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Consequential Amendments

Volume 981: debated on Wednesday 19 March 1980

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Question proposed, That this schedule be the second schedule to the Bill.

I wish to ask one or two questions. One of the things which worries us considerably about the passage of the Bill, especially the speed at which it has been taken, arises from the fact that we were given to understand early on that it was an agreed measure.

Earlier I raised with the Minister the question—I did not receive a satisfactory answer—of what would be the position if the New Hebrides were to ask for assistance from the British Government, say, between now and independence. The schedule provides for arrangements for the Services and outside forces which fall due because of our own Acts.

I should like the Minister to say what would happen if the New Hebrides, faced with difficulties in relation to operating their own police force, were to ask us for assistance in maintaining law and order, to establish their control over the whole of their country before independence is granted.

This is a very important point. There is a real worry on this side of the House because we have not been given adequate assurances on this point.

If questions of law and order arise between now and independence the British and French Governments have certain responsibilities to discharge. They have responsibilities to ensure that the constitutional position is preserved and ultimately that internal security is preserved. The hon. Lady may know that recently joint police forces have been sent to the islands of Santo and Tanna where the main problems arise; and law and order has been maintained there. The situation now is tranquil. We have stated in answer to questions in the House that the British Government will do what is necessary to maintain law and order. Further police forces are available. The hon. Lady may be satisfied that we believe that we have the means to ensure that law and order is maintained.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Bill reported, without amendment.

11.39 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

There has already been what I believe was a very substantial debate on Second Reading. I am sorry that I was not able to take part in it because I was abroad. That debate covered the content of the Bill and the constitutional developments leading up to the introduction of the Bill. I do not think that the House would want me to repeat what was said on Second Reading, but the House will want to know of a number of developments which have occurred since then and to some of which I have already referred.

The security situation in the New Hebrides, especially on the island of Santo, has rightly caused the House some concern in the past. I am happy to report that the New Hebrides Government Agency on Santo has been reopened and the Government Agent reinstalled. The situation there, and throughout the islands, remains calm. Meanwhile, there have been positive moves to find a solution to the political difficulties that divide the New Hebrides Government from some of the opposition parties and some of the customary chiefs.

We accept, as the Minister says, that the situation is calm on Santo. However, is the Government Agent there on his own, as he was before, or has he a police force to look after him?

He has a police force. It is a combined Franco-British police group.

I have already referred to the nature of the problems which need to be resolved. I said a short while ago, and I repeat, that I do not regard the talks that began today, and which I hope will continue, as reopening the constitution that was agreed in September 1979. I think that the talks are a hopeful development. I think that the anxieties of the francophone element of the population and of the customary chiefs are real although I do not think that they are justified. The statesmanlike way in which Fr Walter Lini, the Chief Minister, responded to those anxieties is much to be commended.

There was some discussion on Second Reading of what was meant by the Melanesian way of solving problems. The hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dun-woody) asked the question. I have only recently come to know Melanesians. However, it is my understanding that it is the Melanesian practice, when they have problems, not to resolve them by force and violence but rather to seek a way of discussing them continually, and if necessary at length, until a consensus is reached. For that reason, the fact that the talks have opened is an encouraging step.

As I have mentioned, M. Dijoud, my French opposite number, and I had talks this afternoon with the Chief Minister and his colleagues and the other parties that I have mentioned. We then left the meeting. M. Dijoud and I left the New Hebridians to their own discussions. The objective of the French and British Governments in recent weeks since the problems emerged has been to encourage the dialogue to which I have referred. I believe that a continuation of that dialogue is the right way to proceed.

I have the assurance of my French colleague that he will do everything that he can to assist the talks, and it will be the objective of Her Majesty's Government to do the same, until a satisfactory outcome has been achieved. I believe that both sides are committed to finding a solution that will ensure an early and peaceful transition of a united New Hebrides to independence.

The Chief Minister expects to propose shortly a date for independence during May to July. We look forward to that occasion and to close and harmonious relations with the independent New Hebrides as fellow members of the Commonwealth.

Independence seems to have slipped. At one stage both British and French Governments were talking about May. At one stage they were talking about early May. On Second Reading the Under-Secretary of State, who took the place of the Minister, used the words "May to June". Now out of the blue the month of July has slipped into the picture. When did that happen?

The resolution that was passed some time ago by the Assembly of the New Hebrides stated a wish for independence between May and July of this year. That was not a suggestion by Her Majesty's Government or the French Government. It was the wish of the Parliament of the New Hebrides. If the date for independence is later than early May, that will be the result of the wish of the Government of the New Hebrides. Her Majesty's Government are ready for independence in May if that is the wish of the Government of the New Hebrides.

