HL Deb 15 March 1979 vol 399 cc760-97

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, 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 Goronwy-Roberts.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Independence for Kiribati]:

On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?


I hope that the Deputy Chairman of Committees will not put questions too quickly. We have been promised a serious discussion, and I find myself at once in something of a Catch 22 position. When my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts announced during the Second Reading of the Bill that a representative of the Government would go out for further discussions, it was not then contemplated that he would go out so soon. However, he went out very soon. Then a Private Notice Question was asked as recently as last Tuesday by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I apologise to the noble Lord for not having given him notice that I was going to mention his name, but it would have been ridiculous to do so in view of the fact that he sits on the Front Bench and knows about everything before I do. It is quite impossible to give notice to Back-Benchers when a Private Notice Question is to be asked. One of the reasons for asking such Questions is urgency, so one cannot give notice to Back-Benchers. The result is that I walked into the Chamber and heard a Private Notice Question being asked about the recent visit of Mr. Evan Luard to Rabi Island to pursue discussions primarily with the Banabans and with other interested parties, about which we have had very little information and some confused newspaper reports.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, put four questions in one, apologising gracefully for doing so. One or two other questions were also put. Unfortunately, while a former Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies who had visited Ocean Island while he was a Minister in the Labour Government was on his feet, my noble friend the Leader of the House intervened. He always performs his functions with the utmost possible courtesy and geniality, but sometimes he has to intervene as Ayatollah, and take diciplinary measures. He is apt to find that in the course of his battues the birds always fall behind his back—a somewhat unusual exercise, and one understands it. One does not want to be craning one's neck all the time. I had to look at Back-Benchers to find out whether they wanted to speak. My noble friend Lord Shinwell, at the age of 95, always seems to get over these difficulties with aplomb and with success. We then began to wonder how we could have a full discussion of the matter during the Committee stage. There are only half a dozen clauses and most of them, however important, provide no details for discussion.

My noble friend Lord Brockway tabled an Amendment to Clause l and then decided—on the whole, I think, sensibly—that it was pursuing a somewhat unproductive aspect of the matter, and therefore I had hoped that it might be possible to persuade the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, that we should have a fuller and wider discussion in which we should be able to present our views on Mr. Evan Luard's visit and on the Banabans' obvious and manifest determination that they wanted their home back.

There has been a good deal of confusing information on this. I am not suggesting that it has come from the noble Lord but I do think he is taking the attitude that this is a good Bill and he does not want it to be interfered with. Of course, if the Banabans were not included there is no doubt that would be a major Amendment, and I know that my noble friend Lord Brockway has tabled an Amendment to a later clause which would have that effect. I rather think that the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, is going to say that we can have a full discussion on the later Amendment and if that be so I have no very special desire to pursue the matter, but perhaps I may just say two or three words now.

My noble friend was mentioning the question of entrenched clauses, and entrenched clauses were part of what Mr. Luard went to put forward. I listened attentively during the fairly full Second Reading debate and I ventured to say that I was a little apprehensive, on previous precedents, about going over to have a discussion unless there was something radically new to discuss. Mainly, Mr. Evan Luard went over to discuss two or three propositions, all of which looked attractive on paper but all of which, however, would take place only if this Bill including Banaba in the new Commonwealth State of Kiribati were passed. Indeed, he has always said that in his opinion this is a very good Bill, that he wants it to be passed as soon as possible and that it would be easier to deal with some of the problems afterwards.

There is not a Member of this House who does not know that whichever Government is in power, promises made in futuro to be fulfilled after an Act has been passed putting an end to any legislative process, are apt not to be fulfilled. Often it is not the fault of the Government. We were responsible for the security of Banaba and a world war put an end to it: one could hardly expect the Government to try to defend Banaba when we were not even in a position to send forces to Australia to defend that country, facing the possibility of invasion for the first time. Perhaps that was saved in the end by the vigilance of the indigenous inhabitants.

The second point I wish to make is that entrenched clauses have never worked—in fact entrenched clauses cannot work. I remember going through the South Africa Act of 1908 and anyone who likes to read that debate as a matter of curiosity will find that every British Minister and almost every British speaker in that debate, speaking with obvious and manifest sincerity, said that they had received assurances and that they had to neglect any attempt to protect the vast majority of indigenous inhabitants of the territory who were not so well educated or so well trained as the European inhabitants. They went on to say: "We have received the most abundant assurances that these people will make a steady and progressive advance to full freedom and equality within a reasonable period". That was 71 years ago. The situation today in that respect is little different. There was, of course, the matter of Angola.

I will not pursue the matter and perhaps I should apologise for even pursuing it so far. I am sure that my noble friend would not now contest the fact that the Banabans have pursued this love, this desire, this passion to go back to Ocean Island and that today it is the dominating motive of them all. For this reason or that, they have never taken part in any of the material discussions about this question. The promised meeting with Commonwealth Ministers was never held. The only thing that occurred was an agreement in 1947, which was reviewed in the long judgment of the Vice-Chancellor, who of course found that there was a voluntary agreement, and there was no option but to do that because there was no evidence to the contrary. But he wondered how the Banabans had been persuaded in 1947—which was a difficult year—to accept agreements which were so obviously detrimental not merely to their wishes but to their interests. They had granted mining rights to a phosphate company for this whole period. In the general discussion I should like to refer more fully to Mr. Luard's visit and what has transpired.


Perhaps I may intervene briefly and say I am most grateful to my noble friend for what he has said. He is quite right of course: there will be ample opportunity to discuss the matters which he has mentioned now in relation to the Amendment to Clause 7 tabled by my noble friend Lord Brockway. If I may try to assist the Committee I suggest that we might take the clauses of the Bill seriatim in the normal way until we come to Clause 7, which is the clause at issue, and then when my noble friend Lord Brockway, moves his Amendment we can have the fullest discussion of the issues which I know a number of noble Lords, like my noble friend Lord Hale, wish to raise during this Committee stage.


I do not want in any way to pre-empt the Amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, but perhaps I may just welcome some remarks which were made by Mr. Evan Luard in another place on 12th March. First, he said that the matter of Ocean Island is at the present time the responsibility of the British Government. He went on to say that, in the final resort, decisions on this matter rest with this Parliament. It would appear that when he was sent on this last-minute visit to the Pacific his instructions and terms of reference were very limited indeed, with the result that he was not able to come back with any solution to the problem.

It appears also that Mr. Luard will be reporting in greater detail to Her Majesty's Government, and I would express the hope that he will go very much beyond his instructions in that report, because while it may appear that we are dealing with the affairs of one single parish I do believe it is very important that this Parliament gets the matter right. If the Government will not listen to the voice of the Banaban people, how can they possibly expect the Government of Guatemala to listen to the voice of the people of Belize? How can they expect the Government of Argentina to listen to the voice of the people of the Falkland Islands? How can they expect the Government of Spain to listen to the voice of the people of Gibraltar?


I hesitate to intervene once more, and perhaps hold up the proceedings of the Committee, but I do appreciate everything that the noble Lord has said. I would hope very much to listen to all views on this matter when the time comes for the Amendment which is utterly pertinent to this point. In order to ensure that we have ample time to discuss that important Amendment, I would suggest that we deal first with the first six clauses, which are very much common form, in the usual manner of your Lordships.

Clause 1 agreed to.

The PRINCIPAL DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Lord Greenwood of Rossendale)

I think it would probably be for the convenience of the Committee if we took Clauses 2 to 6 together

Clauses 2 to 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [Interpretation.]:

4 p.m.

