabans went to Rabi Island—I believe at the time of the House of Lords Second Reading debate—and were taken back to Tarawa prior to their trial, most of them were able to stay with their own families, so that the closeness of this relationship continues, despite the fact that they have been living some way away for quite a time?
I do not deny that. All I am saying is that the fact that there has been intermarriage during a brief period in their history does not deprive them of the identity to which they lay claim.
The hon. Member for Farnworth knows a great deal about this part of the world. Let me say to him that it is not what I or anyone else thinks about the Banabans that should influence our judgment. In the end, it is what the Banabans believe themselves to be, and nobody who has had any dealings with them, as I have, can doubt that they believe passionately both in their own separate identity and in the need, if they are to survive spiritually, for the return to them of the island where the bones of their ancestors lie.
A final irony is that as far as the British Government are concerned it is only in these last few years when the Banabans have been demanding that justice is done to them that we have heard suggestions that they are Gilbertese. They were not considered so when we seized their land; they were then regarded as Banabans, and we did not link them with the Gilberts until 16 years later and then so that we could exploit them more easily. They were not Gilbertese when we inveigled them into transferring to Rabi in Fiji so as to make exploitation of their sole resource easier still. It was, in fact, a "Banaban" ordinance, not a Gilbertese ordinance, that was introduced by the Fiji Colony Government of the time to regularise their position in their new home.
I turn to the second question, which is whether the Banabans have been so ill used that we must make amends by heeding their plea for separation. My hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean), whom I do not see here today, thought it wrong to stir up past grievances. He is not the first when faced with a moral dilemma of this kind to suggest that the slate should be sponged clean and that no good is done by recalling the past. That is easy enough for people who themselves have not suffered pain or deprivation.
It would be easier still if we could make amends for all that had gone before, but that is not proposed in the Bill. On the contrary, the Bill sweeps Banaban claims aside and adds one last final injury to all the others inflicted on defenceless people. In conscience, I cannot go along with that, and I hope that there are sufficient hon. Members in this Committee who will not go along with it.
I see in my mind's eye weeping Banaban women, clinging to their fruit-bearing trees in a last attempt to resist the bulldozers of the BPC, being dragged away by force.
I recall the infamous letter from the Resident Commissioner threatening the Banabans with the destruction of their most fertile village unless they agreed to sell their land at an enforced low price.
I assert that after the war the Banabans did not agree to go to Rabi with joy in their hearts, as hon. Members have been told, but were bullied into going. They were told that if they did not go they would be left to fend for themselves, as they had done under the Japanese, and the Committee should remember that only a few short years before large numbers of their friends and relations had been murdered by the Japanese.
I recall the lie they were told in 1945 that they could not go back to Ocean Island because it was devastated, and how, while they were being shipped off to Rabi, the BPC was recruiting 1,700 Gilbertese labourers to mine their phos- phates, a decision which, incidentally, was taken in advance of getting rid of the Banabans. It follows that it was completely untrue to say, as was said on Second Reading, that the Banabans could not have survived on Ocean Island after the war. Up to 2,000 workers and their families did so, and still do today. It was a lie—a lie perpetrated for a specific reason.
I remember how, after the Banabans were moved to Rabi, the British adviser attached to them was expressly instructed by his superiors in writing to withhold advice and information from them which was crucial to their economic future. The irony was that they were paying his salary.
I recall that when British officials went to talks with the BPC in 1964 to discuss the division of phosphate royalties between the Gilbertese and the Banabans, one of them minuted in his elegant Colonial Office prose—and I can produce the evidence—
we must be prepared to ditch the Banabans"—
and ditch them they did.
We must make amends.
I agree with my hon. Friend in nearly all that he says. However, one feature disturbs me. Does he consider that, by acknowledging the identity of the Banabans in the way that he and I would like to see, we would be making amends for this terrible history and for all the wrongs which were done in the past? I do not consider that it would go nearly far enough.
That is a good question. It is one straight from my hon. Friend's heart. I understand it. The answer is that it is quite impossible to make full amends for past injuries. But the amendment is what the Banabans and their friends in the Pacific want. It would provide an honourable way out of the difficulty. We shall be coming later to suggestions of a positive kind. This is the best that we can do. The evil that has been done cannot be undone. What we can do is to prevent the final and crowning injury that the Bill seeks to inflict by voting for this amendment.
Finally, there is the question whether what is proposed in the Bill will ensure peace and tranquillity in the South-West Pacific after our departure. If the Bill passes unamended, we shall be dividing the Banaban people between two sovereign jurisdictions. That, in itself, is a lunatic provision without parallel anywhere else in the world. It is also fraught with obvious dangers. The Government have not consulted the Fijian Government about the implications. They have ignored the views of others in the Pacific. They have brushed aside as of no consequence the views of the unhappy Banabans themselves. All that, I suggest, is a sure prescription for trouble in the future, although when it comes Her Majesty's Government will have washed their hands of all responsibility. Such conduct is more than unworthy. It is a disgraceful abdication of responsibility, all the more so because during the week beginning 14 May—before the Second Reading of the Bill—there was an important development in the Pacific.
At the request of Gilbertese Ministers, the Fijian Prime Minister presided over a conference in Suva between them and the Banabans. Discussion ranged over three days. The Banabans made a significant concession. They said that they were now prepared to consider a free association arrangement with the Gilberts rather than with Fiji, but only after Ocean Island had been separated from the Gilbert Islands colony. The association would then be between two separate but equal political entities. This would be facilitated by my amendment No. 5.
I should perhaps say, in passing, that, although the Banabans have long sought the separation of Ocean Island and its return to their control, they have been campaigning for the last five years for this to be followed by association with Fiji, where the majority of them live, on a basis not unlike that of the Cook Islands with New Zealand. The Fijian Government had taken a decision in principle in 1974 to offer such status to the Banabans, subject to the British Government agreeing to separate Ocean Island from the Gilberts. The Banaban contention was then, and still is, that the question of separation was a matter solely for the British Government and that the consent of the Gilbertese, who had never ruled them, was not necessary.
The idea of association with Fiji was sensible for two reasons. First, it disposed of the silly charge some people were making that Ocean Island, a mere speck on the map, could hardly enjoy independence on its own. That had never been proposed. Second, it ensured that the Banabans' two island homes, Rabi and Ocean, were brought under the ultimate sovereignty of a single State, namely Fiji, and, of course, would have only one citizenship.
In the Suva talks, the Banabans were ready to drop the idea of association with Fiji and to enter into a similar arrangement with the Gilberts. As chairman of the Justice for the Banabans Campaign, I am pleased to see present several of the trustees of the campaign, including my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury (Sir J. Langford-Holt) and the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley). We were delighted to hear this proposal, as it seemed to offer a sensible way out of a difficult and worrying situation.
The Gilbertese Ministers, on the other hand—surprisingly, in view of the fact that they had called for the conference in the first place—said that they had no mandate to consider such ideas, although they were prepared to consider some kind of autonomy within a unitary State after independence. An impasse was reached. There the matter might have rested had not the Fijian Prime Minister tabled a set of compromise proposals of his own. After discussion, the Banaban leaders accepted these proposals. It says a great deal for the Fijian Prime Minister that he was able to produce a set of proposals which, seen by any unbiased observer, would do justice to the Banabans and, at the same time, keep Ocean Island within the overall sovereignty of the new Kiribati Republic.
I forbear to comment on the fact that successive British Governments have never been able to come up with proposals of this kind. One reason is that the official mind has nearly always been prejudiced against the Banabans. I come back to the reason for not letting them go. They were an obstacle from the very beginning to the ruthless exploitation of their phosphates. In short, they were a nuisance. We should be grateful for the imagination and the statesmanship of the Fijian Prime Minister.
I realise I have talked at considerable length, but it might be helpful to the Committee if I were to explain the Suva proposals. They were advanced because, in the Fijian view, there are two reasons why the Bill's proposal to safeguard Banaban interests on Ocean Island through entrenched clauses in a unitary Gilbert Islands constitution cannot be regarded as just and fair. First, the British Government's decision that, when they withdraw, sovereignty over Ocean Island will be passed to a Gilbertese State and not revert to the Banabans is, in the Fijian view, an act of unilateral imposition by Britain and ignores Banaban claims. Secondly, the Banabans could not possibly accept the proposed safeguards as they had no part in drafting them.
Accordingly, the Fijian Prime Minister proposed that there should be an agreement or compact of free association between the Gilberts and the Rabi Council of Leaders on behalf of the Banabans. This agreement would be based on the following principles: Banaba shall be self-governing but not independent; the Gilbert Islands will retain authority and responsibility for security, defence and citizenship matters and the Gilbert Islands constitution will have entrenched clauses on the citizenship rights of the Banabans; Banaba will have authority and responsibility for external affairs, including marine resources; both parties will agree on a mutual sharing of phosphate royalties from Ocean Island and on consultation on such matters as access to, or exploitation of, marine resources in their respective economic zones; this compact of free association could run for a specified period and then be renewed. Alternatively, it could provide for unilateral termination by either party or termination by mutual agreement of both parties.
A great deal more has come out in other speeches—
I am following the hon. Gentleman with great care. Will he explain to what document he refers? The communique I have seen, issued at the end of the talks, does not refer to the proposals in the detail he has outlined.
These are the proposals which the Fijian Prime Minister made at the Suva talks. I am afraid that I cannot assist the hon. Gentleman. I felt that I should put the proposals before the Committee. I will try to find copies for the hon. Gentleman, but I should perhaps explain all the suggestions.
Although the Banabans would assume full responsibility for promoting economic and social development on Ocean Island and its administration and although they would still be obliged to allow the Gilbertese a continuing share of Ocean Island phosphate royalties, the British, Australian and New Zealand Governments could undertake to provide, under the six-nation treaty, financial support to assist the Banabans in carrying and meeting these obligations.
These arrangements are not entirely new. Similar free association relationships already exist in the Pacific—between New Zealand and the Cook Islands and Niue and between the United States and Micronesia. The only difference is that the Suva proposal includes Australia, New Zealand and Britain in a joint arrangement for providing some financial support to the Banabans and the Gilbertese after independence. That is only right, for it is these three countries that have benefited on a massive scale from past exploitation of Banaban phosphates. The time has now come to make restitution.
What is needed here and now is an explanation as to why the Government have ignored this timely initiative from Fiji. The Banaban leaders came to London straight from the Suva talks with the proposals and sought a meeting with my hon. Friend. That meeting took place on 22 May, two days before the Second Reading debate. I was present. I was astonished to hear my hon. Friend say during the debate that the idea of the British Government bringing the parties together before the Committee stage, in order to see if the Suva proposals would be acceptable, was suddenly sprung on him. It was not. The whole purpose of the meeting he had with the Banaban leaders was to hear their plea for separation followed by association as between equals. In any event, I had written to my hon. Friend on 16 May about the Suva proposals and the need for some new initiative by the Government.
Since my hon. Friend saw fit to tell the House that no such proposal was made to him until my speech on Second
Reading, I think I should read the relevant paragraph of my letter. It said:
I understand that the Banabans
who were coming to London within the next few days
are going to propose, and it seems more than probable that the Fijian Government will support them in this, that since the new Conservative Administration has had no time to study this matter in detail or the Fijian Prime Minister's new suggestion, Her Majesty's Government calls a meeting in London next week. The request is that the meeting be between Her Majesty's Government, the Rabi Council of Leaders and representatives of the Gilbertese Government, all of whom will be here at that time. This will give everyone a chance for final reflection before the issue is resolved. I sincerely hope that Her Majesty's Government will accede to this request in order to avoid a worsening of relations, not only with Fiji but also with other Commonwealth Governments in the Pacific who support Banaban aspirations.
That letter was a sincere attempt on my part to steer the Government towards a more constructive attitude on this question. It was bad enough for my hon. Friend not to respond, but to assert to the House, as he did on Second Reading, within the hearing of some of my hon. Friends, that the first time he had heard my suggestion was in my speech that afternoon was utterly misleading. He had had a week's notice in writing.
Worse still, my hon. Friend's failure to respond to my letter threw away a golden opportunity to build on the constructive initiative of the Fijian Prime Minister and to bring together both the Gilbertese Chief Minister and the Banaban leaders who were in London at the same time. There was time to hold such a meeting. The leaders of both sides were here. Bearing in mind the Government's constant references to the tightness of the timetable for the Bill, it is inexcusable that no action was taken.
The Committee will doubtless come to its own conclusions on the way in which the Suva proposals have been treated by Ministers. The Committee should bear in mind that these proposals are the first attempt ever to find an honourable solution based on mutual agreement.
If the Government lack the imagination to see the possibilities the proposals open up, if they lack the political will to insist that something like them is agreed before we finally enact this Bill, I respectfully submit that it is the duty of right hon. and hon. Members to take the initiative and to do the Government's work for them by voting for this amendment.
Of course, the Minister will argue that the Government have provided generous safeguards for the Banabans which will be entrenched in the Kiribati constitution. But the Banabans simply do not trust these safeguards.
Nor should we. For one thing, there are no proposals for safeguards before the Committee. Parliament is not being given safeguards. They are not being published. I am told that a copy of the constitution is available in the Library, but the details are not being set before Parliament for scrutiny. Nor is it intended, as the Bill is drafted, that the constitution shall be debated in the House. For another, we know from experience—
Is it not a fact that by passing this legislation we will give away our power to apply this kind of desirable safeguard? We are abrogating our responsibility and throwing away all positive chance of enforcing any safeguards.
My hon. Friend has crystallised the issue. I could not add to what he has said: he is absolutely right.
The Banabans do not believe—nor should we—that any faith can be put in the entrenched clauses. No Government can bind their successors, and the world is littered with torn-up constitutions devised by Whitehall.
The only real safeguard—the Prime Minister of Fiji alone has had the good sense and vision to propose itßžis one which enables the Banabans and the Gilbertese to be separated ab initio and then to come together in an association as equals. No future Gilbertese Government would then be in a position to take away Banaban rights and to justify it at the bar of world opinion. The Suva proposals would underwrite Banaban identity. They would safeguard Banaban freedom, but they would also preserve for the Gilbertese ultimate sovereignty over the area as a whole. It is an honourable compromise and one that is, to borrow those words again, practical, right and just.
If Ministers will not listen to reason, it seems only right that Parliament should assert itself. These amendments, if carried, will not delay Gilbertese independence but will enable the future relationship of Banaba to the Kiribati Republic and to Fiji to be considered at leisure, without duress, so as to enable an agreed solution to be reached in the Pacific way.
Such a course will not only ensure justice at long last to a grievously wronged people; it will enable us to ensure that Britain's duty, interest and honour are no longer in conflict.
One aspect of this business which disturbs me is that we are getting into a conflict between Parliament and Whitehall. In all my readings of the documents and papers on this matter over 10 years, I have been impressed by the desire of Ministers and Parliament to come to a reasonable accommodation with Banaban requests and the sympathy of Ministers for the Banaban case as they become more closely acquainted with it.
