HL Deb 19 June 1979 vol 400 cc813-36

2.51 p.m.


My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Kiribati Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Carrington, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, that the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Trefgarne.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Clauses 1 to 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [Interpretation]:


moved the Amendment: Page 4, line 37, at end insert ("other than Ocean Island"). The noble Lord said: I rise to move the Amendment on the Order Paper which is in the name not only of myself, but of the noble Lords, Lord Hylton and Lord Hale, and the noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen and Temair. It is now recognised that grave injustice has been done to the people of Ocean Island. That has been accepted since the judgment of the Vice-Chancellor. I do not propose to revert to actions and incidents which arouse emotions of shame or anger. I shall refer to the basic history of this case only so far as it is relevant to the Amendment—the claim of the Banaban people to self-determination.

Ocean Island was annexed by Britain, without consultation or the consent of the people, when phosphate deposits were found there 79 years ago. Similarly, there was no consultation or consent when, for administrative reasons, and to facilitate phosphate exploitation, the island was added to the Gilbert and Ellice colony in later years. When the Banabans protested against the expansion of the appropriation of land under the Phosphate Commission, which was established to represent the interests of Britain, Australia and New Zealand, they were threatened with the destruction of their villages.

In 1942, there was the war and the Japanese invasion. Most of the Banabans were deported to become slave labour in other islands and the rest of them were murdered. After the war, the Banaban people wished to return home. They were told that this was impossible because of the devastation of their island, and they were persuaded to go to Rabi Island in Fiji—an island bought with their own money. Although they were told that they could not return to Ocean Island, the Phosphate Commission recruited Gilbertese labourers for the mining of phosphates.

In 1947, they were persuaded to sign away the remaining phosphate lands and to continue on Rabi Island. There was a referendum, with one box marked "I shall stay in Rabi" and the other box marked "I shall not stay in Rabi". There was a majority to stay. They were told that it was not practical to return to Ocean Island. They were in a demoralised condition. They had not recovered from the barbarism of the Japanese in the war. When one remembers this event, one should recollect that colonial history is full of such instances where pressure has led to a temporary surrender of rights.

Twenty years later the Banaban people realised that they had been cheated. They remembered how Britain, Australia and New Zealand had benefited heavily from the outflow of phosphate supplies sold at less than world prices. In 1967, the Banabans sent representatives to London to ask for compensation for the destruction of their land and for the phosphate profiteering. They were offered £80,000 for their losses over 79 years, since 1900. Not unreasonably, they rejected that offer. They were advised by their counsel, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, to take the unprecedented step of sueing the British Government and the Phosphate Commission. It was the longest legal trial in history, heard before the Vice-Chancellor, Sir Robert Megarry. His condemnation of the British Government is well-known. He said that Britain had been guilty of grave breaches of trust towards a colonial people. He regretted that his court was powerless to put right wrongs committed by the Crown, but drew the attention of the Attorney-General to them.

The Government then offered £6½ million on a take it or leave it basis. It was again rejected as utterly inadequate compensation for the destruction of their island and for the disproportionate advent- ages to Britain, Australia and New Zealand. Those advantages included subsidies for cheap food for Britain, subsidies for Australian and New Zealand farmers and revenue for the administration of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony, saving Britain from those costs. Another £1 million has now been offered but only for the development of Rabi Island, not for the reconstruction of Ocean Island. Again, it is utterly inadequate.

But I do not want to emphasise the monetary aspects of this problem. They are not the main concern of the Banaban people. They want the right to return to their homeland. It is dear for them in a way which perhaps in Britain, in our urban towns, we do not realise, because it is the scene of the burial of their ancestors. I have been on the edge of land which has been occupied by white farmers with those whose ancestors have been buried there, and I have heard in Africa of the deep sense of spiritual disintegration which is caused because they are divided from the burial grounds of their ancestors.

To the Banaban people, Ocean Island is their spiritual home. It is argued that Ocean Island is inadequate for independence because it has now been so largely destroyed. It is true that 1,154 acres of the 1,500 acres on the island have been forcefully put when we last discussed this matter, both by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and by the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel. I ask: if the island is now so worthless, why are the Gilbertese so anxious to have it, particularly since, in a year or two, the revenues from phosphate mining will disappear? It would be a bold man who said that, even at the present level of devastation of Ocean Island, it cannot be restored. We used to say that the deserts could not be made fertile, but the people of Israel have proved, by water treatment, that this is not the case. I have been to Aden where soil has been brought from India for the officers' headquarters. It would be costly, but soil could be brought to Ocean Island. It is still possible, despite all the devastation, that Ocean Island could be restored.

