§ 4.33 p.m.
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty The Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Solomon Islands 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 essential purpose of this Bill, in the words of the Long Title, is to:… make provision for, and in connection with, the attainment by Solomon Islands of independence within the CommonwealthBefore describing the contents of the Bill, I should like, in accordance with usage, to trace briefly the history of the Solomon Islands and the developments leading up to the introduction of the Bill. The Solomon Islands archipelago stretches approximately 900 miles in a southeasterly direction from the island of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea. There are six major islands. Of the total population of 200,000, about 90 per cent. are Melanesians, the remainder including some Polynesians, Micronesians, Europeans, Chinese and others.
The islands were given their name, in the mistaken assumption that they contained great riches, by a Spanish explorer in 1568. In the nineteenth century, with the demand for labour on overseas sugar plantations, Solomon Islanders were recruited in large numbers and taken to Fiji and Australia. In 1893, the British Government established a Protectorate over some of the islands, and in the early part of this century others were transferred by treaty from Germany to Great Britain. Before long, recruiting for the Australian canefields stopped, and copra plantations were established in the islands.
In the Second World War the Japanese invaded the islands and were only driven back after much hard fighting by 2004 American and allied forces. For nearly three years villages were bombed and people in those islands held by the Japanese lived in the hush. Many Solomon Islanders worked to help the allied forces and showed outstanding courage and loyalty.
Post-war recovery was slow. Government, Church, trading and plantation infrastructures had to be rebuilt. As part of a continuous process of constitutional evolution, a ministerial system of government was created in August 1974, and internal self-government was introduced in January 1976. The present Legislative Assembly consists of 38 elected members; a Council of Ministers headed by a Chief Minister is collectively responsible to the Assembly.
In September, 1977 a full constitutional conference took place under my chairmanship, and it was agreed that, subject to the approval of Parliament, the Solomon Islands should become independent, as a constitutional monarchy under Her Majesty, in mid-1978. The report of the conference was published as a White Paper (Cmnd. 6969) and presented to Parliament on 26th October, 1977.
I now come to the provisions of the Bill itself. Clause I provides for the independence of the Solomon Islands, within Her Majesty's Dominions, as from 7th July, 1978. Clauses 2 to 6 deal with nationality. The agreement eventually reached at the conference was that only those who are indigenous to the islands will acquire citizenship automatically on Independence Day. This will take care of the vast majority of the population. The non-indigenous minority, perhaps some 5,000, will be entitled to Solomon Islands citizenship if they apply for it in the period beginning six months before Independence Day and ending two years after Independence Day. This agreement will be given effect in Solomon Islands law in the independence Constitution.
For our part, Clauses 2 to 6 of the Bill before the House deal with what is to become of the British national status of those affected by the settlement. We expect those who do not acquire Solomon Islands citizenship automatically at independence, to take up their entitlement to it by applying within the period allowed. In dealing with the national status of these 2005 people in the period after Independence Day, the Bill does more than simply say (as is usual in independence Acts) that those who become citizens of the new State on Independence Day are thereupon to lose their British national status.
Clause 2 of the Bill provides that citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies who have, within Clause 3, a connection with the Solomon Islands, shall lose that citizenship on becoming citizens of Solomon Islands. If they have not become Solomon Islands citizens by 7th July, 1980—that is, at the end of the two and a half year period of application, from six months before Independence Day to two years after Independence Day—they are to lose United Kingdom citizenship on that day, and if they would otherwise be Stateless, are to become British protected persons. Clause 3 defines those who have a connection with the Solomon Islands for the purposes of Clause 2. It excludes from the definition those who continue to have a close connection with the United Kingdom or a remaining dependency.
Clause 4 provides that British protected persons of the Solomon Islands protectorate shall cease to be such on becoming citizens of Solomon Islands. Those w ho do not become such citizens by 7th July 1980 and would otherwise be Stateless are to remain British protected persons only until they acquire that or any other citizenship. In the same way, those who become British protected persons under Clause 2(4) shall also lose that status on acquiring citizenship of Solomon Islands or any other country.
Clause 5 makes special provision, along usual lines in independence Acts, as to the status of married women. Clause 6 deals with construction of the nationality provisions. Clause 7 and the Schedule deal with consequential modifications of other enactments. Clause 8 deals with any appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council that may be pending at independence. Clauses 9 and 10 deal with interpretation and citation.
