HC Deb 13 March 1956 vol 550 cc231-53

Order for Second Reading read.

3.49 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Commander Allan Noble)

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

The purpose of the Bill is set out clearly in the Long Title, which says that it is to Make provision as to the operation of the law in relation to Pakistan and persons and things in any way belonging to or connected with Pakistan, in view of Pakistan's becoming a Republic while remaining a member of the Commonwealth It might, therefore, be said to be an enabling or a consequential Measure. It is, however, consequential upon a very important event, the introduction of a new constitution in Pakistan under the terms of which she will become a republic. It is the declared desire of Pakistan that as a republic she should remain a full member of the Commonwealth, and a Resolution was passed in the Pakistan Constituent Assembly on 2nd March as follows: Resolved: That this Assembly do hereby ratify the Declaration agreed to by the Prime Minister of Pakistan on the continued membership of Pakistan as a Republic in the Commonwealth of Nations as set out in the official statement issued at the conclusion of the Conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers in London on 5th February. 1955. I think that the House will remember that the Prime Ministers welcomed Pakistan's continued association and assured her of their continued friendship and good will. I am sure that today every Member of the House will re-echo that sentiment. Pakistan remains a member of the Commonwealth and the measure of our co-operation with her will remain as before.

As the House knows, Pakistan started life as a new country in 1947, and since then she has faced many grave and perplexing problems. To begin with, the two halves of the country are separated by over 1,000 miles. She had to build up at very short notice her administrative services and all the apparatus of a modern State. Such difficulties might well have daunted anyone, but from the first, under the inspiration of the founder and architect of Pakistan, Mr. Jinnah, and the leadership of his close associate, the first Prime Minister, Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan, she faced them boldly and with confidence in her own future.

In the nine years that have passed since 1947, Pakistan has made great strides. While her economy has been strengthened by increasing industrialisation, it has not been forgotten that her prosperity and well-being largely derive from agriculture and measures to improve and expand this have been taken. We all know the qualities of her armed forces, with which this country is linked by ties of warm friendship and tradition.

In international affairs, Pakistan, as befits the largest Muslim country in the world, has been playing an increasingly responsible and effective part. She has taken her place in the Bagdad Pact and in the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation, and is making a valuable contribution to the peace and stability of those areas and to the defence of the free world. Her spokesmen have been active in the United Nations, and she has given the full benefit of her growing influence and experience to Commonwealth councils. I think that we should congratulate her on her achievements and send her every good wish for the future. We in this country have a great affection for Pakistan and her people. We have tried to help her in many different ways during the past nine years and we shall continue to do so in every way that we can.

It is very important that our day-to-day relationship with her should be unaltered, and that the rights and privileges which Pakistan and her people enjoyed under the law of this country should be maintained. The Bill before the House provides for this, since when Pakistan ceases in law to be part of Her Majesty's Dominions many provisions on our Statute Book would otherwise cease to apply.

I should like briefly to explain the provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 (1) effects the main purpose of the Bill. It provides that when Pakistan becomes a republic all our existing law shall continue to apply to Pakistan and the Pakistanis, and to their goods and property, as at present, which means that they will continue to have the same rights and privileges in this country as they have today, and their goods will enjoy the same preferential treatment.

Subsection (2) extends the provisions of the Bill to the law of the United Kingdom, the Colonies, Protectorates and Trust Territories. In the case of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, it is provided that the Bill does not extend to law that can be amended by the Legislatures either of the Federation or Southern Rhodesia. The drafting of the Bill may seem complicated at first sight, but this is necessitated by the self-governing status both of the Federation and of Southern Rhodesia.

Subsection (3) gives the Government power to make Orders in Council, subject to negative Resolution procedure, and to modify other existing Acts so far as this may be made necessary by the change of constitution in Pakistan. Such amendments would be of a consequential nature and of minor importance only. For instance, there are certain Acts the operation of which now extends and may by agreement continue to extend to Pakistan which require the assent of the Governor-General before certain action may be taken. It may, therefore, be necessary to replace the words "Governor-General" by the word "President." I commend the Bill to the House.

3.56 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)

On behalf of my hon. and right hon. Friends, I welcome the Bill. We welcome it because it is evidently a necessary consequence of the decision of Pakistan to become a republic. Without this Bill, she would not be able to stay in the Commonwealth. She desires, however, as the Under-Secretary has said, to remain in the Commonwealth and we warmly welcome that decision.