11.45 pm

I must plainly tell the Minister that I am extraordinarily unhappy about the passing of this Bill, not because I do not wholly welcome independence for the New Hebrides but because the passage of the Bill—certainly the Committee stage—appears to have gone smoothly, only because we are simply not getting answers to the questions that we have put to the Minister.

On Second Reading—an important debate—it was clear that hon. Members on both sides had considerable reservations about the situation in the New Hebrides. The Minister said that, although the talks would be reopened, they would not be reopened on the constitution because that had been agreed and the safeguards had been built in. He said that we were agreed with the French Government that we would relinquish power in an orderly manner.

If that is so, no one would be more delighted than me. From my experience in the European Parliament, I was slightly astonished at the speed and ease with which the British and French Governments seemed to have come to total agreement, but I was naturally delighted that such a new phenomenon should have occurred. However, since Second Reading there have been in the British press—even today—clear statements indicating that the situation in the New Hebrides is nothing like as calm and organised as the Minister assured us it was.

I have always had considerable reservations about the problems that I thought would face the New Hebrides when it became independent. When there is such a strong historical divide to overcome, it is obvious that there will be considerable pressures of religion, language and social classes. Plainly some of the difficulties that exist now stem from the problems that were created by the ex-colonial powers.

If the constitution is not up for discussion, I am sure that the Minister will be only too happy to make that plain in the talks. He says that this is the first opportunity to have occurred of getting the two main parties to the discussion together, but there can certainly be no going back on the guarantees that were given in the constitutional conference. That would be not only quite wrong but extremely damaging.

The hon. Gentleman says that the francophone section of the community is anxious. Anxiety is well known in a democratic State. I frequently feel anxious when I survey the result of the last general election in this country. But that anxiety does not justify one using one's power to go outside the law, to try to seize control of local government or of the area in which one lives.

It is important to remember that if any difficulties arise which require the use of either the joint police forces or Service units from outside, the Government should stand ready to respond. In the Financial Times today, not a noticeably revolutionary digest, we are told that the British Government have not been prepared to use their police forces and have kept them in barracks for fear of embarrassing their French colleagues. I should have thought that if there were any spillover of British problems with the French in Europe into the political situation in the New Hebrides, Her Majesty's Government would be doing themselves less than justice as a Government in a position of responsibility. It must be clear that in these discussions and in the handover of independence the Government's responsibility is to the people of the New Hebrides.

Will the local government commission sit again? Are the French members of that commission sitting in on the meetings and enabling them to go ahead? If that is so—it is reported in the newspapers that it is not so—it is evident that they intend the transition to be peaceful.

The Minister started to say—although you reminded him, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that he would be out of order—that the discussions arose in the realm of aid. The Minister knows that aid is the most important problem that we shall have to consider. The New Hebrides requires considerable assistance with its budget deficit. I should like an assurance from the Minister on the attitude of the French Government and our Government towards monetary support for the New Hebrides Government. It is not sufficient to say that we have now given independence and a certain degree of aid, and that they should now be prepared to deal with all the problems that are likely to arise.

It is pretty poor that we are discussing such an important Bill late at night, when there are so many questions outstanding. I do not believe that the House knows the true situation in the New Hebrides. It has not been spelt out. The calm assurance of the Minister is not a substitute for fact. It will be helpful if he says that Britain's responsibility to the New Hebrides is to help it to independence, to give it assurances that will enable it to maintain law and order within its borders, and to maintain the writ of central Government, even though talks are taking place as to the degree of devolution of power from the centre. The Government should be prepared to give a clear indication as to the amount of aid that will be available.

Before the Bill is passed, we should know that it is the firm intention of the Government to tell our French partners and the people of the New Hebrides that if there are real problems and politicial difficulties it is our intention to be as supportive as we can, and that we have no intention of abandoning the New Hebrideans until we are satisfied that all those conditions are fulfilled.

11.54 pm

; I had not thought that I should find myself speaking on Third Reading on this Bill, which makes provision for independence being given to the New Hebrides. But I am in that position because, despite the fact that the Bill started its passage through Parliament in another place in February, and had its Second Reading in this Chamber on 6 March, the question of citizenship does not seem to be as clearly stated as I believe it should be.

