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Solomon Islands, Tuvalu And Kmibati (Presentations)

Volume 983: debated on Friday 25 April 1980

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

On 30 January the House passed a resolution for an Address praying Her Majesty the Queen to give directions for the presentation of a clock to the Parliament of Solomon Islands, a gavel to the House of Assembly of Tuvalu and a gavel to the House of Assembly of Kiribati. Her Majesty's reply was reported to the House on 13 February. On 21 February, the House gave formal leave of absence for the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) and myself, accompanied by a Principal Clerk of the House, Mr. Jim Willcox, to present the gifts on its behalf. We were away for the last two weeks of March.

I have to report to the House that the three tasks have been accomplished, but only with great difficulty and at some risk to life and limb of the members of the delegation. They were accomplished within the period of two weeks only because I had two tough and very determined colleagues and because our hosts and the British representatives on the islands we visited all worked hard to rearrange programmes at short notice and to fill unexpected gaps with informal hospitality.

Our visits were made tolerable by the enormous kindness and the warmth of hospitality shown to us by all the people of the islands. In order that the House may learn from its mistakes for the future, I should like to explain that in the Central and South Pacific March is in the cyclone season. I should also add that inter-island air communication in the area of the South Pacific is poor, due in part to the unreliability of rather ancient aircraft which are used on the scheduled flights. As examples of that, may I say that we completed our first assignment on Tuvalu 30 hours late, and we arrived for our next task on Guadalcanal, having sacrificed our only rest day at the end of the first week, still 24 hours late, after spending an unscheduled 24-hour visit en route to another island in the New Hebrides for engine repairs. After Solomon Islands, we travelled in thoroughly reliable aircraft flown by superb Australian pilots. The only anxiety then was caused by short-notice changes in scheduled flights, one of which, fortunately, landed us in Kiribati one and a half hours early but which might just as easily have stranded us in the Marshall Islands for a week waiting for an onward flight.

We arrived first in Fiji late on 18 March in a cloudburst. This was to be our base for journeys to Tuvalu and Solomon Islands. The High Commissioner and his staff welcomed us and cared for us well. The Speaker of the Fiji House of Repre- sentatives and other members of the Fiji branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association entertained us royally during our short stop. On 20 March, on a flight which was delayed six hours by engine trouble, we flew to Fanafuti in Tuvalu, there to be received, as we stepped from the aircraft, by a splendid choir of island girls, who had waited six hours on a dull, damp day to ensure that we had a good welcome. That set the standard for the warmth of welcome that awaited us at every port of call.

At night, we attended a great feast in the main maneaba of the island, where we were again entertained, this time by competing teams of young men and maidens, in the inimitable island way. Although our hosts and the elders of the island advised us that all the songs were biblical in nature and told Old Testament stories, I must confess that the members of the delegation reached the conclusion that the actions of the young men which accompanied their singing were more of a secular nature.

On the morning of 21 March, at a formal ceremony, we presented a gavel to Mr. Speaker. We were warmly welcomed by the Prime Minister and thanked by Mr. Speaker, who also read to the Assembly the letter which he had received from you, Mr. Speaker, on our arrival. Indeed, the personal letters which we delivered on your behalf to each Mr. Speaker were all warmly received and greatly appreciated.

Due to a delay of 48 hours, arising from necessary engine repairs to the two aircraft scheduled to fly us from Tuvalu via Suva and Port Vila to Honiara in the Solomon Islands, we arrived a day late, in spite of losing our rest day, with time for only a 24-hour stay instead of the 48 hours arranged. Fortunately, the Solomon Islands High Commissioner rapidly rearranged the programme and attended efficiently to all our worries about details. We presented the clock to the Solomon Islands Parliament at a special session of Parliament at 2 o'clock in the afternoon instead of at 9 am as was originally arranged.

