HL Deb 22 November 1979 vol 403 cc295-7

3.51 p.m.


My Lords, may I now intervene, with your Lordships' permission, to answer the Private Notice Question by the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, by repeating a Statement being made in another place by my honourable friend the Minister of State, Mr. Ridley. I apologise to noble Lords for interrupting the important Committee stage which is proceeding. The Statement is as follows:

"There have been a number of instances of intimidation of the population in Santo Town by supporters of the Na Griamel movement. This movement is opposed to the Vanuaaku Party, which won a two-thirds majority in the National Representative Assembly elections on 14th November.

" Events in Santo are being kept under constant review, and the British Resident Commissioner, accompanied by his Deputy and the French Deputy Resident Commissioner, has flown to Santo to assess the situation personally.

" Our latest information is that the situation is now quieter, but that further threats to law and order cannot be entirely discounted. A joint force of two platoons of the local police mobile unit is on standby in Vila to fly to Santo should the situation demand it."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.


My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement in this House. I should like to ask him one or two questions. Will he confirm or otherwise that certain external and dubious elements intent on turning Santo Island into a tax haven are behind the disturbances? Is there any truth in the reports carried in a paper of high repute—the Guardian this morning that the dissidents on the island near Na Griamel have, in fact, expelled some hundreds of islanders from the island to other islands and driven others into the surrounding forests?

Finally, can he assure the House that we are co-operating very closely with France—our partner for, I think, 65 years in the condominial Government of the New Hebrides—first, in restoring law and order on Santo Island, and generally, of course, in promoting the advance of the New Hebrides as a whole to independence next year?


My Lords, from these Benches we must, of course, first thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. It may be a merit of the Statement that, so far from adding very much to the Press reports, it tends on the whole to subtract from them. Secondly, we should like to congratulate Mr. Lini on his election victory in the New Hebrides and on his appointment as Prime Minister designate.

Thirdly, we wish to send a message of full support to Mr David Browning, the British Resident Commissioner, in any measures that he finds it necessary to take. Finally—I am sure that the noble Lord will agree, but I shall put it in the form of a question does he agree that the granting of independence to the New Hebrides is a political process for which there are few, if any, precedents and that it will inevitably be a very difficult operation, much more difficult than the granting of independence to any of our own colonies, with perhaps one very obvious exception? Therefore, does he agree that it would be a very good augury for this difficult operation if the latest outbreak of international lawlessness can be stamped out quickly in a thoroughly condominial spirit in co-operation with our French partners?


My Lords, I should like to thank both noble Lords for their response to the Statement. As regards the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, I am not in a position to confirm or deny the backing of Mr. Stevens. We, like the noble Lord, have read the reports, but I think that it would be wrong of me to comment on their accuracy. We have no information about the expulsion of islanders from the island itself, but, although we do hear that there are people who have been leaving the town of Santo, I do not think that they have left the shores of the island. I can quite firmly confirm that we are co-operating fully with the French Government in this matter and that every step that we take will be taken in consultation and agreement with them.

The noble Lord, Lord McNair, mentioned the forthcoming independence of the New Hebrides. I can only say again that we really do not anticipate any great difficulty in that regard because we shall be working in full co-operation and agreement with our French colleagues.