HL Deb 13 June 1980 vol 410 cc769-73

12.16 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I will answer a Private Notice Question put down a little earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, by repeating a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Lord Privy Seal. It relates to the situation in the New Hebrides and reads as follows: It would be for the Resident Commissioners to declare a State of Emergency should they consider it necessary. A request for the declaration of a State of Emergency has been made by Father Lini. After consultation with the two Resident Commissioners, he is reconsidering his request with his Cabinet colleagues. He has not yet approached the Resident Commissioners again.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord for that Statement. It is slightly disquieting that, after the Chief Minister has informed the two Resident Commissioners as to the action he considers necessary to pre- vent further deterioration of the situation in the New Hebrides, he has apparently been denied what he sought and has been sent back to reconsider his request. I do not know the actual background to this, but I am quite sure that Mr. Stuart, our own Commissioner, and the French Commissioner would recognise in Father Walter Lini a moderate, judicious and very popular leader of his people, recently elected by a massive majority in a democratic election to lead his people and to make the right sort of request to the Resident Commissioners.

There are only two points I wish to make in this very difficult and rapidly changing situation. The first point is that what the Chief Minister has to say to the Resident Commissioners, and therefore to the two condominial Governments, should he listened to very carefully indeed. The second point is the vital importance that the United Kingdom and France, as the two partners of the condominium, should act in complete unity. I do hope that the Foreign Secretary will take advantage of his own and the French President's presence in Venice to speak with clarity and cogency, as he always does, on this matter to his French colleague.

Finally, is it not of immense importance that the territorial disruption of this archipelagon state, the New Hebrides, should be prevented at all costs and secessionist movements should he stopped before they develop further, not only in the interests of the future of the New Hebrides but because of the clear and imminent danger that a domino process might result in other islands states—and there are many in the Pacific—because we have not been able to prevent fissiparous movements in the New Hebrides? I hope that the French Government and people, as well as our own Government and people, will recognise these facts in the next few crucial days.


My Lords, I too, should like to thank the noble Lord for repeating the answer to the Question asked in another place and in this House. The Question, as the noble Lord has explained, dealt with the request by Father Lini for a state of emergency to be declared. I take it that there has been a united response to that by the French and United Kingdom Resident Commissioners. It has, indeed, been rather worrying in recent days that the impression has been created of some degree of disunity between the French and the British, with the French perhaps leaning more towards continued negotiation than the British. I say that that impression has been created: I do not say that it is the fact.

Can the noble Lord say why 55 French gendarmes have been withdrawn at the same time as the Royal Marines commandos are on their way? Have the French Government offered an explanation of that? Finally, to reinforce the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, can the noble Lord assure us that there is French/British agreement on how to deal with the rebellion at this stage?


My Lords, I am obliged to both noble Lords for their reaction to this Amswer. I can confirm that the British and French Governments remain in the closest touch on these matters. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and President Giscard d'Estaing had some discussion on the New Hebrides at their bilateral meeting this morning and agreed that the two Governments should remain in the closest touch. We shall continue our joint efforts to resolve the problem by peaceful means. As for the question of the withdrawal of the French gendarmes, to which the noble Lord, Lord Banks, referred, the distinction is, of course, that they have a base very close to the New Hebrides, which we do not, and thus the fact that they have chosen to withdraw those gendarmes a little distance is, I can assure the noble Lord, of no significance.


My Lords, in view of these unhappy and unfortunate events, is the noble Lord in a position to say whether the Government believe that independence can be granted on the date which was agreed?


Yes, we most certainly do, my Lords.


I should like to ask my noble friend, with respect, whether Her Majesty's Government are continually bearing in mind the distinction between a show of force and the use of force?


Yes, indeed, my Lords, we bear that distinction very carefully in mind. Of course, force has not yet been used.


My Lords, does the noble Lord remember that when he made his earlier statement I gave him unreserved support for his forthrightness, unlike some of my colleagues in another place? I was surprised that lie had been able to influence the French Government to the degree that he had. Is there not now evidence that the French Government are not co-operating with us to the extent that it was hoped, and will the British Government, if necessary, take their own action to support the democratically-elected Government in the New Hebrides for their integrity and for their coming independence?


My Lords, really we cannot do more, in consultation with our French colleagues in this matter, than consult at the highest level, which we have done. As I said in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and President Giscard d'Estaing have discussed this matter this morning and we remain in the closest touch with them.


My Lords, when the noble Lord says that we and the French are in the closest touch, does he also mean that we are in the closest agreement?


Indeed I do, my Lords.


My Lords, I should like to follow up the matter raised by my noble friend Lord Brockway. Would the Minister take the opportunity of this Statement to pledge the full support of the British Government behind the democratically elected Chief Minister and his Government, because, from reports, there would appear to be some dubiety about the degree of support that the French Government are giving to that Minister, in view of the fact that they have withdrawn their gendarmes against the wishes of that Minister? May I also ask whether it is still the intention of the British Government that the Marines, who we understand are now on their way to the island, will go there and will give full support to the elected Government there?


Yes, indeed, my Lords. Of course it is our determination to support the properly elected Government in the New Hebrides and to see them through to independence upon the date that has been agreed.


My Lords, if my noble friend has to make another Statement, will he consider being rather more specific than he has felt able to be in the last two or three Statements that have been made about the long history of Anglo-French local discord in that part of the world? It is a matter which has not been referred to once and is one of which most people are totally unaware.


My Lords, I prefer for the moment to consider the present and the future.


My Lords, while we all appreicate the Government's desire to settle this matter by negotiation if at all possible, may we have an assurance that it is the Government's firm policy that secession from the New Hebrides will not be permitted?


My Lords, I readily give that assurance.