HL Deb 20 November 1984 vol 457 cc497-504

3.16 p.m.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young)

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. The purpose of the Brunei and Maldives Bill is to make minor amendments to certain United Kingdom enactments in order to take account of the recently acquired status of Brunei and the Maldives as members of the Commonwealth. It will have no effect on the laws of Brunei and the Maldives themselves.

The history of Britain's connections with these two countries is particulary interesting. The Sultanate of Brunei first entered into special treaty relations with the United Kingdom in 1846 and subsequently enjoyed the status of a protected state until 1971. Even after 1971, the United Kingdom continued to exercise direct responsibility for Brunei's external relations until the last vestiges of the special treaty were removed by mutual consent on 31st December 1983. On that date, Brunei resumed her status as a sovereign and independent state and was admitted to the Commonwealth with effect from 1st January 1984.

Britain's connection with the Maldives dates back to the 18th century when, on taking possession of Ceylon, we extended our protection to the Maldives. In 1948 the Maldives were granted self-government, but the United Kingdom continued to maintain control of their external relations. In 1965 the Maldives became a fully independent sovereign state outside the Commonwealth, but was admitted to the Commonwealth, at its own request, as a special member in July 1982.

We are justly proud that Britain has been able to bring both Brunei and the Maldives to independence, and are pleased to welcome their admission to the Commonwealth, a process on which this Bill puts the seal. We are confident that we shall be able to build on our long-standing friendships with both countries.

I shall now briefly explain the provisions of the Bill. The amendments which it makes to United Kingdom enactments. Paragraphs 1 and 2 provide for amendments to Section 427(2) of the Merchant Provisions) Act 1980 and the New Hebrides Act 1980. These precedents relate to countries which, like Brunei and the Maldives, required only such legislative provision as was consequent upon their accession to membership of the Commonwealth. In the case of former British colonies the relevant independence Act, passed on the achievement of independence and almost simultaneous accession to the Commonwealth, includes these necessary amendments to other United Kingdom legislation which place the state on the same footing as other Commonwealth countries. However, both Brunei and the Maldives have achieved full sovereignty and membership of the Commonwealth without the need for such an independence Act.

Clause I of the Bill and the schedule provide for the necessary modification of United Kingdom enactments. Paragraphs 1 and 2 provide for amendments to Section 427(2) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 and to the Whaling Industry (Regulation) Act 1934. Brunei has already been added by Order in Council to the list of Commonwealth countries in Schedule 3 to the British Nationality Act 1981 and Paragraph 8 of the Bill extends this same provision to the Maldives. The nationals of both countries are thereby brought within the definition of "British subjects" in enactments passed before the coming into force of the 1981 Act. It is therefore necessary to amend the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 and the Whaling Industry (Regulation) Act 1934 in such a way as to exclude Brunei and the Maldives from their application.

Paragraph 3 of the schedule to the Brunei and Maldives Bill provides for an amendment to the Imperial Institute Act as amended by the Commonwealth Institute Act 1958. Brunei and the Maldives will thereby be included as countries which may be represented on the board of governors who are consulted when arrangements for the Commonwealth Institute are changed.

Paragraphs 4, 5, 6 and 7 provide for amendments to Acts relating to Commonwealth forces and their discipline while on visits to the United Kingdom. These amendments make provisions for forces raised in Brunei and the Maldives similar to those which apply in relation to forces raised in other Commonwealth countries.

Paragraph 8 provides for an amendment to the British Nationality Act 1981. The Maldives will be added to the list of Commonwealth countries under Schedule 3 to the said Act. Paragraph 8 applies to the Maldives only. The similar consequential change with regard to Brunei has already been effected by Order in Council.

I am sure that all Members of your Lordships' House will want to join with Her Majesty's Government in welcoming this Bill. Although the amendments which it introduces have practical implications in only very limited fields, they are changes which ought to be made if nationals of Brunei and the Maldives are to be given their proper Commonwealth status in this country. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Young.)

