Australia: Centenary

– in the House of Lords at 2:40 pm on 5 July 2000.

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Photo of Lord Morris of Manchester Lord Morris of Manchester Labour 2:40, 5 July 2000

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What arrangements have been made to mark the visit to London of Australia's Prime Minister John Howard and his delegation to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the passing of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act.

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, John Howard has a full programme of meetings in London, including calls on my right honourable friends the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister will speak at a parliamentary ceremony in the Royal Gallery tomorrow, hosted by the Lord Chancellor and Madam Speaker, which celebrates the centenary of the passage through Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act. The week will also include a Guildhall banquet hosted by the Lord Mayor of London and a service for Australia at Westminster Abbey. I should like to take this opportunity to acknowledge my noble friend's role as founder chairman and now president of the ANZAC Group of Peers and MPs.

Photo of Lord Morris of Manchester Lord Morris of Manchester Labour

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for her reply. Is this not a timely moment to recall the statesmanship of those--Australian and British parliamentarians alike--who created the 1900 Act, heralding as it did a century of excelling friendship between the two countries: one that aligned us side by side in war; that has given us cherished and enduring cultural, sporting and other ties; and that makes Australia still the second highest investor in Britain and us the second highest investor in Australia? Notwithstanding the privations inflicted on us by Australia's test cricketers and the "Wallabies"--not to mention Wimbledon--long may it continue!

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, I welcome my noble friend's words. Our relationship with Australia goes from strength to strength and we hope that it will continue to do so in the next one hundred years. Our ties with Australia are wide ranging. I hope that the House will forgive me if I brush quickly past our sporting ties, not least after the result at Wimbledon on Monday. As my noble friend has pointed out, we are staunch allies and Australia has been a supporter of NATO's policies in the former Yugoslavia. It is our business to value partners, and we do so most warmly today.

Photo of Viscount Slim Viscount Slim Crossbench

My Lords, I declare a longstanding interest in Australia. Even today I work for a British company which is very active in Australia. I had the honour of fighting alongside Australians in a couple of campaigns and I have the highest regard for them. I am a member of the Returned Services League of Australia. It is a great organisation which could give any British government advice on how to care for veterans. In that context, does the Minister accept the great sacrifices made by Australians in two world wars? Do the two governments have any plans to erect a memorial or to do something to commemorate this in the coming years in our city of London?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, we are acutely aware of the service given by Australians in the two world wars and in many other wars. During the Gallipoli campaign they suffered thousands of casualties. The Minister for the Armed Forces, John Spellar, travelled to the Gallipoli peninsula in April to commemorate the 85th anniversary of ANZAC day and the sacrifices made by Australian, British and other troops. I was at the commemoration at the Cenotaph in London. I was also with John Howard when he laid a wreath to the war dead at the Cenotaph this morning. I was deeply moved on both occasions.

I am able to say that last night John Howard announced that the Australian Government will build a war memorial in London. The Prime Minister and Her Majesty's Government warmly welcome that initiative. I should also like to pay tribute to the distinguished service of the father of the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, the late first Viscount Slim, who was a valiant commander-in-chief of the allied land forces in South-East Asia, which included Australian troops, and who was described by the late Lord Mountbatten as the finest general the Second World War produced. The noble Viscount, Lord Slim, himself should be mentioned for his successful term and for his contribution in that regard. I do so most warmly.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

My Lords, as an Australian whose father stood for the very first ever federal senate elections, perhaps I may ask the Minister whether she is aware that Miss Margaret Parkes--the 75 year-old great granddaughter of Clarinda and Sir Henry Parkes, who was always known as the Father of Federation--has flown here specifically to join in the celebrations this week?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, I welcome most warmly the news that she is here. We celebrate that fact. It is fitting that a great granddaughter should be present today to help us celebrate this great occasion of the 100th birthday. I welcome her most warmly.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I join in the congratulations to the Australian people on this anniversary. Will the noble Baroness convey to Mr Howard, on behalf of the people of this country, our warmest thanks for the role which they played in liberating East Timor and for the outstanding leadership displayed by General Cosgrove when he commanded the forces there?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, I am very happy to say that that message will be conveyed. It has already been expressed, but it certainly bears repetition.

Photo of Lord Harrison Lord Harrison Labour

My Lords, I should like to declare an interest as my father held an Australian passport. Has the Minister any further details regarding the centenary gift proposed for Australia which she declared in her oral Answer to the House on 17th January and her Written Answer on 29th February?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are marking the centenary in Australia with a substantial contribution--about half the total cost--to a monument in Canberra. The gift recognises the relationship between the people of Australia and Britain and commemorates our shared belief in the rule of law, freedom of speech and assembly as well as the sovereignty of Parliament embodied by Magna Carta. A design team has been chosen by open competition. The centrepiece is a commemorative pavilion. We very much look forward to its construction.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, the noble Baroness has outlined a very encouraging programme and a fitting celebration of an Act passed 100 years ago under a Conservative government, whose Prime Minister was Lord Salisbury. Does she agree that, looking to the future, relations between Britain and Australia are getting closer and closer, particularly in hard economic and commercial terms and in terms of investment flows between the two countries? Does she further agree that Australia is now part of the great Oceania, South-East Asia, Asia Pacific market which in few years' time may be richer and bigger than that of the entire European Union? Does she conclude from that that some of our foreign policy energies and the energies of her department--which sometimes seem to get bogged down in quarrels and difficulties nearer home with our nearer and sometimes less friendly neighbours--could be better deployed in building up and strengthening our ties with one of our loyalist, best and longest-standing friends?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, I can reassure the noble Lord that we have always valued that relationship, that we have tended it carefully, nurtured it and it is now in full flower. I should also like to remind the noble Lord that, although he was right in saying that the Act was passed during the period of office of another government, the inspiration for it came from my noble friend Lord Morris who sits on these Benches; and the then government showed good sense in taking it over and making it their very own.

Photo of Lord Moore of Wolvercote Lord Moore of Wolvercote Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is most appropriate that we should be celebrating the centenary of the Commonwealth of Australia when Australia has only recently voted to keep the Queen as Queen of Australia?

Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My Lords, there are many reasons to celebrate. I warmly join the noble Lord in saying that we have much to celebrate on this occasion.