HL Deb 21 May 1990 vol 519 cc665-79

7.13 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

On 5th April this year I informed your Lordships' House that the Government intended to make it possible to hand over to the Commonwealth of Australia, as a gift, one of the two vellum copies of the Act of Parliament which brought Australia into being as an independent nation. The introduction of this Bill in another place on Anzac Day was a first step towards the fulfilment of that undertaking. I am pleased to be able to inform your Lordships that on the occasion of its Second Reading on 3rd May, this modest Bill was unanimously welcomed by all sides, and that on that day it completed all its remaining stages in the other place.

The Public Record copy of the Australian Constitution Act 1900 is already in Australia on loan. The effect of this Bill will be to release that copy from the provisions of the Public Records Act 1958, thereby enabling Her Majesty's Government to accede to the Australian Government's request that it should remain there permanently.

It may be helpful to your Lordships if I explain that there are two copies of the Australian Constitution Act 1900, which were printed at the time on vellum. One is held in the Record office of the House of Lords as the official record of Parliamentary proceedings. The other is the Public Record office copy, which has, as I say, been on loan to Australia for the past two years. The Act established the framework for the Commonwealth of Australia, including the powers of its Government and judiciary, and its provisions have remained relatively unchanged since its enactment. The Act was drafted by Australians and was endorsed at the time by a majority of Australians and by each of the Australian parliaments and governments.

The Australians already hold a duplicate original of the Royal Proclamation, signed by Queen Victoria, which brought the Act into force on 1st January 1901: and a duplicate original of the Commission of Royal Assent to the Act, which was also signed by Queen Victoria. The provision of the Public Record office copy of the Constitution Act on a permanent basis will, therefore, complete the trinity of documents which, taken together, represent Australia's birth certificate as a nation. Far from being a dimly remembered historic document, the Act is regarded by Australians as the embodiment of Australian nationhood, containing provisions which remain as relevant now as they were 90 years ago.

There has been a great deal of interest shown in the document by the Australian people. Since the Public Record copy of the Act was lent to Australia for the Bicentennial in 1988, over 2 million visitors have had the opportunity to see it on display in Parliament House in Canberra. On a personal note, it gave me great pleasure to be able to view the document when I visited Australia in 1988 on the occasion of the inaugural sittings in the new Parliament House. I had the chance to witness, at first hand, the great interest shown by the Australian people in the copy of the Act. I am sure that there can be no doubt of the depth of feeling which lies behind the request to hold a copy of the Act permanently.

The Government recognise of course that the arguments against the disposal of any of our public records are also strong. Among my various duties as Lord Chancellor, I have ministerial responsibility for the supervision and care of our nation's public records under the provisions of the Public Records Act. I take those responsibilities very seriously. Public records are an important part of this country's heritage and form an integral and unique collection which go back a very long way. The dispersal of material from our national archive is therefore not a step that can be lightly agreed to. But, in view of the special circumstances of the Australians' request, including the fact that the people of Australia have become accustomed to having easy access to the document, and the fact that minds are presently focused on old ties between our countries, the Government have decided that it would be right to find a way to offer the document to the Commonwealth of Australia as a gift, and I so informed this House by Written Answer on 5th April. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has now written to Mr. Hawke offering a gift of the document and that offer has been warmly accepted.

As things stand at present, the copy of the Act is a public record selected for permanent preservation under the terms of the Public Records Act 1958. The provisions of that Act do not allow for gifts or permanent loans of records to be made. This Bill will make it possible for the document to be released to the Commonwealth of Australia by providing that this vellum copy of the Act alone ceases to be among the United Kingdom public records to which the Public Record Act applies. The Bill has been drafted in such a way as to make it clear that this change in status refers, and is intended to refer, to this one particular document alone. The preamble refers to Her Majesty's Government's willingness to advise Her Majesty to accede to the Australiam Government's request.

This Bill will not technically make the gift but will rather make it possible. Subject of course to Parliamentary approval for the course of action the Bill proposes, there will be—as my right honourable friend the Solicitor-General said in another place—an ideal opportunity formally to hand the document over when my right honourable friend the Lord President of the Council visits Australia on offical business this summer. To make sure that proper arrangements can be made in time for that visit, the Bill will proceed rapidly, I hope so that Royal Assent may be obtained before the Summer Recess. It is also desirable that the Bill should come into force without the usual two-month interval after Royal Assent.