Perhaps I may now turn, my Lords, to more general matters not covered by the Bill but about which the House may well wish to be informed. We have for many years operated a programme of aid and technical assistance for the Solomon 2006 Islands. This will continue after independence. Apart from our substantial programme of technical co-operation we shall be providing development aid of up to £18 million in the first four years of independence. There will be additional development aid in the form of special project grants totalling £5 million, and budgetary assistance totalling up to £3 million. The whole of this aid programme, amounting to £26 million, will be on grant terms. We have also secured an increase from £4 million to £6 million in the allocation to the Solomon Islands from the European Development Fund over a period of five years.
I am glad to say that prospects for the Solomon Islands after independence are promising, although economic development will depend for some considerable time on outside aid donors. In addition to British and European Development Fund aid, a substantial aid programme from Australia and a very useful though smaller one from New Zealand have already begun. The Japanese Government recently sent an economic mission to the Solomon Islands to discuss their policy about future aid, which is to begin upon independence. The Solomon Islands also expect to benefit from their membership of the Asian Development Bank and their proposed membership of the World Bank, and they intend to accede to the Lomé Convention.
My Lords, may I say that many people have contributed to the successful outcome of the processes which have led to the introduction of this Bill. In particular, I should like to thank my right honourable friend the Minister of Overseas Development for her help with the generous aid provisions. But, above all, this is the occasion to congratulate the Solomon Islands Government, and especially the honourable Peter Kenilorea, the Chief Minister, for the statesmanlike way in which he and his colleagues have worked to ensure a successful and peaceful future for the Solomon Islands. Our long association with their country and the friendship between us will endure, I am certain, for very many years to come.
My Lords, the Solomon Islands have already expressed their intention to join the Commonwealth. They are to become, indeed, a Parliamentary Monarchy, 2007 like us; and I am glad that it is as fellow members of the Commonwealth that we have the prospect of continuing the close ties that exist between us. My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Goronwy- Roberts.)
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
My Lords, after the bitter squabbles between the botanists and the other different varieties of wild creature lovers on the subject we were previously debating in your Lordships' House, I hope it will be a pleasure which spreads to all those who are assembled here today to look at this Bill and to welcome it. Speaking on behalf of noble Lords sitting on this side of the House, I should very much like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, for what he has said in introducing this Bill and, if I may, to congratulate him personally on the important part that he, with his customary efficiency and charm, has played in conducting the negotiations or discussions that led up to the Solomon Islands becoming a constitutional Monarchy within the Commonwealth.
Without wishing in any way to dissent from the good wishes which he has sent on our behalf to the Solomon Islands on their new status, I hope I may ask him one or two questions about particular aspects of this Bill, because I think the matters on which I wish to touch are those which may interest other Members of your Lordships' House. Perhaps the first subject with which I could deal is the question of citizenship. The noble Lord will remember, as will the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that I have taken an interest in this subject for some years, and all I have learned is that it becomes more difficult to understand the more you know about it. So the first point I should like to put to the noble Lord is this. On the calculations made by Her Majesty's Government to date, on the basis of what they have put in the Bill, what are the implications as to the numbers of people likely to want to come to this country, and what is the change in their rights to do so?
Secondly, so far as British protected persons are concerned, do these people 2008 have a right to a passport? If so, what sort of a passport is it, and to what sort of rights do those passports entitle their possessors? Otherwise, what does the status of "British protected person" for those who do not fall within the other categories laid down in the Bill really mean in the case of those who have no other form of nationality or citizenship to which to turn?
I was particularly interested in what the noble Lord had to say about the various forms of grants and aid that the Solomon islanders were likely to receive, and he gave us some new information beyond that contained in Annexe C of Command Paper 6969, published last October. I was particularly pleased that he was able to tell your Lordships that the European Development Fund has been able to make some assistance available to the Solomon islanders. I wonder whether he could tell us a little more about the nature of this help. I think he mentioned a time within which it had to be repaid. Can the noble Lord give us a little more detail about the precise terms on which this aid is to he Oven and can he also say, with the renegotiation of the Lome Convention now getting under way, whether there is any prospect of the Solomon Islands being considered for membership of the States which have acceded to that Convention? If not, could he say whether Her Majesty's Government are suggesting within the institutions of the EEC that there are any other avenues which the Solomon Islanders could pursue?
