§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I feel that perhaps a word or two of explanation of this Bill would not be out of place, and I am prompted in that feeling by the remark of one of my colleagues recently who said to me, "What is a Minicoy, anyway?" Of course, Minicoy is a small coral island between the Laccadive and Maldive Islands on the East Coast of India. I am perfectly certain that it is charming and beautiful, and if I have taken no steps to check that, I think we should be happier if we continued to assume that it was.
During the eighteenth century Minicoy Island, together with the Southern Laccadive Islands, was in the possession of the Cannanore family, who also had estates on the Indian mainland. The head of this family, in which the succession went in the female line, as customary in that part of India, was known as the Adi Raja—the Prince of the Deep. In 1908 Imbichi Bibi, the lady who was the current Adi Raja, ceded her sovereignty over the Laccadive Islands and Minicoy to His Majesty the Emperor of India, to form 100 part of His Majesty's Indian dominions as from July 1, 1905. The 1935 India Act and the 1947 Indian Independence Act transferred the sovereignty over the Laccadive and Minicoy Islands from the United Kingdom to the Government of India.
But in 1885 the Board of Trade had built a lighthouse on this island, and this remained the property of the United Kingdom Government. Your Lordships may think that this is a little odd, but I am advised that as the Government of India Act, 1935, did not transfer the ownership of the Minicoy Light to the then Government of India, it followed that the title to this property remained undisturbed by the 1947 Act. In due course the Government of India suggested that as the lighthouse was situated on Indian territory it was not appropriate that it should be administered by an agency functioning outside India and they asked that it should be transferred "free of cost and with all its assets" to be administered by them.
The United Kingdom Government thought that was quite reasonable and proper, and the management of the lighthouse was taken over by the Indian Government on the 2nd April, 1956, it being understood that the legal transfer of the property and the clearance of the financial issues would be dealt with afterwards. At the end of 1958 the Indian Government asked for the early enactment of legislation to permit this to be done and were told that it would be introduced at the first opportunity, and this is it. The purpose of the Bill, therefore, is to empower my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport to transfer to the Indian Government the title to the lighthouse on Minicoy Island and also to hand over the assets attached to the lighthouse.
The financial position is rather complicated and I do not think I need go into the full details unless I am asked to do so. To cut a long story short, the Indian Government, since April, 1956, have borne the cost of running the Minicoy Light, but the dues which have continued to be collected and received by us since then are held in a separate account of the General Lighthouse Fund. The calculation of the other earlier assets in respect of this light as at April 2, 1956, has also been made, and this figure is assessed, as nearly as can be, at £15,000. 101 It is not possible to determine the figure quite precisely, because the Minicoy Light was one of a group of three from which it is now divorced. Apportionment is perhaps the right word to use, and this has been done as accurately as possible.
That sum of £15,000, plus the dues collected since April 2, 1956, which are estimated at about £10,000, and interest at the rate of 4 per cent. on the whole, will, if your Lordships grant the powers asked under this Bill, be paid to the Indian Government, from the General Lighthouse Fund. It is a question of regulating the position from one of de facto to one of de jure. I have nothing more to say except that the Indian Government have been informed of all this, and I hope your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Chesham.)
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, like the two previous Bills which were introduced this afternoon, this Bill is warmly supported by my noble friends on this side of the House. The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, in introducing the Bill, dealt with the early history of the islands. I would inform him that they have a longer history. In fact, they were discovered by Vasco da Gama in 1499 when he was making one of his great voyages to the eastern part of the world which, as we know, brought great wealth to Portugal and also to ourselves. The word "Minicoy' also has some significance to travellers though it depends on the direction in which they are travelling. If one is travelling East, the word "Minicoy" is a very pleasant sounding one, for once the Minicoy Lighthouse has been passed one is out of the monsoons and the rough weather; and when travelling West, the word "Minicoy has a rather evil sound, for then one runs into the bad weather.
102 I have only one query to make in regard to this Bill. In his final words the noble Lord said that the Indian Government have been informed of this Bill. I would ask the noble Lord the Minister whether he can assure the House that the terms of this Bill have received the approval of the Indian Government; because this is really a ratification of a business deal, and, obviously, if we are asked to ratify it we should have some assurance that the other party have also accepted the terms.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, on the particular point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, I would say that the Government of India have been fully informed on this matter. They have asked for this action for some considerable time, and the arrangements which I have explained to your Lordships have been put before them in full. While I cannot stand here and say that they have approved of them—and I have no knowledge that an actual approval has been signified—they have certainly not disapproved of or contested them in any way. I believe it has been worked out as fairly and squarely as can be, and I do not think the noble Lord need have any misgivings on the subject.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, can the noble Lord give an assurance that the Indian Government have had details of these terms for a time sufficiently long to have permitted them to object if they disapprove?
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.