HC Deb 05 December 1947 vol 445 cc732-7

Order for Second Reading read.

1.18 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Rees-Williams)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

Hon. Members will be aware that the United Kingdom Government played a prominent part in the drafting of that part of the United Nations Charter which deals with trusteeship. There is no legal obligation under the Charter to place mandated or other territories under the trusteeship system. Nevertheless, His Majesty's Government felt it desirable to give a lead towards bringing the trusteeship system into operation, and they did so by offering to place under that system our mandated territories in Africa, entrusted to us under the policy of international regime and which were not ready for either self-government or independence. The Government's policy regarding Tanganyika, Togoland and the Cameroons was announced in this House by the Prime Minister on 23rd January, 1946, and that policy was not challenged. The proposed terms of the trusteeship were laid before this House before being submitted to the United Nations for approval. Furthermore, the approved terms have since been laid before the House.

In regard to our Colonies and Protectorates, His Majesty's Government still adhere to the assurance given to this House by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on 23rd August, 1945. During the recently concluded Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, a resolution was tabled by another delegation urging us to place some or all of our Colonies and Protectorates under trusteeship. The United Kingdom delegation vigorously opposed this suggestion which in the end was not carried. The present Bill is quite consistent with the previous policy of the Government and, indeed, makes no difference to the status of any of our non self-governing territories. The object of this Bill is to provide for the application of Acts of Parliament and subordinate legislation made thereunder to the situation now obtaining as a result of the termination of the League of Nations and the creation of trust territories under the United Nations. Certain mandates were set up by the League. Of these, ten are now administered as trust territories under the Charter of the United Nations. First of all, there is that part of Togoland which is under British administration, that part of the Cameroons which is under British administration, and Tanganyika. They are all administered under United Kingdom trusteeship. New Guinea is under Australian trusteeship; Western Samoa is under New Zealand trusteeship; French Togoland and the French Cameroons are under French trusteeship; and Ruanda-Urundi is under Belgian trusteeship.

The placing of these territories under trusteeship did not involve any change in the administering authority. That is to say, the country responsible for their administration to the League is the same now under the present system. There was, however, a change in the case of the former Japanese Mandates in the Pacific. These naturally are no longer under Japanese trusteeship, but they have been placed under the trusteeship of the United States. There has been a slight change in the case of Nauru Island. The Mandate for Nauru was conferred by the League of Nations on His Britannic Majesty. The administration was actually carried out by Australia with the consent of the Governments of the United Kingdom and New Zealand. The trusteeship agreement, as approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations, nominates the Governments of Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand as the joint authority for the administration of Nauru. But there is also provision for the actual administration to be carried out by Australia unless otherwise agreed by the three Governments concerned. As to the other Mandates set up by the League, three have become four independent States; they are Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Transjordan. The only other two mandates which were established by the League were Palestine and South West Africa, and the Union Government have declared their intention to continue administering South West Africa in accordance with the Mandate.

The Charter of the United Nations provides for the administration of trust territories in one of three ways: first by a single member, secondly by two or more members jointly, and thirdly by the United Nations as a whole. Article 77 of the Charter, which is the relevant Article here, states that the territories which may be placed under trusteeship need not be limited to former mandates. It has been necessary to examine the effects of the changes I have mentioned on the laws of this country. Many Acts of Parliament apply or refer to mandated territories. Some refer to mandates exercised by His Majesty, without specifying which of his Governments, some to United Kingdom Mandates, some to Dominion Mandates and some to foreign Mandates. They are to be found in a number of Acts dealing with a variety of subjects; for instance, Colonial Development, Air Navigation, the Army Act, Customs, and so on. In many cases an Act passed for the United Kingdom contains a Clause authorising the extension of the Act by Order in Council to a territory under United Kingdom Mandate, in the same way as to a Colony. The purpose of the references in existing Acts is to place mandated territories in the same position as other dependencies of the country, whether that country be British or foreign, exercising the mandate.

With the end of the League the mandatory Powers voluntarily declared to the League their intention to continue for the time being administering mandated territories in accordance with the mandates until, of course, other arrangements had been made or agreed with the United Nations. There is, however, this difficulty. We are not certain in law that the references in our Statute Book continue to apply or are now applicable to a mandated territory not placed under trusteeship; for example, in the case of Palestine. It is even more doubtful whether these references continue to apply to a mandated territory when it has been placed under trusteeship. Those are our difficulties, and it is for this reason that we must amend our Statutes by this Bill.

