§ Order for Second Reading read
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Sir Ian Gilmour)
I have it in command from the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Kiribati Bill, has consented to place her Prerogative and interests, 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 the Bill be now read a Second time.
The purpose of this Bill, in the words of the long title, is tomake provision for and in connection with the attainment by the Gilbert Islands of fully responsible status as a Republic within the Commonwealth under the name of Kiribati".The intention of the Bill is that Kiribati should become independent as its territory is at present constituted. In accordance with custom, I shall trace briefly the history of the Gilbert Islands and the developments leading up to the introduction of the Bill.
The Gilbert Islands comprise 33 islands in all, including the Phoenix and Line Islands. They are scattered across 2 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean around the point at which the international date line cuts the equator. The capital of the territory is Tarawa. The people are Micronesian, and the total population is about 56,000, the bulk of whom live in the central Gilberts group.
Britain's first official involvement in the islands was in 1877 when the Western Pacific High Commission was established in an endeavour to protect the islands in the region from being raided for labour to work in plantations in South America, Fiji, Hawaii, Tahiti and Queensland. By Order in Council in 1915 the Gilbert and Ellice Islands became a colony. A separate Order in Council was issued in 1916 to include Ocean Island, together with Fanning and Washington Islands, within the colony. In October 1975, with the agreement of the Gilbert Islands, the Ellice Islands separated from them to become Tuvalu. Full internal self-government was attained by the Gilbert 1243 Islands on 1 January 1977. There is a Council of Ministers headed by the Chief Minister and a House of Assembly consisting of 35 elected members, one ex-officio member—the Attorney-General—and a seat for a nominee of the Rabi Council of Leaders, representing the Banabans.
In late November 1978 a full constitutional conference, with the participation of Banaban representatives, took place in London under the right hon. and noble Lord Goronwy-Roberts, then Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It was agreed that, subject to the approval of Parliament, the Gilbert Islands should become independent, as a republic within the Commonwealth, in early July 1979. The report of the conference was published as a White Paper and presented to Parliament in January of this year. The previous Government introduced the consequent independence legislation—the Kiribati Bill—in February of this year, in another place, where it completed all its stages. The Bill fell on Parliament's dissolution in April before its Second Reading in this House.
§ Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)
Before going into the details of the Gilbert Islands constitution, could the right hon. Gentleman say what progress there has been in discussions with the United States about the Line Islands and certain other islands which have hitherto been included in the administration of this territory?
§ Sir I. Gilmour
My hon. Friend the Minister of State who will be winding up this debate has been closely concerned with that point and he will deal with it.
The Government consider that they must honour the commitment of the previous Government to allow the Gilbert Islands to proceed to independence on 12 July on the basis of the agreement reached at the constitutional conference last year. The Government have therefore decided to reintroduce the Kiribati Bill early in this parliamentary Session to fulfil the commitment.
I come now to the provisions of the Bill itself. Clauses 1 and 2 provide for the independence of the Gilbert Islands as a republic as from 12 July 1979. Clause 3 validates existing laws. Clauses 4and5 deal with nationality. They follow closely the similar clauses in the Tuvalu 1244 Act 1978. Clause 6 enables Her Majesty by Order in Council to make provision for the jurisdiction, practice, and procedure of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in relation to appeals from the courts of Kiribati. Clauses 7 and 8 deal with interpretation and citation.
I wish to emphasise that the purpose of the Bill is to enable the Gilbert Islands to achieve their promised independence on 12 July on the terms agreed at the Gilbert Islands constitutional conference last year. This is the culmination of efforts over a period of years by Governments of the Gilbert Islands to involve the people in the evolution of a constitution which takes account both of democratic principles and of the traditions and geographical circumstances of the islands.
I turn to the economic prospects for the Gilbert Islands after independence. Revenues from phosphate will cease in 1979. Future prosperity will thus depend greatly on the establishment of revenue-earning projects, in particular a tuna fishing industry. The Gilbert Islands will need to rely on aid donors for the development of these projects. As the House will know, Britain has for many years given capital aid and technical assistance, and will continue to do so after independence.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
The argument between the Banabans and the Gilbertese is sometimes said to cloak a desire for the phosphate revenues. Will the Lord Privy Seal indicate whether there is any validity in that argument? Is there anything to be gained by either the Gilbertese or the Banabans from phosphate revenues in the future, or has that all been settled?
§ Sir I. Gilmour
I had intended to come to the Banaban point shortly, but I do not think that that is a matter which divides them. As I have said, the phosphate revenues will come to an end very soon.
Up to £15.5 million will be available for an extensive programme of technical co-operation and development aid in the first four years of independence. Additionally, during the period we shall be giving special financial assistance totalling £5.3 million to support the budget of the Gilbert Islands after phosphate revenues cease. Aid will also be available from the European development fund and from Australia and New Zealand. Japan has 1245 also indicated her interest in providing assistance.
One aspect of Gilbertese progress to independence which I know concerns a great many hon. Members is the retention of Banaba as part of the proposed new State. Because of the considerable complexities of the issue, I propose to deal with it at some length.
§ Mr. Keith Stainton (Sudbury and Woodbridge)
Before my right hon. Friend goes into the question of financial aid, will he kindly refer to the question of compensation to Ocean Island awarded by the High Court? Would the Banaban Ocean Islanders be the direct recipients of that compensation if this Bill passed through all its stages, or would the money go to the new Government of Kiribati? Would the Ocean Islands have to make application for the compensation to that Government?
§ Sir I. Gilmour
No, I can reassure my hon. Friend on that point. The compensation is definitely committed to the Banabans and not to the Gilbert Islands.
The House knows that Banaba was discovered by the British vessel "Ocean" in 1804. Phosphate was discovered there in May 1900, when the London-based Pacific Islands Company applied to the Colonial Office for a licence to mine it. According to Professor Maude, an eminent anthropologist and a former resident commissioner for the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony, in 1900,the miserable remnants of the population numbered 450, riddled with disease and reputed to be among the poorest natives in the Pacific".As early as 1909, the British authorities had expressed disquiet about the fate of the Banabans when the phosphate was exhausted, and in 1931 some of the phosphate royalties were credited to a fund to provide money for the purchase of a future home for the Banabans. In 1942, Rabi Island in Fiji was purchased freehold with funds accruing to the Banabans. Rabi is 10 times the size of Banaba and much more fertile.
In August 1942, the Japanese occupied Ocean Island and removed many of the Banabans to other Pacific islands. On Japanese surrender of the island in October 1945, the island was temporarily uninhabitable. The Banaban community, numbering some 700, who had been 1246 brought together in Tarawa by the British authorities, agreed unanimously to go to Rabi, with the option of permanent settlement there, on condition that, if they should wish to return to Ocean Island after two years, suitable transport would be arranged by the Government of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony. They were accompanied by 300 Gilbertese.
Despite initially inadequate conditions on Rabi, the islanders, in a secret ballot, voted by an overwhelming majority in 1947 to make Rabi their headquarters and home. A statement of intentions embodying Banaban land rights and rights of access was read out and explained fully to the Banaban community by officials of the then colonial Government. The rights of land ownership on, and freedom of access to, Banaba under the 1947 statement of intentions are included in the present Gilbert Islands internal self-government constitution.
The present Banaban population is about 2,500. The vast majority of them have continued to live on Rabi, now part of independent Fiji. They have maintained only a rotating token presence of about 100 on Banaba, though as a political gesture a further 250 have within the last three months moved there from Rabi Island. There were some sabotage attempts against the phosphate mining industry by the original contingent in February. This was widely condemned both in the Pacific and by Banaban sympathisers in this country. Despite this, the Gilbert Islands Government have not attempted to prevent further landings. Latest reports indicate that the situation on the island is now quiet.
Over the past decade, the Banabans have campaigned for the separation of Banaba from the Gilbert Islands. Their campaign has included unsuccessful appeals to the United Nations and to the British Government and prolonged legal actions in the United Kingdom courts. My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) has with his eloquence and energy ensured that the Banaban cause has been fully appreciated by this House and by the public. I pay tribute to him for his championship of that cause in which he passionately believes.
The Banabans have based their claim to separation on four principal points. 1247 The first is that they are a different people from the Gilbertese. The second is that Banaba was forcibly included in the Gilbert Islands without consulting the people. The third is that the Banabans have never been governed by the Gilbertese. The fourth is that since the Ellice Islands, now Tuvalu, were allowed to separate from the Gilbert Islands, so should they. They have also harboured a sense of grievance at having had to share the revenues from phosphate with the Gilbert Islands Government.
Successive Gilbertese Governments have strongly resisted the Banabans' claim to separation, arguing that on legal, historical, ethnic and linguistic grounds Banaba should remain part of the Gilbert Islands. The Gilbertese dispute that the Banabans are a different people, arguing that they are Micronesian like themselves, speak the same language, and have widely intermarried with the Gilbertese. As for the annexation of Banaba without reference to the wishes of the Banabans, the same could be said for many of the other islands of the Gilbert Islands, including Washington and Fanning Islands which were annexed under the same 1916 order. Similarly, the Banaban claim that they have not until recently been ruled by the Gilbertese could equally apply to other islands in the Gilbert Islands, since it is only since January 1977 that full internal self-government has been in the hands of the Gilbertese people.
As for the alleged precedent of the separation of the Ellice Islands—whose people were Polynesian rather than Micronesian and had their own language and different cultural traditions—this separation took place with the full consent of the Government of the Gilbert Islands. It is not therefore a precedent for the further break-up of the Gilbert Islands by the cession of either Banaba or any other islands.
I will not take up the time of the House with a description of the attempts by successive British Governments over a long period to solve the Banaban problem. The Gilbert Islands Government and the Rabi Council of Banaban Leaders have consistently been encouraged to try to reach a mutually acceptable situation. In the past two years, the two parties have had two meetings in the Gilbert Islands, but without success.
1248 Meanwhile the Gilbert Islands—apart from Pitcairn, the last British dependent territory in the Pacific—were anxious to move to independence. At the request of their Government, a pre-independence constitutional conference was convened in London and took place from 21 November to 7 December 1978. It had been made clear well in advance of the conference that, in the absence of an agreement being reached between the Gilbertese and the Banabans in the meantime, the British Government would need to decide the issue at the conference, and for this purpose the Banabans would be invited to put their case once more. The Banabans were represented by their whole Council of Leaders together with advisers, including my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East.
The first part of the conference was devoted exclusively to consideration of the future status of Banaba. Regrettably, no agreement could be reached. The Banabans would settle for nothing less than Banaba's separation from the Gilbert Islands before independence. The Gilbertese opposed separation but were willing to consider any arrangement short of separation. After a week of exhaustive discussion, the chairman of the conference, the right hon. Lord Goronwy-Roberts announced the Government's decision that Banaba should remain part of the Gilbert Islands. This decision, the text of which is in paragraph 3 of the conference report, was based on normal British policy and the generally accepted United Nations principle on questions of self-determination of respecting the wishes of the people as a whole within the existing boundaries of the territory to become independent. In announcing the decision, the right hon. Lord Goronwy-Roberts said that special provisions would be included in the independence constitution safeguarding the Banabans' rights and interests in relation to the island of Banaba. At this stage the Banabans withdrew from the conference and refused to take part in the subsequent discussions on the nature and scope of these provisions.
Special provisions were then agreed between the Gilbert Islands and United Kingdom delegations. They will, among other things, continue to ensure the Banabans' right of access to, and land ownership on, Banaba, irrespective of whether the Banabans are Fiji citizens or become 1249 Kiribati citizens. They will afford them the right of representation in the Kiribati House of Assembly, with their representatives having the right of veto over any changes to the entrenched conditions. They will also afford them the right of appeal to the Privy Council in any matters affecting those provisions. In addition, the constitution provided for an independent commission of inquiry to review the operation of the conditions after five years—later brought forward to three years. I think it is freely conceded, by people with experience of these matters, that the provisions are entrenched in the constitution to an unprecedented degree.
It has been alleged that by passing to the Kiribati Government the undertakings given in the 1947 statement of intentions at the time of Banaban settlement, Britain would be reneging from her obligations. But it is usual for the Government of the territory becoming independent to assume such obligations. This is precisely what the Government of Fiji did in respect of the obligations of the 1947 statement of intentions relating to Fiji dealing, for example, with land ownership and freedom from taxation for Banabans living on Rabi. The Banabans have had no complaints on this score, even though there are no entrenchment provisions for these obligations in the constitution of Fiji similar to those in the constitution of Kiribati. The latter includes entrenched clauses honouring the intentions of the 1947 statement. In particular, the Banabans will continue to enjoy right of access and land ownership on Banaba. The fact that sovereignty, which is of course quite a separate concept from land ownership, will rest with the Gilbert Islands Government will in no way affect these rights, and at this point it is relevant to recall that in the South Pacific there has been no case of a constitution being dishonoured.
§ Mr. Paul Dean (Somerset, North)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the safeguards that he has just announced that the Gilbert Islands Government have entered into show that Government's genuine intention to provide full safeguards for the minority in their community, and that this is a great tribute to the Gilbert Islands Government?
§ Sir I. Gilmour
I agree with my hon. Friend. The safeguards are very satisfactory and unusually extensive.
I return now to the most recent events. The previous Government introduced the relevant independence legislation—the Kiribati Bill—in February in another place where it completed all its stages. The Bill fell here. During the course of its passage in another place, at the suggestion of the Conservative Party Front Bench, the previous Government undertook that a Minister would visit the Pacific to discuss with the Gilbert Islands Government and the Rabi Council of Leaders the special provisions to be included in the constitution with a view to seeking an accommodation of views between the two parties. Mr. Evan Luard, then Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, made the visit in March. The Gilbert Islands Government's position remained that they were prepared to consider further safeguards for the Banabans within the framework of the constitutional conferences. The Banabans remained adamant that they would settle for nothing less than separation of Banaba.
On his return, Mr. Luard informed the House of three suggestions which he had made in order further to strengthen the safeguards in the constitution.
There has been an even more recent development. At the request of the two sides, the Prime Minister of Fiji, Ratu Mara, who over the years has played a most helpful role, chaired a meeting in Suva from 15 to 17 May. The Gilbert Islands delegation was led by their Chief Minister, and the Banabans were represented by the chairman of the Rabi Council. After the three days of talks, a statement was issued on 17 May saying that the two sides recognised that the issues were complex and complicated and would need to be considered and examined exhaustively in further meetings in the future. In this regard, they accepted in principle and without any commitment a working paper circulated by the chairman of the meeting as a possible basis for those future consultations, together with the relevant provisions of the Gilbert Islands constitutional Bill. The Gilbert Islands delegation could not accept separation but were ready to consult the Banabans immediately after independence on other 1251 proposals for the status of Banaba. The Banaban representatives reaffirmed that it was neither their desire nor their intention to delay the grant of independence to the Gilbert Islands. I am arranging for the text of this communiqué to be made available to the House.
The working paper presented by Ratu Mara makes suggestions on, among other things, self-government for Banaba and the possibility of outside guarantees for a proposed agreement of free association between the Gilbert Islands Government and the Rabi Council. These topics are closely related to Mr. Luard's proposals. The House will not expect me to go into further detail here.
When those, or other, arrangements are pursued by the two parties after independence, the Government will consider any new proposals endorsed by the Gilbert Islands Government and the Rabi Council of Leaders, while naturally reserving our position on any proposals which place new obligations on the Government.
After last week's meeting in Suva, both the Chief Minister of the Gilbert Islands and the chairman of the Rabi Council came to London; and each has given my hon. Friend the Minister of State, who has taken great interest and an enormous amount of trouble in this important matter, a first-hand account of his point of view. The Banabans maintain their demand that they should not become part of Kiribati on independence and that they should remain a British colony pending the negotiation of some form of association with the Gilbert Islands.
The Gilbert Islands Chief Minister has assured my hon. Friend that his Government look forward to early and constructive discussions about the future relationship between Kiribati and the Banabans after independence. In addition to the special provisions already agreed in the report of the constitutional conference and Mr. Luard's proposals, his Government would be ready to consider any new ideas, including the possible solution in the Suva working paper to which I have referred. I am sure that hon. Members will join me in welcoming this statesmanlike undertaking.
I have spoken at length about the Banaban issue because of its importance. 1252 To sum up, after the most careful consideration the Government see no adequate justification for departing from the agreement reached by the previous Government to grant independence to the Gilbert Islands—to include Banaba—on 12 July. The Bill has therefore been reintroduced. I recognise that this will be disappointing to the Banabans, but every effort has been made over the years to help the Gilbertese and the Banabans to reach agreement on the future status of Banaba. If all this has not yet succeeded, it is not for want of trying.
It would be wrong of us not to allow the Gilbert Islands to proceed without impediment towards their desired independence on the basis freely entered into with them at a formal conference. Whatever their individual sympathies, the neighbouring States in the Pacific are agreed in regarding the problem as one for Britain to decide.
The Bill affords the House the opportunity of bringing to a successful conclusion the Gilbert Islands' progress along the democratic path towards independence. Her Majesty has graciously designated Her Royal Highness Princess Anne to be her representative at the independence celebrations. Independence for the Gilbert Islands will not mean the ending of our ties with them. We shall be establishing a high commission in Tarawa through which we shall continue our friendly links. We shall also continue the close ties which exist between us through the Commonwealth, which the Gilbert Islands, I am pleased to say, will join.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Rowlands: (Merthyr Tydfil)
It was my privilege as a Minister in the Foreign Office for a short period to be responsible for the issues that are now before us in the form of the Kiribati Bill. During that time I was one of the few who had an opportunity to go to Rabi, Tarawa and Ocean Island, as it was then called. I shall refer to that experience later in my speech.
Before turning to the central and controversial issue that is at the heart of the debate on the Bill—the Banaban issue—this should be said. I think that no hon. Member, whatever attitude he adopts on the position of the Banabans and of Ocean Island, wishes to oppose 1253 the right of the Gilbertese people to go to independence. It is the almost unanimous feeling of hon. Members that the independence of the Gilbertese is justified and is a reaction to the genuine and overwhelming wish of the people of the Gilbert Islands to be independent. They have already negotiated the constitutional hoops that we make people jump through to achieve that independence, a series of varying and progressive constitutions leading to a full internal self-government constitution which was established in 1977 and which is always seen as the accepted penultimate step towards independence.
No one challenges the overwhelming desire of the Gilbertese people to achieve independence in July in a spirit of co-operation with the United Kingdom. We are not giving away much anyway, either constitutionally or socially and economically. Tarawa is a marvellous, romantic spot for the visitor, but for most of the Gilbertese it will be a hard job to maintain a living and to survive in the difficult conditions which exist. They go into independence at the very moment when the major source of revenue, the phosphates, will be exhausted. The small atolls of coral yield almost nothing in the way of crops or food, except for the small copra crop.
It is a tribute to the resourcefulness and the incredibly hard work of the Gilbertese that they can and will survive, The British Government must never leave the Gilbertese, the Banabans or anyone else for whom we have had historical responsibility in the lurch. I shall return to that later.
I turn now to the central focus of this debate—although I hope that it will not be the subject discussed to the exclusion of all else—namely, the position and plight of the Banaban community and Banaba itself. That plight is now very well known to hon. Members and to most of the British people. I recall my first week in the Foreign Office. When I returned home, my wife asked me what problems I had been dealing with, and I rather dismissively told her that she would not know what I had been dealing with because I had been dealing with the problems of the Banabans. She quickly turned on me and said "Of course, I know what the Banaban problem is. It all arises from the way British Governments 1254 have disgracefully cheated a small group of Pacific islanders for more than a generation."
I think that that is a tribute to the efforts of the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) and others who have brought the issue to the consciousness not only of the House but of the British people themselves.
I had an even better opportunity to observe in personal terms the plight and problems facing the Banabans when I visited both Rabi, the present home of the vast majority of Banabans, and Ocean Island itself, the historic home of the Banaban community. Rabi depressed me. Ocean Island horrified me. On Rabi, at least in 1975, one was shaken by the almost total lack of development. It seemed that, while for 30 years or so since the war the wrangling had gone on, the Banabans themselves had done little for themselves and nobody had done very much for them either.