I would wholly support the well-deserved tribute which the Under-Secretary paid to the progress which has been made in Pakistan since 1947, and particularly the personal tributes which he paid to her leaders, Mr. Jinnah, Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan and to my old friend, Ghulam Mohammed, who was until recently the Governor-General. Perhaps I should add, too, because many of us know him well, the present Governor-General, Major-General Iskander Mirza.

The decision as to whether a country in the Commonwealth decides to be a republic or trot is, of course, entirely for itself. It is not a matter in which we should intervene, or if I may say so, express any opinion. India, of course, is already a republic. At one time it was feared that this development might have interfered with membership within the Commonwealth, but happily that is not so. By an ingenious formula, which, I think, was thought out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), who was then Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, and, above all, by the good will and common sense displayed on all sides, we now find that there is no difficulty about containing republics within our Commonwealth.

I think that all would agree that the decision of India certainly has not in any way affected the friendly relations we have with her or her ties with the Commonwealth, and I am quite sure that the same thing can be said of Pakistan. I think that all of us would also agree that one of the most remarkable features of the last ten, fifteen or twenty years has been the way in which what was once a Colonial Empire has now become a free Commonwealth of Nations. I think we all rejoice that that is so, and on the whole the process has taken place so smoothly that we now have, precisely because all this has happened, really stronger links within the Commonwealth in reality, although the formal constitutional links may appear weaker.

We hope that in the coming years other countries which have hitherto been Colonial Territories will also join the Commonwealth as full independent members. We shall leave it to them, as we have in the case of India and Pakistan, to decide for themselves whether they be republics or whether they remain monarchies.

There are two other things which I wish to say. First, it is a matter of satisfaction to many of us that Pakistan, in working out her new Constitution and after a great deal of thought, has finally decided to follow the British model and not to adopt, which at one time, I think, was contemplated, the American pattern. I say that without any feeling of hostility towards the United States, but simply because, on this issue as to what is the best democratic constitution, I will not yield to anybody in believing that ours is the best. We are glad that Pakistan has followed the same course.

I should like secondly, to refer to a very pleasant experience that I was fortunate enough to have when I went with the Chatham House delegation to the quinquennial Commonwealth Conference in 1954, in Lahore. I mention this partly because anybody who took part in those proceedings—my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick and the right hon. Member the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) were also present—cannot but have felt, first, that the Commonwealth was a great force for good in the world, and secondly, that perhaps the strongest tie linking together the different countries of the Commonweath was their profound belief in democracy. We have yet another indication that that enthusiasm for democracy exists when we are passing this Bill.

We who were there received from our friends in Pakistan the most generous hospitality. We found them extremely friendly and anxious to maintain every possible link with this country, and we came away very happy indeed about relations with Pakistan and the United Kingdom. I am sure that the passing of the Bill will further help to improve those relations and to strengthen them. For that reason, as well as because we want, above all, to keep Pakistan within the Commonweath, I warmly welcome the Bill and give it every support from this side of the House

4.3 p.m.

Mr. Beresford Craddock (Spelthorne)

I fully appreciate that the House has a good deal of business before it today, and, therefore, I ask hon. Members to bear with me while I say a brief word on this Bill. As we all recognise, the new Constitution of Pakistan and the Bill mark a new chapter in the history of a very great people.

I had the privilege of knowing the founder of the modern State of Pakistan—as the Leader of the Opposition rightly said, a great man and a great statesman—the late Mohammed Ali Jinnah. I welcome the opportunity of joining with my hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary of State and with the Leader of the Opposition in hoping and wishing this great nation the very best of good fortune in the new sphere which it is entering.

On many occasions in the late 'twenties, I had discussions with the late Mr. Jinnah on the possibility of a Pakistan State. My ideas then—and, indeed, his—were not quite in line with the final form which the State took. Be that as it may, I remember on one occasion saying to Mr. Jinnah, "If this does come about, how long do you think it will take to build the new Pakistan into a strong, vigorous and homogeneous nation?" In his usual cautious way, he replied, "Well, perhaps twenty-five years, or it might well be fifty years." I am certain that everyone who has taken an interest in the future of Pakistan since the division will agree that the progress which has been made in Pakistan during these past few years towards building up a great nation has been really quite remarkable and far exceeds what my friend the late Mohammed Ali Jinnah ever envisaged.

