HC Deb 11 May 1970 vol 801 cc1011-24

Order for Second Reading read.

12.30 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Evan Luard)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This is not an independence Bill. Tonga is, of course, already an independent State, although the British Government have recently been responsible for the conduct of its foreign affairs and defence. The Bill makes the necessary changes consequent on the change decided by Tonga itself to take over responsibility for her own foreign affairs and defence.

During the mid-19th century, when the South Pacific was virtually divided among European colonial powers, Tonga retained a large measure of independence. To safeguard his people against the possibility of annexation by some other power, the King of Tonga voluntarily concluded a treaty of friendship with Britain in 1879, but it was not until the treaty of 1900 that Tonga was put under British protection.

Every since then, the two kingdoms have been linked by ties of affection and goodwill. Evidence that these ties have always been on the firmest basis was given by Tonga's contribution to the Allied cause during the last war, when the Tonga defence force served with distinction in the Solomon Islands campaign.

The treaty of friendship of 1900 was amended in 1905, 1928 and 1952 and was finally replaced by new treaties of friendship in 1958 and 1968. Under this last treaty, in 1968, Tonga assumed complete responsibility for her internal affairs, except in connection with certain legislation required for defence purposes and a greater degree of responsibility for external affairs. That treaty, however, provided that the articles under which British protection is still exercised should cease to have effect when Her Majesty's Government no longer had responsibility for Tonga's external relations.

In accordance with this treaty, at a special session on 30th April, 1970, the Tonga Legislative Assembly unanimously passed resolutions that the treaty of friendship be modified with effect from 4th June, in such a way that responsibility for external affairs and defence revert to Tonga. It was also resolved that Tonga should seek full membership of the Commonwealth.

The termination of Britain's responsibility for external affairs and defence will be effected by an exchange of letters and thereafter the treaty will simply provide for perpetual peace and friendship between our two countries.

With regard to Commonwealth membership, the Commonwealth Secretary-General is now seeking the concurrence of all Commonwealth members to such membership. Tonga's application was sponsored by the British Government and, at the request of the Government of Tonga, by the Australian and New Zealand Governments, Tonga's nearest neighbours, who have confirmed that they also support and sponsor the application. I see no reason to think that there will be any difficulty over Tonga's application.

British assistance to Tonga's first five-year plan, from 1965 to 1970, amounted to just under £1 million in grants. An Exchequer loan of £200,000 was also made available towards the cost of a new wharf. Under technical assistance arrangements, Her Majesty's Government have provided training facilities for Tongans, the services of advisers, and assistance with the recruitment and payment of specialist officers required by Tonga. Over the past five years, this form of assistance has amounted to about £250,000. Tonga's new development plan from 1970 to 1975 is now being prepared and, when we receive it, we hope to make arrangements for future assistance.

As I have said, the Bill is merely to make certain consequential provisions on the change in the responsibility for Tonga's foreign affairs and defence. Tonga has had a locally enacted constitution since 1875, with a Parliament, Privy Council and a Cabinet. There is thus no need for this Bill to contain any provision empowering Her Majesty to grant a constitution for Tonga.

It is not necessary for me to speak in detail on the Clauses, but I will say a few words about Clause 2, which is concerned with citizenship. Tonga already has a citizenship law, and those who possess Tongan citizenship are British protected persons. Clause 2(1)(b) of the Bill will withdraw that status from them on Independence Day and, on the understanding that Tonga is admitted to the Commonwealth, they will then become Commonwealth citizens by virtue of Clause 2(1)(a).

In contrast to independence Bills, this Bill does not make provision to withdraw citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies from persons with connections with Tonga. This is because the vast majority of the inhabitants of Tonga are British protected persons. The few citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies that there are in Tonga have attained such status by virtue of birth, registration or naturalisation outside Tonga, or by descent. It has never been the policy of Her Majesty's Government to deprive such persons of their citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies because they are living in a country which has become independent, even though they may also have become citizens of that country.

I want to make special mention of His Majesty the King of Tonga and his mother, the late Queen Salote, who endeared herself to the British people when she visited London in 1953 for the Coronation of Her Majesty The Queen. Under the wise guidance of the Tongan royal family, Tonga has enjoyed and continues to enjoy peace and prosperity. I trust that His Majesty and his people will be blessed with many more years of peace and prosperity.