Lord BROCKWAY moved the Amendment: Page 4, line 37, at end insert ("other than Ocean Island").

The noble Lord said: I rise to move my Amendment to Clause 7. I have given very careful consideration to the plea made by my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts in the exchange of questions on Monday, but I feel that the issue raised in my Amendment is one of such deep principle that I can do no other than press it today. I want frankly to recognise that, within the acceptance of becoming a part of the new Gilbert State, the Government have done everything to maintain Banaban interests. In all my knowledge of colonial history I have not known such concessions as were announced by Mr. Luard on his recent visit: first, an island council for the Banabans; second, an international commission to keep the situation between Banabans and Gilbertese under review; and third, a treaty between Gilbert State and one or more powers to safeguard the rights of Banabans. I suspect that these quite unprecedented provisions in the independence of any country were largely due to the contribution of my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts. I want to pay tribute to him, not only for his dedication but for the skill with which he elaborated these new undertakings.

But I want to say this. The fact that the Banabans have declined the comprehensive safeguards proposed emphasizes how unswervingly they hold to the conviction that they cannot become a part of Gilbert State. I think Mr. Luard when he met the Banaban Council had no doubt about that. I do not propose this afternoon to recount the unhappy story of the Banabans. It was recorded by the vice-chancellor in the High Court of Chancery and it is there as an historic judgment. I propose to deal only with the constitutional issues raised by the Amendment. This means a brief historical reference. Until recently there has been no consultation with the Banaban people about their future and their fate. When the Gilbert Islands and the Ellice Islands became a part of the British protectorate in 1892 it was with the agreement of the indigenous peoples. Ocean Island was not included in this protectorate.

The Banabans remained an autonomous community until 1910. When in that year, because of the discovery of phosphate deposits, Ocean Island was annexed by the British Government as a colony, this was done separately from the Gilbert and Ellice Islands protectorate. The constitutional failure which persisted began. There was no consultation with the Banabans about their loss of independence. I repeat, Ocean Island was not included in this protectorate. Annexation was in 1910, and then there was no consultation with the Banabans about their loss of independence. In November, 1915, after their representatives had been consulted and agreed, the Gilbert and Ellice protectorate was ceded to the Crown as a colony. Ocean Island still was not at first included, but a few weeks later, in January 1916, Ocean Island was made a part of the colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. Again, that was done without any consultation with the Banaban people.

During the Second World War the Japanese occupied Ocean Island and its people suffered forced labour and mass executions. At the end of the war, because of the mining operations which were devastating Ocean Island, the Banabans who remained alive agreed to make Rabi Island in the Fijis a second home. But they did not give up their right to return to Ocean Island. In 1947, the British, in a Statement of Intentions, recognised the Banabans' ownership of and right of residence on Ocean Island. I wish to pay tribute to the sincerity and hospitality of the Fiji Government and their people. Because of that, the Banaban people themselves have willingly become Fijian citizens.

An opportunity of a settlement was missed in 1975. On the invitation of the Gilbertese Government, the Banabans and the British Government, the Prime Minister of Fiji brought together Gilbertese and Banaban representatives. They both agreed that there should be a meeting of all concerned, including the Governments of Britain, Australia and New Zealand—as partners in the British Phosphate Commission—to discuss not only finance but also the constitutional future of Ocean Island. That meeting was never held. The Governments of Britain, Australia and New Zealand did not respond. The reason why the initiative failed is not clear.

The exploitation of the phosphate deposits in Ocean Island will be finished in two years. The Banabans have begun to return to the island with the colossal task of restoring an island which has been reduced to ashes from one of fertility and beauty. Against their will the British Government and the Gilbertese have now decided that Banaba shall become a part of the new Gilbert State. I acknowledge that this time there have been discussions, but only within the imposed decision which the Banabans in principle reject.

During our debate on the Commonwealth I said that I did not think it was possible for small islands to have valid independence. The Banabans do not propose separate independence. Instead, they propose that they should become an associated State of Fiji, with which they have such happy relations. The objection is raised that Fiji is 1,400 miles away while the Gilbert Islands are only 200 miles away. But distance has not been regarded as an obstacle to association. Cook Island in the Pacific is 2,000 miles away from New Zealand, but Cook Island has been satisfactorily administered as an associated State. Much greater distances have divided Britain from its associated States in the Caribbean.

I suggest that the separation of Ocean Island from the Gilberts is as desirable for the Gilbertese as it is for the Banabans. It will be disastrous for the new Gilbert State if it is confronted, at the beginning, by the resistance of the Banaban people on Ocean Island. All of us wish the new Gilbert State well. Its independence is not due to begin until July. I submit that there is time for discussion to resolve the problem.

In a letter to my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts, the Prime Minister of Fiji has expressed the hope that it is not too late for the British Government, to consider pursuing further dialogue with and between the Gilbertese and the Banabans in order to reach a Pacific solution which is acceptable to all". I profoundly hope that the British Government will respond to that suggestion. I hope that not only for the Banabans, not only for the Gilbertese, but for peace in the Pacific as a whole. That will be impossible if Ocean Island is now included in this Bill. I beg to move.

4.7 p.m.


I have not spoken in your Lordships' House for some time and I certainly had not expected to speak this afternoon. However, in the light of the Bill and the speech that my noble friend Lord Brockway has made, I hope that I may be allowed to say a few words because, as a former Minister of State in the Commonwealth Office, I was not only involved in the Banaban problem and understood to a great extent their feeling at the loss of what they regard as their homeland—Ocean Island—but have been to the beautiful island of Rabi within the Fiji group and have had many dealings with the leaders of the Banaban people.

I recommend to your Lordships that the Amendment should not be accepted, for a different reason from questions of the past and the fully understandable attitude of the Banaban people towards what they see as their homeland. I do not believe that anyone who went to Ocean Island today, after the devastation of the phosphate extraction, could possibly conceive that that island could be anything other than a name. It certainly does not in any way offer a home for the Banaban people.

I appreciate that the reasons why Ocean Island was brought within the Gilbert and Ellice Islands were administrative, and in later years, of course, the earnings from the extraction of phosphate from Ocean Island were a major contributory factor to the way in which successive Governments and successive Secretaries of State of the Colonies sought to raise the standard of living of the people within the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. I am sure that no Secretary of State who has had any responsibility for those islands could in any way feel at rest in his mind, not only about what was achieved but about the future struggles of those two new independent countries, as they will be, as they face their economic future. They are very distant; they have very little to offer. One is very concerned—as I am sure is my noble friend Lord Brockway—about the sort of future that, as a consequence of education, will be available to the young of those two new countries.

I ask the Committee not to accept the Amendment of my noble friend for a completely different reason. The Banaban people were brought to the island of Rabi immediately after the war, when they had been dispersed by the Japanese. A decision was taken that they should be brought together and should be found an island home. I simply say to my noble friend that I cannot remember a more lovely island than the island of Rabi, with its extraordinary potential, particularly from the sea. Fish and lobsters are there for the gathering if the islanders are only prepared to direct their energies that way. I do not wish to be critical of my friends, the Banaban people, but on one occasion I was the only person easting a lobster; the rest of my Banaban friends were eating tinned pilchards. I felt that they did not have quite the same appreciation of the quality of life that was available to them.

However, the Banaban people now live on the island of Rabi which is part of Fiji. Their future and the future of their young people is being absorbed within the independent State of Fiji. I think that my noble friend Lord Brockway has already hinted at the extent to which the Prime Minister of Fiji and the various civil servants involved in the structure of that country have gone in order to incorporate Banabans into the life, the concepts and the future of Fiji. So long as Ocean Island remains a festering sore—an abstract aspiration—I do not believe that the Banaban people will seize the opportunities that exist on the island of Rabi or in the independent State of Fiji.

