The Future of the Banabans (Ocean Island)
Decided by members of UK Parliament in House of Commons May 1978
Excerpt of debate over the future of the Banabans (Ocean Island), House of Commons Official Report, Parliamentary Debates, (Hansard), Volume 950 No.120.
Meet the key people who decided on the Banabans future.
HANSARD DEBATE 19 May 1978
Sir B Braine :
“I would like, if I may, to give a warning here. Unless justice is done to one small Pacific community whose case is well understood from one end of the Pacific to the other - from the Solomon Island to Samoa, from Australia and New Zealand to Fiji and Nauru - that is, the Banaban community, whole treatment by successive British Governments has been oppressive and unjust for so long, by returning their island home to them, our departure from the Pacific will not be a moment for mutual celebration, for expressions of gratitude from those we have governed and a feeling of a job well done on our side, but a sour experience.
Ministers should feel heartily ashamed as I do, at the way in which (this small Pacific community has been treated. This is not the time to go into that in any detail, and I do not propose to do so. What Mr Justice Megarry  described in the high court as, ‘a breach of the higher trust’, cover the whole sorry tale in words far more eloquent than anything I could muster. All I will say now is that I promise the Government that they will not have an easy passage for any Bill for Gilbertese independence unless justice is done to the Banabans. Indeed, they will find opposition in every part of the House”.
Banaba (Phosphate Mining)
Hansard Debate 24 May 1978:
3. Mr Thompson:  asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he anticipates that phosphate mining of Banaba will be completed and the operation of the British Phosphate Commission terminated.
Mr Luard:  It is expected that phosphate mining on Banaba will be complete in 1979 and that the British Phosphate Commission's operations on the island will be wound up in 1980.
Mr Thompson: In view of the fact that the Banabans are determined to resettle their homeland and that this point of view was accepted by the Gilbertese Government in the recent Bairiki resolutions, what steps are being taken by participant Governments in the British Phosphate Commission to ensure that Ocean Island becomes a flourishing homeland for a thriving Banaban community and not simply a sterile monument to British financial greed?
Mr Luard: The right of the Banabans to return to Ocean Island and resume their occupations has never been contested. The question of the replanting of the island was one of the subjects of the recent legal action on which an award was made. We have offered to undertake a resources survey to enable the Banabans to resume their occupations there”.
“Banaba (Ocean Island) should become a flourishing homeland for a thriving Banaban community and not simply a sterile monument to British financial greed?”
Sadly Mr Thompson’s words fell on deaf ears. Only 150 acres (60.7 hectares) on the coastal fringes of Banaba Island remain unmined. From the original land coverage of 1,500 acres (607 hectares), this equates to just 10 percent. No soil restoration of the mined-out fields has been carried out or the removal of mining waste and asbestos ridden buildings.
Just 14 months later at the time of Kiribati independence, 12 July 1979, all removable equipment and fixtures were gifted to the newly forming nation.
Today there is no safe housing for the island community or regular shipping. Water issues on the Island are ongoing, with increased periods of drought brought about by the island's changed natural environment from mining and the continuing effects of climate change.
Indeed, the once beautiful Banaban homeland has become, “a toxic, rotting monument to British financial greed?”
HANSARD DEBATE 24 May 1978:
5. Sir Bernard Braine: asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what response the Government are making to the Banaban Council of Leaders' acceptance of his ex gratia offer of $A10 million subject to its condition that the capital sum should be paid directly to it and be under its control and when the money will be paid.
Mr Luard: We have proposed that the modalities of payment be discussed through legal channels, and the Banabans have welcomed the suggestion. No payment can in any case be made until it is confirmed unconditionally that there will be no appeal in the legal action against the Crown.
Sir B. Braine: That sounds suspiciously like blackmail to me. Will the hon. gentleman confirm that the Government no longer intend to withhold from the Banabans the right to administer the fund themselves? Will he confirm that the accumulated interest on this sum will be paid over to them and will be under their control? Finally, as the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has said that the sum is not compensation for the grievous wrongs done to the Banabans over a long time, what response are the Government making to the High Court of Chancery's invitation, in December 1976, to make reparation for the continued breach of trust by the Government in terms of this small community?
Mr Luard: On the question of the administration of the fund, we are taking note of the request that was made by the former Council of Elders. The new Council of Elders has recently been elected, with a completely different composition from the previous council. Therefore, we wish to explore its views before we reach a final decision. As for accumulated interest, I require notice of that question.
It is true that my right hon. friend said that the offer was not intended as compensation. As the hon. gentleman knows, the legal action found there was no direct responsibility on the British Government. My right hon. friend was making it clear that we have offered an ex gratia payment to take account of the difficulties and disturbances of the Banabans over previous years.
Mr Skinner:  To what extent is the company concerned with the exploitation and the ravages that took place on the island making its contribution to the so-called compensation?