Nearly 200 years ago, Captain Cook described the Kingdom of Tonga as " the Friendly Islands ". Certainly everyone who visits Tonga today is impressed with the charm and sincerity of its people. I know that the House will join me in wishing His Majesty the King and the Tongan people all happiness and good fortune in the years ahead.

12.38 a.m.

Mr. Bernard Braise (Essex, South-East)

I want first to thank the hon. Gentleman for explaining the Bill in his customary lucid fashion, and to say that we on this side give it an unqualified welcome. I wish that all the Bills brought before us were as simple and straightforward as this one appears to be, reflecting as it does a long and happy association between our country and the people of Tonga in the past and promising an equally happy association in the future.

I have never been to Tonga, though I have met Tongan leaders. I have been to Fiji, which is their nearest neighbour to the west, and I know how entrancing is the region in which they and all the Polynesian peoples live. Indeed, Captain Cook showed remarkable prescience when he called the 150 islands which form the Kingdom of Tonga, " the Friendly Isles ".

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman paid a tribute to her late Majesty Queen Salote. No one who witnessed the Coronation ceremonies in 1953 will ever forget her smiling face as she drove through the London rain. She endeared herself very firmly to the hearts of the British people at that time, and I recall that quite a number of June babies in 1953 were christened after her.

It has also given great pleasure to both sides of the House that Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Philip had a very warm welcome when they visited Tonga in March.

We are delighted that Tonga has applied for membership of the Commonwealth. I suppose that means that in due course the Prime Minister of Tonga will be able to attend Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conferences, if he so wishes.

As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, this is an unusual Bill in the sense that it is not an independence Measure, since Tonga has never been a British colonial dependency as such, but is an independent kingdom under British protection—a status that she has enjoyed for 70 years. But, since the Bill will terminate that protected status and Britain will no longer be responsible for Tonga's defence and external affairs, I believe that there are a number of questions which it would be proper to ask before we give the Bill our formal approval.

First, in regard to defence. I understand that the Government spokesman in another place has said that there will be no residual commitment for defence by Britain. Is this so? There are only about 80,000 people in Tonga. Is it seriously believed that they could defend themselves? We still await the outcome of the Fiji constitutional talks, though I believe that they have now concluded. These must have covered the question of defence. Presumably it is not the intention of Her Majesty's Government to leave a complete vacuum in this part of the Pacific lying to the north-east of Australasia. Is there any understanding with the Australians and the New Zealanders on the subject? I think that we should be told.

Secondly, I understand that in the past five years Tonga has had just under £1 million in British aid and, in addition, a substantial loan has been made available for the development of port facilities. I was glad to hear from the Under-Secretary that help of this kind is likely to be continued. A fillip to development is essential if Tonga's new status is to mean anything to her people. Although they number only 80,000, according to my reckoning that represents a density of more than 300 people to the square mile, and they are increasing at the exceptionally high rate of 3.8 per cent. per annum. That must be among the highest rates of population increase in the world. For an agricultural community, a threatened population explosion of this magnitude, combined with a shortage of cultivable land, must pose serious problems for the none too distant future. What progress, therefore, is being made in economic development? Is the Under-Secretary satisfied that our contribution to that development is being wisely used and is being co-ordinated effectively with the aid which I understand is also coming from Australia, New Zealand, the United States and the United Nations' agencies?

Thirdly, the hon. Gentleman said something about citizenship. What he said sounded satisfactory. But I must ask specifically whether he is satisfied that there will be no residual problem in relation to United Kingdom citizens? The hon. Gentleman did not say, for example, how many United Kingdom citizens there would remain when the Bill becomes law.

Perhaps we could have the answers to these questions and others which my hon. Friends, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers), who I believe has visited Tonga, may wish to ask.

Therefore, all that remains for me is to express the hope that with her new status this attractive little country, Tonga, will enjoy a safe and prosperous future and that her long association with us will continue along happy and fruitful lines. With those few words, I commend the Bill to the House, and wish it a speedy passage.

12.45 a.m.

Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine (Rye)

There are two things I wish to ask the Minister. First, I hope he will take seriously the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) about citizenship. A misunderstanding that has arisen in similar circumstances is that there are people who do not seem to realise what has been promulgated as a result of our deliberations in this House. So I hope he will ensure that these new arrangements are given every opportunity of reaching the people affected.