I turn to the safeguards which have been promised to the Banabans. In 1947, the British Government made a statement of intent which promised that. The Banabans' decision to reside on Rabi Island shall in no way affect any rights to lands possessed by the Banabans on Ocean Island". That pledge was reaffirmed in 1967. It is argued that the safeguards meet that pledge and make it unnecessary for the Banabans to urge their claim. I recognise that these safeguards are unprecedented in their generosity. In another place, the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr. Peter Blaker, quoted my remarks to this effect. He said that for 16 years I had had much experience of these matters. I think he might have said 60!

There is no doubt that the forthcoming Government in the Gilbert Islands will recognise and maintain these safeguards. I paid my tribute to them in my speech on Second Reading. However, these safeguards cannot be guaranteed for all time. I emphasise that the Banaban people are not wanting "safeguards". They stand by the principle of governing their own island.

I conclude with constructive proposals. A settlement is still possible. At the request of the Gilbertese themselves, the Prime Minister of Fiji called a conference at Suva on 22nd May. At that conference, the Banaban people made an extraordinary concession. They had previously asked for association with Fiji because they occupied Rabi Island and because of the support they had received from the Fiji Government. At that conference, the Banaban representatives said that no longer would they seek association with Fiji but instead would seek association with the Gilbertese Government.

At that conference, the Prime Minister made compromise proposals, and the Banaban representatives accepted them. Perhaps I may summarise those proposals. The first was that the Banabans should be self-governing on Ocean Island, which they now call Banaba. The second was that there should be a free association of Kiribati and Banaba—and I emphasise these words—under the overall sovereignty of Kiribati. The sovereignty of the Gilbertese would thus be recognised. The third was that Kiribati should have authority over security, defence and citizenship and that Banaban citizenship rights should be entrenched in the constitution. The fourth proposal was that the Banabans should have authority and responsibility for conducting their foreign affairs and sole jurisdiction over Banaban marine resources. The fifth proposal was that both parties should agree on a mutual sharing of phosphate royalties, and the sixth proposal was that the compact could be terminated unilaterally after three years by either party.

I owe an apology to the Minister. During Second Reading I said that the Banaban people had excluded foreign affairs from their control. I am sorry that I misread a very long document, and I apologise to the Minister. He had every right to be more severe in his criticism of me for my mistake, and I appreciate the courtesy which he showed. He said that it would be ridiculous for 2,500 Banabans to have representation in the United Nations. I agree. Some of the United Nations representation now is ridiculous. I do not believe the Banabans would claim that representation. In wanting control of foreign affairs, I believe that the Banabans are thinking of their relations with Fiji. I am perfectly sure that if further discussions took place, a compromise on that issue could be brought about.

A settlement is now possible, but if this Bill is passed in its present form there will be a fait accompli. The Banabans will be incorporated unalterably, against their will, within Gilbertese independence. The door will be slammed on these hopeful conditions for a settlement. I regret very much that since May, when the Suva Conference was held, the Government have done nothing to try to bring about a solution on these compromise proposals. I did not oppose the suggestion that today we should take all the remaining stages of the Bill, but even at this late hour I ask for some reconsideration so that a settlement can be reached. Even this week members of the Government are meeting the Banaban Council; why should they not bring here also representatives of the Gilbertese? I am perfectly sure that the Prime Minister of Fiji would be ready to come if he were invited to do so.

Lastly, I plead for support for this amendment for the sake of the new independent Government of the Gilbertese. They have a terribly difficult task, to govern 32 islands over 2 million square miles. Their task will be made infinitely more difficult if it begins without a settle- ment with the Banaban people. They will be overburdened by this conflict. A happy solution is still possible and I move my amendment in that hope. I beg to move.

3.11 p.m.


I intend to speak but I do not know whether the Minister would prefer to reply first to my noble friend's most moving and well-informed speech. We have been hearing about a conference on Suva and that there was still chance of some form of agreement. I quite understand the reason why the Government wish to try to proceed with this with due speed. To have the Second Reading on a Thursday night and proceed with the Committee stage on Tuesday—which means that for amendments to get on the Marshalled List they have to be drafted within a minute or two of the conclusion of the debate on Thursday night—and then to table a Motion that all stages should be taken today appears to me to be dubious. But I am a tyro and more or less unknown and I carry no weight in this House—except such weight as is inevitable. If the Minister would prefer to intervene now, I will give way, but, if not, I wish to speak in support of what my noble friend has said and I hope that I shall not detract from an admirably phrased speech.