There was a refugee mentality about the community which one sensed when one visited Rabi. I hope and pray that since 1975 the situation has changed, and change it must, for Rabi will undeniably remain the home of the overwhelming number of Banabans.
Ocean Island is almost irredeemably destroyed. One witnesses there, as I did, the total physical rape of the community. I was brought up in a community which suffered a great deal physically and environmentally from the crude rape of resources in our area. In many of our valley communities in South Wales we have had a chance to begin to repair that damage, but I do not believe that, save in the most marginal terms, however much money is put in, Ocean Island—Banaba—is capable of rehabilitation.
§ Mr. Hooley
I do not at all dissent from what my hon. Friend says, but if this island is such a total wreck in economic and all other terms, why are the Gilbertese so anxious to keep it, and to keep it within the Gilbert Islands?
§ Mr. Rowlands
The answer is that they do. It is the profound wish of the Gilbertese to do so. The idea that the Gilbertese have no commitment or attachment to Ocean Island is wrong, and the voice expressing their feelings and 1255 commitments has not been very much heard in the House.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
A little while ago, was not my hon. Friend telling us that if the people of Wales wanted devolution they, and they alone, should decide—not the United Kingdom? Why should the Banabans have to be subservient to the wishes of the Gilbertese?
§ Mr. Rowlands
If my hon. Friend will allow me to get on, I shall comment and say where we stand on this issue. The first answer is that the Welsh people did not want a break. The issue was not separation. If it had been about separation, I believe that the United Kingdom would have been involved, as would have been the case in respect of Scotland, too. We are talking about very different issues when speaking of either devolution or separation, the latter being what was urged by the supporters of the Banabans.
§ Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the provisions written into the Kiribati constitution give an enormous measure of devolution to those living on Banaba?
§ Mr. Rowlands
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Having been to Banaba, to Ocean Island, as some other hon. Members have, I myself concluded that it looked impossible to re-establish a Banaban community there and that it would therefore be nonsense to create a new dependent territory based on Ocean Island or have some completely new and different constitutional association between that and Fiji, separate from the Gilbert Islands themselves.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the tremendous efforts made by Lord Goronwy-Roberts and Mr. Evan Luard, my former ministerial colleague, who devoted a great deal of time to searching for a reconciliation of the basically conflicting demands, on the one hand, of the Banaban community for the separation of Ocean Island from the Gilberts and, on the other, of the Gilbertese Government who supported the idea that they should go into independence with their existing territory fully intact.
As the right hon. Gentleman said, failure to achieve an acceptable solution was not the result of any lack of effort in the past few years made by Ministers or others concerned in the frequent and 1256 exhaustive discussions, both formal and informal, which took place. They included two ministerial visits and one major visit by a senior official, Mr. Posnett, someone very sensitive to the problems of dependent territories and with a great record in this field. A great effort was made to try to bridge the gaps and to reconcile the respective interests of the two parties.
However, last November, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, my noble Friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts was faced with a difficult and agonising choice to make—whether, as a result of finding the basic disagreement at the constitutional conference, he would rule in favour of the maintenance of Ocean Island as part of the Gilbert Islands, which would then go to independence, or accept the Banaban petition and claim for separation. I need not reiterate the reasons why my noble Friend decided to support the Gilbertese in this respect. The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned the basis on which the Banabans made their claim and the response and arguments against it.
I wish to underline one or two points which, in my view, clearly stand out and which should help us to determine whether that decision was right or wrong. Basically—I return here to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Heeley—it was clear that, irrespective of the future value of the island, it was the overwhelming wish of the Gilbertese Government and representatives, who represent 56,000 of the people of the Gilberts, that they should go into independence with their territory intact, and they considered Ocean Island to be an intrinsic and integral part of their community and State.
Some of my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite may disagree with that, but if we are to talk of self-determination—I see that my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon), who talked about referendums and the rest, has now left the Chamber—we must recognise that the overwhelming majority of people as represented through the Gilbertese Government have unmistakably told us over and over again that they believed that Ocean Island should not be separated from the rest of the Gilberts in the process towards independence.
If we had taken the contrary course, therefore, we should have had to overrule the wishes of 56,000 people, and I 1257 see no greater sense of justice in doing that than in pursuing the difficult decision, as the right hon. Gentleman said, of having to say "No" to the Banabans in respect of their petition.
Moreover, if that decision had been taken it would have cut across a fundamental principle which successive British Governments have tried to uphold and champion in regard to the territorial integrity of colonial territories moving into independence. I support strongly the view expressed in resolution 1514 of the United Nations of December 1960 that partial or total disruption of the territorial integrity of a colonial country going to independence is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the charter of the United Nations.
We know that that has been breached, and we have had to face individual difficult decisions in that respect, but if one is to breach that principle one has to do so only if there is an overwhelming argument. I am sure that the hon. Member for Essex, South-East will say that there is. I do not myself believe that there is, for the reasons which the right hon. Gentleman and others who have looked into this question have given. The case of the Ellice Islands is very different. It is altogether different when there is agreement. In the absence of agreement, it would be wrong to pursue the course of separation and overrule the wishes of 56,000 people in the Gilberts. Having had responsibility for our relations with a number of small island communities in the Pacific and the Caribbean, I am aware of the shudder of fear that runs through the communities when issues of fragmentation and secession are raised. There is deep fear and concern that we must take fully into account in coming to a decision.
The Gilbertese feel that they have an emotional tie. They believe that involved is an integral part of their community and State. The Gilbertese, like the Banabans, have worked to create wealth through phosphates. In recent years they have enjoyed that wealth. They have been involved in the whole process of the phosphate works. They have suffered the ravages of war and dislocation at various times in the history of the islands.
My belief has been reinforced by the important and fundamental rights and 1258 constitutional provisions that have been granted to the Banabans and written into the constitution. They are to be found in paragraph 64 and elsewhere. The right hon. Gentleman listed them. These are formidable constitutional safeguards that go to the practical heart of the Banabans historic rights. They cover, for example, access of land, ownership and the right to veto any changes in provisions and any alterations that may be made. Further, there is the important provision for a review after three years of the way in which the provisions set out in the constitution shall be considered and investigated by the independent commission.
I do not think that the nature and content of the entrenched clauses will be disputed by many hon. Members. What happens to entrenched clauses? Many have said that they may be pushed aside or ripped up by a future Gilbertese Government. It is said that they may be breached in spirit or in principle. Tremendous commitments have been made by the present Gilbertese Ministers and it would be an act of incredible dishonour if future Gilbertese Ministers were to breach the agreements or rip them up. That would be contrary to the spirit and character of the Gilbertese. That prospect is highly unlikely.
There has been discussion about going somewhat further. When Mr. Evan Luard returned from his visit to the islands, he was, I know, enthusiastic about the British Government entering into a further agreement, or even a treaty, with the Gilbertese, with the Kiribati Government, and acting as a mediator so that they could use their good offices if or when an occasion arose when the Banabans felt that the basic constitutional rights embodied in the provisions of the new constitution could be infringed. I hope that the Minister of State will indicate whether he has been able or will be able to take that matter further. That would be a reinforcement of the already deeply entrenched clauses that are recommended in the constitution relating to Banabans' rights.
§ Mr. Michael Neubert (Romford)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the recent move last week indicates that not all the options have been adequately explored? Is it not an unfortunate sequence of events that arrangements have been made for independence to be granted on 12 July 1259 and for the visit of Her Royal Highness to take place when negotiators, both in the Pacific and in London, will feel under duress because of that deadline?
§ Mr. Rowlands
In the past two or three years the argument has been "Let us delay that until the next round of talks". There have been many discussions, including two major ones, in recent history. There have been two major sets of talks, or rounds of discussion, involving the distinguished Prime Minister of Fiji, Sir Kamisese Mara, or merely the Gilbertese and the leaders of the Rabi Council. There could not be delay for ever.
The right hon. Gentleman quoted the communiqué and I shall do so. In the working paper submitted by the chairman of the working party, some interesting new ideas were explored. As I understand it, the Banabansreaffirmed that it was neither their desire nor their intention to delay the granting of independence to the Gilbert Islands.At this stage there is nothing incompatible between proceeding towards independence, as the Bill offers the Gilbertese, and a continuation of the search for some additional relationships of association between Rabi, Fiji, the Gilberts and Ocean Island in whatever combination discussed by the working party.
Although the right hon. Gentleman said that he could go no further in reporting to the House what was discussed, I ask the Minister of State to tell the House something more about the discussions relating to the ideas and suggestions in the working party document that was submitted this week so that we may know whether there is hope for future agreement. The communique itself suggests that that reaffirmation is not a reason for proceeding with independence and a Bill allowing the Gilbertese to proceed to independence, as they wish, in July.
Given the decision not to separate Banaba from the Gilberts and to proceed to independence—that is, to allow the Gilbert Islands to proceed to independence with their territory intact—there is a parallel issue that is related to the important constitutional aspects and rights that are enshrined in the White Paper and the conference report. It is the important underpinning of the financial arrangements 1260 that were referred to by the right hon. Gentleman.
I remember returning from my visit in 1975 convinced that the entire surplus from the BPC account of 20 million Australian dollars should be returned to assist Banaban development and to assist the Gilberts after exhaustion of the phosphates. I had initial discussions with the Australian and New Zealand Governments four years ago and I appreciated the reluctance and the difficulty that we would meet from the two partner Governments. It is a tribute to the efforts of my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts that it has been agreed that some of the surplus mentioned in the BPC account will be utilised to support a Banaban fund. However, that is only 10 million Australian dollars.
Further efforts should be made to persuade the partner Governments that the whole of the surplus that has accrued—about 20 million Australian dollars plus interest—should be returned and utilised for the benefit of the Banabans in Rabi, perhaps some on Ocean Island, and for the assistance of the new Kiribati Government. I do not believe that the New Zealand, Australian or British Governments should take a penny of the historic loot that was derived from crude commercial developments in the area. There should be further pressures brought and further discussions and negotiations to achieve that end.
That was my view in 1975 and I consider that progress has been made. I hope that the Government will make further efforts to ensure that not a penny of the surpluses accrued should remain with the exchequers of the British, Australian and New Zealand Governments.
There is an open door here, unless there has been a change of heart. Much will depend on whether the Government can persuade their Australian and New Zealand counterparts to come along with that proposal. In the past, those countries have shown reluctance to do so. I should be grateful if the Minister would say whether he intends to pursue this matter urgently.
Additionally, a commitment has been made of £1 million of overseas aid for development projects in Rabi. Will the Minister reaffirm that the entire aid package written into the conference report, 1261 plus the commitment of £1 million of aid to the Rabi project, is immune from the axe-swinging of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and that there is no question of reneging upon firm and unequivocal commitments made in financial terms to Rabi and the Gilbertese?
If the Bill becomes law, as I hope it will, we shall have helped to launch a small, vulnerable nation into independence. As a result of the surrounding economic forces, these people are vulnerable. They desperately need to work to maintain themselves and to survive. We cannot appreciate what is involved until we see these little atolls, which are a couple of inches out of the water, and what the problems are in maintaining life, body and soul. I profoundly believe that these people deserve our full support.
A new nation of resilient and hardworking people will be created. They are remarkably good fishermen and sailors. Many of them have had to scatter to maintain a living. I hope that Parliament, the Government and the British people will not turn their backs on a society which, for a host of mixed motives, we chose to acquire on colonial terms and controlled and governed for a long time.
This modest act of decolonisation should not be viewed as one of Pontius Pilate, whereby we wash our hands of the future of these communities. Rather it should be seen as a transformation from a relationship that existed between us and the small Pacific communities into another. The United Kingdom must still maintain interest and generous support for a people with whom it has been a privilege to be associated for so long.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I welcome independence for the Gilbertese. I wish them well. I agree that they face an extremely difficult economic situation. I hope that we shall give them full support. Nothing I say should be taken as reflecting upon their good will and integrity. I regret that the Bill is being passed so hurriedly before the House has a further opportunity of considering the case of the Banabans.
The hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) is expert on this matter, as are other members of the Opposition. The hon. Gentleman will 1262 no doubt go into the history at some length, and rightly so.
The Lord Privy Seal introduced the Bill with his usual historical expertise. However, I thought that he glossed over some matters and omitted others. The treatment of the Banabans by this country has been one of the most disgraceful episodes in colonial history for which any European country has been responsible. That was not mentioned. I did not hear him mention that there was a settlement in 1913, under which phosphate mining should be contained. The British and, I think, the Australian and New Zealand Governments took over total responsibility for phosphate mining in 1920.
It is worth emphasising that Ocean Island was not wrecked by wicked capitalists. It was deliberately wrecked by three Governments that were supposed to be trustees for a colonial people. That was not mentioned. In 1927 to 1928 those Governments deliberately broke the 1913 agreement. Therefore, this House bears grave responsibility for now ensuring that the Banabans are fully and fairly treated.
I have some experience in representing islands and in dealing with islanders. The inhabitants of Tristan da Cunha were told that their island would become virtually uninhabitable. They were recommended by Whitehall and others, with the best of motives, no doubt, to move elsewhere. They came to Orkney and Shetland. What better islands could there be? They were offered the most delightful life possible on this earth. However, they preferred to return to Tristan da Cunha. I did not feel able to say them nay.
I am surprised that the Conservative Government, in their new mood, should take upon themselves to tell the Banabans that their future would be best decided by the Government. Past history is not irrelevant to this. If I were a Banaban, I would carefully consider anything said by the British Government. Of all the people to advise them, British Governments are the last to trust. I am not critical of the present or previous Minister. However, in view of the history, we can hardly blame the Banabans for saying "For goodness sake, let us suspect anything said by the British Government above all people."
1263 I have heard it said in the House—especially by the Conservatives when in opposition and the Labour Party—that one Government cannot bind its successor. Under clause 1 we are shedding all responsibility. Clause 1(1) reads:On and after 12th July 1979 (in this Act referred to as 'Independence Day') Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom shall have no responsibility for the government of Kiribati.Therefore, whatever the good intentions, I do not doubt for a moment that a Gilbertese Government will say that it cannot bind its successor in this matter.
We are pushing the Banabans off, believing in the indefinite good will of Gilbertese Governments. Labour Government assurances would not be accepted by the Conservatives if they were in Opposition. They would not accept an assurance that when all responsibility was divorced from the House of Commons we could rely indefinitely on the promises of an independent Government.
Let us go further into the history of the matter.
§ Sir Ian Gilmour
Is not the right hon. Gentleman putting forward a general argument against any form of decolonisation whatsoever?
§ Mr. Grimond
Before we decolonise, we must take care to discharge responsibilities to minorities. I bitterly regret that the Liberal Government did not do that for Africa. In many other cases, Governments have been far too ready to shed their responsibilities without making sure that minorities would be protected—not temporarily, but in the longer term.
We are told that the Gilbertese are extremely anxious to obtain Ocean Island. I stand to be corrected, but I am told that they showed no interest in Ocean Island after the war. I am told that they did not express any great desire to acquire it; it was not one of their islands. Why is it so important to them? Why should it not be handed over to the Banabans and, if necessary, put into some association with them or Fiji? If it is said that two-thirds of the island is uninhabitable, nevertheless the remaining one-third could possibly be a centre for fishing. We should be told clearly and fairly why the Gilbertese are so interested in this island—which was only joined to their group by the 1264 British. Certain fishing rights may go with Ocean Island. Is it intended to compensate the Banabans if they give up those rights?
Some of the Banabans wish to obtain rights to Ocean Island and an association with the Gilbert Islands or Fiji. So far, I have not heard any strong argument advanced against that, other than that the Gilbertese want the Banabans to be within their new country. However, from the Banabans' point of view, what is the argument against further considering their claim for independence and a possible future association with their neighbours?
I am sceptical about this matter. If the phosphate is to be exhausted, as I understand, this year, presumably it is generally agreed that it will be very difficult to put back two-thirds of the island into habitable condition. However, one-third, admittedly the least attractive third, will remain. I should like more information about why that should not be given some independence if the Banabans wish to go there.
I have some experience of this, too. My own islands of Orkney are threatened with uranium mining. We are constantly reassured by public bodies, by Governments and by the South of Scotland Electricity Authority that uranium mining will not harm our islands—"There will be just a few holes in the ground and you will be able to go on living there."
I am sceptical of that after the experience of the Banabans. Their islands have been wrecked. They have been let down, to put it mildly—betrayed—by the British Government. Now, when they express a wish which is not unreasonable—I find no convincing arguments advanced against it other than that it will be administratively convenient for them to be under the Gilbert Islands—they wish to try to go their own way like the Tristan da Cunhans and many other small communities. I understand that their claim is for some independence and that they may then come into association with the Gilberts or Fiji. I have heard no sufficient argument against that.
After 1945, the Banabans were forbidden to return to their islands. If they had gone back, I do not know what would have happened—perhaps the hon. Member for Essex, South-East will tell 1265 us—but the British Government forbade them to return.
Then we come to the question of money. The conduct of British Governments, in the plural, has been condemned in no uncertain terms by a judge—this is not a political matter—who was horrified to hear how these people had been treated. After immense difficulty, with no good will, they were offered a sum of money. I am not sure what the present offer is, but I think that it is about 11 million Australian dollars. If I am wrong, that too can be corrected.
It has been suggested recently—from the Opposition Front Bench, indeed—that that sum might be increased and that it might at least be given to the Banabans. It has not even been handed over to them: it has been retained by Governments. One can hardly blame these people for being intransigent. I do not defend everything about the way in which their case has been put forward, but at least the money should be handed over to them in toto, as the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands) said—if necessary to trustees appointed by them—and used entirely for their own benefit. I understand that that has not been done.
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter Blaker)
The right hon. Gentleman may not be aware of the fact, but the Banabans have not yet agreed to accept it. That is what is holding it up.
§ Mr. Grimond
Even if they have not accepted it, if I am right it should be put in the hands of trustees to show good will. What is the objection to that? Let it be put into a fund. That is frequently done until legal matters are finally decided. The money is paid into court. Let the Government do that. That would at any rate be some gesture of good will. Nor does the amount seem wholly adequate, considering the huge sums which have been taken out of Ocean Island.
I am not sure what would be done or said by the treaty which it is suggested should be entered into with Kiribati. How would it be enforced? I do not have much faith in such treaties. I do not see future Governments sending warships to enforce this treaty, but I should like to hear more about it. It may be one way forward.
1266 I sincerely believe that neither the present Government nor the last Government are to blame for this situation, but they are rushing the matter far too quickly. To take the Committee stage on Monday is far too fast.
In view of the history of this matter, one cannot blame these people for being profoundly suspicious of the future. This House must be much more assured than it has been so far that they will be reasonably compensated for the almost incredible damage done to them in the past and that safeguards for their future will be much stronger than those so far advanced. If we are to deny them what they want—they have made it clear what they want—we must have far better reasons than have so far been given.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)
The most remarkable feature of this Bill is that there is not a mention in it, from beginning to end, of the one issue which sets this independence measure apart from the many others that we have enacted since the war. Concerning Ocean Island, or Banaba, the Bill is silent. There is no mention of it. Nor does the Bill include any reference to the safeguards to which the Lord Privy Seal has referred. I imagine that these are to be left to a constitution set out in an Order in Council, which we are unlikely to debate in this House.
To do my right hon. Friend credit, he showed that he was fully aware of the widespread sympathy and strength of feeling in the House and the country for the much-abused Banaban people. It is with much regret, however—I wish that my right hon. Friend were here, so that I could say this to him—despite the respect and affection that I have for him, that I must say that the story he told us today, like the Bill itself, is less than complete and did justice neither to the Banabans nor to himself.
The background to this matter is complex, but the issue is simple. It is whether, by passing this Bill, we should force the Banaban people, who have never lived under Gilbertese rule, to become part of a unitary Gilbertese or Kiribati republic against their will. That is the issue. I find it truly astonishing that the new Administration, whose declared aim is to 1267 enhance freedom and choice for our own people, should be prepared to deny both to a small community for whom this country has been responsible for the last 79 years.