Although you may tell me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I should have raised the matter in Committee, on clause 1, my lack of absolute knowledge prevented me from rising then but forces me now to ask my hon. Friend the Minister of State to explain the exact position. In the explanatory memorandum, clause 1 is said to modify
"the British Nationality Act 1948 so as to confer the status of British subject and Commonwealth citizen on citizens of the New Hebrides, with effect from the independence of the New Hebrides."
I emphasise that the explanatory memorandum says that the clause is to confer that status
"on citizens of the New Hebrides",
not on some of the citizens. Yet my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs appeared to suggest when he wound up the Second Reading debate that there would be two classes of citizenship provided to the inhabitants of the New Hedbrides. He said:
"Under the independence constitution they"—
he was talking about the 112,000 indigenous New Hedrideans—
"will acquire New Hcdridean citizenship on independence.
There are about 5,000 French citizens living in the New Hebrides, 1,500 Australians, New Zealanders and citizens of other independent Commonwealth countries and 460 citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies. This Bill provides for them to continue as citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies."—[Official Report, 6 March 1980; Vol. 980, c. 709.]
It may be because of my inability to understand the precise meaning of those words, but my hon. Friend appeared to me to suggest that the indigenous population were to acquire New Hebridean citizenship, while 8,000 of the 120,000 people living in the islands were to be given the status of British subject and Commonwealth citizen. If that is so, clearly Clause 1 is not correctly drafted, and if it is not correctly drafted I find it difficult to see how the Bill can be given a Third Reading until we know precisely what is in the Government's mind, and whether we intend to confer the status of British subject and Commonwealth citizen on all 120,000 New Hebrideans or only, as my hon. Friend seemed to suggest, on the 8,000 referred to in the passage that I have quoted.

I raise these questions because during the past week there came to see me a constituent who thought himself to be a British citizen, until he received a letter from the Home Office informing him that, because he was born in the Seychelles, he was not a British citizen. In that letter, which I believe is entirely pertinent to clause 1, a Home Office official wrote:
"When a dependent territory attains indepenence it is the practice for the United Kingdom Parliament to enact legislation which withdraws citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies, with certain exceptions, from all who automatically became citizens of the new country under its constitution. Generally speaking the persons excepted are those who were born in the United Kingdom."
That is clearly the Home Office view, expressed in a letter of 23 January this year. But, if we are to believe the words of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary in the winding-up speech on 6 March, we are making a considerable exception for the New Hebrides, for we are making an exception not only for the 460 citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies but for "5,000 French citizens" and
"Australians, New Zealanders and citizens of other independent Commonwealth countries."
In other words, we seem to have got into a muddle.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State may be able to clarify the position. I look forward to his reply.

11.59 pm

I do not intend to follow the line taken by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson), though I support his right to raise an issue of that kind on Third Reading.

I do not apologise for keeping the House a little longer at this time of night, because it is one of the best features of this Chamber that we can probe the real issues in public on an occasion of this kind.

I had not imagined that it would be possible at any stage in the passage of the Bill to take a vote, but, as a result of certain things that I understand have been going on in the negotiations in Paris and in London, and that will go on in the next few days, I must say that unless I receive from the Minister an explanation that satisfies me I cannot rule that out.

I have already praised the Minister for his handling of the negotiations. However, it does not seem sensible to hold this debate at midnight on a Wednesday. Before the business managers set the time, the Government knew that delicate negotiations were in train. Some people associate those negotiations with the word "blackmail". I do not use that word. However, hon. Members will understand the use of that word as I develop my argument.

As I said during the brief discussion of clause 3, long and painful negotiations have extended over several years. Those negotiations were undertaken by Lord Goronwy-Roberts, a former Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the Labour Government, and by the present Minister, the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker). The British and French agreed that the New Hebrides should move towards independence. A constitutional conference was called. Elections took place. An assembly was elected. Everything was set for independence to take place smoothly in May of this year.

What happened? After independence, armed force and violence were used. One particular island was subject to violence. Two other islands suffered to a lesser extent. Jimmy Stephens and others created a situation that necessitated the withdrawal of a Government representa- tive from one island. For a short time there was a breakdown of law and order. Everyone thought that the constitution had been settled. The French and those with francophone interests now seem to say that as a breakdown in law and order occurred on Santo during October and November—and to a lesser extent on Tanna and other islands—another set of negotiations can take place.

Tha Minister of State said tonight that he did not interpret this as a reopening of the constitutional issue. However, his colleague, the Under-Secretary said in reply to a question that I asked:
"I stress to him that the British and French Governments are totally committed to the agreements that were reached last autumn in Vila about the constitution and the agreement to proceed towards independence between May and June of 1980."
That date has now been moved to July. However, he continued:
"We are totally committed to that."—
that commitment cannot have been total as the date has now been changed—
"as are the French Government, and we owe it to our friends and to the Government in the New Hebrides to ensure that we proceed along those lines".—[Official Report, 6 March 1980; Vol. 980, c. 706.]
Since then, the Under-Secretary has said that he would invite the Government-elect of the New Hebrides and the opposition parties to London in order to relieve anxiety. However, the Government-elect went first to Paris and then to London. They did so not primarily to relieve anxieties, but to negotiate aid.

It is suggested that during these negotiations of aid it was put to the Government by the French—and I do not accuse the Minister—that aid will not be forthcoming unless an accommodation is made to meet those people responsible for the breakdown of law and order in the island of Santo a few months ago. If that is true, it is a scandal.