This was particularly the case with my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) and with the former Member of the House of Commons, Evan Luard, as with the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts. I felt, in conversations with all three, that they had a great deal of sympathy with the Banaban case and were anxious to find a solution to a difficult problem and to put right a grievous injustice as far as they could.
However, I did not get the impression that the Foreign Office—the Civil Service—had any such intention. It had fixed and definite ideas about what should be done to the Banabans, or to the Gilbertese for that matter, and was prepared to push on with those ideas irrespective of the damage that that might do to our relations with Fiji and other countries in the Pacific, and irrespective of the need to make some fair recompense and acknowledge the hardships caused to the Banaban people themselves.
I hope that, on this occasion, Parliament will show itself capable of asserting its own authority in these matters and come to a conclusion which I believe would not only be more acceptable and fair to the Banabans, the Gilbertese and the Fijians but show at long last that the House of Commons was willing itself to recognise, as the courts of law have already recognised, the grievous injustice done to the Banabans and to make a serious attempt to put this right, or to help to put it right, even at the last moment.
I was disturbed to learn that the Foreign Office had brought pressure to bear on the BBC not to show the television film "Go Tell It to the Judge", which had considerable impact on public opinion in this country.
One problem on Second Reading was that those who wanted to secure a fair deal for the Banabans—and for the Gilbertese, of course—were appearing perhaps to obstruct, or to hold up, independence for the Gilbertese themselves. By voting against the Kiribati Bill, we were accused of trying to stop the Gilbertese from achieving independence and indulging in a unique obstructionist exercise against all the traditions of independence Bills.
That criticism made against what was said on Second Reading cannot be levelled against the amendments. If amendments Nos. 1 and 5 are carried, as I hope they will be, they will in no way impede Gilbertese independence. They will exclude Ocean Island, certainly, but they will not prevent the 50,000-odd Gilbertese people from going ahead with their constitution and becoming the fortieth, I think, member of the Commonwealth or from joining the United Nations if they so wish. The amendments will mean that the road is clear for the Gilbertese people to go ahead as an independent nation. That is not in dispute.
The arguments against the amendment, against allowing the Banabans to express their own identity as they wish to do, fall under three or four heads, but the one most vigorously advocated so far by the Foreign Office—and indeed by some hon. Members—is the notion of territorial integrity.
Anyone who reads a Foreign Office brief from the Dispatch Box about territorial integrity is Satan discoursing on sin with a vengeance. In Ireland, Pakistan and India, in federations in the Caribbean, Central Africa and the Far East, peoples and territories have been lumped together and split up, cobbled together again and chopped to bits without any interest in the folk involved. For the Foreign Office now to talk about territorial integrity is an exercise in unctuous humbug. I guess that Genghis Khan, Tamerlane Alexander and Cyrus did not cut to pieces as many countries and as many peoples as the Foreign and Colonial Office did in its imperial heyday. To talk of territorial integrity in this context is nonsense.
Of course, an important principle is involved once a State has been constituted with recognised international boundaries. As the OAU, the United Nations and other bodies have said, it is wrong to lop or hive off pieces.
It is nonsense to say that because, from historical colonial accident, an Imperial Power has grouped together several islands—as in this case out of sheer greed—there is a divine right for that grouping to last for ever.
As the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) said, some of these islands have been hived off already. Other islands which were in dispute with the United States have been either lumped together or hived off, even when they were 2,000 miles apart. There is no territorial integrity issue. The whole issue involves the convenience of the Foreign Office.
No one can argue seriously that allowing Ocean Island a separate identity, as the Banabans wish, will in some way infringe the fundamental rights of the Gilbertese. The Minister's claim that this will spark off independence rebellions and break-ups across the Pacific it nonsense.
I cannot see how the separation of one small atoll which has been made derelict through the greed of the Imperial Power, can constitute a precedent which will be dangerous in other parts of the world. In any case, as my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) said, before Britain took over the islands they were independent entities.
In a learned speech on Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth said that all the islands in the Gilbert and Ellice group, quite apart from Ocean Island, were regarded as autonomous and self-governing units. The territorial integrity issue is an invention by the Foreign Office to justify a policy which has been pursued ruthlessly over the past 60 years and which depends entirely upon greed for the phosphates.
The Committee should not take seriously the suggestion that if this little island does not remain within the Gilbertese complex some great principle involving territorial integrity will be infringed.
The second argument is that the Banabans have a distinct identity. The tenor of the Second Reading debate rotated round that distinct identity. The argument is that to preserve or protect that identity the new constitution should contain some entrenched clauses to protect the Banabans' rights.
The record of entrenched clauses is not happy. One has only to look at South Africa to see what can happen to minorities or, indeed, majorities whose interests are supposed to be protected by entrenched clauses. Constitutions have been torn up all round the world. One cannot argue that the entrenched clause notion gives real protection to a minority or, in the case of South Africa, to a great majority when the sovereign Government take upon themselves the full powers of sovereignty and decide to do what they wish once Imperial control is relinquished.
Even the proposed entrenched clauses are not particularly inspiring. The Minister sent me a note at the weekend saying that the draft constitution was available in the Library. It is a substantial document, but the clauses which relate to the Banabans are not particularly extensive. Clause 119(3), relating to land, states:
Where any Banaban possesses any right over or interest in land in Banaba, no such right or interest shall be compulsorily acquired other than a leasehold interest and in accordance with section 8(1) of this Constitution, and then only where the following conditions are satisfied, that is to say—
The only obligation on the Gilbertese Government in relation to the land rights of the Banabans, if that Government wish to make a compulsory purchase of land, is to consult. But they do not have to reach an agreement.
The Government must also at least go through the motions of a purchase by agreement before exercising compulsory powers. That is not a solid protection to the Banabans in terms of land tenure but it is part of the entrenched clause provision.
I am sorry to detain the Committee with lengthy quotations, but they are important. I assume that the Government intend to enact these clauses since they have taken the trouble to put the document in the Library. Clause 124 provides that:
(1) A Bill for an Act to alter any of the provisions of—
shall not be passed by the Maneaba ni Maungatabu except in accordance with this section.…
(3) At its second reading in the Maneaba the Bill shall not be passed if—
There are also certain provisions about the days on which it must be read. It continues:
if the Bill is supported by the votes of at least two-thirds of all the members of the Maneaba and the nominated member does not vote against it, the Bill shall be passed;
It is the same as saying that it shall not be passed.
A further clause states:
references to altering provisions of this Constitution include references—
A sovereign Government are expected to take steps to alter or modify their constitution, and the sole voice of one Bana-
ban can stop them. Can we really envisage a situation in which this happened, a situation where the elected Parliament of the United Kingdom, wishing to make some change in our procedure or constitution, perhaps relating to the composition of the House of Commons or that of another place, would actually listen to the veto of a solitary Member—the veto of one West Indian or one Pakistani, perhaps? I have nothing against West Indians or Pakistanis, but the situation is that in this constitution one person, who might be a Fijian citizen—since Banabans can be Fijians—can in effect prevent changes that might be regarded as important by the Gilbertese people and by their Parliament. These could be changes that the Gilbertese Parliament might have approved by a two-thirds majority.
This constitution, however, solemnly says that if the specially elected Banaban representative says "No, I do not like this", that is the end of it. Politically speaking, this is absolute nonsense. This Parliament would never tolerate such a situation and I cannot imagine any Parliament in the world tolerating an arrangement under which one individual—even an elected representative—can effectively prevent a constitutional change which two-thirds of the members of that country's Parliament have decided is necessary and essential. That, however, is the provision in the constitution as I understand it, and I have taken the trouble to get the documents from the Library, an opportunity afforded me by the Minister.
The hon. Gentleman is making absolute mincemeat of this Gilbertian constitution, but has he in his researches discovered whether a like provision is found anywhere else in the world, and, if so, where?
I have not had the time to do research of that kind but it will astound me if any other country in the world gave the power to a single member of its Parliament to veto constitutional change which had the assent of two-thirds of the members of that Parliament. Politically speaking, I think that this is a most extraordinary proposition.
I have been following my hon. Friend very carefully in his quotations from the constitution and I was interested to see that he has his name attached to new clause 1, which we are debating with this amendment. I think that if he looks at the paragraph in the White Paper on the report of the Gilbert Island constitutional conference he will see that these clauses, which he has been quoting with such ridicule, are precisely the ones which, in new clause 1, he wants to insert into the constitution.
If we were forced into a situation in which the Government and this House absolutely refused to separate Ocean Island, we might be forced to accept something like this. I maintain, however, that the argument against it is as strong as before. It is not something for which I would vote with any enthusiasm.
The hon. Gentleman could have replied to his hon. Friend that the only way in Which we could focus the attention of Parliament on these ridiculous, almost lunatic proposals was to table an amendment of that kind. It was tabled deliberately for that purpose. One tables amendments not knowing whether other amendments will be selected by the Chair. That is the reason. If it is thought to be odd behaviour, let us accept that we are dealing with a very odd situation.
We are indeed dealing with a very odd situation. I am trying to deal with the question of the extent to which the interests of the Banabans would be protected by entrenched clauses. I think that the general argument against them from history, and known political events in the world in the last 30 years, is almost overwhelming. I would have thought that the arguments against this particular provision were so powerful that it really would not be worth while for the House to proceed with that line of argument.
Another argument has been advanced against allowing the Banabans their independent identity, namely, that they have close ties of kinship with the other Gilbertese. On that basis the Irish Republic could hardly claim to have any independence at all. The people in the Republic of Ireland probably have more cousins, aunts, grandparents and friends in the United Kingdom or the United States than in Ireland itself. The idea that, somehow, cross-marriage, kinship and blood links between two peoples invalidate any independence of the one group as against the other is absolute nonsense.
That proposition would straight away rule out not only the independence of Ireland but that of New Zealand and Australia, to mention only two countries. There are the most elaborate and extensive links of kinship across the world between Canada and the United Kingdom, between New Zealand and the United Kingdom and between Australia and the United Kingdom, quite apart from the Irish who have links all over the place. No one suggests that because of these extensive ties of kinship the independence of Australia, New Zealand and Ireland is in any way called in question. That is totally absurd. Of course the Banabans have blood links with the other Gilbertese. That is no reason why they should not be treated fairly, and it is no reason why their claim to independence should be ignored by the House of Commons.
Then there is the question of the phosphate revenues, which I think is now very largely settled to the great advantage of the Gilbertese, who now have the Gilbertese reserve fund of £40 million. This will provide them with quite a handsome income for 10, 20, 30 or even 50 years. That is not called in question. But, even allowing for that, the Banabans have said that if they are granted the separate identity that they seek they are perfectly willing to have talks with the Gilbertese about any future share in, or arrangement concerning, revenues which either side might consider desirable.
I have learned over the weekend that the question of phosphate revenues is going to cause serious trouble in another part of the Pacific, namely, Christmas Island, where there are accusations against the British Phosphate Commission that it is exploiting workers there as ruthlessly as it exploited the Banabans on Ocean Island. Perhaps I had better not pursue that or I shall be out of order.
Fair enough. I come again to the Suva talks, which were referred to in the Second Reading debate and on which the Minister gave a specific assurance. He was kind enough to say:
Between now and 11 June, when the Bill is due to be considered in Committee, I undertake to give further careful consideration to what the Chief Minister has said and what the chairman of the Rabi Council of Leaders has said to me, the results of the Suva meeting and the points raised by hon. Members." [Official Report, 24 May 1979; Vol. 969, c. 1339.]
It is important, therefore, to refer back to the correspondence that took place between Ratu Mara and the British Prime Minister on 16 and 18 May. I make no apology for quoting again from that correspondence. The letter from the Prime Minister of Fiji to the British Prime Minister said, among other things:
It would be particularly helpful to the current Gilbert/Banabans talks if your Government could indicate whether it shares the view that the only solution to the future of Ocean Island is that envisaged in the Gilbert Islands Constitutional Conference report or whether your Government would be prepared to consider new proposals emanating from the Gilbertese and the Banabans themselves. In seeking this clarification I recall past assurances from the British Government that a fair and lasting solution to the Ocean Island issue would only be one reached in full agreement between the Gilbertese and the Banabans.
The British Prime Minister's reply to that letter was conveyed by the acting British High Commissioner:
The agreement reached at the constitutional conference last year between the Gilbert Islands Government and the then British Government has been accepted by my Government. However, my Government would be prepared to consider new proposals if these were fully endorsed by the Gilbert Islands Government and the Rabi Council of Leaders. In so far as they placed any new obligations on my Government or still further on other Governments, I would of course need to reserve my position. Nor would my Government wish to dictate to the Gilbert Islands Government what they should accept.
I suggested on Second Reading that that indicated that there was room for further discussion and negotiation on the issue, and that it might be possible to have a last-minute agreement which would satisfy the Gilbertese and the Banabans as well as the Pacific islands people at large.
The hon. Member for Essex, South-East referred to some of the proposals made at that meeting, but it is worth rehearsing some of the points again. I hope that if the Government reject these propositions the Minister will say why. If they accepted our amendment, the way would be open for further exploration of the proposals. If the amendment is rejected, however, that will be the end of the matter and there would be no possibility of a reasonably fair settlement being reached between Fiji, the Gilbertese and the Banabans.
The main proposal is that Ocean Island shall be self-governing, and that that would be provided for in a Banaba or Ocean Island Act, passed by this Parliament. That would not be possible unless we amended the present Bill. The Gilbert Islands would retain authority and responsibility for security, defence and citizenship matters. Banaba, or Ocean Island, would have authority and responsibility for its foreign affairs and marine resources. Both parties would agree on a mutual undertaking on the sharing of phosphate royalties from Ocean Island and on consultation on matters such as access to or exploitation of marine resources in their respective economic zones.
This compact of free association could run for a specified period and then be subject to review. Alternatively, it could provide for termination by either party or by mutual agreement by both parties. The Government-to-Government compact of free association between the Gilbert Islands Government and the Rabi Council of Leaders on behalf of Ocean Island could be underwritten and guaranteed by a six-nation treaty embracing the Gilbert Islands Government, the Rabi Council of Leaders, Fiji, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia. The advantages to the Banabans would be that although this fell short of their aspirations for full independence, it would give them a full internal economy.
The signatories of a bilateral compact of free association and of the six-nation treaty would be recognised as of equal status with the other parties, though in some areas their legal status would be short of that of a full sovereign State. Through a compact of association with the Gilbertese it would be the Banabans, not Britain, who would freely delegate the exercise of overall sovereignty to the Gilbert Islands Government, at least for the period during which the agreement would run.