I must make it plain that neither the Banabans nor their many friends on both sides of the House wish to delay Gilbertese independence—although I agree with the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) about the indecent haste with which this matter is being rushed through. If, however, the Government think that for this reason we shall turn a deaf ear to the pleas of the Banabans and permit a final and crowning injustice to be done to a people whom successive Administrations have grievously wronged, they must think again.
So far, the new Government, like their predecessors, have chosen to ignore the Banabans' pleas. They have brushed aside our protests. My protest today is not new. My position was made perfectly clear to the Conservative leaders last year. They would like us to draw a veil over past wrongs, They would like us to forget that successive Administrations were castigated in the High Court, as the right hon. Gentleman reminded us, for their breach of trust. We shall not do so, for this is primarily a moral problem which touches our honour as a nation and concerns our good name in the international community. The whole shameful story must be told.
What the Bill is about to do to the Banabans must be judged against the background of what we have already done to them since we seized their island in 1900 because of its rich phosphate deposits. From then on, the record has been one of duplicity almost without parallel.
Banaba was annexed to the Empire without Banaban consent. It was added to the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony 16 years later to suit our administrative convenience and to make the exploitation of phosphates easier—again, without Banaban consent. When later the Banabans demurred at the taking of their land for phosphate mining by the British Phosphate Commission which represented the enlightened Governments of Britain, Australia and New Zealand, they were threatened with the destruction of their 1268 villages by British officials, and their land was taken away anyway.
In 1942, during the Japanese advance across the Pacific we abandoned the Banabans to the mercy of the invader. Most of them were deported for slave labour to neighbouring islands. The remainder were murdered.
After the war, we, the victors, gathered up the pitiful remnants. The Banabans asked to be taken home but they were told by British officials that this was impossible because Banaba was devastated. They were then shipped to Rabi, an island in Fiji 1,400 miles away, which had been bought with their money. There they were left in a few tents in the middle of the hurricane season. No sooner were they disposed of in that way than the British Phosphate Commissioners began recruiting Gilbertese labourers to mine the phosphate on Ocean Island. Deceit then became the order of the day.
§ Mr. Hooley
The hon. Member is correct, but the Foreign Office administrators said that this was a splendid opportunity to do exactly what they had wanted to do for 40 years.
§ Sir B. Braine
That is so, and I intend that all the facts of this sordid story shall be put on the record before Parliament enacts the Bill.
In 1947 the Banabans were persuaded to sign away, on fixed and immutable terms, all their remaining phosphate lands and also to remain on Rabi. At that time the Banabans were in no fit state to negotiate such agreements which were aimed at settling their future. They had been weakened by their brutal treatment at the hands of the Japanese. They were confused by their sudden transfer to the strange environment of Rabi. Above all, they were indelibly marked by their experience less than 20 years before at the hands of British administrators who had threatened them with the destruction of their homes when they refused to part with any more land.
They were allowed no independent advice on the negotiation of leases which would swallow up almost all of their remaining land. Yet phosphate, which would take over 30 years to mine, was to be leased by them on terms which permitted no review.
1269 This was deliberate. Our high commissioner for the Western Pacific instructed the adviser who was attached to the Banabans that he should not advise the Banabans about receiving a fair price for their phosphates. The reason, of course, was that the phosphates were being sold to Australian and New Zealand farmers at below world prices.
Hon. Members will see that the Banabans' signature in such circumstances rendered them powerless to prevent most of the proceeds from their single wasting commercial asset being diverted by Britain for the benefit of others. At the same time, while the Banabans were being pressurised to sign away the remainder of their land they were asked to confirm their intention to stay on Rabi Island.
My right hon. Friend referred to the referendum in which they took part. He said that it was fair and above board and that it was carried out in secret, like any other ballot in a democratic country.
The terms of the referendum are well known. One ballot box was marked "I shall stay on Rabi". The other was marked "I shall not stay on Rabi". The Banabans had already been told that it was not practical to go back to Ocean Island; they had been persuaded to part with the remainder of the mineable land. No one had suggested to them that some Banabans could remain on Rabi while others could be employed in the mining on Ocean Island. They were not even allowed to visit their homeland before reaching their momentous decision. All in all, the transfer of the Banabans to Rabi was as voluntary as the removal of the crew of a torpedoed ship to the life rafts. There was to be no return.
It was almost 20 years before this simple and unsophisticated people tumbled to such chicanery and began to ask for recompense. In 1967 they sent representatives to London, where the Government offered them the princely sum of £80,000 as compensation for the effects of all phosphate mining since 1900. They rejected the offer.
Later, they were advised by their eminent British counsel, Sir Elwyn Jones, who was to become Lord Chancellor, to sue both the British Phosphate Commission and the British Government. Even those with longer memories than mine will be unable to recall another 1270 occasion when a colonial people felt obliged to sue the British for dereliction of duty. But that happened as a result of the advice of one of our most eminent lawyers. There followed the longest legal action in our history. The case opened in 1975 before the Vice-Chancellor, Sir Robert Megarry, and judgment was given at the end of 1976.
In his judgment. Sir Robert berated past Governments for grave breaches in our higher trust towards a colonial people. He described the bullying as outrageous. He said that the failure to see that the Banabans were properly advised could neither be good government nor the proper discharge of the duties of trusteeship in the higher sense. I was delighted to hear the encouraging words about justice in the financial sense of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands). It is remarkable what removal from office does to a man. There is much rejoicing in Heaven over the hon. Gentleman. I urge the Minister to read the judgment. He is a sensitive man. I admire him. He should read the judgbefore the Committee stage; it should be enough to make him weep.
The Vice-Chancellor began his severe and authoritative stricture on our colonial rule on 29 November 1976. On the same day the Foreign Office briefed the media on "the British record". An astonishingly ill-timed and inept handout stated:Her Majesty's Government are convinced that an impressive degree of care and attention to detail was shown by successive Resident Commissioners and the Colonial Office on behalf of the Banabans.Whoever wrote that was either a fool or a knave. I mention it only to show that it was characteristic of the cover-up operation which has continued up to the presentation of this Bill.
If the British Government were convinced that they had behaved correctly, they were soon shaken out of their complacency by the Vice-Chancellor. He took the almost unprecedented step of drawing the attention of the then Attorney-General to the wrongs committed by the Crown which his court was powerless to put right. After some delay the previous Government answered this by making an offer of £6.5 million to the Banabans on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, with no admission of liability.
1271 I know that the offer has not yet been accepted. But one must remember the way in which the offer was made. One must also remember that the Banabans were asking for the redress of other wrongs. It is not unnatural that they should have held back because of the churlish way in which the Government responded to the admonitions of the learned judge. The offer was derisory anyway.
Let me give some figures. By the end of mining the total revenue from Banaban phosphates which will have been appropriated to meet Britain's past and future obligations towards the Gilbert Islands colony will be £62 million. Past subsidies to Australian and New Zealand farmers account for a further £17½ million. The current purchasing power is about £170 million. That is the extent to which the Banabans' sole natural resource has been taken from them ruthlessly for the benefit of others.
However, I do not rest my case on the money argument. As the Banaban leaders have repeatedly told me, the economic deprivation is not their primary concern. The Bill, if unamended, will deprive them of something vastly more important than money—their right to self-determination, their identity as a people and their dignity as human beings. Nothing is more contemptible than the assertions from both Front Benches from time to time that these people do not have a separate identity, that they are the same as the Gilbertese, and that they speak the same language. We speak the same language as the Americans but do not live in the same State. Where is the force of that argument?
A people are what they believe themselves to be. All the anthropologists whom I have consulted are convinced that the Banabans have a distinct identity. But it is what they feel and want to be that matters, yet that has been ignored by successive Governments. For their homeland, which we should have been holding for them in trust, will pass, by the Bill, under the sovereignty of others who never ruled them before our intrusion in the Pacific.
By what right do we thrust aside Banaban pleas for the return of the land that we took from them and have worked to destruction? Can we not begin to 1272 understand that their attachment—indeed, the attachment of all Micronesian and Polynesian islanders—to land is more intense and of deeper significance than we Europeans can comprehend? It may be helpful if I quote a short comment for which I am indebted to Professor Andrew Strathern, who occupies the chair of anthropology at University College, London. The professor does not wish to take sides in any political dispute between Pacific islanders, but I have his permission to quote his opinion as follows:The sentiment of attachment to land among Pacific peoples goes far beyond a utilitarian or commercial attitude. It is a deep and spiritual form of attachment which has a religious basis.Often this attachment is marked by the fact of the burial of the dead in the land to which people hold claims. From one point of view, such burials validate and record the actual claims to land which the descendants have. From another viewpoint, the continuing link between the ancestral dead and the living is necessary to ensure prosperity and success. No amount of compensation can fully atone for the loss of such a link if the people are expropriated.Where an ancestral land is ravaged, as Ocean Island has been, there may be a further notion of disturbance of this vital link between the dead and the living.It is not difficult to see, after all that has happened, that the placing by this Bill of the ancestral homeland of the Banabans under the sovereign dominion of another people would be a final act of betrayal. It must not be allowed to happen. Is this not then one of those occasions when the House of Commons should assert itself?
Just consider for a moment what we, in our ignorance—and there has been abominable ignorance on this subject until recently—have allowed British Administrations to do in our name. Very shortly the mining operations of the British Phosphate Commissioners on Banaba will come to an end. They will leave behind them a sadly appropriate monument to the worst example of commercial exploitation in the Pacific—the island homeland of the Banaban people will be abandoned, a derelict waste of jagged coral pinnacles. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and I are, I think, probably the only two hon. Members to have visited Banaba and seen what human greed has done to what earlier visitors had described as an island paradise. A total of 1,154 of its 1,500 acres have been ripped from its heart to 1273 provide subsidised cheap food for Britain and revenue to support the administration of our Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony.
The crucial point for the House to bear in mind is that as long as the Banabans remained on Banaba they were an embarrassment to the colonial authority. They were an obstacle to the final and ruthless exploitation of the phosphates. That was why they were taken to Rabi immediately after the war and were kept there, in effect, by trickery.
All this is relevant to the Bill. The Banabans agreed to make their home on Rabi only on the strict understanding that Britain would guarantee their rights to their ravaged homeland. In return for their agreement to stay on Rabi, the British Government gave them certain undertakings, known by the Government as the "Statement of Intentions" and by the Banabans as "The Covenant". They stated:The Banabans' decision to reside on Rabi Island shall in no way affect any rights to lands possessed by the Banabans on Ocean Island; the Banabans shall be permitted, subject to the provisions of the law of Fiji and further subject to shipping being available to travel freely between Rabi Island and Ocean Island, and subject to the rights of the British Phosphate Commissioners over any land purchased or leased to them, to reside on Ocean Island.That was a solemn promise and obligation. There is no argument about it. Successive British Governments have freely acknowledged that those undertakings, given in 1947 and reiterated in 1967, are still valid. In effect, they mean that Britain recognises that the Banabans have two island homes, yet the Bill abrogates unilaterally the unfettered right of the Banabans to move freely between their two homes. I have had lawyers looking into this matter in detail. One has only to look at the citizenship provisions and to have some knowledge of Fijian nationality law—and I have consulted in the past two days a distinguished Fijian lawyer who is also a member of the Fiji Parliament—to see that the 1947 guarantees cannot be transferred to the new Gilbertese Republic.
However, that is only part of the deception. The other part is the pretence of the late Labour Government, and now the present Government, that the Banaban rights which Britain is pledged to guarantee will nevertheless be satisfactorily protected in future years by 1274 entrenched clauses in the constitution of the new republic.
§ Sir B. Braine
There is an outline of it in the White Paper, but I understand from my hon. Friend the Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton) that when he asked the Foreign and Commonwealth Office whether the constitution existed, he was told that investigations would be made. At present, we have no constitution in front of us.
The claim that the Banaban rights will be satisfactorily protected in the constitution of the new republic has not been accepted by the Banabans. Nor have they been consulted about it. They regard these amendments as a betrayal. Indeed, I am empowered by their elected representatives to say that no worthwhile guarantee can be provided that a future Government of an independent, sovereign Gilberts will respect Banaban rights to Ocean Island. That is their firm conviction, and the facts of history are, alas, on their side.
That is why the Banabans are holding the British Government to the solemn undertakings given in 1947. They are right to do so. Britain cannot in honour shuffle these promises off without Banaban approval and leave them to another power to maintain, and Parliament should not allow that to happen. It is my submission that only by separating Ocean Island from the Gilbert Islands before independence and seeking Banaban assent to any new association between the two can Britain honour the obligations entered into with the Banabans in 1947.
What is the reason for the Government's stubborn refusal to heed the Banaban desire for self-determination? My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal told us, and I accept that he believes it, that the Banaban desire for self-determination would infringe the principle of territorial integrity. That was repeated by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil from the Opposition Front Bench. We were told that we cannot separate one part of a territory without the consent of the majority of the people in the territory as a whole. That is palpable nonsense.
Since Britain started dismantling the Empire, that principle has frequently 1275 been breached. There are many examples of where we, as the sovereign Power, allowed the secession of part of a territory against the wishes of the majority of the population.
We permitted the collapse of the Indian Union and the secession of Pakistan against the wishes of the Hindu majority. We permitted Nyasaland to break away from the Central African Federation and Jamaica from the West Indian Federation, despite strong protests from both the federal Governments of the day. Have we already forgotten the tragedy—or was it the comedy—of Anguilla, where a tiny community defied the British Government on this very issue and won? That was a case of fragmentation if there ever was one.
As for the safeguards for the Banabans in a unitary Gilbertese State—described by my right hon. Friend this afternoon as unprecedented—it would be very difficult to find safeguards of that kind anywhere else in the world. The noble Lord, the former Minister of State, speaking in another place on the Bill in the last Parliament, said that in his experience he had never known such strong entrenched clauses as were envisaged in the White Paper. They are not mentioned, incidentally, in the Bill. Indeed, he said that the Gilberts Government were "insulted" at the need for the "paraphernalia of guarantee".
I have a great deal of sympathy with the Gilbertese point of view. The present Gilbertese Ministers are honourable men. I have met them. I know them and I like them. But history shows that the stronger the safeguards put in by the colonial Power, the quicker the new sovereign State seeks to change them. Why pretend to this House, as Ministers have been doing, that the Banabans can rely on safeguards? We know in our hearts that they cannot. Why tell us so? Why enact nonsense of this kind?
The truth is that either a Government are sovereign or they are not, and if they are sovereign, they must be able to change their own constitution. No Government, as has been said, can bind their successors. The Banabans know that and therefore they resist these proposals. They know very well that the world is littered with torn-up constitutions thought up by the mandarins of Whitehall.
1276 As the House knows, I have spent much of my political life involved in Commonwealth relations. I have visited almost every part of the Commonwealth. I have dedicated a large part of my political life and activity to Commonwealth affairs. But I say with great sadness that there is hardly an independence constitution that we have drawn up in this country since the war that still exists. Most of them have been altered, or torn up with contempt. Yet these were constitutions in which we sought to protect the rights of minorities.
Nor is it any use saying that external guarantees by Britain or some other Commonwealth country could provide a safeguard. Britain is, or was, a guarantor of fair play in Cyprus. Yet when it came to the crunch we did not lift a finger to honour our treaty obligations when that country was brutally invaded. In Nicosia a year ago I saw a silent demonstration of weeping Greek Cypriot women. They were holding up, for all the world to see, photographs of their missing loved ones who, we knew in our hearts, lie in some unmarked grave. I felt deeply ashamed then, as did my other parliamentary colleagues, and I still do.
Finally, let us consider carefully the constitutional monstrosity that Parliament is being asked to accept in the Bill. Although most of the Banabans are citizens of Fiji, they are to be given the right—we were told so this afternoon—to nominate a representative to the sovereign Gilbertese Parliament. I can think of no country in the world that would allow this for very long. Moreover, that representative will have the right of veto on any matter affecting Banaba. In other words, what we are proposing here is that a sovereign State-to-be, before it is granted independence, has to sign away a part of its sovereignty.
Such a cumbersome and unnatural device is, I suggest, a sure recipe for future unrest and disorder, for how long will the new Gilbertese or Kiribati Republic be able to resist the demands from its own people for the removal of what many of them may come to regard as special privileges for a few over the democratic rights of the many? Furthermore, when inevitably these tensions arise, they will serve as a constant source of friction between the Gilberts and Fiji, whose citizens the Banabans are. One wonders whether, 1277 in drafting this nonsense, the Government and their predecessors have consulted those foreign Powers which have an interest in disturbing the existing order in the Pacific and elsewhere in the world.
I beg the Government, even at this eleventh hour, to turn back before it is too late. I beg them not to preside over the final betrayal of the Banaban people by forcing them into a unitary State to which they do not want to belong.
There is a solution ready to hand. Under the wise chairmanship of the Fijian Prime Minister, talks between Gilbertese Ministers and the Banabans have just concluded in Suva. In order to break the deadlock between the two sides, the Fijian Prime Minister tabled a compromise plan which, while not giving the Banabans all they want, is acceptable to them. In essence, the plan provides for a free association between a self-governing, but not wholly independent, Banaba and the Gilbert Islands Republic. Unfortunately, the Gilbertese Ministers will not consider any proposals whatever until after independence.
There is the rub, for once independence is conceded the die is cast and Parliament will have no more say in the matter. If, however, my hon. Friend will give in his reply an assurance that the Government will seek to get agreement on the plan between the two sides—their representatives are in London, I understand—before the Committee stage, and would be prepared to delete Banaba from the Bill, without prejudice to ultimate Gilbertese sovereignty, until such time as an agreement is reached on these lines. I would be prepared to let the Bill have its Second Reading without a Division.
Not to take advantage of the Fijian Prime Minister's statesmanlike initiative and not to seize this opportunity of finding an honourable and lasting solution would, in my judgment, not only be insulting to a good friend of our country but an abdication of responsibility. Indeed, it would be worse. If the Government decline to act and the House assents to what is proposed in the Bill, that will condone all that has gone before—the deceit, the trickery, the maladministration.
Long ago, Pontius Pilate washed his hands in the belief that a certain difficult problem would go away. The world has never forgiven him.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
The House owes a great debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), not only for his long and persistent campaign on this issue but for the way in which he has spoken this afternoon. We cannot now shrug off our responsibilities as a House of Commons for the plight of the Banabans and their wishes. I take it as the view of many who have listened to the hon. Gentleman that we would not allow the Bill to go through in an unamended state, in the light of the allegations he has made, which have been corroborated not only by many other people who have experience of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands but by the long, detailed, and passionately balanced judgment of Vice-Chancellor Megarry. I therefore take the view that the Bill needs serious amendment to remove Banaba from some of its provisions.
I go further than the hon. Gentleman, and for the reason that he argued at the end of his speech, because I take the view that if we were to pass on Second Reading the first clause of the Bill, we would be dispensing—as has been pointed out by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond)—with our right to intervene thereafter in the affairs of Banaba.
It is the fact of independence for Kiribati which gives to the Banabans their real fear for the future. If independence is given to Kiribati, their future will be decided not by the House of Commons but the generosity or otherwise of the Kiribati Government. I do not propose that we should do that. I believe that we should divide the House on the Second Reading of this Bill. I do not anticipate that we shall win that vote but it will be a shot over the bows of the Government, so that they understand that we are serious about the amendment that we shall table in Committee by which we intend that Banaba should be taken out of the Bill.
I hope that many hon. Members who agree with me will support me on the vote on Second Reading so that the Government are deterred. Nothing other than votes will deter the Government. Let us make no mistake about it.
I say to anyone who has not been in Government that the one thing that makes 1279 a difference to decisions in the Cabinet is the way in which we vote in the House. Appeals, even as noble and emotional as those of the hon. Member for Essex, South-East, have no great sway when we come up against the briefs of the Foreign Office in Whitehall. What makes the difference is what the Chief Whip says about votes.
We should show, on Second Reading, that we are serious about this and intend that in Committee our voice will be heard, not because it is our voice or because we have a responsibility towards the Banabans but because the Banabans have been neglected for so long. It is time that they were heard, and heard at the highest level.