It would be dishonest of me not to say that in some ways I regret that Pakistan has decided to become a republic. Nevertheless, one realises that, in the light of what has happened in the past, that was probably inevitable. I would not be frank with the House if I did not say that at the time when India declared herself to be a republic and it was agreed in this House that she would be allowed to remain within the Commonwealth, I had certain misgivings; but many of those misgivings have proved to be unwarranted in the light of subsequent events, and especially the events of the past few years.

In conclusion, I will say only this to my hon. and gallant Friend and to the Government. I would like to see even more help given to Pakistan in the future than we have been able to give in the past. She has faced great difficulties. She still has certain difficulties with which to contend, and I hope that everything we can do in this House will be done to help this very great country on its way to further and greater progress. For these reasons, I am very glad to have had the opportunity of joining in the tributes which have been paid from both sides of the House, and extending my warmest good wishes to this great nation for its future happiness, prosperity and progress.

4.7 p.m.

Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucestershire, West)

I, too, welcome the Bill as an indication that Pakistan seems to have overcome many of the difficulties which have been troubling her for some few years past. Like the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Beresford Craddock), I still think that she has difficulties to overcome, particularly her relations between West and East Pakistan. I am sure we all wish her well and hope that she will overcome those difficulties as she has overcome the others of the last five or six years.

Unlike the hon. Member for Spelthorne, I did not have the privilege of knowing the late Mohammed Ali Jinnah, but a few years ago, in an old folder of mine, I found a visiting card, fifty years old, from the days when I was an undergraduate at Cambridge, bearing the words "Mohammed Ali Jinnah." I must have met him then, among Hindu and Moslem undergraduates at Cambridge.

I went to Pakistan in 1948. Alas, Mohammed Ali Jinnah had just died and I failed to see him. Pakistan at that time was in great spiritual difficulties. She had parted with her founder, the man who had inspired her through her great trials and who had just died. She seemed almost to be a ship without a helmsman. But, as we all know, she has overcome those difficulties to a great extent, at least as far as her Constitution is concerned.

As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition quite rightly said, one difficulty was the problem of whether Pakistan should follow our Constitution or the American Constitution; but she had other constitutional difficulties because she was a Mohammedan State. One of the great troubles of Mohammedan States in meeting the modern world has been the fact that the Sheriat Law—the sacred law of Islam—as interpreted in the old-fashioned way, gives the leaders of the Mohammedan religion the right to interfere in secular law. That was the root cause of the revolution in Turkey, led by Kemal Ataturk. Of course, the Turks threw the baby out with the bath—they overthrew the whole thing and expelled religion altogether, though now other views are coming back.

The great problem before Mohammedan States in meeting the modern world seems to me to be to keep some basis of religion and to keep the religion of Islam, which is the greatest civilising force in the Continent of Asia, but, at the same time, not permitting, as has been permitted in the past, the leaders of Islam to interfere with modern legislation and all that is meant by the modern State. The problem was whether Pakistan would succeed in doing that. I think that she has. The Constitution seems to give her the opportunity of becoming a modern State and, at the same time, remaining an Islamic State.

I am sorry, sentimentally, that Pakistan has ceased to be a Dominion, but I do not think that it matters very much. It seems to me that Dominion status appears to apply mainly to those communities which are Anglo-Saxon, or which have our cultural and religious background. It does not seem to apply in quite the same way to those which have other cultural and religious backgrounds. It is, therefore, very natural in a way that those States which have arisen out of our withdrawal from the Indian sub-continent should adopt this method of creating a republic but remaining within the Commonwealth. It seems to me a natural development which, although we may have some sentimental feelings about it, is something which we can very well accept.

We are only too glad that all that we have done for the new countries of the Indian sub-continent should be recognised by them by keeping their contact with us, in this way. I therefore support very heartily the Second Reading of this Measure.

4.12 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Maitland (Lanark)

Before we part with this Bill, we are right to look at the implications of the idea which we are acting on in saying farewell to the Kingdom, and welcome to the Republic of Pakistan. I suggest, with respect to the Leader of the Opposition, that the idea upon which we are acting is not simply an ingenious device, but is a concept of profound significance which has its roots in our own constitutional history, and is pregnant with beneficent possibilities for the future.

As I see it, the decision that Pakistan should remain in the Commonwealth as a republic, like a similar decision in regard to India, has two parts to it. First, there is the country concerned which wants to have that status. Secondly, and just as important, there is the collective agreement of the Commonwealth countries that that should be recognised.