3.22 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, this Bill, which we fully support, gives the House the opportunity to send our good wishes to both these countries which have such close connections with our own. We are grateful to the noble Baroness for explaining the detail of the Bill to us. I am glad to have this opportunity to welcome my noble friend Lord Tonypandy back to the House after his illness and to see him looking so well. He has a very close connection with Brunei and, indeed, has had the honour of Dato conferred upon him by the Sultan. I know that he would wish to speak in this debate if, as he said, his voice had fully recovered. He hopes to be able to speak in our debates soon but, with us, he sends his best wishes to Brunei.

It is coincidental that these two countries should be in the same Bill, for while they have some things in common, there are also big differences between them. They are of course small in area and population and they adhere to the Moslem religion. But Brunei on Borneo in the South Pacific is wealthy, while the Maldives are a tiny and relatively poor group of coral islands in the Indian ocean. When we think of the Maldives we probably think of Gan and the problems of a few years ago, which have now mercifully been resolved.

The population of Brunei is about 193,000 and that of the Maldives, 143,000. They are now to become members of the Commonwealth, but while Brunei became an independent state early this year, as the noble Baroness has reminded us, the Maldives have been fully independent since 1965. At that stage they were independent outside the Commonwealth, which they joined in 1982. Our relationship with Brunei is therefore more recent and more involved, although we seek the most friendly association with the Maldives as well.

Brunei's economy is based on its petroleum and natural gas resources, and, in relation to its population, this must make it one of the richest nations on earth. I note that last year Brunei's international reserves stood at over £75 billion—an enviable prospect for any Chancellor of the Exchequer!

Our connection with Brunei remains strong and the brigade of British Army Gurkhas stationed there under a new agreement underlines this. There is also the Jungle Fighting School used by the SAS. Perhaps we may be given some guidance by the noble Baroness as to the purpose of the Gurkha presence, given that Brunei has efficient defence forces with some British officers still on station. I assume that the Gurkhas are under British control, but I think it would be helpful if we could be told the circumstances under which they might be brought into operation. Their presence does, of course, increase our interest in the political situation in Brunei itself and in the adjacent countries.

Britain has a longstanding commercial connection with Brunei and the Crown Agents have been invaluable in helping to manage Brunei's foreign investments and also a good deal of its overseas buying programme. It would therefore be of interest to know whether the Crown Agents will continue to play any part now that Brunei is independent. I hope that the Government have been able to protect British commercial interests. I noted in the newspaper recently that, prior to independence, Brunei's acting chief minister said: Relations with Britain could not be better and, after independence, we shall have more British people here. We need a lot of technical help and who better to get it from than the British who know us so well". That is the sort of encouragement we should heed. I should like to be told whether this prophecy is being fulfilled in a practical way by British commercial and industrial interests.

I should also like to refer to the national development plan of the Brunei Government. I believe that this is their fourth, and I hope that the objectives of diversifying their economy and of developing agriculture will be successful. I say this because I see from the statistics that Brunei imports 80 per cent. of all its food and it has large areas of unused land. As we know from our own prospects and predictions, the oil will not last for ever; I understand that Brunei oil has about 25 years to go. We wish them well with their plans for expansion in agriculture.

Again, and finally, we wish them well in constitutional terms. Today's tolerant paternalism in Brunei, which some say suits the population, cannot survive indefinitely. It is better that there should now be a recognition of the need to move patiently towards efficient democratic procedures. As we know, a failure to do this can sooner or later have unpredictable consequences.

I turn briefly to the Maldives, which in the main depend on fishing. They have a traditional relationship with Sri Lanka, India and Singapore, with which there are frequent shipping services; and their tourist industry, which brings them substantial foreign exchange, is doing well. Both they and Brunei have a part to play in the Commonwealth. We are pleased that, with us, they are now members of that great community of nations. Mr. Ramphal, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, said recently: The coming together of North and South, in an atmosphere of friendship and understanding, gives the Commonwealth connection an unusually tensile strength and a special contemporary relevance". I am sure that the Maldives and Brunei will play their part and make their special contribution to that great association of nations, and we wish them all success in the future.

3.28 p.m.