When I studied the provisions that have been laid down for the Constitution of the Solomon Islands I thought that they were very lucky indeed, and in many ways seemed to be better protected than we are, certainly so far as concerns the provisions for the amendment of the Constitution and the provisions for the protection of fundamental rights. Having sat as a Member of your Lordships' Select Committee on the Bill of Rights, I am certain that they are going to do very well indeed if these provisions are honoured, as I am sure they will be. In that connection, can the noble Lord say which particular electoral system the Solomon Islands use at the moment and whether that system will be changed by the procedures that will be set in motion by the passage of this Bill?
2009 I wonder whether the noble Lord, perhaps at a later stage of the Bill, can give us some further details of what will be the actual nature of the Constitution itself. I do not think that this is included either in the Bill or in the White Paper. It would be rather interesting to see how Her Majesty's Government, in consultation with the people of the Solomon Islands, have worked out what they think is the best way forward for this new member of the Commonwealth.
My Lords, I do not want to detain the House any further. I hope that we can all add our voices to the chorus of welcome to this new nation and that this Bill will pass speedily through this House so that the independence, which I am sure we all hope will be the success that the noble Lord led us to believe it would be, can become a fact as soon as possible.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Lord AVEBURY
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, I am interested in some of the provisions of this Bill regarding nationality and would be grateful if during his winding-up speech the Minister could give us one or two reassurances; because I think, if one looks at this Bill, it seems to give an indication of what may be expected from a major British Nationality Act (following the Green Paper published a year ago) before there has been any proper discussion about the Green Paper or agreement on the form that such legislation ought to take. I say that because of two main points which appear to arise out of the Bill.
One is the fact that all possibility of retaining any effective form of British nationality is to be cut off from anybody who acquires the new Solomon Islands citizenship or any other nationality; that is to say, no dual nationality is to be allowed. That seems to pre-empt the decision which is set out in paragraph 62 of the Green Paper where three choices are provided. The first of these is a complete ban on dual nationality where it arises, either voluntarily or involuntarily; but, after that, two alternatives are set out for consideration. What it seems to me that we are doing under this Bill is to settle for the first of those three choices in paragraph 62 of the Green Paper 2010 before Parliament has had any chance of considering the other two.
The second feature of this Bill to which I should like to draw attention is that any one now having any form of British nationality in the Solomon Islands and who does not acquire the new Solomon Islands citizenship will be made a British protected person. That means taking away citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies from a number of people who now hold it and is making them instead British protected persons. That is a status which will have no meaning or use once the Solomon Islands are independent. As the noble Lord is aware, British protected persons are treated in many respects under our law in the same way as aliens. Their rights of entry are non-existent and their other rights are somewhat doubtful. All they have, if they are outside a Protectorate, is a chance to apply for a British passport, which will not admit them into Great Britain. Thus, a British protected person in the Solomon Islands under this Bill will be in the same situation as is the proposed British overseas citizen in the Government Green Paper published last April. In effect, they will have nationality in name but without substance. I do not have enough background information on the Solomon Islands to know who is likely to be affected by these provisions, although it is clear from the Bill that anyone of British origin or descent would keep his or her United Kingdom and Colonies citizenship.
The noble Lord told us that some 180,000 out of the 200,000 inhabitants of the Solomon Islands are Melanesians. Apart from that, I understand that there are something like 6,000 Polynesians, 2,000 Micronesians, 1,280 Europeans and 577 Chinese; with a few others; and I do not know what they will be. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that these are the minorities living in the Islands. The noble Lord spoke about those indigenous to the Islands acquiring citizenship automatically on Independence Day. I should be grateful if he were to expand on this and to say who count as indigenous and who as non-indigenous. He said that the non-indigenous would he given citizenship if they applied for it within six months before Independence or two years after it. Presumably, those of European or Chinese origin would be 2011 counted as non-indigenous and would have to apply for naturalisation in the manner he described.
If one looks at the immigration orders of the Solomon Islands itself, mention is there made of British subjects and it specifically says that, for the purpose of the immigration orders, that includes British protected persons even though, under our law, the two kinds of status are quite different. I suppose that it has never really mattered whether a person is a British protected person because so few of them would in fact apply for a passport; not many of the inhabitants of the Solomon Islands would travel. I would rather guess that the Chinese inhabitants of the Solomon Islands are United Kingdom and Colonies citizens derived perhaps from Hong Kong, Singapore or Malaysia. They may be those who are most at risk of beimg deprived of their citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies and forced into becoming British protected persons.