As an example of the high esteem in which the Westminster Parliament is held by all the British democratic legislatures which we visited, I should like to read a short quotation from the welcoming address delivered by Mr. Speaker in Honiara, not because it was unique but because it was typical of the reception and the sentiments expressed by all the Speakers whom we were privileged to meet. He said:
" This Parliament is grateful for the traditions of the British Parliament, which I am afraid are still new to us, but are already well founded. We are also grateful for the continued interest in our Parliament shown by the British Parliament. I trust that the members of the delegation, when they return home, will convey to their Parliament our fraternal greetings. We can assure them that we will seek to maintain and enhance the friendly and beneficial contacts that have already been established."
On the only evening spent on Solomon Islands, we were entertained by Mr. Peter Kenilorea, the Prime Minister, Mr. Speaker, members of the Government and the CPA branch. At that reception, the Prime Minister presented me with a nusu nusu. This was a large head carved in ebony with mother-of-pearl inlays, with two hands clutching a carving of a shrunken human head. In making the presentation, the Prime Minister explained that it had been carried on all the sorties made by his ancestors when they were head-hunting, and that when they went out in their canoes it became a canoe figurehead. He explained with a smile that they had now discontinued the headhunting practice. On receiving it, I assured my host that I was Chairman of a Committee of this House which still continues the practice of head-hunting every Wednesday afternoon, and I assured him that his nusu nusu would be invaluable to me in continuing the role in which it had helped his ancestors on their headhunting expeditions.

The next day, we left for Kiribati, with an overnight stop at Nauru, where we were warmly cared for and generously entertained by the Speaker and members of the Nauru CPA. That was so typical of all the CPA branches wherever we went. In Kiribati, we were welcomed and entertained by the Vice-President, Mr. Speaker and, as in Fiji, Tuvalu and Solomon Islands, by the High Commissioner. As in Tuvalu, the Assembly was in recess, but again, as our first experience showed, in spite of the immense difficulties of inter-island communication, a high proportion of the Members came in from the outer islands to attend our formal presentation ceremony, which, like the other two, was a solemn and dignified affair.

I should like to make only one further observation about the area. In the Pacific zone, the island countries are economically so poor that they have learnt the hard way to make every penny spent yield a maximum return. Aid, therefore, is not only needed but is put to very good use. In the main, it is used to buy the seed-corn for the future—training schemes to fit the young men for the very limited number of careers open to them—or agricultural schemes to diversify their crop potential in partnership with large, experienced international companies. It was our distinct impression that every penny of aid spent in that area was money well spent and greatly appreciated.

I cannot end without expressing my appreciation to the House for selecting me for this assignment and for selecting the hon. Member for Farnworth and Mr. Jim Willcox to accompany me. When faced with insurmountable travel and communications problems, Mr. Willcox just kept beavering away until they were solved. No delegation could have been better served, and no Clerk of this House could have been more resourceful.

As for the hon. Member for Farnworth, he was always a source of strength and a fount of good humour, particularly when the outlook was grim, as it was on a number of occasions. It takes a strong sense of humour to be jocular, as he was, at 3 am on a strange island waiting for repairs to one engine of a twin-engined aircraft in which we were to fly 1,200 miles across an ocean. I hope that he will forgive me politically if I say that during those two weeks I increasingly came to regard him as an hon. Friend. The feeling may just have been mutual, because from time to time I observed that he would imbibe liquid refreshment which is named after my constituency, albeit manufactured in Australia.

Finally, I wish to express my warmest thanks to the House for making it possible for us to visit the splendid people of Tuvalu, the Solomon Islands and Kiribati in their homes. It was a great privilege to meet them. I hope and believe that the friendships which we made will endure for a very long time.

9.49 am

I echo the gratitude expressed by the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland), and I am glad that he permitted me to join him on a memorable visit. However, as he said, it was not without its difficulties from time to time. I had never visited the South or Central Pacific, although I have had a number of contacts with Pacific islanders. I very much appreciated the chance to see their problems at first hand and to enjoy the warmth of welcome so eloquently described by the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Member for Carlton referred to the strains of travel in the South Pacific and the associated difficulties. I reiterate his thanks to our High Commissioners and representatives for all that they did at a local level to reduce those problems. With his family upbringing, the High Commissioner for Fiji and Tuvalu, Lord Dunrossil, has some experience of the problems of dealing with parliamentarians. He and his family, the High Commissioner in the Solomon Islands, Mr. Slater, and Mr. Rose, our High Commissioner in Kiribati, went far beyond the line of duty in their efforts to help us.