Since this issue arose, the legislation has taken a number of unprecedented turns. Naturally no one wishes speakers to dwell on what the Vice-Chancellor found in his forthright condemnation of British policy, but it has been extraordinarily difficult to obtain an answer to a question. It has been extraordinarily difficult to get clear information as to what is to happen. We have had anthropologists going round the oceans to decide whether this is a Micronesian or a Polynesian race, or a third race, or whether these people belong to the same race. We have been given all sorts and sizes of information which appears to me to have very little relevance to the matter.

In 1900, there arrived on Ocean Island a solitary person with sufficient knowledge to realise that it was solid phosphate and with sufficient commercial anticipation to know that phosphate was in increasing demand and limited in its major supplies to some few portions of the world. Furthermore, he had sufficient intelligence and engineering knowledge to know that nothing was easier than to take phosphate from an island that was solid phosphate because one had the cheapest transport in the world.

I once had the good fortune to see a place south of the Orinoco where a light aircraft had come down and found a mountain of solid, best quality iron ore. The result of that was that it was acquired by the Iron and Steel Company of America; the entire countryside was altered and, in that case, largely improved. The whole industry and development of Venezuela was altered and increased; massive operations to enable the iron ore to be conveyed by a newly constructed 90-mile stretch of graded rail were put into effect; a new town was built and the immense capital investment necessary to dredge the mouth of the Orinoco was found. Venezuela had a new and modern town with sophisticated Methodist and Wesleyan chapels, Coca Cola and all the resources of modern civilisation. It also had admirably built, excellent houses which were well cared for and, of course, raging inflation, which was inevitable. I believe the mountain has now completely disappeared, but of course other developments have been made in consequence and navigation has been improved.

In this case, we have a little island. Here we have just a lump of phosphate, and at a very early stage the intention must inevitably have been that in the modern world people would go on taking phosphate from the island and carrying it away by ship. In fact, of course, its greatest use was for New Zealand and Australia, whom we were unable to help in the Second World War and who needed that phosphate. They got it at lower than world prices and developed it. The Banabans helped us in that because we were not able to repay the Anzacs for what they had done for us, and any benefit that we could give to Australia and New Zealand in those circumstances was something we should have welcomed and did welcome, and should have appreciated and did not.

I have spent the weekend reading the whole of the debate on this matter in both Houses. In reading the report of the debate in the other place, I learned for the first time one single piece of history which appears to me to be important. In 1915, an Order in Council was made incorporating the Gilbert Islands, or possibly the Gilbert and Ellice Islands —I am not quite sure; what was clearly said was that the island of Banaba was not included in the order. In 1916, someone in London—presumably in the Government—realised that they had not incorporated Banaba and that in a wartime situation it would be better if, in handling this very useful product, it could be incorporated. It was incorporated a year later by Order in Council. Whether or not the Banabans heard very much about it I just do not know. We know that many things did pass without their having much information.

I do not want to repeat here, nor shall I, the horrid story of the threats made to the Banabans to induce them to sign documents. That is to be found by anyone who reads the five and a half day judgment of the Vice-Chancellor. Let us remember what the Vice-Chancellor did say. He said he realised he had no power to give judgment for other than the very much smaller amounts he gave on various separate grounds; he realised it did not normally lie with a judge, even in an investigation like this, to roam too far. I do not profess to be quoting; I am summarizing 20 or 30 pages in a couple of sentences. He also said: "If this were brought as a matter of equity before a court of equity and the words 'Let justice be done' prevailed, then there is ample justice long left undone and this must be put right." And he said: "I am setting out as a matter of history the matters upon which one hopes that the authorities will still do justice."

As your Lordships' know, the offers have been increased, and I understood the Minister in the House of Commons to give a clear and unequivocal undertaking that those offers remained open and that it was for the Banabans to accept their financial compensation. If they do—we are told it is open for them at any moment to do so—and if the Minister will repeat that assurance in this House (not that one does not rely upon the Minister, but merely because anyone seeking information should not have to read two Parliamentary debates to get it) then that, of course, while it does not meet any one of my noble friend's points—my noble friend has risen rather higher above money than I can in these days—it would at least clear the doubts that we have expressed from time to time. The noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, has worked so very hard on this; he is constantly courteous, but he has had to face a rapidly changing situation. I do not think that assurance has been put forward in this House.