I appreciate the reasons why my noble friend has moved his Amendment, but it is accepted I believe that in the long-term he will not have provided a service to the young and to future generations of the Banaban people. I believe that the only hope of the Banaban people lies within Fiji and in being treated, like all the other varying races that exist in Fiji, as Fijians; and in taking all the opportunities that that wonderful country offers. If I may say so, it is not only one of the most friendly but one of the most democratic of all Governments and peoples. For that reason, and that reason alone, I oppose the Amendment.

The future of the Banabans lies in Fiji, but so long as there is the concept that possibly one day they may return elsewhere, the Banabans will never settle down. They will not contribute to Fiji and I believe that in the end they will be the sufferers of this dream, this aspiration. I wish the Banaban people all success and I have no doubt, having searched my mind many, many times, that their future lies as real citizens, men and women, devoted to the future of Fiji.

4.16 p.m.


I should like to preface the few remarks that I want to make directly on the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, with a statement of a slightly personal nature; however, I think it can be included at this stage. It appears that at least one prominent supporter of the "justice-for-the-Banabans" campaign has so understood my Second Reading speech as to find in it slurs on that campaign, and even accusations of irresponsibility. I have studied what I said and have re-read it until I am sick of the sight of my own words. I am still puzzled and surprised that anything I said came to be interpreted in that way. Nevertheless, it has been so interpreted by an honourable man acting in good faith, and I ask the Committee's permission to put this matter straight. I should like to make it clear beyond doubt that I intended no aspersions on the integrity, sincerity or responsibility of any of the Banabans' advisers. I disagree with some of them over the best future political status for Ocean Island, but that is a matter of opinion. However, my disagreement does not prevent me from greatly admiring the dedication and tenacity of those campaigners.

I shall now turn to the Amendment, and I shall be brief. It is clear that the Banabans are not asking for the obvious impossibility of immediate sovereign independent status; they are asking to be an associated State. However, when we were discussing Dominique and St. Lucia we were reminded that associated States are very nearly independent—they are independent in everything but foreign affairs and defence. We were also reminded that it was always intended that this form of near-nationhood should lead to sovereignty. It seems to me that this is not strictly possible for Ocean Island in the foreseeable future.

If this Committee were to pass the Amendment, it would imply a lack of confidence in the Government of the Gilbert Islands, which would be a very sorry statement to come from this Committee. They have given the most amazing assurances, and despite what the noble Lord, Lord Hale, said—in which, of course, there is an enormous amount of truth—I believe that not to trust the Gilbert Government would be the worst possible way to give independence to the Gilbert Islands. There is also the argument of fragmentation. I shall not elaborate on that because I expect that the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, will touch on it. However, further to fragment a whole political fabric of the Pacific cannot be in the interests of peace and, therefore, cannot be in the interests of the inhabitants.

When I came to list the arguments in favour of the noble Lord's Amendment I could find only one: that it is what the Banaban people want. That is not a negligible argument. But surely we found at Versailles, if not before, that the trouble about elevating self-determination to a sacred principle is simply that it must stop somewhere, and this would seem to me to be self-determination taken ad absurdum. My noble friends on these Benches will vote entirely as they see fit on a free vote. I shall, with a heavy heart, feel compelled to vote against the Amendment.

4.20 p.m.

Lord HOME of the HIRSEL

I wonder whether I might add a word to that which was said by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. Clearly the Amendment moved by the noble Lord was moved in the most honourable spirit and from the highest motives, but I am afraid that I feel exactly the same as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that if we were to go along with the Amendment we should be misleading young Banabans into believing that there is a future for them on Ocean Island. I just do not believe that to be true. I think they must, as the noble Lord said, find their destiny in association with Fiji. Looking ahead for the next 25, 50 years, that seems to me to be the only possible advice we can give to these people. I understand the noble Lord's motives, but I am afraid, if he has a Division, I shall have to go into the Lobby against his Amendment.


I am afraid that the distinguished and respected former Prime Minister, who has just spoken with all the authority of his great knowledge and station, has been possibly misled by some misunderstanding arising from the way my noble friend Lord Shepherd put his case, because he was speaking entirely in favour of our Amendment and entirely against this present Bill. He started with the opening words that the Banabans cannot live on Ocean Island. There is no room there. What is left is a mixed-up mass of chewed-up phosphate and mud, and they cannot live there.

The noble Lord knows so much about this, and he has played an important part in this and made an admirable speech, but not one with which I entirely agree in connection with the previous negotiations. He has not really gathered that if the Banabans cannot live there they have to go on living indefinitely in Rabi. Indeed, that is what he said. They will live in Rabi as part of the Fiji Islands. But this is not a Fiji Island Bill; this is a Kiribati Bill.

In point of fact what the noble Lord has said is realised by the Banabans, and their aspiration is completely supported, and was completely supported, by the Governor of Fiji who, through all this, has been spoken of by everyone who has participated with the utmost respect as a man who is passionately anxious to see justice done and who, following Mr. Evan Luard's visit, made a full statement. I think my noble friend Lord Shepherd must have missed part of the Second Reading debate—and that is not a crime—because we accepted the proposition that Ocean Island must be a terrible mess; that Ocean Island has to have something done. The very valuable suggestion made during that debate from, I think, the noble Lord, Lord McNair (or, if not from him, from the noble Lord behind him who also made a valuable contribution in that direction), was that some help should be given to try to make Ocean Island, or part of it, inhabitable, with perhaps the assistance of one of the adjoining nations to make it so. But for the moment there is no question that the Banabans anticipate going on living under friendly guidance. Let us remember that the island is theirs. Rabi was bought with their money. It was bought out of accumulated funds for their benefit, and the Governor of Fiji does not dispute that at all.

The result is of course that the Banabans say, "Ocean Island is our home. It always was our home. We would like to resettle there. We cannot resettle there if this Bill goes through, because, if one cares to read some of the provisions of the conference, we become Kiribatis." There are elections by Banaba to the ancient advisory council of the people of Kiribati. There are powers for the Kiribati to send people to Ocean Island, and so on.

It is not a question of not trusting the Gilbertese. The Gilbertese have been the victims twice. The Ellice Islands were detached from them, and re-emerged from the ocean as Tuvalu, and Tuvalu is now, we are told, a Commonwealth State. How it became a Commonwealth State, and how it stops a Commonwealth State, I do not know. I apologise for not having taken sufficient interest in that matter. I took an interest in this matter at the last moment. I did not come in as an advocate. I came in because I was asked personally by Sir Bernard Braine to look through the papers impartially, and I did. There are a lot of papers to look through. I tried to make myself familiar with them.

So for the moment it is the Banabans' intention to perhaps send off a detachment to Ocean Island to survey it. In point of fact, they know that they will probably not be able to get on Ocean Island until the phospate is all cleared away. It is not much use starting to make a new island of it until it is cleared away. Phosphate has dominated these discussions from the start. The Banabans have lost £25 million worth of phospate. Offers were made—very generous offers in the circumstances. They lost the case on technical points, but the Vice-Chancellor pointed out the merits of the matter.

I should just like to put my version of two small errors that arise on this. My noble friend Lord Brockway gave a summary of the history of the case nearly to date. I am not correcting him, I am adding two points that were not dealt with but which may be important. I think it was said by the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, and no doubt correctly from his point of view, that Ocean Island was discovered in 1804 by a British ship named "Ocean", and became called Ocean Island. Of course in the ordinary terminology of English history, that is it.

