§ 2.22 p.m.
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, that the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Goronwy-Roberts.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1 [Independence for Solomon Islands]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
Perhaps this would be an appropriate opportunity for me to fulfil my promise to the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, on Second Reading to give some more information about the aid arrangements with the Solomon Islands on their assumption of independence and also on one or two other points he raised.
The amount of aid from the European Development Fund is likely to be approximately £6 million, payable over a period of five years from 1978 to 1982 inclusive. The following projects are being given priority by the Government and are under detailed consideration by the Commission: the telephone exchange scheme for Honiara, the capital; a fisheries training school and technical assistance in town planning for Honiara. The precise terms of the assistance have not yet been decided, but it will be partly on grant terms and partly on loan terms; the loan terms will be very soft indeed, at 1 per cent. interest repayable over 40 years and with a grace period of 10 years.
The noble Lord also asked whether the Solomon Islands would be considered for membership of the States which have acceded to the Lome Convention. The answer is yes. As he knows, Article 89 of the Convention provides for dependencies, on becoming independent, to have an automatic right to accede to the Lome Convention. The Solomon Islands Government have already expressed a wish to accede and they have been asked to make a formal application, which I understand is now in transit. At a meeting of the ACP countries, it was decided to inform the EEC Council of Ministers of their support for Solomon Islands participation and the Community has similarly welcomed the application.
626 The noble Lord also asked about the electoral system in the Islands. The country is divided into 38 single-member constituencies on the basis of universal adult suffrage. There is provision in the Constitution for a General Election to be held every four years and, from Independence Day, the Legislative Assembly will be known as the National Parliament, but —and this was a point he placed commendable stress on—the electoral system will remain in independence as it is now, fundamentally the same.
Finally, the noble Lord asked for further details about the nature of the Constitution itself. We have had, on the margin as it were, certain exchanges on this point and I shall content myself with saying from this Box that this is, as he knows, a lengthy document. It is being printed and copies will be available to noble Lords who are interested. No doubt the noble Lord will raise any other point which he thinks I have left out, but I think those were the important points he raised on Second Reading which I had no time to answer.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
I am most grateful for the information which the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, has just given us. Perhaps he may be able to say at a later stage of the Bill when the Constitution w ill be generally available, or when it is thought that it is likely to be generally available and, therefore, when it will be possible for your Lordships to see it. Meanwhile, I thank him very much for the comments that he has made in elaborating the information that he gave on Second Reading.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Clause 2 [Effect of independence on British nationality]:
§ The CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Lord Aberdare)
I have to point out that, if this Amendment is agreed to, I cannot call the second Amendment.
§ Lord AVEBURY moved the first Amendment:
§ Page 2, line 16, leave out subsection (4).
§ The noble Lord said: I was going to ask whether it might not be for the convenience of the Committee if we discussed 627 Amendment No. 2 at the same time as I am moving Amendment No. 1. May I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, for the comprehensive way in which he provided the information on the nationality provisions of this Bill immediately after the Second Reading and the references to the draft Constitution, which, as I understand it from his letter, is very unlikely to be materially altered between now and Independence Day. I must say how grateful I am to him for enabling me to follow these provisions much more readily than I would have been able to do solely from looking at the Bill. One really has to see the Constitution itself, as well as the Bill, to understand the full implications.
§ I am not in any way moving from the opinion that I expressed on Second Reading that we are dealing here with a very serious matter; that is, the creation of a constitutional precedent of depriving a person of citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies which he now holds without any right of appeal and the possibility that, once such a precedent is enshrined in the Statute Book, it might be applied to other and very much larger groups of people than we are dealing with here.
§ The noble Lord has explained in more detail than he did on Second Reading that the vast majority of the people living in the Solomon Islands are, in fact, indigenous and will obtain citizenship of the Solomon Islands automatically on Independence Day, but there are something like 5,000 non-indigenous people entitled to a grant of Solomon islands citizenship if they apply for it either during the period of six months prior to Independence Day or within two years after it, culminating in the date of the Bill, which is 7th July 1980.
§ In the notes which he has been kind enough to let me have, the noble Lord has explained that, out of these 5,000 non-indigenous people, there are something like 3,000 who would not be liable to forfeit their status as citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies in any case because they have a connection either with the United Kingdom itself or with one of the remaining dependencies; in fact, most of these people are persons who were born in the Gilbert Islands or whose 628 fathers were born there. So we are dealing with the residual minority of well under 2,000 persons who are non-indigenous and not entitled after the two years to retain citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies.
