HC Deb 07 December 1973 vol 865 cc1647-8
Sir. J. Gilmour

Earlier this year this House resolved that a Speaker's Table should be presented to the Legislative Assembly of the kingdom of Tonga to mark in 1970 its full independence and return to the community of nations. In July the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. James Hamilton) and I were given the task of travelling to Tonga to make the presentation. We were very fortunate to be accompanied by Sir Barnett Cocks, whose wide experience and great personal charm made our journey and task that much easier.

Our journey to Tonga was made during the parliamentary Recess. We reached the kingdom of Tonga on Saturday 29th September and the presentation of the table was made four days later. During the interval we had the good fortune to visit all parts of the main island. We met many of the Tongan people and learned of their way of life and means of livelihood.

The delegation also had the honour of being received in audience by His Majesty the King.

By good fortune, the day the presentation was made coincided with the two-hundredth anniversary of Captain Cook's first landing in the kingdom of Tonga. It was Captain Cook who described the people of Tonga as "the friendly islanders". During the course of our visit to the island we discovered that Captain Cook's description is just as apt today as it was 200 years ago.

My colleague and I were honoured to speak on behalf of this House in the Tongan Assembly and the proceedings were broadcast on the Tongan radio. We were much impressed by the singing which is incorporated in the daily prayers at the start of the day's parliamentary proceedings. We might well follow that example in this House.

The Prime Minister of Tonga made a motion of thanks on behalf of the Legislative Assembly to the House of Commons in these terms : That we, the Speaker and Members of the Legislative Assembly of Tonga, accept with sincere gratitude this magnificent Speaker's Table, and in so doing reaffirm the close ties which have existed, and indeed continue to exist, between Tonga and the United Kingdom". The motion was carried unanimously and I would respectfully ask that it be recorded in the journals of this House.

May I conclude by stressing the continuing friendship between the people of Tonga and this country, a friendship which we personally experienced when visiting Tonga as emissaries of this House.

Mr. Speaker

Will the hon. Gentleman please bring the resolution to the Table?

Mr. James Hamilton

I wish to associate myself with all that has been said by the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour). It is quite true that Tonga is known as "the friendly isles" and we certainly found that to be true during our visit.

I was most impressed by the fact that the highest item in the gross national product was the amount of money spent on education. We took the opportunity to visit two schools and a hospital, and we discovered that 80 per cent. of the capital expenditure was given by the British Government.

I was also interested to discover that the King of Tonga is a great football enthusiast. We were able to send to him from Scottish television a number of football films. I thank the House for giving the hon. Gentleman and myself the opportunity to go to Tonga. I say quite sincerely that I would not mind going back again.

Mr. Speaker

I am sure the House would wish me to thank the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) and his colleague the hon. Member for Both-well (Mr. James Hamilton) for the way in which they carried out their mission on behalf of this House. We thank them for what they have said today. I will see that the resolution passed at the ceremony of the presentation of the Table is entered in the Journals of the House.

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