§ Order for Second Reading read.4.19 pm
§ The Solicitor-General (Sir Nicholas Lyell)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
On 5 April this year my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General informed the House that the Government intend to make it possible to hand over to the Commonwealth of Australia, as a gift, one of the two vellum copies of the Act of Parliament that brought Australia into being as an independent nation. The introduction of that Bill on ANZAC day last week was a first step towards the fulfilment of that undertaking.
The public record copy of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 is already in Australia on loan. The effect of the Bill will be to release that copy from the provisions of the Public Records Act 1958, thereby enabling Her Majesty's Government to accede to the Australian Government's request that it should remain there permanently.
There are two copies of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 which were printed on vellum. One is held in the record office of the House of Lords as the official record of parliamentary proceedings. The other is the Public Record Office copy, which has been on loan to Australia for the past two years. The Act established the framework for the Commonwealth of Australia, including the powers of its Government and judiciary, and its provisions have remained relatively unchanged since its enactment.
The Act was drafted by Australians and endorsed at the time by a majority of Australians and by each of the Australian Parliaments and Governments. The Australians already hold a duplicate original of the royal proclamation, signed by Queen Victoria, that brought the Act into force on 1 January 1901, and a duplicate original of the commission of Royal Assent to the Act, also signed by Queen Victoria. The provision of that copy of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act on a permanent basis will, therefore, complete the trinity of documents which, taken together, represent Australia's birth certificate as a nation. Far from being a dimly remembered historic document, the Act is regarded by Australians as the embodiment of Australian nationhood, containing provisions that remain as relevant now as they were 90 years ago.
Mr. Eric S. Heifer (Liverpool, Walton)
Does the Act include anything about the rights of aborigines in Australia? This matter concerns them and many other people in Australia, particularly in relation to what has happened recently. If it does not, what is the Government's attitude to that?
§ The Solicitor-General
I shall seek to answer the hon. Gentleman in a moment.
A great deal of interest has been shown in the document by the Australian people. Since the public record copy of the Act was loaned to Australia for the bicentennial in 1226 1988, more than 2 million visitors have had the opportunity to see it on display in Parliament house in Canberra. There can be no doubt of the depth of feeling that lies behind the request to hold a copy of the Act permanently.
The Government recognise that the arguments against the disposal of any of our public records are also strong. Public records are an important part of this country's heritage and form an integral and unique collection which goes back a long way. We would not lightly agree to disperse material from our national archive. But in view of the special circumstances of the Australian Government's request, including the fact that the people of Australia have become accustomed to having easy access to the document and minds are presently focused on old ties between our countries, the Government have decided that it would be right to find a way to offer the document to the Commonwealth of Australia as a gift, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General so informed the House, by written answer, on 5 April. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has now written to Mr. Hawke offering a gift of the document, and that offer has been warmly accepted.
As things stand, the copy of the Act is a public record selected for permanent preservation under the terms of the Public Records Act 1958. The provisions of that Act do not allow for gifts or permanent loans of records to be made. The Bill will make it possible for the document to be released to the Commonwealth of Australia by providing that this vellum copy of the Act alone ceases to be among the United Kingdom public records to which the Public Records Act applies. The Bill has been drafted in such a way as to make it clear that this change in statute refers, and is intended to refer, to this one document alone. The preamble refers to Her Majesty's Government's willingness toadvise Her Majesty to accedeto the Australian Government's request.
The Bill will not technically make the gift but will rather make it possible, subject to parliamentary approval for the course of action that the Bill proposes. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that there will be an ideal opportunity formally to hand over the document when my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord President visits Australia on official business this summer. To make this possible, the Bill must proceed rapidly so that Royal Assent may be obtained before the summer recess. It is also desirable that the Bill should come into force without the usual two-month interval after Royal Assent.The abbreviated timetable for the Bill will ensure that the proper arrangements are in place in time for my right hon. and learned Friend's visit.
I am looking to my left to see whether I can answer the question of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) before I conclude my initial remarks. It may be that, with some manual assistance from my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls), I shall be in a position to do so.
The position, as I expected—but I am grateful to have confirmation of it—is that the 1900 Act to which the hon. Gentleman referred does not, as far as we know, refer to the aboriginal people. If, as a result of further investigations, I receive any contra-indication during the debate, I will let the House and the hon. Gentleman know.