§ It is still not absolutely clear to me who these people are. I asked on Second Reading whether I was right in assuming that many of them might be people of Chinese ethnic origin who live in the Solomon Islands, although it did occur to me after making this suggestion that if possession of citizenship stemmed from their connection with Hong Kong, they would of course be entitled to retain it. If, on the other hand, any of them were refugees from Mainland China who had transited to Hong Kong and finished up in the Solomon Islands—I am speaking hypothetically here—then they would be non-indigenous; they would possibly have acquired citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies in some way or another but would not be entitled to retain it two years afterwards. So I am still not absolutely clear who are these people in this residual minority of 2,000 who are likely to be affected.
§ Looking at the Solomon Islands draft Constitution, it is absolutely clear that citizenship is given to any person having a connection with the Solomon Islands, as defined in the Bill; that is set out in some detail in Section 21. Then there are provisions which enable the Minister responsible for citizenship to extend the period beyond two years, where the applicant was unaware of his right of reply either by reason of his absence from the Solomon Islands, presumably throughout the whole of this period, or for some other reasonable cause. So the Constitution envisages the possibility that a person might be deprived of his citizenship automatically, and with no right of appeal. That is why the Minister is given the power to extend the period.
§ My Lords, with the greatest respect, I think that this would be, if it were allowed to stand in the Bill, a very illiberal provision, one which I do not think I have ever seen the like of in all the independence legislation which has come before Parliament during the 15 years in which I have been a Member of either House. I suggest that we ought to reconsider the matter very carefully before we take away 629 citizenship even from such a small number of people without providing them with any right of appeal.
§ Having said that, I assume that, although the Solomon Islands Constitution does not actually say so in terms, there would be the equivalent of an appeal to the High Court; if someone who thought they were qualified, who has a connection as set out in the Bill, and put in an application to be registered as a citizen, were refused it, there must be some machinery for that to be dealt with in the Solomon Islands courts. It would be interesting to know what that is.
§ The Solomon Islands representatives at the negotiations, I understood, wanted to draw a distinction between the indigenous and non-indigenous inhabitants, and this is the reason why we find these provisions in the Bill. That might be thought to indicate that they had some reservations, of however nebulous a character, about granting citizenship to non-indigenous people, and that, while it may appear to be perfectly clear in the Consititution that these people have an absolute right, when they come to exercise it some difficulties might be put in their way.
§ I suggest that we have got to consider three separate possibilities. The first is that somebody who claims to have a connection may nevertheless be refused, on the grounds that he has failed to prove that he comes within one or other of the categories mentioned in Section 20(3) of the draft Constitution. For example, a woman who says that she is married to an indigenous Solomon Islander may present her marriage certificate. The Minister responsible for citizenship then says that the marriage certificate is invalid, and that she is not a person who qualifies as being married to an indigenous Solomon Islander.
§ The second possibility that I could imagine is that an applicant, while in fact being a qualified person as set out in Clause 20(3), had not given all the information which is required under the following subsection, or had made some error in the particulars. The noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, will find, when he comes to examine that part of the Consitution, that no provision is made for this eventuality. Let us suppose that a person 630 waits until the last moment before formulating his application, and that he has made an error in his date of birth, quite inadvertently. Is that going to invalidate the application? Could the Minister say that he has not made out a case for Solomon Islands citizenship because the particulars that are required to be provided under Clause 20(4) have not been correctly provided? The third possibility which occurs to me is that, within the two years before the deadline, the grant of citizenship to persons who make these applications might become discretionary rather than mandatory through an amendment to the Constitution.
I should like to emphasise that I am not suggesting that these matters are in the minds of Ministers in the Solomon Islands. But things do change rapidly: as we know, in other countries which have obtained their independence, another set of Ministers might take over who could amend the Constitution so as to deprive these non-indigenous inhabitants of the rights which they now possess. This is NV h y my second Amendment makes the proposal that if a person has formulated and submitted an application he must be registered as a citizen. It does not say that the application has to be in the correct form. It seems to me to provide some lesser safeguard than Amendment No. 1, which I very much prefer, as a more reliable way of securing the rights of the people about whom I am concerned.
I must say to the Minister that the second Amendment is very much second best, because it does not take into account the possibility I mentioned a few minutes ago, that a person could be unaware of the requirement that he should apply within two years. I repeat that it seems to me to be a very serious matter that a person should be deprived of United Kingdom citizenship. At the very least there ought to be satisfactory appeal procedures against unfair deprivation in this matter.