Mr Luard: The final distribution of the surplus of the British Phosphate Commission, to which I imagine my hon. friend is referring, is still to be decided. We are only one among three Governments who are responsible. We have to discuss the matter with the other two Governments.
Mr Luce:  As there is widespread feeling that the Banabans have had a raw deal over a long period, will the Minister at least assure the House that the elected representatives of the Banabans will have a major share in the administration of the trust fund that is to be established?
Mr Luard: It was because we recognised that many people felt that the Banabans had received a raw deal over some years that the offer—it was generally regarded as a generous offer—of $A10 million was made to the Banabans. Whatever some Opposition Members may think about it, the Banabans have recognised it as a generous offer and have accepted it in principle. As for the administration of the fund, there would be close consultation with elected representatives of the Banabans—in other words, the Council of Elders. As I have said, a new council has been elected and we shall want to know its views before we reach a final decision.
Miss Joan Lestor:  Will my hon. friend explain why it is that because the composition of the Council of Elders has changed there is an alteration to the principle concerning the administration of the fund, which was agreed by the British Government before the change was made? The statement made in another place is leading to a great deal of suspicion and speculation among the Banabans.
Mr Luard: I think that my hon. friend is mistaken. The British Government have not agreed to the original proposal that the money should be administered directly by the Council of Elders. We have always said that that should be done by way of a trust fund. We have said that for a good reason. Many people believe that in the past funds have not been as well administered by the Council of Elders as they might have been. We want to ensure that the funds go genuinely to the purposes for which they are intended, namely, to help the people of Banaba as a whole.
Miss Fookes:  Will the hon. gentleman now make it abundantly clear whether the Banabans will control the capital sum, whatever form it takes?
Mr Luard: We have proposed that a trust fund should be established, with which the representatives of the Banabans would be closely associated. We are now considering their proposal that the money should be paid direct to the Council of Elders.
For more information on UK Parliamentary debate: PART TWO - BANABAN COMPENSATION in House of Commons 26 July 1979
- Bernard Richard Braine, Baron Braine of Wheatley, Privy Council of United Kingdom (PC), from 24 June 1914 to5 January 2000. He was a Conservative Party politician in the United Kingdom, a Member of Parliament (MP) for 42 years, from 1950 to 1992. (Wikipedia)
- Sir Robert Edgar Megarry, 1 June 1910 – 11 October 2006) was an eminent British lawyer and judge. Originally a solicitor, he requalified as a barrister and also pursued a parallel career as a legal academic. He later became a High Court judge and served as Vice-Chancellor of the Chancery Division from 1976 to 1981. He sat in the case the Bananabans UK Civil Court Cast - Tito v Waddell (No 2), brought by the former residents of Banaba Island, Gilbert and Ellice Islands, whose island was all but destroyed by phosphate mining. He took the court on a 3-week trip to the south Pacific, to visit the island. After sitting for 206 days, Megarry delivered a judgment containing 100,000 words. He asked the Crown to do its duty to the islanders but found that he was unable to require it to do anything. (Wikipedia)
- George Henry Thompson, (11 September 1928 – 23 December 2016) was a Scottish National Party politician and Roman Catholic priest. He served as the Member of Parliament for Galloway from October 1974–79. (Wikipedia)
- David Evan Trant Luard, (31 October 1926 – 8 February 1991), most commonly known as Evan Luard, was a British Labour, SDP politician, and a renowned international relations scholar. He served as a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Foreign Office from 1969 till 1970 and again from 1976 until Labour left power in 1979. (Wikipedia)
- Dennis Edward Skinner (born 11 February 1932) is a British former politician who served as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Bolsover from 1970 to 2019. He is a member of the Labour Party. Known for his left-wing views and acerbic wit, he belonged to the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs. (Wikipedia)
- Richard Napier Luce, Baron Luce, KG, GCVO, PC, DL (born 14 October 1936), is a British politician. He is a former Lord Chamberlain to the Queen, serving from 2000 to 2006, and has been Governor of Gibraltar, a Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) from 1971 to 1992, and government minister, and a crossbench member of the House of Lords. (Wikipedia)
- Joan Lestor, Baroness Lestor of Eccles (13 November 1931 – 27 March 1998) was a British Labour politician. In 1987, she held the seat of Eccles until 1997. She served in the shadow cabinet between 1989 and 1996 firstly as Shadow Spokesperson for Children and Families and subsequently as Shadow Minister for Overseas Development. (Wikipedia)
- Janet Evelyn Fookes, Baroness Fookes DBE DL (born 21 February 1936) is a British politician. A member of the Conservative Party, she is a Life Peer in the House of Lords. (Wikipedia)
Get the Book!
Read more about the epic history of Banaba (Ocean Island) and the Banaban people (the Forgotten People of the Pacific) as they seek justice to save their island, their culture, their future. Te Rii ni Banaba- Backbone of Banaba, by Raobeia Ken Sigrah and Stacey King, available on Amazon here
First published: Hansard, Volume 950 No.120
Published online: Come Meet the Banabans 'Banaban History'