But the Banabans were there. They had been there for 200 or 300 years living on an island paradise in one of the most wonderful, fascinating areas of the world. As I came along today from Dulwich, from Sydenham Hill by British Rail via Victoria via the Tube, after about 70 or 80 days of intense cold, I began to think how wonderful life must have been in those days. They have ample fish. They have not got a varied diet, but I cannot afford to buy fish nowadays and I am very fond of fish.

I have found, living in poverty—I say this quite seriously how little one misses if one systematically gives up the petty luxuries. The Banabans do not have a club and I do not have one now, and I do not miss it. I gave up my dining parties and thought that on the whole I was a dashed sight better off in health, temper and in every other way. The one advantage I have, of course, is that of first-class medical treatment in this country if I need it, and I do, though there is some sort of hospital on Ocean Island which was erected by the phosphate company.

According to the experts, the Banabans have been there since about 1450, although the experts still argue about which particular one of the struggles in the islands drove them there; but there is quite a controversy as to whether they are Melanesian, Micronesian or Polynesian. The one thing they are agreed on is that they are not Gilbertese and never were, and the distance to Ocean Island from the Gilberts makes it quite impossible in those early days for there to have been any relationship.

Ocean Island is their home. One may say it is a rum home and that they have not been there for all these years, but they saw their ancestors, their predecessors, perish—pretty well all of them—and those who escaped from the Japanese dispersed all over the place, and we made the wise provision of buying Rabi for them and letting them settle there. But the Bill does not let them stay on Rabi; it will do precisely the reverse. If they were to stay on Rabi there would be no argument about fragmentation. They are 1,400 miles from Ocean Island. As I understand it, the Banabans want at least to have a chance of taking up their home again, of rebuilding it and of living there. Is it so difficult for us to understand that desire? Can we not understand them? I found in Oldham that I ate tripe in a different way; they were apt to eat it cold, which I think is quite dreadful. But they were very nice people with many virtues and I doubt very much whether that is any test.

According to my noble friend, the Bill is to pass straight through and force them into becoming part of Kiribati, and Kiribati does not include Rabi Island. The Minister will no doubt say that the Prime Minister of Fiji will come to an agreement, and I am sure he will; indeed, he has made that clear. But I hope the House will forgive me—I hope not to speak again on this subject today—if I say what happened. For one reason or another, since 1947 the Banabans have had all decisions about them taken in their absence. The Prime Minister of Fiji, the right honourable Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, made a statement to the Fiji House of Representatives after Mr. Luard's visit.

It is unfortunately the case that Mr. Luard's reception was very similar to a former junior Minister's reception in Anguilla; they would have none of it. Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara set out three proposals—my noble friend explained them—and he said: As far as the Government of Fiji was concerned, I told Mr. Luard that we could not remain insensitive to what the Banabans feel strongly to be just and fair. As island peoples, we are all extremely sensitive to our homeland and heritage. We have never submitted ourselves to be ruled or governed by outsiders. As to the possibility of Fiji taking part in international arrangements … I made it quite clear to Mr. Luard that the Government of Fiji will not accept a role which would involve having to choose between our Banaban and Gilbert Islands friends. It was Britain which had assumed sovereignty over Ocean Island. It is Britain which should accept full responsibility for the constitutional future of Ocean Island. In fact, it is quite unfair of Britain to be coming back to ask for the help of the Government in Fiji when it had ignored earlier proposals I had put to it with the full agreement of both the Banabans and the Gilbertese". That, of course, is a reference to two days of discussion and the proposal that there should be a conference with the participation of the three Commonwealth Powers, but the meeting was never held, and I quote him on that: This meeting was never held. It was ignored by Britain and the other partner governments in the British Phosphate Commission, although it was agreed to by both the Banabans and the Gilbertese. Meanwhile, the Banabans were excluded from the Constitutional Conference to discuss self-government for the Gilberts and were invited only as observers to the Constitutional Conference held late last year in London to discuss arrangements for the independence of the Gilbert Isalnds". Those who care to read the White Paper will see there were manifest detailed provisions regarding the Government and nationality of the Banabans. He went on: The Government of Fiji, therefore, fully understands and sympathises with the Banabans in the position they have now taken. I told the British Minister that we in Fiji had inherited from Britain a sense of justice and fair play. In the Government's view, the best approach for Britain to take in order to avoid a continuing unhappy situation in the Pacific is to get the Banabans and the Gilbertese talking to each other again in the hope that this will produce a just and fair solution—a Pacific solution which will be acceptable to all. Finally, I did volunteer a statement that the relations between the Banabans and the Gilbert Island people will probably change by this time next year when phosphate mining ceases and the Gilbert Islands Government has no further interest in Ocean Island or Banaba. The Minister stated that the United Kingdom cannot support separation of the two countries as they are of one race and culture. I pointed out that the same can be said of the citizens of the United Kingdom".— That is almost a special message to the noble Lord the former Prime Minister who intervened— Yet a good proportion of the Scots want separation and furthermore the Scots alone were given the right to decide …". There was no question of the English voting on devolution to Scotland; the Scots themselves were to determine it. There was no question of any other part of the area coming in. It may well be that views will alter, but that as I understand it is the position.

It was said that Banaba is now worthless, but the people say, "It is the home of our ancestors. If it is worthless, we want the use of it." There are other opinions. The place could be made habitable and could be worth preserving, but that cannot be done in association with the Gilberts; they have not the resources. We discussed this matter on Second Reading, and, if I remember rightly, my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts thought that it was a very good suggestion. I know that his habitual courtsey sometimes makes him happier to be agreeing a little more fully. He always speaks with such courtesy. I do not wish for a moment to impute the slightest misunderstanding about this, but I think that we persuaded him a little on the question of whether the island is worth preserving. But for the moment the Banabans cannot be forced into association with the Gilbertese while they are living on Rabi in the Fiji Commonwealth, under the Fiji Commonwealth and on land which has always been part of Fiji. Rabi has nothing at all to do with the Gilbert Islands—it never has had—and the Banabans must, according to my noble friend (and I think he is probably right) go on living on Rabi for a time. They will certainly have to until phosphate mining ceases. Is that not really a sad situation in which to say, "We are going to force you into an alliance for which we have already made the terms and the rules, and we will try to be generous to you in terms of money, but we have not yet really quite decided"? That is their fault, in the sense that they sent a refusal for the time being on perfectly understandable grounds.

Although the Amendment may appear to be destructive, it is really the only effective way in which we can enable the Bill to return to your Lordships' House for reconsideration after further steps have been taken and explanations given. That is one of the reasons why I support the Amendment. The second reason is that I consider that there is involved here an act of justice which ought not to be denied.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness ELLES

The Amendment goes to the heart of the matter which we are discussing in relation to the Bill, and I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, for having given so many of your Lordships the opportunity to make very full statements of your views on this crucial matter. We in your Lordships' House were very well aware of the grievances of the Banabans and the matter was fully and fairly discussed on all sides during the Second Reading. Therefore I do not want to go over all the ground again and so take up your Lordships' very valuable time.

However, I wish to take the opportunity from this Box not only to thank Her Majesty's Government for having answered our request that a Minister should go to the area to discuss means of settling this very difficult problem, but also personally to express our thanks to Mr. Evan Luard for having undertaken this very difficult and complicated journey and for having returned as quickly as he could. In this connection, I personally thank the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, for having agreed at my request to postpone the Committee stage of the Bill until after the return of Mr. Luard.

