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We have been reminded that we have seven hereditary peers who are Canadian. We also have, as a matter of interest, four New Zealanders, 11 Australians and several others from the other countries that your Lordships will see. From St. Lucia, we have one; from South Africa, four; from Zimbabwe, one. That is just to add a few. I am delighted to see the number of life Peers who represent the culture, the ethnic feelings, the beliefs and the talents of the Commonwealth countries so closely associated with the monarchy.
On 2nd June 1953, Her Majesty the Queen laid her hand on the Holy Gospel and solemnly promised to govern the peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Pakistan and Ceylon (as it was then known), and of the possessions and other territories to any of them belonging or pertaining, according to their respective law and customs - the Comity of Nations.
"We think it should be placed on record that the Constitutional Practice is that legislation by the Parliament of Westminster applying to a Dominion should only be passed with the consent of the Dominion concerned". This was the basis for Section 4 of the Statute of Westminster II in 193l, which provides:
"No Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom passed after the commencement of this Act shall extend or be deemed to extend to a Dominion as part of the law of that Dominion unless it is expressly declared in that Act that the dominion has requested, and consented to the enactment thereof".
During the previous government's tenure of office it was proposed to share the governance, the sovereignty of Northern Ireland, between Dublin and Westminster. No one knows what will happen to the sovereignties of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man with a
We admire the way that the Gurkhas volunteer as members of Her Majesty's forces and the way that the Government have safeguarded and guaranteed financial support to the families of the Gurkhas recently killed in Kosovo. Nepal is not part of the Commonwealth.
Please let us not forget what our Commonwealth friends--that Comity of Nations, our family--did for our monarch in the last two World Wars. Please let us not surrender our long-term friends piecemeal. To avoid conflict within the Commonwealth as a result of failure to consult before presenting the House of Lords Reform Bill, exacerbated should the Bill be passed, Her Majesty's Government must surely consider re-phrasing the Coronation Oath, revising the Statute of Westminster II and reviewing the Oath of Allegiance taken by every Peer.
Went the day well? We died and never knew, but, good or ill, Freedom, we died for you". The monarchy, the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth are the living history of us all and the heritage that assures our future. All Members of this House, as an integral part of Parliament, are to a large measure their custodians. That living history this House must continue to protect. I support the amendment.
Lord Newby: My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, sits down, perhaps he could answer a question which might clarify his amendment. If a parliament of any of the members of the Commonwealth set out in later amendments, say, in subsection (1A) of Amendment No. 63A--that is, Commonwealth countries of which the Queen is not head of state--put down a resolution opposing the Bill and stating that it should not come into force, is the noble Lord really saying that, on a wet Friday afternoon in Vanuatu, Kiribati, The Gambia or Fiji, there may, so to speak, be a Private Members' debate on the Bill? That is implausible but not impossible. We know from what the noble Lord, Lord Norrie, has said that there is considerable disquiet on this issue across the Commonwealth. But is the noble Lord really saying that if the Kiribati Parliament passed a resolution that it wished this Bill not to pass, this Bill should not pass?
Lord Clifford of Chudleigh: My Lords, I can probably help the noble Lord--he is quite right to ask me that question--by asking him to read Hansard tomorrow. He will understand that I was talking about the courtesy--the diplomacy most of all--of alerting all of the nations in the schedules of what is the intention of Her Majesty's Government on such matters as a constitutional change of this nature. I hope that will help the noble Lord to a degree--I can see that it will not
Lord Ashbourne: My Lords, I rise to support these amendments because they re-emphasise the importance of the Commonwealth, the United Kingdom Crown dependencies and British overseas territories. Perhaps at this stage I should declare an interest because I was born in Malta more years ago than I care to reveal to your Lordships. I commend these amendments to the House.
Viscount Waverley: My Lords, consultation at any time is always a useful and worthwhile step. In this case, with so much at stake, I believe that it is an absolute imperative. A way forward must be identified which commands the wholehearted support of all sides.
The issues are indeed complex--I refer in particular to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Norrie--and raise in my mind unanswered questions. If the Statute of Westminster relates only to those territories named as dominions in 1931 there might be no case to answer. If, however, the relationship since 1931 with our dependencies, realms and the wider Commonwealth has so evolved as to create serious knock-on effects in capitals across the Commonwealth, clearly we have a duty to scrutinise closely and to consult.
What are the implications for the realms, for instance, those independent countries where the Queen is head of state, whose final court of appeal is the Privy Council and whose legislation is closely, if not inextricably, linked to ours? Clearly changes for us must signify changes for them at least. This is not to suggest that any kind of veto power is inherent in our relations with the Commonwealth family. Rather I believe that in the interests of maintaining and fostering the vital "partnerships" which Britain has carefully developed over the decades, one can do no less than to support the calls for consultation--always with Britain's best interest in full view.
Lord Chesham: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Norrie has mentioned my name in connection with this group of amendments and I am grateful to him for that. I am slightly surprised to note that when we are discussing something like the Commonwealth we do not have a Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister present. I think that perhaps that is an indication of the Government's attitude towards it. I believe that the Government have been totally discourteous as far as the Commonwealth is concerned. I cannot understand why the Commonwealth countries were not consulted--that is not too difficult a task--unless the Government believe that the Commonwealth is not important. I do not believe that it is too late for consultation to take place. I ask the Government to take steps to repair the damage that is being caused by their attitude.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I wish in a few words to support from my heart the amendment. This is not a question of "the Act shall not pass"; it is a question that the Act should not pass before there has at least been consultation with the Commonwealth. The question was asked but the difference is fundamental. All one is asking for is consultation. Having served alongside forces of the Commonwealth, I feel that that is something for which one should be entitled to ask. The Government should take this on board. The speech of my noble friend Lord Norrie was reasoned, well researched and worthy of the serious attention of the Government. I ask that that is given.
There are occasions when a government--any government--seem to forget or omit something of consequence in the drafting of a Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will remember, that happened during the human rights legislation. I tabled an amendment on the ecclesiastical aspect, which had not been considered. That matter was resolved amicably and went to sleep. Then I tabled an amendment on the impact on the Armed Forces. I was not supported by my own Front Bench; I never am. I do not expect to be; I am an independent Conservative. In the result, I received a letter from the Ministers and they set up the very kind of court which I had hoped and expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, might perhaps be set up.
The point is not whether one won or succeeded, or whether one was supported by any political party, on a question such as this. It is not a political question; it is not a question for a political party. The point is that in the drafting of a Bill any government can fail to appreciate a matter of fundamental importance. I respectfully ask the Government to take the speech and the amendment of my noble friend on board.
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