Lord Tanlaw

My Lords, from these Benches we wish to echo the thoughts and good wishes that have already been given to the state of Brunei and to the Maldives. I should also like to add my own personal statement to these general good wishes. As regards the Maldives, these small islands have the most formidable navigators and sailors in that part of the Indian Ocean, and in many ways they are highly independent. Given their new status, we wish them every success for the future.

The new Islamic state of Brunei has also been given a new status under this Bill, which we all welcome. It is one of the richest states in the world. Its people are mainly Islamic but it also contains minority groups who are not. I should like to express the hope that the Government will continue to protect the views and religions of these small groups of people, who are often unknown by many people outside their country. In particular, I feel that those who pursue the Animist religion have never been given their full regard outside Borneo. I should like to feel that under this new state those who follow this particular religion will at least be able to have a status which is worthy of some dignity, which I regret to say may not have happened in some other parts of the world.

It is interesting to note that the new state of Brunei has officially become an Islamic state, for it was under Islamic law that my family had its first connection with the state of Brunei. This was in 1842, four years before the sultanate was recognised by Her Majesty's Government.

Having given notice to the noble Baroness, may I now switch to what is a personal statement really for the record of my family and its historical connections with the Sultan of Brunei. It is the statement I wish to give to His Majesty Hassanal Balkiah Musizaddin Waddaulah Sultan and Yang di Pertuan Negara Brunei Darassalam. I feel that this produces a link with my family which goes back to James Brooke, the first Rajah of Sarawak in 1842. An agreement given in the Islamic year of 1258, the year Alip, on the twenty- fourth day of Jamadalachir, the day being Monday and the time ten o'clock, read: His Highness Sultan Omar Ali Saifu'd-Din, son of the late Sultan Mahomed Jamalu'l-Alam, appoints [my ancestor] James Brooke Esquire to be his representative and in that capacity to govern the province of Sarawak". I feel that my family have fairly honoured that agreement for 100 years, which ended in 1947 with cession to the United Kingdom, and your Lordships' House and some noble Lords, including the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack, were involved in that part of history. It may be of some interest to noble Lords that this sovereignty which my family held in the small part of the world in question, and which was originally granted by the Sultan of Brunei, was handed down through the political will of James Brooke, the first Rajah, who declared: all that my Sovereignty of Sarawak aforesaid and all the rights and privileges", were to be passed down to the second Rajah, Charles Johnson Brooke. This was all in keeping with Islamic law, the law which is now becoming the new law of the State of Brunei.

In 1913, under the will of the second Rajah, the same responsibilities were handed down to my grandfather, the third Rajah, who proclaimed then as follows in his Oath of Accession in 1918: We undertake on behalf of ourselves and of our successors as Rajahs of Sarawak to abide by the conditions expressed in the Will of Rajah Sir Charles Brooke". These obligations were fulfilled under the original representation given by the Sultan of Brunei.

There is one point where I wish to put the record straight. I have never had any doubt in my view that cession by my grandfather to Her Majesty's Government in 1947 of the country of Sarawak was the correct and right thing to do in consideration of the many peoples who live in Sarawak and in neighbouring Brunei. This may have been out of keeping with the original agreement which was given to the Sultan of Brunei in 1842, but I believe there were special conditions at the end of the second world war which made that the practical and sensible thing to do.

Today, now that Brunei, since 1st January 1984, has received status as an independent state, I feel that although a special relationship with Her Majesty's Government may be ending, personally I should like, as a member of the Brooke family, to keep that continuing special relationship with the ruling family of Brunei, headed by His Majesty the Sultan.

3.35 p.m.

Lord Fanshawe of Richmond

My Lords, I cannot pretend to follow the close family links which the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, has with the State of Brunei, but I am grateful for the opportunity to join with other noble Lords in paying tribute to Brunei. As a Foreign Office Minister between 1970 and 1974 I had the honour to be responsible for negotiating the treaty with Brunei which I signed in the capital in the autumn of 1971. That treaty, which was mentioned by my noble friend in her opening remarks, for the first time handed over to the people of Brunei responsibility for their own internal affairs, while retaining for Her Majesty's Government the responsibility for external affairs and defence.