This short Bill will make possible a gesture which means a great deal to the people of the Commonwealth of 1227 Australia, a nation with close and long-lasting legislative and constitutional links with our Parliament. We at Westminster should welcome this opportunity to recognise the Australian commitment to parliamentary democracy, which endures within a framework that the 1900 Act set up. The gift of a copy of the Act is a symbol of the history, heritage and traditions that we share and of our friendship, and I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
I thank the Solicitor-General for introducing the Bill and, on behalf of Opposition Members, warmly endorse its purpose. It is right also to thank my right hon. Friend and namesake the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) who, if not the father of this Bill—because it is the Lord Chancellor's and the Attorney-General's—is at least its stepfather. In that he was fully supported by hon. Members of all parties in the House, and the Bill is the result of his sterling work as chairman of the parliamentary ANZAC group, and with the assistance and co-operation of many people including, in particular, Mr. Doug McLelland, the Australian high commissioner in London. The House knows that once my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe has a bone between his teeth he never lets go, and it was gracious and right of Mr. Bob Hawke, the Australian Prime Minister, to thank both the Government and my right hon. Friend for their part in bringing into effect a hitherto unique event.
Mr. Hawke set out his country's case succinctly in his article in The Times of 22 February this year. I noticed from the tenor of the Solicitor-General's remarks that he had read this closely: many of the phrases that he used were borrowed from that article, perhaps without acknowledgment. He said:Australia is a young country, yet it is fast developing a sense of history.He said that the Act which we are passing to Australia as a gift is nota dry and dusty piece of paper, but a … document which continues to have a direct and immediate impact on a vast range of Australia's affairs.The constitution embodied in the Act has changed little since 1900. It is appropriate, therefore, that the handing over of Australia's birth certificate should coincide with the year of the centenary of the Australian Federation conference. As Mr. Hawke wrote:The constitution set us on a path of peaceful and ungrudging disengagement from the protection of our British founders, and led to the irresistible emergence of an independent and self-reliant Australia.I think that the word "self-reliant" describes most of the Australians whom we know.
Together with the duplicate originals, referred to by the Solicitor-General, of the royal proclamation bringing the Act into force on I January 1901 and the Royal Assent, both signed by Queen Victoria, the public records original of the Act—one of only two—will comprise, as Mr. Hawke said, and as quoted by the Solicitor-General, "a trinity of documents" which Mr. Hawke described in the article in The Times as his nation's "birth certificate". A big country needs a birth certificate in three parts.
It would be churlish of me to comment unduly on the difficulties that were placed in the way of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and his supporters from all parties, but the letter from the Cabinet Secretary 1228 would provide unchallengeable material for those who write the scripts for the "Yes Minister" programme. It is right to say:All's well that ends well",and I am sure that the cutting of the Gordian knot to overcome the difficulties owes a great deal to the Lord Chancellor who, I suspect, may have said in the face of the paraded and apparently insuperable difficulties, "Up with this I will not put."
Of course, in recent years our relationship with Australia, particularly in economic matters, has changed. Not unnaturally, Australia has become more and more involved in its Pacific and Asian role. Nevertheless, the steady flow of young people who come from the other end of the world to spend a few years with us and in the rest of Europe, before returning to their own land, continues unabated. I suspect that the flow has increased. In the summer months the accent of Australia's young is heard in all sorts of activity, supporting themselves before moving on to other parts of Europe. What always strikes me is the warmth of their welcome and their closeness to people wherever they find temporary work. I wish all those young people happiness and joy during their stay with us. When they go home, having seen much of this part of the world, they will return with their ancestors' ties re-established on the basis of their own experience.
We noted with pleasure that 2 million visitors have seen the Act while it was on temporary display. We noted, too, the intention to give it pride of place in the museum of political history planned for the old Parliament house in Canberra.
I had two questions to ask but one has already been answered by the Solicitor-General. First, what thought has been given by the Government to possible requests from other Commonwealth countries? It seems inevitable that such requests will be forthcoming. My second question was about how Australia and the Government would mark the unique occasion of the formal passing over of responsibility for the Act, despite the fact that it is in Australia now. I welcome very much the announcement that the opportunity will be taken to pass over the Act when the Lord President visits Australia. That will be appropriate. I am sure the Opposition will seek to expedite the passing of the Bill to ensure that it receives Royal Assent in good time.