The principles set out in these suggestions offer a way forward which I think the Banabans, perhaps with some reluctance, would accept and which would not impair the basic interests of the Gilbertese in any way and would allow of a friendly resolution of the problems as between Fiji, the Gilbert Islands and the Banabans themselves, but if the amendments are defeated that way of reconciliation and mutual agreement is barred. If the Bill is enacted in its present form, those propositions are ruled out because they envisage a separate identity for Banaba for which the Bill does not provide. Therefore I hope that the House will pass amendments Nos. 1, 16 and 17 and will seriously consider amendment No. 5 as an alternative to those if amendment No. 1 is not carried.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Weatherill, for calling me to speak, and I hope that I may be allowed to say, having known you in your previous incarnation, that one of my first experiences of the wisdom of the House was that it should have elected you to the high office that you now hold.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker), in seconding the motion on the Queen's Speech, warned new Government Members of the difficulties in alighting on that narrow strip of ground which runs between rebellion and sycophancy. The traditions of the House prescribe that in a maiden speech that narrow strip of ground should be the only runway open for a safe landing. I confess that it is with a feeling of some relief that one initially fixes one's gaze on the friendly beacon that is the indulgence with which the House traditionally listens to maiden speeches.
Other right hon. and hon. Members will be able to speak with more knowledge than I of the contributions made to the proceedings of the House by the previous hon. Member for Watford, my predecessor Mr. Raphael Tuck. Having "shadowed" him for a period of five years as the Conservative candidate for Watford, I am able to tell the Committee that the standard of service that he gave to the people of Watford was so high, so devoted and of such humanity that he has become something of a legend within the borough of Watford.
Raphael Tuck has a reputation, justly gained, which not only brought credit on the Member himself but brought credit on his party and, more important, on this House and on the whole institution of parliamentary democracy. It is a standard that I shall do my utmost to maintain, and it is an example set to me for which I am extremely grateful.
The borough of Watford is a considerable distance from the island of Banaba, but I promise the Committee that I shall be returning to the question of Banaba shortly. The borough of Watford has taken its place along with the borough of Clapham as a part of one of those catch-phrases to which political journalists and commentators are so prone. The expression "north of Watford" enjoys a currency today which rivals that which was once enjoyed by the legendary figure who used to travel on the top of the Clapham omnibus.
Watford has become a sort of political frontier town, though it is never actually vouchsafed to us whether we are regarded as the last outpost of southern gentility or perhaps the first pothole on the road to Wigan pier. But there is a sense in which Watford can be regarded as a barometer of the success or failure of the nation. Within the borough there is one of the most highly skilled work forces in the country. Men and women travel from Watford daily to take part in many of the sophisticated service and professional industries in the City.
The town contains the two most important gravure printing firms in the country as well as a host of other important industries providing employment to thousands of people from the surrounding areas. My constituents have the skill, the ingenuity and the will to succeed, and if the Government give them the incentive to do so, they will. I venture to suggest that if Watford prospers Britain will prosper with it.
One of my first pleasant duties as the new Member of Parliament for Watford was to send a telegram of congratulations to Watford football club on its achievement in moving from the fourth to the second division in two seasons. I wish that I could have claimed some of the credit for that, but this achievement, like most of human endeavour, was not inspired by Government plans or blueprints. It was brought about by the hard work, support and striving of many thousands of individuals who possessed the will and determination to succeed. Unaided by the House, and even without the help of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell), the people of Watford pulled off that remarkable feat. I hope that the success achieved on the playing fields of Vicarage Road will prove to be a happy omen not only for the borough that I represent but for the nation that we all strive to serve.
I never imagined that I would be making a maiden speech on the issue of Kiribati. I do so with a heavy heart. Having negotiated myself towards that narrow strip of ground to which my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone alluded, I am now obliged to gather speed and hurtle dangerously forward. Like many of my new colleagues, I hoped that I might have caught Mr. Speaker's eye in the debate on the Budget. I hope that I may be allowed to give some indication of the subjects that I would have raised in that debate, but not, of course, in any detail. My reasons for raising these subjects are precisely those that make it most difficult for me to support the Bill in its unamended form.
I would have associated myself with the moving plea made in his maiden speech by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Welsh) on behalf of the Third world. I would have expressed the hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer might continue to provide financial support for the development education fund that is doing so much to promote wider understanding of the need for aid to the developing world. Although I feel no need to apologise for our Imperial past, there is an imperative, both practical and moral, when it comes to settling up the accounts, always to see that we should err on the side of generosity and magnanimity.
I would have mentioned the plight of widows in this country, afflicted as they are by a taxation system that is administratively incapable of treating them sympathetically. My reason would have been that I believe that where a minority group was made to suffer for the sake of administrative convenience, it should be supported.
Finally, I would have asked my right hon. and learned Friend to ensure that resources were made available to meet the Government's pledge to maintain the Welsh language. If the small and powerless are threatened by the great and mighty, unless the argument is overwhelming I believe that we should support the small.
I spent a good part of the recess reading again and again the arguments on this issue. I do not take the simplistic view that large organisations, and the bureaucracies that go with them are always wrong. Members of Parliament will know that from time to time bureaucracies can gather momentum and build up an ethic all of their own which may run contrary to the aspirations that they purport to represent and the people whom they purport to serve. In this case, I found that the arguments were finely balanced.
I have been especially influenced by the fact that the case for the Bill was argued by my right hon. Friends the Lord Privy Seal and the Foreign Secretary—two members of my own party for whom I have great respect and admiration. They were supported by members of the previous Administration, including Lord Goronwy-Roberts, of whose integrity and good judgment I have personal experience. It is no light matter for a new Member of Parliament to refuse to support a measure that is supported by men of such experience and integrity. However, in the final analysis I have come to the conclusion that where the interests, hopes and identity of a small, helpless people are at stake, it is not enough for the arguments for tidiness and conventional wisdom to be finely balanced. They must be overwhelming. I do not believe that in this case they are so.
I have never met a Banaban. I may never do so. But if this Bill finally passes unamended I hope that the Banabans will recognise two things. First, there can be no doubt that those who supported the Bill did so from the highest motives and in the best faith. Secondly, I hope they will recognise that their cause did not go by default. My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) saw to that.
I hope that my modest support for the Banabans' cause may entitle me to urge the Banaban people, in the event that the Bill passes unamended, to work loyally within the new Kiribati Republic. Metaphorically, if not geographically, the new Republic of Kiribati will be a long way north of Watford. For that reason, I am sure that the Committee will join me in urging the Government to give it every support in the future.
It is a pleasure to speak after the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) and to congratulate him on such an elegant and eloquent speech. Certainly his Welsh origins, to which he alluded in his reference to the need to support the Welsh language, are clear in the eloquence he showed in his contribution. The Opposition are especially appreciative of the remarks he made about the energy of his predecessor, Raphael Tuck, whom we saw in this House and elsewhere. In spite of ill health in recent years he was always energetic here as well as in Watford.
We look forward to hearing more speeches from the hon. Gentleman. Whether he will be allowed to get away with quite so many procedural innovations in any speech other than his maiden speech, we shall have to see in the future, but we congratulate him on the ingenuity that he demonstrated this evening.
As in the Second Reading debate—which this resembles, to some extent—there is a danger that it might be thought that those who oppose the amendments are taking a hard-hearted and anti-Banaban line. There is a general view in the House that we want to see fair and satisfactory treatment for the Banabans. Where we disagree is as to what remedy will provide most satisfactorily for peace in that part of the Pacific and a framework in which fair financial treatment may be provided for the Banabans.
What divides those of us who are doubtful about the amendment from those like my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) and the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) is the problem of assessing the correct framework. The hon. Member for Essex, South-East was right when he put forward three questions which, he said, we needed to consider in looking at the amendment. First, are the Banabans a sufficiently distinct community to form a separate State? Secondly, should we make amends for the physical and financial hardships that they have suffered over the years by creating what may be a constitutional difficulty in a constitutional innovation? Thirdly, will the adoption of the amendment be more likely to leave the Pacific in a state of peace after we leave? Those three questions, which were posed by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East, were right and were ones to which we need to address ourselves. The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised if on some of them I come to slightly different conclusions from his.
First, I refer to the question whether the Banabans are a sufficiently distinct community to justify creating the constitutional innovation that the hon. Gentleman suggests. That is an important point. The hon. Gentleman rightly stressed the possible difficulties that could arise if some members of the Banaban community continued to live on Rabi Island. Probably the bulk of the community would remain, unless remarkable achievements could be made in terms of restoring and reinvigorating the economy of Banaba. Others would continue to live on Banaba.
The hon. Member for Essex, South-East asked whether it was not nonsense to have this small community of Banabans living in two sovereign States and having rights and responsibilities with respect to two sovereign States. Quite clearly, it is not particularly satisfactory, but I do not think that it is altogether a novelty in the Pacific. The hon. Gentleman knows that part of the Pacific much better than I do and he will know that the island adjoining Rabi Island, in Fiji, is Kioa Island. The people of Kioa are all citizens coming originally from Tuvalu, so that in their case we have precisely the same problem as we have with the Banabans. Some of them are living on Kioa, some are living in Fiji, and some are living in what were the Ellice Islands, now called Tuvalu.
Although I agree that this is a problem, I do not think that it is unprecedented, nor is it necessarily a problem that should lead us to create a position that may lead to more constitutional complications in the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Heeley quite rightly pointed out that there are other families of nations in which there are people with close ethnic ties living in separate countries, but whether we really need, in the case of the Gilbert Islands, to divide these people in this way is a matter on which there will be divided judgment among hon. Members. Many of us will have read the evidence and will reach different conclusions. I do not think that we can do any more than say that the evidence can be read in different ways.
The hon. Member for Essex, South-East referred to the evidence from the distinguished social anthropologist, Professor Maude, who had been an administrator in the Gilbert Islands during his career. I also quoted from it on Second Reading, when I said that the difference between the Banabans and the population of the Gilbert Islands was rather similar to the difference between the Cornish people and those in the rest of the United Kingdom. This evidence, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, can be read in one way or in another way, and on that there will be an honest difference of opinion in the House.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that, in the context of the Pacific, that difference may be deemed to be considerable. The people who are settled in Tahiti, in Hawaii and in New Zealand are basically the same people, although they are thousands of miles apart. In the context of a limited distance, the difference between the Banabans and their neighbours is considerable.
I am grateful for that intervention. I considered some of these points in rather more detail on Second Reading, especially the links of religion, language and culture that run through these people. I find that there is a greater degree of homogeneity between these people than among those to whom the hon. Gentleman referred, but this is a matter upon which there are honest differences of opinion, and different people read the evidence in different ways. I do not find that the differences between the Banaban community and the rest of the Gilbert Islands community are suffi- ciently great to justify the constitutional innovations proposed in these amendments, but that is a matter of difference of opinion in the Committee.
The hon. Member for Essex, South-East asked whether we should make amends to the Banabans for the physical and financial hardship they have suffered over the years because of the way in which successive Governments have raped Banaba and taken the phosphate away. Should we make amends to them by agreeing to the proposal that they now have for a constitutional measure? I do not feel that a constitutional solution that is more likely, in my judgment, to lead to continuing conflict in the south Pacific and to continuing difficulties in the South Pacific for the Banabans and others is the best way for the Committee to make amends to them. I believe that there are other ways.
My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands), speaking from the Front Bench on Second Reading, referred to some of the financial ways in which amends could be made. We have an obligation to consider the position of the Banabans—particularly their financial position. We have an obligation to ensure that resources are provided for them, to be used properly and in a responsible way, to help the development of their economy. I am sure that that sort of thing is necessary.
I think that there would be conflicts of various sorts. As I said earlier, there are the problems of precedents. I am talking not about the Phoenix and Line Islands but about the problems that could well arise in the not-too-distant future in the New Hebrides. We shall be facing New Hebridean independence within the fairly close future. There are in that group of islands the problems of particular communities who might want to leave.
There are also questions concerning the relationship between the Banabans and their Gilbertese cousins. I believe that in the proposals which were put forward at the successive conferences the Gil- bertese have shown a great deal of good will and of trust. By making the proposed amendments we should be showing that we did not believe in the Gilbertese. That would poison relations between this country and Kiribati at the moment of independence and would show a fundamental lack of trust in this country. It would poison continuing relations between the Gilbertese and their cousins in Kiribati.
Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that no conflict would arise directly between the Banabans and anyone else if they were given what they are now asking for, and that the problem to which he is referring is the precedent that we might set for other constitutional settlements and, indeed, any strain that it might put on our relations with the Gilbertese, but not any conflicts arising directly from the position of the Banabans?
I do not think that the relationship between the Gilbertese and the Banabans would be improved. I would go as far as to say that it would be worse if we were to introduce the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East. But this is like the earlier question whether they are a homogeneous community, and it is a matter of judgment for each hon. Member to make. I believe that it would be more likely to lead to conflict.
The last question asked by the hon. Member was whether by doing this we would be likely to leave the Pacific in a state of peace or in a state of conflict. I believe that we would create a problem still to be resolved in detail. The point made by Mr. Posnett in his important report—I referred to this on Second Reading—was that what is needed in order to come to a peaceful settlement is for decisions to be made, and to be made clearly. The proposal here would create a new situation of continuing negotiation to work things out. I do not believe that this would be resolved quickly. It would lead to a very considerable period of difficulty in the South Pacific.
Will my hon. Friend tell me why the Gilbertese want to retain their hold over Ocean Island? In that context, can he tell me what he thinks the future will be for the new State if a great number of its citizens have been forced into the State against their will? I know of no section of the Banaban people that wants to respond to the system that is being organised for them by the British Parliament.
The Gilbertese have a feel for land, and they feel that this is part of the land of the Gilbert Islands collectively. Hon Gentlemen may disagree, but this is the view that they hold. They would feel that its removal from the Gilbert Islands would be an infringement of the territorial integrity of those islands. My hon. Friend the Member for Heeley made a number of points about what has been done in the past by this country in terms of territorial integrity. We are talking here about the attitude of the Gilbertese to this matter. We need to consider the substantial population of the Gilbert Islands as well as the problems of the Banabans.
Indeed. That is the argument that I am putting forward.
I suggest that, despite what was said by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East, it would have been possible for the Banabans, had they wished, to be present at that section of the London constitutional conference which considered the precise safeguards that are now being written into the constitution. It was they—I do not know on whose advice—who left the conference and were unable to be present when the detailed discussions on these matters were going on.
It is important, on the very points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Heeley, to look at the protection in the constitution—in particular, the protection of land that he quoted. The paragraphs quoted by him from the draft constitution follow exactly paragraph 64(b)(iii) in the London constitutional conference White Paper—Cmnd. 7445—which he wishes to incorporate into the constitution by way of new clause 1. The part quoted by my hon. Friend about the protection of land is important. Beyond what he was able to say about the procedure for compulsory acquisition, the constitution earlier provides that such acquisition can only be on the basis of leasehold. Therefore, there is a further safeguard beyond those that he quoted. It is not in the particular safeguards for the Banabans; it is in the general part of the constitution as a whole.
In section 8 of the constitution there is a statement of the fundamental right to property, providing all citizens of the Gilbert Islands, whether they be from Banaba or elsewhere, with protection from the deprivation of property. Therefore, within the constitution, beyond the special provisions that apply to the Gilbertese, there are a number of other specific protections regarding property. That limits the possibility of compulsory acquisition and further reinforces the additional safeguards that have been given to the Banabans and were quoted by my hon. Friend.
The essential point on the question of land is that all Gilbertese—people living on islands which are often little more than strips of sand—have a particular feeling for or association with land.