However, having said that, we on this side of the Committee have certain difficulties which in fact were touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Hale. One of the difficulties is that Mr. Luard returned only three days ago, and has not yet made a full Statement to another place on this vital issue. I should like members of my Party in another place to be able to question Mr. Luard very closely on all that he did during his days in the Pacific before I personally come to a conclusion on the matter. I work very closely with my colleagues in another place, and they cannot take any decision until they have heard Mr. Luard make a full Statement on the matter and have questioned him.

The Amendment raises matters far beyond financial, political, and ethnic questions. It also includes aspects touching on international relations at world level because it will have major consequences if it goes through. With regard to the ethnic question, the noble Lord, Lord Hale, gave his opinion regarding the origin and the race of the people of the Banabans. My attention has been drawn to a sentence of the speech that I made on Second Reading, as reported at column 1608 of the Official Report, referring to a learned anthropologist, Prosfessor Strathearn. I understand that there has been some misunderstanding about what I said. I personally did not have an opportunity to speak to the professor. I repeated what I had understood, through a third party, was his view, and I request permission to withdraw the sentence of my speech which begins: I have been given to understand … and concludes: of the same race as the other Gilbert Islanders". I feel that as Professor Strathearn is a learned anthropologist I do not want to commit him in any way without his having had an opportunity to give his own definite opinion on the race of the Banabans. The remainder of that paragraph of my speech was slightly misleading in the way in which it was printed in Hansard. Of course I am not imputing any blame to Hansard regarding the passage where I went on to say: They share the same Gods, the same language …". I did not attribute that to Professor Strathearn. I should like to make that perfectly clear, so that there is no misunderstanding as to his professional opinions. If he was upset in any way by a misreading or misunderstanding of my speech I unreservedly apologise to him.

I wish to put a number of questions to the Minister because not only has the other place not had an opportunity to question Mr. Luard on his visit, but the Statement by the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, regrettably did not make it entirely clear whether he was merely indicating certain ideas that the Government had as a result of Mr. Luard's visit, or whether he was making firm proposals that will be taken up when the Bill comes into force after Royal Assent. I gave notice to the noble Lord that I would be asking certain specific questions to which we would be grateful for answers.

The first question I should like to ask the Minister is in relation to the position of Fiji. In your Lordships' House on 13th March the Minister indicated that the Prime Minister of Fiji had made clear his wish not to choose between his Banaban and Gilbertese friends. This is a very understandable position. Nevertheless, I think that possibly the Minister might be able to tell us whether this means that Fiji will not be involved in the constitutional future of the Banabans. Does this mean that Fiji will not be a party at any time in the future to a treaty arrangement to safeguard Banaban rights, or to an independent commission to review the safeguards for the Banabans? If the Minister could give some indication as to his thinking on that, I should be grateful.

We on this side of the Committee are certainly very pleased to hear that the Gilbert Islanders are prepared to accept the idea of an independent commission, as I understand it from the noble Lord's statement, to review the safeguards for the Banabans. Indeed, from this Box I should like to express the great appreciation and admiration that we have for the Gilbert Islanders in the very statesmanlike and tolerant way that they have behaved throughout what undoubtedly for them is a very difficult period. For 50,000 people looking forward to independence to have it in some way postponed, in some way made difficult, by a small minority, whatever the rights of that minority are—and we are quite justified in looking into the rights of that minority—must, I can well understand, cause feelings of frustration in the people of the Gilbert Islands while all this is being discussed in a country which is so many thousands of miles away from their own.

My second question leads on from that comment, and it is in relation to the independent commission that the noble Lord mentioned might be set up. Could the noble Lord say what the composition of such a commission would be? Would such a commission be separate from the appointment of a Commonwealth country to supervise the implementation of safeguards? And what Commonwealth countries would both the Gilbert Islanders and the Banabans accept? I believe it was my noble friend Lord Hylton who on Second Reading made the very pertinent suggestion that Britain indeed might be involved in this exercise, and I wonder whether the Government have given any consideration to that particular question.

Again, I would draw attention to what I thought was a notable speech made by my right honourable friend Francis Pym on Monday, 12th March, referring to the role that the Commonwealth might play on a regional basis dealing with all kinds of problems that abound in the world today; and, of course, my right honourable friend referred in particular to this area of the world when he expressed anxiety over the question of the Banabans. He said in his speech, if I may quote it: Since all are members of the Commonwealth, it should be possible to safeguard the rights and the security of the Banabans. Certainly Britain wishes to do so; but perhaps a Commonwealth regional arrangement might be helpful". I hope the Minister will take note of that proposal from my right honourable friend.

I would also be grateful if the Minister could enlarge a little on what he said on 13th March in regard to "wider powers for the Banaba Island Council." This is how he referred to it in his speech, but presumably he means the Rabi Island Council, unless it is to have another name. Is it now to be known as the Banaba Island Council, which had been proposed by Mr. Luard—


I am sorry to interrupt what is, if I may say so, a most constructive speech, but I was referring, and so was Mr. Luard in his report directed to Ministers, to the proposed creation of an Island Council for Ocean Island, possibly with wider powers than is usually the case.

Baroness ELLES

I am grateful to the noble Lord for that clarification. Indeed, this is precisely the question that I was going to ask of the Minister: What kind of wider powers are envisaged for the functioning of this council? I think a very important point is: What is the Gilbertese attitude to this proposal? Would they accept it; and would wider powers have any effect on the Banabans' status on Rabi Island? Of course, the other side of the question is: What would be the attitude of Fiji to this particular proposal?

However, the main question on which we really want some more elaboration is this question of the independent commission. Will it have judicial powers? What kind of authority will it have? Who will they be able to call as witnesses? Indeed, would alll parties be prepared to accept any judgment coming from this independent commission? Because, clearly, if it is going to be only a kind of shadow independent commission it will not have the value which we would intend it to have. We would be very grateful for further elaboration on these particular points.

I do not want to hold up the Committee any longer than is necessary, but, having just come back from a meeting of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights at Geneva, I think in all objectivity I should draw the attention of your Lordships to recent debates which have gone on in that body, and in the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, about the protection of minorities in the universal context. We in this country have to pay particular attention to the views of the international community since we in the United Kingdom have ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and therefore, under Article 27 of that Covenant, owe a special duty of protection to minorities, wherever they may be—whether in our own country or within territories for which we have residual responsibility.

With your Lordships' permission, I should like to quote from the report on the 34th Session of the Commission on Human Rights, when the same item—a report on national, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities—was debated. On page 71 of this report, paragraph 5 says: Furthermore, the ensuring and promotion of the rights of minorities had to be based upon strict respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of the countries in which minorities lived and upon non-interference in the internal affairs of those countries. Finally, the rights of minorities should be used only for their protection and not to foster separatism". I think this particular paragraph is very relevant to the subject under discussion now.

Further, the representative of Senegal, who may be known to many of your Lordships and is a most distinguished judge in his own country, commented that the task of the working group which had been set up to study the minority problem should be to elaborate an outline of a draft declaration. He stressed the need for members of minority groups to maintain the national integrity; they had the same duties and obligations as all citizens of the country". Finally, when this was being debated again in this particular session of the Commission on Human Rights, the point was made by delegates—who, after all, are Government delegates; they are not speaking as independent experts but are representing Governments—that minorities should not dictate to majorities; and I think we must bear this in mind in this particular instance. I am not discussing the rights of the Banabans, but am at the moment discussing the view of the international community of a country which owes a duty as to the protection of minorities but an overriding duty, of course, to protect the majority of the people for whom they are responsible.