It was said that something like this has never happened before. That, of course, is nonsense. In another place, I think in this place, I raised the question of Saint Kitts-Nevis and the war in Anguilla. I used to say it was the one war in the last 200 or 300 years in which my old regiment did not take part. One has seen the changing situation. We read every morning of the deposition of Governments; we read every morning of the occupation of territory; we read, sometimes to my surprise, of the diplomatic recognition of a Government, however good or however useful it might prove, over the corpses of its last Ministers. There is no doubt it is a world in which speed becomes of the essence of every contract. There is no doubt that both Governments have long set their hearts on the 12th July, which is to be graced by the presence of a member of the Royal Family, a very charming tribute to the Gilbert Islands.

My noble friend Lord Brockway has put forward some very reasonable matters, some of which may indeed already be evident. The other thing that was said in the Commons that I had not heard before, which was said with confidence and not seriously denied, was that all through the islands opinion is being manifested in favour of the Banabans, and the feeling is that they have been brushed aside. What happened at St. James' Palace on the question of whether or not they were observers is still apparently a matter of controversy. The Banabans left and said that they were given the role of observers and they had intended to take part. I am told that the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, made it clear that that was not so, and that he did his utmost, as he has all the time done everything possible, to try to secure agreement. But the so-called constitution was framed in the absence of the Banabans. My noble friend has also touched on something that impressed me very much, which I will therefore venture to repeat. The Banabans left their own island in the middle of the last war. They had been subject to sporadic raids. Their people were becoming dispersed. People from Ocean Island were being settled in other islands. Some had been taken prisoner to Japanese dependencies on forced labour. They were a diminishing number. They were escorted under British care to Rabi in the Fijis, where they could become part of a reasonably safe community. It was not a terribly effective island at that time. Various opinions have been expressed. But in that situation about 150 Banabans remained on the island. In the latter half of 1942 the Japanese came, the British had to abandon the defence, and the Japanese, with the curious exception of one survivor, slaughtered all 150. That was what was left.

The argument is that the deposits are now worked out. At the risk of introducing even one piece of controversy—and I hope that I have not done so up till now—it is a remarkable fact in the Banabans' minds that the phosphates would be taken until there were no phosphates left. It is now common ground that the little that remains is hardly worth working, that the island will hardly support a population and is nothing more than a memorial to the Banaban dead. Of course, it is not necessary to repeat what has been said about the worship of graves in China. Much of the history of the invasions of China arose from alleged acts of the desecration of Chinese graves. In China the worship of ancestors is, of course, part of the belief.

Why do the Gilbertese wish to retain the island empty? What are their proposals? We raised this matter during the First and Second Reading debates in this House when the question of a possible association with Nauru arose. Nauru is, of course, an immense producer, a Commonwealth State and the nearest reasonably situated island which has been taking an interest in the Banabans. People travel from Rabi to Nauru on occasions. However, I have omitted to point out that it was said in another place that Tuvalu now supports the Banabans' case.

The Prime Minister of the Fijis was spoken of with complete respect on every side of the House. The Minister at the time, my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts, paid immense tribute to him while making it clear that he has no right to exercise in the matter because constitutionally he will be under treaty alliance and under trusteeship conditions and indeed perhaps have delegated to him some of the functions which the Gilbertese may not be able to perform. However, certainly following Mr. Luard's visit we know that the Prime Minister of the Fijis spoke with very great strength and force as to the fact that both the Banabans and he had been treated without the consideration for which they had hoped. I am told that he takes that view even today and is still doing some of his service under protest. That, as I see it, is the situation.

My noble friend Lord Brockway, in one of the most moving and most able speeches that I have ever heard him make on these questions, put the situation more ably than I agree with every word that he said. I still cannot see why a few words could not be said today—and I stress "today"—which would change the whole of the present atmosphere, which has improved. I do not see why a few clear assurances cannot be given.

The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, spoke very well and with great clarity last Thursday. I hope that he has been given sufficient authority to give assurances to your Lordships which will enable the matter to proceed. As regards the Question, That the clause stand part of the Bill, there are of course outstanding questions in relation to nationality and so on. I have no particular desire myself to pursue those highly complex matters, if the word is said in season, but I cannot really believe that it is necessary to maintain the attitude: "I am Sir Oracle and when I open my mouth let no man speak".


I should like to make a brief intervention and I apologise in doing so that I was not in my place last Thursday, and did not hear what the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, then said. When I voted last time for the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, I did so with some misgiving because of the constitutional link then being pro- posed with faraway Fiji. Unless the Minister produces some new arguments I shall be very much inclined to support the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, again, with much less hesitation than before because the constitutional link with Fiji is not now in contemplation and because of the compromise now in the process of negotiation. Surely it would be wise not to take all the stages of the Bill today, but to have a Report stage in due course by which time the compromise proposals mentioned might be complete.

3.38 p.m.