The constitution was negotiated. Two Ministers in this House gave a pledge that it would not be reopened. The constitution envisages a regional Government with a good deal of regional autonomy. The hon. Gentleman and I have studied that constitution with equal care.

I understand the demand to be that that degree of regional autonomy be set aside in favour of a confederation. If French aid is contingent on the present Government giving in and accepting, against their will, under threat of blackmail, confederation as the price of independence, it is not only a scandal but an absolute breach of faith.

I do not accuse the hon. Gentleman. I have followed events in the New Hebrides carefully over the past few years. The activities of the British Government so far have been wholly honourable. They have tried to move the New Hebrides towards independence in the way that they successfully moved to independence the Solomon Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu. However, here there is a complication not of their making but of their predecessors in 1870, when it was decided to share the New Hebrides between the British and French naval forces, out of which the condominium arose.

It is incumbent on the Minister to allay our anxieties. On clause 3 I understood the hon. Gentleman to say that, although the primary purpose of the delegation visiting Paris and London was to negotiate aid, the secondary purpose was to allay anxieties.

When the constitution was negotiated in September, the assumption was that the British and French Governments would make available sufficient aid to allow the New Hebrides to be a viable country on independence. To that extent, constitutional negotiations cannot be separated from aid negotiations. I take the point that the actual negotiations have to be separate—first the constitution, then aid. Implicit in the constitutional negotiations was an assumption that, having settled the constitution and had the elections, reasonable and sufficient aid to run this country would be forthcoming. The New Hebrides is bureaucratically top heavy through no fault of the Melanesians but because of the absurd condominium system wished on them by rival naval powers in the Pacific over 100 years ago.

Now it seems that, months after the constitutional negotiations and when it appears that the New Hebrides is on the brink of independence, the French have suddenly erected such enormous barriers in the way of reasonable aid that it seems that either the independence is in jeopardy or the Government of the New Hebrides, constitutionally and properly elected, will have to submit to changes in a constitution, negotiated only a few months ago, in order to get independence.

The budget of the New Hebrides has a 60 per cent. deficit, which is no fault of the New Hebrideans. It is because everything has to be done in English and French. Anyone with experience of the European Parliament where 70 per cent. of expenditure is due to linguistic and geographical factors in terms of translation, interpretation and floods of papers knows that bilingual work raises the cost of administration enormously. It is not the fault of the New Hebrides.

I hope that the Minister will agree that it is the responsibility of the two metropolitan Governments—the British and the French—to give sufficient aid, even though it may be disproportionate to the settlements made in the Solomon Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu, to meet a situation for which those two Governments are totally responsible.

The question of the level of aid that the Minister is able to guarantee on behalf of the British Government and that which the French are willing to give is crucial. Making a condominium independent has happened only once before—in the Sudan—in the history of the post-Imperial world and I agree that it is a complicated matter, but simple assurances about the British Government's attitude are not enough.

We must have concrete assurances from the Minister about the French Government's attitude to aid and whether they have said that further aid is conditional on further concessions by the Government of Father Walter Lini and his colleagues. We must have such assurances before deciding whether to let the Bill through.

The constitutional conference took place, as I am sure the Minister will confirm, in a context in which the Vanuaaku Pati made substantial concessions far beyond those that it had intended to make. Since the conference, it has leant over backwards in including members of the Na Griamel and other parties in commissions, committees and delegations abroad to try to unite and reconcile the different factions in the New Hebrides. If, after all that, it is expected to make further concessions and the French Government really are demanding such concessions, the independence could be put in jeopardy.

I do not want to make a great deal of the French difficulties in this regard. They have a governor there, M. Robert, who is a supporter of Chirac and a Minister of Overseas Development who is a supporter of Giscard. I realise the French Government's difficult and severe problems.

I hope that the Minister, who has been forthright in his defence of New Hebridean interests so far, is not being complacent in the face of French demands because of some new policy under which we are giving in all along the line outside Europe in order to be nice to the French and achieve some settlement within Europe. I am not making any accusation. But the Minister must realise that all relations at present and all concessions by the British Government to the French Government will be looked upon in the context of the budget argument within the EEC. I hope that the Minister can give an absolute assurance that the New Hebrides settlement, which still hangs in the balance because of the talks that are going on, has no connection with the separate argument over the EEC budget.

The Minister, in saying that independence would now be between May and July, gave me an assurance that this was the wish of the New Hebrides and that it was for the New Hebrides to choose the exact point in that spectrum for independence. I hope that it is true. When a country is negotiating for aid, crucial for its viability, assurances of that sort do not carry the weight that would apply in other circumstances.

I hope that the Minister will reassure me that the New Hebrides will be able to proceed to independence at the pace envisaged in September and chosen by the New Hebrides. I would wish to hear full reassurances, particularly on the French attitude to aid and the strings attached by them, before feeling happy about allowing the Bill to go through without a Division.