Such collective recognition, enlarging a whole corpus of constitutional convention, appears to have been given in one form or another several times already. There was the occasion when the Commonwealth Prime Ministers, in 1937, recognised Eire as continuing to belong. In 1947, Ceylon was recognised as a full member. That was followed by the critical decision of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers in regard to India, in 1949, which has now been repeated, Is believe happily, in this last case of Pakistan.

Where such a decision is taken it appears that Commonwealth countries in fact accept, and endorse, a body of constitutional convention that has grown up already. By it Commonwealth countries do not treat or consider one another's subjects as foreign. On the contrary, they assert that they are not foreign and in most cases they specifically assert that they enjoy the status of Commonwealth citizens. Consequently, having done that, they recognise one head of the Commonwealth who might be likened, although this has never been thus described as far as I know in any constitutional document, to one holding the position of first citizen.

Again, with great respect to the Leader of the Opposition, I do not believe that to call this arrangement an ingenious device is quite sufficient for a profound constitutional act. For this is not something that we have either to explain away, to justify or to excuse. On the contrary, from the moment that we established a constitutional monarchy in 1688 we asserted the sovereignty of Parliament. And when other Parliaments were begotten throughout the Commonwealth they inherited the exercise of the same sovereignty so that, ultimately, sovereignty must rest in all the Commonwealth Parliaments together. So what has been called a device and a formula is simply, in the case of India to start with and in the case for Pakistan now, an extension of that principle. That is why I do not believe that we have to excuse or justify it or apologise for it or explain it. We have only to look at our own constitu- tional history, indeed the very basis of our constitutional monarchy, to discover its origins.

If that is the case, if this is a free association of nations which exchange citizenship and acknowledge one first citizen as symbol of their free association, and if this is an association of countries which, because of that, can exchange their State secrets and consult, so, also, is it an association of States which can spring the next jump ahead in modern history. This free association of nations can help free the world from the imprisoning limitations of national sovereignty and extend beyond the present frontiers of the Commonwealth that thing which the world has not been able to achieve before or elsewhere. For here is an association of countries which, while absolutely free and sovereign, do associate together and do exchange their State secrets.

The present Chancellor of the Exchequer used a pregnant phrase which has not been sufficiently noticed when, speaking in a debate on the Middle East just before Christmas, he said that …the Commonwealth idea is extending beyond those countries who now owe it formal allegiance…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th December, 1955; Vol. 547, c. 846.] I can only imagine that in saying that my right hon. Friend must have had in mind the implications of the idea upon which we are acting today.

That idea has been noted elsewhere. Only this morning I received from Canada extracts from a speech made by Mr. John G. Diefenbaker, the hon. Member for the City of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, in the Canadian Parliament who, on 10th February, speaking in Toronto, said: The Commonwealth is in constant process of change, and stagnation may well mean disintegration. At this very moment a new nation is being born within the Commonwealth in the Conference which is taking place among the various West Indies Colonies. I believe that the growing and expanding process of the Commonwealth will continue and that in time it will come to include nations like Belgium, Holland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Greece and Germany, as well as France, which in the darkest days of war was invited by Churchill to become a part of this great family of nations. I. too, dream of an expanding Commonwealth which some foreign nations—likeminded, democratic and ready to exchange citizenship with us and ready to accept one first citizen—may well be glad to join.

That is why I welcome the action taken in the case of India and Pakistan and why, in endorsing the Bill and wishing it good fortune, I contribute my welcome to the new Republic of Pakistan and in doing so take leave with respect to repeat the words which were used in a broadcast from Capetown on her twenty-first birthday by our present Sovereign. Then she invited us to pledge our loyalty to This ancient Commonwealth of ours"— and to undertake to make it an even greater and grander thing, more happy and more free.

4.20 p.m.

Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)

I join with other hon. Members in welcoming the Bill. Though apologising for detaining the House on what otherwise might be thought to be a more or less formal Motion, I should like to add a few words of my own and also ask some questions of the Minister which, I hope, he will be able to answer.

First, I welcome the Bill not only as someone who is a great supporter of the Commonwealth idea, but also because I find it exciting to see great things done so modestly by this Parliament. Before I was elected to the House I went along to what is now the Robing Room to watch the Royal Assent given to the Indian Independence Act. I know that was a controversial Measure and I do not want to stir up controversies at this moment—

Commander Agnew (Worcestershire, South)

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is forgetting that the Opposition, which was at that time the Conservative Party, did not vote against that Bill, but welcomed it?

Mr. Benn

If I can in any way reduce controversy by withdrawing what I have said, I withdraw it.

