HL Deb 18 April 1989 vol 506 cc756-9

7.27 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy (Baroness Hooper)

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Glenarthur I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of the Bill is to enable effect to be given to new arrangements which are currently being made with the Government of Brunei about appeals from the Supreme Court of Brunei to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. It is envisaged that the new arrangements will be recorded in an exchange of notes which, when concluded, would then be given effect in the United Kingdom by an Order in Council to be made under the Bill.

In common with several other Commonwealth countries, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is the highest court of Brunei. The present arrangements for appeals from Brunei derive from the period when Brunei was a British protected state. The new arrangements we are making will, at the request of the Government of Brunei, differ in three aspects from the existing procedure.

First, both appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and the ensuing advice of the committee, which are at present addressed to Her Majesty the Queen in Council, will in future be addressed to His Majesty the Sultan of Brunei.

Brunei ceased to be a British protected state in 1971 and achieved full independence on 31st December 1983. It is considered anomalous for the Judicial Committee to continue to tender advice to Her Majesty the Queen when the Sultan, and not the Queen, is the Head of State of Brunei. In August 1987 the Brunei Government formally requested this change in the procedure, following the precedent of the procedure established with respect to appeals from Malaysia. As with the case of Malaysia, the Government concluded that this request should be met, but that primary legislation would be required in order to enable the necessary jurisdiction to be conferred on the Judicial Committee.

The second difference is that the minimum value of civil disputes which may be the subject of appeals to the Privy Council will be substantially increased. The existing figure of £500 was set in 1951 and clearly is now obsolete. We envisage that a new figure of 200,000 Brunei dollars—about £60,000—will be included in the subsequent Order in Council.

Thirdly, at the request of Brunei, appeals concerning constitutional matters will be excluded from the Judicial Committee's jurisdiction. Both governments are in full agreement about these new arrangements.

There are strong historical links between the United Kingdom and Brunei, dating back over several centuries. The two countries first entered into special treaty relations in 1846. These continued until Brunei resumed full independence on 31st December 1983 and was admitted to the Commonwealth on 1st January 1984. Our relations have continued to be close and friendly since then. We are keen to build on the excellent foundations already laid.

Perhaps I may now briefly explain the provisions of the Bill. The preamble records that arrangements are being made between the governments of the United Kingdom and of Brunei, and indicates the intention to record these in an exchange of notes. A draft exchange of notes was passed to the Government of Brunei in January, and they have confirmed their broad agreement with the wording. We intend to conclude the exchange of notes as soon as the final details have been settled.

Clause 1 enables jurisdiction to be conferred by Order in Council on the Judicial Committee in respect of appeals from the Supreme Court of Brunei in order to give effect to arrangements between the two governments. This clause is modelled on Section 3 of the Federation of Malaya Independence Act 1957.

Clause 1(2) is the main enabling provision of the Bill. It allows the making of an Order in Council to confer on the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council such jurisdiction over appeals from the Supreme Court of Brunei as is appropriate to give effect to the new arrangements.

Such an order will be necessary to enable the jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee to be exercisable in relation to the Sultan of Brunei. Without such a provision, the jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee is exercisable only in relation to an appeal to Her Majesty the Queen in Council.

Clause 2 gives the Short Title and provides for commencement. It also provides that the existing orders which confer jurisdiction on the Judicial Committee with respect to appeals from Brunei to Her Majesty shall be revoked as from the date on which the first order made under Clause 1 comes into force.

I hope and feel sure that all Members of your Lordship's House will wish to join with Her Majesty's Government in welcoming this Bill. The new arrangements which it allows concerning appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council are in keeping with Brunei's independent status and the close and friendly relations between our two countries. I beg to move.

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

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Baroness for explaining this Bill to the House. We welcome the Bill and will help its passage for a number of good reasons. As the noble Baroness has said, we have enjoyed friendly relations with Brunei over a long period and both Governments are anxious that these should continue. I recall that over 20 years ago I had the privilege of conducting negotiations on behalf of Her Majesty's Government with the late Sultan. It was an interesting experience. The talks were facilitated by the fact that His Royal Highness had a Welsh attorney general.

The noble Baroness referred to the anomaly whereby the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council tendered its advice to Her Majesty the Queen although Brunei has been fully independent since 1983. We agree that the precedent applied in the case of Malaysia should be followed, as the Minister has explained, and that the Judicial Committee should proffer its advice direct to the Sultan as head of state. The noble Baroness also referred to the current minimum value of civil disputes. It is obvious that the 1951 figure is entirely out of date. The new figure of £60,000 that is proposed for the minimum value of civil disputes is a sensible move.

Finally, the Minister made the point that constitutional matters will not come within the Privy Council's jurisdiction. We note that the new arrangements are also to be recorded in an exchange of notes. I understand that these will have been concluded before the Bill completes its passage through Parliament. Like everyone else in the House, I am glad that Brunei, like other countries, is to maintain its connection with our Supreme Court in this country and thus with our legal tradition. We wish them well.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, I support very much what the noble Lord said. I very warmly welcome this Bill. I believe that it is an important step forward. I congratulate the Government—perhaps not my noble friend in person—for the considerable skill they have shown in bringing this matter about. It is a flexible arrangement of the kind which I am sure that the Sultan of Brunei will like. I was in Brunei when the revolution broke out in December 1962 so I know a little about what was happening there at that time.

It strikes me as being a very flexible arrangement. I cannot say that I understand exactly what will go to the Privy Council and what will not. Doubtless that information will appear in due course. This is a very important step and I wish to explain why. If any country does business with Brunei it probably does not know very much about the judicial system there. It is possible that such a country might even question the basis on which Brunei proceeds. It will be an added strength to it to know that matters can go to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The country may not know much about the Judicial Committee but it will know that it is there. It may well be an extremely valuable step on the industrial side and in the economic development of Brunei. For that reason I welcome the Bill and congratulate the Government on having achieved it.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, and to my noble friend Lord Selkirk for their welcome of this Bill. I am also very happy to hear that both noble Lords have historical connections with Brunei and especially to hear of the Welsh connection. I can certainly supply my noble friend with a little more detail as regards which appeals are envisaged under the new arrangement, if that is helpful to him.

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