The effect of this short Bill will be to make possible a gesture which means a great deal to the people and Commonwealth of Australia, a nation with close and long-lasting legislative and constitutional links with our Parliament. We at Westminster should welcome this opportunity to recognise the Australian commitment to Parliamentary democracy which endures within a framework that the 1900 Act set up. I am sure that we in this House will wish to reiterate the many warm tributes paid in another place to the respect, friendship and high regard which we feel for the people of Australia. They are among our closest neighbours in all but the geographical sense. The gift of a copy of the Act is a symbol of the history, heritage and traditions which we share and of our friendship. I therefore commend the Bill to your Lordships' House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

7.20 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble and learned Lord for explaining the Bill. I can say at the outset that we on this side of the House support it most warmly and will do everything to expedite its passage. It is entirely appropriate that the Commonwealth of Australia should receive one of the two copies of the Act of Parliament that gave birth to Australia as an independent nation. We know how much the Australian Government and people appreciate the gesture. Someone called the Act "the nation's birth certificate". To give the copy to Australia will strengthen the links between our two countries and not weaken them.

The noble and learned Lord gave the House some interesting information in his speech. The more one reads about the Act—which was drafted by the Australians and endorsed by a majority of Australians—the more one appreciates the importance of the presentation. The participation of Australia in the processing of the Bill was unique in the history of the Commonwealth. When he expressed his gratitude for what he referred to as "this unique gift", Mr. Bob Hawke, the Australian Prime Minister, said that it followed six years of negotiation. It is curious that it should have taken so long but, as we know only too well, few things are more difficult to unravel than constitutional problems.

As the noble and learned Lord has explained, one of the copies of the Act belongs to the Public Records office; that is, to the state. The other copy belongs to Parliament. Furthermore, it was feared by some that a precedent would be created which might in due course involve other countries. Parliament's copy, which is kept in the Record office of this House, forms part of an unbroken archive going back to the 15th century. The noble and learned Lord quite properly stressed the historic importance of that archive.

Those and other obstacles had to be overcome before the Bill made its appearance. That was achieved with good will on all sides. However, many people were involved in the negotiations and I should like to thank them warmly for their persistence and congratulate them upon their success.

On the Australian side, the Prime Minister, Mr. Hawke, and his colleagues, including the Australian High Commissioner in London, made plain their aspiration that one copy should rest in Canberra. Mr. Hawke's address to the parliamentary ANZAC group last June and an article he wrote for The Times in February underlined the strength of the case and the feeling which existed in Australia.

On the British side a number of our parliamentary colleagues in both Houses played their part in the achievement. But none has been more enthusiastic or determined than my right honourable friend Mr. Alf Morris. He is the chairman of the parliamentary ANZAC group and we owe him a debt of gratitude for the skilful way in which he prepared his case. As we know, in February in another place he introduced a Private Member's Bill supported by a number of distinguished colleagues. It could well be called the "Australian Constitution (Alf Morris) Bill".

Finally, I wish to pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. Throughout he has been a sympathetic supporter of the Australian aspiration. From the moment that he was apprised of the problems the noble and learned Lord sought constructively for solutions. The Bill is largely a result of his work.

We are privileged to live in remarkable times when people throughout the world are yearning for freedom and for stable, democratic institutions. The Bill does more than authorise the handing over of an historic document; it teaches the world a lesson because it demonstrates how dedicated nations can be to these great principles and how determined they are to preserve them. We wish the Bill a speedy passage through the House.

7.25 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Lymington

My Lords, I rise conscious that I am about to strike a slightly discordant note. I must express my dismay at the Bill and make it clear that in doing so I speak not as a serving judge but as the 69th Master of the Rolls. That office came into existence in or about the 13th century when the Master of the Rolls was the Royal Archivist and, if I am not mistaken, the Lord Chancellor's predecessor was the Royal Chaplain. However, since those times successive holders of my office have always had a primary responsibility for public records which has been shared with the holder of the office of Lord Chancellor since 1958.