The Marquess of ABERDEEN and TEMAIR

I wish to associate myself with what the noble Lord, Lord Hale, said at the beginning of his speech. I am not sure whether I detected rightly a movement or a stirring by the Government Front Bench towards the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. I, being a real tyro in your Lordships' House, as the noble Lord, Lord Hale, characterised himself modestly but wrongly, will certainly not make a long speech.

The amendment deals with a far off island which has been desecrated and whose population has been removed elsewhere —an island of which and a people of whom we now know, or ought to know, a great deal. One of my principal objections to the Bill when it came up in the last Parliament was that it seemed it had to go through without amendment. I hope that is not the case today. The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, on Second Reading and again today explained the circumstances in which he would be prepared to withdraw his amendment and I agree with him. However, if the Bill is not capable of amendment and if it must go through because of an agreement made between parties outside Parliament, by 12th July —incidentally what an extraordinary date in the total circumstances to choose—then my first objection is the passage through this House of legislation to which no amendment can be tolerated.


Is the noble Marquess aware that the Bill went through Parliament or at least through this House last Session, without amendment at all?

The Marquess of ABERDEEN and TEMAIR

Yes, of course, I am aware of that and I said so. I took part in the Division when the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, was in the noble Lord's place.


Why should Parliament have changed its view in just a few short weeks.

The Marquess of ABERDEEN and TEMAIR

I thought that it was wrong then and I think that this Government are wrong now. I have a curious personal reason for being interested in this whole matter. My great great uncle, Sir Arthur Gordon—who was a colonial governor in the 19th century from the full vigour of his thirties until he retired 30 years later—was in Trinidad, Mauritius, Fiji, New Zealand, the Western Pacific territories and Ceylon. To use the stuffy language of 100 years ago, he sought to adopt as his guiding principle that superior persons should not impose their will on inferior persons. It seems to me that that principle is not being observed. After Sir Arthur Gordon retired, secured a peerage and came to your Lordships' House as the first Lord Stanmore, he seemed to forget about those principles, because he was then one of the very few people who knew even where Ocean Island was. I dare say that he advised the knowledgeable gentleman who found that the island was very rich in phosphate. Furthermore, it is no good saying that he did not have a personal interest in it.

I suppose that I should declare an interest, because the first Lord Stanmore's son, the second Lord Stanmore—whom some of your Lordships will remember as Jack Stanmore—in 1957, when he died, left me some money. In the table of his holdings of stock—and I looked at it last night—there it was: a holding of shares in something called the Anglo-French Phosphate Company. I do not know what that is. If money was the point at issue, I would gladly return my modest share of that investment of the Stanmore family in the Anglo-French Phosphate Company. However, quite plainly, what is due to the Banaban people in money terms is very much greater than any small contribution an individual can make in order to salve his conscience and correct the family honour. As the noble Lord, [The Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair.] Lord Trefgarne, said on Second Reading, one cannot rewrite history; as my noble friend Lord Hale indicated, one can put right a wrong.

Finally, if it is necessary for the Bill to pass unamended, as was the situation in the last Parliament, is the Labour Party extending the frontiers of social democracy? —which I understand to be one of its principal objectives. Is this working further towards the freedom of the individual and groups of individuals?—which I understand to be one of the principal items in the prospectus of the Conservative Party at the recent election. I find myself in a muddle; I cannot understand this. Despite what my noble friend Lord Brockway has said, if there is an absolute insistence on concluding the matter today in order to get ready for the celebrations on 12th July, I shall think the less of the Parliament of which I have the honour to be an accidental Member.


Before the noble Lord sits down, I should like to ask him why he referred to the Labour Party. Perhaps he does not realise that there has been a general election and that there has, in fact, been a change of Government.

The Marquess of ABERDEEN and TEMAIR

I do not think that the noble Baroness quite understood what I said. The noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, insisted on rejecting the amendment in the last Parliament, when we had a Labour Government. The Labour Party believes in social democracy. The Conservative Party looks as though it does the same; it believes in individual freedom. That is what I meant.


The cumulation of certain references to my minor role in these important matters before the general election interrupted me leads me to rise. Of course we stand for the expansion of social democracy, for the Gilbertese people as a whole as much as for the Banabans.

3.41 p.m.


I hesitate to intervene in the internal discussions of the party opposite, but it might be to the benefit of your Lordships if, at this point, I put the Government's position and cleared up at least some of the misunderstandings which I think have arisen in your Lordships' minds. This Amendment is, of course, designed to exclude Ocean Island from the new State of Kiribati. Separation of Ocean Island was an issue covered exhaustively in debate when the Bill came before your Lordships in the last Parliament, at which time the noble Lord tabled a similar amendment. The subject was again discussed in the other place and, indeed, during the Bill's Second Reading in your Lordships' House last week.

