HC Deb 08 December 1947 vol 445 cc797-802

Order for Second Reading read.

3.39 P.m.

The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker)

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

No lengthy explanation or supporting argument is required about this Bill. It speaks for itself, and if there were any doubt about its purpose or meaning it would be removed by the Explanatory Memorandum. In 1852, Parliament conferred a Constitution on New Zealand creating self-governing institutions. The Act limited the power of New Zealand to amend the Constitution. Another Act in 1857 made some changes, but left intact some of the limitations on this right to amend the Constitution. Those limitations were still retained at the desire of New Zealand by Section 8 of the Statute of Westminster, which was passed by this Parliament in 1931. The New Zealand Parliament now desire us to remove these limitations, and to give full power to amend their Constitution in any way they please. A few weeks ago, they passed a Request and Consent Act to that effect, and it now remains for us to do our part by the adoption of this Bill.

The Bill comes to us from another place, where it was adopted in a single sitting, with the unanimous and warm approval of all who spoke from all quarters of the House. I cannot believe that any hon. Member of this House will desire to impede its passage or to refuse the New Zealand Parliament what they ask. The Bill removes what all now recognise to be an arrangement that is out-of-date. New Zealand is a member of the Commonwealth, equal in status and rights to all the rest. It is the proper business of the New Zealand people to decide what their institutions shall be and how they shall be made to work. No one in a foreign country, however hostile they may be, could pretend that this will weaken the ties that unite New Zealand and the other nations of the British Commonwealth.

In presenting their legislation a little while ago, the New Zealand Government laid before their Parliament a White Paper in which they said that the sole purpose of their act was to give them the full legislative capacity which every self-Governing member of the British Commonwealth possessed. The Paper went on to say that the people of New Zealand had proved, not only by the day-to-day actions of the Government and the attitude of New Zealand during two great wars, but also by the actions of private individuals and groups, the recognition of independence on the one hand, and interdependence in the Commonwealth on the other, as "part of our national way of thinking and feeling."

The Prime Minister of New Zealand said, in moving the legislation, that if it were to lessen the tie between New Zealand and the Empire, he would have nothing to do with it, but, in his opinion, if it were adopted, it would strengthen the tie to the advantage of all. We have seen, in two wars, New Zealand ready to stand with us against aggression to support the rule of law and to defend the principles of liberty and justice for which the Commonwealth stands. This Bill comes I think very opportunely at the present time. It is one more proof to the outside world that the British Commonwealth stands for Parliamentary democracy and for the full untramelled freedom of those who work for it. I hope that the outside world will mark, learn and understand that, as we now rectify an anachronism, we all feel that the bonds between New Zealand and ourselves are closer than they have ever been before.

3.43 p.m.

Mr. Oliver Stanley (Bristol, West)

Certainly, we, on this side of the House, will welcome and facilitate the passage of this small Bill. Clearly, it is something for which New Zealand has the right to ask, and, if New Zealand asks, we have a duty to give. As I understand it, this Bill is only necessary because, at the time of the Statute of Westminster, New Zealand herself asked that these limitations should be continued, and, of course, as we acceded to that request then, so we accede gladly to the opposite request today. I am sure that all of us will feel with the Prime Minister of New Zealand that this little bit of machinery can have no effect whatsoever upon the ties which bind New Zealand to us.

If we can throw our minds back over a long period—95 years—when the Constitution Act on which New Zealand still relies was first passed, I think that we can all feel that whatever high hopes the authors of that Measure had in 1852, the results have exceeded their wildest expectations. In two great wars we have received their loyal and courageous support, and also in time of peace whenever we have been in difficulties. All the affection they bear for us makes New Zealand one of the best loved in this country of our sister Dominions. We in this House, I am sure, will grant this small request, only wishing that it were in our power to give a more material and permanent token of the gratitude we bear to that country.

3.45 P.m.

Mr. Ronald Chamberlain (Norwood)

We get so very few opportunities in this House of paying our tribute to this very great and very gallant Dominion, that I personally am very glad to be able to add a few words in support of this Bill. It is with very deep feeling that I speak, because I have spent four periods in New Zealand, I know it pretty intimately, and I have had the very great advantage and privilege of enjoying the kindness and hospitality of New Zealanders throughout that country. During a period of illness, I was nursed back to health by their kind ministrations, and so I have, perhaps, special reason to thank them. I do not think that people in this country can realise, unless they have lived in New Zealand, the regard and affection in which this country and all its people are regarded by the New Zealanders. It is something very remarkable and it is, perhaps, not equalled anywhere else in the world; certainly it is nowhere exceeded.