§ Mr. Churchill (Davyhulme)
Let me congratulate the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris)—I almost said "my right hon. Friend", because he is the friend of so many of us on both sides of the House—on conceiving and promoting a Bill which will ensure that, for the first time, Australia has one of the two original copies of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900. It is amazing that that was not done at the time, and that 90 years should have been allowed to pass before Australians could have a copy of their birth certificate. However, as the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) said, it is a case of "better late than never". The Bill will receive a warm welcome in all quarters of the House. It is appropriate that our sister legislature in Canberra should possess one of the two original documents.
Last week I had the privilege of visiting the beaches of Gallipoli on ANZAC day, on the 75th anniversary of the Dardanelles landings, with which my family was 1229 associated in no insignificant manner. There I had the opportunity of meeting some of the British and Australian veterans of that great campaign, and the Australian Prime Minister, Mr. Hawke. I can tell the House that the fellow feelings between our countries are as strong today as they have ever been.
It was at Gallipoli on that immortal day that the young men of Australia and New Zealand, by their deeds and sacrifice, demonstrated their nationhood. If the document that we are arranging to be passed over to Australia marked their birth certificate, it was ANZAC day on the Gallipoli beaches that represented their coming of age.
Let me express to the people of Australia and New Zealand the gratitude of the people of Britain for the courage and the sacrfice of the ANZACs, who fought at Britain's side in two world wars. This historic document goes from the House to the people of Australia with our gratitude and affection.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
I am grateful for the kind references made to me in earlier speeches. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) and the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) were extremely generous.
This important Bill—which naturally I warmly welcome—has an interesting history. As the House knows, it succeeds a Bill that I drafted to secure for the people of Australia one of the two original copies of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900. As has been explained by the Solicitor-General, one of the original copies is the British Parliament's own record of its proceedings; the other is the property of the Public Record Office.
My Bill, which would give the people of Australia an oiginal copy of their constitution Act, was given its First Reading on 12 February. The measure had its origin in the visit to Britain last June of the Australian Prime Minister, when Bob Hawke addressed the ANZAC group of hon. Members and peers in a Committee Room. He spoke with deep feeling, clear sincerity and eloquence about the importance to the Australian people of having an original copy of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900. He asked me, as chairman of the meeting and of the ANZAC group, to do whatever was possible to secure a copy for Australia.
After many representations from Canberra, over a long period, Bob Hawke had also raised the issue with the British Prime Minister during his visit last June; but it remained unresolved due to problems in meeting Australia's request which, to the British Government, seemed insurmountable. He had been told that the Act's importance to Australia was widely recognised in Britain but that, although the Government here had sympathy with Australia's position, no way of meeting it could be found.
Having promised on behalf of the ANZAC group that we would do our best to help, I sought to find out more about the problems that stood in the way of acceding to Australia's request. I did so by writing to Sir Robin Butler, Secretary to the Cabinet and head of the home civil service, 1230 who I knew to have been involved in exchanges about attempts to find a mutually satisfactory solution to the problems involved.
In a letter of 3 August last from Sir Robin, I was told that to give Australia the British Parliament's copy would require an unprecedented affirmative vote of both Houses, and that to allow the Public Record Office's copy to be permanently loaned, or given as a gift, would require legislation. Sir Robin went on to say, in his letter to me, that to give Australia either of the two copies would lead to claims from other Commonwealth countries for copies of their own constitution Acts, and that in the case of the Public Record Office's copy it would beinconsistent with the Public Records Act since, as a result of passing the document out of our jurisdiction, the Lord Chancellor would have no effective control over the facilities for its preservation and use as he is required to have by the terms of the Act.He predicted "spirited resistance" if the copy held by the Clerk of the Parliaments was released, and told me that the Government had proposed to the Australians that they should have an "Exemplification of the Act" of which he said:The Government considers that this would be entirely suitable for display in the way proposed by the Australian Government and, in view of the difficulties in the way of making either of the original copies of the Act available to Australia on a long-term basis, hopes that they can be persuaded to give further consideration to this proposal.Although discouraging, the Cabinet Secretary's letter was helpful to me in summarising the range and nature of the problems then preventing Ministers from meeting Australia's request for an original copy of what has been described in The Times as its Magna Carta. At least I now knew that legislation would be necessary to break the deadlock and that it would need not only to take account of all that Sir Robin Butler said to me in his letter, but also spirited parliamentary support.