Having said this, I think I have fairly explained my position on this issue. I am not able to advise my noble friends either to support or to reject the Amendment at this stage, because we feel that this matter has not been sufficiently discussed, and certainly it has not been discussed by my right honourable and honourable friends in another place. For my part, I would advise my noble friends on this side of the House to use their conscience and vote accordingly.

5 p.m.


A great deal has been said, at both Second Reading and today, about the case for the Banaban people. I should like briefly to examine the case which the Gilbertese have put forward for retaining sovereignty over Ocean Island. There is, first, the argument from history. It is true that Ocean Island for 30 years was the capital of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands; but this was a brief period in the whole history of those islands and it was an arrangement made purely for the convenience of the Colonial Power. I fail to see why it should bind the future in perpetuity. The next argument put forward is based on geography. Ocean Island is about 240 miles from Tarawa the present capital of the Gilberts. It is also true that it is nearer to Nauru than any of the Gilberts, and that Ocean Island is further from any of the Gilberts than any one of these is from the others.

We hear a great deal about the distance from Ocean Island to Fiji, which I believe to be about 1,400 miles; but distance, as the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, pointed out, does not seem to be a great impediment when it comes to associating one island with another. He quoted two examples. I should like to throw into the pot the case of Hawaii, a component State of the United States, which is more than 2,000 miles from California. Then there is the case of the French Overseas Departments which are part of metropolitan France and at very much greater distances than 2,000 miles.

Another argument put forward on behalf of the Gilbert Islanders is that of brotherhood. They say they look upon the Banabans as their brothers. They may do so; but it seems clear by now that this sentiment is not reciprocated by the Banabans. Again, in favour of the Gilbert Islands, it has been maintained that we should not confuse rights of access and land ownership with those of sovereignty. We know that in 1947 the British Government made a solemn agreement guaranteeing access to land ownership on Ocean Island to the Banaban people who were no longer living there. But I would submit that it would be the greatest possible mistake to separate access and land ownership from sovereignty if there are any means of keeping the three together.

In conclusion, the Gilbert Islands, I understand, consist of 21 inhabited islands, including Ocean Island. The Gilbertese people have had considerable benefits over the years out of Ocean Island. Once the mining ceases there it can only be, I should have thought, a future liability to them. Could they not find the generosity in their hearts to allow this one island out of 21 to go its own way in association with a very much larger country, namely, Fiji, which has about five times as great a total population? For these reasons, I should like to support the Amendment, and I hope that many of my noble friends will feel able to do so, too.

5.3 p.m.


We are all extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Brockway for giving us the opportunity once more of discussing this very important matter and for the manner in which he presented his Amendment to the Committee. He always seeks to raise the tone but not the temperature of our discussions. He always speaks with a knowledge of the facts and an utter readiness to correct himself if somebody, perchance, should know a little more than he knows about some aspect of a matter—which is not a very frequent occurrence, in this field at least.

This is an issue that I covered exhaustively in my speech at Second Reading and which was also covered comprehensively in the conference report published as Cmnd. 7445. I referred to the subject again on Tuesday during Question Time. The position is this. Ocean Island has been part of the Gilbert Islands Protectorate and Colony since 1900. For over 30 years it was the administrative capital of the territory. That is, from 1908 to 1948 when the population moved to its new home in Rabi, it was the capital of what is now to become Kiribati. However this constitutional position arose historically, we have to face the realities of the situation as it is today. Our decision on this Amendment, I agree with the noble Baroness, might have major consequences not simply in Kiribati, as we must now learn to call it, but across the whole range of the Pacific where there is a very widespread concern with the possible consequences of fragmentation.

I understand this. I am a member of a minority within the United Kingdom and of a minority within that minority. I am one of the quarter of the population of Wales that is fortunate enough to speak Welsh; three-quarters do not! I am a minority within a minority. I hope that I have a keen sense of emotional attachment, also a real apprehension of over-fragmentation, and, thirdly, I hope, an intellectual as well as a sympathetic view of the endeavour in the modern world to maintain unity and at the same time to provide within that unity local self-government and local opportunity.

We are here faced with the almost irreconcilable attitudes of a small community emotionally attached to its island, a community of some 2,500 people almost all of whom live and have lived for 30 years or more on the island of Rabi. On the other hand, we have the equally deep concern of the rest of the population of these 33 islands, of the 56,000 Gilbertese, that their territory should move into independence (as others have) as it is now constituted. I have spoken to both and I must confess that I found it more possible to have discussions and conversations with the Gilbertese Ministers and representatives than, unfortunately, always with the Banaban community. I make no complaint about that; I simply say that in passing to my noble friend Lord Brockway, who said that there has been no consultation with the Banabans. I could not begin to describe to the Committee how frequently this has been sought by successive Ministers and Governments and how frequently, unfortunately, our advances have been rejected. We have been able to talk to them—but selectively and sometimes. We have never failed to have a proper discussion with the Gilbertese representatives.


My Lords, the island of—


I do not think I am making a contentious point. I am saying that I made every effort to discuss with the Banabans, as did my predecessors, and have not always found it possible to do so, however ready I have been to talk.


If I may intervene, the Minister suggested that I said that there had been no discussions with the Banabans. I said that historically, over a long period, there have been no discussions. I recognise that recently there have been such discussions. I said that clearly.


Certainly, I am perfectly ready to stand corrected by my noble friend if he meant that there have not for a long period been discussions with the Banabans, it has indeed been a feature of colonial discussions that such discussions have not always been held. I was addressing myself to my own duty of talking to people frankly and as frequently as they are prepared to see me, which I know was the policy followed by my noble friend who preceded me in office. I join hands with my noble friend in what he has said. That was the position.

As to meetings between the Gilbertese and the Banabans, I appreciate the suggestion of the distinguished Prime Minister of Fiji that they should be held; but they have been held, and I have a list of them. They were held in October 1975 in Tarawa; in December 1975 in Naura. In April 1977 the Gilbertese delegation visited Rabi and before that, between those two meetings, I went to Wellington to meet Sir Ratu Mara personally. I had a long and exhaustive talk with him about this problem. I could not go to his own capital because unfortunately the airfield there had been blacked by the Banaban strikers. So we compromised with Wellington. We had a useful, and I thought co-operative, discussion.

The list goes on: in November 1977 there was a meeting in Bariki between the Banabans and the Gilbertese, where the Banabans indeed agreed to an all-in referendum, not just of the Banabans but of the whole population, and agreed to abide by the result. Later of course they made this conditional on a major sum of money being paid over in respect of phosphate mining. So, as I said on Second Reading, it has not always been the case that the Banabans have felt that the island was at all costs sacrosanct. There has at times been a suggestion that a certain sum of money might settle it. I shall come to the question of money in a moment. So the list goes on. There has been no lack of consultation or discussion, or if there has been I am afraid I must say that it has been due to a certain lack of willingness at times on the part of the Banabans to come forward, sit down and talk about these matters.

My noble friend Lord Hale said that they wished to go back to their island. They can: there is nothing to prevent them. Indeed, the right of access and land holding is already guaranteed under the British Declaration of Intention and will be entrenched in the new constitution to an extent for which neither I nor my advisers can recall precedent. To say that one cannot entrench these rights is a plea of defeatism. What I do know is that the Gilbert Islands Government and people feel a little affronted because I have insisted on unusual safeguards for Banaban rights in this respect. The Gilbertese feel, as the noble Lord suggested, slightly insulted that we need all this paraphernalia of guarantee when the Gilbertese, Pacific islanders practising the Pacific way, as they call it, not only intend but insist on treating the Banaban Islanders as their brothers, which they truly are. They are related by blood and marriage and they work together on the island and on other islands. They are ethnically and linguistically related. This is the way the Gilbert Islands and, I hasten to add, everybody else in all the other islands see the position.