I recall going there and seeing, as many other hon. Members must have done, the custom of giving the Assent in the House of Lords: the Reading Clerk reading the Royal Commission, appointing the Peers to act for the Sovereign, and then reading the list of Bills passed by both Houses. Packed away in the middle of many Bills, some dealing with small matters, some with big, was the Indian Independence Act. Just as in the case of any other Bill, when the Clerk read it out, the Reading Clerk said "Le Roi le veult" and the Indian Empire was transformed into the new States of India and Pakistan.

I found that intensely exciting and I find it intensely exciting now to think that when such a big step is taken we convey to those who break from their closer ties into a looser association many of the ideas of Parliamentary government which we, in our own circumstances, have developed over the centuries.

Today, similarly, this simple Bill, which gives effect to the will of the people of Pakistan, excites my imagination and my interest. It excites me also because Pakistan is the only Islamic State within the British Commonwealth, and the Moslem world is immensely important in modern society. It extends right from Morocco, where independence of a sort has now been achieved by the Sultan, right out to Indonesia, and is an important element in what we come to think of as the uncommitted nations.

I always feel that the adjective "uncommitted" is slightly unrealistic, because they are committed, we like to hope, to our way of life, though not always to the details of our foreign policy. That we should have an Islamic State in the Commonwealth is, to me, of great value.

I was also interested in what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price) about the difficulties of combining Church and State within one organic whole and to do justice to all—the problem which we have had for many centuries since the Church of England became an Established Church. Let us hope that Pakistan will solve the problem as satisfactorily as we seem to have done.

I want to ask two or three questions of the Minister to which I should be grateful to have answers. The first is purely a technical one. Will the Declaration of a Republic in Pakistan need any amendment of the Royal Styles and Titles Act? My understanding of that Measure, which was debated two or three years ago, was that it laid down a provision for the Crown to be divided, as it were, into its component parts, with the single uniting phrase "Head of the Commonwealth" appearing in all.

If I remember rightly, however, Pakistan, in deciding for herself what title she wished to give to the Crown, decided not to have "Queen of Pakistan" as the primary title. In this country, on the other hand, the title includes "the United Kingdom of Great Britain" and in South Africa, the words "South Africa," and so on. Pakistan, however, decided that the title should be "Queen of the United Kingdom and Her Other Realms and Territories". Therefore, I imagine that no change is required.

The second point is one of greater importance to me and is of some substance. Will the Commonwealth Prime Ministers, or the Commonwealth Governments, be called upon to give their view about this change of status on the part of Pakistan? Let me make it clear that it is not necessary, in my view, that any query should arise, but I recall that at the time of the conference in April, 1949, when India took this important constitutional step, it was announced in the communiqué that the other nations of the Commonwealth had agreed to it.

In this case we have had no conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers meeting at the time, and I wonder whether they will be asked to give their view upon this matter. I do not doubt that it will go through automatically, but in this connection I would like the Minister to tell us, if he can, exactly how individual members of the Commonwealth have to approve changes of status by other members of the Commonwealth.

This is not a purely hypothetical question, because hon. Members on both sides of the House will be called upon within the next few months to welcome a number of new members to the Commonwealth from colonial or semi-dominion status. The Gold Coast is one and Nigeria is another. Both are competing for the honour of reaching full Commonwealth status at the earliest possible moment. Similarly, the Malayan Settlement will lead, we hope, to the arrival of Malaya, and there is also the Federation of the West Indies. I would think it necessary that an authoritative statement be made at an early stage as to the current practice on this matter.

I do not tie the hon. and gallant Gentleman down now because I did not give him notice of this question, nor did I expect that he would be able to say anything definite, but we must watch the development of these things because by them a body of precedent is being built up to guide us in the future. I would be sorry to think that there could be any power of veto in the future.

This curious technique, if applied backwards, could have altered the course of English history. For instance, if in the time of Oliver Cromwell it had been possible to be a protectorate within a Commonwealth while, at the same time, recognising Charles I as head of that Commonwealth, this might have given a greater continuity to history and would have deprived us and you, Mr. Speaker, and your distinguished predecessors, of many historic utterances which we cherish as part of our Parliamentary tradition. Be that as it may, the only person to whom it now gives great opportunities is the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), who can now be a republican and a supporter of the Commonwealth at one and the same time.

