HC Deb 19 July 1960 vol 627 cc442-6
Mr. J. Amery

I beg to move, in page 5, line 13, to leave out from "decision" to "that" in line 14.

The effect of Clause 3 of the Bill is to treat the Republic in United Kingdom law as if it were an independent member of the Commonwealth. But it is possible that the Republic will decide against applying for Commonwealth membership. We may get a situation, therefore, where the Republic may not become a member of the Commonwealth. The purpose of Clause 6 is to empower Her Majesty, in that event, to undo the effect of Clause 3 in so far as may be considered desirable. This could be done by Order in Council subject to the affirmative Resolution procedure.

As the Bill stands and as my right hon. Friend told the House on Second Reading, the Republic—and the other members of the Commonwealth—would have to determine the relationship of the Republic to the Commonwealth within nine months of independence. It is true that nine months is a substantial period, but as the Bill stands if for any reason a decision were delayed, even marginally, beyond the nine months, a further Resolution of the House would be needed.

Membership of the Commonwealth is a very important decision for Cyprus, and, as I can vouch from my experience, Cyprus is not a place where quick decisions are easily taken. It is also a very important issue for the Commonwealth, containing a number of precedents which will have to be carefully considered. In the circumstances the Government have felt that it would be wrong to try to compress consideration of this matter within a rigid timetable. We do not want to give the impression of hurrying the Cyprus Assembly or the Commonwealth Governments—certainly not of hurrying them for our own technical reasons or for the sake of tidiness in the Bill. Accordingly, the Government propose that no time limit should be set to the period in which the decision will have to be taken by the Republic and, if necessary after the decision of the Republic, by the other Commonwealth Governments concerned.

Mr. Callaghan

I sympathise with the intentions of the Government, but let us look at the consequences. Does the consequence of this Amendment mean that the Republic of Cyprus, without, in fact, making application to become a member of the Commonwealth, will enjoy all the benefits of Commonwealth membership for so long as she cares to do so and that they can only be denied to her if she decides to make application and is refused?

This appears to be a rather odd situation. Surely we are inviting the Republic of Cyprus not to make a decision unless there is some sort of time limit, because Cyprus will enjoy all the benefits of Commonwealth membership until she makes up her mind. Supposing that there was doubt in the minds of some other members of the Commonwealth as to whether Cyprus should become a member. In those circumstances it would be foolish for Cyprus to decide to make application, and until she did so she would, as I understand Clause 3, by the application of existing laws and under Clause 6 be entitled to all the benefits of Commonwealth membership.

Mr. B. Harrison

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State pointed out the connection between Clause 3 and Clause 6, and that, I think, is something at which we have to look very carefully. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) raised the same point.

I think that we are storing up a lot of trouble here. A decision ought to have been made in the Bill as to whether or not we wanted Cyprus to remain in the Commonwealth. Frankly, I would prefer to see her outside, because the thought of her attending the Commonwealth Conference and of Archbishop Makarios carrying equal weight with Mr. Nehru or Mr. Nkrumah puts the whole sequence out of balance and would eventually make it a farce. The prospects which now exist of Cyprus continuing to enjoy all the benefits of Commonwealth membership without any of the responsibilities or the checks puts that country in a very privileged position.

Then there is the point with regard to Commonwealth preference which Cyprus can enjoy in the markets here affecting our own farm produce or of competing with wines from Australia and South Africa, and, at the same time, there is no guarantee that Cyprus cannot give equal preference to that which she gives to British goods in the Cyprus market to Greece and Turkey.

It also means that even if Cyprus conies under the Commonwealth Relations Office, as presumably she will, and adds to the hotchpotch there of High Commission Territories, now sovereign base areas, this suspended full member of the Commonwealth, and then full member of the Commonwealth, can enjoy Commonwealth Development and Welfare Funds and can get funds from the Commonwealth Development Corporation.

It means that she can get all the benefits of both classes of membership in the Colonial and independent Commonwealth. There are many points which ought to be considered very carefully. In letting this slipshod part of the Bill go through—and I think that this Amendment makes it slipshod—we are storing up a problem for ourselves within a very few years, and we shall have cause to regret the action, or lack of action, which is being taken in connection with this Clause.

1.30 a.m.

Mr. J. Amery

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) asked whether the Republic would enjoy all the benefits of Commonwealth membership under this interim phase. My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. B. Harrison) affirmed that they would. Strictly speaking, this is not the case.

First, they would not enjoy colonial development and welfare advantages which are limited to the Colonial Territories of the Commonwealth. They would not enjoy all the benefits. They would not, for example, participate in Commonwealth Ministerial gatherings, whether Prime Ministers' conferences or other conferences. What they would enjoy, and all that Clause 3 gives to them, is the benefit of those existing United Kingdom laws which apply to the independent Commonwealth.

It is true that, as the Clause will be drafted if the Amendment is accepted, this would appear to be of indefinite duration. Nevertheless subsection (2) of the Clause empowers the Government to undo any or all of the provisions of Clause 3 at any time that we see fit; so that the responsibility rests with the Government and, therefore, with the House to terminate these privileges if at any time we think it necessary or desirable to do so.

On the whole, it is the Government's view that rather than impose a rigid timetable on this difficult and delicate decision which has to be taken by the Republic, and indeed, perhaps by other Commonwealth countries, it is better to leave the timetable side of it open while retaining in the hands of the Government and, therefore, of the House the right to undo the privileges granted in Clause 3 if and when we should think it desirable to do so.

Mr. Callaghan

Is that strictly true? The rubric to this Clause deals with Provision in event of change in relationship of Republic to the Commonwealth. Subsection (1) states: For the purpose of giving effect to any decision…that the Republic of Cyprus shall not be a country specified in subsection (3) of section one of the British Nationality Act, 1948, Her Majesty may by Order in Council direct… Would the Government be entitled TO use a Clause which is specifically put in to deal with the event of a change in the relationship of the Republic to the Commonwealth, to push the Republic oust of the Commonwealth when she herself has not taken such a decision?

Mr. Amery

It is our interpretation of these words that if there were to be a period of undue delay this could be construed as a negative decision. That is to say, it is for us to judge in a matter of this kind. The effect of the Amendment is to give greater flexibility and to give more time if more time is needed.

I think that we are all approaching this matter in the same sympathetic spirit, and the anxiety of the Government, as I think of the Opposition too, is not to put a straitjacket on this difficult and rather delicate matter. At the same time, the safeguard is that it is in our hands, and it is our interpretation that it remains in our 'hands, to take the decision and decide ourselves at what point failure to take a decision constitutes a negative decision.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. J. Amery

I beg to move, in page 5, line 42, to leave out subsection (5).

This Amendment is consequential on the first Amendment but, as I said a moment ago, the Government retain the power to exclude the Republic at any time by Order in Council, from all or some of the privileges she will enjoy under Article 3. The rights of the House are protected by the obligation to resort to the affirmative Resolution procedure.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported, with amendments; as amended, considered; read the Third time and passed.