HL Deb 16 January 1986 vol 469 cc1166-80

3.33 p.m.

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

My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Australia Bill, has consented to place Her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Relations between Australia and the United Kingdom are of the greatest importance. The Bill before this House will confirm the United Kingdom's formal recognition of Australia's status as an independent nation. As such the removal of the old residual constitutional links is not a cause for sadness but rather a cause for satisfaction.

This Bill before your Lordships is at the request and with the consent of the Parliament and Government of the Commonwealth of Australia. This request and consent has been expressed in the Australia (Request and Consent) Act 1985, enacted in December 1985 by the Commonwealth Parliament in Australia. That legislation was itself enacted with the concurrence of all the states of Australia, expressed in legislation enacted in September and October 1985 by each state legislature. In its passage through the state legislatures and the federal Parliament, the legislation was supported by all Australian political parties.

The purpose of the Bill is to remove the remaining constitutional links which still exist between the United Kingdom and the Australian states. It may surprise some noble Lords to know that such links still exist at all. They stem from the way the Commonwealth of Australia was established in 1901 as a federation of what were until then several separate British colonies. On federation certain powers and functions were conferred upon the Commonwealth authorities, but, subject to that, the several states retained their previous powers and functions: in law, in effect, they retained their status as colonies of the United Kingdom. As such, they remained subject to restraints and to control from the United Kingdom which, with the development of Australia to independent statehood, became inappropriate.

The quasi-colonial status of the Australian states meant that, in respect of those states, Her Majesty was Sovereign in right of the United Kingdom. Accordingly, in exercising her powers in relation to the states, Her Majesty has hitherto been formally advised by her United Kingdom Ministers. Under the Bill, Her Majesty will continue to be Sovereign in respect of the states, but no longer in right of the United Kingdom. In her Australian capacity, she will be advised—in accordance with the provisions of the Bill—by Australian state Premiers just as, in relation to Australian Commonwealth matters, she is advised by her Australian Commonwealth Ministers. The Bill makes no other change in the position of Her Majesty as Queen of Australia.

The Australian Government's request is made pursuant to Section 4 of the Statute of Westminster 1931 which states that, No Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom passed after the commencement of this Act shall extend, or be deemed to extend, to a Dominion as part of the law of that Dominion, unless it is expressly declared in that Act that that Dominion has requested, and consented to, the enactment thereof". The details of the Bill are the result of extensive consultations. These have taken place over a number of years between the Australian state and Commonwealth Governments, and more recently between the Australian Commonwealth and United Kingdom Governments.

Her Majesty approved the proposals in the middle of last year. Since then, all the states and the Commonwealth of Australia have passed legislation in their own legislatures. Royal Assent in Australia was given on 4th December to the Australia (Request and Consent) Act 1985, passed by the Commonwealth Parliament. The Australian Government's formal request to the United Kingdom Government for the enactment of complementary legislation at Westminster was received soon afterwards in a letter from Mr. Hawke to the Prime Minister. This is the Australia Bill before your Lordships.

The Bill is precisely drafted to mirror exactly the Australian legislation. Briefly, the Bill will remove the British Parliament's power to make laws for Australian states. It will terminate the responsibility of the Government of the United Kingdom for the government of any Australian state. It will remove certain powers of Her Majesty, as the Queen of the United Kingdom, exercisable on the advice of United Kingdom Ministers, to disallow or to suspend the operation of state laws; it will also remove certain restraints, for example, under the Colonial Laws Validity Act 1865, on the legislative powers of Australian states. It will terminate appeals to the Privy Council from state courts, and will deal with the exercise of powers and functions of the Queen in respect of the states including matters affecting the appointment of Governors. The Bill will also make consequential amendments to the Constitution Acts of Queensland and Western Australia.

I should like to turn now to the detailed provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 terminates the power of the Parliament at Westminster to legislate for the Australian states and makes it clear that Parliament at Westminster can no longer legislate for the Australian Commonwealth or an Australian territory. Thus, the clause achieves the complete legislative independence of Australia from the United Kingdom.