Secondly, would the hon. Gentleman be good enough to say a word or two about paragraph 10 of the Schedule? We in this House understand what is meant there, but it is in language which is perhaps more suitable for us than for general consumption. A word or two about that would be helpful.

Unfortunately, I have not had the privilege of visiting Tonga. I got to the Lau group of Fiji, which is about as near as one can get to Tonga, and I have only recently had the privilege of seeing in this country the Governor of the Island of Vau Vau in Tonga, and if the story he tells me about how beautiful his island is compared with the other parts of Tonga, I think we ought all to start almost at once to pay him a visit.

I add my good wishes to the people of Tonga. We cannot forget the visit of Queen Salote. We feel a great deal of affection for the people of Tonga. We have the privilege now that the Crown Prince of Tonga is studying in this country. There are many people in this House and in the country who will wish Tonga the very best in the way of happiness, peace and prosperity as a result of the step she is taking today.

12.47 a.m.

Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

Having had the privilege, with the hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills), of visiting Tonga and having been greatly privileged by being allowed to stay in the house of a Tongan family, which was very generous of them, I should like to add my good wishes for the future prosperity and happiness of the people of Tonga.

It is interesting that they go in for all-night sittings, but in a rather different manner from ours. If one is a guest in the house of a Tongan family, on the night one is about to leave all the neighbours move in, sit around on the floor and sing the entire night. They are sustained by a beverage called kava, which is made by the women. The men arc the only persons who do the singing, and the women sustain them with this drink. The effect of the drink is soporific but not very intoxicating, but it does not seem to interfere with their singing. I asked how I could be expected to stay up all night and was told, " You have plenty of practice in the House of Commons."

I should like to mention the question of tourism. I understand that there is now a hotel in Tonga which will be opened up for tourism. What success has been achieved so far? I think there was a little difficulty in bringing boats into the new wharf.

There is also the matter of small industries. There is an excellent little coconut factory there. Is that being enlarged, as has been suggested? What other industries are likely to come to this island?

When His Majesty the King was here fairly recently he brought some samples of oil with him. Some form of exploration has been made since then, and I should be grateful if the Minister would give me some information about any progress that has been made, and whether the oil is worth exploring further.

I hope that considerable help will continue to be given to the island in respect of farming. There is a difficulty over the partition of the land under the laws in Tonga, and when I was there they were trying to develop some of the farms by more co-operative action. It is essential that this should be continued.

I have taken an interest in the hospital there. I gather that this is well on the way to being rebuilt. When I was there it was extremely primitive. Men and women were in the same wards, and there were not enough bandages. I do not know how the excellent matron from Australia was able to carry on. I was able to give some help by contracting the Red Cross of Great Britain and of New Zealand. There is still the worrying factor that there are a number of mental patients in the prison, and I hope that some of the money that we are donating will be used to deal with this problem.

Are these to be soft loans, or what interest will they have to pay? These are friendly people, but they are not very rich. I do not know how they will be able to afford to meet their extra expenses in the near future, especially if they have to keep a defence force of their own. Here I add my tribute to what the Minister said about the excellence of the Tonga Defence Force and the part that it played in the last war. Will they be able to send a member to the United Nations? Will they be required to do this? When a country becomes independent all these things add to the expenses, and I should like to know what the position is about those matters.

We are all delighted that they want to join the Commonwealth. I am certain that nobody will ever think of taking any action to prevent that happening, but one has to realise that if they are to send the Prime Minister to conferences, and so on, this will all add greatly to their expenses. Will they be able to afford this, or will they be able to use some of the money that we are to allot them for the purposes which I have mentioned?

I am thrilled to have had the opportunity of going to Tonga. I should like to put on record my appreciation of their generosity, their hospitality, and the feast in which I was privileged to take part. We wish the King, his charming wife, and his son who is at Sandhurst, prosperity, but they cannot live on friendliness and kindness alone. They must come down to practical matters, and I hope that the Minister will be able to assure me that they will be able to continue the way of life which they have enjoyed up to now.

12.54 a.m.

Mr. Luard: I am happy—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Minister must have the leave of the House to speak again.

