HL Deb 04 February 1980 vol 404 cc1107-9

Second Reading debate resumed.

3.51 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps I may now conclude our debate on the New Hebrides Bill. I should like to begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, for what he said in his remarks, which were, as always, helpful. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord McNair, greeted this measure with less enthusiasm. I hope I may be able to allay his worst fears during the course of my short remarks now. Both noble Lords raised, quite properly, the question of internal security in the New Hebrides, and I shall comment on that.

Since the elections of November 1979 there have been sporadic acts of defiance of the New Hebrides Government on the islands of Santo and, to a lesser extent, Tana. The latest of these acts took place on the 28th January, when members of the Na Griamel movement on Santo led by Jimmy Stevens occupied the office of the representative of the central Government in Santo Town. Latest reports indicate that the situation is now calm, but the Customs movements on the islands continue to present some threat to law and order.

British and French Ministers, when they met in Paris on 8th January, reaffirmed their entire support for the New Hebrides Government which, on their side, expressed their intention to enter into a dialogue with the leaders of the Customs movements. I am pleased to say that the Chief Minister, Father Lini, has already had exchanges with Jimmy Stevens. And has expressed in a broadcast his conviction that the solution to the problem of the New Hebrides was peaceful negotiation until agreement was reached all round. This is the traditional Pacific way of resolving differences, and we and the French are doing all that we can to encourage both sides along that way.

The noble Lord, Lord GoronwyRoberts, asked me about the position of languages in the new nation. I can say that both French and English are to be official languages in the New Hebrides—in the "new New Hebrides", as the noble Lord called them—along with Bislama which is the local pidgin dialect. These languages will be entrenched for the purposes of education and general use. The noble Lord, Lord McNair, put a number of points to me. First of all, he asked me about our co-operation with the French, and reminded the House quite properly of remarks that I made when I made a Statement to your Lordships I think just before Christmas. We and the French are committed to bringing the New Hebrides to independence in peace and unity. When my honourable friend Mr. Blaker and his French counterpart M. Dijoud met Father Lini in Paris last month they reaffirmed their commitment and determination to counter all the threats to the unity of the new country. I hope that meets those points put by the noble Lord, Lord McNair.

The noble Lord also raised the question of the control of the mobile units both in the present and in the future. We and the French will retain ultimate responsibility for internal security until independence. Control of the police mobile units will remain in the hands of two resident commissioners who act jointly in such matters. The two units will be handed over to the New Hebrides Government on independence. Thereafter it will be for the New Hebrides Government to decide whether or not it wishes to retain the services of the expatriate British and French policemen who currently command the mobile units, or indeed the New Hebridean members. I hope that that satisfies the noble Lord, Lord McNair, at least on that point.

One other point that the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, put to me concerned the question of nationality. It may well he. and indeed we expect, that the new nation will apply for membership of the French organisation which is roughly equivalent to the British Commonwealth although very much narrower in scope. But I am advised that membership of that organisation has no implication for citizenship within French law, and thus the answer to the question specifically put to me by the noble Lord, as to whether they would be entitled to apply for French citizenship is, I think, no, they would not.

I think those are all the important points that have been put to me. There are two further points which the noble Lord, Lord NcMair, raised about the illegal radio station. I am afraid that that station is still transmitting. It is illegal in so far as it is unlicensed, and we are in close consultation with our French colleagues to decide how best to proceed about that. With regard to the position of Mr. Stevens' nationality, I am advised that he has on at least one occasion endeavoured to travel upon a passport that he issued himself. Beyond that I am sorry to tell your Lordships that his precise national status is not clear. I can say, however, that the question of his nationality is not one that need exercise us in connection with the question of whether or not he can be proceeded against if the necessity arose in the islands, because like everyone in the islands he is subject to the local laws. I think that that covers the points that have been put to me. I am obliged to some of your Lordships at least for your reception of this measure, and I hope that the House will now give the Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.