Throughout the time that this argument has been going on, what I wanted to know was why the Gilbertese wanted this island. Some time ago I received a letter from a gentleman called Professor Murray of the Open University, who, apparently, was the constitutional adviser to the Gilbertese Government. He set out at great length why he thought the campaign that was being waged—as he put it—by the public relations advisers to the Banabans was so disgraceful and so insulting to the Gilbertese attitude. He said that he hoped that I had not been misled by that campaign.
I wrote back to Professor Murray giving him what has always been my view, telling him that I had not been much influenced by the public relations handout, because I had not read it. However, I take the view that Ocean Island is the homeland of the Banabans, though it is now almost a barren rock. God knows why they want it, but they do. They have been so oppressively treated in the past that I want to accede to their view. What he wrote back was most interesting, coming from the man who was constitutional adviser to the Gilbertese. He ends his letter to me as follows:Might I just add as a footnote in comment on your remark 'God knows why they (the Banabans), want it', that there is a good deal that does not have to be left to the Almighty? There is more known to Mammon about the Banabans' ideas than seems to have found expression, at least in the Lords' debate but my purpose was to comment on Gilbertese thinking, not on Banaban motive.It was for that reason that I asked the Lord Privy Seal, when he was referring to the phosphate mines, whether it 1280 was true that there was any financial incentive for the Banabans to wage this campaign now. The answer from the Foreign Office was that there was not. I make that point because I have heard from Foreign Office Ministers in the past that that was the reason why the Banabans were waging their campaign.
The fact of the matter is that subject to a settlement of their claim—and we heard in the interchanges today what that settlement is, and that it will not be affected in any way by the Bill—the exploitation of the Banabans' island is a matter of history. It is past. The exploitation finished this year and no more profits will be made by anyone out of Ocean Island. The real issue is what is to be done with the barren rock that remains as a result of colonial exploitation.
I should have thought that we on the Labour Benches would have had the greatest sympathy with the attitude of the Banabans as people who were exploited in that way. However, I am anxious to make the simple point: I know why the Banabans want Ocean Island, but why do the Gilbertese want it? I have looked through the records to find out.
There was a statement by the Chief Minister of the Gilbert Islands at the constitutional conference. I need not read it all because it was fully contained in the statement made by the Lord Privy Seal today. The Foreign Office simply cribbed it and put it in as the argument against the Banabans. The four points that the Lord Privy Seal made today are the four made by the Chief Minister in his statement. At the end, the Chief Minister goes on to say this:The Gilbert Islands' position is simple. It expects to preserve its territorial integrity both now and in the future, and sees no reason for departing from the long established principle, enunciated by the British Government and supported by the majority of the members of the United Nations, that the wishes of the people as a whole should be the only criteria for determining any change in territorial boundaries.The hon. Member for Essex, South-East dealt with that on the basis of the notable exceptions to that which we had in our constitutional practice and on the basis that those who voted in the colonial committee of the United Nations in support of the Gilbertese clearly failed to recognise their own history. I do not feel constrained to go along with an empty 1281 charade, a constitutional figment of imagination, simply to do down the Banabans once more.
I therefore looked again at the report of Mr. R. N. Posnett, a lawyer who was sent out by the British Government to estimate the attitudes of the people in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. What he said regarding the Gilbertese view was thatthe Gilbertese would prefer to suffer some financial privation than to lose Ocean Island which they regard as an integral part of their country.His next comment is very revealing:I do not suppose that this is a matter of which the general public"—that is, in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands—have been conscious for very long. Indeed I believe that it is the very noise and persistence of Banaban propaganda which has been one of the main stimulants of Gilbertese popular opinion. However that may be, it now has a vigorous life of its own and is something which no Gilberts Government can ignore.That is what it is about. The Banabans have long been claiming that they should have their own homeland back, and that they should have it back in association with Rabi. Because the Banabans claim it, the Gilbertese are claiming against them. That is all it is. It is nothing to do with territorial integrity. It is not some principle of the United Nations. It is not some hallmark of constitutional government. It is a plain, old-fashioned political wrangle in which the Gilbertese say the Banabans cannot have their way because somehow or other they would lose face.
This is what Mr. Posnett had to say about the Banaban position. It is perhaps the most moving part of the whole record. I shall quote the whole, rather long paragraph:Why is the question of sovereignty so important to them? Why had they flatly rejected 'the 15 points' which would have secured their rights on Ocean Island, without any discussion? The answer turned out to be simple. The Banabans are not prepared to look at or even think about any arrangement which would leave Ocean Island within the Gilberts territory. So strongly do they feel on this issue that even the most sympathetic and forthcoming offers by the Gilberts' leaders have been rejected. One can only conclude that the Banabans' leaders are less concerned with those rights which the 15 points would secure for them, than to oust the Gilberts Government from any say in or authority over Ocean Island. It is not just that the 1282 Banabans expect the power of that Government to be abused—this could be guarded against by the measures suggested in the 15 points or by other legal, constitutional and international devices; it is that they resent the very existence of Gilberts' Government authority over Ocean Island. This is a real 'gut' reaction, and no less real for having been cultivated by their leaders. It cannot be rationalised. Although I have in the preceding chapter examined the 'case' produced by the Banabans to support their claim it is to some extent irrelevant: it has been thought up and worked out with the help of professional advisers not so much to crystallise or represent the Banabans' actual thinking, but in order to provide arguable justification on legal and constitutional grounds for a claim which in reality is based primarily on emotional rather than rational considerations.In other words, it is at the gut of what the Banabans feel about their homeland. Merely to put that on one side and say that it is emotional and that they ought to give way to all these weighty constitutional considerations which they can be told about by learned gentlemen at the Foreign Office—as indeed they were told in 1947, and also in the years before the war, when they were robbed—naturally causes the Banabans to be emotional. In the same circumstances I would feel emotional.
Those who have met the distinguished, respectable and respected men who have come from Rabi to the House to put their case know full well that they are in no way charlatans. They are simply men who feel deeply that they ought to have their homeland. It is of no use to anyone else in the world. It does not give to the Gilbertese any rights that they do not already have. In no way does it preserve their total community as a community. All it does is to give to the Banabans the feeling that the place where their ancestors are buried, the place which they have called home in the past, when they were able to live there, and the place that is related to their history is somehow theirs still, even though they cannot go back and live on it.
Is it too much to ask this House to give them that? Do we really need any great long-winded arguments in order to allow that? All that we need to do is to excise Banaba from the provisions of the Bill, and either leave it within our colonial jurisdiction or, better still, to make some kind of association agreement with Fiji which allows the people on Rabi to go back and forth to their island as they 1283 want. This is just plain, honest, down-to-earth justice, and it is about time that we did it.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Sir Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)
It would seem that my comments will be in a minority, in view of the comments that have so far been made by Back Benchers on either side of the House. Having had some experience as a Minister, I must say to the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) that I think he is probably too ambitious in thinking that his vote, and the votes of a few others, tonight will suddenly make the Foreign Office or the Home Office—in which the hon. Gentleman served for some time in a distinguished way—change its views. It is not a question of what pressure the House brings upon the Foreign Office or upon the Government. It is a question of what is practical, right and just. Presumably, that is what will influence Ministers in any decision that they may reach.
I welcome this Bill to provide independence for Kiribati. It is overdue. It has been held up as a result of our general election, and it would be a great tragedy for the people in the area if it were to be further held up as a result of some of the suggestions that have so far been put forward.
I hope to speak briefly and to make only one major specific point. I speak because I spent nearly four years as a Foreign Office Minister responsible for the countries in the Pacific region. While I did not have specific responsibility for the dependent territories that we are discussing, I had responsibility for relations with Fiji, Australia, New Zealand and Tonga, all of which I visited. Therefore, I am aware of the background. Indeed, on many occasions I saw the papers that came before us in connection with the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, as they were, and with Kiribati and the Banaban problem.
I do not think that any hon. Member could deny that the history of this unfortunate issue is anything but unhappy. There is no doubt that all of us would agree that the behaviour of successive British Governments, and, indeed, perhaps the behaviour of our predecessors in this House, towards the people of Banaba is nothing other than unfortunate. I would not go so far as my hon. Friend 1284 the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), who, in a powerful and emotional speech—I do not complain of that—put forward views which should be put before the House. But those views should in no way hold up the Bill from reaching the statute book.
I should like to give my main reason for making that statement. As I said, the history of dealing with the question of phosphates and the treatment of the Banabans has not been happy. But that does not mean that the assurances and guarantees which have been given, and which are incorporated in the Bill, will not have an effect on the future Government of Kiribati. A lot of play has been made by Labour Members and by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East of the fact that safeguards instituted in independence constitutions do not work. It has been said, and there is some truth in it, that in no way can this House or any British Government bring pressure to bear to ensure that, following independence, the rights and warranties incorporated in an independence Act are carried out.
Hon. Members have tended to speak about other parts of the Pacific and South-East Asia. I cannot think of even one country in the Pacific or in South-East Asia to which we have given independence where the rules, regulations, warranties and assurances incorporated in the independence Acts which went through both Houses have been broken.
I take Fiji as an example. Mention has been made of the distinguished Prime Minister, Ratu Mara, who is an old friend of mine and with whom I discussed this problem in great detail in Suva many years ago. The constitution has been granted to Fiji, and it thrives today as as an independent country. It is involved as an independent country with other Pacific States such as Tonga, the Ellice Islands, which have recently received independence, and the Solomon Islands, which have also had independence.
If one considers Malaysia, it may be asked "What about Singapore, which broke away from the Malaysian Federation?" That breakaway was made with the agreement of Malaya and the other entities that make up the Malaysian Federation.
I am comforted by the fact that in the Bill there are three main assurances for 1285 the Banabans. The first is that the Gilbertese have given firm assurances on land rights. That is very important.
§ Sir A. Royle
I hope that my hon. Friend will let me finish. I think that he left the Chamber when I said how much I sympathised with his powerful and emotional speech. I did not criticise its emotional content, because all of us agree that the history is bad and is something which concerns us all. I want to cover the one main point that I wish to make.
The second point is that the Banaban people—2,500 of them in this new country—will have the veto over any changes that might be proposed in the entrenched promises contained in the Bill. The third point is the support which the Gilbertese have assured the Banaban people for the compensation amounts. Those three points are absolutely crucial.
I am confident of the outcome, in view of the background and attitude of the people in the Pacific. We are not talking about Africa or other parts of the world, where perhaps changes have been made to constitutions after they have been granted by this House. We are talking about an area of the world where there is a close continuity of thought and links between the people of Fiji, Tonga, the old Solomon Islands, New Zealand, Australia and Malaysia. They all feel closely linked.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
If we are to pay heed to the views of our Commonwealth partners in the Pacific, particularly the newly independent countries, why does my hon. Friend not tell the House that the Prime Minister of Tuvalu has advised the Gilbertese to let the Banabans go, that Fiji, while not seeking to interfere in any way, has constantly urged a fair deal for the Banabans and that Nauru and Tonga are sympathetic to the Banabans? Why ignore the feeling in the Pacific, which is stronger than it is here, that the Banabans have been ill treated and should be given a fair deal?
§ Sir A. Royle
My hon. Friend has made my point for me. There is, indeed, a great deal of sympathy towards the Banabans by the countries of the Pacific. I have just said so, and I confirm that there is great sympathy towards them. I 1286 believe that that sympathy will make itself felt after independence. It will be there to make certain that this new country of Kiribati does not break the entrenched clauses. I believe that these entrenched clauses will survive. I do not think that they will be removed. I believe that that will be so because we are dealing with a part of the world where, as my hon. Friend has rightly stressed, the people take a great deal of interest in, and have sympathy with, the attitude, manner and way in which their fellow countries live and exist.
§ Mr. Hooley
I think the hon. Gentleman will have to agree that in the cases which he has cited there was no dispute at the time of independence which might have given rise to a desire to break the constitution or to break up what had been agreed. The opposite is the case here, where there is an inbuilt dispute right from the word "Go".
§ Sir A. Royle
I do not wish to argue at length with the hon. Gentleman, but anyone who knows the history of the setting up of the Federation of Malaysia, which I have mentioned, must realise the appalling inbuilt problems immediately it was set up. If hon. Members will remember, it consisted of Malaya, Singapore, British North Borneo, as it was—it became Sabah—and Sarawak, and a great deal of difficulty was caused to the Government at the time in putting that federation together. The Sultan of Brunei did not wish to join the federation, and, indeed, stayed out of it, for reasons which were negotiated and agreed between the constituent parts of Malaysia. Having been set up, only a year or two later Singapore left the federation, but, as I said when my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East was out of the Chamber, with the agreement of the other members of the federation.
Therefore, before one makes sweeping allegations about very few of the constitutions produced by this country for newly independent countries, one should look carefully at the area of the Pacific, which is what we are interested in tonight. We are not interested in the Asian subcontinent, Africa, South America or the West Indies. We are talking tonight about a newly emerging nation in the Pacific.
1287 I believe, very strongly, that we should not allow the Banaban issue to divert us or to hold up independence for this new country of 56,000 people who wish to get ahead and become independent and join the family of nations in the Pacific basin. I hope that this evening we shall allow the Gilbert Islands to proceed without impediment towards their desired independence. I hope, too, that the House will join me in voting for the Bill and hoping that this new country will have a happy and prosperous future in its new surroundings.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)
In a curious way, the Lord Privy Seal and my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands) have conceded the case that the Banabans have a special separate identity within the whole argument. It must be a long time since a Minister, a Secretary of State, at the Dispatch Box has proposed an independence Bill and devoted two-thirds of his speech to the problems of a people who did not wish to be incorporated in the new State against their will. The same point applies to my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil. He was compelled by the circumstances to devote almost all his time to the Banabans, whereas it is the case of the Government and Opposition Front Benches that the Banabans are somehow an integral and normal part of the Gilberts and ought to carry on that way. If that is so, I cannot see why they had to spend so much time in their argument in dealing with the Banaban issue.
Unlike the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), I have not had the pleasure of visiting the Pacific. However, I have met some of the Gilbertese people. I have had the honour of meeting the Prime Minister of Fiji, and I assure the House that I do not come to this argument latter-day and that it is just slightly more than 10 years ago that I was first acquainted with the Banaban problem.
I have a high regard for the charm and the courtesy and the civilised behaviour towards one another of these Pacific peoples. It is my private opinion that had the Banabans, the Gilbertese and the Fijians been left many years ago to work out for themselves a solution to 1288 these problems, we might well not have been having this debate this evening. They have a capacity to understand each other's point of view. They have a long tradition of civilised dealings between themselves, which might have solved the problem.
Unfortunately, however, there entered into the equation the squalid, deceitful, brutal and greedy behaviour of the Western world. I am afraid that I must include in that the attitude of New Zealand and Australia in this particular argument, and the devious chicanery of Colonial Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials over many years. I think that it is the malign influence of Whitehall which has done a lot to contribute to this fracas.
In case anyone thinks that this is some sort of paranoia on my part about Whitehall, perhaps I may quote from The Daily Telegraph—no less—what it has said only this week about the attitude of Whitehall in certain matters, though not directly related to this matter. It comments on some of the frustrations which surfaced this week in private conversation with a Government spokesman, who is reported to have said:Unless we break out of the Civil Service straitjacket now, we'll never get another chance to rule. It is beginning to look to many of us that civil servants are a breed who really believe they run the country, and that all they've got to do is to knock new Ministers into shape.That is not some wild babbling from some Left-winger. It is from The Daily Telegraph and is apparently based on the comments of some Conservative Members. There is a lot of force in that.
I wish the Gilbertese well. I am sure that in the not-too-distant future they will become an independent sovereign republic, with their chosen name, Kiribati, and become the fortieth member of the Commonwealth and the one hundred and fifty-second member of the United Nations. But I do not intend to vote for the Bill. I intend to divide the House against it, for some of the reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon), because as it stands it takes no proper account of the interests of the Banaban people and it simply assumes that they can be incorporated into a Gilbertese State to which they do not belong and to which they do not wish to belong.
1289 As has been said by previous speakers, the core of this debate is whether a small people who have been brutally exploited, cheated and trampled upon should now, at the eleventh hour—perhaps one minute to twelve—be granted recognition of the constitutional independence which they have always claimed.
Historically, their claim to separation is quite sound. The Gilbert and Ellice Islands orginally were placed under a form of colonial administration in 1887. At that time, Ocean Island was in no way considered to be part of the grouping, and the Gilbert and Ellice Islands became a formal protectorate in 1892. In 1900, as has been mentioned, phosphate rock was found on Ocean Island, and Ocean Island was annexed by Britain.
It was not annexed by any Gilbertese group or Gilbertese Government, and it was not grouped with the Gilbertese or ruled together with the Gilbertese. It was annexed by the United Kingdom in 1900 and, of course, for the sole purpose of the exploitation of its mineral resources. There was no question of being interested in the Banabans, or even in the Gilbertese for that matter. The people involved at that time—I think that it was called the Pacific Islands Company, or something like that—were simply interested in the standard, crude greed of grabbing the mineral resources of a colony.
In 1900, when that island was annexed, there was no doubt that it belonged to, or was involved with, the Gilbert and Ellice group that had been formed as a protectorate quite separately a few years before. The transfer of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands from a protectorate to a colony did not take place until 15 years later by an Order in Council on 10 November 1915. That order did not mention Ocean Island, but in 1916 there was a separate Order in Council that threw in Ocean Island, Fanning Island and Washington Island for the administrative convenience of the Colonial Office. Incidentally, they are 2,000 miles away.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
That is an extremely important point, but is the hon. Gentleman aware that the people of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands petitioned the Crown for protectorate status? They entered the circle of the Crown by their own will. There is no reference to Ocean Island because it was arbitarily acquired 1290 without the consent of the Banabans. The flag was hauled up simply because we wanted the phosphates. That was the sole reason. When the Order in Council was subsequently made in 1916, it was to facilitate the better working and taxation of the phosphates and was purely for our administrative convenience. The wishes and interests of the Banabans did not come into it.
§ Mr. Hooley
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Not only were the wishes of the Banabans not considered in 1900, but in 1916 they were not even informed that their island had been lumped in with the administration of another group. It suited the administrative convenience of the bureaucrats in Whitehall to do that. It cannot therefore be argued that it provides a divine, irrevocable nexus between Ocean Island and the other Gilbert islands.
We do not have to go far back in history, because in October 1968 we had the Ocean Island phosphate discussions. Lord Shepherd was then Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. On Wednesday 30 October 1968 he said:The relationship between Her Majesty's Government and the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony, and that between Her Majesty's Government and the Banabans, is different in kind. Her Majesty's Government has a direct constitutional link with the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony and has a responsibility for good order and efficient conduct of the administration. The Banabans are a community living in Fiji but with rights also as inhabitants of Ocean Island.… This community has the same right of approach to the British Government as other inhabitants of dependent territories.That is a considered statement by the Minister responsible and not just an off-the-cuff remark. It is clear that they were regarded as a separate entity.
§ Mr. Roper
When Lord Shepherd made a statement in 1968, he said that the cardinal principle to which Britain adhered on such matters was the wishes of the people of the territory as a whole within the existing boundaries, and that that would be the main guide. In view of the wishes expressed by the elected representatives, the British Government were not able to accede to the Banaban request for the separation of Ocean Island.
§ Mr. Hooley
My hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) is 1291 stating the total illogicality between the basic statement of principle that there is a separate identity and the subsequent conclusion that suited the Foreign Office that the group be regarded as an entity. I am happy to make that quote available to the House. The sane, reasonable interpretation of the layman is that there are two distinct entities [...] Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony and the Banaban community. That is what the argument is about.
In discussions 10 or 11 years ago, the Banabans were granted the right of separate representation. They came for part of the talks only, but were invited separately from the Gilbertese to attend phosphate discussions with the British Government. That also applies to the constitutional conference last year. I pay tribute to Lord Goronwy-Roberts for insisting that the Banaban delegation should attend as a separate entity.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) and I attended a conference at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office after discovering that the Government intended to invite the Banabans merely as observers to the constitutional conference that would decide their future. It was only when we went to Lord Goronwy-Roberts and said "Up with this we will not put" and that it was scandalous that he—and I pay tribute to him—relented. He had been given the advice that the Banabans, if they must come, must be restricted to being observers. An observer can come to a conference but, by dictionary definition, cannot say anything. That was the original intention and but for our campaign, it would have been carried out.