The hon. Member for Essex, South-East referred to the real association that the Banabans still have with their island of Banaba, even though it has been demolished by the phosphate mines. This feeling for land is general to all the people of the Gilbert Islands. Therefore, they would be the last to wish to deprive people of their land.
It would be a mistake to accept these amendments. We would be delaying the final decision on this matter and, instead of moving to a peaceful settlement, creating opportunities for further conflict in the Pacific and doing no good for the people of the other Gilbert Islands or of Banaba.
I listened to a most interesting maiden speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones). One of his remarks was unique: that Her Majesty's Government must err on the side of generosity. We must bear that in mind. I am not sure that I shall pursue the arguments which have been put forward by the Opposition and my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine).
The two countries which must bear in mind the extraordinary financial situation which is likely to evolve are the Gilbert Islands and Fiji. Considerable sums were allocated to Banaba. As I said on Second Reading, about 11·8 million Australian dollars were credited to the Banabans in phosphate royalties between 1 July 1920 and 30 June 1976, and after that, to the end of mining, there was added another 9·6 million Australian dollars.
Now that mining is coming to an end, one would have thought that the Banabans would be perfectly secure if they had independence. Unfortunately, that is not so. Her Majesty's Government were able to establish a trust in colonial days for looking after the affairs of the Banabans, but it was put aside when Fiji acquired independence in 1970 and the Rabi Island Council took over responsibility. The funds which were secured from the phosphates were granted to a body named Rabi Holdings Limited which had a number of subsidiaries: Home Enterprises Limited, Rabi Enterprises Limited, Union Cabs Limited, Rabi Finance Company Limited, Rabi Islands Limited, Rabi Engineering and Metalising Services Limited. Unfortunately the situation has materialised in a way which has not led to security for the Banabans in future. We should remember that they have not got 20 years more of mining. Mining is now finished.
The Minister of State misled the House on 24 May 1979. I asked:
Is it not true that, when the compensation payments cease, after a few years the standard of living of those living in Fiji will fall quite dramatically unless something is done to build up the investment fund?
To that the Minister replied:
I do not think that that necessarily follows. It depends very much on how the investment fund is managed. It is intended to provide an investment income for the Banabans for a long time."—[Official Report, 24 May 1979; Vol. 967, c. 1329.]
My hon. Friend did not tell the House that the losses to date from this company had totalled 4½ million dollars by the end of 1978, that no annual returns had been made since 1975, that there had been no audit, that there was evidence of gross mismanagement and that there was
thought to be misappropriation of funds. Also, investment by the Council, including Rabi Holdings, was required to have the approval of the Fiji Minister of Finance, but on no occasion had such approval been sought or granted. In fact, it is possible that the losses may equal as much as £10 million.
According to the Fijian Times of 4 January 1979, a receiver has been appointed to the parent company. The hearing in the Fiji courts for liquidation of the enterprise was alleged to be on 6 June this year. I assume that it has now taken place.
The fund which was intended for the future security of the Banabans was put into this company. It was expected in the course of time to pay substantial dividends. It has paid none. It was intended to have considerable funds which would be available to the Banabans, possibly for the benefit of Rabi Island in Fiji, but they have all been lost. Now we are wondering what should be done.
The British Government will have to consider this matter very carefully indeed. If they are prepared to make the ex gratia grant of 10 million dollars, with the accrued interest, it should be put aside into a trust fund, with the trustees being probably the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, to ensure that no misappropriations can take place in future.
I am not for one moment suggesting the Crown Agents. I am suggesting a body which can look after the budgets.
There are two matters here. Hon. Members have talked about having clauses written into the constitution to guarantee the integrity of Ocean Island, inside or outside the new Kiribati community. I suggest that it is more important to consider what will happen to the funds so that the Banaban people, as opposed to the land owners, have a little to rely upon in future years.
The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) has a remedy. He should vote against the Bill. These people are not fit to look after themselves. They need the wise prescience of Englishmen of the ilk of the hon. Gentleman before they can look after their own funds.
I am interested in the observations of the hon. Gentleman. However, either the Banabans should be associated with the Fijian Islands, where most of them live—after all, there are only a few of them on Ocean Island at present—or they should be associated with the Gilbert Islands. Possibly the best solution is the Gilbert Islands. We should utilise the suggestion I made on Second Reading that there should be a lease, or the provision of amendment No. 5, in which there should be a perpetual association terminable, perhaps, on a broader period, would be suitable in such a case.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) said that the Banabans should be associated, possibly, with the Gilbertese. How much weight does he attribute to their own wishes in this respect?
The interesting thing is that if there is only 1,000 of them in Fiji at present and they were so desirous of being closely associated with Ocean Island, many of them would have returned. But the Minister indicated the other day that the sustainable population is between 300 and 400, yet the actual population of the island is no more than 50. I should have thought, therefore, that one would have to consider it as an island which had been despoiled by phosphate mining. It is there and one has to find a future for it.
There are problems for the Gilbertese, such as defence problems. If it is conceded that it must be handed over to Fiji, one would then have to take into account the views of the Fijians in future years. What are they to do about the liabilities imposed by a small unit within their midst which is on the point of being ravaged?
Surely, if a fund was set aside and all those funds have now been lost, or potentially lost, either the Fijian Government will have to provide the administrative background and social services, or the Government of the Gilbert Islands will have to do it. All I say is that this matter will be considered very firmly by the Government before we move any further.
My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East indicated that, to all intents and purposes, Ocean Island has never been a member of this group. I do not know how he will get round one of the major obstacles, because in 1900 the Colonial Office attached the group to the Gilbert Islands and Banaba was the capital of the territory between 1908 and 1942, when it was ravaged by the Japanese. In legal terms this was conceding part of the property to the group, and whatever they may argue in future it will be very difficult to get round that proposition.
I would hate my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) to persist in error during what is otherwise an interesting speech. Ocean Island was annexed in 1900. It was not attached to the Gilbert Islands colony until 1916, at which time the Banabans were not consulted, nor did they know anything about the action taken at that time. Therefore, Ocean Island was treated as part of the Gilbert Islands administratively from then until 1945, the year in which the Banabans were removed to Rabi. The Gilbertese, as a self-governing people, have never governed the Banabans. The Banabans, therefore, object most strongly to being forced into an independent Gilbertese State against their will. That is the truth of the matter.
I understand that the Banabans are very keen to start a new action in Australia where this matter will be litigated. That is where they will have to test their case. I dare say that today they must ensure that they are in an independent position if they are to argue this matter in a court of law in Australia. We shall have to wait to see how it turns out, but I should have thought that the legal implications would be that their position was not secure.
I indicated on Second Reading that it was very important indeed that the British Government give Banaba—whether it be part, as I recommend, of the Gilbert Islands—sufficient money to secure the future of its people, otherwise their standard of living will decline seriously. It is also important that there be a substantial trust, administered by independent authorities, to ensure that the money is not wasted. I should have also thought that if the Banabans are to consider themselves continuously associating with an island which is now derelict, that will move them away from their future, which should be closely associated with Fiji and its future. I am attracted by amendment No. 5, which is similar to a proposition which I put forward on the basis of a lease. That is an amendment which could possibly be pursued.
Taking into account the wider implications here, I think that in future—bearing in mind the smallness of the population on an island which is no more than approximately two miles by one and a half miles—Ocean Island should remain inside the Gilbert group.
The proposal contained in these amendments is that Ocean Island should be treated separately from the rest of the Gilbert Islands and that there should be association with the islands of Fiji. If we were to pass the amendments the Bill could continue, there could be independence for the Gilbert Islands in time for independence day ceremonies, and the people of Ocean Island at present living on Rabi would be able to obtain their most earnest desire, which is to have within the same legal group of islands on which they live their former homeland which they themselves recognise they can no longer live on, but an island where their ancestors are buried and with which they have strong emotional ties.
Having read their request—which seems so patently reasonable—against the horrifying background of the history of this matter so ably argued today by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), I cannot see that there is one argument against the Banabans having what they want. I could if the great majority of the people affected by the Bill—the Gilbert Islanders—had any cogent argument for keeping Ocean Island within their group of islands.
I listened with the greatest attention to the Minister of State when he closed the debate on Second Reading. I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands) explaining the attitude of the former Labour Government—indistinguishable, of course, because it is the Foreign Office view. The real argument has been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper). I am surprised at him, frankly. In these debates he has become the spokesman for the Gilbertese. He has set himself against the great wave of Back-Bench opinion which has argued the Banaban case. Therefore, it behoves him to give an articulate explanation, as distinct from the arid legality of the Foreign Office, why the Banabans should be denied what seems to me to be an overwhelmingly reasonable case.
The only reason that my hon. Friend could give was the argument of precedent. That is the last argument of the faded lawyer in any case. Of course, it is seized upon by any civil servant in any Department, but most of all in the Foreign Office, in order to justify an unarguable case. That argument is "If we do this, Minister, other people will come along in a little time and they will want to do something else". The only sensible thing for a Minister to do in those circumstances is to say "Nonsense, no one is ever bound by precedent". If any hon. Member thinks that legal precedent is totally binding in a court of law, he should listen to the Master of the Rolls. He overturns precedent like costermongers' barrows in the East End.
I think the argument holds together even less, because this is the last colonial territory in the Pacific with which we are dealing. I know that the New Hebrides have been mentioned, but there is already agreement between the British and French Governments about the complete transfer of sovereignty of the New Hebrides. Therefore, if there is a separation, there is no future territory that could possibly take advantage of any precedent.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I was coming to precisely that point.
My hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth referred to the New Hebrides and gave us unattributable fears of possible cessations that there would be in the islands, but he did not name any. Where are the people who will secede from Kiribati? Where are the people who will secede from the New Hebrides? Who are the people who have independence movements, apart from the Banabans? If there are other people, let them argue their case.
The hon. Member for Essex, South-East has indicated on many occasions that in our Imperial past there have been a number of instances where we have acceded to the request of a minority people to secede from the dominant group, because on the whole we thought it was right or, more often, because the pressure was so intense, and they had taken up arms themselves, that they persuaded us that we ought not get in their way. If the Banabans had a few atomic bombs, we would have the Foreign Office Minister presenting perfectly legitimate arguments about the precedent for letting them secede. The real reason is that they are just a poor, pillaged people who are dependent simply upon our good will. If one contrasts the illuminating and high-minded speech from a man who has just entered the House—the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones)—with that of the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet), one sees why it is that the Banabans have so little hope of getting their cause.
I have been listening to my hon. Friend's argument, and those of my other hon. Friends who support the amendment, with some sympathy. Does my hon. Friend not agree that the last statement that he has made is not entirely correct, in that, as I understand it, whatever the misdeeds of the past, on a per capita basis the Banabans, relative to the Gilbertese, are not too badly off? Might that not, rightly or wrongly, be one of the reasons why, in looking to an uncertain economic future, the Gilbertese are perhaps less willing in this matter than they might be?
That slur was put to me on a number of occasions before we had the debate on Second Reading. I am afraid that my hon. Friend was not here at the time. I asked the Lord Privy Seal, who speaks for the Foreign Secretary in this place, to clear up that matter. He said that there would be no significant financial effect upon either the Gilbertese or the Banabans, whichever course we were to take today, and that the arrangements with regard to the royalties from the phosphate have been arrived at in such a way that both of them would benefit in the same measure, whatever we did about their land title to Ocean Island. Therefore, we are not arguing about money.
At one time I thought that the argument was about mineral rights from the sea. I thought that it concerned oil or something of that sort, but not at all. No one can say of this island that it will give the people anything. If we give it to the Gilbertese, they will get nothing, apart from a barren rock in the ocean which is 200 miles from their nearest island. If we give it to the Banabans, they will never be able to go and live on it. It is a barren rock for them. The only thing is that it is their ancestral home and they want it. If they want it, and if it is no good to anyone else, why not give it to them? That is the point.
The hon. Member for Watford saw that clearly. In all his innocence, the child who saw the emperor's new clothes looked at the Foreign Office argument and saw what had to be done. If I may say so to the hon. Gentleman, he should not make speeches such as that if he ever wants to be Minister of State at the Foreign Office. He might get into the Cabinet by that kind of attitude, but he will never become Minister of State. To be Minister of State one has to read the brief and do as one is told—not by the Prime Minister but by the civil servants. They have told all our Ministers, both Conservative and Labour, about the precedents, the United Nations' resolution and the committee on colonialism. The fact is simply that there is no fresh view about the issue before us, apart from that of the hon. Member for Watford.
There is a moral issue here. It cannot be reduced to legalism or to precedent. If my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil thinks that is cheap, all I can say is that that is what is at the root of this matter. I have asked my hon. Friend on previous occasions what overwhelming reasons the Gilbertese can produce to ask for the retention of Ocean Island within the group. There are none. There is the argument, which is constantly put forward, that they have a feeling for land. That is the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth. He has alluded many times to the report of Mr. Richard Posnett, but, as I pointed out on Second Reading, Mr. Posnett makes it perfectly clear that the Gilbertese never bothered about Banaba until the Banabans started kicking up a fuss. They then asked "What is it all about?" and said "Well, if they kick up a fuss, we shall kick up a fuss." That is basically what Mr. Posnett said, and that is what this is all about.
It is not about any deeply held feeling for land. I have never yet met a Gilbertese who has said that he has a deeply held feeling for this bit of rock 200 miles from the nearest island. It is not that at all. The truth is that it has nothing to do with precedent. No one can point to any real fear of a disintegration of the rest of the Gilbertese if Ocean Island goes to Rabi. All we have is the constantly reiterated phrase about territorial integrity. Frankly, I do not think that that is enough. We must say here and now that it is not good enough. This whole story is a blot upon the history of this country. We must at any rate take away that stain by letting the Banabans have what they want.
I echo the commendation that has been made in regard to the first speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), and I express admiration for the way in which he reconciled the needs of a maiden speech with a contribution to this debate. As a fellow countryman who also comes from the Principality, I echo a lot of his argument in his admirable first speech in this Chamber.
My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) has fought manfully in this cause. It is a cause which, as the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) intimated, we should fight collectively. We have a tremendous responsibility. The first question posed by my hon. Friend was "Do the Banabans constitute a separate identity?" I think that his speech alone effectively demonstrated the extent of that separate identity. I disagree with those who suggest that there is no real difference between these people and their neighbours. Indeed, any group of people who had suffered as bitterly as this group have suffered would be almost certain to have a sense of separate identity, and it would be a real sense based on their harsh experience in the last half century.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) has left the Chamber. He seemed to think that there was no evidence of any separateness. But, in the context of that part of the Pacific, I think that it is a fairly definite separate identity. The hon. Member also considered the question: should we make amends? I think that we ought to make amends before we lose the power to do so. That is the vital question and the present position. This is our last opportunity to make amends. If this Bill is passed unamended, we shall no longer have not merely any power but any real influence on the future of this unhappy people.