My final question is not a constitutional one, but purely political or personal. I often listen to broadcasts on occasions of ceremonial importance and to debates such as this one. I regret that whenever we speak about Commonwealth development we talk rather as if the Mother Country will teach and that it is the children who will have to learn from her. My own convinced view is that we have an enormous amount to learn from the Commonwealth, and I will cite an example now, which, I hope, will not break the rules of order, because it made a deep personal impression upon me.

Curiously enough, Mr. Speaker, it relates to the former Clerk of this House, Sir Frederic Metcalfe. Like all hon. Members, I came here with a respect for the procedure of Parliament but little knowledge of it. So, on a number of occasions, I went to Sir Frederic and his colleagues at the Table to ask their advice on opportunities that might be open to me as a back bencher, and so on. From him I learned an understanding and appreciation of the functions of the Journals, Erskine May, and the rest. As a servant of this House Sir Frederic was a quiet, unassuming, essentially modest man, scholarly and true to the traditions of his office.

I met him some time after he had left that position, when he had become Speaker of the Nigerian Federal House of Representatives. I can only say that he was a changed man. Gone was the Clerk of the House we knew who walked so modestly about the Chamber. Here was a man full of energy and vigour. I asked him whether he was enjoying his new job, and he replied, "It is wonderful, far better than the House of Commons."

I am sure that Sir Frederic would not mind my telling this story and, if I am doing him justice, saying that what he felt was that when he saw Erskine May applied in a country where the conflicts were far greater than we have across the Floor of this House, and saw our machinery at work there, he was enjoying the vigour they put into their job. I always remember this, and I frequently tell the story. I only do it again here today, when we are setting the Commonwealth off on a new course, to show that, while we have great things to give to them, we are also gaining great things from them.

4.31 p.m.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

Like other hon. Members of this House who have taken part in this extraordinarily interesting, if short, debate, I intend to speak briefly, but, for various reasons, I, too, want to have the personal privilege of taking part in what I think is an historic debate.

I feel sure that by the mere volume of these speeches there may be conveyed to our Pakistan brethren some measure of the warmth of the welcome which this House extends to them. I am not talking about the quality of the speeches, but only about the mere volume. I say that mainly because I have always felt throughout the whole of my political life that the history of the relationship of this country to the Indian sub-continent was not the least glorious page in our history. In fact, I have always thought it the most glorious, and I find something extraordinarily moving on this occasion when I think that the whole of the Indian sub-continent has now reached adult stature, as other members of the Commonwealth have done. It is also very moving to find that, although complete freedom has been attained, there is no thought of breaking the link with this country.

None of us can speak for the dead, but I find something grateful and refreshing in the thought that all those Englishmen or Britons—subjects of this country—who gave their lives, spent their lives and employed their energies in working for the Indian sub-continent would rejoice with us today in what has happened. I hope that no one in Pakistan, when they read this debate in this sparsely attended House, will attribute a lack of interest or a lack of good will to that fact. I think they should realise that the greater the unanimity in this Chamber, the emptier are the benches.

I believe this is an historic occasion, and I agree with every word that has been said by other speakers. I am proud to have the privilege of associating myself with the welcome to the new member of the Commonwealth—the Republic of Pakistan.

4.33 p.m.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I venture to intervene in this debate because I want to say a few words about the solidarity and versatility of the Commonwealth and against its partition, in whole or in part, which might easily have occurred had Pakistan taken a different course. Pakistan, happily, has taken the course of wishing to remain within the Commonwealth, and this Bill is a consequence of that decision.

I welcome the Bill, because it is one further step on the road of constitutional versatility and solidarity within the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is versatile because it has within it so many different types and forms of government, but they are all characterised by the fact that they are all democratic forms of government. Milestones along that road are marked by the granting of self-government to great territories which, formerly, were Colonies within an Empire, which then became Dominions and now are realms within the Commonwealth. They could have seceded if they had wanted to do so, just as Pakistan could have seceded if it had wanted to secede. Happily, most of them remain within the Commonwealth as Pakistan is doing now.

One or two, perhaps, have seceded. To use words which have almost become hallowed by usage and time: These nations are now equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs and…freely associated Freely, they could secede; happily, Pakistan has not chosen to secede.