This gallant little Dominion, with a population which, I think, is still less than 2,000,000, has stood by us valiantly in war and in peace. In the late war, she had no fewer than 205,000 men and women in the Forces out of that quite small population. Her casualties numbered rather more than 10,000 dead and nearly double that number wounded. In the matter of supplies, particularly food, she not only gave us of her best and of her bounty, but also helped us by a careful stabilisation of prices, so that the burden was not unduly heavy on us in those difficult years.

Since the war, she has similarly stood by us in all our difficulties; and, again, in the matter of food she has helped us enormously by control and by stabilisation of prices. She has to the utmost increased her exports to this country, and she has taken measures for the speedy turn-round of ships; and—I think a very important matter at this time—she has kept to a minimum her dollar expenditure, and deliberately done so to help the old country. I think that we should also remember the magnificent free gift of £10 million sterling which was made to this country at the beginning of this year. I understand that the assistance which she has given us in the way of food parcels—very important in these days—totals no fewer than 1,000,000.

I have two references to that distant period, 95 years ago, in the year 1852, which are apposite. In the Queen's Speech, opening the 1852 Session, Her Majesty spoke of the fact that no obstacle any longer exists to the enjoyment of representative institutions by New Zealand. It is also interesting to recall that in the Debate in 1852, Mr. Gladstone referred to the people of New Zealand as exceeded by none in their known worthiness to receive and their perfect competence to exercise political privileges. In conclusion I would like to re-echo those words of Mr. Gladstone's 95 years ago by adapting them and by saying that the people of New Zealand are "exceeded by none in their known worthiness to receive and their perfect competence to exercise" —I would add these words— "complete political freedom." I have the greatest pleasure in strongly and warmly supporting this Measure.

3.50 p.m.

Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)

I should like to endorse everything that has been said by the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Chamberlain) about the Dominion of New Zealand, and I should like to call the attention of the House to the part New Zealand played in the dangerous and difficult times before the first world war in its concept of the responsibilities of our Dominions in regard to the maintenance of our sea power in the face of an expectant enemy. In those times when we were struggling to keep our sea power in such a state that it would be capable of meeting any enemy, no Dominion made a more substantial or inspiring contribution than New Zealand. I happened to be Secretary of the Navy League at that time, and some of my hon. Friends will remember that in New Zealand we established branches of the Navy League in almost every small village and municipality. In those days we were fighting the battle of supremacy and were trying to secure an ultimate superiority.

New Zealand always made an immediate and responsive reply to the people of this country. I sent out to New Zealand in those days—I am speaking now of 1912 to 1914—something like 300 or 400 maps of the British Empire indicating the basis upon which our sea power could be maintained. No Dominion was more responsive in the maintenance of that fine principle of our existence than New Zealand. At the close of the first world war we had an immense demonstration to the people of this country in the contribution that the New Zealanders made for the welfare of our ex-Servicemen. They sent us, I think, nearly half a million pounds for the maintenance of our postwar services for discharged Servicemen, and in those days particularly the work of the British Legion enjoyed their support.

This House ought to be proud to acknowledge the part New Zealand played as a constituent part of our Commonwealth and we should be glad to pay her a tribute for the services rendered, her example, her leadership, her contribution to the success of our sea power and the loyalty and devotion of her people to everything that is best in the Commonwealth.

3.54 P.m.

Captain Marsden (Chertsey)

I am glad to assure my hon. Friend the Member for Moseley (Sir. P. Hannon), as one who is on the Executive Committee of the Navy League today, that New Zealand is just as keen now as she was in those days to which he referred. Since the first days when New Zealand was discovered by the Royal Navy—it was by Captain Cook—her people have appreciated the power of the sea. The original Colony, and later the Dominion, was helped and maintained by the Navy. There are only two points I should like to make in general appreciation of this Dominion which is shared by all parts of the House. The Minister gave two reasons why New Zealand came into the last two big wars to help. Was not the reason that the Mother country was fighting and the Dominion of New Zealand wanted no other reason than that we were at war? That is the attitude of that wonderful Dominion and the wonderful people who live there.

I should like to make one other comment. I do not pretend to be so up to date in many of our Colonial and Dominion affairs as other hon. Members, but surely I am right in thinking that the political situation in New Zealand as between the original inhabitants of the land and those who come into it later is beyond compare in any other country. The Maoris have played a full part in the administration of the country and they have occupied some of the highest Ministerial posts. Can any other country in any land show such similar close cooperation between two races? I do not think so. Even if they could, New Zealand shows the way. If New Zealand wants some alteration in its code to govern its own land let it have it. It will make no difference whatsoever in its affection and respect for this country which is the Motherland.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House for Tomorrow.—[Mr. Simmons.]

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