The drafting of my Bill took particularly into account the Cabinet Secretary's point about the "floodgates" effect of meeting Australia's request. This was achieved by use of a preamble to the Bill and Sir Robin's point about the preservation and use of the document was also met—not that I had any doubt that an original copy of their own constitution Act would be treated any less carefully or with less concern for its long-term preservation by Australians that it would be here in the United Kingdom. The list of sponsors of my Bill, when it was published, also made it clear that the Bill had the support of senior representatives of every party in the House and that, given a free vote on the legislation, there could be no shadow of doubt that it would be approved.
After publication of my Bill, I had discussions about it with the Lord Chancellor in the company of the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body), who is a vice-chairman of the ANZAC group. We were both deeply impressed by Lord Mackay's concern to move speedily, when consulting about the Bill, all the interests involved; and we were completely satisfied that he would help in every way possible. Lord Mackay is a firm, true and enduring friend of Australia, and quite clearly, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) agrees, today's outcome owes much to his readiness to look anew and positively at the case for the legislation that we were seeking. With all my fellow sponsors, I am most grateful to him, and to the Leader of the House of Commons for all his help at a subsequent meeting with me.
1231 His Excellency Doug McClelland, the Australian high commissioner in London and his staff at Australia house, were continually helpful to me and my fellow sponsors. They have both my appreciation and congratulations on the now successful outcome of all their efforts to resolve a problem that has been with them and their predecessors for years. They can take pride both in what they have achieved and in the very high regard in which they are held on both sides of both Houses of Parliament here.
Doug McClelland may remember that, in jocular conversation with Bob Hawke after his request to the ANZAC group, I said that in exchange for an original of the constitution Act I would like a copy—any old copy—of Australia's parliamentary pensions Act, which is much admired by parliamentarians here. I now have to say, as chairman of the managing trustees of our parliamentary contributory pensions fund, that I have already received a copy of their Act—I hope that the Leader of the House will have had one too—and thus the sooner we pass this Bill, the better!
The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act is, as we have heard, a fundamental part of Australia's history. The Act represents the transition of the Australian constitution from a set of ideals, put together by the fathers of the Australian Federation—rather than being developed and imposed by Britain—to the legal and constitutional embodiment of Australian nationhood.
The importance to Australia of having an original copy of the document is illustrated by the popularity of the Public Record Office's copy while on temporary loan to Australia. As the House has heard, since being housed in the new Parliament house in Canberra, some millions of visitors have been to see the document. Currently under consideration is a proposal that the original part of the old Parliament house in Canberra, which is to be preserved, should become a constitutional museum for public enjoyment and educational purposes, and it is proposed that Australia's original copy of its constitution Act will now be the central feature.
The arguments put to me against allowing the Australians to have an original copy of their constitution Act ignored the fact that in no other Commonwealth country was there a referendum before the British statute for its constitution could become law. It is therefore as much an Australian as a British document. Again, unlike the arrangements in other comparable Commonwealth countries, amendment of the Australian constitution has always been purely an Australian process both in initiation and in execution.
No other Commonwealth country had such a dominant say in the form taken by the imperial Act conferring its constitution. The only British input was at a meeting in London of the then British Prime Minister with the premiers of the states—then the colonies—during the diamond jubilee celebrations of 1897; the subsequent provision of some legal advice on the drafted provisions by the Crown's Law Officers in this country; and the relatively small changes made by the British Parliament after negotiation with Australian leaders.
This makes Australia's position unique in terms of the status of its constitution Act, and for us now to legislate to pass one of the original copies of the Act to Australia ought not, therefore, to be seen as a precedent for others to follow. On that point—one of clear importance in Sir Robin Butler's letter to me—I can assure the House that since my Bill was published in February, although it has 1232 received wide attention abroad, I have seen no suggestion that giving Australia an original copy of its constitution Act will be used as a precedent for other countries to follow.