12.18 am

I should not like to allow this occasion to pass without the expression of a note of congratulation and good wishes from a Back-Bench Member whose boyhood ambition was to be a colonial administrator in the New Hebrides. While other boys wanted to be train drivers and airline pilots, it was always my ambition to achieve a junior and perhaps later in life a senior administrative post in colonial administration.

Somewhere, in the yellowing archives of some bureaucrat's file, there is a letter from a little boy in Southern Rhodesia asking how he might pursue a career in the New Hebrides colonial administration. With adolescence came the dawning awareness that the independence of the New Hebrides was inevitable. I decided to pursue perhaps the only other career comparable in dignity and romance with a career in the colonial service—to become a Member of this House.

As fate had it, I was not destined for the New Hebrides and the New Hebrides was not destined to see me. I take this occasion to wish the islands and the islanders well after independence.

12.19 am

Had the wishes of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) been brought to fruition, I am certain that he would have been a friend, a help and a partner to the people of the New Hebrides. Events did not work out that way. However, his words of friendship will be welcomed both in the House and in the New Hebrides.

I should like to cheer the Government and perhaps my hon. Friends by saying that I am not opposing the Bill for the sake of opposition. It is not my intention deliberately to keep hon. Members from their beds at this hour of night. However, between the Second Reading and tonight there has occurred, if I may use a phrase of the hon. and learned Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) many years ago, a faint smell of burning in the hold. The Bill is not as straightforward as it seemed to be on 6 March.

I pay tribute to the work done by the Minister and his colleagues in helping the Bill to progress. As one Lancastrian to another, I tell the Minister that we do not want to be told only the truth and nothing but the truth; we want to be told the whole truth. If it is apparent later that the Minister has deliberately withheld certain facts from us tonight, that would be counter to what he and the House wish. If there is anything we should know, this is the time for the Minister to tell us.

Much of what I wish to say tonight I wanted to say on Second Reading but I was unable to be here at that time. I bear in mind that on Third Reading we can talk only about what is in the Bill, not what should be in it.

I share the concern of my hon. Friends including that of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), and I add my good wishes to the people of the islands. I say that not because it is our duty to lift our eyes from our own problems to the needs and well-being of the people of other islands, but because I have waited 37 years to make one mention of my own debt to the people of these islands.

About 37 years ago I was a very young merchant navy officer with a free Dutch ship out of Batavia, the m.v. "Tjibesar". The ship had come out of Java. We were under United States maritime commission control and direction. We had Dutch officers, a Javanese crew and an American marine gun crew, who thought that every time there was trouble we should take our little four-inch gun and go looking for it, whereas our God-given direction was to get the hell out of it and go in the opposite direction. We were taking inflammable cargo from the west coast of the United States to the Polar ice, up to New Zealand and Australia, through the Barrier Reef and to the New Hebrides and New Caledonia. At that time that was the edge of the boundary between the Japanese-occupied islands of the Pacific and the free world.

Thanks to the help and support which my ship had from the people of those islands—and their eyes and information were better than those who operated Marconi radios—we were saved from considerable difficulties. The support that the people on the frontier of the free world gave to Australia and New Zealand had much to do with the fact that we are able to speak today in the House as free people in a free country. We should not hold bitterness against old enemies, but we should not forget old friends either. That is my small way of saying thank you.

On Second Reading, the Under-Secretary of State said that the Government had resolved to encourage the protagonists to work out their problems amongst themselves in the "Melanesian way". My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) took that up. The Melanesians are hospitable, friendly, delightful and charming people with all the virtues in the world, but to assume that the "Melanesian way" does not exclude forthright expressions of opinion and a determination to use force if necessary is like saying that the Irish are charming but one must not assume that they are always pacific. The "Melanesian way" can be as violent as any other way.

I now use a kind of shorthand to describe some of the elements in the New Hebrides that might conjoin to cause a great many problems. Those elements are the custom union, Mr. Jimmy Stephens, Santo, Fr Lini, the Vanuaaku Pati, and the Phoenix Foundation. The possible involvement of American interests has not been mentioned in the debate. If part of the troubles in the New Hebrides could be American inspired, what consultations, if any, have the British Government had with the United States? The United States is interested in good relations in the Pacific and also in whether their citizens are fostering good relations with their allies or causing difficulties throughout the Pacific. I hope that the British and French Governments, jointly or separately, have had discussions with the United States about the alleged activities of some Americans in that part of the world.

Aid of £6 million was discussed on Second Reading. My information is that trade from the New Hebrides seems to flow in the direction of France either through New Caledonia or French dependencies in the Pacific. If a French-dominated State—the result either of the New Caledonia connection or the lethargy of some of our Australian friends from time to time—is to come into the British Commonwealth, what relationships will emerge?