I should be grateful if the noble Lord were to say in his winding-up speech whether those are the people most affected. I would emphasise that this Bill differs from all previous independence legislation in the way I have described, because previous laws have been drafted in such a way that anyone who held the status of citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies retained that status after Independence unless he or she acquired the citizenship of the newly independent State. We are making an extremely important and, perhaps, unsatisfactory departure from precedent in this law as the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, has implied. This we may have to return to on Committee, subject to what the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, says in his winding-up.
Notwithstanding these criticisms, I should like to add my voice on behalf of my noble friends, and indeed of the Liberal Party as a whole, to the congratulations which have been expressed to those who are responsible for the negotiations—to the chief Minister and his colleagues in the Solomon Islands and to the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts —for the extremely amicable and smooth way in which they have proceeded to reach agreement. I should like to express our 2012 warmest good wishes to the Chief Minister and the people of the Solomon Islands for the happiness and prosperity of their country when independence arrives.
§ 5.1 p.m.
Lord BA LLANTRAE
My Lords, obviously, I would like to endorse what has been said in sending good wishes to the Chief Minister and the people of the Solomon Islands. I have never been there; I once spent five days in 1961 in what was then Dutch New Guinea, trying to get to the Solomon Islands in a schooner, but was frustrated by wind and waves. However, I do know many of the islands of the South Pacific, and I have seen progress towards independence in Tonga, Somoa, Tahiti and elsewhere. It fell to me, in fact, to be the instrument whereby autonomy was conferred on the Cook Islands in 1965; so I do know something of the conditions and I do know that the auspices for such a group of islands as the Solomons are very good indeed.
My only reason for speaking, apart from wishing to extend my best wishes for what is coming, is to voice certain misgivings I have on behalf of the British and Australian settlers in those Islands. Until about 1960 or even after that, people were encouraged to settle there and to invest there. Most are companies, some of them big companies, for whom the loss of their plantations will only be a flea-bite. Some are small companies, for whom the loss will be more serious, and some are individuals—small people who sank their all there in the past with every encouragement from us. Their future now looks a little bit dubious and I am concerned about them. I am all the more concerned because of course they are thousands of miles away and cannot make their voices heard in Whitehall, London, SW1.
Of course it is no good crying over spilt milk, but I have the feeling that, during the negotiations between Her Majesty's Government and the Solomon Islands Administration which led up to the present situation, rather more interest was taken in the future of other categories than in that of the British and Australian settlers. For instance, there are two categories of Gilbertese Islanders. Some are individuals who settled there, and some were settled by the British Government's Colonial Administration. If I have got 2013 this right—and, if I am wrong, I must apologise—I understand that the rights of tenure of the Gilbertese who were settled by direct British encouragement have been safeguarded in direct negotiations. The rights of the remaining Gilbertese and of the other settlers have not been so safeguarded. Those with freeholds are being told that they will or may be given instead leaseholds of up to 75 years. That is a very poor substitute for a freehold. Also, there are rumours that, when compensation is being discussed a freehold and a 75-year leasehold will be treated as being of equal value. That seems to be wrong.
I regret that, during the negotiations, fewer safeguards were secured for the categories of people I have mentioned than might perhaps have been negotiated. Of course, I realise that land tenure in the Solomons has been a Solomon Islands matter for more than two years past, and that that is water over the cataract. However, I should now like to ask whether there are any steps still open to Her Majesty's Government to safeguard the interests of these people. I take some encouragement from a communication, which is not marked "confidential - and which I have had from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, saying that they will watch the situation closely, including the amount of any compensation offered by the Solomon Islands Government, and that they will be willing to take the matter up should there appear to be a miscarriage of justice in the future. I quote that because I want to get it on the record that Her Majesty's Government will look after the interests of those people should the eventual allocation of compensation by the courts in the Solomon Islands appear to be inadequate. I think there is a precedent arising in connection with other countries—notably Kenya—where compensation has been forthcoming for people who seem, by our standards, to have had a raw deal.
I will excuse your Lordships from listening to more extracts from the notes I have in front of me. I know the Solomon Islanders are Melanesians, but I am sure that they will not resent good wishes being sent to them in traditional Polynesian form. This is a traditional Polynesian blessing:May the sun sparkle for you on the sea on the new journey on which you are setting out.2014 I think that that voices the feeling of us all.