There are a few points which I should like to make in connection with the Bill. As has been wisely said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) today, it matters not what these territories call themselves. Pakistan now calls herself a Republic; India calls itself a Republic; Canada calls itself a Dominion; Australia calls itsef a Commonwealth, and South Africa calls itself a Union. The name matters not. At one time it was thought an anomaly, and, indeed, perhaps an impossibility, to have a republic within an association of States presided over by a Sovereign. Those were pedantic days, out of which we have happily grown, and now other considerations apply. I think it is right to remember, in passing, that, if we had got away from that pedantry at an earlier stage it would have saved the Empire and the Commonwealth a great deal of trouble and avoided much violence; for instance, in Canada, in South Africa and in Ireland.

The second point I wish to make is this. The Bill is beneficial in its implied antagonism to the outworn doctrine of "Divide and conquer." This we find in certain constitutional developments which gave rise to partitions, small partitions or large partitions—and it would have been a large partition if Pakistan had chosen to secede from the Commonwealth—and these partitions gave rise to disputes. Two instances are found today. One is found in Pakistan itself and the other in the present territorial division of Ulster from the rest of Ireland.

Clause 2 of the Bill stands for solidarity in the Commonwealth, and stands against that kind of partition in whole or in part. The Bill is correct, in my submission, in the implication which is to be found in Clause 2. On a short-sighted view, at an earlier stage it was thought that these partitions strengthened Britain as a central Power and as a central force in an Empire, but not so today, because we are dealing with a Commonwealth of free nations, whose interest it is to avoid international disputes, of which partitions are the father and mother.

It is relevant to quote from yesterday's Irish TimesIt is the fault of partition that the whole of Ireland is not now in N.A.T.O. It is relevant also to add that it might easily have been the fault of partition if Pakistan were to go out of N.A.T.O., but, happily, we are not confronted with any problem of that kind today, and this Bill is evidence of that fact.

The leading article in the Irish Times which I have just quoted goes on to ask: Does anybody seriously think that a united Ireland ever would have severed connection with the British Commonwealth? The answer is that a united Ireland would not …if the Unionist minority in the North had not chosen to go their own small way instead of reinforcing the cause of liberalism in an integral Ireland. That, naturally, brings me to my last point. This is a good Bill, but it does not go far enough. Perhaps it is expecting too much from the Bill, and perhaps it would be irrelevant to ask that it should include something which would be attractive, not only to the nations of the Commonwealth, such as Pakistan, to remain within it, but attractive to other friendly nations which are outside the Commonwealth to come into it.

This is a small Measure, but it is a Measure fruitful of great and large thoughts. Some of these large thoughts are the solidarity and versatility of the Commonwealth as it stands at present and as it may stand in the future when it is a Commonwealth even greater than it is today. I welcome the Bill.

4.41 p.m.

Commander Agnew (Worcestershire, South)

I do not wish to follow the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) in stirring up the embers of a fire that has ceased to glow; rather for a moment do I wish to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations on introducing the Bill. He may well be the last Minister of this Parliament to bring in a Bill affecting the whole sub-continent of India, and this Measure may therefore be the last of the long series of Acts which began rather more than 200 years ago, shortly after the British first entered the Indian sub-Continent.

Today we are placing on record that Pakistan has made a choice. The Leader of the Opposition referred to that choice when he said that it was for Pakistan and herself alone to decide whether she should be a monarchy or a republic. We do not question that. Today we welcome her with especially warmhearted feeling, because we appreciate that in coming to this decision, Pakistan has decided, as is the essence of all good marriages, to accept the better and the worse. I do not forecast that there will be any worse following the action Pakistan has taken.

However, it should be placed on record that any nation which decides to accede to or to remain within the Commonwealth, accepts not only the good things, the superficial advantages that so plainly flow from that, but also, in the common interests of all members of the Commonwealth, certain inhibitions and certain forbearances in the event of a country which is a member of the Commonwealth having any dispute with another member. We ought to pay a great tribute to Pakistan for deciding solemnly and definitely, after so long pondering this question, that her great advantage lies in remaining within the Commonwealth. This is a day of happy augury for the Commonwealth of Nations of which Britain and Pakistan are equal members.

4.45 p.m.

Sir Harold Roper (Cornwall, North)

As one who has had a close association with Pakistan for more than thirty years, I also want to light a candle to that country in which I have had many close personal friends and in which I still have many whom I am proud to count my friends. Twenty-five years ago I was actively interested in the development of that constitution which has brought us to the present stage.

At that time the political development of the Indian sub-continent was to have been in the direction of a unified country. In the event, it has taken another road—for better or for worse we need not comment. I merely wish to say that the happy outcome of Pakistan political progress, as evidenced in the Bill, affords me great personal satisfaction. It marks a new relationship between our two countries and I have every confidence that the old relationship of close friendship will continue. I want merely to express the warmth of my own feeling towards Pakistan and, if I may, to express the hope that the Government will play their part in cementing that friendship by such help, both financial and political, that they can give to Pakistan.