The main purpose of the Bill can very shortly be summed up in these words. It is to provide that existing Statutes referring to mandated territories shall first apply to mandated territories which have now become trust territories, and secondly shall continue to apply to mandated territories which have not become trust territories. The Bill does not make any general change in the operation of the Acts, but it may affect the application of Acts of Parliament in certain circumstances; for example, when a territory becomes a trust territory and there is a change in the Government responsible for administering the territory. Of course, the Bill does not affect the law of any Dominion or of any trust or mandated territory under the administration of the Dominion Government. It only deals with the application of the United Kingdom Acts and subsidiary legislation thereunder.

Perhaps I may deal with the details of the Bill quite shortly, Clause 1 (1, a) places a trust territory administered by a single country in the same position, in so far as the effect of our Statutes is concerned, as if the country were administering it under mandate. This is a simple case, of course, and the rule applicable is quite obvious. This paragraph will apply to all the normal cases of the present trusteeship territories. Paragraph (b) is a little more complicated. This paragraph covers the case where a trust territory comes under the administration of more than one Government or of the United Nations itself. In these cases it is not thought that any general rule can be laid down, because for one thing, such a position is entirely novel. There is no mandated territory under the actual administration of more than one Government.

Subsection (2) of this Clause enables the adaptation of our Statutes where there is a change in the country responsible for administering a trust territory. There has been such a change in the case of the islands which were originally under Japanese Mandate. Subsection (3) provides that the termination of the League shall not affect references in Acts of Parliament to mandated territories. This provision, of course, will affect Palestine and South West Africa. Therefore, this Subsection, unlike the rest of the Bill, will apply in the interpretation of future as well as past Acts, since it may well be convenient to continue to refer to South West Africa or to Palestine for the time being as mandated territories. This Subsection also covers retrospectively the interim period between the termination of the League and the placing of the various trust territories under trusteeship. Hon. Members will recall that there was such a gap and such an agreement made between the various Powers which were operating the mandates. Subsection (4), besides limiting the effect of Subsections (1) and (2) to existing Acts, provides that the Bill shall operate to a limited extent on subordinate legislation in addition to its operation on the Statutes themselves. We shall thus avoid having to make amending regulations in every case where subordinate legislation is concerned. The remaining provisions of the Bill are clearly supplemental, and I hope and trust the House will now give this Bill its approval and a Second Reading.

1.31 p.m.

Brigadier Mackeson (Hythe)

I can say straight away that we on this side of the House regard this Bill as entirely non-controversial. I should say, in passing, that this is the second occasion today on which we have had the advantage of a Bill coming from another place which has, to some extent, been partly digested for us. I confess, I had the greatest difficulty in understanding this Bill, and I was relieved to see that their Lordships, who are far more learned than I could ever aspire to be, and who have already given consideration to this Measure also found it complicated.

My hon. and right hon. Friends appreciated the stand and attitude which the Colonial Secretary has taken in connection with Article 77. He made it quite clear at the United Nations organisation that it is permissible but in no way obligatory to place, first, mandated territories, secondly, territories detached from enemy states—such as the Italian Colonies—and, thirdly, territories which are so placed voluntarily by the states responsible for their administration, under the trusteeship of the United Nations. When certain Powers made an attempt to get us to put all our Colonies under that trusteeship the right hon. Gentleman, quite rightly—and I know with the full support of all political parties in the country, with the possible exception of one—stood against it. Inded, it would be very doubtful if, constitutionally, any Government could take those steps.

In the case of some of our Colonies, their relationship is direct with the Crown. For instance, during the Napoleonic Wars the people of Malta deliberately placed themselves under the protection of the Crown, which specifically undertook that if at any time it removed that protection, it should give the sovereign rights back to the people of that small island. There are no major points which I desire to make in connection with this Bill, but from what the Under-Secretary said I was not quite clear what the position of South-West Africa and Palestine would be technically under Subsection (3). I take it they are to continue nominally as mandates.

Mr. Rees-Williams indicated assent.

Brigadier Mackeson

I see I am right in assuming that.

Mr. Rees-Williams

Well, Palestine is, but South-West Africa is rather a special case. There the Union Government have said they will continue to administer it as if the mandate still applied.

Brigadier Mackeson

I will certainly not press the question about South-West Africa. The Under-Secretary referred to the difficult case of Nauru. There, I take it, a de facto Australian administration will continue, which is satisfactory. The only other question to which I should like a specific answer is that I imagine we are correct in assuming that territories such as the Cameroons and Tanganyika, formerly mandated, can, under this legislation, benefit under the Colonial Development and Welfare Act, and can also raise loans under the Colonial Stock Act. If the answer to those questions is in the affirmative, I have no further comment to make.

Mr. Roes-Williams

I can answer both those questions in the affirmative, and can give the hon. and gallant Member the assurances he desires.

Question, put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House for Monday next.—[Mr. Wilkins.]