Mr. Luard

With the leave of the House, I should like to express my happiness that the Bill has had a warm welcome from hon. Members on both sides of the House. This reflects the general good will in the House and in the country as a whole towards Tonga, and the feeling that we have of wishing that country the best of good fortune in the years to come.

I should like to try to reply to some of the points which have been raised during the debate. The hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) raised a number. He first asked about the provisions for the defence of Tonga in the future. I confirm the point made in another place—that after the Bill has been passed and the change made in the arrangements for foreign affairs and defence, there will be no residual commitment to the defence of Tonga by this country. As I pointed out, one of the purposes of the Bill and of the changes in Tonga is that Tonga will take over responsibility for her own defence.

I was asked whether there was any understanding with Australia and New Zealand on this question. There is no commitment or understanding between Her Majesty's Government and the Governments of Australia and New Zealand. It would be entirely understandable if, in the new situation, Tonga herself were to turn to her close neighbours, such as Australia and New Zealand, when she begins to think about possible arrangements for her future defence. It cannot be said that there is any immediate threat to Tonga of an external nature, but it may well be that she will begin to think about new defence arrangements and it is possible that she will turn towards Australia and New Zealand for that purpose.

The hon. Member asked about the arrangements for economic development, and perhaps I should elaborate a little on what I said earlier. I described the first five-year plan which should have been completed in March this year. Priority has been given during the plan to long-term projects for education and health, communications and agriculture. Capital aid did not commence in any sizeable form before 1965 and was then made by means of allocation from the Colonial Development and Welfare Fund. I will deal later with a point made by the hon. Member for Rye (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine). The annual allocations from 1965 to 1970 totalled £990,000—nearly £1 million during the period; and schemes for which the money was allocated included a new hospital, coconut rehabilitation, a police training school, road improvements, an airfield and airstrip facilities, schooling and other schemes. In addition, there was a loan from the Colonial Development and Welfare Fund towards the cost of a new wharf. For the period 1970–71 an allocation of £250,000 has been made.

Technical assistance takes the form of training courses for Tongans and the provision of experts and advisers. In 1968–69, 35 Tongan students and trainees attended courses of various lengths in the United Kingdom and ten experts were assigned to Tonga.

The hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) asked about oil. We recently provided oil consultants to help Tonga negotiate exploration rights with oil companies and to provide specialist legal advice. The modification of the current Treaty of Friendship will not affect the O.S.A.S. agreement with Tonga, which will continue until March 1971. We are willing to negotiate new agreements where that is desired. Where there is a need to cover the period to March 1976 we intend to make an approach to the Tongan Government.

I hope that that answers a number of points which I was asked about economic assistance. A new development plan is being drafted with the help of advisers sent from the United Kingdom. Although we have made no firm commitments to continue financial assistance beyond the present financial year, we are prepared, after examination of the development plan, to see how far we can contribute towards it, and I can give an undertaking that we intend to be as sympathetic as we can on the question. Possible items for this new assistance would be the continuation of coconut replanting schemes, the improvement of agricultural services, airfield communications equipment—that meets the point made by the hon. Lady about tourism—and electric power supply equipment. I hope that that gives some idea of our future plans about economic development.

Dame Joan Vickers

What rate of interest is proposed for the loans?

Mr. Luard

I can assure the hon. Lady that it is our hope to be able to give soft loans for some of these purposes.

The hon. Member for Rye raised questions of citizenship, as did the hon. Member for Essex, South-East. I must make it clear that there is no great problem with U.K. citizens in the area. As I said in my opening speech, for the most part the inhabitants of Tonga are British-protected persons and the only people who are U.K. citizens are a small number of people, mainly expatriates from this country. I cannot give the exact figure, but it is literally only a handful. There is therefore no great problem about their access to this country and some other territories.

The hon. Member for Rye asked about the meaning of paragraph 10 of the Schedule. I give an assurance on this point. Tonga will continue to be eligible for assistance under the Colonial Development and Welfare Funds after the passage of this legislation. It is our hope that most of these loans will be soft loans, which answers the point raised by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devon-port. This is what the paragraph is intended to mean.

The hon. Lady raised the question of tourism. It is certainly our belief that there is great scope for tourism in Tonga and the Tongans are hoping to develop this. Development will depend on the improvement of internal transport and the construction of hotels, as at present there is only one tourist hotel in Tonga. It may be that the Government of Tonga will decide that there is scope for development here and that we may be able to give assistance.