There will now be a wholly felicitous outcome to the Australian Prime Minister's request to the ANZAC group last June. What is happening in the House today demonstrates that very unusual things can still happen when parliamentarians work together to try to solve even the most insoluble problems. I know that right hon. and hon. Members, in all parts of the House, will act as one in giving a Second Reading to the Bill. By doing so we shall be giving great pleasure to the Government and people of Australia who, as the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) said, in war and peace have been and remain among the most steadfast friends of the British people. We shall also be further improving Anglo-Australian relations by acceding to Australia's wholly reasonable request for an original copy of the Act which, as the House has heard, is the legal and constitutional embodiment of Australia's nationhood. There has been immense change in Australia since the Act was passed, but it is now, and will ever be, a document of enormous importance to all Australians.
Finally, I must acknowledge with appreciation the Government's timing of the First Reading of the Bill. That it was timed, in keeping with my request, for ANZAC day on 25 April—a day so very important in Australia—was extremely well received both by the Australian high commission in London and in Australia. My hope now, like, I am sure, everyone else who has been involved in the long-running consideration of its important purpose, is that the Bill will pass quickly into law.
In that regard, I have one brief, concluding point. Such is the length of time that it has taken to obtain for the people of Australia an original copy of the 1900 Act, perhaps to repay them with interest the Solicitor-General could have a third copy made for Australia of the Act that this Bill will soon become. I have great pleasure in commending the Bill to the House.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stafford)
One or two coincidences have occurred in relation to the Bill, not least that the Chair on which you are sitting, Madam Deputy Speaker, is a gift of Australia. To that extent, this is a quid pro quo: we are giving back to Australia that which is rightfully hers.
Last year, with the assistance of the high commissioner, Doug McClelland, I arranged, as secretary of the Lords and Commons cricket team, for us to play a most distinguished team from Australia, which we greatly enjoyed. One of the patrons and presidents of that team is Bob Hawke, the Prime Minister of Australia, who is a member of a club of which I am a somewhat unimportant member, Vincent's club in Oxford. Sir Robin Butler is also a member of that club. I hope that those interested in these matters will agree that a Bill of this importance and significance has some anecdotal interest.
It is highly appropriate that we should give the Bill a Second Reading today because we owe much to Australia and to the Australians who fought with us in the war. I speak as one whose father was killed in Normandy fighting with Australians in that great endeavour between 1940 and 1944. I say that with all the depth of feeling that I can command.
1233 As we are now moving into a new era in Europe, we must remember the relationships that we have with our friends in the Commonwealth, and that the day must not come when Magna Carta becomes part and parcel of an Act such as this deposited in Brussels.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)
Perhaps I should declare an interest in the debate. First, half my family live in Australia and, secondly, I hope to visit the Commonwealth of Australia later this year but not, I hope, at public expense.
On my last visit in the 1970s, I was asked by a distinguished Officer of the House to convey a personal message to his opposite number in one of the state legislatures. My call at that Parliament building coincided with the dramatic announcement of the retirement of the premier of that state. The inevitable interviewer on the steps of the building jabbed his microphone at my mouth and invited me to make a profound comment on the shock announcement, as he called it. It was such a delicate matter that any comment from me on the premier's decision was bound to cause offence. I kept a straight face and explained that I had had a tip-off and had just flown from London to lodge my application for the job and expressed my hope that the assembled press men would support my nomination.
I thought that the stunned silence that enabled me to make my escape was the last that I would hear of it, but to my horror the next morning I discovered that an enterprising young journalist from one of the local newspapers had produced the headline, "Dark horse enters race for premiership."
On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I will warmly support the Bill on Second Reading and throughout the rest of its passage. An uncle of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) served with Australians at Gallipoli. My hon. Friend was one of the sponsors of the Bill introduced by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). I warmly congratulate the right hon. Gentleman and the sponsors on their initiative.
The right hon. Member for Wythenshawe said that the Act is as much an Australian as a British document. I agree, but naturally, for understandable reasons, it is regarded as far more significant and precious by Australians.
We are grateful to the Solicitor-General for explaining with much clarity, as usual, the background to the debate. We welcome his decision to avoid delay in implementing the Act when it has received Royal Assent.
The Australian Prime Minister has been generous in his remarks regarding those who smoothed the way for today's debate. Many of us who are privileged to know the present Australian high commissioner assume that he played a vital role quietly in bringing the arrangements to fruition. The Commonwealth of Australia is well served by that distinguished public representative in London.