§ Mr. Hooley
The hon. Member for Essex, South-East is correct, but I am saying that it was accepted by the Government that the Banabans should send a separate delegation. Under some pressure the noble Lord agreed that they should have a right of full participation and of participation in the subsequent committees. In important discussions such as those on phosphate and the constitutional issue, it was accepted that the Banabans should have a separate identity from the Gilbertese. It cannot therefore 1292 be argued that they are part of the Gilbert Islands with no right of separation.
For the past three decades the Banaban community as an entity and Ocean Island as a distinct piece of territory have been the subject of endless discussions, conferences, promises, agreements, correspondence and memoranda with which Foreign Office files are thick. They have also been the subject of debates and questions in this House. When I was first in the House from 1966 to 1970, I took part in a debate when the matter was raised on either the Adjournment or the Consolidated Fund by the then hon. Member for Bebington. He raised the question of Ocean Island, and I made a contribution to that debate.
For three decades the question of the Banaban identity and the Banabans' financial arrangements and interests have been the subject of endless papers within the Foreign Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office archives, and it has been the subject of debates in the House. I want first to quote from one very important memorandum on the subject, dated 31 March 1967, which demonstrates more clearly than almost any other document that the Banabans have a separate identity, separate from that of the Gilbertese, and that that was recognised by the Government. It is a letter from the Commonwealth Office to the chairman of the Rabi Island Council, which says:I am to assure you that H.M.G. re-affirms the provisions which relate to these matters in the Statement of the Intentions of Government which were approved by the Banaban community in a secret ballot on 10th and 11th May, 1947 and executed between Mr. H. W. Maud, then Resident Commissioner, G.E.I.C. (for the High Commissioner for the Western Pacific); Mr. P. D. Macdonald, then Acting Assistant Colonial Secretary (for the Governor of Fiji); Mr. F. G. L. Holland, then Administrative Officer, Rabi Island; and Bauro Ratieta, then Assistant Administrative Officer. G.E.I.C.; on the one hand: and twenty representatives of the Banaban community, including yourself, on the other".In other words, there was no question that the Commonwealth Office was then talking to the Gilbertese Government as representing the Gilberts and Ocean Island. On the contrary, it was the British Government, together with the Gilbertese Government, who were talking to the separate group of the Banabans.
1293 The letter went on:As regards lands on Ocean Island(1) [The Banabans'] decision to reside on Rabi Island shall in no way affect any rights to lands possessed by the Banabans"—not the Gilbertese—on Ocean Island;(2) The title to all worked-out phosphate lands which have, or may in future, come into possession of the Crown shall revert to the Banabans.—not the Gilbertese, not the Gilbertese Government, not the Gilbertese people, not the Gilbert Islands. It was to go to the Banabans, who are clearly identified in the letter and in many other documents as a separate and identifiable group of people.
§ Mr. Rowlands
My hon. Friend has made this point extensively. He has built it up for five or 10 minutes. It is logical to accept that there is a community, a minority special interest in land or in particular interests, and during the course of 20 or 30 years to negotiate separately and discuss separately those interests. It does not necessarily logically follow that one separates that territory completely from the rest of the territory. I do not understand why my hon. Friend is labouring the point.
§ Mr. Hooley
I am doing so because the whole argument from the Government Front Bench, supported by my hon. Friend, is that the island and the people are an integral part of the Gilbertese. That is the point of the Bill. That is why it does not refer to the Banabans separately. The Government are arguing as my hon. Friend did previously—quite reasonably and consistently; I do not accuse him of any inconsistency—that Ocean Island and the Banaban people are an ordinary, integral part of the Gilberts.
The document I have quoted establishes that, so far from the Banabans being regarded as a normal, integral part of the Gilbert Islands and people, there have been numerous occasions on which their separate identity has been recognised. They have been given negotiating rights separately from the Gilbertese, and their island and interests have been regarded as a totally distinctive entity.
What I am arguing is that that special status and those distinctive rights cannot 1294 simply be transferred to a new sovereign authority other than Her Majesty's Government. I accept that Her Majesty's Government have those rights and authority constitutionally, but they cannot simply be handed over to another authority, the Gilbertese Government, to a new sovereign State which is not yet in being, unless there is the explicit, precise and clear consent of the Banaban people, which does not now exist.
Certainly, this Government can grant independence to the Gilbertese. That is fair enough, but we cannot wash our hands of our unique responsibilities for the Banaban people, even though our discharge of those responsibilities in the past has been negligent to the point of criminality, as shown in the famous High Court case. I was disturbed that the Lord Privy Seal and my hon. Friend between them made virtually no reference to that case, which has in many ways become the focus of public attention—indeed, of parliamentary attention—on the brutal wrongs which were done to the Banaban people. Yet as far as I can recall the right hon. Gentleman did not mention it, and I think that my hon. Friend mentioned it only in passing.
The Government have produced two arguments against separation. One is so-called territorial integrity and the other is the argument about entrenched clauses.
Of course, territorial integrity is important. Once a new State is constituted, it is accepted the world over, under the charter of the United Nations, that its terriorial integrity should be inviolate. Indeed, the Organisation of African Unity has laid great store by that principle. Once independence is granted, once the State has been created, territorial integrity is important. But in the course of rearranging the incredible tangle of territories that this country and other imperial countries have acquired there have been the most incredible arrangements and rearrangements of all kinds, in particular in relation to islands.
In the Caribbean we have had associations and federations, with islands hived off and islands going independent. There has been practically every configuration imaginable, involving the Leeward Islands, the Windward Islands, Jamaica, the Turks. Cayman Islands, and so on. 1295 Some were hived off and some were kept together. Some were hived off at one minute and then were put back together. All kinds of arrangements have been made in the Caribbean.
One hon. Member has complained that we are not talking about the Caribbean, so let us go a bit nearer and take the Indian Ocean, where we had Singapore, the Cocos Islands and Christmas Island lumped together under one administration at one time. Subsequently, the Cocos Islands and Christmas Island were hived off quite cheerfully, just because it happened to suit us. They were linked with Australia, which was about 2,000 miles away.
The same thing happened to the British Indian Ocean territories, which were formed with bits of islands that had previously been governed in association with Mauritius or the Seychelles. They were hived off, lumped together and in one case put back again.
The argument of so-called territorial integrity is a lot of nonsense. It is spurious. There are dozens of other cases in which we have in various ways, with or without the permission or even the knowledge of the people concerned, hived off or brought together particular groups of islands. There is no divine right to keep a group of islands together because at the beginning of the twentieth century it happened to suit the Colonial Office to lump them under one governor and put them under one administration.
The argument about entrenched clauses is probably even thinner. I have read the entrenched clauses as they are set out in the White Paper with some interest. What is interesting is that if the Gilbertese decide to overrule or set aside the special provisions for the Banabans they must pass a Bill in their own Parliament. The blockage consists of the veto of one man only. He has to have the courage to stand up in that Parliament, if a Bill to change the constitution is introduced, and say "I am vetoing it. I am voting against it. I am blocking it."
That is absurd. Can it really be supposed that the political status or political courage of one man will stand up against the considered decision of two-thirds, three-quarters or perhaps even 99 per cent. of the independent Parliament of 1296 the sovereign Gilbertese State? It is nonsense, leaving aside the possibility of intimidation or bribery, which I do not suggest would occur. It is political idiocy to suppose that if the Parliament of the sovereign Gilbertese State wanted to change the constitution it would say "We are very sorry, but that Banaban chap down there does not like it, so we shall not do it." It really is political nonsense. Apart from that, as other hon. Members have said very clearly, the world is littered with entrenched clauses and constitutions which have been broken up.
In saying that, one offers no insult to the Gilbertese people. One is simply accepting the political reality that, 10, 15 or 20 years from now, they may wish to do something quite different from the present arrangement.
I wish to mention the role of Fiji in this matter. Although the Fijians have been mentioned in passing, the argument has concerned not merely the United Kingdom, the Gilbertese and the Banabans, but also our friendly Commonwealth partner, Fiji. The hon. Member for Essex, South-East touched upon the rather complicated citizenship arrangements which might arise if this constitution were carried through in its present form.
The Prime Minister of Fiji has worked extremely hard on many occasions to bring about what he has called a Pacific solution to this awkward problem. On many occasions he has acted as a good officer, a go-between or a mediator between the Banabans and the Gilbertese. As recently as last week, he was engaged in direct discussions with the Gilbertese and the Banabans to see whether some last-minute compromise could be worked out. As a result of his findings, he wrote to our Prime Minister:As you may be aware, at the joint invitation of the chief minister of the Gilbert Islands and his Government and of the chairman of the Rabi Council of Leaders and members of the Rabi Council, I have agreed to chair meetings that are currently being held in Suva between the Gilbertese and Banabans to find a mutually acceptable solution to the constitutional future of Ocean Island … It would be particularly helpful to the current Gilbert/Banabans talks if your Government could indicate whether it shares the view that the only solution to the future of Ocean Island is that envisaged in the Gilbert Islands constitutional conference report or whether your Government would be prepared to consider new proposals emanating from the Gilbertese and 1297 the Banabans themselves. In seeking this clarification, I recall past assurances from the British Government that a fair and lasting solution to the Ocean Island issue could only be one reached in full agreement between the Gilbertese and the Banabans.The reply which he received from the acting British High Commissioner in Suva as recently as last week was:I have been asked to pass the following message to the Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara from the British Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher: Thank you for your letter of 16 May. I much appreciate the interest you are showing in this issue. The agreement reached at the constitutional conference last year between the Gilbert Islands Government and the then British Government has been accepted by my Government. However, my Government would be prepared to consider new proposals if these were fully endorsed by the Gilbert Islands Government and the Rabi Council of Leaders. In so far as they placed any new obligations on my Government or still further on other Governments, I would of course need to reserve my position. Nor would my Government wish to dictate to the Gilbert Islands Government what they should accept.That seemed to me to be a very fair reply. I am therefore rather surprised, in the light of that exchange of letters and in the light of the fact that a friendly Commonwealth Government are doing their utmost to get a satisfactory compromise agreement on this very difficult issue, that the House should be faced with the need to take a formal decision on this Bill today. I should have thought that there was every reason why at least a little more time should have been given to the Prime Minister of Fiji to continue with his negotiations and proposals to see whether some agreement could be reached which would satisfy both parties and be acceptable to this House.
I have not tried to deal with the question of the phosphate revenues which lies at the back of this dispute and has led to a lot of the wheeling and dealing which has gone on in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with the shadow of the Treasury behind it. It is sufficient to say that the Gilbertese Revenue Equalisation Reserve Fund will, by the end of mining—possibly this year or the end of next year—have accumulated £40 million out of Banaban phosphates. This will reduce the British Government's grants in aid by £2.7 million per annum, and I have no doubt that the Treasury mandarins are rubbing their hands with satisfaction about that. The so-called compensation to the Banabans themselves 1298 for the destruction of the island will come from reserves held by BPC and the profits of the Banabans' own phosphates.
The main issue now is constitutional. Will the British House of Commons at this late hour make some amends for the outrages of seven decades of exploitation by granting the Banabans a free, unfettered right of choice of their own constitutional future? This Bill does not give them that.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) suggested that the fact that British Governments of various complexions over the years had negotiated separately with the Banabans was some kind of proof that the Banabans were a separate entity and people. However, like the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands), I take the view that the hon. Member for Heeley would have been equally critical if British Governments had refused to negotiate with or talk to the Banabans. It is to the credit of past British Governments that they have attempted to meet the Banabans in this difficult matter.
Those hon. Members who are opposed to the Bill have been debating the matter on a rather emotional plane and serious attacks have been made on British Governments, and on the Governments of Australia and New Zealand, asserting that crimes have been committed. There have been attempts to justify those attacks, in part by means of rather selective quotations from Vice-Chancellor Megarry's judgment, which, after all, lasted for five and a half days and included some harsh criticisms of the actions of Governments and of the phosphate commission. Indeed, so harsh were the criticisms that I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) wept when he read them. However, it also contained considerable tributes to what had been done for the people.
It was also suggested that Ocean Island used to be some kind of paradise. However, as my right hon. Friend said, when the British Government took it over in 1900 there were only 400 Banabans there, and theirs was a life of disease and poverty because of the harsh climate to which the islands is subject. It has been known for no rain to fall for three or four years. 1299 I think, therefore, that the opponents of the Bill put forward their arguments in a rather emotional way.
It was suggested, further, that grave psychological and genetic damage would be done to the Banabans if they were not allowed to return to Ocean Island, to visit their ancestral graves, and so forth. A professor from somewhere was quoted as saying that that was true. Who is trying to stop them from going back there? As far as I am aware, no one is doing that. They can go back. Some of them are there already. It is suggested that if they are ruled by the Gilbertese, that would in some way vitiate or spoil a visit to Banaba. What is the alternative which the Banabans are putting forward? It is that they should continue to be a colonial territory. From what has been said about the United Kingdom in this regard, I should have thought that the United Kingdom Government would be a great deal more distaseful to the Banabans than would the Gilbertese.
There is one matter which I must mention and which I hope will be taken in good debating spirit. My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East told us that he felt deeply ashamed that the United Kingdom had not been able to prevent the Turks from massacring the Greeks in Cyprus. I suppose he was equally ashamed that we were not able to prevent the Greeks from massacring the Turks, although he did not say so. I wonder whether he did not feel ashamed at suggesting that the Gilbertese would massacre the Banabans after independence.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
That is most unworthy of my hon. Friend. I said that in the case of Cyprus we had solemn treaty obligations. When it came to the crunch, we were unable to fulfil them. I am not concerned with anyone massacring anyone else. I am merely arguing that this country gave certain solemn undertakings to the Banabans which, in honour, cannot be transferred to the Gilbertese. The Bill will not ensure that those undertakings will always be honoured by the Gilbertese. I should like to know what answer my hon. Friend has to make to that.
§ Mr. Kershaw
If my hon. Friend did not mean to illustrate what might happen 1300 after independence by citing what happened in Cyprus and how he was ashamed of that, I suggest that what he was saying was mere wind and prejudice. That is what I took it to be at the time.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle), in the previous Conservative Government I had some departmental responsibility for this area. I believe that it is important to separate the constitutional and financial aspects of this problem, which, unfortunately, clouds what should be an occasion for satisfaction and comradeship between this country and a country which, after long and peaceful years of progress and development, is about to emerge as an independent country of the Commonwealth.
The Gilbert Islands consist of 33 islands scattered over immense distances in the Pacific Ocean. Ocean Island is only one of these but it is the one which, over the past 60 years, has generated most of the wealth of that part of the world—hence the rival claims which beset us today. Constitutionally speaking, I cannot see that it can convincingly be argued that Ocean Island is in any special way different from the other 32 islands of the group. Geographically it is not remote, as distances in that part of the world go. By race, language and religion, the Banabans do not differ from the inhabitants of the other islands, except in minor ways naturally attributable to the vast distances in that part of the world and to the fact that until fairly recently the mode of transport was by primitive canoe.
Administratively, Ocean Island has been part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Protectorate since 1900, and for over 30 years it was the seat of the colonial administration of the colony as a whole. I attach no importance to the argument that Ocean Island was incorporated by Order in Council in 1916 into the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Protectorate without the consent of the Banabans. Ocean Island had been a colony since 1900, and the Order in Council was merely the legal tidying up of a de facto situation. I agree that the Banabans were not asked, but nor was anyone else. In the circumstances of that time, that was normal. We should not seek to complain about procedures appropriate to today not having been followed 60 years ago. Administrative orders of a colonial Government are not 1301 invalidated by invoking today constitutional machinery which did not then exist.
It is perhaps worth mentioning that the same Order in Council of 1916 incorporated the Line Islands, or some of them, which are over 1,500 miles away, into the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Protectorate. I have never heard any criticism of that.
Fragmentation has for many centuries been the bane of the Pacific islands. From the Solomon Islands to Fiji, the history of the Pacific islands has been darkened by the feuds and internecine warfare of these islands. The colonial era altered that. To permit, and even to encourage, fragmentation now, when out of separation has grown a nation which is just about to gain its full independence, would be a retrograde step and a constitutional insult to Kiribati. After all, 56,000 Gilbertese have a right to be heard, as well as 2,500 Banabans.
Separation now would also be against our tradition, and certainly against the policies of the United Nations, that a colonial territory should gain its independence territorially intact and not be fragmented against its wishes. The examples which have been quoted this afternoon of various territories which have changed after independence have all occurred due to the wishes of the inhabitants concerned. The separation of the Ellice Islands is not an exception to this rule. In that case, both parties were agreed.
It would be ridiculous to grant sovereignty to an island that is barren, without any resources and with perhaps no, or at least only 100 or so, permanent inhabitants. But one recognises—it has been well expressed in the debate—the attachment which the Banabans, now installed for over 30 years on Rabi Island, under Fijian sovereignty, must have to their ancestral home, for which the House has expressed its sympathy. The Gilbertese have been willing to give the most explicit constitutional guarantees to the Banabans to protect their rights to their island. Land ownership, representation in the Gilbertese Government and Parliament, a constitutional veto and appeal to the Privy Council have been offered, but not yet accepted. The good offices of the Fijian Government have so far been rejected but we are glad to hear from the recent conference in Suva 1302 that these good offices of the Fijian Prime Minister will continue to be available.
§ Mr. Kershaw
I conclude that on the constitutional question the Banabans have a bad case to which we should not give way. I regret that the Banabans have repeatedly sought to link their constitutional claims to their financial claims, thus giving the impression, however mistaken, that they are not sincere on the constitutional aspects but are using them to extract more money. The Banaban case has more strength financially than it has constitutionally. There can be little doubt that in past years the Banabans have been taken advantage of. It is true that their mammoth law case against the Crown was a relative failure in that they were awarded only 14,000 Australian dollars damages—
§ Sir Bernard Braine
My hon. Friend should get the facts right. I do not know where he got this information. The case against the Crown was lost for the simple reason, as the judge explained, that the court was powerless to right wrongs done by the Crown. That was why the reference was made to the Attorney-General. A moment ago my hon. Friend said that the Banabans had refused the good offices of the Fijian Prime Minister. That is not true. They have accepted the proposal of the Fijian Prime Minister. I said so. What my hon. Friend said is not true and he should withdraw it.
§ Mr. Kershaw
The position is not nearly as clear as my hon. Friend makes out. The telegram was read out by the hon. Member for Heeley and it is clear that an offer remains to be taken up. The first offer would overrun the date of 12 July, which is the date on which we want independence for this country.
§ Mr. Kershaw
I am not giving way to my hon. Friend. It would take too long to go into the details of the law case. It was a relative failure, but the Banabans were awarded 14,000 Australian dollars damages. In recognition that the law did not provide a complete remedy, the Brritish Phosphate Commission offered 1,250,000 Australian dollars, which has 1303 been accepted, and Her Majesty's Government have offered 10 million Australian dollars, plus £1 million for development on Rabi, and a resources survey for Ocean Island. One is entitled to bear in mind also that during the last seven years phosphate mining has given the Banabans an income of 16 million Australian dollars.
These are not small sums. If they were all accepted, they would secure to the Banabans per head a much higher personal income than is available to the rest of the people in that part of the world, higher than in the rest of the Gilbert Islands or in Samoa or in the rest of Fiji outside Rabi.
I think that the Banabans should be content. They should trust the assurances which they have received from the leaders of Kiribati. They have had no reason to doubt them. The Gilbertese are widely admired for their amiability, sagacity and honesty. They have well earned their nationhood, and the independence which they ask of this House ought to be given to them now.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)
It would be unfortunate if, either inside or outside the House, it were to appear that this debate had become a discussion for or against the Banabans or for or against the Gilbertese. As was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands), there are two views in the House: a genuine view that the Gilbertese should be able to proceed to independence as quickly as possible and, second, a general feeling of sympathy towards the Banaban people. Although there is no lack of sympathy for the Banabans, I believe that justifiable sympathy for them should not lead us to overlook the legitimate position of the Gilbertese as a whole.