The hon. Lady also mentioned the question of oil. I have said something about that and perhaps I can make it clear that there are some indications that there may be oil present but we do not yet have sufficient evidence to say whether it is available in commercial quantities. This is really a question for the Government of Tonga and I understand that there have been inquiries and explorations made. I mentioned some of the assistance we have given. It is too early to say how much oil may be available and how much scope there may be for the development of this as a future source of revenue. The hon. Lady asked about various expenses which Tonga may have in future, arising from membership of international organisations, conferences and matters of that kind where big travel and other expenses are involved. This is really a question for the Government of Tonga. I have described generally what we hope to be able to do to give assistance to Tonga. It will be for the Government of Tonga to decide how it allocates these funds. As to membership of the U.N. it is not certain that Tonga will wish to apply for membership and the hon. Lady will know that questions are arising in the U.N. as to how far small territories such as Tonga may become eligible for membership. There is now the question of imposing certain limits of size on members of the U.N.

This does not affect the general question of possible expenses in connection with representation of different kinds, including representation in the Commonwealth, in which Tonga's application for membership is likely to be accepted. Here again it is a matter for the Tonga Government to decide how it allocates the funds and what kind of responsibilities it chooses to undertake.

I hope that I have answered all the points raised. The debate has shown how much goodwill exists towards Tonga in the House. I would like to stress again that under the Treaty of Friendship Tonga is already an independent and sovereign state, except in so far as she has already chosen voluntarily to assign certain responsibilities to the British Government with regard to external affairs and defence. These responsibilities will now revert to Tonga and the Treaty will now in its modified form simply provide for perpetual peace and friendship between our two countries.

Unlike some other hon. Members I have not had the good fortune to visit Tonga, a country which has retained its natural dignity despite being exposed to external influences and demands for well over a century. This is the only remaining kingdom which exists in Polynesia, with a much-loved and respected Royal Family and a warm-hearted and friendly people. The ties of friendship between Britain and Tonga will, I am sure, continue unabated. As has been mentioned, the recent visit to Tonga of Her Majesty the Queen, Prince Philip and Princess Anne and the cordial welcome which they received there provide, I think, fitting evidence of these continued bonds of friendship. That friendship will be enriched still further in the future by the new relationship with Commonwealth countries into which Tonga will enter as, we hope, a full member of the Commonwealth.

I know that the House as a whole will join me in expressing to the King and people of Tonga our best and warmest wishes for their future peace, happiness and prosperity.

1.6 a.m.

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

About 10 years ago I went to Fiji. I have not been to Tonga, but I have enormous admiration for the view and the attitude of the people in those countries, and I should like to say to the Joint Under-Secretary that we in this country have, I think, done an extraordinarily good job in knitting them into our society.

I hope that they will accept the situation that we are trying to produce for them as an independent nation. I hope that they will accept our advice in the United Nations, because when they become independent they will have very little money, very little resources and they are remote from an enormous part of the world.

I hope that when they have their independence the people of Tonga—and perhaps next year of Fiji or somewhere else —will be prepared to accept that the United Kingdom, with no idea of being the colonial Power, has a lot more experience and knowledge of dealing with a lot of the problems with which they will be confronted. I hope that the people of Tonga will not be so proud that, having got their independence, they will not be prepared to accept that we, in the United Nations or other international organisations, can give them some very good advice on what they ought to do about this, that or the other problem.

What I find in looking at the problems of the United Nations when we give independence to an enormous number of countries is that they are rather like a ship at sea without a rudder. They get their independence, they are big enough to go to the United Nations, but they have no idea in their own minds as a nation what the problems are that are discussed in the international firmament of the world.

I hope that the people of Tonga and the Pacific will realise that however much criticism they may give to us of the United Kingdom, our only thought and desire was to give them their independence and to give them guidance in leading them into their position as an independent nation in the firmament of the United Nations and to make certain that they do not make a mistake in the two or three years when they first become members. If we succeed in this, we in this House will have done a very good job.

I therefore hope that the people of Tonga will have a very successful and prosperous future as a result of our guidance and the efforts that we have made to put them on the right road before they got their independence.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Hamling.]

Committee this day.