The new independence treaty came into effect at the beginning of this year. It has been of great joy to those of us who know Brunei—and the noble Viscount on the Cross-Benches, Lord Tonypandy, is, like me, a dato and has visited the country many times—to find that on achieving independence the new nation has made such a success of not only governing Brunei, but also, since 1st January, its external relations.

His Majesty the Sultan has put together around him an able, hardworking and significantly important body of people to act as Ministers in the Government. With their skilful leadership Brunei has already taken its rightful place in ASEAN, and, as my noble friend stated earlier, also within the Commonwealth.

While this Bill is obviously welcomed by everybody in the House and is certainly welcomed by me, it is basically a technical Bill, as was mentioned by my noble friend earlier, when she introduced it. There are, however, two questions linked to Britain's relations with Brunei today which I should like to raise. One was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn; namely, the position of the Ghurka battalion which is stationed in Brunei today.

This question arises in my mind not from the role of the Ghurka battalion, because those of us connected with Brunei are aware of the importance of that role. Their presence in the country has enabled stability to be maintained in the area, and those of us who know South East Asia welcome the fact that agreement has been reached that a Ghurka battalion should remain in Brunei for some time into the future. All of us welcome the generosity of His Majesty the Sultan and of his father, the Seri Begawan, the Minister of Defence, in arranging to pay for all the outstanding costs regarding the stationing of that battalion in Brunei.

However, I think that the question is what occurs following the agreement which has been achieved by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on the future of Hong Kong. The Ghurka battalion stationed in Brunei comes under the direct responsibility of the Ghurka Brigade, which of course is based in Hong Kong and has been for many decades.

I have had a helpful letter from my noble friend Lord Trefgarne on this subject, and I am well aware that we cannot at this stage consider the position of the brigade or indeed any other regiment in the British Army. This was made plain on Monday, 22nd October 1984, in a ministerial speech in the other place on the Army Estimates.

I realise that the Government at the moment have no plans to run down, or disband, the Brigade of Ghurkas, and I welcome that. But I should like an assurance this afternoon from my noble friend that the changes which are taking place in Hong Kong, and perhaps the need to change the headquarters of the Brigade of Ghurkas, will not enable either this Government or some future government to use that as an excuse to withdraw the Ghurka battalion from Brunei if—and only if, of course—the Sultan and the Government of Brunei wish that Ghurka battalion to remain stationed there.

I believe that His Majesty the Sultan and his Ministers consider that the Ghurka battalion plays a most important role in Brunei at this time and will do so for the foreseeable future. The Royal Brunei armed forces are strong, well armed and well officered, and fulfil an excellent role in the security of the state. But so long as the Sultan's Government require a Ghurka battalion to remain there, I hope that the British Government will accept this and agree to it, particularly as it is not costing the British taxpayer any money.

The second point I wish to raise is a somewhat arcane question that I mentioned at Question Time recently to my noble friend Lord Trefgarne. I refer to the position of the judiciary in Brunei. At the present time Brunei enjoys judicial assistance from Hong Kong under the Anglo-Brunei Treaty of Friendship and Co-operation. It is obvious to me that at this stage, as was set out in a letter to me from my noble friend Lord Trefgarne, there is no need to have discussions now with the Brunei Government regarding the future of the judiciary, but the time will presumably come as a result of the agreement on Hong Kong that discussions will have to take place. I hope that my noble friend can give me an assurance that active consideration is being given to this matter, to ensure that if the Brunei Government require judicial assistance in the future they will continue to receive it from Her Majesty's Government, whether it is arranged through Hong Kong or in some other way.

Finally, I apologise for keeping your Lordships so long but I should again like to offer my good wishes to Brunei for the future. I am not discussing the Maldive Islands as my noble friend Lord Alport is intending to have a word about them. Although I have visited them twice and know them well, my interest today is Brunei: to wish it well for the future, as all of us on all sides of the House do, and to hope that in the years ahead we will continue to give Brunei, His Majesty the Sultan. His Majesty's Government and the people of Brunei the wholehearted support, consideration and backing that we have given over the years throughout this century.