While there may well be provisions in the Solomon Islands Constitution which I have not examined, which allow the matter to be tested in their own court, we are after all discussing United Kingdom citizens, and it seems to me that from this Bill there is lack of any provision whereby the person whose citizenship is taken away from him can come to the courts of this country and see that justice is done. 631 I hope the Minister will be able to give me some assurances on these points before we allow this Bill to go forward. I beg to move.
§ 2.39 p.m.
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for the temperate and, if I may say so without presumption, logical way in which he has advanced what I regard as very important points. He has not addressed himself in the usual manner to either of the two Amendments standing in his name, nor will I attempt the normal rebuttal of the Amendments, other than to say this: I believe he understands, although he does not accept, why Her Majesty's Government is unable to accept either Amendment. I do not think that I need to rehearse the reasons. But I wish to give him the fullest possible assurances on the principal points he has raised. They are important points.
I come to those points on the basis of what I said during Second Reading, and on the basis of the prolonged, very friendly but very closely argued independence conference that was held here last September. The provisions of the Bill with regard to citizenship arise from the insistent attitude of the Solomon Islands leaders, speaking for their people, that this is the way they want to do it. The point the noble Lord raised about this creating a precedent is therefore an important one.
I want to say at once that this is sui generis. This is applicable to this particular Bill, arising from the particular insistence that we met when we discusssed—again in a very friendly manner—all the matters relating to independence with our friends of the Solomon Islands. So I think I can say without reservation that this does not create a precedent. These provisions have neither ancestry nor posterity. I quite agree with the noble Lord that I cannot call to mind any previous independence Bill which contained quite this provision, nor can I envisage, knowing as I do what is in the offing with regard to certain dependants, a repetition of quite this arrangement. That is the first point of assurance I want to give to the noble Lord.
The second is this. He made a very strong point about someone—a non- 632 indigenous person—who had been refused Solomon Islands citizenship after applying in this way, asking whether he would have a right of appeal. Yes, there is a provision in the Constitution for the High Court of the Islands to determine questions of interpretation, including citizenship provisions. As to his point that there may be a right of appeal in the United Kingdom in relation to what he called "deprivation of citizenship", he will not expect me to answer that point immediately today, and it is not essential that I should attempt to do so.
I take the point very carefully on board. I believe I know the answer but it is of some consequence to the argument of the noble Lord and therefore I would ask him to allow me to inform him between now and Third Reading of the precise position about such an appeal. Suffice it to say that, if a person in the Solomons has not succeeded—and I find it very difficult to envisage any of the indigenous elements that we are dealing with not succeeding—and if all the provisions, including the provision for applying for naturalisation, which are in the Constitution somehow —and I used the word" accidentally " during the Second Reading debate—leave somebody footloose and possibly stateless, then the provision in Clause 2(4) would apply. I fear I cannot accept Amendments on that, mainly if not entirely because it was the desire of the applicant's dependency that the matter should be dealt with in this way.
§ Baroness ELLES
Will the noble Lord allow me to intervene? This is clearly a matter of great importance to the individual rights of any citizen, regardless of colour or ethnic origin, in the Solomon Islands. I wonder, while we are on this point, whether the Minister can tell us what measures are being taken by United Kingdom representatives to warn and advise citizens of their position. We have only to recall what happened in Uganda, when many thousands of British subjects were left stateless because of lack of clarity, lack of definition and lack of advice. I should be most grateful if the noble Lord could comment.
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
I am most grateful for the interjection of the noble Baroness, as I also regard this 633 matter as of immense importance. Succeeding Governments have learned from previous experience of these situations and I am assured that we on our part and the media in the Islands—through the radio and newspapers and by active information efforts—have taken every possible step to assure everybody of his position, his potential position and what he needs to do. This has been made known in various ways to Solomon Islanders who may be outside the country—and of course islanders are properly peripatetic. The arrangements are very good and the applications are coming in in a fair number and are being processed in good faith and with efficiency.
This brings me to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, concerning the numbers. He gave the numbers—very precisely, if I may say so—of a total population of a little under 200,000. About 90 per cent. are Melanesian and are of course regarded as indigenous. About 8,000 are Polynesian. This gives a non-indigenous population, as he said, of about 5,000, of whom fully 2,500 are Gilbertese, and their position in regard to their citizenship continues, as he said. They are Micronesian, not regarded as indigenous. There are about 1,400 Europeans, Australians and New Zealanders, and about 500 Chinese. In addition, there is a small number of people of Fijian and other descent. As I said, only the Melanesians and the Polynesians are regarded as indigenous. The indigenous —who I reckon amount to 97 or 98 per cent. of the total population—will automatically become Solomon Islands citizens at independence. The remainder will be required to apply for registration as citizens.