Aid must continue but what efforts are being made to secure a greater proportion of trade from the New Hebrides for Britain rather than France?

There is also the question of nationality in the new state in the light of reports that a new British Nationality Act is on the political horizon. Whatever is decided by this Bill, I hope that the status of former British citizens in the New Hebrides will not be upset in six or 12 months by a new British Nationality Act. It will be the worst possible way of establishing the new nationality of our former friends and partners in the New Hebrides if people who are now British subjects have to enter into a new relationship with us in six or 12 months. I should like an assurance about that from the Minister.

We have had the truth from the Government so far. That is not a criticism but a compliment. If there is anything that we should know, tonight is the time to tell us. I wish our former friends—who are by no means subjects—well and welcome them as partners.

12.29 am

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) and the hon. Members for Liverpool, West Derby, (Mr. Ogden) and for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) for their kind references to the part that I played in the important work of preparing the New Hebrides for independence.

I was frankly somewhat surprised at the tone of the comments of the hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody), because she seemed to suggest that we were acting in a hole-in-the-corner manner in taking the Bill at this time. I have the strong impression that the Government of the New Hebrides, for whom she is clearly concerned, want us to proceed with our preparations for independence without delay. They may want a date for independence as early as May. If that is to happen, they will need to know that we are ready because they will have to make preparations for what will be an important event in the history of their country.

The other parties now engaged in the talks which began in London today have assured me that they want to move towards independence. Some members of those other parties want some changes made in the arrangements in the New Hebrides—I shall come to that matter later—and others appear to want something rather different. But they have all assured me that they want to move to independence. Therefore, it is right that we should get ourselves into a position to be able to respond as soon as the New Hebrides Government tell us that they wish to go ahead.

I am happy to tell the House that the talks, which began this afternoon, will be continued tomorrow morning at 10 o'clock.

The hon. Member for Crewe referred to the problems of running a condominium. They are very real. Having seen something of those problems over the last six months or more, I should not recommend anybody to set up a condominium if it can possibly be avoided. It is an extraordinarily difficult thing to operate.

The hon. Member for Lewisham, West referred to the Sudan. I understand that that was relatively simple to run, because of the two partners in the condominium only one ran it—the United Kingdom. That may explain why it was a successful operation.

The situation is different in the New Hebrides. Two countries are running the condominium. That necessarily gives rise to great difficulties in the operation of the condominium and in unwinding it and bringing it to independence. I certainly do not underestimate these problems.

I was asked about the article in the Financial Times today. I thought that it was a good article, but the contributor is not quite up to date. I do not know when he was last there. Things have moved on since that article was written. The position on Santo regarding law and order has improved. There are police there. The office of the agent has been reopened and he is operating there.

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the answer off the cuff, but there are enough to maintain law and order at the present time.

I was asked by the hon. Member for Crewe to make plain in the talks whether the constitution was up for discussion. I have already done that this afternoon. That was the point with which I started my remarks in opening the conference.

I return to the question of the maintenance of law and order. I ask hon. Members to take into account the nature of life in the New Hebrides. It is rather different from life in this country. A taboo can be put on premises, according to local custom, and that makes use of those premises impossible for a time. That is what happened with the district agent's office. We cannot charge in and deal with that kind of problem in the same way as we might deal with a problem in Lewisham, for example. We have to act with rather more finesse and subtlety. What is more, we have to act in co-operation with our partners, the French. I mention that point only to show that the matter is not quite as simple as some hon. Members thought.

With the greatest respect to the Minister, many of us understand that the position is not the same as that which pertains in some parts of this country, although it is not unknown for people to put taboos on things here. I say, very seriously, that there is disquiet about possible American interference. The geographical size of the area could lead the central Government into a difficult position. Someone could take over an area which has to be policed, and those police have to be brought into the area from outside. I ask for an assurance that both nations are prepared, if the occasion arises again, to put in police forces to bring the position under control.

I can give the hon. Lady an assurance that I am keeping in close touch with my French opposite number, and that we are dedicated to upholding the constitution. I quote the words which we used in the communiqué:

"to uphold the constitution and maintain the integrity of the New Hebrides."
I was asked for an assurance that any problems that we have in our relationship with France in the EEC would not spill over into the New Hebrides. I give an assurance gladly that the problems of the New Hebrides are treated on their merits. Anybody present at the discussion that I held with M. Dijoud would, if he had not known of the problems in the EEC, not have guessed them from those discussions. We had frank and close discussions which were not overshadowed by the problems to which hon. Members have referred.