The hon. Member considered that the incorporation of the amendment would ensure the creation of stress in that part of the Pacific, although he adduced very little evidence to support his statement. He even went so far as to suggest that the Gilbertese believe that Ocean Island is a part of their group. Frankly, all of us who have looked up the history of this part of the Pacific and of these events, as admirably set out in some of the literature that has been put before us, have found absolutely no evidence that this has ever been effectively a part of the larger group. Its whole history has been different. For a long time the people were almost unaware of the existence of the other part of the so-called group.
My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East asked whether the amendment would ensure a permanent settlement or make such a settlement likely. I do not think that he could answer that question. That is the one doubtful part of his argument. Nothing that we can do can make a satisfactory settlement certain. I think that my hon. Friend would agree with that. It is the one part of his admirable argument that he could not finally answer, because nothing that we can do can ensure that. However, we should try to the best of our ability to achieve the best settlement. That is the point.
I often listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) with a good deal of agreement. Today, however, I thought that he was completely astray in his argument. I could not see how one could ensure any permanent assurance of help merely by providing a small fund for these people, in the hands of trustees, if we do not grant what is basically their most passionate wish. My hon. Friend seemed to attach very little importance to this matter. What they want most passionately is the constitutional settlement to be assured, in the terms of the amendment or as near as we can achieve it to meet their wishes.
The history of this matter has been deplorable. The hon. Member for Sheffield. Heeley (Mr. Hooley) expressed his anxiety about the fact that, whereas Ministers and Opposition leaders who were Ministers recognise our guilt to some degree, he was not satisfied that this recognition went below ministerial level into the official servants.
Let me make my point perfectly clear. The situation of the Banabans is very serious. That is a point which apparently the Committee does not appreciate. Therefore, it behoves the Government to be particularly generous in a settlement. If the money has been lost over past years, something must be done to ensure that the future association, whether it be with Fiji or the Gilbert Islands, is rendered on a secure basis.
I appreciate that point. However, it will be much more difficult to make effective separate financial provision for this group of people if they have no separate constitutional identity, which is what they want and require. In future, it will be more difficult to ensure financial help.
I could not agree more with what my hon. Friend is saying. However, in order that the Committee should get this matter back into perspective, and before any hon. Member castigates the Banabans for alleged mismanagement of their modest funds, will my hon. Friend remind the Committee that for years the British Government deliberately cheated these people? In order that the matter should be seen in perspective, we should first acknow- ledge our own shortcomings and our own guilt before casting stones on a people so grievously ill used by successive British Administrations.
I agree entirely. On the whole, I should have liked to hear that sort of passionate admission coming from both Front Benches. I appreciate that there have been statements acknowledging that all has not been well and that perhaps things might have been better. But what has not been admitted is that this has been one of the most disgraceful episodes in our history and in the history of some of the other associate territories of the Commonwealth and that, had these people been granted the proper reward for what was taken from their territory, much more money would have been involved than anything that has been contemplated for any kind of settlement in their favour.
The point of these amendments is not the financial point which my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford made. Here again he was in error, because he was dealing with something that is not related to the amendments. His speech was completely detached from the content of the amendments.
Very little. I suppose that my hon. Friend could have argued in some obscure way that his point might be related somehow, but I could not see how.
These are vital amendments. The Bill should not be passed in its present form. We are now at the very last moment when we can do something to guide future events. We owe such a terrible responsibility to these people that we should bend over to meet their wishes, as my hon. Friend the Member for Watford said, even if we think that their wishes may not be sensible. We should not now try to arrogate to ourselves superior wisdom. These people have been so hurt and unnecessarily punished that it is their wishes that should be paramount. I hope that it will be in that spirit that the Committee will accept these admirable amendments, which were proposed so effectively by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East.
Just before the general election, following an intervention of mine on this subject, the parliamentary column in The Daily Telegraph made fun of the mention of Kiribati in this House. The columnist asked what interest the electors of West Lewisham had in the affairs of Kiribati. Somewhat to my surprise, in view of the course that the election took, I find myself back in this place. I was particularly surprised to find, from talking with a number of Christian groups during the election campaign, that they knew all about the fact that this Bill was going through the House of Commons. They were very concerned that, whoever their Member of Parliament might be after the election, that Member should treat this issue as a moral issue which should be decided on its moral and ethical merits and not as an issue which should be decided in some sort of realpolitik manner. The implication in The Daily Telegraph could not have been more wrong.
I was not able to be here for Second Reading, so may I say in preface that I have never been associated with what might be described as the Banaban lobby or with the Gilbertese lobby, although I have followed these matters carefully. As secretary of the Anglo-South Pacific group of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, I have met many Gilbertese who have put their points to me and I have talked to some Banabans, but I do not approach the debate with my mind particularly made up as to the correct course to follow. My interest in the South Pacific is the same as that declared by my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) on Second Reading. I spent much of my youth putting pennies in London Missionary Society boxes for the various Congregational churches in the Gilbert Islands and other parts of the South Pacific.
I should like to give the Committee some of my experience of the bearing of the Foreign Office on this issue over the past two years. Although many of the individuals concerned in the Foreign Office are people of the highest esteem and reputation, the actions of both British Governments in the past two years have made the problem immeasurably more difficult to solve than it need have been and in some of their actions they have behaved in a way in which Governments ought not to behave.
I do not know what has inspired the pro-Gilbertese speeches, but I felt that the contribution of the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) was not a worthy sort of speech to make in this debate. It did not go to the issue at all.
Everyone who has been engaged in these affairs knows that there has been difficulty with Banaban and Nauruan investments in Australia and elsewhere. It is an area of investment which is uncertain anyway and, given the problems that we have had with the Crown Agents and so on, I do not think that it lies in the mouth of anyone in the House to start preaching to the Banabans, the Gilbertese or anyone else about how they should conduct their investments. There is a great deal to be said for us putting our own House in order before telling other people what they should do.
One problem throughout the independence of the Gilbert Islands, Tuvalu, the Solomon Islands and the Pacific group of independence Bills that have gone through the House has been that the Foreign Office has been under pressure to rush things at a far greater pace than was sensible if we were to get an agreed solution. That has been a particularly grave problem in relation to the Gilbert Islands.
As was mentioned on Second Reading, the new State of Kiribati will be the biggest island State in the world in terms of its sea area. It is having the Phoenix and Line Islands just thrown in. In defence and economic terms, there is not much that the Gilbert Islands can do about keeping together the territorial integrity of the State. There has been virtually no discussion of that issue in the House of Commons, yet it is said that it is impossible to give an inch on the issue of Banaba.
Every time the Banabans have come to London, immense pressure has been put on them by the Foreign Office to fall in with the Government's views. It says a tremendous amount for the Banabans' obstinacy, which would do the British Nonconformist tradition proud, that they have stood up to that pressure. From time to time I have been invited to luncheons which I discovered were methods of trying to put pressure on the Banabans. I have admired the way in which, in circumstances alien to those they are used to, the Banabans have stood up to the pressure.
Hon. Members may have read the recent story in Private Eye about the public relations company that was brought in to support the case of the Gilbertese. It was not subsidised by Gilbertese money. They are quite honest when they say that they do not have the money to pay for the public relations company of Maurice Chandler. The firm engaged no less a figure than Arnold Goodman to support the Gilbertese case in the conference—and he does not come cheap.
We must realise that the Bill comes at the end of a long period when, in spite of greater pressure by the Government on a minority to give in than we have ever seen before, that minority has said that it is not giving in and that it retains its original view that it wishes to be separate.
The other fascinating Foreign Office phenomenon in the story is that the longer that the various Ministers who have been involved in it—and there are, by now, quite a lot—have lived with the problem, the more complicated and the nearer to a moral issue they have realised it to be. Any hon. Member who talked to Evan Luard before he went to Fiji and after he came back will have found a very different Minister on his return. He realised that the issue involves deeply held feelings of a sort not found in other places.
However, the Foreign Office makes a deadline and says that we must keep to it. I suspect that there are other issues in the background. One is citizenship, and whichever party had won the general election would have wanted to bring in a citizenship Bill. In order to pave the way for such a Bill, we have this mad rush to get rid of our remaining colonies in the rest of the world on whatever terms we happen to make them independent. I do not think that that ought to be the correct criterion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Farn-worth mentioned precedent. There were precedents and dangers of the Balkanisation of the Pacific. When Papua New Guinea went independent, there was a real danger of Bougainville becoming independent. When the Solomon Islands became independent there were movements there. When the New Hebrides' independence was being considered two or three years ago, there were problems—though they were generated not by the New Hebrideans but by American speculators trying, through French rather than British influence, to buy islands to set up tourist paradises.
Those problems of the Balkanisation of the Pacific have largely disappeared. It is quite untrue to say that any serious precedent would be set if we passed the amendments. Indeed, I would go in exactly the other direction. It would be a very serious precedent for us to pass into law an independence Bill against bitter opposition on the Floor of the House when amendments of the kind we are considering are before the Committee. I remind the Committee of the last time that happened in this atmosphere. That was when the independence of Cyprus was fixed in 1959, after Archbishop Makarios had been bullied, in much the same way as the Banabans have been bullied, into signing a constitution that he did not believe in, because he felt it to be unworkable. It was unworkable.
To its credit, the Labour Party, in those days the Opposition, voted in 1959 in an unprecedented way on an amendment on the Floor of the House in an attempt to prevent that piece of lunacy from happening. What has happened in Cyprus is common knowledge. We made independent a State that could not become independent. There was no viability in that State.
The great danger here is that if we do something which is constitutionally unprecedented—that is, if the Government say "We shall push this through because we have made a date and must stick to deadlines"—we shall create problems. I do not say that we shall create problems as great as those that we created in Cyprus, but problems will occur in the Pacific over the next 20 and 30 years, serious strategic problems and other similar problems.
There is an unwritten convention in the House that if the Government want to carry an independence Bill they should be able to do so in the end, after all the consultations, with the broad, full assent of each side of the House. They are not doing it on this occasion. They have the majority—I am sure that they will be able to wheel the troops in at the appropriate moment—but my instinct is that if they do it they may well live to regret it.
I should like to emphasise the point made by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) about the position of Ratu Mara in Fiji. If the Government are unable to carry the whole Committee with them, they should at the very least come here carrying with them the Prime Minister and the Government of the only State which, although not very strong or powerful, is of any international influence in the area. Once again, they have not done so. I very much agree that Ratu Mara has behaved absolutely properly throughout the whole proceedings. The Government do not have the full-hearted assent of the Government of Fiji to the arrangement, assent which they should have. For that reason also, I believe that they may be asking the House to assent to an extremely unstable arrangement.
The Government could take a leaf out of the Americans' book. The Americans have been negotiating with the people of Micronesia in the Marshall and Caroline Islands for 10 or 15 years, and with many of the groups of islands they will go on negotiating for a very long time. The American Congress has a committee system properly to scrutinise such issues, and it does not allow things to go through until everyone is satisfied that they are properly organised.
I greatly fear that we are letting something slip through long before the reaching of fruition of the sort of slow consultation under which one could have secured agreement between the Gilbertese and the Banabans on an arrangement satisfactory to both sides. But, no, the British Government could not wait, for the various reasons stated and, I suspect, one or two that have not been stated on the Floor of the House. They have pushed ahead, and so we are faced with the amendments.
The amendments do nothing to impair the complicated arrangements that have already been made for Gilbertese independence. That can go ahead, but they allow the situation to be resolved properly in the future, in whatever way it is resolved.
I agree that there is no guarantee that either the Government's formula or the formula proposed in the amendments will work. If the Government had taken my advice, they would have spent another 12 months over the matter and told the Gilbertese "We are sorry. We want to obtain the full-hearted assent of both sides." The people of the Pacific do not feel the need for this sort of mad rush.
The matter is not like the independence of some of the African countries, where there are riots and people demanding independence tomorrow. The truth is that there is time, but the Government have decided that there is not. They have fixed the date and have gone ahead on a bipartisan basis.
Although there is no guarantee that the amendments will solve anything, they at least hold out a better hope of a peaceful solution of the problem than anything else. Hon. Members should not vote on the basis of any nice, nit-picking view of constitutional law and territorial integrity or anything like that. The Banabans have stood up manfully against massive pressure. They feel deeply about the issue.
The amendments give us a chance to leave a little more time to get the matter sorted out properly, instead of pushing ahead in such a way that the grievances will go on for generations, and perhaps even centuries, because people in the Pacific remember for a long time. The Imperial Power caused the whole problem in the first place, by the most appalling instance of economic exploitation. In these circumstances, we should vote for leaving the options open rather than closing them. That is why I shall support the amendment.
My interest in the Banaban issue was aroused in the first weeks of 1977 by the BBC television documentary "Go Tell It to the Judge". To this day I have not seen that documentary, but it obviously struck the conscience of the country. It certainly caused many of my constituents to write to me to express their concern. Neither have I any familiarity with the islands in the Pacific that we are discussing. Despite the handicap of not having had those two vital experiences, however, I am amply convinced that the Banaban people have been done a grave injustice and that we should do nothing consciously to perpetuate or aggravate that injustice.
It is no longer in dispute that the Banaban people have been exploited. Their assets have been expropriated at less than their value. It is not a very creditable chapter in our Imperial history. That is a matter of great regret to me, because if this is not to be the final chapter of our Imperial story it is likely to be one of the last chapters, and it is a great disappointment to me that we should near the end with such a shabby episode. It will be for ever on the record for the opponents of empire to point to as an illustration of the way in which subject peoples were exploited by empire.
That is not something that I believe. I believe that the benefits of empire are well known and can be demonstrated. But there will always be a doubt if such episodes are allowed to remain on the record with those concerned unrecompensed. I believe that there is no dispute about that. At least, few care to dispute it in public, elsewhere or in this Chamber. The dispute is about whether the two issues—the making of amends for the past and dealing with independence now—are separate or combined. In my view, they must be combined. Having once pillaged the island of Banaba, are we now to deny the Banaban people their legitimate aspirations for independence? Surely this is our opportunity—a very timely one after all these years—to make amends to them.
It is not easy for Ministers coming new to office to grapple with problems of this complexity and of this long standing. I do not envy them, because problems come to their desks with a rush. By convention, Ministers are allowed a honeymoon period. Unlike convention, they are not allowed the normal two weeks' paid leave which goes with a honeymoon. In consequence, they have to make decisions quickly.
Not the least unfortunate aspect of this issue is that it should be the very first Bill that the new Conservative Government have brought before this House to be passed through all its stages in two parliamentary days.
If it were the case that Ministers had come fresh to this issue, there might be some force in what my hon. Friend said, though I think that a prudent Administration would have taken a little time to reflect. In fact, the Banaban case was put to the Shadow Cabinet in detail in the autumn of last year, and there is no excuse for the present Administration claiming that they have come fresh to the issue and that they inherited from the previous Administration a Bill that had very nearly completed its stages in Parliament. It is not the case that Ministers have come fresh to this. The issue has been known to them for months.
I admire and respect my hon. Friend's integrity in this matter. Unlike him, however, I prefer to be a little more charitable to our new Ministers. It is one matter to face these issues in Opposition, without responsibility, as I did when I committed myself to the cause of the Banabans by becoming a patron of the Justice for the Banabans Campaign. It is quite another, suddenly and unexpectedly, as a result of a Government defeat on the Floor of the House—the first in more than 50 years—to have the responsibility of decision-making not only on a Minister's desk but awaiting a decision within a matter of days, if not hours. I think that some consideration must be given to that point of view.