The permanent transfer will mean much to older generations of Australians, but will have a separate meaning for younger Australians, because it will remove from their minds any impression that the United Kingdom is a far-away country about which they know little or 1234 which knows or cares little about them. Today's operations and the subsequent developments will, I hope, convince them that we care about them and wish them well in their new nation on the other side of the globe.
§ Mr. Neil Hamilton (Tatton)
I have been an hon. Member for seven years, and for six of them I have been secretary of the Australia-New Zealand parliamentary group. I can say with complete honesty that no title among the few that I hold has given me greater pleasure.
In those six years, little has given me greater pleasure in the House than to have had the closest working relationship with the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), who by happy coincidence is my parliamentary neighbour as our constituencies abut one another. As my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) said, only parliamentary convention precludes me from addressing him across the Floor of the Chamber as my "right hon. Friend." I should like to pay a warm tribute to him for all the work that he has done in the House not only on the Bill but on behalf of Australia, for which he has been signally rewarded by the Australian Government, who honoured him last year. I am sure that all hon. Members recognise that, in this Chamber, he is Australia personified.
This is one of the Government's most successful privatisation measures. I hope that it does not cause any difficulties for the right hon. Gentleman. However, as the Australian Labor Government are enthusiastic privatisers, I should not think that it will cause him any difficulty. I am delighted that it is one of the pieces of Government legislation that has given rise to complete unanimity. I hope that that will be followed in all other measures that they introduce.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris
The hon. Gentleman knows that one of my great fears is that the Government may even try to privatise the Public Record Office. I hope that there will be some assurance on that important question before the debate concludes.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I shall not be drawn into any controversy during this debate, but I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman's point will be well taken.
One of the least satisfactory aspects of our membership of the European Community has been the tendency of some Commonwealth countries, especially the older ones such as Australia, to take our growing and closer interests in Europe as betokening a loss of connection with or interest in Commonwealth countries. I am delighted that, today, we have an opportunity to declare to all the world that we value our continuing links with Australia—not only the friendly and diplomatic links, but the family and blood links mentioned by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux).
As years go by, it is important that we work at remembering the historical connections and cultural identities that still bind our countries together. It is more than 200 years since the American colonies severed their links with the British Crown, but we still like to think that we have a special relationship with them. We certainly have a special relationship with Australia. I hope that that will continue for many centuries and that this measure will be one way to cement that.
1235 It was a great pleasure to attend the ANZAC day service in Westminster abbey a few days ago. British through and through as I am, it gave me a thrill to sing, with full voice, the Australian national anthem. Although Australia is increasingly a cosmopolitan country, and although inevitably as the years go by the British element in its population will be diluted and the historical connections between our two countries loosened, there will always be a special relationship. It will always give us a shared thrill to sing that national anthem.
Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme, I could not attend the recent celebrations in Gallipoli. However, I was in Istanbul only a short time ago and I made a special journey to the British war cemetry at Uskudar—named after the famous Skutari hospital of Florence Nightingale—where many Australians and New Zealanders are buried. It was a moving moment when I wandered among the gravestones and remembered the vast loss of life on the beaches of Gallipoli. The friendship of our two peoples all those years ago was symbolised on those beaches, and I hope that it will continue to be remembered as a symbol of connection between the two countries.
As a supporter of the original measure introduced by the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe, it gives me great pleasure to reaffirm my commitment to the friendship between our two peoples and to wish Australia well in the future.
§ 5.3 pm
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), who fought so hard for this Bill. I give it my total support. I first met Australians during the last war. I was attached to an RAF camp and I shall never forget the arrival of an Australian squadron. Our cinema was in a Nissen hut and the British officers sat in the front rows, the junior officers behind them, the sergeants and corporals behind them and the rest of us behind them. The Australians arrived, and they sat anywhere. It was marvellous. It was democracy in practice. They did not care whether someone was a leading officer, or an AC2 like me.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
I do not think that it was entirely an operation in democracy. It is a tribute to the intelligence of the Australians to say that they know that the expensive seats are always at the back of the cinema.
§ Mr. Heffer
Whatever their reasons, they took no notice of rank. Our officers were somewhat shocked. I thought that it would be the end of class rule.
It was following that experience that I began to study Australian history. I soon realised that it was our people—southern Irish, northern Irish, English, Scottish and Welsh—who were transported to Australia because they were thieves, dissidents, or people with ideas. They would not just sit down and accept everything that this class-conscious country accepted. They believed in democracy, and it was wonderful.