4.47 p.m.

Mr. Peter Smithers (Winchester)

I want to make a single point which I do not think has yet been made, and I do not apologise for detaining the House on this important occasion. If our own domestic affairs have to wait, that is all right by me. We are here finally severing the last vestiges of the administrative connection between ourselves and the Indian Continent. We are all most anxious to preserve the structure of the Commonwealth, because we believe it to be so mutually beneficient to all its members.

The ties which now remain, if one analyses them, are more in the nature of diplomatic ties than anything else and they are administered by the Commonwealth Relations Department, which is a very efficient Department, whose duties are diplomatic. I should like to see developed a new kind of tie between ourselves and other members of the Commonwealth and particularly with Pakistan. A diplomatic relationship is not enough. It is most important that there should be common trends of political thought and a great deal of common thinking between politicians in various countries of the Commonwealth, for example between those in Pakistan and those in this country.

I had an opportunity to visit Pakistan for all too short a period with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and I met some Pakistani politicians. I could not but be impressed by the brilliance and vigour of many of them and also by the brilliance of some of the women interested in public life, for example, Begum Liaquat Ali Khan. I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend will use all the resources of his Department to foster contacts between Members of this House and members of the Pakistani Legislature.

I commend to him, although it does not need it, the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Its funds are very modest when compared to the cost of a fighter aeroplane, but it gives value in defence and security for the Commonwealth, and in political solidarity, which bears no comparison to the amount of expenditure involved. I therefore hope that as these last administrative ties fall away, my hon. and gallant Friends' Department will endeavour to encourage the creation of new personal political associations between ourselves and the Pakistanis, and that he will give full support to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in doing that.

4.50 p.m.

Mrs. Evelyn Emmet (East Grinstead)

I wish briefly to take up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Smithers). I should like to take this occasion to send a message of greeting and sympathetic interest to those remarkable women in Pakistan who in a few years have crossed whole centuries of custom by coming forward to take their share in the government of their country and of this new Republic. I am sure the House would wish to send its good wishes to these outstanding women.

4.51 p.m.

Commander Noble

If I may have the leave of the House, I should like to reply to one or two points which have been made and to thank the Leader of the Opposition and hon. Members on both sides of the House for the support they have given to this Bill. We have had some interesting speeches. If I may say so with respect, some speakers have perhaps strayed a little from the Bill, but I think that a great interest, affection and knowledge of Pakistan has been displayed by all hon. Members.

I would echo the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) that the number of hon. Members in the Chamber does not always reflect the importance the Houses attaches to the Measure being discussed. I know quite well that all hon. Members of this House are today thinking of Pakistan, and that Pakistan will again be in their thoughts on 23rd March when the new Constitution takes effect. It is very nice to find in this House a subject that is not a party matter. That was emphasised by the Leader of the Opposition when he took part in this debate, and I should like to thank the right hon. Gentleman. I was glad that he mentioned my old friend Ghulam Mohammed, who has been a friend of my wife and myself since before the war. We send to him our good wishes after his long period of illness.

I was asked two questions by the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn). The hon. Gentleman asked whether the passing of the Pakistan Constitution entails any change in the Royal Titles Act. My information is that it does not in the United Kingdom. We must remember that Pakistan will continue to recognise Her Majesty The Queen as the head of the Commonwealth. From the other question asked by the hon. Member. I am not sure whether he was present in the Chamber at the beginning of my speech, because I said that the step which has now been taken was mentioned in the communique issued by the Commonwealth Prime Ministers when they met in London last year. Of course, members of the Commonwealth are consulted about, and discuss together, not only any change of the basis of membership of one of the Members, but also the accession of new Members.

Lastly, I echo what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Smithers), that it is of the greatest importance that people should move about the Commonwealth as much as possible. We at the Commonwealth Relations Office will do anything we can to assist towards that end. All right hon. and hon. Gentlemen emphasised the value of membership of the Commonwealth. When countries achieve their independence and remain in the Commonwealth of their own good will, that is bound to strengthen the bonds which join us. It must be thought still worthwhile, not only for what we can do for each other, but for the part we can all play together to preserve peace and stability in the free world.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Legh.]

Bill immediately considered in Committee.

[Sir CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair.]