The consequence of this has been that the new Government have taken over the Bill which was already going through both Houses at the time of the Dissolution, and it is unfortunate that Ministers should come forward, apparently with their minds made up, not prepared to accept that there have been new developments even within recent weeks and months. I was not satisfied at the time on Second Reading, nor am I satisfied now, that the new initiatives do not offer a better prospect of settlement than what is proposed in the Bill.
I recognise that there is one precedent here that we ought to observe. It is the precedent of the exploitation of the Banabans. I hope that there will not be any other such episodes in our history. If we are to talk of precedent, that is the precedent, and we ought to match it to another precedent, which is quite exceptional treatment for the Banabans in these circumstances. If they wish to have a more independent existence than is allowed for hi the Bill, in justice we ought to allow it to them. There will be counter-arguments, and we have heard many of them, but none is so important as the need to make amends and to set these matters right.
The Banabans are perhaps not the best protagonists of their own cause. They are Pacific islanders. They are not used to the niceties of parliamentary consideration in the United Kingdom, at the other end of the world. I have no doubt that the Banaban people—by and large uncomplicated people—are no match for the pink-shirted, space-age sophisticates of the Foreign Office, but I worry whether our Ministers are any match for those same sophisticates in the Foreign Office.
On the very day—it was a Thursday—that this House gave a Second Reading to the Bill, we had a statement from the Lord Privy Seal about the Vietnamese refugees. On the following Monday there was a change of heart, if not a change of course. I genuinely sympathise with a new Ministry, endeavouring to find its feet and to start as it means to go on, having to take firm decisions in the very first days of a Government. We have seen the energy crisis that has landed on another Minister's desk. It is unenviable. Nevertheless, the opportunity should be taken to say "We have the schedule set out. We have the momentum built up for independence. We have the date fixed. We have a Royal personage to be present at those independence celebrations. We recognise all that, but if there is a chance offered by this amendment or by the initiative of the Fijian Prime Minister to meet the grievance of a minority island people, surely we should take it."
We were told today that we are to offer homes in this country to Vietnamese refugees. The Banabans are also refugees. They were refugees from their island. To be consistent in the spirit if not in the letter of the law, surely we should offer them their home—an independent home, which is their aspiration. Anything less would not be ample recompense for all that they have suffered in recent months at our hands.
My few comments will be brief, but I think that they reflect those of my colleagues. I ought perhaps to add that I have not followed this matter quite as closely as some of my hon. Friends have. However, most hon. Members and most United Kingdom citizens want to see Britain leave the Pacific with clean hands and give it the maximum chance of maintaining peace and the brotherhood of its people.
A couple of years ago, it was my hope that when we came to discuss this Bill we would feel that here was a Bill which in itself and in the actions of our Ministers in the Pacific reflected the best chance of doing that. I regret that this Bill, even if it is amended in the form proposed by my hon. Friends, will not do that.
The plight of the Banabans has been well ventilated both inside and outside the House of Commons. I remember asking some questions on the subject two and a half years ago, and I referred to them obliquely when I intervened in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon).
Someone who knows the Pacific very well has said to me that the problem of the Banabans is one not of poverty but of demoralisation. If that is so, it is the duty of the House of Commons to make sure that that demoralisation no longer exists. I feel sure, because I know indirectly of their views, that members of the Gilbert Islands legislature and the political parties share that wish. But again I fail to see in the Bill and in the general arrangements which have been made the constituents which will provide the maximum hope for that solution.
It was my hope that Her Majesty's Government could have invented some imaginative gesture towards the ravaged Ocean Island. After all, the plight of the Third world and the interrelationship of the peoples of planet Earth is now a well-known theme. Here was one of the best opportunities for the United Kingdom to illustrate its beliefs. Yet it appears that the opportunity, physically at least, has not been taken. It may be that the Government of the Gilberts will enter into some arrangement with the Banabans to make that very type of gesture. Indeed, they may have done so already. If they have not done so already, I hope that they will. But what a pity that it was not Her Majesty's Government who did it first as part of an overall settlement. It appears from what my hon. Friends have said—I shall listen carefully to what the Minister says—that the only reason why they did not do so was lack of imagination and that they thought they did not have the time. I shall be listening carefully to hear whether the Minister says anything that counters that argument.
There is no imaginative de-escalation of this difficult problem in the Bill. We have to ask ourselves whether the position will be made better or worse by the amendments of my hon. Friends, which may be the only Division tonight, although that is not entirely certain. There may be other colleagues in the building who have not heard the debate but who will support the Government, or perhaps I should say both Governments, come what may. Because of a feeling of foreboding, if not dismay, among several hon. Members, and although the noses of the Gilbertese may be put slightly out of joint, I feel that the amendments should have some support. If this is to be the only Division, those who feel that our Government and Whitehall have let down the British people and the British Parliament are left with that one alternative.
I add my congratulations to those offered to the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) on an eloquent maiden speech. It is said that the Welsh export preachers, poets and politicians. Clearly, one of our best exports has been to Watford, in the form of the hon. Gentleman. His maiden speech was appreciated for the tribute that he paid to his predecessor, Mr. Raphael Tuck, who, as hon. Members on both sides will know, worked hard and assiduously to ensure the interests of his constituents. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will do likewise.
The hon. Member for Watford stated that the arguments were finely balanced and that no overwhelming case had been made out. The hon. Gentleman came down on the side of the Banaban cause and the amendments to the Bill, but said that it was a finely balanced decision. He appreciated and sympathised with some aspects of the case presented by the Gilbertese or by the Government.
I interrupted my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) from a sedentary position and dubbed as cheap one of his remarks in reference to Ministers of State in the Home Office and the Foreign Office. He might have been describing his experiences and relationships, as a former Minister of State, with civil servants. He was certainly not describing mine as a former Minister of State in the Foreign Office. On the Banaban issue, at no time did I feel that I was a prisoner of the civil servants in the advice that I received. It would have been one of the easiest things in the world for hon. Members like myself, now free from that imprisonment of official advice in the Foreign Office and not having been associated with the problems of Ocean Island and the Banabans for two or three years since I was the responsible Minister, from 1975 to 1976, to lie low on this emotional issue, especially when some of my hon. Friends and close friends feel so strongly about the issue. In the Labour Party there is a strong feeling in favour of the Banaban cause. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for a former Minister to have lain low rather than stand up and argue the case against the amendments and in support of the Bill.
The reason why I am not lying low is not that I was a prisoner of official advice, or that I felt that I had been whitewashed by a succession of officials. Indeed, I saw off most of the Foreign Office officials. One of the great qualities of being a Minister in the Foreign Office is that if one stays as long as I did one becomes the fixed point in the system and the officials keep on moving around.
My support of the Bill is based upon my own personal experiences. Like some hon. Members of the House who have drawn different conclusions, I have at least been to Rabi, Ocean Island and Tarawa, and I have consulted at considerable length with the distinguished Prime Minister, Ratu Mara. I could not understand the references by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), who implied that Ministers had not taken Prime Minister Ratu Mara seriously or consulted with him at great length. There have been deep consultations at ministerial, official and high commissioner level with Prime Minister Ratu Mara. If we do not agree on the course forward, that is reasonable and honourable. It is not due to absence of extensive consulta- tion between ourselves and the Fijian Government.
I had the chance, albeit almost four years ago, to go on a month's visit to see matters for myself. I reported back to the then Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), now Leader of the Opposition, at the end of 1975. I re-read that personal confidential minute to the Foreign Secretary of the time recently to remind myself of what I felt. My hon. Friend the Member for York and the hon. Member for Essex, South-East will know that such minutes are written by Ministers on their own and not by officials. If one has been sent on an assignment, the minute is written by oneself.
The situation may have changed in three years, but the arguments are very familiar. The hon. Member for Essex, South-East spoke with eloquence on previous occasions in making similar speeches on the Banabans. I visited Rabi. I found a community with a refugee mentality—a community that has not developed and has not got on with the job of adjusting, over 20 or 30 years, to its environment. It was not because people believed that they would go back to Ocean Island. It was because there had continually been held out the hope, the fiction and belief that somehow there would be another homeland. They have not come to terms, after 30 years, with living and working on an island that in material, physical and environmental terms is infinitely better than Ocean Island itself.
I explained on Second Reading that I was horrified by what I saw when I visited Ocean Island. I saw an island physically wrecked and raped by commercial development in the manner in which nineteenth century South Wales valley communities were raped for their basic mineral resources. I saw an island totally desolate. It caused me to disbelieve a lot of the propaganda coming out of the Banaban lobby, which implied that there could be large-scale rehabilitation of the island and that large numbers of people could return to their homeland.
If this were a question of people being able to return in large numbers to an island about 2,000 miles from where they now live to re-establish themselves as a community and society in a meaningful sense and to become a State, a lot of different arguments could be put forward. The truth is that this is just not so. None of the evidence that came out during the extensive court case and none of the evidence seen by visitors like myself and other hon. Members, who have spoken in favour of the amendments, suggests that Banaba would ever become a community and a State inhabited by the citizens of that State. In these amendments, we are talking about creating by some association or separating and making independent a territory 2,000 miles away—
Does not the hon. Gentleman recall the solemn declaration of intent by the British Government in 1947, reiterated in 1967, mentioned at the constitutional conference, that the Banabans have two homes—that whether it is poor, ravaged and incapable of development or not, the British Government have recognised honourably that the Banabans have a right to their home in Ocean Island? That being so, by what right do the British Government transfer those solemn obligations to the Gilbertese Republic without Banaban permission?
I shall come in a moment to the hon. Gentleman's distinction between the rights of land, ownership and access and the emotional attachments of the Banabans to Ocean Island. That was the essence of many of the detailed recommendations in the report of the constitutional conference. The point that I am making is a personal one and it is the reason why I shall not support the amendments. By my definition, "territory"—an independent State or an association between States 1,400 miles apart—means a significant number of the citizens of that State living and working in the territory defined as a free and independent State. That is not ever likely and cannot be, alas, in the case of Ocean Island and the Banabans.
I have waited until my hon. Friend gave his explanation—as he said, personally devised by him—why the Banabans cannot have what they want. We all recognise that they cannot live there; they just want that relationship with their former homeland. My hon. Friend says that it is because they cannot live there that they cannot have it. Why on earth is that a factor when that is what they want? Let them have it.
If my hon. Friend, who makes the same intervention every time, will allow me to complete my case as he was allowed to complete his, I will expand my argument.
I am saying that after my visit to Ocean Island I made a straightforward recommendation, based on no official influence of any kind, that Ocean Island as it was had been irredeemably destroyed and that, except for the most marginal number of people, it could not be reinhabited. If that was the case, I concluded, it was nonsense to try to devise an independent Ocean Island or a completely separate new constitutional relationship between that island and a group of islands 1,400 miles away.
I also concluded that the only way in which Ocean Island could carry on and be inhabited, serviced and supported administratively and technically would be if it were done from Tarawa and the Gilberts themselves. After BPC packs up and goes away—it is not understood how much it has provided, although I shall have some harsh things to say about it—
I have said it before, and I will say it again: without the BPC workings and facilities, the island will be even less habitable than it is now, and those workings will be closed within the next 12 months or so.
The basic administrative and technical services—anything which is likely to be provided to support Ocean Island—will come from Tarawa. Therefore, on administrative and technical grounds and because for 60-odd years—and under the progressive constitution approved by this House after successive conferences—the Gilbertese Government have assumed Ocean Island to be an integral part of their territory, I concluded that the just and historic concerns and the problem of the injustices conducted against the Banabans should be met by economic and financial means.
That is why I referred on Second Reading to the use of all surpluses that BPC has accrued in the workings of this area. The Minister of State corrected me and said that the money had not been generated from Ocean Island itself, but there are surpluses in the BPC account created by its workings throughout this area. I do not believe that a penny of that money should be returned to the Exchequers of Australia, New Zealand or the United Kingdom. I believe that it should be used completely—"compensation" is not the word that one should use—as the answer of those three Governments to the needs of that part of the Pacific.
That is a much more practical approach than any constitutional fictions such as the amendments would create. That is the practical answer to the problems of the Banabans and the Gilbertese and others in this region.
That very suggestion was made by me and by Mr. John Lee in a report to the hon. Gentleman's Government five years ago. When we were in Canberra, we had warm approval from Australian Ministers and officials for the idea of the British Government's calling a round-table conference with Fiji, Australia and New Zealand where all these matters could be discussed. That report was never even considered by the British Government. Why is the hon. Gentleman so much in favour of all this now when it could have been considered five years ago?
The hon. Gentleman spends a great deal of his time maligning people. We pay him tribute for his work for the Banabans, but he might sometimes pause to consider what action we were taking. We were taking considerable action. My noble Friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts carried out detailed negotiations with the Australian and New Zealand Governments. The hon. Gentleman's assessment of their attitude towards the Banaban problems, and particularly to the BPC surpluses, was not recorded or subsequently verified either at official or at ministerial level in our contacts with our Australian and New Zealand counterparts.
The United Kingdom Government have given the lead in utilising the surpluses generated by the British Phosphate Commission for Banaban and Gilbertese development. There have been some detailed and difficult negotiations to persuade our two Commonwealth partners to go along.
They have had $10 million worth of surpluses. As I said on Second Reading—I had said it before, in 1975—it was part of the efforts of the United Kingdom Government, as it should be now, to ensure that all the surpluses should be used for the development of the region and particularly for Banaban and Gilbertese causes. That is what I believed in 1975 and what I believe now to be the practical way to redress the historic and justified grievances about the injustices suffered by the Banabans.
I in no way impugn the integrity or judgment of my hon. Friend. As he said, he no doubt made up his mind on these matters on his own judgment, and that is fair enough. But two points arise. First, it is no use pretending that the United Kingdom Government were anxious to make financial recompense. That did not arise effectively until the scathing Megarry judgment was published and startled the entire country. It was only then that the Government woke up to their financial obligations.
The other point is more important. My hon. Friend has, rightly, gone to great pains to describe what he saw on Ocean Island—I have not seen it, but he and others have—and I do not query for a minute his description of the island as a desolate, wrecked rock. How on earth can he or anybody therefore pretend that there is some great constitutional issue with the Gilbertese, that if this rock is separated out—if we do for the Banabans what they ask us to do—it will create a great constitutional precedent that will spark off revolutions across the Pacific and call in question the principle of territorial integrity?
My hon. Friend made his speech, and I hope that he will allow me to make mine. I shall explain why the Gilbertese feel strongly about this issue, as do the Banabans. It is not accurate for my hon. Friend the Member for York to say that the Gilbertese did not feel strongly until late in the day. Understandably, the Gilbertese believed that there would be no question of chopping up the territory in the process of independence. They made that reasonable assumption on the basis that that had been the policy of successive British Governments. They believed that there would be no fragmentation and no hiving off of territory. The Tuvalu arrangements were made by agreement. The Gilbertese said that they would defend their territorial integrity. It is wrong to imply that their attitude was taken at the last minute.