No one in the House would dare to try to defend what has been done to the Banabans in the past. But the question that we have to ask ourselves is: what is the right way to solve this problem now in the interests of the Gilbert Islands as a whole, including those coming from Banaba and now living in large part on Rabi Island in Fiji?
I should declare two interests, neither of them financial, which have led me over 1304 the years to have considerable interest in the Gilbert Islands. The first is my line, which is well known to the House, with the Co-operative movement. The British Co-operative movement over the years has provided advisers in the Gilbert Islands as in many other colonies to assist in development, and there has been successful development of the Gilbert Islands. I have had the benefit of discussing these matters with some of those who have visited these islands and come back and spoken of the kindness and gentleness of the Gilbertese.
My other interest goes back even further. As one of a number in this House brought up in the Congregational Church. I know well the association between Christian missions in this country and the Gilbert Islands. The Christian missions went to the Gilbert Islands from several directions. The Congregational Church—the London Missionary Society—went north from Samoa in about 1870. From the beginning of this century almost all the Protestant missions in the Gilbert Islands were from the London Missionary Society. For many years, it and the French-based Roman Catholic fathers, in the absence of satisfactory educational facilities being provided by the colonial administering authorities, provided the only serious educational facilities. I remember as a schoolboy, or at least as a Sunday schoolboy, collecting ship ha'pennies for the long line of "John Williams" ships which used to take children between the various islands for their education. The work done by the missionaries coming from this country led to the formation of the Gilbert Islands Protestant Church with its headquarters in Tarawa. That mission, until the war, was responsible for the people of Banaba as well, because the whole colony was treated as one.
When the Banabans, as a people, moved to Rabi Island in Fiji in the post-war period, as has been recounted, it was thought inappropriate for the Congregational tradition to go with them, because Fiji was in general a Methodist area. Therefore, it was agreed that the Methodist Church in Fiji should continue the pastoral care which had been started by the Congregationalists in the Gilbert Islands.
1305 That brings us to the present situation that the Banabans are for the most part Methodists, as was mentioned by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), while the Gilbertese are half Catholics and half Protestants with Congregational links. In the present state of tension, the Pacific Conference of Churches is to be applauded for its work in bringing the Protestant and Catholic Churches of the Gilbert Islands together with the Methodist Church of Fiji, with representatives from the Banaban community, to a conference at Port Vila in the New Hebrides, presided over in a remarkable way by the Anglican Bishop of Samoa, Bishop Jabez Bryce. That is an example of how bridges may be found to cross difficult problems.
It is remarkable that for five days the representatives of the various Christian communities of the Gilbert Islands and Banaba and Fiji were able to meet and discuss their problems together. Those who attended that meeting said that one of the most important things was that it gave them a chance to hear the other side's point of view. I fear that on occasions in the Pacific there is a certain lack of opportunity for direct communications.
I was pleased that in the communique that was issued by the Church representatives at the end of the meeting there was a reference to the fact that they realised that the solution to their problems would be not through violence but through talking together in the Pacific way based on their common belief that they were brothers and sisters in the family of God. It went on to say that they realised thatit would be unbearable for the Gilbert Islands Government if independence is further delayed".That statement was also agreed to by the Methodist Church, including the Methodist Church on Rabi Island.
The communique also stated:We are aware of the strong conviction of the Banabans that their island should not be linked to the Gilberts. We are also aware that there are complications involved in the Banaban position.It is of great importance that Christian leaders in the Pacific should be attempting to find a basis for solution.
Following that meeting, the Catholic Bishop Mea of the Gilbert Islands, together with the Rev. Baiteke Nabetari on 1306 behalf of the Gilbertese Protestant Church, went to Suva to see the Chief Minister and, on the other hand, Mr. Corrie and the Rev. Tafufaila Ofati on behalf of the Banaban delegation also went to Suva to talk for the Banabans. The reconciling role which the Pacific Conference of Churches is playing in the dispute should be recognised. I hope that it will be able to find a solution to what has been a very difficult and long-seated problem.
§ Mr. Hooley
I welcome what my hon. Friend said about the Pacific efforts to get together. In fact, they are in parallel with what the Fijian Prime Minister, with the Banabans and the Gilbertese, was doing last week. Surely it would be sensible to allow these civilised conversations to continue and not to bring down the guillotine, in effect, by passing the Bill.
§ Mr. Roper
I think that my hon. Friend has expressed that view before. The important thing, which I repeat, is that in the communique which came out of the Pacific Conference of Churches held at Port Vila from 9 to 14 May—10 days ago—there is the sentence:We realise it would be unbearable for the Gilbert Islands Government if independence is further delayed.Thereafter, the communique which came out of the talks which took place at Suva on 15 to 17 May states that both sidesreaffirmed that it was neither their desire nor their intention to delay the grant of independence to the Gilbert Islands.That came from the discussions between both the Churches and the political leaders. In those circumstances, it would be a mistake if the House were to delay giving independence to the Gilbert Islands.
I turn now to some of the questions which have been touched upon already but which are of great importance. The first is the question whether, among the Gilbert islanders, the Banabans are a different people. Looking at the history of the Pacific, we know that the same waves of migrants swept through the whole of the islands. The earliest known were from Asia thousands of years ago. Later, in about 1400, migrants from Samoa settled in Beru and other islands in the southern Gilberts. In the seventeenth century those who came from Samoa also went on and overran Banaba.
1307 As has been said, the first reports from European travellers to Banaba referred to the Banabans' strong similarities to people in the other Gilbert Islands. In the late 1850s the Banabans were already speaking Gilbertese, their culture was similar and their main ancestral gods were the same as the main gods of the Gilberts. One of the main gods of the Banabans is found on one of the other Gilbert Islands. Professor Maude, who was first an administrator and is now a distinguished student of the South Pacific, has likened the differences between the Banabans and the rest of the Gilbertese to those between the Cornish and the English. That is perhaps an appropriate parallel and one that we should consider.
Banaba was the capital of the whole of the territory from 1908 until 1942. Had it not been for the destruction of the facilities on Banaba by the Japanese during the war, the capital might well have remained there and not have been transferred to Talawa.
Over the past 75 years there have been close social relations between the Banabans and the other Gilbert islanders. That was to some extent accentuated and accelerated by the experience of the Banabans during the wartime period when they were dispersed to three islands, one of which was Talawa, and were absorbed into the Gilbertese society through their relatives on that island. The Lord Privy Seal referred to the number going to Rabi Island from Talawa in 1947. Other figures suggest that of the number of adult males going to Rabi from Talawa in 1947 185 were Banabans and 152 were other Gilbertese. This indicates the intermarriage and interconnections between the various islanders. The idea that these are peoples apart is a myth which should not be perpetuated.
An Americal anthropologist, Professor M. G. Silverman, in his book "Disconcerting Issue", said that it was likely that most Banabans today had at least one Gilbertese parent or grandparent from a Gilbert island other than Banaba. Even today, now that they are on Rabi Island, which is much farther from the other Gilbert Islands than is Banaba, the relationships continue unabated. The 1976 census in Fiji showed that, of the Banabans with known parentage, 65 per cent. were either 1308 born on a Gilbert island other than Banaba or one or both parents were born in islands other than Banaba.
An ironic indication of this occurred a couple of months ago. The House will remember the unfortunate incident that occurred in Banaba at the time the House of Lords was considering the predecessor of this Bill when 33 Banabans were arrested by the Gilbert authorities and taken to Talawa for trial. They were rapidly bailed, and they were all bailed to their relatives who were living on Talawa. While they were awaiting trial, five pursued land claims in Talawa and three pursued land claims in other Gilbert islands. I give those examples to show that the interrelations between the people of these Pacific islands are extraordinarily close, and that should not be overlooked.
The people of the Gilbert Islands do not accept that the Banabans are a different race. They are literally their brothers and sisters. Even the name Banaba, which means "the rock", is Gilbertese. Whereas in the neighbouring group of islands, the New Hebrides, there are 100 languages, and in the Solomon Islands there are 82 languages, the people in Banaba and the other Gilbert Islands share a language. That should be taken into account when we are judging whether these are a separate people. Any differences which may have existed in the dim and distant past have surely long since disappeared.
Other speakers have referred to Banaba having been forcibly included in the Gilberts without consultation. I do not normally defend our colonial past, but we did not spend much time consulting people before absorbing them into our colonial empire. Therefore, I find that an unusual argument. There is little evidence that many of the other inhabited islands of the Gilberts were consulted before they were absorbed into the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Protectorate.
The low payments which have gone to the Banabans have meant that the payments which have gone to the rest of the Gilbert Islands have been lower than they should be. Yet no one speaks about the exploitation of the Gilbert Islands, which were entitled to receive such royalty payments to cover the services they provided for all the islands.
1309 The argument has been put forward that the Banabans had never been governed by the Gilbertese. Only recently has the central Government in the Gilbert Islands been in the hands of the Gilbertese people. Before the British came, with the exception of Kuria and Aranuka, which were under the rule of Abemama, and Makin Island, which was ruled by Butaritari, all the Gilbert Islands were independent States. Therefore, the argument about their being controlled by one other island is unrealistic. Even today, the islands enjoy a considerable amount of local autonomy, and Banaba has been offered an even more privileged status within the Gilberts.
Since the establishment of a democratically elected Government in the Gilbert Islands, beginning with the first election of Members of the House of Representatives in 1967, Banaba has enjoyed participation in that Government. What is proposed in the new constitution is not merely that the Banabans on Banaba should have the right to be represented but that Banabans no longer living in the Gilbert Islands but living in Fiji on Rabi Island will also be represented in the Kiribati Parliament.
I should like now to say something about the Gilbert Islands' position which also needs to be considered. The Gilbert islanders—this has been somewhat misrepresented by some who have spoken previously—in the proposals considered in the White Paper on the constitution, have made clear statements on what they would have done anyhow to ensure that rights were given to the Banabans after independence was granted. The special provisions of the Kiribati constitution grant the Banabans an unprecedented degree of local control over their part of Kiribati. To the Gilbertese, a separate Banaba represents a form of reverse discrimination, where the unfounded desire of a small minority is imposed against the wishes of a majority of more than 50,000. Is not this unfair to the people of the Gilbert Islands as a whole?
It has been suggested that constitutional guarantees can be written into a constitution but they may not be maintained. It is possible to give examples of places where things have gone wrong, but one needs to look at the pledges against the historical background of the Gilbertese people. Since the earliest recorded history 1310 of the Gilbert Islands, observers have expressed surprise over the binding nature of verbal agreements and promises. Once an agreement is made among the Gilbertese, it is held as binding on all generations to come. This fact is reflected in the procedure in the Gilbert House Assembly—the Maneaba. Whenever an issue is considered in the Maneaba, it is debated until the entire House reaches a consensus on the matter. Voting is utilised only as a means of reaching that consensus. If any Member votes "No", discussion is continued until a consensus is reached. Thus, the decisions made by the Maneaba are extremely strong and binding. In the whole history of the islands there has not been an example of an edict being repealed without the full consent of all the Members.
Therefore, it seems that not merely in what is written down in the constitutional provisions but in the whole traditions of the Gilbertese there are important guarantees built in for the people of Banaba, and the commitment about Banaba's special status is protected not just by the binding nature of the agreements with the Gilbertese but by the fact mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) that the Banabans from Rabi will have a special representative who can explicitly veto any legislation pertaining to Banaba.
I believe that the Gilbertese also look to us to maintain our share of the agreement. They feel that we made an agreement with them to give them independence. They believe that that agreement was made last year at the constitutional conference. In the eyes of the Gilbertese, Britain has made an agreement and must honour that agreement, according to custom.
Before I conclude, I wish to raise with the Minister of State two matters, one of which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Heeley earlier, and the other not dealing directly with the question of Banaba.
As was the case regarding Tuvalu, there were certain problems about United States sovereignty over certain of the Gilbert Islands, and I believe that the United States maintained certain territorial claims both for all the eight Phoenix Islands, including Canton, and 1311 six of the Line group, not including Washington and Fanning Islands.
I think it important that we should have a statement tonight regarding what has happened in the negotiations between the Gilbertese Government, the United States Government and the United Kingdom. It would be unfortunate if the Gilbert Islands were to go into independence without the question of the sovereignty of their territory being fully clarified, not merely in relation to Banaba but also in regard to those other islands to which the United States lays claim.
I understand that there were talks in January in Honolulu, and there have been further talks in Suva in April. It may well be that the problem was resolved during those discussions. I very much hope that it was, and I feel that the House should hear precisely what the position is.
Second, as regards the Gilbertese, as has been said already, most of those working on Banaba in recent years in the phosphate excavations have been Gilbertese rather than Banabans. Indeed, the Banabans on Banaba have not been involved to any significant extent in the phosphate mining. Those Gilbertese will become redundant when phosphate mining ends by about September this year.
I should like some assurance that the British Phosphate Commission will look after those Gilbertese who are becoming redundant because the phosphates have been worked out. We have a responsibility to ensure that they are properly looked after, and I hope that the Minister of State will be able to give us some information.
I come now to my final word. My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) quoted from the important report prepared by Mr. Posnett in 1977, but there is another paragraph which also ought to be before the House, for it shows the need for a quick and clear decision in this matter. Mr. Posnett wrote:It can be seen from Chapters 4 and 5 that the attitudes of the Gilbertese and Banaban people and the policies of their leaders in regard to the future of Ocean Island are directly opposed to each other. Yet at the same time it is clear that this dispute should not be allowed to drag on. Both sides prayed for an early decision on 1312 the matter by the British Government which both sides recognised as the authority responsible for taking that decision. The same view has been publicly expressed by the Government of Fiji and was reinforced in a personal interview with the Prime Minister of Fiji. The longer this dispute is allowed to fester the greater the bitterness it will engender among the peoples in the area who are relations and should be friends, as well as between Governments who in other respects are seeking to improve relations and mutual co-operation. There are, therefore, powerful reasons why a decision should not be delayed; and it was put to me by the Prime Minister of Fiji that a wrong decision promptly given was better than no decision at all. He described the beneficial and cathartic effect upon the Banaban community of the judgment in the recent High Court action: although they had lost the case it had cleared the air and released tensions.I believe that it is for the House to give a clear decision tonight and on 11 June and for Kiribati to become independent on 12 July.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Dean (Somerset, North)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) in this debate because I agree with many of the points which he made. I welcome this independence Bill. I hope that it will have a speedy passage through the House, thereby sending our warmest good wishes to all the Gilbertese people as they embark on their independence and their membership of the Commonwealth.
I have closely followed in recent years all the negotiations and discussions which have taken place preceding independence. Indeed, I have had the privilege to meet and to have discussions with many of the leaders who have been involved. I regret that on what should be a happy occasion, when we are sending good will to a territory about to become independent, there have been so many hard things said about so many people, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) did and the hon. Member for Farnworth has just done, I wish to try to redress the balance and to give credit where I believe credit to be due, to a whole series of people who have laboured hard to bring us to the point which we have now reached.
First, I give credit to successive British Governments who have done their utmost to reconcile the differences between the Gilbertese and the Banabans. I hope that those in the Gilbert Islands who 1313 read the reports of our debate will not take too seriously some of the criticisms which have been made in traditional House of Commons manner. I hope that they will weigh in the balance the considerable significance of the fact that two successive British Governments have now introduced before Parliament Bills in precisely the same terms. That, surely, is of considerable significance. Governments of different political colours, having studied the facts and having talked to the people concerned, have reached the conclusion that this independence Bill is justified and should go forward. That seems to me to be the salient factor coming out in the debate and the one to which the leaders of Kiribati should probably attach the greatest weight when they are studying our debate.
Secondly, I believe that tribute is due to the Australian and New Zealand Governments, who have co-operated with the British Government to produce financial arrangements for the Banabans. I shall come back to that in a moment. It has not been an easy negotiation, and tribute is due to the three Governments for producing this settlement.
Thirdly, tribute is due to the Prime Minister of Fiji—he has already been referred to on a number of occasions—for his efforts to bring about an acceptable solution, and especially for his distinguished chairmanship of the recent talks.
Last, but by no means least, tribute is due to the Government of the Gilbert Islands, who, in my view, have leant over backwards to try to reassure the Banabans and to give them guarantees for their future.
It seems to me that all those people and organisations deserve a great deal of credit for what they have been able to do to bring the Bill thus far.
We have been told that there will be a vote against Second Reading. I much regret that and hope that there will not be a vote. It would be unfair for the House to disappoint the expectations of 56,000 Gilbertese people who look forward to independence in July within their present territorial boundaries. Surely their wishes must be taken into account as well as those of the 2,500 Banabans.
It would be unfair to make the present Gilbert Islands Government and people 1314 suffer for any shortcomings of former colonial administrations. Some rather harsh comments have been made about British colonial government. I do not agree with all of them. If there were faults, surely they cannot be laid justifiably at the door of Ministers in the Gilbert Islands Government.
I hope that we can build on the spirit of compromise that was shown in the recent talks in Fiji. I hope that we shall warmly support the confidence expressed during recent discussions by the Prime Minister of Fiji that continuing dialogue will eventually produce a solution acceptable to both the Gilbertese and Banaban peoples.
I turn briefly to two aspects which seem to justify the passing of the Bill. They concern both the constitutional and financial proposals, which I consider both honourable and generous. The financial proposals offer fair recompense to the Banabans for the effects of the mining operations. They are offered a viable and generous future, if we take into account the normal standard of living of the inhabitants of the South Pacific. That was mentioned earlier in the debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud.
The Banabans are to be offered 10 million Australian dollars as an ex gratia fund with a possibility of another 1.5 million Australian dollars in accrued interest. There is to be an offer of 1.25 million Australian dollars by the British Phosphate Commissioners, and another £1 million on offer for development projects in Rabi. Finally, there is an offer to finance a survey on the future development of Banaba. That is a catalogue of financial arrangements that no fair-minded person could claim to be either mean or ungenerous. It is an honourable discharge by the Governments concerned for past obligations.
I hope that when my hon. Friend the Minister of State replies he will tell us a little more about the financial arrangements for the Gilbertese as a whole. It is understandable that much of the debate has concentrated on financial arrangements to the Banabans. We know that the Gilbertese will need substantial help in future if their economy is to be viable. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give us rather more information about that which the Government have in mind. It would be totally wrong to ignore the 1315 wishes of the Gilbertese people and to dismember their country against their will. It would be equally wrong to invite the Banabans to go it alone. Geography, race, culture and economics are against it, and also they have a secure home on Rabi.
The British Government have a wider responsibility to avoid fragmentation of island countries. In the previous Parliament we spent a good deal of time arguing the dangers, even to our own island, of devolution proposals. We argued for many hours whether the devolution proposals would lead to dismemberment of the United Kingdom. That subject was passionately debated, and surely we should be equally careful when dealing with island nations in the South Pacific. We had an example not long ago when the distinguished Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea had a considerable battle on his hands maintaining the unity of his nation. For example, there was the problem of Bougainville.
If the British Government were to step on the path of allowing fragmentation of island nations in this part of the world, where would that end? These are extremely powerful arguments in the interests of the Gilbertese, the Banabans and the nation as a whole. Having listened to the arguments, the British Government are right to take the view that they have formed.
Another factor referred to by the hon. Member for Farnworth is the safeguards being offered by the Gilbert Islands Government. I regret remarks made during the debate when hon. Members on both sides of the House cast aspersions on the word of the Gilbert Islands Government. We must accept their word, bearing in mind the great importance that they attach to their word once given.
Reference has been made to Professor Murray of the Open University. I have a letter from him making exactly the same point. It seems remarkable that a country about to become independent should agree to significant restrictions on its freedom of action to try to satisfy the fears of a minority. That is eloquent proof of the genuine desire of the Gilbertese Government to give security to the Banaban people.