I am not alone in my dismay. When in 1958 the custody of records was transferred from the Public Records office to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, Parliament in the statute established an advisory council on public records to advise him. As Master of the Rolls I am the ex officio chairman of that council. At a recent meeting of the council, all members present, with one exception, expressed the view that the principle of the inviolability of the public records should be defended and that objections should be made both to the particular intention embodied in the Bill and to the general implications of it. That advice was conveyed to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor but was rejected by the Government. It is not for me to express any view as to the public interest; and considerations of Commonwealth unity and so forth, although I full appreciate those aspects. My concern is with the public records as such. A similar view was expressed by the National Archives Council. I know of no body concerned with public records and archives which, despite the special circumstances, does not believe that the Bill is a mistake.

Since time immemorial Acts of Parliament have been recorded in two separate copies. As the noble and learned Lord has said, one copy is kept in the Houses of Parliament and it is Parliament's own copy. The other copy is kept in the Public Records office and it is not too fanciful to describe that as the people's copy. It was the people's copy which was sent to the Commonwealth of Australia on temporary loan in connection with the bicentennial. Such a loan is authorised by Section 2(4) of the Public Records Act 1958. The Commonwealth was also supplied with two very high quality facsimile copies, but it' now wishes to retain the original.

I understand that the Commonwealth was offered an exemplification of the Act under the Great Seal and attested by the Signed Manual but that the offer was not acceptable. I should explain that exemplification is not a new-found gimmick to get out of the difficulty. It was common during the Middle Ages and the exemplification of public Acts of Parliament continued until the reign of Queen Anne who died in 1714. If it was revived it would be the most prestigious version possible after the original. Indeed, unlike the original it would be unique.

I fully appreciate the importance which the Government and the people of Australia attach to their Constitution Act. I support fully everything that was said by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor about the greatness and importance of Australia and the naturalness of its desire to have the document. However, it should also appreciate the importance which we attach to maintaining an unbroken collection of our records. Although drafted in Australia it is a United Kingdom Act. As far as I am aware never before in our history have we parted with such a record.

We are assured that the Bill will not set a precedent, but I ask, why will it not? Other nations which used to have colonial status may not be able to make a special case this year. However, I am sure that they will be able to do so in years to come.

There are some 107 United Kingdom statutes in force which relate to Commonwealth and other territories. If we are talking about national birth certificates—and I take only those of the 107 which have the word "independence" in their title—we are faced with those relating to the Bahamas, Barbados, Botswana, Burma, Ceylon, the Federation of Malaya, Fiji, Gambia, Guyana, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Malta, Mauritius, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Tanganyika, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda and Zambia. That leaves out constitutional Acts relating to Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and a host of other new independent nations.

It is clear from what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that it is too late to persuade the Australian Government to accept an exemplification. However, all else failing, perhaps the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in his reply could undertake to arrange for an exemplification of this Act to be included among our own public records, although that will not overcome the problem of a break in those centuries old records. If that is asking too much, perhaps the people of this country will be allowed to have a high grade facsimile for inclusion in those records.

As I say, I realise that I am a lone voice crying in the wilderness. However, I hope that if anybody is minded to reform this House, a little place will be left for the lone voices crying in the wilderness from the Cross-Benches.

7.31 p.m.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, I thought that I was here to welcome a Bill. I feel singularly ill-equipped to start debating this issue with the Master of the Rolls. I am happy to leave that to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. However, this is a sovereign Parliament and we can do what we judge is right. We shall override precedents.

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has played a crucial part in this issue, as has my right honourable friend the honourable Member for Wythenshawe, Mr. Alf Morris, in bringing this to our attention. I should like to point out the support which he had in another place. When he introduced his Bill, which was rather longer than this, the following Members were signatories to the Bill—and it would be difficult to find a group of supporters more representative of a British Parliament: Sir Bernard Braine, the right honourable Denis Healey, the right honourable Sir David Steele, Sir Richard Body, the right honourable Merlyn Rees, Margaret Ewing, the right honourable Jack Ashley, Neil Hamilton, the Rev. Martin Smyth, Robin Corbett and Dafydd Wigley. Those Members are a splendid cross-section of the House of Commons. I hope that we shall show our enthusiasm for a Bill which is clearly thought to be important by the Australians.