I did not imply that. I quoted from the report made by the official observer who went to the area at the behest of the British Government and was a member of the United Kingdom delegation at the independence negotiations. He made the statement, not me.
The overwhelming conclusion of the report was that the islands should not be separated. Until late in the day the Gilbertese believed that there was no question that there would be a dismemberment or severance of any part of their territory in the process of independence. Only when they saw a passionate and mounting lobby in the House of Commons and the British media which distorted the situation did the Gilbertese take up the cudgels and launch a public relations exercise similar to that of the Banabans.
The hon. Member for Essex, South-East and others have raised the question of the Banaban home, their land, access to land and rights of citizenship. They have referred to the fundamental and historic rights of the Banabans. If the Banabans' rights to land ownership or their historic burial places were in danger, I should oppose the Bill. But they are not. As a result of the constitutional conference, those fundamental rights are ensured. The Banabans' rights of land ownership, access to land, and representation in the Kiribati Assembly are 100 per cent. ensured.
Hon. Members have used a "no lose" argument. They argue that the entrenched provisions are so powerful that we cannot believe them, but if those provisions were any less powerful hon. Members would demand that they be made more powerful. The provisions ensure that nothing can happen to the rights of Banabans or to their homeland short of separation of the territory from the Gilberts. This and the financial provisions that we must make justify the Bill. We should vote against the amendments.
I turn to the question of territorial integrity. I agree with the hon. Member for Essex, South-East that frequently there is a conflict between self-determination and territorial integrity. The United Nations and the British Government have often had to grapple with the conflicting demands of the people of a State and its territorial integrity.
The arguments used by the supporters of the amendments can be used by a host of small secessionist movements in islands in the Pacific and Caribbean. The people of Nevis, in St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Kitts and Barbuda, or Antigua, could use the same arguments. One must make up one's mind whether one should support such ideas, which will be read and used to trigger off events in other societies. It is a question not only of precedence but of experience. Experience has shown repeatedly that secessionist movements are a powerful development internationally, particularly in island communities.
I was not conscious of this in 1975, when I went to the Pacific. I became more conscious of it when I was a Minister and involved in the Caribbean. Experience should teach us to be cautious before embarking upon any type of territorial dismemberment or fragmentation.
For these reasons and because I believe that the provisions decided at the constitutional conference, enshrine the rights of the Banabans in their homeland—the rights that have caught the imagination and emotions of everyone—have been fully met, I shall oppose the amendments.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) on his excellent maiden speech. He was witty, fluent and confident. He said that he would try to find the narrow landing strip between sycophancy and rebellion. I am not sure that he found it, but if there was a rebellion it was one of the most courteous rebellions that I have experienced for a long time.
I was not entirely happy about his reference to Watford being the first pothole on the road to Wigan pier because it seemed to have implications for my constituency, which is further north. My hon. Friend also mentioned the admirable record of the Watford football team. I am confident that he will rise in the House of Commons, although perhaps not with the speed with which his football team has risen in a brief period of two years. I congratulate my hon. Friend and look forward to hearing him again.
The amendments have three purposes. Amendment No. 1 and the related amendments propose the separation of Banaba. Amendment No. 5 provides as an alternative that we should incorporate in the constitution of Kiribati provisions derived from the paper tabled by the Fijian Government at the Suva conference. New clause 1 provides that if the first two proposals are not accepted, the constitution should contain certain provisions taken from the report of the constitutional conference in London last year.
I shall deal first with the last of those three suggestions. Paragraphs 62 to 69 of the report of the constitutional conference contain not only constitutional proposals. Therefore, they would not all be suitable for inclusion in a constitution. Some of them are simply descriptive, as for example paragraphs 62, 63 and 65. However, if hon. Members have looked at the draft constitution, which, as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) has said, I have placed in the Library, they will find that those provisions from the report of the constitutional conference, which are properly constitutional as opposed to descriptive, have been incorporated in the draft.
My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), speaking on the main question—that is, the separation of Banaba—used language about myself and Ministers which I found rather surprising. He said that the arguments used by Ministers were dishonest. He said they were designed to justify past and future exploitation and that it was contemptible for Ministers to deny a Banaban identity. I am an old friend of my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East, and I must say that I am surprised and disappointed at remarks of that kind. I very much pre- fer the approach adopted by my hon. Friend the Member for Watford in his maiden speech and that of the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper), which is that, even though people may disagree on this important issue, we would at least be wise to give credit to those with whom we disagree for having similarly honest motives as ourselves. I am quite prepared to do that with my hon. Friend.
I accept the spirit in which my hon. Friend makes his strictures, but if he genuinely means what he says will he now withdraw what he told the House on Second Reading, namely, that the first occasion he had heard my reference to the Suva proposals was during the debate? He knows perfectly well that I had written a letter to him before Second Reading to which I did not receive an answer.
With regard to the question and answer I was speaking to my hon. Friend on the telephone almost daily at that time. I may not have sent him a written answer, but I was talking to him on the telephone—if he remembers accurately—at least three times that week.
Perhaps my hon. Friend will do me the courtesy of allowing me to deal with his point.
I acknowledge that I received a letter from my hon. Friend in which he proposed a suggestion on the lines he has described. This letter arrived at the same time as the communique of the Suva conference. I naturally gave important consideration to the communique of the Suva conference. The next thing that happened was that the hon. Member came with the leaders of the Rabi Council to see me a few days later. What I said on Second Reading was not what my hon. Friend has just attributed to me. I did not say that he had never made that suggestion. I said this suggestion was not made to me by the Chief Minister of the Gilbert Islands or the Chairman of the Rabi Council of Leaders. After an intervention from my hon. Friend, I then said that I thought that my hon. Friend would agree that when he came to see me with the Chairman of the Rabi Council of Leaders two days previously that suggestion was not made. I thought that it was not unreasonable of me to imagine that his suggestion had been overtaken by the communique from Suva, to which I will come back at greater length later.
There was no need for me to repeat what I had already written to my hon. Friend. I was expressing the view not only on behalf of the Campaign for Justice for Banabans but also on behalf of the Rabi Council of Leaders whom I am empowered to represent. My hon. Friend accused me in the House of making a proposition to him for the first time on the Floor of the House. He knew perfectly well that I had written to him weeks before.
With great respect to my hon. Friend, I did not accuse him of making the proposition for the first time. I have just read out what I said and I think that if he looks at Hansard he will see that I am justified in what I have been saying.
Reference has been made frequently today to the fact that both Governments have taken the same view. Generally speaking, those who have made this point have regarded it as rather sinister. I think that it is an important fact that both Governments came independently to the same conclusion on the merits of the case. When we came into office we did not simply take up the previous Government's Bill because it happened to be convenient. As my hon. Friend said, we had studied this matter when we were in Opposition. We had studied it very carefully and when we had the fuller resources available to us as a Government we came to the same conclusion as the previous Government.
A number of hon. Members, including the hon. Members for York (Mr. Lyon) and for Heeley, have implied that Ministers are run by their officials and he blamed Ministers of both Governments. I rather wonder, having heard all this, why I ceased to be an official and became a politician. If the proposition were true, obviously it would have been right for me to continue in my seat of greater power and to have remained an official. It certainly did not look like that to me at the time and it does not look like that now. It is here at this Dispatch Box that the responsibility lies and I take full responsibility for the decisions I have taken. My right hon. and hon. Friends take full responsibility for the decisions that this Government have made, ft is wrong to blame officials for the decisions of this Government.
It is necessary to restate some of the basic facts. Banaba has been administered as part of the Gilbert Islands protectorate or colony since 1900. For over 30 years it was the administrative capital of the territory. No matter how that came about, it is history. Nevertheless, the Banaban community of about 2,500 people want the separation of Ocean Island from the rest of the Gilberts group. Almost all the Banabans live on Rabi Island, which is 1,400 miles away. In a free vote in 1947 they chose to live on Rabi, which is 10 times the size of Banaba and more fertile. The Banabans have maintained only a rotating presence of about 100 Banabans on Banaba though this has recently been increased as a political gesture.
Most of the people who now live on the island are not Banabans at all. They come from other islands in the Gilberts group or they are expatriates employed by the phosphate company. Nevertheless, I recognise the desire of the Banabans that the island should be separated and that that desire is deeply felt. However, and this point was very well made in a distinguished speech—the second one—that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands) made on this matter, the desire of the Gilbert islanders, who number 56,000, that the island should not be separated is equally deeply felt as is the desire of the Banabans. The Gilbertese regard Banaba Island as an integral part of the territory, as in their lifetime it has always been. Just because it is an island there is no reason to imagine that the feelings of most of the Gilbertese against separation are any less strong than would be the feelings of any who were threatened with the loss of part of a mainland territory.
On what evidence does the hon. Gentleman base the statement that he has just made? We have had the experience in Britain of being lobbied very hard by the Banabans over a number of years about their very deep feelings about Ocean Island. There has not been similar lobbying of anything like that intensity by the Gilbertese as to their deep feelings about Ocean Island.
I have talked to the Chief Minister, who certainly has very deep feelings, and I have reports from Tarawa. I would add that the vigour and the frequency of lobbying is not necessarily a reflection of the feelings of those who are doing the lobbying. People may very well have strong feelings about the matter though they do not have the resources with which to lobby. The Gilbertese very reasonably ask, if Banaba were to separate, why should not some of the other Gilbert Islands do the same? Before the British came—this is a point I think which has not been made except perhaps by the hon. Member for Farnworth—most of the Gilbert Islands were separate States. Therefore, it would be foolish to imagine that Banaba could be separated without implications inside the Gilbert Islands themselves.
I am not aware that any has, but the history shows that they were a separate State. Hon Members have discussed the ethnic connections between the Banabans and the other Gilbert islanders. I thought that the hon. Member for Farnworth was right in saying that this is a matter which can be read either way. It is true that they have the same language and that they are of the same race. It is true that the principal god of the Banabans lives in another of the Gilbert islands, not on Banaba. It is true that there has been a great deal of intermarriage, and I gave the House the figures on Second Reading. But whether one says that because the relationship is like that between the Cornish people and the rest of the United Kingdom there is good cause for separation or there is not good cause for separation is a matter of choice. Therefore, on that issue I go along with the hon. Member for Farnworth to say that the honours are even.
The important point was made by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil that nobody seriously suggests that, even if it is possible to rehabilitate Banaba afer the end of phosphate extraction, any more than a relatively small number of Banabans can possibly be expected to go back and live there.
Two of the main concerns of the Banabans are that they should continue to have their rights to ownership of land on Banaba and to be able to come and go to Banaba when they wish. Both of these rights are safeguarded in the constitution. Successive British Governments have taken the view that if agreement could be reached by negotiation between the parties, with or without the assistance of the British Government or another Government, that would provide the best solution.
I join in paying tribute to the Prime Minister of Fiji for the statesmanlike role he has played on a number of occasions in trying to get an agreed solution, not least in Suva last month. But unfortunately an agreed solution has not emerged, even after the 10 years or so over which this problem has been discussed. Therefore the British Government have had to take a decision. This matter has been going on for a long time, and that is why at the constitutional conference at the end of last year the then Government undertook that the Gilbert Islands would achieve independence by early July 1979 as one territory.
I should like to go once more into why the Government have taken the view that the Bill should be put forward in its present form. First, the safeguards for the Banabans to which the Gilbertese Government have agreed are unprecedented in their generosity: entrenched rights in relation to land and access to Banaba; a Banaba Island Council; a veto for the Banaban representatives in the Gilbert Islands Assembly on any change in the entrenched positions—and there might be two representatives, not one; the right of appeal to the Privy Council; and an international commission to review the carrying out of the safeguards for the Banabans after five years.
When the Bill was first debated in another place the Conservative Party spokesman suggested that a Minister might visit the area to see if these safeguards might be strengthened. As a result of the visit by Mr. Evan Luard, the Gilbert Islands Government made even further concessions. They agreed that substantial powers of self-government would be given to the Banaba Island Council; that the international commission should review the carrying out of the safeguards for the Banabans after three years instead of five; and that a treaty would be signed with another Power to safeguard the rights of the Banabans.
I would like to inform the House that, since the Second Reading debate on 24 May, I have been in touch with the Chief Minister of the Gilbert Islands about two of these matters. The Chief Minister has reaffirmed his Government's firm commitment to the establishment of the international commission and their desire that it should be a truly independent commission. The Gilbertese recognise that the commission should not only be independent but should be seen to be independent. Therefore, the Gilbert Islands Government have given an undertaking that, in exercising its power as a sovereign State to appoint the commission, Kiribati will take advice, as to the chairman of the commission, from the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Secretariat. The chairman will be a person who holds high judicial office. The two other members of the commission will be appointed only after the Governments of two Commonwealth countries have been consulted.
Second, the Chief Minister has informed me that when the Kiribati Bill, to include Banaba, is enacted by the United Kingdom Parliament, his Government will be ready, if the Banabans wish to take advantage of the special arrangements proposed, to conclude a treaty with the United Kingdom or another Commonwealth country to secure the special rights of the Banabans within a united Kiribati republic.
Such a treaty would refer to the special safeguards to be included in the Kiribati constitution and the other assurances given by the Gilbert Islands Government described in paragraphs 64 to 68 of the conference report. Any complaint by the Rabi Council or the Banaba Island Council, other than ones which were susceptible of resolution by the courts, would be raised first in the Kiribati Assembly through a member representing the Banabans. If the complaint was not resolved by this reference, the Council could raise it with both Governments.
Every effort would be made to resolve the complaint amicably between the Council and the Kiribati Government, for which the good offices of Her Majesty's Government or another Commonwealth Government could be requested. If no agreement were reached within a specified period—say, three months—the two Governments would be obliged to consult together and with the Council with a view to the appointment of an independent mediator. In the event of failure to agree on a mediator, the Commonwealth Secretary-General would be invited by the two Governments to appoint one.
The mediator, who would be assured of access to Kiribati and every facility necessary to carry out his task, would make recommendations in a report to the Assembly. The report would also be available to Her Majesty's Government or the other Commonwealth Government.
I hope and believe the House will agree that these undertakings represent further generous gestures by the Gilbert Islands Government to underline their good faith.
We are now being given some very interesting information about a somewhat belated but nevertheless encouraging development. Bearing in mind that the bulk of the Banabans are Fijian citizens, has my hon. Friend utilised the time available to him before this debate to consult the Government of Fiji as to whether they approve of these proposals? Can he convey that approval to the Committee?
They have not yet been discussed with the Government of Fiji. They are an offer which is available to be taken up by the Banabans if they wish to do so. They are not inconsistent with anything that has previously been proposed. They are an elaboration of the three proposals which were brought back by Mr. Luard after his visit to the Pacific, and I have only recently obtained confirmation of the offer from the Chief Minister of the Gilbert Islands.
If these offers have not been discussed with the Fijian Government, who have a direct interest in the matter in that the Banabans are Fijian citizens, will my hon. Friend advise the Committee to vote for the amendment so that the options can be kept open and so that the Committee does not take a decisions which would prevent these matters from being properly discussed, ventilated and thought through?