Banaba has been part of the Gilbert Islands Protectorate since 1900. For over 30 years it was, indeed, the administrative capital of the territory. However this constitutional position may have arisen historically, there is no issue of law between the parties about what it is. But we must face the realities of the situation today. On the one hand, there is the small Banaban community of about 2,500, as has already been mentioned, almost all of whom live on the island of Rabi in Fiji. They demand the separation of Banaba from the Gilbert Islands where since the war only about 100 of them have been living on a rotating basis. The Government are fully aware of the very deeply-held views on this matter. My right honourable friend the Minister of State has already met the Banaban leaders on two occasions and has heard their views at first hand.

On the other hand, we cannot discount nor dismiss—as some people appear ready to do—the equally strong views of the Gilbertese and their Government against separation of the island. However disappointing to the 2,500 Banabans, we cannot override the wishes of successive Gilbertese Governments representing 56,000 Gilbertese. They regard Banaba as an integral part of their territory; in their lifetime it has always been so.

My honourable friend's recent meeting with the Chief Minister of the Gilbert Islands emphasised the overwhelming rejection by the Gilbert Islands Government of separation from Banaba. The assumption of sovereignty by the new State of Kiribati will in no way affect the Banabans' rights in relation to the island, as they have existed since 1945 when they moved from Rabi. Their rights of ownership of the land and their right to live on Banaba—and the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, referred to this—irrespective whether they are Fiji or Kiribati citizens, will be the subject of specially entrenched constitutional provisions. They will have their own island council which, among other things, will have powers in relation to restriction of movement of persons into the island from elsewhere in the Gilbert Islands. They will have the right of appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in respect of any question before the courts as to the infringement of the special Banaban provisions. The Banaban representatives in the Kiribati House of Assembly will have the right of veto over any proposals to amend the special provisions. All these arrangements are set out in the report of the Constitutional Conference which was held in November and December last year.

Moreover, as I explained in the debate on Second Reading, we have accepted an offer from the Gilbert Islands Government to conclude a treaty—if the Banabans so wish—under which Her Majesty's Government will be ready to use their good offices to secure the special rights of the Banabans within a United Kiribati Republic. I should not perhaps take up more of your Lordships' time in going over all the ground covered in the Second Reading debate and in the comprehensive debates in the last Parliament. However, this Government, like previous Governments, have listened carefully to both the Banabans and the Gilbertese; and this Government, like previous Governments, have reached the conclusion that there is no justification for the separation of Banaba from the Gilbert Islands. Separation will be contrary to our normal British policy and the generally accepted United Nations' principle of respecting existing colonial boundaries and the wishes of the people of the territory as a whole.

Over the years both the Gilbertese and the Banabans have been encouraged to reach their own mutually acceptable solution to the problem, but without success. It would be wrong for this Government to go back on the commitment to give the Gilbert Islands their independence on 12th July on the terms agreed at last year's constitutional conference. The Gilbert Islands have seen their close neighbours in the Pacific in recent years become independent, with their territory intact despite separatist movements in some islands, and with the good wishes and approval of your Lordships' House. They are anxious themselves to achieve their own full nationhood. I hope, therefore, that we will now give them their independence upon the terms that have been agreed.

I must again emphasise that this would not preclude further discussions between the Banabans and the Gilbertese on the future status of Banaba. Indeed, the two parties have already agreed to hold further discussions after independence following their talks under the chairmanship of the Fiji Prime Minister in Suva earlier this month, to which, of course, Lord Brockway referred. The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, if I may now return to his opening speech, referred to the natural, desirable, and wholly admirable aspirations of the Banaban people in connection with their continued rights and privileges on Banaba Island. As I said a moment ago, most of the provisions, indeed all the provisions and requirements which the noble Lord described are in fact entrenched provisions within the constitution, and I believe that his fears in that respect are unfounded.

The noble Lord also referred to foreign affairs. I was glad to hear the correction to the view he advanced at Second Reading. I still have considerable reservations about how they will effectively administer a foreign policy on their own. Nevertheless, the improvement which the noble Lord described is welcome. The noble Lord, Lord Hale, asked me to repeat some assurances given by my honourable friend the Minister of State in the other place. I gladly repeat the assurances that the offers originally made remain outstanding. Indeed, the Banabans met my honourable friend at the end of last week after our Second Reading debate, and I am pleased to say that the Rabi Council said that they wished to accept the offer of 10 million Australian dollars. The method of payment is yet to be agreed, but we understand that the Banabans' financial advisers in Sydney are preparing a scheme for an investment fund, and we welcome this development.