Clause 2 allows each state Parliament to legislate with extra-territorial effect and to exercise those legislative powers which at present the United Kingdom Parliament might exercise in respect of the state. Clause 3 puts an end to restrictions on the legislative powers of state Parliaments in respect of their legislation which might conflict with United Kingdom law. These restrictions flow from the states' quasi-colonial status.

Clause 4 repeals Sections 735 and 736 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894, in so far as they are part of the law of a state. Clause 5 qualifies Sections 2 and 3(2) by making them subject to the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act and the Commonwealth constitution. Clause 5 also provides that those provisions do not operate so as to give any force or effect to any state Act that would repeal, amend or be repugnant to them or to the Statute of Westminster or to this present Act. Clause 6 requires that state laws continue to be made in such manner and form as may be prescribed by the law of that state.

Clause 7 makes new provisions for the powers and functions of Her Majesty the Queen and Governors in respect of states. Her Majesty's representative in each state continues to be the Governor. It is the Governor alone who will exercise the powers of Her Majesty, except on the appointment or the termination of the appointment of a Governor and at times when the Queen is personally present in the state. On those two matters the Bill provides for the Queen to act on the advice of the Premier of the state concerned, although when she is personally present in a state any such advice to the Queen would only be tendered in accordance with the mutual and prior agreement between the Queen and the Premier. This arrangement was agreed between the Australian federal and state authorities and the Palace.

Clause 8 will put an end to existing powers of the Queen, in her capacity as Queen of the United Kingdom, to disallow state laws, and will prevent any requirement for the operation of state laws to be suspended pending signification of the Queen's pleasure. Clause 9 nullifies the requirement for a state Governor to withhold assent from any Bill duly enacted by the state legislature or to reserve any state Bill for the signification of Her Majesty's pleasure. Clause 10 provides that, after the commencement of the Act, the United Kingdom Government will have no responsibility for the government of any state.

Clause 11 will terminate appeals to Her Majesty in Council from or in respect of any decision by an Australian court. However, it will not affect an appeal instituted before the commencement of this legislation, or an appeal for which leave has been given before the commencement of the Act. I should perhaps repeat here that this step has the unanimous support of all parties in the states and Commonwealth of Australia.

Clause 12, which supplements Clause 1, expressly repeals Section 4, Section 9(2) and (3) and Section 10(2) of the Statute of Westminster 1931, in so far as they are part of the law of the Commonwealth, of a state or of a territory. Section 4 of the Statute of Westminster allows the Parliament of the United Kingdom to legislate for the Commonwealth of Australia with its request and consent, and Section 9(3) specifies that that request and consent is that of the Commonwealth Parliament and Government. Section 9(2) made exceptions to maintain the power of the states to request legislation by Parliament at Westminster; and Section 10(2) allowed the Commonwealth of Australia to revoke its adoption of the Statute of Westminster. In view of Clause 1, these provisions no longer serve any purpose under the new constitutional relationship as established by the present legislation.

Clauses 13 and 14 make amendments to the Constitution Acts of Queensland and Western Australia respectively. These two states' constitutions are the only ones which include specific provisions relating to the appointment of their Governors, and these clauses are consequential upon the termination of the powers and responsibilities of United Kingdom Ministers in respect of the states. Clause 15 provides that the proposed legislation and the Statute of Westminster, as amended and in force from time to time, in so far as it is part of the law of the Commonwealth, a state or a territory, can be repealed or amended only by the Commonwealth Parliament at the request, or with the concurrence, of the Parliaments of all the states. An exception is made in respect of Commonwealth legislation enacted pursuant to any constitutional alteration made, in accordance with Section 128 of the constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia, after the commencement of the present Act Section 128 sets out the way in which the constitution of the Commonwealth can be amended.

Clauses 16 and 17 provide for matters of interpretation, short title and commencement. It has been agreed between the Commonwealth and state governments that the Australia Acts to be enacted by the Commonwealth and United Kingdom Parliaments should come into operation at the same time.

I am sure that the whole House will wish to join with the Government in welcoming this Bill. It represents and embodies Australian wishes. All parties in all state legislatures and the Commonwealth Parliament support the proposals outlined in the Bill. As I said at the beginning, legislation has been enacted in all state and Commonwealth legislatures, smoothly and without controversy. It is right that this House should agree to the removal of these residual constitutional links at the request of the representatives of the Australian people. The provisions of this Bill will substitute new arrangements which accurately reflect Australia's well-established status as an independent and sovereign nation. I commend this Bill to the House.