Nobody in this House speaks for anybody but himself of herself but I speak as a former chairman of the Britain-Australia Society and a former chairman of the Cook Society of which the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, who had hoped to be present this evening is the present chairman. That is a British Australian society both in Australia and here. We are shortly due to have a meeting, which we have every year or two, to discuss issues of common interest. Many of us can remember Australia during the war. I can still remember an air crew coming in which would be wearing RAF blue and one would then see the dark blue uniform of an Australian. Very of ten, the navigator was an Australian. Whether that was because they were intellectually superior I do not know. However, they were a great moral strength to us.

We are very conscious of that and it is so nice to see Australians in this House. We remember Dick Casey who was a regular attender and we are lucky to have the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, and the noble Lord, Lord Willis, here. Indeed, I wish that there were more Commonwealth representatives in the House of Lords; perhaps the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor might care to bear that in mind.

Those of us who know Australia are deeply devoted to it. We had Australian friends during the war and we knew how important they were to us. It is a marvellous country. In the Kimberleys one finds the crocodiles which are fairly fierce but not as fierce as some of the animals around the coast. We remember the wonderful surf. I went surfing on a day which was too cold for the Australians on a beach in Perth and acquired the title of "Lord of the Board". Australia has everything. If I were not living in England that is where I should choose to make my home. So many of us feel the same way.

The importance of this Bill cannot be overrated. I believe that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor took a brave decision on this matter because it was open to criticism. I do not believe that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, need worry about being alone. He had the backing of his council which advised him, but Parliament decided otherwise.

The fact that the Prime Minister and so many Australians attach so much importance to this matter justifies us taking this step. I do not believe it is too political to congratulate Mr. Hawke on winning another election. He is a fair competitor to our Prime Minister on these matters. I hope that it would be proper through the High Commissioner Doug McClelland, who is a popular figure, to send good wishes for a rapid recovery to Bob Hawke who has recently had quite a severe operation. I am sure that the House of Lords will pass this Bill although we do not dismiss lightly the view of the noble and learned Lord the Master of the Rolls. The fact that we have chosen to override his opinion makes greater the gift.

7.37 p.m.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, although my family symbol represents the kiwi rather than the koala bear, I give this Bill a very warm welcome. We are very much obliged to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor for his very clear exposition of the Bill.

I was in Australia three years ago as a guest of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Anyone who has been to Canberra and who has seen the war grave cemetery will realise how much we owe to the Australians for the sacrifices they made in two world wars and elsewhere. I should like to associate myself with the tributes paid to the right honourable Member for Wythenshawe as chairman of the ANZAC parliamentary group of which I have the honour to be a member. He has contributed a great deal to Australia and to New Zealand where he was deservedly decorated recently.

It may be said that this Bill breaches certain conventions. Public records are not always given to another country. I suppose that one might facetiously say that New Zealand might want back the Treaty of Waitangi in due course although I believe that that is unlikely. This is a special case and, as I understand it, there will still be an original copy in this country besides the copy going to Canberra. It is true that as the Commonwealth becomes increasingly self-governing, Australia is entitled to an important document of this kind.

There is no doubt that the ties between Australia and ourselves remain very strong; certainly when I was there three years ago, with five colleagues from the House of Commons, that was made quite clear. It is absolutely right that the copy of the Australia Constitution Act should be returned to Australia. I should like to pay a particularly warm tribute to the High Commissioner, whom I first met in Canberra when he was president of the Senate.

Far from creating problems over our links with Australia, the Bill will further closer relations between ourselves and a country to which we owe so much.

7.40 p.m.

Lord Willis

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Shackleton was kind enough to link me with two Australians, the late Lord Casey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Parkes. I wish I were an Australian. I feel that I have been there so of ten that I am one; alas, I am not.

Last year I was fortunate enough to go for the second time to Parkes, the little town where the noble Baroness was born. When I heard of this Bill I felt that if Australia were kind enough to give us the noble Baroness, Lady Parkes, the least we could do was to return their constitution. That is a fair swap.

I should like to welcome the Bill. I add my congratulations to Alf Morris, the Member for Wythenshawe, for his work on the Bill, and to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor who cut through a few Gordian knots to achieve the result that we all seek.