I have been subject to criticism, especially in the other place, for the way in which the Government have approached this problem. It is nothing like the criticism that I have received in the Pacific for "being over-generous to the Banaban community". This is the fact. We have done it because this is a particularly sensitive aspect of Gilbertese development. I was really dealing with my noble friend's point that they want to go back. Of course they can. There is no need to be eloquent about this. The access, the facility, is there and it is going to be screwed in in a manner that I have not seen in any official paper. So there is absolutely no doubt about it.

Then we heard a good deal about the condition of Ocean Island as a result of phosphate mining. There are other parts of the former British Empire, some within this Kingdom, where, by the lights of time, period and technological capacity, terrible depredations were made upon the natural as well as the psychological basis of the life of the people. This has happened not just on Ocean Island but in many parts of the world and in parts of our own country here—in parts of Wales. If we select one or the other and say that it is a standing reproach to us today, the answer is that it is not. It is a standing regret to us that, by the lights of those times and resulting from the level which social thinking and technological advance had reached in those days, these things happened.

However, my noble friend described the island as an island paradise. I hope we can help to make it once more the paradise that it was, because one of the proposals that we are making which has not yet been accepted by the Banaban community is to finance a thorough survey on the island with a view to promoting worthwhile schemes effectively to rehabilitate the island. It is a fact that long before phosphate mining the island was not a paradise; it was deficient in certain fundamental necessities prior to the discovery of phosphate. The population was subject to frequent droughts Which led to periodic deaths. Those on passing ships were often implored by islanders, on the point of death, to take them off. This is no reproach to anybody, it is simply a statement of fact. Very well, mining has changed the face of the island. The Japanese took a hand in 1943–44, but let us put all the blame on the British Phosphate Commission. Mining has changed the character of the island. The British Government, in collaboration with its Australian and New Zealand partners in the Commission, are prepared to do everything possible, as generously as possible, to see if we can rehabilitate the island to which access by everybody on Rabi is perfectly open.

I do not wish to say anything about the role of Fiji, except once more to pay the highest possible tribute of admiration to the Fiji Prime Minister, Sir Ratu Mara. My noble friend quoted extensively from his letter to me. I notice that he quoted the phrase that it would be unfair for the British to ask Fiji to intervene to settle this issue. It is not we who have approached Fiji or suggested that it should he the agency of conciliation and of supervision—I shall come to the three points in a moment—but the Banabans have done so. It is of course for the Fijian Prime Minister and his Government to decide whether they can respond to the clearly expressed desire of the Banabans that it is his intervention that they would welcome. We cannot of course over-persuade anybody to fill such a role.

This brings me—I have no desire to stand between the Committee and a decision—to the questions put to me by the noble Baroness, Lady Elles. I think I have to some extent answered the first question: will Fiji not be involved in the future? I would put it like this: I cannot speak for the Fiji Government, but I understand that their present intention is not to be involved, as we have heard. But I would add that I should be delighted if they were. The record of Fiji in helping the Banaban community when it needed a home, as we heard from my noble friend Lord Shepherd, really compelled admiration. I am deeply anxious that Sir Ratu Mara, a leading Pacific statesman, will perhaps reconsider his attitude in this matter.

Baroness ELLES

Would the noble Lord allow me to press this a little further? Could he say whether Mr. Luard actually raised the proposition of a treaty to which Fiji might be an associated signatory?


Yes, I am going to deal with the three points. I know that this is important. The noble Baroness also asked whether the commission to review the Banaban provisions would be connected with the treaty. Perhaps I can best answer the four questions put to me by the noble Baroness by being as specific as I can at this stage, and bearing in mind that we are not the only Government involved, or indeed the only party to these proposals. My honourable friend the Under-Secretary—and once more I pay the highest tribute to his readiness to engage in this essential mission at such short notice and to the manner in which he discharged it—has reported to the Secretary of State and myself. It is not a formal report which is printed in the ordinary way, but it is a report made by one Minister to another. What comes out of it is what I indicated when I made a Statement regarding his visit on the 13th.

We are favourably considering three major points of addition to the already very substantial protective provisions set out in the report of the conference and intended for the constitution. These are that from Independence Day on, the implementation of all these protective safeguards should be supervised or overseen by a Commonwealth country, presumably with its representative in Tarawa—as will be the case with our own representative. As to which Commonwealth country is acceptable to both parties, it would be invidious for me to say today. I have indicated my regard for Fiji and its past role and what I regard as its possible role, but it is not for me to over-persuade them. There are 40 Commonwealth countries, some of them in the Pacific. We are a Commonwealth country and so, without prejudging the choice of the actual country—because, as I say, there are other parties with views on this—I hope I can make it absolutely clear to the noble Baroness and to the Committee that we are favourably considering and offering for consideration to the other parties, as point one, that from Independence Day the provisions safeguarding the Banabans' right of access, land-holding and the rest of it, should be overseen by a representative of a Commonwealth country.

At the end of three years we think there should be a three-member commission, again, Commonwealth members, possibly on a regional basis—and here I pay my tribute of respect to the speech made by the right honourable Member Mr. Francis Pym at the Commonwealth Institute the other day. We all know that recently, at the instigation of the Australian Government, a regional Commonwealth Heads of Government conference was held in Canberra, and very successful it was too. And so I take note of what Mr. Francis Pym has said. There is every possibility that this could be organised on a regional Commonwealth basis. We envisage, and I certainly envisage, two members from among Commonwealth countries, possibly in the region, with a chairman appointed by the Commonwealth Secretariat. We envisage that at the end of three years—it was originally to be five, but the Gilbert Islands Government agreed to reduce the period and they have been very forthcoming—that commission would review the position and would say: "It has worked well but it needs to be adjusted here and there", or, "It has not really worked and we make this recommendation …".

That is the path of honour and practicality. I impress upon your Lordships that we need to show the Gilbert community and the Pacific area that we do practically and effectively recognise the dangers of fragmentation. At the same time, we need to show that we are prepared, with them, as the prospective sovereign State, to provide within the unitary State—and surely this is a modern conception: something far better than the old-fashioned nationalistic solutions which have so failed us in the past—and in the modern sense within the unitary State to provide, the utmost effective autonomy.

This brings me to the third point: what would be the nature of the island council? I will be frank with your Lordships. Naturally, the Gilbert Islands Government are reluctant to accord to this island council any higher or wider powers than the other island councils within the State will have; but I believe they see it as we do and believe that it is necessary, in all the circumstances, perhaps, to add to the powers normally accorded to an island council. I have a note here to the effect that the island council for Banaba Island would have the fullest autonomy consonant with the intention of the unitary character of the Gilbertese State of Kiribas. For instance, it would control movements into and out of Ocean Island. It would have there through its own representatives in the Assembly—two out of 36—a veto on any proposal to change the arrangements in regard to Ocean Island and the rights of the Banaban community. It would man the local services on Ocean Island to the fullest extent possible compatible with the availability of qualified and suitable people in the Banaban community itself.

That carries with it a point which I stressed at the constitutional conference: a full participation by members of the Banaban community in all training schemes, in which we in turn would be the principal financial and supporting authority. So that the three-pronged addition to the proposals which were agreed at the conference is, first, Commonwealth oversight of the working of the substantial protections; secondly, a review after only three years as to how they have been worked by an impartial Commonwealth commission and, thirdly, the fullest possible autonomy for this island and its 100 people—to increase, we hope, as a result of the development survey—compatible with the necessarily unitary character of the new Kiribati State.