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

3.46 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Baroness for explaining this Bill to the House in a clear and helpful speech. It comes to us, as she has said, at the request of the Australian Government under the provisions of Section 4 of the Statute of Westminster, and it has the support of the Opposition in the Australian Parliament. I have read the Second Reading debate in the Commonwealth Parliament upon their own legislation—that is, the Australia (Request and Consent) Bill and their Australia Bill—which took place on 25th November last. I studied the debate with great interest, and the speeches on both sides of their House left us in no doubt that the desire for this Bill in Australia is unanimous. That is quite understandable. The residual constitutional and legal links are no longer meaningful, save to the extent that Her Majesty the Queen remains involved. We must respect the wishes of the Commonwealth and states Parliaments. By so doing we shall strengthen rather than weaken the relationship between our two countries.

There is nevertheless, I suspect, in both countries a lingering nostalgia, especially in some quarters, for the old ties. This too is understandable if one recalls the historical background. The six original colonies were settled by people from all parts of the British Isles, not only English and Irish—as we are constantly reminded—but Scots and Welsh as well, as Australian place names such as Perth and New South Wales demonstrate.

The language, customs, traditions—not forgetting the great sporting traditions—and the respect of the Australian people for democratic government and the rule of law are proof of an ineradicable inheritance. If I may be allowed to say so, it is an inheritance to be proud of and to cherish. It is an inheritance to which the four countries of the United Kingdom have made a contribution. Now Australia itself has put, and will continue to put, its own stamp and colour upon it, but the commitment to basic principles will remain. The work of the Britain-Australia Bicentennial Committee—which is now going on—will help to underline this common heritage. Some of us will feel a tinge of regret that the link with the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is to go at last. But it was set up in different times. It was the Imperial Court of Appeal, and the ultimate legal authority.

In his Second Reading speech, Mr. Spender, the Opposition spokesman in the Australian Parliament, himself a distinguished lawyer, put the contemporary Australian view very plainly—as is characteristic of most Australians I have met—when he said: I have never been able to understand why Australians should think that they would get a more impartial hearing in London than they would in their own High Court. I have never been able to understand the suspicion of the High Court that some highly intelligent Australians have felt in the past. I think that some people still believe that it is better to go to London than to the High Court". That was Mr. Spender's reaction, and I do not doubt that he spoke for most Australians.

It is also true, I believe, that the Australian legal fraternity have a very high respect for the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and we must respond by saying that we think that the Judicial Committee has made an immense contribution to the development of legal standards in Australia as well as in other parts of the Commonwealth. It is equally true that we in this country have the utmost respect for the Australian High Court and concede without question that the function of the Privy Council is no longer essential. I assume, however (and I say this in parenthesis and perhaps the noble Baroness will advise me about it) that the four appeals from Australia which are still pending in the Judicial Committee will in fact proceed to a satisfactory conclusion—at least satisfactory to the successful parties!

Many of the other so-called residual constitutional links have been affected or neutralised by developing constitutional practice in the Commonwealth and in the states in Australia. By passing this Bill today we are merely recognising and accepting the facts of life in Australia.

As the noble Baroness pointed out in her speech, one of the interesting but anachronistic features has been the separate relationship between the states and the United Kingdom. Her Majesty the Queen is Queen in the Australian states, not as Queen of Australia but, as the noble Baroness, the Minister, has just said, as Queen in right of the United Kingdom, and therefore, technically at least, could be advised on state matters in Australia by United Kingdom Ministers and not by Australian Ministers. That is a curious relic which the Bill now abolishes. It is of course of the first importance to realise that the Queen will in future act as Queen of Australia and be advised by her Australian Ministers, and that is covered by Clause 7 of the Bill.

My noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones will deal more fully with the legal aspects of the Bill when he comes to wind up later on. However, it becomes apparent that as these residual constitutional and legal functions finally disappear, the role of Her Majesty the Queen in my view assumes an even greater significance. The Sovereign will be the constitutional monarch in Australia as she is here and in certain other countries, and that link, although it is largely undefinable in strict legal terms, helps to preserve the historic relationship between our two countries.