I learned a great deal from the Australians. They are wonderful people. They have a right to the document. Indeed, they have always had that right. They have a right to their freedom. However, I have always been concerned about the fact that we have turned our backs on them. I am not a British nationalist, although I was born in England 1236 and my relatives go back to the Saxons, but it saddens me to think that we joined the EEC and turned our backs on all those people who I was with during the war—the Australians, New Zealanders, southern Irish, northern Irish, and others from all over the world. That is a shame on this country. I believe in internationalism, but we have a responsibility to those people and they have a love for us, as was shown when they joined us during those war days.
The Australians have a shame on them, too—the fact that they have never accepted the rights of the aboriginal people. I made that point at the time of the bicentennial celebrations when we sent Australia a gift. I was the dissident voice. I said, "Hang on, what about the aboriginals? They have rights, too." The Pope made it clear that he also thought that they had land rights. I certainly think that they have land rights. I say to our Australian friends——
§ The Solicitor-General
I gave the hon. Gentleman an incomplete answer earlier. I now have a copy of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900. Section 51 makes specific mention of the aboriginal peoples. It recognised that their position was already dealt with by the states. It reads:The Parliament shall, subject to. this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to:—The people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws.That means that it was a matter of law for the states in 1900.
§ Mr. Heffer
I am grateful for that information about this important matter. There is no doubt that the mass of Australians have tended to ignore the position of the aboriginals, and that is quite wrong. An interesting book, "The Other Shore", has been written by a man called Hughes. If one reads that, or John Pilger's book on Australia, or watches television programmes about the position of the aborigines, one knows jolly well that there is a problem. I am not saying that it is a black and white problem—nobody should ever say that. There are always problems to which we do not get the full answers. However, aborigines have rights and those rights have been trampled on for a long time.
I am not sure that nowadays I would vote for Bob Hawke. He is a bit like my Front Benchers, who seem to have forgotten what socialism is all about. The Australians argued for socialist rights long before we did. People like Tom Mann went there, came back here, and talked about socialism on the basis of what they had learnt there. Michael Davide, the Irishman, came back from Australia and argued for land rights. He had learnt from the Australians who argued for those rights long before we did. Australia had a Labour movement, a Labour party and democratic rights long before we did. Let us never forget that. We can learn from them as much as they can learn from us.
The Australians are right and we were wrong to be so unforthcoming, but they should not forget the rights of the minority. The aborigines have to be treated equally, whatever and whoever they are. Had the Europeans not gone to Australia, it would not be as it is now, but the aborigines are the original Australians and have rights. They must have those rights and Bob Hawke should not forget that. He should not listen to Murdoch and all the others with their big money. To hell with their money— 1237 what is important is the Australian democracy, for which all Australians have fought. I was brought up on it because I learnt about it as a young lad after meeting Australians in the RAF. I was proud to meet them because they are great people. We are right to support them, but also to tell them that they should give the aborigines every right to which they are entitled.
§ The Solicitor-General
With the leave of the House, I shall draw together this helpful debate in which the view of those who have spoken has been unanimously in favour of the Bill, starting with the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris). He asked whether there might be other requests and, if so, how they would be dealt with. The answer could not have been put better than it was by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) who is a progenitor of the Bill. He explained what a unique occasion this is, and how what is being given—to pick up the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill)—is not a copy of the Act. We are talking not about a copy of a birth certificate but about an original of the birth certificate, which will go to Australia with our full-hearted consent. That is what makes it so unusual and that is why it is the subject of primary legislation which is confined to that document going to that country. Such legislation will not normally be repeated. We do not expect this to become a precedent—it is a unique occasion.
I welcome the comments made by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) and by my hon. Friends the Members for Stafford (Mr. Cash) and for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton). I have mentioned my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme who, like other hon. Members, attended the ANZAC ceremony last week. We all have that deeply moving occasion in mind and it is highly appropriate that we should be having this debate so soon after that occasion.
I have answered the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) and shown that, even back in 1900, the aborigines were specifically mentioned in the Act, an original of which we are about to hand over. It is delightful to find unanimity on that point. If it had a carefully thought out provenance, it is all the better and more valuable as a gift in friendship for that. I commend it to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Patnick.]
§ Bill immediately considered in Committee; reported, without amendment.
§ Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.