1316 What are the safeguards being offered? First, the Banabans will retain their present rights to land ownership and access. Secondly, these rights will be entrenched in the constitution and the Banabans will have a veto on any changes to the entrenched conditions. Thirdly, they will have a right of appeal to the Judicial Committe of the Privy Council. Most significant of all, the Gilbert Islands Government are prepared to have a review of the special Banaban provisions by an independent commission of inquiry three years after independence.
What more could anyone expect from a Government prepared to provide safeguards for a minority? This is almost an unprecedented gesture of good will on the part of a country about to become independent.
For these reasons, I strongly support the speech of my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal in advocating the Bill. I am glad that support has come from both sides of the House. I hope that the motion for Second Reading will pass in unity, without a Division. Should there be a Division, I hope that it will be passed by an overwhelming majority.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedford)
The telegram that came from Suva on 17 May said that the Gilbert Islands Government would be ready, immediately after independence, to enter into consultations with their neighbours on any proposals regarding the status of Ocean Island, other than its separation from the Gilbert Islands, in conjunction with the special provisions for Banaba in the Gilbert Islands constitution. That was a fairly accurate statement of the position.
The situation between the two sides is such that what is acceptable to one may be unacceptable to the other. Nevertheless, I agree with the view put forward by the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper), who quoted from the report of Mr. R. N. Posnett, who went out as special adviser to the Government. He said that if the parties were irreparably opposed to each other and there could not be any accommodation it was for the British Government to decide. The British Government must decide. The proposals in the Bill are totally accentable.
1317 However, I approach the problem from a different angle. If there is to be an accommodation with the Banabans, we must consider appropriate compensation. My hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean) said that the proposed terms were especially generous. I am not certain that I concur with his opinion. Let us see what was received over the years.
The Banabans received, in phosphate payments, about £7,546,000 between I July 1920 and 30 June 1976. After 1976, in the period to the ending of mining in 1979, the figure to be added is £6,115,287. That is what they received. The question is what they saved. That is, however, another matter. They were promised a further 10 million Australian dollars in compensation plus the accrued interest of 1¼ million Australian dollars. They will receive a further sum, as a result of the court action, of 1¼ million Australian dollars, and from the Ministry of Overseas Development, as it was, they will receive 2 million Australian dollars. All these sums total 35 million Australian dollars.
We must put up the other side of the account. What is the current position of Ocean Island? It extends two and a half miles by one and a half miles. Therefore, it is tiny. There has been a considerable degree of mining. About 77 per cent. of the total island has been mined—that is, 1,200 acres out of a total of 1,544. Because of the coral pinnacles it is unsuitable for agricultural development. There is no harbour, although there are moorings. There is no airstrip. Nor is there a continental shelf. Therefore there is no possibility of oil or natural gas being discovered. There is unlikely to be mineral extraction of any great interest. However, it is an island and the ancestral home of the people who now claim it. It may possess important fishing rights in its territorial waters. The Government must face their responsibilities. They will be told that fresh water on the island is limited and that the soil has a nitrogen and potassium deficiency. If they are to come to any agreement on the appropriate terms of compensation, the Governments of the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand must face those facts. If the correct figure is worked out, there will be a settlement. If the figure is too low, there will be no 1318 settlement and friction will continue for some years.
I should like to correct one point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine). The Government never accepted that the phosphate was sold at below the international standard price. That was confirmed in a parliamentary answer which said:No reliable phosphate market price for 1967 has been established to the Government's satisfaction."—[Official Report, 15 March 1979; Vol. 964, c. 245.]However, my hon. Friend was correct in indicating that the Banabans had to pay the costs of the court cases. They did not appeal. We must set a satisfactory figure for the compensation which must be provided. I bear in mind that no provision was made in previous years for tackling the damage to the island caused by extensive mining.
Nauru Island is not far distant. It has a much better record. The United Nations trustee council proposed in 1964 that the indigenous people of Nauru be settled on Curtis Island, off the Queensland coast. That declaration was made in expectation of the progressive exhaustion of the island's phosphate deposits. The people of Nauru elected to remain in their island. Studies were put in train in 1966 for the shipping of soil to the island to replace the phosphate rock. However, nothing happened in Banaba. Perhaps the authorities concluded that it would be too expensive to ship in topsoil to provide for agricultural plantations. The cost was assessed at about £40 million. That is prohibitive by any standard.
The current accounts of the British Phosphate Commission are healthy. According to the last accounts, the net current assets total 26 million Australian dollars. The Commission draws its phosphate from three islands, including Ocean Island, which is to cease production this year. Therefore, the amount going into the coffers of the Gilbertese Government—and the new State—will diminish. Nauru Island has reserves available for mining until 1992. Christmas Island, which is part of Australia, is in the general area of this group. It possesses A and B grades for progressive development over the next 10 years. If there are technological advances and grade C is upgraded, the reserves will last for a further 1319 70 years. It is possible for the three Governments to get together and make another significant contribution.
This Bill is absolutely correct. It is inseparable from the question of compensation. The Banabans are entitled to a little more money. If they receive it they may moderate their views and reach an accommodation. While they stay on Rabi Island, off Fiji, they will consider that their future is guaranteed provided money is flowing in.
The Minister of State must consider the problem and decide what should be done. I think that the islanders should be entitled to a more generous figure, bearing in mind their economic difficulties that phosphate was taken from the island, that no attempt has been made to reinstate it, and that no survey has been undertaken at any stage in the proceedings.
The debate concerns the emergence of a new State combining the Gilbert Islands, the Phoenix group and the Lines Islands—33 islands in a sea zone about 2 million square miles. There are seven very persuasive arguments in support of the Bill. For about 80 years Banaba has formed part of the Gilbert group and, as has been mentioned already tonight, for 40 years, from 1908 to 1948, it was the seat of government. Fragmentation now could only encourage separatist movements, particularly within the islands to the south of Banaba.
Furthermore, it is crucial to the Gilbertese that they have some control over the island, otherwise it might be impossible, as a matter of foreign policy, to drive out another foreign Power which might seek to establish a sphere of influence there. That could be a strategic consideration for the Gilbertese.
In 1947, pursuant to a secret ballot among the Banabans on Rabi Island, it was decided, by 270 to 48, to remain on Rabi rather than to return and settle in their ancestral home. While the Banabans claim to retain Ocean Island as their spiritual and ancestral home, only a token presence is maintained on the island.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
My hon. Friend is making a very interesting speech, but I indicated that the Banabans were not able to return to their ancestral home. They 1320 were told that it was impracticable. We know now why the Government wanted them in Rabi. I do not think that there is much point in what my hon. Friend is saying. Advice to the Banabans as to the realities of the situation concerning Ocean Island and phosphates was withheld from them deliberately by the colonial advisers attached to them. That is in writing.
§ Mr. Skeet
I think that some of these arguments are misconceived, because the Banabans had the report from the constitutional conference, which is now to be found in Cmnd. 7445 on page 17. It states:Land on and access to Banaba. (1) When any Banaban possesses any right over or interest in any land in Banaba, such right or interest shall not be affected in any way by reason of the fact that he resides in Rabi island in Fiji. … No such right of admission shall be compulsorily acquired.It goes on to say on the next page:Every Banaban shall have an inalienable right to enter and reside in Banaba.It does not matter what their nationality may be; they have a right to return. I should have thought that that was enough, particularly if it was guaranteed by entrenched clauses in a constitution, which one would not expect to find in a Bill of this nature but which would follow at a later date.
The third point which convinces me is that in November 1977, at a meeting at Bariki, agreements were reached between the Banabans and the Gilbertese to hold a comprehensive referendum on the issue. This would have involved consulting 56,000 people. For a number of reasons the referendum did not materialise. This was a pity, for 56,000 people would have decided that it would be very much better not to break up the archipelago and to keep it intact.
I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East is getting rather restive. He will no doubt say that Her Majesty's Government recently held that the question of devolution should be decided in Scotland by the Scottish people and not by the English. It is only right to anticipate the argument and to see that this was the precise formula which had been accepted. Indeed, let me anticipate my hon. Friend again. He will say that it was only part of a package and that part of the package was that if the 1321 Banabans were offered a little more money they might capitulate.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
My hon. Friend must not put into my mouth words that I had no intention of uttering. What I was wanting to tell him was that after the Bariki resolutions had been agreed, at the meeting to which he referred, there was a dramatic occurrence. The Gilbertese Government were thrown out in the general election. There was, similarly, an election on Rabi and the then leaders of the Rabi Council were also thrown out. There was a totally new situation, and the Bariki resolutions were then dead.
§ Mr. Skeet
I appreciate that, but the ideas emerged at an earlier date from the local people and they were prepared to settle for a higher figure. That may be successful trading.
I appreciate the problems that the Banabans have had over the years and that they have had a bad deal. I appreciate that we in the United Kingdom and the Australian and New Zealand Governments must do something to facilitate a settlement. This can be expressed in the compensation granted to the Banabans. But, constitutionally, it is only right that the Bill should go through first, and the settlement can be dealt with later. It is a pity, therefore, that the referendum did not go through at the earlier stage, since it would have been acceptable and would have finalised the whole matter.
In June 1978, at a meeting in Tarawa, the Banabans agreed to suspend their campaign for separation, provided that the British Government gave them considerable funds. Later, however, attitudes changed and neither side was prepared to yield. This was the second occasion within the course of a year on which the question of money came to the surface. If I had been a Banaban, I would probably have said to myself "Provided I have right of access secured to me to go back to my own ancestral and spiritual home at any time, and provided the compensation is right, I shall be satisfied".
I should like to outline a possible way out of the dilemma. In my judgment, the Rabi Council should be granted a lease for 999 years by the United Kingdom Government and/or the Kiribati 1322 Government, much along the lines of the Hong Kong relationship with China. Local autonomy would thus be guaranteed to the Banabans for the full term of the lease, subject only to reservations on defence, which could be covenanted for in the lease itself. Banaban citizenship would be maintained for those born on the island, but the majority of Banabans would remain citizens of Fiji, they being precluded by Fijian law from sharing citizenship with any other country.
According to the 1976 census, of the 2,400 Banabans living in Fiji, no fewer than 61 per cent. were born there. Further, the case would be consistent with the covenant or statement of intention agreed by the British Government in 1947 to the effect thatthe Banabans' decision to reside on Rabi Island shall in no way affect any right to lands possessed by Banabans on Ocean Island.It would give the Banabans a stake in their ancestral home, subject only to a reversion after 1,000 years.
That approach could bring both sides together. The Banabans would have got what they wanted. They would have got an estate in Banaba which could not be overthrown by any Government or by any new State Government brought into being by the Bill. At the same time, the people of the Gilbert Islands would have their residual right after the lapse of a term of years. I hope that the Minister will express some view on whether he feels that that would conclude the argument, which has been prolonged for far too long. I hope, too, that eventually whatever solution is accepted will prove acceptable to all the people concerned.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter Blaker)
Much of the debate has been concerned with the future of Banaba. That is an important question, but I hope that the House will keep in mind the main question, which is that the Bill proposes to give independence to the Gilbert Islands.
We have undertaken certain obligations to the people of the Gilbert Islands. Over the years we have brought them along the path, through elected, internal self-government, to the point where they are on the brink of independence. I 1323 imagine—I hope it is true—that no hon. Member, whatever he may have said this afternoon, wants to deny or delay their independence. I shall deal in a moment with the suggestion that there has been an unseemly rush.
I emphasise that what is at stake is whether the Gilbert Islands are to have independence. Whatever may be at stake at a later stage of the Bill, that is what we are dealing with at present. If the Bill were to be defeated on Second Reading, it would, as far as I know, be an event without precedent in the proud process of decolonisation since the war. I put it to hon. Members who support strongly the Banaban case that to defeat the Bill on Second Reading would certainly not enhance the reputation of Britain or, I suggest, of this House for fairness and wisdom in the Pacific or in the rest of the Commonwealth.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rom-ford (Mr. Neubert) and the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) suggested that we were taking things at a bit of a rush. The date 12 July has been set—it was set some time ago—for independence. There was some delay in the past at the instance and request of the Banabans, but there is no unseemly rush. This process has been going on for many years.
Another point, which has already been made, is that the communique after the Suva meeting quotes the Banabans as saying that they have no wish to delay the independence of the Gilbert Islands. I do not think that we need to be more Banaban than the Banabans.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
All that the Banabans are saying is that they do not want to delay the independence of the Gilbertese. The easiest way is to omit the Banabans from the Bill.
§ Mr. Blaker
They did not actually say that in the communique. I think that that is a very interesting and significant point. I am sure that the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) has read the communique and will agree with me on that point.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
There would be no need for them to say that in the communique if the good offices of the Prime Minister of Fiji were accepted and 1324 the Government were prepared to accede to my request and call together the two parties who are, I believe, represented here in London to discuss the Prime Minister's formula before the Committee stage. Whether Banaba is left in or out of the Bill does not arise if, in fact, through the diplomacy of my hon. Friends, it is possible to arrive at a satisfactory solution before the Committee stage. The opportunity is now. Why not take it?
§ Mr. Blaker
The Government are certainly prepared to do anything in their power which would be useful. However, I am not sure that the proposal my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) made to me just now is practical. The Chief Minister of the Gilbert Islands is, I believe, here at present, but he has been away from his country for three weeks and it would not be surprising if he were anxious to return. Secondly, this suggestion was not made to me by the Chief Minister of the Gilbert Islands or the chaiman of the Rabi Council of Leaders.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
I have written authority from the Rabi Council of Leaders to make this suggestion. I have made it. I made it prior to this debate and I am making it now. I see absolutely no reason, if the two gentlemen are in London at present, why the Government cannot, in view of the immense strength of feeling expressed in this debate, undertake to call the parties together to see whether the statesmanlike proposals of the Prime Minister of Fiji cannot be examined and, indeed, implemented.
§ Mr. Blaker
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East will agree that when he came to see me with the chairman of the Rabi Council of Leaders only two days ago, this suggestion was not made. I take note of the fact that he is making it now. I will consider it as I will all the other points that have been made during the debate. There may be some difficulty about a full-scale constitutional discussion. On all past precedents, as I understand it, the two sides have only been prepared to negotiate and discuss when accompanied by all their colleagues. I am confident that we do not have many 1325 members of the Government of the Gilbert Islands here at present. I also believe that the chairman of the Rabi Council of Leaders is unaccompanied by other members of the Council. However, I take note of the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East.
Those who have spoken about the future of Banaba have done so with deep sincerity, and I pay tribute to that. But, of course, hon. Members have spoken on both sides of the argument. Following on from what I have just been saying in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East, between now and 11 June when we are due to take the Committee stage of the Bill—not next Monday, as I think the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said: I do not think there is a rush between Second Reading and the remaining stages—I undertake to give careful consideration to what the Chief Minister of the Gilbert Islands and the chairman of the Rabi Council of Leaders have said to me. I have had discussions with both of them this week, as the House understands. I will also give consideration to the results of the Suva meeting and those raised by hon. Members in debate today.
It is evident that the feelings of the Banabans are deep. They feel strongly about the preservation of their identity in spite of the fact that there has been much intermarriage between them and the Gilbertese. I think it is relevant that the House should know some of the facts regarding the degree of intermarriage.
Of those Banabans on Rabi island of known parentage, 65 per cent. were either born on islands in the Gilbert Islands other than Banaba or had one or both parents born on islands in the Gilberts other than Banaba. In the 1976 Fiji census it appeared that 286 so-called Banabans—I say so-called because the term "Banabans" is expanded to cover people who live on Rabi, whether or not they are, strictly speaking, pure Banabans—were born in the Gilbert Islands on islands other than Banaba and only 263 were born on Banaba itself.
The Banabans also feel strongly about retaining their rights to land on Banaba, even though the vast majority of them—some 90 per cent.—live on Rabi Island. It is significant that the constitutional 1326 safeguards proposed by the Government of the Gilbert Islands are designed to cover the preservation of the identity of the Banabans and their right to land.
It is inevitable that the vast majority of Banabans will continue to live on Rabi, even when phosphate mining ends later this year. We have offered to arrange for a survey of the resources and potential of Banaba after mining ceases. Unfortunately, this offer has not yet been taken up. However, no one seriously suggests that Banaba would be suitable for more than 400 or 500 people, which is, at most, 20 per cent. of the total Banaban population.
Nevertheless, the Banabans still pursue their campaign with great sincerity, and I have been impressed by the deep feelings of those hon. Members who presented the Banaban side of the case in the debate. I pay tribute, in particular, to my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East, who, over the years, has pursued his campaign with great pertinacity, knowledge and sincerity. But I beg my hon. Friend and others who share his view to recognise that they do not have a monopoly of sincerity and that those who support the Bill also have honourable motives as well as what we believe to be good reasons. Indeed, I have been impressed by the depth of feeling of the Gilbert Islands leaders, including the Chief Minister. They are passionately dedicated to preserving the integrity of their country. That, too, is an honourable motive.
It may be that some hon. Members imagine that simply because Banaba is an island, which is separated by 240 miles from the capital, to carve it off from the other Gilbert Islands matters less to the remainder than if one were to carve off a piece of some mainland territory. I believe that that is a false assumption. I ask hon. Members to imagine that, if one's country consisted entirely of islands, one may be just as concerned about the possible loss of one of those islands, even if it is 240 miles away, as the people of England would be about the loss of one of our counties.
Several hon. Members have mentioned the relationship of blood and language between the Gilbertese and the Banabans. It may put it into perspective if I say that Professor Maude, who has been acknowledged as an expert by my hon. Friend 1327 the Member for Essex, South-East and others, has compared the relationship between the Gilbertese and the Banabans with that between the English and the Cornish. I have yet to meet anyone who has disputed that analogy.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
I did not quote Professor Maude, but he has from time to time expressed views which show that he is convinced that the Banabans have a separate identity. Whether one likens them to the Cornish, the Americans or anyone else, a people are what they believe themselves to be and we have no right to take away from them an identity which they believe they possess.
§ Mr. Blaker
I take my hon. Friend's views on that point, and I am sorry that I attributed to him remarks about Professor Maude. However, I take it from what he said that he does not dispute the authority with which Professor Maude speaks on these matters.
My hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean), in a powerful speech, said he would be grateful if I said something about economic aid for the Gilbert Islands as a whole. Perhaps I can tell the House the facts. The financial settlement reached at the independence conference is designed to permit the Gilbert Islands to carry out the development plan which is now in preparation for the years 1979 to 1982, and to deal with the immediate budgetary problems arising from the loss of phosphate earnings in 1979. As my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal said earlier, we will provide capital aid on grant terms of up to £15.5 million over the four years 1979 to 1982, and another £10 million is expected from other donors. If this proves insufficient, we are prepared to consider further assistance for good projects which are not yet identified, including joint ventures with private companies, probably in fishing, and the development of Banaba if this makes economic sense. Budgetary aid will begin in 1980 and will total 9.1 million Australian dollars, which is about £5.31 million over the three later years of the agreement period. The grant will meet the difference between expenditure and revenue, including revenue from the equalisation reserve fund which the Gilbert Islands will contribute to reduce the deficit. The capital of the revenue 1328 equalisation reserve fund will be retained intact.
Our technical co-operation programme, involving about 100 staff in cadre posts and some 15 technical co-operation officers and training, will continue. The cost of this technical co-operation programme is about £1.5 million a year. All these arrangements will be reviewed in 1982 with a view to a further agreement. Our capital programme covers administrative and infrastructure developments, such as local airfields, roads, Government offices, and so on, as well as conventional development expenditure. But the emphasis is turning increasingly to finding income-generating activities in these islands.
The most promising projects appear to be in the fisheries sector. It may also be possible to help the Gilberts start a tourist industry on Christmas Island, which has attractions for sporting fishermen and naturalists. The European development fund allocation under the present Lomé Convention is 3.52 million units of account, about £2 million, which will be spent on improving telecommunications, airfields and fish and coconut developments. The other main bilateral donor is Austraila, whose programme now runs at about £800,000 a year, mainly on a large and important sewerage scheme for Tarawa and on mechanical plant and airfields.
The Asian Development Bank is financing with us a causeway between the islet on which the port and commercial centre are situated and the administrative capital.