The Bill, especially Clauses 1, 2, 10, 11 and 12, terminates the power of this Parliament in Australia. However, Clause 7 holds out the hand and the hope of friendship and mutual trust. This is not the "farewell Australia" Bill, as a few have described it, but a Bill passed in a spirit of co-operation and understanding by two equal and friendly countries which have almost as many things in common as there are miles which separate them.

The world has become a much smaller place and the message of our time is that countries should work ever closer together. I read in the weekend press that an aircraft is already on the drawing board which would get us to Australia in an hour. That would be very agreeable, although I wish that the experts would work on a method of getting me home to Anglesey in somewhat less than six hours!

Finally, on behalf of the Opposition, I am to say that we give the Australia Bill our full support. We shall not seek to amend it and will expedite its passage through this House so that it may take its place as an historic Act on our statute book. Our affectionate greetings and our very best wishes go to the people of the great Commonwealth of Australia; our profound hope is that they will go forward in peace, in prosperity and in freedom. I beg to support the Bill.

3.55 p.m.

Earl Grey

My Lords, we on these Benches also heartily welcome the Bill which is designed to end the formal colonial status of the Australian states by breaking the residual rights of the United Kingdom Parliament over the legislation of the states.

There are only one or two matters arising from the Bill which I should like to mention. I am very glad that, under Clause 11(4), any appeal to Her Majesty in Council which has been presented but not yet heard will not be affected by the Bill. I have only one other question, but I do not know whether it is relevant to the Bill. Do the Government know of any changes regarding the necessity for British citizens having to apply for visas to visit Australia?

As the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, has said, the Bill can only strengthen the good and friendly relationship which exists between ourselves and Australia. I know that Australia welcomes the Bill and we on these Benches wish it a smooth and pleasant passage.

3.56 p.m.

Lord Wilberforce

My Lords, I should like to add just a very few words on one aspect of the Bill; namely, the judicial aspect, which is dealt with in Clause 11. That clause relates, as the noble Baroness has well explained, to the right of appeal from Australian courts to Her Majesty in Council—in effect to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council which has existed for 85 years under federation and even longer in relation to some of the colonies which existed before that date. I have been personally and intimately associated with that process for 22 years—a privilege which I greatly esteem. Indeed, that perhaps justifies the few observations which I wish to make.

One can confidently say that from the United Kingdom we have always endeavoured with high priority to provide the best possible judicial service for the Australian legal system. We have endeavoured to see, so far as we can, that our judgments have been attuned to, and in line with, the Australian way of life, the Australian outlook and the Australian ethos. I believe that success in that respect has been fairly general—not perhaps 100 per cent.—and there have been occasions when our Australian friends have not hesitated in their forthright and sometimes colourful language which we expect and enjoy from them, to let us know where we have gone wrong. It has been very good for us and also for the judicial system as a whole.

However, on the whole, I believe we can claim that the process has worked well and smoothly. Recourse to London has continued over the 85 years because we have provided a service which has been quick and cheap—sometimes quicker and cheaper than it would have been had the persons concerned gone wholly through the Australian courts.

Our association over these 85 years has been a triple one. In the first place, it has enabled us to have contact with Australian courts. If it is true, as I believe it is, that the High Court of Australia under Sir Owen Dixon was the pre-eminent court not only in the Commonwealth but in the English-speaking world during the period in which he was Chef Justice, I believe it is equally safe to say that the High Court at all times has been and is a highly distinguished court for which we have the greatest possible respect. Indeed, that is not only true of the High Court, because we have been able to have relations of a very intimate character with the state courts.

It is worth noting that our relations have been not only with the Supreme Courts—the Courts of Appeal in the states—but often with courts of first instance from which curiously there has often been a direct appeal to Her Majesty in Council. During that time we have been able to pool our thinking and our knowledge with a number of very great judges. I would almost say that we have come to regard those judges as our judges, and perhaps reciprocally they may have come to think that we are in some measure their judges.