This brings me to another point, which is the third point of assurance I want to put to the noble Lord and to the House, because we are all concerned that these things should go forward properly. I have every confidence that the Solomon Islands Government will deal with the small minority so that the process of application to be registered as citizens will go forward in a fair and satisfactory manner. No doubt they will acquaint themselves with, or possibly be apprised of, the exchanges in this noble House. I think that they will read with interest, and indeed avidity, what has been said on this as well as on other points. It is good that two 634 friendly countries within the Commonwealth—two Parliamentary Monarchies—should exchange their Parliamentary Papers in this way. I think, too, having regard to the worthy reputation of the noble Lord in the field of human rights, that the Solomon Islanders will regard what he has said as a further encouragement to proceed in these matters in what they, and we, call the pacific way, so that nobody is left abandoned and hopeless. If by. accident somebody were to emerge in that way, then we think the fair and sensible way to deal with it would be through the provisions of Clause 2(4).
Further, I want to say this to the noble Lord. He rightly raised the point of applications which might fail in the event of perhaps minor errors or an insufficiency of documentation. People in this country occasionally have to hunt for their driving licence and may find a certain difficulty in finding it, and it is perfectly possible that in the Solomon Islands—as the noble Lord very reasonably said—people may fall into default in their application because of minor errors or insufficiency of documentation. It may not be so easy to document an application in every respect. I can assure you that, if that happens, there is every possibility of a revised application; it can be put in again. Indeed, if they need assistance from any quarter in order to revive the application, they will certainly get it.
So I do not see that there is any real possibility of our ending up with the creation of a new, independent State within the Commonwealth where there is unfairness and hazard and difficulty for any of the people with whom we are dealing. I know that the noble Lord would wish it to be done in the traditional way. So would I. But, knowing how deeply the Solomon Islanders feel about this and having their full and conclusive undertakings of how they will operate this process of citizenship, I am completely confident myself that we can look forward, on the basis of this Bill, to the launching on an excellent basis of this State as an independent member of the Commonwealth.
If things continue as they are, we shall continue to have very strong links with them—I have mentioned a few this afternoon again in giving certain details to the noble Lord. And links join 635 together to form chains, not of bondage but of co-operation. We look to them to operate this Bill in the pacific way. We are confident that they will. They look to us for continuing friendship and assistance, and they are assured of that. It is a two-way traffic and I have no doubt at all that the Chief Minister and his colleagues and, indeed, the entire population of these Islanders, view it in this way.
Having had those assurances and the overall assurance that what he has said will be very carefully studied and borne in mind by the United Kingdom Government and, if necessary, brought appropriately to the attention of the Solomon Islands Government, I hope that the noble Lord will agree with me that with the great boon of independence, I repeat, within the Commonwealth, sharing with us the same Head of State as a Parliamentary Monarchy, this great achievement for these people with us may not be impeded in its various stages because, here and there—as often happens with these arrangements—not everything is precisely as we would have wished it to be.
In this connection, before I sit down, as it is almost impossible to be out of order in your Lordships' House, I may drop a broad hint that, if these assurances are generally acceptable by the noble Lord so that he may withdraw his Amendment, that might enable me to go through the process of moving a further stage today. It is only a hint, and it arises from the need to utilise the next few weeks as expeditiously as possible in both Houses and in the third stage of legislative approval which is the highest—the approval of Her Majesty—so that there is no sense of frustration in the Solomon Islands that, because we perhaps were not as expeditious as possible in the stages in either House, the process was delayed. With those remarks, I hope that the noble Lord may accede to my suggestion.
§ 2.55 p.m.
§ Lord O'HAGAN
Before the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, decides what to do about his Amendment or Amendments, or before he, as I imagine he will, formally withdraws them to facilitate the speed with which this Bill passes both Houses of Parliament, may I say a few words about 636 this important matter of citizenship. Of course, the consideration of the citizenship provisions of this Bill is overhung by the general anxieties as to the evolving nature of British citizenship and what we expect to come from the Green Paper, so that, somehow, it was inevitable that the provisions of this Bill, which were putting into legislative form the wishes of the Solomon Islanders themselves—as we understand from the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts—should be considered by your Lordships, particulary in Committee, in a wider sphere, bearing in mind all the past dangers and difficulties into which our labryrinthine citizenship law has led us.