I mentioned the communiqué issued on 8 January. Perhaps this is a suitable moment to tell the House what we said at that time, which still holds good. The communiqué was issued after a meeting in Paris between M. Dijoud, myself and the New Hebrides Government. It states:
"The French and British Ministers reaffirmed to Fr Lini their intention to do everything they can to smooth the path to independence for the New Hebrides and to counter all threats to the unity of the country.
Both Ministers rejected any secessionist activity that may occur in the islands and assured the New Hebrides Government of their entire support."
Moving on to the suggestion that we should encourage a dialogue between the New Hebrides Government, the other parties and custom chiefs in the New Hebrides, we said:
"The French and British Ministers declared their intention to use their good offices to promote such a dialogue."
The discussions that are presently being held in London were foreseen for a long time. As I said earlier, they were actively sought by Fr Lini in the New Hebrides, but without success.

I was asked about trade and aid. Trade is an important factor. One of the problems which face the New Hebrides is the lack of natural resources. At the moment experts in the New Hebrides provided by the Overseas Development Administration are looking for minerals and other resources that can be exploited so that the New Hebrides can benefit sooner rather than later and become self-sufficient. This must be the objective at which we aim. It will not be satisfactory for us, or the people of the New Hebrides, if they are permanent pensioners of Britain and France. They would not want that situation to prevail.

Consequently, one of the objectives of the aid which we shall be giving to the New Hebrides will be to seek out means of developing their own resources and trade. As for British aid, at present we are providing aid of about £6 million a year. Of this, £1.3 million is capital aid, £3.2 million is budgetary support to supplement the New Hebrides budget—that goes largely to education and health services—and £1.5 million is manpower aid. That is a reasonably substantial figure to give a country of 120,000 people. A British aid team recently visited the New Hebrides for preliminary talks about aid after independence.

Further discussions with the New Hebrides delegation, led by the Chief Minister, will begin in London on Monday next.

The Minister was specifically asked whether he could give us some indication of the attitude of the French Government. He has made clear that this must be done in tandem. Although we have been given clear figures from the British, it would be helpful if we knew what restrictions, if any, the French Government are putting on the negotiations and whether they intend using the question of aid as a bargaining counter before allowing independence to go ahead.

I shall come to the question of French aid in a moment.

As for British aid, the discussions will begin in London with Fr Lini and his team within the next few days. We shall enter into these negotiations in a positive spirit, taking into account the problems faced by the New Hebrides Government in integrating the separate administrations inherited from Britain and France. I should add that, as a dependency of Britain and France, the New Hebrides already benefits from the European development fund. On independence, the country will be entitled to full membership of the Lomé convention.

As for the attitude of the French Government towards aid, those talks have only just begun. They certainly have not been concluded. Therefore, I cannot tell the House what the decisions of the French Government on aid will be. But I can say that the French Government do not regard the talks which are taking place as reopening the constitution.

I was asked—

If that is all the Minister intends to say about what some of us consider to be the absolute crux of the debate, I have to say that it is unsatisfactory. One can accept that the French Government say that the negotiations are not reopening the discussion on the constitution, but can the Minister say whether the French believe there are any connections between the aid negotiations and the demands of the francophone par- ties for forms of confederation? If so, can he tell us what the British Government understand those connections to be?

I do not think that I can say any more than I have already said. The talks with the French have just begun. I do not know what the French attitude on aid will be.

I was asked whether it was a condition of aid that there should be confederation. The word "confederation" has been mentioned by one or two members of the moderate delegation, but it is not my impression that it is the demand of that delegation as a whole. The House was told that the Vanuaaku Pati—the Government—has made concessions. Indeed it has. But the customary chiefs believe that they, too, have made concessions. They have criticisms, which they have ventilated, of the way in which the Government have conducted their affairs since they won their victory in the elections last November. I believe that the fears of the francophones, the customary chiefs, are real. Therefore, it is desirable that these fears should be ventilated in these talks.

I was asked by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West about the date for independence. I was asked whether it was simply up to the New Hebrides Government to choose an independence date. It is not quite as simple as that. The Parliament has passed a resolution calling for independence between the months that I mentioned, but when the New Hebrides Government are ready to make a proposal the French and the British Governments will have to consider the date with the Government of the New Hebrides.

I was asked about American influences. I think that hon. Members had in mind the Phoenix Foundation. Various organisations, including the Phoenix Foundation, have previously had contacts with the Na Griamel movement which, as hon. Members will know, is the movement of Jimmy Stephens on Santo. But the present problems in the New Hebrides arise primarily from internal circumstances. I have no evidence to suggest that they have been exacerbated by outside interference. I was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson)—

I was not asking only about American influence. I was asking whether any representations had been made by the hon. Gentleman's Department with the United States Department in connection with the possible activities of some American citizens in that part of the world. I presume that the answer is that none had been made.

That is not so. We have had some contact with the American Government on that matter and we are watching the position closely. Powers exist on the part of the New Hebrides Government and the British and French Governments to control entry into the New Hebrides.