There has also been an involvement, through Australia, with a number of most interesting cases. Australia is a continent, not a country, with a vast number of problems, conditions and environments which do not exist elsewhere. That has enabled the common law to take cognisance of a number of most fascinating situations and so to enlarge its richness. I shall not trouble your Lordships with a list of cases, but perhaps I may mention just a few which are probably known to some of your Lordships. There is the case of the wagon mound, the case of the fire in Sydney Harbour which was ignited by a floating rag, which enormously developed the law of negligence. There have been cases about drifting sand in the Australian outback, about a great fire in a giant redwood tree and about the drifting of the seeds of prickly pears. How much poorer would the common law have been without these situations. I could go on in the same theme for many minutes. However, it is undoubtedly true that the common law has been greatly enriched through its ability to take under its wing situations from this great country.

Thirdly, there has been the contact which we have had with the Australian Bar. Australian advocates have deservedly always enjoyed a very great reputation, and they have always had outstanding figures who have been willing, mainly but not entirely during the Test Match season (which is our summer and their winter), to come over and give us the benefit of their advocacy. I believe that it is absolutely safe to say that the Bar and the judges here have greatly benefited from that process.

I cannot forbear to mention just one name—that of Sir Garfield Barwick, who was probably the most powerful advocate of our time and who was later Chief Justice. I was able to work with him on a number of cases, both at the Bar and on the Bench. However, there are many other names of international calibre who have been able to come and give us the benefit of their learning and help over the years.

Of course, that is not the end of the British legal association with Australia. I hope that that will carry on for many years. It is the end of a phase, but a phase that I believe we can look back on without shame and with very great joy.

4.3 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to welcome this Bill and particularly to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, who is so highly regarded in Australia. Any member of the Australian Bar coming to this country is thrilled if he or she has the opportunity to meet this Member of our House. It is claimed that the noble and learned Lord has done more for law in Australia than anyone in Australia.

I believe that in a way it is sad that we shall lose this right of appeal to the Privy Council. When I was at the university stage of my life I remember very clearly that the case brought to oppose bank nationalisation by Garfield Barwick was almost the salvation of Australia. Therefore, I hope that by now they have changed their laws or judicial system to an extent where they can save themselves. However, I believe that just as a mother and children reach a stage where the children have to be allowed to be independent, to stand on their own feet and to run their own lives, Australia is now in that situation. I hope that in the 30 years during which I have been in this country Australia has gained the great expertise in the law which it obviously believes it has.

I believe that I must speak on this Bill because I am perhaps the only active Australian Member of this House. (I am sorry that I have so little voice, but last week I had no voice and today I have some.) My own title "Gardner of Parkes" comes from the town, Parkes, which was named after Sir Henry Parkes, one of the fathers of federation in Australia, to which my noble friend the Minister referred at the beginning of her speech. Federation took place in 1901. My father and his two brothers were all members of the state Parliament in New South Wales and my father was the acting Premier of New South Wales at the time of the visit of the late Duke of Windsor, who was then Prince of Wales. Therefore, these are very special and precious moments for me when I hear the state Parliaments being given these new rights and powers, and, as a Member of this House, I am very proud to be present at this moment.

Personally, I am delighted, and I am sure that I echo the feeling of every Australian, that the status of the Queen in Australia remains unchanged. That was the one pang that people had in relation to this degree of independence; they were concerned over any threat to the status of the Queen, because her Majesty is dearly loved by the people of Australia. I believe this Bill makes it clear that that will continue.

Earlier speeches this afternoon have referred to how Australia was settled. The noble Lord on the Opposition Front Bench mentioned how it was settled by people from all parts of this country. That is true, but I would remind the noble Lord that they were not all volunteers for the job. However, in 1988 the Australian bicentenary will take place. I am a member of the British-Australian Bicentennial Committee and I believe that this will provide a marvellous opportunity to continue the links which have been in existence for these 200 years. I have no more to say but to welcome this complete legislative independence and the spirit of this Parliament in bringing forward this Bill at the request of the Australian Government and the states.

4.7 p.m.

Lord Denning

My Lords, perhaps I may add just a few remarks. It is nearly 30 years since I first sat on the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council hearing appeals from Australia, and as I have also visited Australia and know all their judges and their colleagues, first, I should like to associate myself with all that my noble and learned friend Lord Wilberforce has said.