When we were air-wrecked in the New Hebrides for one day, we were most grateful to the acting resident commissioner, Mr. Cudmore. He had no knowledge of our arrival and was called back while on his way to a Sunday beach picnic. He efficiently made arrangements for us, despite the fact that he was not in particularly good health. The strength of the Commonwealth and the nature of the links that bind us together are appreciated and experienced on such occasions.

We travelled to three countries, which, in terms of travel time, are probably the furthest countries of the Commonwealth. They are not the most distant countries geographically, but it takes longer to get there than to anywhere else in the Commonwealth. As the hon. Gentleman said, we found a deep sense of affection for this country, and in particular for this House and its parliamentary traditions, in each of the Parliaments and countries that we visited. We were also well received by the Parliaments of the two countries that we visited en passant, Fiji and Nauru. I am happy to tell you, Mr. Speaker, that you will shortly be receiving the Speaker of the Fiji Parliament.

Unofficially, I also met Mr. Speaker Timakata and other Members of the New Hebridean Parliament. I hope that we shall have close links with them after they reach independence later this year.

I was particularly struck by the impact and strength of the Churches in the three countries that we visited. The missionaries who went out from this country to the South Pacific have left a record of which they, and we, can be proud. The Churches play a central part in the lives of the people of all three countries. I was able to attend services in Kiribati. The singing of their choirs rival those of your native land, Mr. Speaker.

Reference has been made to the problems of communications in those countries. They are experienced not only by visiting delegations from this House. When considering the difficulties of countries such as Kiribati, one should remember that, although the population of Kiribati is equivalent to perhaps only half that of one of our constituencies, one part of the country is as far away from the capital as Cyprus is from London. Members of Parliament in Christmas Island have to travel 2,000 miles, using rather unreliable flights, to attend Parliament. That indicates the communication problems that such countries have to face.

We found great enthusiasm among the people, and that is reflected in their singing. They are a happy people in the face of great problems. My abiding impression is that of the realism of their leaders. They know that they have limited resources. Indeed, Tuvalu and Kiribati have very limited resources. They are anxious to make the best use of them.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Carlton, whom I should describe as an hon. Friend during those two weeks—I hope that our friendship will continue—and to Mr. Willcox for their tolerance, friendship and help during our travels. I am also grateful to the Parliaments and people of those countries for the warmth of their welcome. It will remain with me always.

The House is grateful to the hon. Members for Carlton (Mr. Holland), and for Farnworth (Mr. Roper), and to Mr. Jim Willcox, for the superb way away in countries with whose peoples we in which they have represented us far are linked by historic ties. I have received letters from the Speakers of the three countries that they visited. They express warm appreciation of the way in which our parliamentary delegation performed its duties on behalf of this House. I express the feelings of the House when I thank both hon. Gentlemen, and I note with particular pride the references to this House as the " Mother of Parliaments ".

May I say to the hon. Member for Carlton that I hope that the dancing girls, who waited six hours for both hon. Members, felt that they had received an adequate reward when the hon. Members and the Clerk arrived. We are deeply grateful to the delegation. It is always a very special occasion when hon. Members report to the House about a visit that they have undertaken on its behalf.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Farnworth, who is the son of a Nonconformist minister, for his reference to the work of the Churches in that area. Commercials are not allowed or I should mention the Methodist Church. I shall ensure that the resolution of the national Parliament of the Solomon Islands is entered in the Journals of the House.

The resolution was as follows:

" That we, the Members of the National Parliament of Solomon Islands, convey to the Members of the Commons House of Parliament of Westminster our sincere and deep-felt gratitude for the gift of a Clock for our Parliament to mark the Independence of our nation, and take note of this heartening indication of the continuance of the relationship that exists between the mother of Parliaments and this Parliament."