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New Hebrides

Volume 886: debated on Wednesday 19 February 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he intends to bring forward legislation relating to a representative assembly and local government bodies for the New Hebrides.

The need does not arise. Local legislation will be sufficient to provide for the establishment of a representative assembly, subject to any necessary amendment of the Anglo-French Protocol of 1914 concerning the New Hebrides.

Legislation providing for the establishment of local government bodies has already been enacted in the New Hebrides.

As I recently visited the New Hebrides, may I say how glad I am that the hon. Lady has been there herself. Will she confirm that the representative assembly will be elected this year and that the Lord President, in answer to a Question last Thursday, was incorrect when he said that it would be elected next year? Further, will she try to ensure that in any future projects the unity between the British and French administrations is emphasised, rather than their separation?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman enjoyed his visit to the New Hebrides as much as I enjoyed mine. I am grateful for his interest in this matter. First, I confirm that, arising from the visit of the French Minister and myself a short while ago, work on the elections is now in hand. It is hoped that the first local government bodies will be elected in May and that the representative assembly will be elected before the end of 1975. Part of the reason for our joint visit and the talks which took place here before our visit—and, hopefully, our visit later in the middle of this year—is to try to establish a framework which will erode the separations that have existed for so long and have been so damaging to the New Hebrides.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that the title to land of many of the non-indigenous purported owners of land in the New Hebrides is very shaky? Before Britain finally relinquishes control of the New Hebrides, will my hon. Friend use her good offices to try to sort out the problem as quickly as possible?

I know something about the dispute over land tenure in the New Hebrides and I believe that it would take more than my good offices to sort out that difficult and complicated problem. However, while I was in the New Hebrides I had a great deal of discussion on the problem. In fact, discussions are still taking place. I assure my hon. Friend that we are hoping very much that we shall get somewhere in the future on that problem.

What measure of co-operation has the hon. Lady been receiving from the French on this matter?

I am pleased to assure the House that when the French Minister and I met in November of last year we had a broad base of agreement for the sort of situation that we wished to suggest to the people of the New Hebrides. That was appreciated by the people of the New Hebrides. We are hoping to meet again later this year to review progress. I hope to return again after the elections to see what is taking place in the New Hebrides.