This is the end of an era that began many years ago in the colonial time with New South Wales. Sir Robert Menzies once said to me, "You must remember that the first people in Australia were picked by the best judges of England". That is how New South Wales came into existence—with Botany Bay and the like. That colonial era existed until 1900 when the Commonwealth of Australia Act formed the Federal Government of Australia with the states below it. There was that great independent new nation with all its difficulties of constitution and interstate questions which troubled their courts and which came for decision before us in the Privy Council. The great bank case brought all the best lawyers from Australia to this country to argue it, including Sir Robert Menzies and the like.

I hope and believe that the Judicial Committee did its work to the great satisfaction of all, although there were one or two minor divergencies. However, we also learnt a great deal from the High Court of Australia. I should like to join in the tribute which my noble and learned friend Lord Wilberforce paid to that High Court. I have known all its Chief Justices, including Sir Owen Dixon, Sir Garfield Barwick and now Sir Harry Gibbs. In its time it has been, and is, as good a supreme tribunal as any other—perhaps better; it is at least equal to any other the whole world over. We regarded its judgments as of great value in our common law, too—common law which I hope we shall continue to develop mutually and in parallel.

The time came, and it must be recognised, when it was no longer appropriate for the courts of the states of Australia ever more to have recourse to the Privy Council here, when they had this great High Court of Australia to deal with their questions. Therefore, I am sure we would all join with all parties in Australia in saying that the time has come—it has come today—for that last remaining judicial link to be severed. We welcome the severance and we wish the High Court of Australia well in future times, hoping we shall keep the common law together as we did in the past.

There is this great residual satisfaction that the Queen here—the Queen of England; the Queen of the United Kingdom, if you please—the Queen of Australia there, is the link which remains. This is the link which will still bind us together, and we hope that this link will continue forever. We wish this new constitution under the new Australia Act well.

4.12 p.m.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, I join in the welcome given to this Bill. I am a Member of the Anglo-Anzac Group of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I must confess that I have yet to visit Australia. I suppose I am one of the few people who have been to New Zealand but not to Australia, but that is a pleasure to come. My wife was recently in Australia where she had a warm welcome, and a close member of my family works in Australia at the present time.

I should like to ask my noble friend the Minister how the whole matter of work permits and immigration rules will apply under the new legislation? Are there likely to be any changes? Bearing in mind the importance of trade nowadays and business links, one hopes that the new legislation will encourage relations of this kind still further.

My other point was made by my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes, and that is the position of the Royal Family. It is encouraging to know that the status of the Royal Family remains, particularly in view of the fact that His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales spent a distinguished period of time at Geelong Grammar School; and one hopes that members of the Royal Family will visit Australia in future as much as possible. With those few words, I warmly welcome this Bill.

4.14 p.m.

Lord Hayter

My Lords, I come to praise Australia, not to bury her. I welcome this Bill personally, and I also welcome it as a member of the Cook Society. In case that society may not be well known to your Lordships, I would explain that it is not named after Thomas Cook the tourist, but Captain Cook the explorer. It has about 80 members in this country whose duty it is to promote Anglo-Australian relations at a high level. It has its counterparts in Sydney and Melbourne. I have been specially charged by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, to apologise because he is not here today to speak on this Second Reading, as he is one of the many people who have Australia in their hearts and therefore belong to the Cook Society.

As one who has made many trips to Australia and whose business there was founded in 1898, which is quite a long time ago in the history of that country, I thought I would not discuss the legalities of the Bill but delve down and show your Lordships the human issues which have brought it about, and also perhaps the course that we ought to take after the Bill becomes an Act.

The difficulty in Australia has always been to reconcile its history with its geography. That may sound a bit strange to us living in an island where the history and geography are much the same. But think what a remarkable thing it was when Australia experienced what had happened in the United States of America, and there was this great immigration in the early part of the peace which followed the last World War. Of course, there were British people who went there, but the first flow was from Estonia and Lithuania. They were called "the Balts" in Australia. Then there were the Greeks and the Italians, who knew when they left their own country that they were going to another country with some sunshine. Then there were the Germans, and of course latterly immigrants from South-East Asia.