I hope that I did not hear anybody minimise the importance of what this country has tried to do in the financial field for the Banabans. It is all too easy to decry colonialism, and to say that it was all a dark and bad chapter in our history. It was nothing of the kind. Like every period in our history, it held its mistakes. But I believe that as with every period in our history—and I speak as a member of the United Kingdom community—the assistance, advice, example, protection and development which our colonial mission rendered in every part of the world far outweighed the reproaches that can be levelled here and there as to the behaviour of individuals. We in this country need to have a sense of perspective, if sometimes we do not have a proper sense of pride. It is time that we stood up and answered our detractors here and abroad. Anybody will tell us in Asia or in Africa that the British record—the peerless record, if you like to call it that—stands comparison very easily with that of any other colonial Government past. So it does here.

What are we trying to do for them on the financial side? I remind my noble friends that we have offered them an ex gratia gift, despite the decision of the High Court. We could have done nothing, but we took note of what the Vice-Chancellor said on the margin, as it were, and said: "Very well, we shall make an ex gratia gift. You are not entitled in law to anything, but we shall make this gift of 10 million Australian dollars."

Baroness ELLES

If the noble Lord will allow me to intervene, I think we in this House should be reminded that the judgment of Mr. Justice Megarry was conditioned by the fact that he was not able to make any judgment against the Government. But in reading the judgment very carefully, it appears that there was a clear condemnation of the action of the Government in relation to the Banabans. I believe that Her Majesty's Government have responded very generously, but I think it is right to insist that Mr. Justice Megarry made this point.


That is precisely what I was going on to say. There was no legal obligation, and we could have rested on the judgment which had been arrived at, for the very reasons which the noble Baroness put; but we did not. If anybody thinks that it was easy to persuade everybody concerned to come in on this ex gratia gift, I hope that I shall not have to go into that bit of recent history. The United Kingdom managed this 10 million. Moreover, we persuaded our partners to add something like 1.5 million extra for accrued interest. Neither of those two offers has been taken up by the Banaban community. We have no idea whether or not they want it. I hope that they will come forward and say: "We do not propose to say 'Thank you', but we will take it and we will co-operate with you", or, "We should like your advice as to how to organise it in some trust fund".

Then there is the 1.25 million dollars which the British Phosphate Commission offered them when their other case fell before the court. That one failed on its real merits, as the noble Baroness knows, and they were awarded, I think, 14,000 dollars. The Phosphate Commission said: "We made an offer of an out of court settlement, previously, but you persisted in going to court and now you have been given 14,000 dollars. We will revive the out of court proposal we made to you, which is 1.25 million". It is there for them.

Fourthly, my right honourable friend the Minister of Overseas Development has offered £1 million sterling for the development of the island of Rabi where most of them live—2,400 out of 2,500—to be operated through the Fijian Government, of course. The resources survey of Banaba, to which I referred is on offer. We are prepared, as part of our overseas aid programme, to finance a thorough survey of this unfortunate island to see what, practically, can be done to recreate it as—if it ever was—an island paradise. No island is ever a complete paradise, not even the Isle of Anglesey, but efforts can be made to improve even the best of islands.

We are in earnest about this. We want to do everything we can to restore Ocean Island. We are going to provide the money or the expertise, if only the Banabans come forward and discuss with us what kind of rehabilitation and redevelopment they have in mind. I hope they will do that soon. In the meantime, we wish to see them go forward with their Gilbertese cousins, if not their brothers—if they reject that description—into independence, with the guarantee that a Commonwealth Government will be overseeing the implementation of these very strong protections on their behalf, helping them with any complaints or suggestions that they may come up with during that period, and at the end of three years there shall be a review of how this has worked.

That gives to the Gilbert Islands Government the satisfaction, to which they are entitled, that, like other colonial territories, they are moving as a whole territory into independence. It gives to the Banaban community the protections that they need, and also the opportunity, through an impartial commission, after a period of years, of taking a good look at how this arrangement has worked, and then of considering what, if anything, needs then to be done.

I know that my noble friend always speaks on the basis of principle. He has asserted a principle in his speech this afternoon. He always does this. The principle is that we should consider what we, as mere mortals, can do in the best interests of all the communities of this area. I deeply believe that this is the right way to tackle this very difficult problem, and I should be so glad to be joined by my noble friend, of all people, if he accepted from me that every word he has said weighs with the Government, that he has made his point and that it would be helpful to everybody, including the other place, if this clause, and with it the Bill, went through to the other place, having gone through the subsequent stages here, without amendment. I do not think that he will live to regret taking that attitude to this Bill.

5.40 p.m.


I always respond with great emotion to appeals which have been made by my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts. He will believe me

When I say it is only because I believe an absolutely fundamental principle is involved here that I shall be pressing this Amendment to a Division. The discussion has strengthened my view.

The only strong point that has been made—and made from both sides of the House—is that the Banaban people are now on an island in Fiji, their own island is devastated and they had better remain in Fiji. Their island will not always be devastated. It can be rebuilt. Last week, 150 Banabans went to the island. The island will be rebuilt, and these people, who have a sense of their homeland, will want to go back to it. They, more than the Gilbertese, will want to be associated with Fiji, and it is their right, in my view, to make that decision. Because I hold that view, I shall be pressing this Amendment to a vote.

5.41 p.m.

On Question, Whether the Amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 16; Not-Contents, 92.

Aberdeen and Temair, M. Gisborough, L. Moyne, L.
Auckland, L. Hale, L. [Teller.] Somers, L.
Brockway, L. [Teller.] Hylton, L. Spens, L.
Craigavon, V. Killearn, L. Ward of North Tyneside, B.
Davies of Leek, L. Masham of Ilton, B.
de Clifford, L. Monson, L.
Alport, L. Home of the Hirsel, L. Porritt, L.
Amherst of Hackney, L. Hood, V. Powis, E.
Ampthill, L. Hornsby-Smith, B. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Aylestone, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L. Rochester, L.
Banks, L. Hunt of Fawley, L. Romney, E.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Hylton-Foster, B. Sainsbury, L.
Blease, L. Jacobson, L. St Davids, V.
Boston of Faversham, L. Jacques, L. [Teller.] Segal, L.
Burton, L. Janner, L. Semphil, Ly.
Caccia, L. Leatherland, L. Shepherd, L.
Cawley, L. Leonard, L. Shinwell, L.
Chorley, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Skelmersdale, L.
Cobbold, L. London, Bp. Stamp, L.
Cooper of Stockton Heath, L. Long, V. Stedman, B.
Craigmyle, L. McGregor of Durris, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Daventry, V. McNair, L. Stone, L.
David, B. [Teller.] Mancroft, L. Strabolgi, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Melchett, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Emmet of Amberley, B. Merrivale, L. Strathspey, L.
Evans of Hungershall, L. Mills, V. Swansea, L.
Fisher of Camden, L. Mishcon, L. Swinfen, L.
George-Brown, L. Morris, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Gladwyn, L. Mottistone, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Gordon-Walker, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Goronwy-Roberts, L. Norfolk, D. Westbury, L.
Greenway, L. Northchurch, B. Whaddon, L.
Greenwood of Rossendale, L. Nugent of Guildford, L. Wigoder, L.
Gregson, L. O'Brien of Lothbury, L. Wilson of High Wray, L.
Hankey, L. Peart, L. (L. Privy Seal.) Wootton of Abinger, B.
Hanworth, V. Phillips, B. Wynne-Jones, L.
Henderson, L. Plant, L.

Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Schedule agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment; Report received.