I wish to separate the general seminar on citizenship from the particular provisions which we are discussing now, because I do not think that what we decide today or later on should be in this Bill in order to implement the agreement reached with the Solomon Islanders, can really be considered to lay down firm guidelines one way or the other for whatever may be decided in a wider context at a later time. It may be; it may not be. But I do not think that we want to look at it in that light automatically, although there may be useful lessons to be learned from this particular instance.
I do not complain that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has raised these matters with his customary pertinacity and attention to detail. It is the implications of citizenship law for all those whom it affects that must be one of the main factors that we bear in mind when we are examining it. But I hardly think, if I may say so, that it is now for us in this House to come along to the Solomon Islanders and say, "We do not trust you. We do not think that you are going to keep your word. We do not believe that the provisions of your Constitution and the safeguards laid down in the Act are really enough".
While I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, was not suggesting that in his comments, there is nevertheless a hint behind what he said that the agreement that had been reached so far was not really adequate. What we must do now is to put our trust in the agreements which have been reached between the people of the Solomon Islands and 637 ourselves, and hope that these arrangements will bear fruit. In view of the detailed assurances given by the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, I certainly can say yet again what I said at Second Reading. It is a fatal vice to quote oneself, but I did say that I hoped we could all add our voices, and so on, and that the Bill could become an Act as soon as possible.
In view of what we have heard today, we really should now allow the Bill to proceed through all its stages as quickly as we can, because the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, has given us some detailed explanations of why it is that these provisions are in the Bill and how it is that they are intended to work—the buttresses to them that are provided in the Constitution. Looking at those three safeguards for the people who will be affected by these citizenship provisions, I believe that we can really pass from consideration of this part of the Bill and speed it on its way.
§ 3 p.m.
§ Lord AVEBURY
I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan. Nothing which has been said in this Committee should be allowed to give the impression to the Solomon Islanders that we do not trust them in any way or, indeed, that we are hesitant about joining with them enthusiastically in the progress towards their independence and wishing them every possible success. I also agree with him that we ought not to be considering the citizenship provisions in the Bill as if they were pre-empting any decisions that Parliament may take later on concerning the Green Paper. I am very glad he said that, because I want his words to be carefully marked and when we come to discuss the Green Paper let no one in your Lordships' House or elsewhere say to us, "But you have already come to this decision. You made certain provisions in the Solomon Islands Bill and naturally we just followed these through and incorporate similar measures in whatever we do regarding British overseas citizenship, for example"—which is one of the proposals that I particularly detest in the Green Paper.
So long as that is clearly understood, we are all right and should think the whole House must be very grateful to the noble 638 Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, for saying that we are not creating any precedent here for any future independence legislation; for his assurance that someone refused his application for citizenship being a non-indigenous person will have a right of appeal in the Solomon Islands, and that that is contained in one of the other provisions of the Constitution—to which I should be grateful if, perhaps on some other occasion, he could refer me.
He also very kindly said he would look into the point I raised about the right of appeal in the British courts by someone who is deprived of his citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies, and he said in terms that where a person made an error in his application there would be a possibility of putting in a revised one. There is only one minor point I would make there, and that is that if someone comes along right at the end of the transitional period and the discovery of the error is made, let us say, at the beginning of July 1980 then there would be a time problem, and we will have to deal with the case where the person's application has been submitted and the officials have not looked at it until after the expiry date and then they discover an error. The question then arises, would the person be able to reformulate the application? Of course, I am not asking the Minister to let me have an answer to that question now, but at some time it would be reassuring to know that that person does not forfeit his rights.
The Minister said it was of concern to him, and to everybody else, to ensure that nobody became, as he put it, footloose and possibly Stateless as a result of provisions in the Bill and that is why there is the fallback that a person becomes a British protected person if he loses the status of a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies. I still consider that to be fundamentally unsatisfactory and Professor Fawcett, professor of international law at King's College, London, whom I have consulted about it, equally thinks that it is an unfortunate provision to be contained in an Act of Parliament. But the Minister has answered many of the objections with his usual meticulous care and thoroughness and I will not pursue the criticisms that I have to make of these matters on this occasion. I wish to do nothing that will delay or impede the provision of independence to the Solomon 639 Islanders. I wish them well, like the noble Lords, Lord O'Hagan and the Minister, and I hope that the few remaining queries which I have put to the Minister this afternoon can be resolved before the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ Remaining clauses and Schedule agreed to.
§ House resumed: Bill reported without amendment: Report received.