Lord BRUCE of DONINGTON
My Lords, perhaps it may be appropriate if Back-Benchers on this side give some expression of appreciation to my noble friend in respect of the considerable efforts that he and others have made to procure the happy result expressed in this Bill today. I am particularly interested in that part of his speech and in the remarks of the noble Lord opposite regarding the adherence of a newly independent State to the Lomé Convention and also its possible receipts from the European Development Fund.
In this connection I would add only one point. I do hope that the newly independent State, in joining those countries which are members of the Lome Convention, will give adequate support to those other members who believe in the preservation of human rights. Over the past few years, there has been some distress in the European Economic Community over the fact that quite a few countries which are in receipt of aid from Europe and indeed from Member States, have singularly failed to preserve human rights in their own territories. In some cases, I regret to say, acts of abominable brutality have occurred in such countries. Therefore, it is my earnest hope that the new independent State may be a powerful buttress of those forces within the developing countries which still steadfastly believe in the necessity for the preservation of human rights and dignity.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
My Lords, I am very pleased indeed with the general welcome that has been expressed in all parts of the House in respect of the advent of the Solomon Islands as, I think, the 36th member of the Commonwealth. Moreover, I repeat that, like us, it will be a Parliamentary Monarchy—not a bad description for the highest form of constitutional arrangement.
The noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, raised a number of questions relating to the citizenship provisions of the Bill. For instance, he asked what numbers were likely to want to come to this country as a result of these arrangements. The answer must be that the legislation does not 2015 affect the number of people in the Solomon Islands who are patrial under the Immigration Act and who are therefore able to enter and live in the United Kingdom. I presume that he, like the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, had in mind also the related question of what happens to the non-indigenous (as I think it is convenient to define the minority I referred to) if at the end of the day they have not applied for Solomon Islands citizenship. The answer is that, clearly, only a very tiny and almost accidental minority will not have applied for citizenship in the country in which they have lived and worked for a considerable number of years. The procedures for appraising them, wherever they are, of their right to apply are very comprehensive and are already in effect. Indeed, the flow of applications is proceeding very rapidly.
Throughout these discussions, I asked and asked, "Why do you provide for people who have every right of application, and an automatic right of citizenship as a result of that?" and they replied, "Just in case, for some reason that we cannot explain to you, Minister, there are people among them who have not applied. They shall not be stateless; they shall be protected persons." The definition of that, of course, is that they will come under the guidance and protection of the United Kingdom. They will be issued with a passport, which will enable them to travel, and they will cease to have protected status only when they qualify for, or take up, another citizenship.
Let us envisage a person who, with his family, has lived and worked in the Solomon Islands, but for some reason has not applied within the due dates. He then becomes a British protected person. He knows what the position is, and yet he does not apply and he acquires that status. There is nothing, I should imagine, to prevent him from re-applying beyond that date, and it will only be when he achieves citizenship, either of the Solomon Islands—which I think would be natural for him—or of some other country, that the British protected status will cease.
The point is that, whether the population is indigenous or non-indigenous, it has an avenue to Solomon Islands citizenship. If people did not avail themselves of the 2016 opportunity, then it would be possible for a State like ours to ask, "Well, what more can we do?" But we say more than that. We say that we will not allow them to become Stateless. We will give them a status from which they can attain citizenship of some country or other, and I would say that the normal, natural country for them to become citizens of is the Solomon Islands.
There is a good deal that one could say about this subject, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked some detailed questions. I do not want to detain the House on questions of citizenship, because, as we all know, we could go on for a very long time on questions of nationality and citizenship. But I should like to say this much in answer to his questions. Whatever form and content there will be to the Nationality Act, which is, so far, still in a protected status—it has not emerged beyond the chrysalis of paper—I do not think that anything in this Bill will cut across its provisions. Even if it did, everything in this Bill—and here I must speak frankly to the noble Lord—relating to nationality and citizenship is there at the request of the Solomon Islands Ministers and leaders. This is how they wanted it. They wanted the two categories. I do not want to enlarge upon this, but they wanted it in this way; that the indigenous would automatically on Independence Day become Solomon Islands citizens, but that the non-indigenous, including the categories which the noble Lord quoted to me, would have to apply, and I had no recourse but to agree to what the Solomon Islands leaders wanted.