These are offers which are based on the assumption that the Bill will be passed in its present form. I therefore do not understand what my hon. Friend is saying in relation to the proposals.
I think that I had better go no further than saying "another Commonwealth country". There is certainly no objection to Fiji by our Government, but that would be a matter very much for the Government of Fiji and for further negotiation.
The second main reason why, in the absence of agreement between the parties, we have introduced the Bill in its present form is that it has been the practice of successive British Governments when granting independence to dependent territories to respect the existing colonial boundaries and the wishes of the people of the territory as a whole.
Reference was made to United Nations resolution 1514 of December 1960 on independence for colonial countries and peoples. My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East claimed that there were two principles of the United Nations that were in conflict—that of self-determination and another, to which I referred. However, the principle of self-determination appears in the same resolution, which suggests that the United Nations, when passing that resolution, did not believe that those matters were in conflict. When talking about the principle of self-determination the United Nations expressed its desire that dependent territories should come to independence, but when they did so the United Nations wished them to come to independence as integral territories.
Territories have been hived off before independence. Examples have been mentioned. I repeat the proposition that I am unaware of any case in which separation has been pushed through in defiance of the wishes and without the consent of the elected Government of the territory as a whole.
If Banaba were to separate before independence without the consent of the Gilbertese Government, that would have repercussions elsewhere. There are other separatist movements in the Pacific, in the Caribbean and elsewhere. To mention those in the Pacific, there are separatist movements in Papua New Guinea, the New Hebrides and the Solomon Islands.
The Minister dealt with the Gilbertese position. Many hon. Members on both sides said that if these amendments were passed the Bill could still pass, giving independence. Has the Minister had any indication from the Gilbertese Government whether they would wish the Bill to proceed if the amendments were carried?
I have not discussed that question with the Gilbertese Government. It is clear that they would be extremely distressed if these amendments were carried.
My hon. Friend claimed that I could have convened a conference between the Gilbert Islands Government and the Banabans in the past two weeks. It would have been impossible to convene such a conference. I discussed my hon. Friend's proposal with the Chief Minister, who was here accompanied by only one ministerial colleague. I understand that he had no mandate to negotiate further. In the past the two sides have been prepared to negotiate only when accompanied by a substantial number of their colleagues. The Chairman of the Rabi Council was not accompanied by any of his councillors at that time. Members of his team told me that they were planning to leave England without delay after the debate. They made no attempt to contact me again with a view to a conference.
Is my hon. Friend saying that the Chairman of the Rabi Council made preparations to leave England? He had full authority to deal with my hon. Friend—and so had I. If the Chief Minister of the Gilbert Islands was not disposed to talk, that is his affair. I would not criticise him for that. But it seems incredible to me that, following the Suva talks, no attempt was made to get the parties together, even unofficially, to discuss the brave initiative made by the Prime Minister of Fiji.
I shall come to the initiative of the Prime Minister of Fiji. The Chief Minister said that he had no mandate to negotiate at that time. He had to return to his own country. He had been away for three weeks. The team of the chairman of the Rabi Council told my staff that they were planning to leave England without delay.
My hon. Friend proposed that a conference of the kind he suggested should consider whether the proposals made by the Prime Minister of Fiji at the Suva conference might be implemented. I can see no reason why a conference in London, following immediately on that in Suva, would have had more success. It is true that the Suva communiqué reported that the two sides agreed to carry on a direct dialogue between them. But everything in it pointed to these talks being continued after independence, with the assistance of the Prime Minister of Fiji.
I should like to read a couple of extracts from the communiqué. The first reads:
The two sides recognise that the issues were too complex and complicated and would need to be considered and examined exhaustively in further meetings in future. In this regard, they accepted in principle and without any commitment, a working paper circulated by the chairman of the meeting as a possible basis for those future consultations, together with the relevant provisions of the Gilbert Islands Constitutional Bill.
The second extract reads:
It was his sincere hope"—
that refers to the Prime Minister of Fiji—
that as there was now a better understanding of all the issues involved, and with the goodwill and mutual resolve which had emerged at the meeting, they would continue their dialogue.
That refers to the two principal parties.
He personally would be prepared to make himself available, if the two parties so desired, to assist in these consultations. He was confident that through this process of continuing dialogue a solution acceptable to both sides would eventually emerge.
I should like to take up a point made on Second Reading and again today by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet), who again made an interesting speech. It was about the suggestion that there might be a long-term lease. I considered this matter. There are three points to be made on it. One is that unless it involves separation it would be of no interest to the Banabans. Secondly, the Banabans already own the land on Banaba. Therefore, it is difficult to see what advantage a lease would give to them. Thirdly, there are strong guarantees about land and the ownership of land in the proposed constitution.
We heard again today the argument that the entrenched causes in the constitution were so strong that they could not be credible. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil dealt with that argument. If the safeguards had been less strong, we should have been told that they should have been made stronger. Hon. Members suggested that constitutions all over the world had been torn up. Indeed, that is true in some parts of the world. But seven territories in the Pacific have become independent in recent years. In none of them has a constitution been torn up. Perhaps what is true in other parts of the world is not true in the Pacific. We have, in addition, the proposals for a review by an independent commission, after three years, of how the constitution is working, and we have the proposal for the exercise of good offices by an outside Government.
As for the danger of land nationalisation, the hon. Member for Heeley quoted only part of the constitution. Sections 8 and 119 are also relevant and they strengthen the provisions about land holding compared with the passage that he quoted. Those who know the Pacific assure me that the nationalisation of land has no place in the thinking of the people. The land is identified with the man, and there is no difference that I am aware of in their view of that matter between the Banabans and the Gilbertese.
If that is so, why does the constitution specifically refer to the compulsory acquisition of land? If there is no general desire, no provision, no history of compulsory acquisition or nationalisation, why is it written into the constitution?
It does not rule it out, but it surrounds it with very careful safeguards.
I come now to the financial position and I think it right to make the point that there is no direct connection between what is proposed on the financial side and the proposals for independence for the Gilbert Islands, including Banaba. The two matters are separate, and, as I understand it, the Banabans also take that view. They are not saying that they could be compensated for accepting the provisions in the Bill as it now stands by an extra grant of money.
It might be useful for the Committee if I were to review the financial arrangements. After the unsuccessful legal action against the Crown, the partner Governments of the British Phosphate Commission—Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom—made an exgratia offer in May 1977 of A$10 million, or £6·7 million, for a fund for the Banabans' future. This was in addition to the funds which have been paid to the Banabans for many years from the phosphate revenues. Over the last seven years, these revenues have amounted to about A$2⅓ million per year. In addition, the phosphate commission has made an ex gratia payment of A$1·25 million in settlement of the Banaban action against it, although the court awarded damages of only A$14,000.
The British Government have also offered up to £1 million for the development of Rabi Island. We have also offered to finance a survey for the potential use of Banaba after phosphate mining ceases. This offer has not, nor have the A$10 million and the £1 million for Rabi Island, yet been taken up.
The income that the Banabans have been receiving from the phosphate revenues has given them one of the highest standards of living in the Pacifiic, second only to Nauru. It amounts on average to A$915 per person per year, or A—3,600 per family of four. This is equal to some £2,000 per year of investment income free of tax, because it is understood to be free of tax.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford referred to the financial condition of the Banabans. It is not for me to comment on that, but he suggested that there should be a trust to look after the A$10 million. Regrettably, the Banabans have not yet been prepared to discuss the management of that fund with us, but certainly we do not exclude the suggestion of my hon. Friend.
It was suggested by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil that the whole of the surplus of the phosphate commission should be returned to the Banabans and the Gilbertese and that not a penny should remain with the three partner Governments. I pointed out on Second Reading that there is no plan for the winding up of the phosphate commission when mining ends on Banaba. It covers other territories and other activities. Nor does its surplus derive from activities on Banaba, as I think the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil now accepts. The suggestion, therefore, is premature. In any case, if the surplus were eventually to be used for the benefit of other people than the three Governments, I am not sure that it would be right to use it only for the benefit of the Banabans and the Gilbertese. I cannot say what the reaction of the Australian and New Zealand Governments would be to such a suggestion. But, as I said to the hon. Gentleman on Second Reading, I have taken note of his suggestion.
I understand the strong feelings which have prompted hon. Members to put down these amendments. The Banabans are the underdogs. The House of Commons has always been ready, to its credit, to listen to a plea on behalf of the underdogs. Hon. Members have referred to the role of the British Governments in the past in relation to the phosphates. We have had reference to the judgment of Vice-Chancellor Megarry. It would be wrong to imagine that it contained only criticism of British Governments. In any case, the vice-chancellor was dealing with financial claims and not with the issue now before us.
We should not confuse the standards of one age with the standards of another. Undoubtedly things were done in past years which we view with astonishment and regret. Our standards are higher now than they were then.
However that may be, our task now is not to make an act of expiation for the past; it is to deal fairly with the constitutional problems of the present not only of the Banabans but the Gilbertese—56,000 of them. What we do is relevant for the people of the Pacific, too.
We should beware lest a feeling of guilt about the past drives us into errors in the present, because guilt is a dangerous teacher. It would be no way of making amends to the Banabans for us now to be unfair to the Gilbertese.
We have to take a cool decision in the circumstances of today. It is not easy. I believe that on balance the best course is to reject the amendment. That does not mean an end to negotiations. Both sides committed themselves at Suva to further negotiations. Ratu Mara has said that he is willing to help and that, through a process of continuing dialogue, a solution acceptable to both sides will eventually emerge. I endorse those words.
I attended the whole of the debate on Second Reading and the whole of this debate today and this is the first intervention that I have made. I supported the Bill on Second Reading because I did not wish in any way to impede—only to support—the advance of the Gilbert Islands to independence.
Frankly, I must tell my hon. Friend the Minister of State, for whom I have great regard and affection, that I found his answer to the debate unsatisfactory. I am concerned that the Bill was presented so quickly after the formation of the new Government. It is remarkable that the Government were elected on 3 May, that Ministers took up their positions on 7 May and that the Bill was presented to
It is obvious that the profound concern which has been expressed on both sides of the Committee has not been met. The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) and by others—perhaps most eloquently of all by my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) in a remarkable maiden speech—was that amendment No. 5 would give the Banabans and, indeed, the House of Commons the opportunity of again looking at the implications of this important Bill. When the Bill leaves Parliament and the constitution conies into play, the role of the House of Commons will have come to an end. That is what concerns all hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. It is not, as the Minister said, a feeling of guilt about the past, although one may have that; it is a much deeper concern to ensure that our position now and in future, and above all, that of the people of the new countries, will not be compromised by any errors that we make here today.
I have become increasingly convinced that the Government would be well advised to review the Bill and to reconsider seriously the points made by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee and by the Prime Minister of Fiji. It is not my intention, nor that of any other hon. Member, I am sure, to try to delay the passage of this important Bill, but it is our responsibility to try to ensure that the Bill adequately meets the problems of the hour and of the future. I am not convinced by my hon. Friend's reply. Therefore, I shall support the amendment in the Lobby tonight.
|Division No. 4]||AYES||[8.39 p.m.|
|Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)||Dobson, Frank||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)|
|Beith, A. J.||Dubs, Alfred||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Benyon, W. (Buckingham)||Ellis, Raymond (N. E. Derbyshire)||Holland, Philip (Carlton)|
|Body, Richard||English, Michael||Howells, Geraint|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Fell, Anthony||Leighton, Ronald|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Flannery, Martin||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe)||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Cadbury, Jocelyn||Foulkes, George||Lyon, Alexander (York)|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Garel-Jones, Tristan||McKelvey, William|
|Canavan, Dennis||George, Bruce||Marshall, Jim (Leicester South)|
|Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, Tooting)||Gower, Sir Raymond||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Morgan, Geraint|
|Cryer, Bob||Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Neubert, Michael|
|Newens, Stanley||Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)||Tinn, James|
|Penhaligon, David||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)|
|Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)||Skinner, Dennis||Wright, Miss Sheila|
|Prfce, Christopher (Lewisham West)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Rhodes James, Robert||Stallard, A. W.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES|
|Richardson, Miss Jo||Stewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles)||Mr. Frank Hooley and|
|Roberts, Allan (Bootle)||Taylor, Mrs. Ann (Bolton West)||Sir. John Langford-Holt.|
|Rooker, J. W.||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Alexander, Richard||Greenway, Harry||Patten, John (Oxford)|
|Ancram, Michael||Grist, Ian||Pollock, Alexander|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Gummer, John Selwyn||Porter, George|
|Atkins, Robert (Preston North)||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East)||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Baker, N. (North Dorset)||Hawksley, Warren||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW.)|
|Banks, Robert||Hayhoe, Barney||Roper, John|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Heddle, John||Rossi, Hugh|
|Best, Keith||Henderson, Barry||Rowlands, Ted|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Hill, James||Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham)||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Blackburn, John||Hooson, Tom||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br'hills)|
|Blaker, Peter||Hunt, David (Wirral)||Silvester, Fred|
|Bright, Graham||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Sims, Roger|
|Brinton, Timothy||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Lang, Ian||Speed, Keith|
|Budgen, Nick||Lawrence, Ivan||Speller, Tony|
|Butcher, John||Lee, John||Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)|
|Carlisle, John (Luton West)||Le Marchant, Spencer||Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Chalker, Mrs. Lynda||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Channon, Paul||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Clegg, Walter||Luce, Richard||Tapsell, Peter|
|Cockeram, Eric||Lyell, Nicholas||Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs. Margaret|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)||McCrindle, Robert||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter (Hendon S)|
|Colvin, Michael||Macfarlane, Neil||Thompson, Donald|
|Cope, John||MacGregor, John||Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)|
|Corrie, John||McQuarrie, Albert||Thornton, George|
|Costain, A. P.||Major, John||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Dean, Paul (North Somerset)||Marlow, Antony||Trippier, David|
|Dickens, Geoffrey||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Viggers, Peter|
|Dodsworth, Geoffrey||Marten, Neil (Banbury)||Waddington, David|
|Dormand, J. D.||Mather, Carol||Wakeham, John|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Maude, Rt Hon Angus||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Dover, Denshore||Mawby, Ray||Waller, Gary|
|Dunn, Robert||Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Ward, John|
|Eggar, Timothy||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Watson, John|
|Emery, Peter||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Wells, P. Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)|
|Eyre, Reginald||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)||Wheeler, John|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||Mills, Iain (Meriden)||Whitlock, William|
|Faith, Mrs Sheila||Moate, Roger||Wickenden, Keith|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Molyneaux, James||Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)||Wolfson, Mark|
|Forman, Nigel||Murphy, Christopher||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Fraser, Peter (South Angus)||Myles, David|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Neale, Gerrard||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Goodhew, Victor||Needham, Richard||Lord James Douglas-Hamilton and|
|Gow, Ian||Newton, Tony||Mr. Robert Boscawen.|
|Graham, Ted||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)|
|Grant, George (Morpeth)||Parris, Matthew|