HC Deb 24 July 1967 vol 751 cc15-9

Lords Amendment No. 1: In page 1, line 5, leave out from "On" to "shall" in line 7 and insert: the day which, in relation to any territory to which this section applies, is the appointed day that territory".

10.38 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State, Foreign Office (Mr. William Rodgers)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Mr. Speaker

The question is— —

Mr. Douglas Dodds-Parker (Cheltenham) rose— —

Mr. Speaker

Did the hon. Gentleman wish to speak on the first Amendment?

Mr. Dodds-Parker

I wanted to speak on them all.

Mr. Speaker

The first one is the only one moved so far.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

I welcome the Amendments which the Under-Secretary of State has moved. I am sorry that I was not in my place.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has moved only one at the moment.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

I think that they all hang together. If I might make my remarks on the first Amendment— —

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have no objection to a number being taken together, but I was not aware of this.

Mr. William Rodgers

If it is for the convenience of the House, as they hang together we should be very happy if they could be taken together.

Mr. Speaker

So be it.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

I am very grateful. I apologise again for not being in my place. I did not realise that business was going so fast.

We welcome the Amendments and understand that there is a need to get the Bill through without delay. But the Amendments were taken in another place only on Friday and they were available here only at about half past nine this morning. It means that one has to go through them rather quickly.

However, the Opposition are very glad that the Government have accepted the Amendments put forward by my hon. Friends during the later stages of the Bill two weeks ago. As was said in another place, all these Amendments hang or fall together. Their aim is to enable different days to be set for the relinquishment of sovereignty under Clause 1 in relation to the three territories, Aden, Perim and Kuria Muria. The reason is that there is a possibility of the inter-nationalisation of Perim, which might lead to the possibility of a day being appointed for the relinquishment of sovereignty over it different from that for Aden and the other islands.

I do not know whether the Minister can say what action has been taken in the United Nations in the meantime to follow up the suggestion put from this side of the House and whether he expects any answer which will enable us to know the date when we might expect the Order to become effective. I wonder whether at the same time he could say anything about the Yemeni claim to Perim, which arose directly after we had the debate in this House. Also, what about consultations with the people of Perim? It is obviously too early to forecast the date, but as the House is going into Recess for about 12 weeks it will mean that about half the time between now and the date for independence will have been consumed before the House comes back again.

With regard to the Kuria Muria Islands, the Under-Secretary said on Second Reading that consultations will take place. Can he say at this stage whether they are going ahead, and can he say anything about these islands wanting to rejoin Muscat instead of becoming part of the South Arabian Federation? That again will give some indication of when any different Order in Council might be laid which would affect the Amendments before us.

Kamaran is not referred to in these Amendments but has been referred to on more than one occasion. Can the Under-Secretary say how we are to be told about consultations there, too, and if no Order in Council under the Bill is to be made, what the procedure is so that we can take an interest in this small island, which I am probably the only Member of the House ever to have visited?

The last group of Amendments affect citizenship. This matter follows any difference in dates which may take effect when sovereignty is relinquished. I can imagine the peoples of these islands and most of the people of Aden feeling somewhat remote from the citizenship, passports and customs and all the other things of the civilised world, but I am sure that it is right to make certain that they are not deprived, if ever they want it one day, of a bit of paper which gives due notice about where they belong. Per- haps when they come to reflect on it one day they will come to regret the loss of a British passport which allowed the carrier to go freely over three-quarters of the earth's surface.

I am obliged to you, Mr. Speaker, for your indulgence. On behalf of the Opposition, I welcome the Amendments and hope that they will lead to the internationalisation of Perim and the people of Kuria Muria in particular being given a choice of whether they become part of the South Arabian Federation or join Muscat, from which they came a century ago.

Mr. William Rodgers rose

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman needs the leave of the House to speak again. He spoke earlier, briefly it is true.

Mr. Rodgers

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and the leave of the House, perhaps I might speak again. I hesitated to say much, and, in fact, said very little, in moving the Amendment because I realised that it was the desire of the House to make progress, but in view of what the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Dodds-Parker) has said, I think it would be appropriate for me to say a few words about this group of Amendments because they hang together.

Although I was not here for the Second Reading of the Bill—I was, regretfully, rather further east of Suez at the time of the Committee stage—from reading HANSARD I have some sense of the feeling expressed on that occasion when the House demonstrated its happy knack of coming together and reconciling divergent views and the Government showed their typical flexibility in trying to meet the proposals from the Opposition when they are wholly constructive, although, alas, that is not very often the case.

As the hon. Member said, there was some feeling in the House at the time that the internationalisation of Perim was something that we should seek to achieve. I would make absolutely clear in case there should be any misapprehension about it that we have it in mind—it remains our firm intention—to bring South Arabia to independence on 9th January, 1968. These Amendments will allow us that degree of flexibility which is necessary if it seems possible for the United Nations to take Perim over.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the progress that we have made. As he will know, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear on 28th June that we should be pursuing the question with the Federal Government and the United Nations, and since then he has said that he has been in touch with both. This remains the position, and I am afraid that for the moment there is nothing more that I can usefully tell the House. There is no precedent of which I am aware for the course which we are now proposing, and, therefore it is not surprising that the steps which have to be taken and the procedures are not as straightforward or obvious as they might be if this sort of thing had happened on previous occasions.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to consultation. On Second Reading I made clear that consultation would take place. We still have this very much in mind, but the problem of timing is very real and it seems to us that it may prove advantageous to the islanders to leave the consultations until rather nearer the date of independence because, as the hon. Gentleman implied by his remarks about Kamaran, the situation is a little uncertain, and as we want to make the best job we can when independence comes, it is perhaps wise to be cautious and consider timing with very great care.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the Kuria Muria's. He will remember what was said on Second Reading by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State when he pointed out that they had been ceded to Queen Victoria in 1854, and said that it was for consideration in deciding their future whether they might not wish to return to Muscat. This again is a matter upon which consultation must take place, and I am prepared to say that in this case and in the case of Kamaran we will seek to keep the House informed, and as the hon. Gentleman has made clear his very special interest in the Kamaran case I personally undertake to keep in touch with him if developments occur which might be interesting to him.

I hope that I have taken care of all the points that were raised, and, therefore, I very much hope that the House will accept the Lords Amendments.

Question put and agreed to.

Remaining Lords Amendments agreed to.

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