This morning I received a phone call from the third member of the team that worked so hard for the Bill, Doug McClelland, the High Commissioner. He asked me to convey his greetings to the House. He is sorry not to be listening to the debate: but he is at a function in London trying to promote Melbourne as host either for the next Olympic or Commonwealth Games. I hope that those efforts are not successful; I believe we have other plans.

I warmly welcome the Bill and congratulate all those who have made possible its coming before the House.

7.42 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I too should like to give a warm welcome to the Bill, the passing of which will give great pleasure and satisfaction to the people and Government of Australia. I have a particular interest in the Bill for two reasons. First, I am treasurer of the ANZAC group. This is a case where the Commons needs the consent of the Lords before expending any money. Secondly, my daughter and son-in-law emigrated to Australia where they and their family have enjoyed 22 happy years.

I should also like to refer to the role of my right honourable friend Alf Morris in bringing the Bill to fruition. When Bob Hawke was in Britain last June he came to a meeting of the ANZAC group and asked for its help in obtaining one of the two vellum copies of the 1990 Act for his country on a permanent basis. Alf Morris, who is the chairman of the ANZAC group, took immediate steps to comply with that request.

He first approached Sir Robin Butler, the Cabinet Secretary, but the response from Sir Robin was not encouraging. Many lesser men would have decided to proceed no further in the light of the dusty answer from the most senior civil servant. However, my right honourable friend is well known for his quiet determination. He subsequently produced his own Bill to facilitate the transfer to Australia of one of the original copies of the Australia Constitution Act 1900.

However, Alf Morris wanted the Bill to have unanimous support—and that is important. He, together with Sir Richard Body, the vice-chairman of the ANZAC group, saw the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to discuss the matter, with the result that we now have before us a Government Bill which has the near unanimous support of Britain's Parliament. I am sure that we all wish to thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for his courteous consideration and sheer common sense in bringing the Bill to fruition.

This country and its people should feel pleased and gratified that the people of Australia—two million of whom have already taken the trouble to have a sight of the 1900 Act—want to have in their own country the Act which, while giving independence to Australia, nevertheless bound our countries closer together in freedom and amity.

It is my wish, and that of most British people, to preserve our relationship with Australia and to strengthen ties rather than loosen them. Seventeen years in the alien EC have not altered our feeling of kinship with Australia nor for that matter with other countries of the Commonwealth. The present High Commissioner—His Excellency Doug McClelland—has done a great deal during his term of office to build new relationships and rebuild old ones. Above all he has convinced British people in all walks of life that Australia is not going to walk away from our special relationship but will instead seek to extend that relationship through increased trade and other ways.

Finally, Bob Hawke, to whom we all wish a speedy recovery from his recent operation, said in his Times article of 22nd February 1990: When the constitution was enacted, Australians became one people. It would be fitting if by 2001—Australia's centenary of federation, the first major celebration of our constitutional nationhood—the Act had a permanent home in Australia to serve as the focal point for the celebrations". All I can say is, "Bob, we've done yer proud, cobber—you've got it 10 years early."

7.47 p.m.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, I rise as a humble Back-Bencher with no official relationship to Australia to welcome this Bill and this Second Reading debate. It is interesting that we had the contribution from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington. It is important that we listen to the information that he has given and take it on board. The historical continuity of records is important.

As the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, pointed out, we are a sovereign Parliament. We can make decisions and change precedents that existed before. In the opening remarks of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor there was one aspect which jarred a little because it impinged on the sovereignty of Parliament. I shall have to read the record tomorrow in Hansard, but I thought I heard him say that the Prime Minister had told Bob Hawke that he was to receive the copy of the Australia Constitution Act permanently. That was before Parliament has considered the Bill. It is not very constructive for a Prime Minister effectively to presume what Parliament will do. The Government may propose but it is Parliament that disposes.

That is one reason that I rise to support the Bill. It is an example of democracy in action. It is an example of our responding to the wishes of the people of Australia, through the persistence and the good offices of Alf Morris, MP, regarding something which is obviously important to them.