On the question of nationality, I should like to give a fairly full answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury, because I know that this is a matter in which hon. Members are greatly interested. My hon. Friend will have noticed that the nationality provisions of the Bill are limited in scope in comparison with other independence Bills. Clause 1 will make citizens of the New Hebrides Commonwealth citizens in United Kingdom law. This is a normal consequence of a territory becoming independent and joining the Commonwealth.

The Bill does not, unlike the majority of independence Bills, include the usual complex provisions taking away citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies from those who become citizens of the new State. This is because the circumstances of the New Hebrides differ radically from those obtaining in the normal case of a territory which is a British colony before its independence. In a colony the vast majority of the population has the status of citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies before independence and the independence Act usually takes away this status from those who become citizens of the new State. This is subject to the usual saving which permits those with close connections with the United Kingdom or a remaining dependency—for example, by birth, descent, naturalisation or registration—to retain their status as citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies even if they become citizens of the new State. In the New Hebrides, however, only a tiny minority of the population are citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies.

Broadly speaking, the population is made up as follows. First, there are the indigenous New Hebrideans, who under the 1914 protocol establishing the condominium have the status of natives and are not to be given the nationality of either the United Kingdom or France. These people are at the moment technically stateless, although they carry special travel documents when travelling abroad which enable them to call on the British or French authorities for protection where necessary. Under the independence constitution, these people will acquire New Hebrides citizenship at independence. According to a recent census, they number about 112,500 out of a total population of about 120,000.

Secondly, there are French citizens, who are thought to number about 5,000. Thirdly, there are citizens of Australia, New Zealand and other independent Commonwealth countries. These citizens are thought to number about 1,500. Lastly, there are citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies, who are thought to number about 460.

It is only in respect of citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies that provision might be made for the continuation, or otherwise, of their status as citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. According to immigration statistics compiled in Vila, about 380 of the 460 are patrials, which means that they have the right of abode in the United Kingdom. About 20 come from Hong Kong. These people would accordingly have benefited had the usual provisions been made in the Bill from the saving for those with connections with the United Kingdom or a remaining dependency, and would have kept their status as citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies in any event.

That leaves a residue of about 60 citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. It is not possible from the information available to determine with which territory they are particularly connected. As under the British Nationality Acts the circumstances in which a person may become a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies by connection with the New Hebrides are extremely limited, it is likely that many of the 60 have connections with other territories.

The position under the independence constitution is also relevant. A citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies with New Hebridean ancestry—that is, with at least one New Hebridean ancestor—will have a right to New Hebrides citizenship upon application. A citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies who has lived in the New Hebrides for at least 10 years may apply for naturalisation as a New Hebrides citizen. In either case under the new constitution of the New Hebrides he must renounce his United Kingdom citizenship within three months of acquiring New Hebrides citizenship.

Thus, for those citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies who become New Hebrides citizens, the renunciation requirement makes it superfluous to deprive them of their United Kingdom citizenship in the Bill.

As for citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies who do not become citizens of the New Hebrides, the great majority owe their United Kingdom citizenship to connections with the United Kingdom or Hong Kong and would thus keep it if the normal provisions were included in the Bill, whereas the minority, if any, whose connections are solely with the New Hebrides constitute such an insignificant number that it is not considered worthwhile making special provision in the Bill in respect of them, and they will remain citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies.

The Bill is thus able to avoid the usual lengthy and complex nationality provisions and can confine itself to the minimal provisions in clause 1.

The Bill seems to confer the status of British subject and Commonwealth citizens with effect from the independence of all the citizens of the New Hebrides. The stateless persons who have become New Hebrideans will, as I read the explanatory memorandum, then acquire the new status of subject and citizen. Have I misread the memorandum? Does clause 1 have a much more limited role than appears to be so from its wording?

If my hon. Friend studies tomorrow in Hansard what I have said, the position will be clear to him. The answer is that those who become New Hebridean citizens will also become citizens of the Commonwealth. That is perfectly natural. It happens in respect of other member countries of the Commonwealth.

May we have an undertaking that, if between now and the date fixed for independence any of these delicate problems arise to make it difficult for us to feel that we have adequately fulfilled our task as guardians of the future of the New Hebrides, the Minister will be prepared to come back to the House to ensure that we are fully informed about the situation?

If an emergency with serious implications such as I understand the hon. Lady to have in mind arose, of course the House would be informed.

We look forward to the independence of the New Hebrides and to close and harmonious relations with that country as a fellow member of the Commonwealth. That is the purpose of the Bill. The New Hebrides will have the advantage also of being entitled to be a member of the Francophone Association. That is one of the compensations of having been a condominium. We propose on independence to establish a high commission in Vila, and I hope that that will be seen not only as an important contribution to the maintenance of our close links with the New Hebrides which we certainly wish to preserve but as a further indication of our continuing close interest in the whole of the South Pacific.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, without amendment.