These people have altered the habits of a lifetime in Australia. I saw it for myself. That business of having to get into a hotel (which the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, will remember) by six o'clock if you wanted your tea; that departure from your office at five o'clock to get to the pub before it closed at six, commonly known as the six o'clock swill—they have all gone out of the window. Restaurants sprang up; beer gardens sprang up; and ladies were allowed into pubs, which was a novel idea in Australia.

At first there was antipathy by the Australians as they saw their immigrants making money by keeping open much longer hours than the Australians had been accustomed to. But in the end—and I also saw this happening—there was a recognition of the worth of these immigrants and the influence they had brought to bear on the Australian habits of a lifetime. So much so that it was quite difficult at one time to find in Sydney any person whose four grandparents were born in Australia. But I think it did a lot of good all round.

So much for the history side. But what about the geography? A wise man said recently: Even if Britain remains to Australia an important and friendly power"— as I hope it does— there are four other states which are more directly relevant to her well-being and peace of mind—Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Japan and the United States of America". Does that mean that Australia is turning her back on Europe and the United Kingdom? If it was so it would be ironical, because that is what they thought we were doing when we joined the European Economic Community. Sir Robert Menzies, when he came to the first Cook Society meeting in Australia, made that point at just about the time when we were discussing the European Economic Community. He said, "Always remember that it is not the European Economic Community at all. Right in its very heart it is a European political community, and it is the one means of ensuring that no European country will make war upon another". It may well be, therefore, that if there is some justice in this remark about the ties with South-East Asia the same thought may well mature there, and it will be Australia which will be the stabilising influence in that part of the world.

One last point on communications. In these last 50 years I have seen how that country has been opened up by the communications in Australia itself. Australians who had never seen Darwin or Perth if they happened to live in Sydney—and the reverse applied—suddenly found how easy it was to get about the country. They brought a new look which was reflected in their art, their drama, and their literature. A reference was made by a noble Lord to communications outside Australia and the possibility of the development of a fast aeroplane. It certainly would be a great change from the first aeroplane that I caught. It took eight days to get by flying-boat from here to Sydney. As he rightly said, the world is getting smaller, and in its smallness Australia has become a power in the world. When we look back at the influence it has had on the Commonwealth we must be very grateful for the help we have received, not only in the First World War and the Second World War but through its more subtle influences in relation to India, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

So the time has come to cut the apron strings. Here I reflect a little on what the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, has said. Let me illustrate what I hope will happen by thinking of what happens in one's own home. When the children grow up and get married, or go away to seek work elsewhere, one does not say "That's that" and forget all about them. You have to redouble your efforts to make sure that the ties between you and them are maintained. It is in their interests as well as your own that these ties should be maintained. This is trouble and expense, and if your Lordships do not believe me you may pay my telephone bill! That is the one way that my wife and myself keep in touch with our children, wherever they are; and that includes Australia. How important it is for us to make sure that the same thing takes place after this Bill has become an Act.

I have not taken the trouble—perhaps I should have done—to find out how many Prime Ministers or Cabinet Ministers from this country have ever been to Australia, but the need is there. The only people about whom one can make no reproach is the Royal Family, because they have realised how important it is to keep this Commonwealth together. We must not think, "What can Australia do for us?" We must think of what we can do for Australia. In that way I am sure we shall find progress for both our countries. I support the Bill.

4.22 p.m.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, this is an historic and in some ways a moving occasion in that the residual constitutional links that remain between the United Kingdom and the Australian states are now to be broken. Those of us who have links with Australia—and most of those who have spoken have shown how emotional they feel about this—will know that this is a moving occasion. I remember with happiness many of the visits I have made to Australia and the friendships I have formed there: their vigour, their warmth and their humour. Sir Robert Menzies was perhaps a classic example. I remember attending the Commonwealth Law Conference in Sydney in 1965, which he opened. Judges from this country were present—the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and others, all enrobed—and he said that he attended the church service that morning before the opening of the conference. He said, "I expected to meet the odour of sanctity. All I met was the smell of mothballs". That was typical of his vigour and humour.