Before the Minister proceeds with this most welcome piece of information, which I am sure will gratify my noble friends, may I ask whether in addition to the 10 million Australian dollars, which was the subject of the ex gratia offer of May 1977, there will also go the million and a quarter or million and a half accrued interest to that sum which also was offered to them in the later stages of my negotiations with them?


I can confirm that interest will be paid on the sum up to the end of 1978. I think that the figure is just about the amount the noble Lord mentioned. The Banabans were informed by the previous Government—no doubt by the noble Lord himself—that interest would be limited up to that date. The present Government have confirmed that that is the position. It is not proposed at present, although we have not closed the door to further discussions, that interest should be paid beyond the end of 1978.

The noble Lord, Lord Hale, also criticised the speed with which the Bill was to be progressed through Parliament. I would remind him of what I said on Second Reading of this Bill, that this matter was first mooted in 1968 by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, who was then Minister responsible for these matters. He declared quite clearly what was the Government policy at that time. Successive Governments have confirmed the policy since that date right up to the present time. We do not think that it would now be right to go back on repeated undertakings that have been given by numerous Ministers holding office in the FCO since 1968. The noble Lord, Lord Moyne, also referred to the speed with which the Bill is to go through the House this afternoon. I would remind the noble Lord that this Bill, precisely as it is before us today, went through your Lordships' House at the end of the last Session, and was extensively discussed then.


Would the noble Lord say the same about the Bill moved by my noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger last week?


That may be so, but there was a narrow Division on the Bill last week, and the matter was certainly contested fiercely, resulting in a narrow result, when the same Bill was considered in the previous Session.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. Has not the situation completely changed since we discussed this matter three weeks ago, by the discussions at the Suva negotiations where the Banabans have accepted the overall sovereignty of the Gilbertese? Would not the acceptance of this amendment facilitate negotiations, which could be completed before 12th July?


If the Banabans have accepted the sovereignty of the Gilbertese, then that is all the more reason why the Bill should go through now in the form in which it is before your Lordships. The noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen, also asked me why I was, he thought, so against amendments to this Bill in principle. I am not against amendments in principle; I am just against this amendment. We are not persuaded that this Bill would be improved by the agreement of this amendment. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, will not press it.

3.56 p.m.


I am unconvinced, and will press the amendment to a Division.

Baroness ELLES

Before we go to a Division, may I say just a word to your Lordships, particularly in reply to the comments made by the noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen. Being in the last Session responsible for the Opposition on this particular Bill, I should like to assure the Committee that the major part of my party was certainly in favour of this Bill going forward. It was not a question of changing sides, or changing Governments. On a free vote without Whips there was in the last Session an overwhelming consensus in this House on an amendment to the Bill concerning exactly this same point.

Your Lordships were agreed that the Bill should go forward as it was then, and as I understand it to be in its present state now, in order that the people of the Gilbert Islands should have a chance to get their independence on 12th July. There are very few days left for these islands to prepare their celebration of independence, and I should have thought that it was up to this House to show that we are in favour of these people getting their independence and not putting anything in their way, even to vote on this kind of amendment at this stage of the Bill.

We have obligations under the United Nations Charter. As the noble Lord reminded us, we have to recognise certain democratic principles which, above all, include recognising majority wishes. Nobody is unaware that the peoples of the Gilbert Islands in a massive majority want their independence, and that that is to include the territory of the Ocean Island.

I would ask your Lordships to reject this amendment not only on the debate that has ensued today and at Second Reading but also because of the undertaking of, as we were then, the Opposition when this Bill was debated in the last Session.

3.59 p.m.

On Question, Whether the amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 25; Not-Contents, 150.