I hope that this full statement about our aid proposals will be useful to my hon. Friend and to the House.
§ Mr. Hooley
Will the Gilbertese Government inherit any agreements on Japanese fishing in their waters, or have they a completely free hand to negotiate whatever they like with the Japanese?
§ Mr. Blaker
I am sorry, but I cannot answer that question without further informing myself. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman about it.
I should also like to say a few words about the financial aspect of the Banaban problem, even though, as I think hon. Members have recognised, it has no direct connection with the constitutional issue. Following the Banabans' unsuccessful 1329 legal action against the Crown, the partner Governments of the British Phosphate Commission—that is, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand—made an ex gratia offer in May 1977 of 10 million Australian dollars, which is about £6.7 million, for a fund for the Banabans' future. The offer was in addition to the revenues which had been paid for many years to the Banabans, which amount to about 16 million Australian dollars over the past seven years. These amounts are also additional to the ex gratia payment by the British Phosphate Commission of 1.25 million dollars paid in settlement of the Banaban action against it, in which the court awarded damages of only 14,000 dollars. The Banabans have also been offered up to £1 million for the development of Rabi Island, where the great majority of the Banaban community has been living since 1947.
I think the House will agree that these are substantial sums, bearing in mind that the Banaban community numbers only about 2,500 people. But it is right to point out that the standard of living of the Banabans is several times higher than that of the other people of the Gilbert Islands and, indeed, is the second highest in the Pacific.
§ Mr. Blaker
I do not think that that necessarily follows. It depends very much on how the investment fund is managed. It is intended to provide an investment income for the Banabans for a long time. That is the mental picture which the Government had when they made the offer. In addition to this investment income, there is no reason why the Banabans, on Rabi Island, at any rate, should not have earned income as well.
The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands) put to me the possibility that the surplus funds of the British Phosphate Commission might be used totally—I think he suggested this—for the benefit of the Banabans and Gilbertese. It is true that the activities of phosphate mining on Banaba are due to cease this year, but there is no plan for the winding up of the British Phosphate Commission, 1330 because its activities cover other territories and other fields. It has activities on Christmas Island. It has shipping and stevedoring interests. Therefore, it is intended that its activities will continue.
When the BPC is eventually wound up—we do not know when that will be—the remaining assets in the reserves will be divided between the partner Governments—Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Of course, I cannot speak for Australia or New Zealand, although I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. However, it is also right to make clear to the House that the surplus held by the phospate commissioners does not derive from activities on Banaba. There is no surplus retained by the commissioners from Banaba. Britain has not derived any income from the mining activities on Banaba. The surplus derives from the other activities of the phosphate commissioners.
§ Mr. Rowlands
I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman with great interest. Perhaps he will just have a look at this matter again, because he has made a very categoric statement—that there are no surpluses in the BPC account which have been derived from phosphates over a number of years' working on Banaba. I think that he ought to check that. Perhaps I have been under a delusion, but I certainly felt that a significant surplus had accrued as a result of the activities on Banaba by the BPC.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
My hon. Friend cannot get away with this. A massive surplus has been built up by the BPC, which has represented the three Governments of Britain, Australia and New Zealand, over many years, since 1920. This is known as the Nauru surplus—if my hon. Friend is unaware of this. There has been a constant argument between the three partner Governments—I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet), who knows something about this, is agreeing with me—as to how the spoils should be divided. All that we are asking is that compensation should be paid to the Banabans, for the damage inflicted on their homeland and for the injuries that they have suffered, which 1331 bears some relation to the huge surplus acquired by the BPC.
The only other point I make is that my hon. Friend does the Banabans little justice if he thinks that the first thought in their minds is money. That is not so. They are asking for the right of self-determination, and on that matter I have yet to hear any convincing argument from my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Blaker
My hon. Friend must really allow me to develop my argument. If he had been listening to me carefully, which I thought he was doing, I think that he would know that I was not suggesting that in any way. If my hon. Friend reads Hansard tomorrow. I shall be very surprised if he finds that I have suggested in any way that the motives of the Banabans were inspired by money. I said nothing of the kind.
Concerning the surplus of the phosphate commissioners, I have been advised that this derives from the other activities of the commissioners. It has been referred to as the Nauru surplus. I understand that the Nauru surplus was derived from the sale of assets on Nauru, which is a totally different matter. Again, I undertake to write to my hon. Friend if I am in error. However, I believe that I am correctly reflecting the advice that I have been given.
I was asked by the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) about the fishing zone. He made an impressive speech, and I regret that I heard only part of it. My right hon. Friend was asked by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) about a related matter—the American claim on some of the islands. The two matters are connected.
Discussions between the Gilbert Islands Government, the United States Government and ourselves have been successfully concluded, with the initialling of a draft treaty under which, when it is ratified, the United States Government will renounce all their claims to sovereignty over the disputed islands, which are in the Phoenix and the Line Islands groups. It is planned by the two parties, the United States Government and the Kiribati Government, that the treaty will be signed on or shortly after independence day. Until this new agreement was initialled, the Gilbert Islands fishery 1332 zone had excluded the Phoenix and Line Islands in view of the dispute, but the fishery limits were extended on 19 April to include the waters around the Phoenix and Line Islands.
I was also asked by the hon. Member for Farnworth about the position of employees of the phosphate commissioners after mining ceases, which is expected later this year. All employees of the phosphate commissioners whose services become redundant with the termination of mining on Banaba will be repatriated with their families and baggage to their home islands at the expense of the phosphate commission—that is, of course, if they wish to go. They will also receive special redundancy payments related to their salaries and length of service, on a scale which has been fully explained to them.
§ Mr. Roper
Will the hon. Gentleman please look at that point again and make sure that for these individuals, who have given a considerable time of their lives to the BPC, satisfactory and generous terms have been settled? We have a responsibility to these individuals, as well as to others who have been exploited by the BPC.
§ Mr. Blaker
I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman that they deserve fair and generous terms. I shall look into the matter as he has asked.
I come now to the question of the relationship, if any, between the financial and the constitutional issues. I believe that we should separate them in our minds. I believe that that is the wish of all parties. I infer from what my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East has recently said in an intervention that it is his wish, too. I also believe that this is the wish of the Banabans themselves. Therefore, I turn to the reason why the Government have decided to put forward this Bill in its present form.
We did not simply pick up the Bill which already existed because it was convenient for us to do so, just because it happened already to exist. We had given the Bill considerable thought while in Opposition. When we came into Government, we reviewed the whole problem and took our own decision. That decision coincided with that of the previous Government, but it was taken on the merits of the case.
1333 Our main reasons were, first, as has been much mentioned in the debate, that it has been the practice of successive British Governments when granting independence to dependent territories to respect existing colonial boundaries and the wishes of the people of the territory as a whole. As the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil said, that is also the principle of the United Nations. He referred to resolution 15/14 of December 1960 concerning independence for colonial countries and peoples. That resolution declared that the partial or total disruption of the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
Hon. Members have cited many examples that they claim are exceptions to these principles. In the past dependent territories have been hived off, but I am unaware of any case in which separation has been pushed through in defiance of the wishes and without the consent of the elected Government of that territory.
Secondly, if Banaba were to separate before independence, that would have consequences elsewhere. In 1964 I attended a conference at which the future boundaries of Kenya were discussed. Tom Mboya, Mr. Gichuru and three other African Ministers sat with the British delegation of which I was a member. They argued with passion that it would be a disaster for Africa if the British Government, just before Kenya's independence, were to concede to Somalia the ownership of what was then called the Northern Frontier District of Kenya. They claimed that, although that area contained a population that was almost entirely Somali by blood, to carve it off before independence would set an example that would shake the whole of Africa. That argument has been accepted and is a cardinal principle of the Organisation of African Unity, and there is reason in that argument.
Hon. Members should not imagine that the Banabans are the only people in the Pacific who want separation from their parent territory. There are the separatist movements in the Solomon Islands, the New Hebrides and Papua New Guinea. Hon. Members who have argued the Banaban case cannot imagine that we could carve off Banaba just before independence 1334 without repercussions in those three territories. They would not be pleased if we were to do what my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East is asking.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
There is no parallel. The situation of the Banabans is unique. They do not live in the Gilberts and have not done so for over 30 years. They are subjects of the neighbouring State of Fiji. The Bill proposes to divide the Banaban people between two sovereign jurisdictions. My hon. Friend is not therefore arguing like with like. When will Ministers face the reality that the Banabans are Fijians? They do not wish to live in a Kiribati State. Will they be forced in, with all the trouble that that will cause in the future, long after we have left the Pacific? Is that statesmanship?
§ Mr. Blaker
When my hon. Friend examines that argument tomorrow in Hansard, he will find that it has weakened his case. In any event, the Banabans will be able to move from one territory to another, but the majority will inevitably continue to live on Rabi Island.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
There are no provisions touching on Fijian nationality in the Bill. Is my hon. Friend saying that Fijian subjects who happen to be Banabans with land rights in Banaba and who have freedom of access in accordance with the solemn undertakings entered into by the British Government in 1947 will be able to work as well as live in the Gilbert Islands and Banaba in particular? That is important.
§ Mr. Blaker
If I follow my hon. Friend's point accurately, this is a problem arising from Fijian law. It is not capable of being dealt with in the Bill. But it is also true that, whatever the Fijian law may say, the Fijian Government have until now put no obstacle in the way of the people to whom my hon. Friend has referred moving freely to Banaba if they wish. I see no reason why we should expect that they will start to put obstacles in their way from now on.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
On the contrary, the Gilbert Islands Government not so long ago imposed a closed ordinance on Banabans going to Ocean Island. Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the history 1335 of the matter? The situation is unique. The Banabans who are Fijian subjects do not wish to live in an alien State. Is my hon. Friend asking the House to pass an Act which is a sure recipe for unrest and trouble in the future, after Britain has washed its hands, Pontius Pilate-like, of the whole business?
§ Mr. Blaker
I do not accept my hon. Friend's language. I do not believe that it is a recipe for unrest and trouble in the future.
As regards the right of movement of Banabans, I understand from my reading of the nationality provisions of the Bill that there will be no obstacle. But if necessary we can examine this matter in Committee.
I hope that my hon. Friend will now allow me to deploy my arguments as I would wish. I think that the House would want me to do that.
I do not wish to be provocative, but I would say this in relation to one remark that my hon. Friend made. He cited the Government of Tuvalu as supporting his case. He may have information that I do not have, but I am informed that they have always taken the strictly correct line in their discussions with representatives of the United Kingdom that this is a matter for the United Kingdom Government. I have no evidence to support my hon. Friend's claim.
The third reason why we have taken the view that we have about the Bill is that the Gilbertese Goverment have offered very generous safeguards for Banaban rights. My hon. Friends have listed them—the Banaban Island Council; entrenched rights for the Banabans, especially in relation to land; a veto for either of the Banaban representatives in the Gilbert Islands Assembly on any change in the special provisions for the Banabans; the right of appeal to the Privy Council; and an international commission to review the carrying out of the safeguards for the Banabans after five years.
It was in response to a suggestion from the Conservative Party when in opposition that Mr. Evan Luard made his visit to the area earlier this year. My right hon. Friend reminded the House that as a result of Mr. Luard's visit the Gilbert Islands Government made further concessions. 1336 They conceded that substantial powers of self-government should be delegated to the Banaban Island Council, that the international commission should review the carrying out of the proposed safeguards for the Banabans after only three years instead of five, and that a treaty would be signed with another Power to safeguard the rights of the Banabans.
I do not know whether there is any example of such generous offers to be found anywhere in the world in the past. Certainly, it seems to me that the Gilbert Islands Government have gone to the utmost to ensure the protection of the Banabans' position.
The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil suggested that Her Majesty's Government should be prepared to use their good offices in sorting out any problems that might arise in relation to the safeguards for the Banabans. Indeed, the Government would be prepared to consider doing that, but we must bear in mind that since Mr. Luard's visit we have had the Suva conference, and the Prime Minister of Fiji has put forward more far-reaching proposals involving six nations. I shall come to those proposals in a little while.
My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East said that the offers by the Gilbert Islands Government were so gererous that they were not credible and that it was impossible to imagine that any Government could sustain them. He is putting me and the Gilbert Islands Government in what I think is described as a catch 22 position. If the offer had been less generous, would he have been congratulating the Gilbert Islands Government on that? I think that he would have been taking rather a different line.
My hon. Friend claimed that half the constitutions of the emergent territories had been torn up. It is true that in some parts of the world many of them have. I have not done a count, but this is not true of territories in the Pacific. There are seven territories in the Pacific which have become independent in recent times.—Western Samoa, Nauru, Tonga, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. In no case has the constitution been torn up, so perhaps the position in the Pacific is rather different from that in other parts of the world.
1337 As for guarantees against land nationalisation, those who know the Pacific better than I do tell me that land nationalisation is anathema to the people of the Pacific islands since land is identified so closely with its owner.
My hon. Friend referred to the invitation issued to the Banabans to attend the 1978 conference as observers, and he implied motives to the then Government which were less than worthy. It is true that the Banabans were invited originally as observers following their designation in that way at a conference in 1970. But I understand that it was made clear to them at the time they were invited that they would have the right to participate in all the discussions relating to Banaba and the Banabans. As my hon. Friend conceded, a change of title to "representatives" was readily agreed when they pointed out that "observers" could be misleading. But I was informed that it was never the intention that they should be denied the opportunity to take a full part in the proceedings.
My hon. Friend also referred to the 1947 referendum, and I concede that he speaks with great authority and great knowledge. However, I must read to the House a passage from Mr. Posnett's report about the move of the Banabans to Rabi just after the war. I think that Mr. Posnett is generally respected. In his report, we find the following:They were not compelled to go to Rabi Island against their wishes nor subsequently to stay there against their wishes. After questioning one of the officers who organised the plebiscite, I am satisfied that it was conducted with the full concurrence and participation of the Council"—the Rabi Council of Leaders.I do not believe the Banabans could have survived on Ocean Island after the war. But the main point is this. The purchase of Rabi Island and the encouragement of the Banabans to settle there was one of the best things which the British administration ever did for the Banabans. Lest there be those who are disposed to question this assertion, I may add that I am quoting Tebaiti Tawaka"—Tawaka, the chairman of the Rabi Council of Leaders. I hope that that will put in perspective what my hon. Friend said about the events just after the war.
§ Mr. Blaker
It has been suggested that Banaba should be separated from 1338 the rest of the Gilbert Islands before independence. The Government have looked at the possibility that the Gilbert Islands could be allowed to proceed to independence without Banaba and that there should be a moratorium. Apart from the procedural and administrative difficulties involved, however, there is no guarantee that at the end of the moratorium period any agreement would have been reached. After all, more than a decade of negotiations has already passed without the emergence of a solution mutually acceptable to the Banabans and the Gilbertese.
The time has come when we have to grasp the nettle. Moreover, the Gilbert Islands have been promised independence on the basis of the signed report of the constitutional conference which took place last year. In the eyes of the Gilbert Islands Government, the imposition of a moratorium on Banaba's future would be tantamount to separation and a reversal of the commitment entered into by the British Government. I believe that it would be a recipe for endless dispute and not a solution. None of this need preclude a new agreement on the relationship between the two parties reached after the independence of Kiribati.
§ Mr. Hooley
I follow what the hon. Gentleman says, but I do not completely understand the meaning of the first paragraph of the communique issued in Suva, which says:Talks between representatives of the Gilbert Islands Government and of the Banabans on the constitutional future of Ocean Island ended in Suva today with agreement by both parties to carry on direct dialogue between them in the search for a mutually acceptable solution.The only construction to put on that is that both the Gilbertese and the Banabans are willing to go on talking together. But if this Bill is passed—and the intention is that it should be passed within 15 or 17 days—there can be no point in talking because the matter will have been settled.
§ Mr. Blaker
I do not make the same interpretation of the communique as the hon. Gentleman. My interpretation is that the intention was that talks would go on between the two parties after independence. I think that that is the impression one derives from a reading 1339 of the communique. It is also true that the communique reports that the Prime Minister of Fiji is prepared to hold himself available to chair or take part in any further negotiations.
I hope that I have answered most of the points raised in the debate, but I should like to repeat what I said at the beginning of my speech. Between now and 11 June, when the Bill is due to be considered in Committee, I undertake to give further careful consideration to what the Chief Minister has said and what the chairman of the Rabi Council of Leaders has said to me, the results of the Suva meeting and the points raised by hon. Members.
I return to a fundamental point. We are now dealing with the Second Reading of this Bill. The question we face is whether to vote for the independence of the Gilbert Islands. Even the Rabi Council of Leaders has said that it does not want to delay that independence. The British Government have given an undertaking. I believe that the honour of Britain is at stake. The hon. Member
§ for York said he proposed to vote against the Bill to teach the Government a lesson. I am not sure that that is a very responsible attitude to take. Surely, if he wants the Gilbert Islands to go forward to independence, he should be taking the appropriate decision in voting on this Bill. Surely the position of the Banabans is a matter for the later stages of the Bill. We shall have an opportunity to consider that on 11 June.
§ The duty of the House now is to express its good will and its good wishes to what I hope will be the next independent member of the Commonwealth. The Gilbert Islands have worked for independence and have conducted themselves honourably. They have been extremely generous in their offers to the Banabans. I believe that they deserve our support and that we should vote for the Second Reading.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 108, Noes 16.1341
|Division No. 3]||AYES||[8.39 p.m.|
|Alexander, R.||Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian||Pawsey, J.|
|Ancram, M.||Goodhew, Victor||Proctor, K.|
|Arnold, Tom||Gow, Ian||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Aspinwall, J.||Griffiths, P. (Portsmouth N)||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Baker, N. (North Dorset)||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Roper, John|
|Benyon, T. (Abingdon)||Hawkins, Paul||Rowlands, Ted|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Hawksley, W.||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Best, K.||Hogg, Hon D. (Grantham)||Sims, Roger|
|Blackburn, J. G.||Holland, Philip (Carlton)||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Blaker, Peter||Hooson, T.||Speed, Keith|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Johnson Smith, Geoffrey||Speller, A.|
|Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)|
|Bright, G.||Kershaw, Anthony||Squire, R. C.|
|Brinton, T. D.||Lawrence, Ivan||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Le Marchant, Spencer||Stewart, J. (East Renfrewshire)|
|Brotherton, Michael||Lennox-Boyd, Hon M. A.||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Scunthorpe)||Lloyd, P. (Fareham)||Tapsell, Peter|
|Browne, J. (Winchester)||Lyell, N.||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Carlisle, J. (Luton West)||Macfarlane, Neil||Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret|
|Chapman, S.||MacGregor, John||Thompson, D.|
|Clark, William (Croydon South)||Major, J.||Viggers, Peter|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Marland, P.||Waddington, David|
|Cockeram, E.||Marlow, A.||Waldegrave, Hon W.|
|Colvin, M.||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Walker, W. (Perth & E Perthshire)|
|Cope, John||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)||Wall, Patrick|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Moate, Roger||Waller, G. P. A.|
|Crouch, David||Molyneaux, James||Ward, J.|
|Dean, Paul (North Somerset)||Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)||Warren, Kenneth|
|Dormand, J. D.||Murphy, C. P.||Wells, P. (Hertford & Stevenage)|
|Dover, D.||Myles, D. F.||Williams, D. J. D. (Montgomery)|
|Faith, Mrs S.||Needham, R.||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Fenner, Mrs P.||Nelson, Anthony||Wolfson, M.|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey||Newton, Tony|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Forman, Nigel||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)||Mr. John Wakeham and|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Patten, C. (Bath)||Mr. Carol Mather.|
|Bradley, Tom||Dobson, F. G.||Race, R.|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Cadbury, J.||Kerr, Russell||Skinner, Dennis|
|Campbell-Savours, D.||Langford-Holt, Sir John|
|Canavan, Dennis||Leighton, R.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Davis, T. (Birmingham, Stechford)||McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Mr. Frank Hooley and|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||McKelvey, W.||Mr. Alexander W. Lvon.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr John Stradling Thomas.]
§ Committee tomorrow.