I am delighted today that two notable and learned Lords of Appeal have taken part in this debate. It is not a debate; it is a universal acclamation of approval. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, has made an outstanding contribution to the law. His contribution today will give particular joy to our Australian friends, especially those on the Bench and at the Bar. He has played a notable part in the work of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. That has been a two-way process, as has been said by many of the speakers. The Australians have contributed much, whether as judges or as lawyers, whether as soldiers or as statesmen; and we, for our part, have made the best contribution that we can.

On the willingness of the Australians to make sacrifice, one can only think by way of example of the fact that Gallipoli is forever engraved on the hearts of the British people. When one goes over to the more mundane but nevertheless important field of the law, one is reminded, as has been said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, of the contribution of great judges like Sir Owen Dixon. Their contribution, their participation in the development of the common law, has been great. What is very touching and moving from the British end is the signal honour that has been paid to the members of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council over the years by the willingness of the Australians to regard it as the ultimate court of resort for the Australian courts. It is a great tribute to their quality, but it is a process in which the Australian judges and Bar have played their notable parts.

The happy feature of today's debate, unlike that on the Canada Bill, is that this Bill is wholly uncontroversial and is welcomed without any kind of inhibition or reserve. The Canada Act was a much more difficult operation. As your Lordships will remember, it sought to repatriate the Canadian constitution, to amend substantially that constitution by the addition of a Canadian charter of rights and to repeal the power of the United Kingdom Parliament to legislate for Canada. That is perhaps a formal step rather like that provision in this Bill. But the Canada Act was a special case. Happily this Bill comes with universal approval both from Australia and, as we have seen in the course of this debate, from the people of Britain, from the House of Lords, in all its aspects.

We welcome the Bill and we wish every happiness and enjoyment of the fact that the final judicial decisions in Australia now go to Australians themselves and are theirs by right. I welcome the Bill and wish Godspeed to the Australian people.

4.27 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I should like to thank all those noble Lords who have taken part this afternoon in this short but I believe very important debate on the Australia Bill. I am particularly grateful for the wholehearted support given by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, as well as that from the noble Earl, Lord Grey. It represents the views of all parts of political life in this country. I think we would all agree with the words of the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, when he said that although we all wholeheartedly support the Bill we feel a tinge of nostalgia at the same time. This has been reflected in the words spoken in today's debate. Indeed it is the end of an era; nevertheless it is an important step and one that we all welcome, because it reflects the rightful relationship between two important, equal and independent countries.

A number of questions have been raised. The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, asked me to confirm the position of those people who currently have appeals before the Privy Council. I am glad to confirm that there are now five appeals pending in January 1986: two from New South Wales, one from Queensland and two from Western Australia. But, as I indicated earlier, Clause 11 of the Bill provides that those appeals received but not disposed of will be dealt with by the Privy Council as would have been the case if this legislation was not being enacted.

The noble Earl, Lord Grey, asked me a question about visas and perhaps I can confirm to him that the legislation before the House in no way affects visas, which are the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government; and I should like to confirm to my noble friend Lord Auckland that in fact the same applies to work permits and to immigration rules. They are not in any way affected because they are the responsibility of the Commonwealth of Australia.

I am sure that we all listened with enormous interest to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, had to say, and indeed to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning. They reflected on a system which has existed now for 85 years. They were able to illustrate the work with what I am sure we all found to have been a fascinating series of reflections and remembrances of cases heard in the past. They quite rightly gave a rather rich addition to the explanation of this constitutional and, at times, technical Bill to fill us in with the background of what it means both in this country and in Australia.

My noble friend Lady Gardner added a most interesting personal recollection to the debate and illustrated once again the fact that your Lordships' House always contributes something in particular when she was able to say that she is a daughter of a state premier and therefore was brought up in a world in which all these important constitutional matters were talked of at home as well as in the wider political world. We also listened to the noble Lord, Lord Hayter, speaking on behalf of the Cook Society, who gave us again most interesting reflections both on the history of Australia and particularly on the modern changes which have come in its society with the great increase of immigration from many parts of Europe and also the effect of geography and modern history on Australian political thinking and the changes which have come to the United Kingdom with our accession in Europe.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, described this as a moving occasion and I think that I would entirely agree with him. It is a Bill before the House which has universal approval, which has the approval of all your Lordships. It reflects the reality that Australia is a modern and independent nation and I am very glad that the Bill has received the support and the goodwill that it has had.

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