Aberdeen and Temair, M. Fulton, L. Milford, L.
Bacon, B. Gore-Booth, L. Monson, L.
Balogh, L. Gosford, E. Noel-Baker, L.
Blyton, L. Hale, L. [Teller.] Ritchie-Calder, L.
Bowden, L. Hatch of Lusby, L. Thurso, V.
Brockway, L. [Teller.] Houghton of Sowerby, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Hylton, L. Wynne-Jones, L.
Chitnis, L. Kilbracken, L.
De Clifford, L. McCarthy, L.
Abinger, L. Derwent, L. Kings Norton, L.
Aldenham, L. Donegall, M. Kinloss, Ly.
Aldington, L. Drumalbyn, L. Leatherland, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Dulverton, L. Lee of Newton, L.
Allerton, L. Effingham, E. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Alport, L. Ellenborough, L. Lloyd, L.
Amherst, E. Elles, B. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.
Ampthill, L. Elliot of Harwood, B. Long, V.
Auckland, L. Emmet of Amberley, B. Loudoun, C.
Banks, L. Energlyn, L. Lyell, L.
Barnby, L. Evans of Hungershall, L. MacLeod of Fuinary, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Faithfull, B. Marley, L.
Belstead, L. Fortescue, E. Merrivale, L.
Berkeley, B. Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Milverton, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Gainford, L. Mishcon, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Galloway, E. Monck, V.
Bradford, E. Garner, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Geoffrey-Lloyd, L. Netherthorpe, L.
Burton of Coventry, B. Gladwyn, L. Norfolk, D.
Byers, L. Glenkinglas, L. Northchurch, B.
Cairns, E. Gordon-Walker, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Camoys, L. Goronwy-Roberts, L. O'Hagan, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Gowrie, E. Onslow, E.
Cathcart, E. Grantchester, L. Pargiter, L.
Clancarty, E. Granville of Eye, L. Peart, L.
Clwyd, L. Greenhill of Harrow, L. Pender, L.
Cockfield, L. Hall, V. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Cole, L. Hanworth, V. Porritt, L.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. Harris of Greenwich, L. Rankeillour, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Hatherton, L. Redcliffe-Maud, L.
Cottesloe, L. Hawke, L. Redmayne, L.
Cranbrook, E. Henderson, L. Reilly, L.
Crathorne, L. Hood, V. Robbins, L.
Cromartie, E. Hornsby-Smith, B. Roberthall, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Hylton-Foster, B. Rochdale, V.
Daventry, V. Ilchester, E. Rochester, L.
Davidson, V. Jessel, L. Roll of Ipsden, L.
De Freyne, L. Kaldor, L. Sainsbury, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Kimberley, E. St. Aldwyn, E.
St. Helens, L. Stedman, B. Vickers, B.
Sandford, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B. Vivian, L.
Sandys, L. [Teller.] Stone, L. Wall, L.
Seear, B. Strabolgi, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Semphill, Ly. Strathclyde, L. Walston, L.
Sharples, B. Strathspey, L. Ward of North Tyneside, B.
Shepherd, L. Sudeley, L. Ward of Whitley, V.
Sherfield, L. Swinfen, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Shinwell, L. Swinton, E. Whaddon, L.
Simon, V. Taylor of Gryfe, L. White, B.
Soames, L. (Lord President.) Torphichen, L.
Stamp, L. Trefgarne, L.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Clause 7 agreed to.

Remaining clause and schedule agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.

Then, Standing Order No. 43, having been dispensed with (pursuant to Resolution), Report received.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Trefgarne.)

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, before we part with the Bill may I wish Godspeed to the Gilbert islanders. I believe that I was the only Secretary of State for the Colonies ever to visit them. I had the good fortune to go to see them on their coral atoll, and I must confess that I never thought that economically they would be able to proceed to full independence. I also had the good fortune to visit Fiji, the Solomons, and the New Hebrides, and in most of those areas there was considerable fear of what would happen when Britain left.

I also wish to pay my tribute to Sir Ratu Maru, the great Prime Minister of Fiji. He is a very outstanding statesman who has done a remarkable job for the Fijians, and who now to a great degree presides over the Banabans whose Rabi Island of course is part of Fiji.

I am sorry that I could not support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Brockway. That was largely because I believe that the 56,000 people in the Gilberts, who have stressed that they require and believe that Ocean is part of their territories, have a huge job of work to do now. I do not know how one can grow sufficient food on coral atolls to feed 56,000 people.

The memory of the wholehearted welcome that I received from the people I visited, and the hospitality that they extended towards me, will always remain with me. I hope that some of the fears they expressed to me about what would happen when Britain left will not materialise. I know that if an economy is not viable independence must remain qualified. I hope that the Foreign Office will maintain the closest association with the good people of the Gilberts and will ensure that, while the Gilberts struggle with their economic situation, they will not feel that we have simply washed our hands of them and left them to their fate. I am still unable to believe that economically they can ever be able to sustain themselves without outside help. In wishing them Godspeed I hope and trust that the close friendship that they have always had with us, and the great trust and faith that they have put in us over the years, will not result in their feeling that independence has a cynical tone, that we have merely left them to their fate. In expressing that hope I wish to say how pleased I am to have been associated with them, and I wish them Godspeed.

On Question, Bill read 3a, and passed.