§ Lord AVEBURY
My Lords, I am sure that the Solomon Islands authorities would not have expressed any opinion about whether a tiny minority who failed to acquire citizenship within two years of the Act should be left with British protected person status, or should retain citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies. If the number is as small as the noble Lord says—even to vanishing point, as would seem from the remarks which he has addressed to the House—why should they not be allowed to retain their citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies?
§ Lord BALLANTRAE
My Lords, may I intervene at this point? It seems to me 2017 too late now to alter what has been negotiated, and the best thing we can ask Her Majesty's Government to do is to watch the interests of those whom the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and I have in mind.
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
Yes, my Lords, and to be absolutely fair to the United Kingdom, which is sometimes a rather unusual experience, I exerted myself to get the best possible terms for the Solomon Islands, and all the people in those Islands, and to get as clear-cut a provision on citizenship and nationality as I could. What I did get was what the Solomon Islands leadership wanted. Therefore, there is enshrined in this Bill precisely what the internal self-governing authority of the Solomon Islands wanted to get into it. Everything that the noble Lord urges on me was almost everything I urged on them, but this is the net result. If the noble Lord would like it, I will give him a detailed paper upon these questions.
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
I do not, in sum, expect that there will be any difficulties about this. The Chief Minister and others assured me that they would operate the Constitution, including these provisions, in what we all refer to as the Pacific way, and there is a reality in that technique of dealing with individuals and minorities.
I pass on to questions of aid, which the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, raised. He asked whether, in addition to the EDF and the Lome Convention, there were other sources of aid for the Solomon Islands, as for others, which we, as a friend of these countries in the Community, would look out for and try to use to advantage. He is aware of various instances where we have already done this. It would be invidious to name various countries and what they have got, but say publicly that we will apply to the Solomon Islands the same friendly technique of, if you like, intercession, in regard to whatever is possible for them from Community sources as we have done for other erstwhile dependencies which have become independent countries.
I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who asked about details of the 2018 Constitution. This is in process of being printed, and I see no reason why I should not undertake to make available copies of the Constitution. It will certainly be widely published in the Solomon Islands and I imagine that, at least in some quarters, there will he an equal interest in it in this country. As soon as it is ready, I will make it available to noble Lords who are interested.
The only other point with which I shall deal at this juncture— there is always the Third Reading—is that raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae. He was courteous enough to set out, in what I would, without presumption, describe as a most able letter to my office, the points in regard to security of land tenure, compensation and the other matters which he raised this afternoon. I know that in the course of his remarks he asked only for one assurance to go on the record. We have replied to the request for information which the noble Lord made to us.
I do not think that we have met all of his requirements. The difficulty is that long before independence, during the period of internal self-government, our control over legislation, over ordinances, was nil. The British Government's responsibility was confined to internal order, external relations and defence. Everything else— home affairs and economic affairs, including land tenure and land transfer—was entirely within the powers of the internal government of the Solomon Islands. How much more so in independence! Once internal self-government had been granted to them, there was no way in which we could interfere with what is common form in regard to the rights of territories. However, once more I go on record to say that if the processes of assessment, of valuation, in connection with arrangements for compensation, seem to the United Kingdom Government to be in any case unfair or inequitable, then most certainly we shall take up the matter directly with the Government of the Solomon Islands.
I make no comment on the relative value of a 75-year lease as compared with freehold. I am advised that in the islands the value in cash terms may well be not very much different—indeed, that leases with 30 or 40 years to run command something like the purchase price for freehold. I do not know about that, but it is reassuring to think that this may be so. If, 2019 however, there is unfairness—a departure from the provisions contained in their Constitution and their law, which, as good friends of theirs, seems to us to be unfair, then most certainly, as with any other country, we shall take up the matter. But I do believe that they intend to act fairly and equitably.
The noble Lord touched on the question of the Gilbertese. I think he would agree with me that the situation of the Gilbertese is somewhat different. They were placed there by the British Crown at a time when this was clearly the best, indeed the only, thing to do with them. We have a certain obligation towards them. We have argued on the basis of that obligation, and the Solomon Islands have made concessions. It has not been quite so feasible for me to argue the case for the other class of landowners. There are not very many of them. as the noble Lord knows, but one inequitable case would he enough certainly for my Department and for the Government to take it up.
With those remarks, may I once more thank the House and ask that the Bill standing in my name he read a second time.
§ Lord BALLANTRAE
My Lords, before the Minister resumes his seat, I should like to thank him for the most generous and forthcoming sympathy which he has shown for the points which I put to him.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.