Here I should like to say a few words about Alf because I am a councillor in his constituency. I know him as a dedicated constituency Member of Parliament. The nation knew him as a Minister for the Disabled. It is curious that, although in opposition, Alf sometimes has more clout in matters concerning the disabled than even government Ministers. However, in this respect we see him playing an international role. It is a role that we should recognise as significant.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said that all parties were represented in the list of supporters that Alf Morris had for his original Bill on the subject. It is worth pointing out that not only were all parties represented but all the countries of the United Kingdom were represented. That is also significant. Therefore, we have in front of us a Bill promoted by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and I pay tribute to him for, as was said earlier, cutting the Gordian knot and bringing the Bill before us.

We must all pay tribute to Alf Morris and recognise that in giving the Bill a Second Reading—I am sure that it will receive no impediment in its passage through Parliament—we are effectively acting in a democratic fashion. It is perhaps curious to use that sort of language in this House, but we are listening to the will of the people, expressed clearly by the Australian people and their Government, and we are acting on it. I am sure that there will be no impediment to the passage of the Bill through Parliament.

7.52 p.m.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, my name is not on the list of speakers but the authorities have been informed that I intend to speak. It has been a most enjoyable debate. I agree with every point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington. I must qualify that, but before doing so I should explain that I have been to Australia three times in the past decade. If I was given an excuse to go again I could not go immediately; it would have be tomorrow evening because the planes do not leave until then or perhaps slightly earlier, at lunch time. It is a most delightful country. However, that is not an important point to make.

I was on the Advisory Council of Public Records between 1974 and 1982. I had one meeting with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, but that was only personal and one must forget that.

Whatever excellent arguments have been offered, whatever time and whatever the circumstances, in a highly disciplined area, if one visits as a breeder, one must have all the documents correct. It is one of the most disciplined areas, even more than the law, with respect to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, and my noble and learned friend.

Excellent arguments have been put forward in regard to this document of 1901, but I feel that, when it was struck it should have remained in this country. However, the Bill went through all its stages in the other place and we are fortunate to have it before us on Second Reading. I see that I am being looked at rather severely. of course I absolutely approve of Australia but I hope that this Bill, although a precedent, will not be repeated for other constitutional documents.

7.55 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, my name is not on the list of speakers because I thought that I would still be in Australia and I have only just returned. Knowing that the Bill was coming forward for Second Reading I thought that it would be wrong if I did not add my voice to the debate, because it is a significant matter.

I thank the officers of the ANZAC group for bringing this matter to Parliament in the first instance and for moving matters along in the way that they have. I echo the tributes paid to Doug McClelland. He has been oustanding.

This has been a valuable debate. It is fascinating to notice the speakers in the debate. I first refer to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, who earlier this year was given the highest award, the Order of Australia. He spoke of what he had done as if it were nothing, but he has done an enormous amount to cement relations between our two countries.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Willis, referred to Australia and I thank him for his nice remarks. The noble Lord is almost an honorary Australian. I wish that I could spend as much time in Australia as he does. He makes regular trips. I am sure he will know what I mean when I say that the one advantage Parkes feels that it has over Forbes is having a Baroness. There is much rivalry between those two small country towns.

Sir Henry Parkes, after whom Parkes was named, was one of the fathers of the federation and was very much involved in the early work in that respect. That makes this Bill of special significance for me. My own father, Greg McGirr, who was born in 1879, in Parkes, as I was, was one of the very first candidates for the federal elections. Being a dutiful daughter I never questioned that when he told me, but apparently he stood on a combined ticket with several members being elected at the same time. They were not one-member constituencies. I think he may have stood for the Senate, but some day I must check the accuracy of all that. Nevertheless, I believed what he said. He was very young—he said that he was one of the youngest candidates—for the very first federal elections. Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful. I know that within about 10 years he was a member of the state parliament so I have no reason to doubt what he said. As I said, I must check that one day.

I was also interested in the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, the Master of the Rolls. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will give the House an undertaking that the Public Records office will be made complete again. It is important to realise that in giving this gift to Australia—I thoroughly approve of it; it is a marvellous action which I know will be much appreciated—we should not overlook the fact that for some Australians it is easier to get to London than to Canberra. Therefore, the Public Records office, which has been described as being the people's office, should contain a complete record. It would be a loss for Australia too if a copy in some form is not kept in the Public Records office.

The suggestion of a good photocopy—if that is the best that can be done—would at least keep the records, complete. Perhaps the Lord Chancellor will tell the House whether the House of Lords copy would automatically be available for people to view or whether ordinary members of the public can only see such documents at the Public Records office. I do not understand the detail of that point. However, if we ended up with only one original in this country and no copies, that would be a loss. I am very much in favour of a copy being held in Australia. I welcome that. I am glad that circumstances brought me back to London early enough to join in the debate tonight. I feel privileged to be a Member of this House. I support the Bill.

7.59 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I say at once that there is no question of ignoring the advice of the advisory council, to which my noble and learned friend the Master of the Rolls spoke and to which my noble friend Lord Teviot also drew attention. I was, and have been all along, extremely conscious of the importance of our public records and the completeness of its archives with these prepared vellum copies; one of which goes to the Record of Parliament—which is not so readily accessible to the public—and the other to the Public Records office.

We are anxious, if possible, to meet the Australian desire and at the same time to preserve intact our public records. That was the reason we thought of the exemplification to which my noble and learned friend has referred. It would bear a very special authentication. It would be an extremely high quality copy of the original Act. In a sense there is no such thing as the original because they are all copies. It is only a question of which copy one wants.

It was made clear to me—and I took some time indicating to the Prime Minister of Australia—what was involved in exemplification and how good it was. The emotional appeal of the copy which had been loaned built up and nothing would be quite like that in the estimation of Australians. It was in the light of that and after carefully weighing what had been said by the advisory council that we gave effect to what the advisory council said to the following extent: we made it absolutely plain that the legislation refers only to the single Act and the Bill is restricted to that Act. We shall certainly discuss with the advisory council the appropriate form of copy. It will be very simple to provide one. We shall decide the precise nature of it and we shall certainly discuss what it will be. As far as possible I shall endeavour to meet that point.

In a sense the signatures of Her Majesty Queen Victoria to the Royal Proclamation bringing the Act into force and her signature on the original copy, if I can use that expression, of the Royal Assent, which itself is unique, constitute original documents. Australia wished to have that and in all the circumstances we thought it right that it should do so. That conclusion was reached only after giving the most careful consideration to what the advisory council said, bearing very much in mind the interests of our public archives.

The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, was right when he thought I said that the Prime Minister had written offering a gift to the Commonwealth of Australia, subject to the legislation going through. It was absolutely apparent to Mr. Hawke that it was impossible for us to give outright the Public Record office copy without legislation. There was some suggestion that we could provide what is sometimes called "a permanent loan". I have never been clear what that is. I took the view and also received advice that it was not possible for me, on my own initiative, to make a permanent loan under the terms of the Public Records Act.

This matter has been the subject of negotiation with Australia. The Prime Minister told Mr. Hawke that we had reached the conclusion that the best way forward was by way of a gift and that the necessary legislation for that would be put before Parliament.

I am extremely grateful for all the kind things that have been said about me. I have simply endeavoured to do what seemed right in the circumstances, including considering carefully the advice tendered to me by my noble and learned friend the Master of the Rolls as chairman of the advisory council. His office puts him in that position. I carefully considered not only the thrust of what was said but also the details. As far as possible I endeavoured to give effect to it in the wording of the Bill.

I join also in thanking all those who have participated. One great advantage of the Bill proposed in the other place by the right honourable gentleman Mr. Alf Morris is that it was made apparent how strong and widespread was the support for this legislation. That was a factor in deciding how we should take it forward. I also thank the High Commissioner and his staff. It is also fair to say that at the time he approached Sir Robin Butler negotiations were proceeding. It may be that their precise nature was such that it was right to pursue them in the way that he ultimately did.

It was very clear that the Prime Minister of Australia was very anxious to secure this document. I am very glad that, subject to the approval of Parliament, we shall be able to accede to his request. I am sure that all noble Lords will join the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in wishing him a very speedy recovery.

Therefore, it is with some confidence, though fully appreciating what my noble and learned friend the Master of the Rolls has said, that I invite your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading.

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

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.10 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.7 to 8.10 p.m.]