§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Amery)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The Bill which I have to bring before the House this afternoon is a permissive Bill. It is one which gives the authority of this House to the Crown to enable it, by Order in Council, to modify the constitution of the Colony of British Guiana. The constitutions of His Majesty's Colonies are very frequently changed by Order in Council, but that form of action is impossible in the present case, owing to certain legal considerations, arising out of the form of the original Capitulation of 1803 under which British Guiana became a British colony. We agreed in that Capitulation that the mode of taxation in use at that date should be adhered to, and ever since then the Law Officers of the Crown have ruled that the terms of that Article precluded the Crown from levying taxation of its own authority in British Guiana, and equally precluded it from modifying the constitution of the Combined Court—the constitutional body which at that time was the only body empowered to raise taxation or deal with finance. The ordinary legislature of the colony, the Court of Policy, is equally precluded, either from levying taxation or from interfering in the constitution of the Combined Court. On the other hand, the Combined Court itself has no legislative function. It can only tax or revise estimates. Therefore, it is also impotent to change its own constitution. Consequently there is no legal method of altering the constitution in British Guiana except through the intervention of the authority of Parliament.
So much for the reasons which make it necessary to come here for authority. I realise however, that the House will wish to know why it is desired that the constitution should be altered and I shall endeavour to give the reasons as briefly as I can. No doubt they will be stated more fully and with more intimate local knowledge by hon. Members who have been out there, either as Members of the 990 Parliamentary Commission or otherwise. British Guiana is our only colony on the Southern American continent. It is a country as large as the United Kingdom, possessing very great natural resources, a soil of extraordinary richness in the seacoast region, great mineral resources and immense resources in timber. Yet, somehow, that colony has, in the century and a quarter of British occupation, and in the century and a half or more in which it has been mainly British, made no appreciable progress. Its record is one of almost continuous stagnation. It is quite true that it has had to contend with certain difficulties. It had no large native population to begin with and, consequently, had to look to immigration for the increase of population. But in spite of the immigration into British Guiana of over 350,000 people in the course of a century, the population today stands at only 300,000. This is not due to any special unhealthiness of the climate—for, as compared with many other tropical countries, the climate is very pleasant—but to excessive infant mortality, defective sanitation and lack of any proper health system.
Another drawback to the easy development of the Colony by peasant proprietorship has been the fact that its most fertile lands need protection by seawalls against encroachments of the sea, and also need irrigation and drainage. So there was a need for capital. But in many other parts of the Empire, similar difficulties have been easily overcome, and capital has come in, and the population has grown and developed. In British Guiana, however, as I said, the history has been one, if not of decline, at any rate of stagnation. In the present century, confronted with the progress of the world and of the British Empire elsewhere, with the need for bringing education and transport and sanitation up to date, the problem of the colony has become almost impossible. Its finances have become increasingly difficult. At this moment a population of 300,000, not at a high average level of prosperity, is saddled with a burden of over £4,300,000 of debt actually floated or with the Crown Agents due to be redeemed. That is, over £14 a head, as compared with £2 17s. 6d. in the Colony of Ceylon, where there is, at least, an equal average of prosperity.
991 4.0 p.m.
In the seven years ending 1927, there was only one year in which there was not a deficit, and in that year there was a small surplus of £33,000. Over the whole seven years there was a deficit of £681,000. In addition to that, there is a growing difficulty facing them of a floating debt to the extent of £1,200,000 borrowed from the Crown Agents, and due to be covered by loan, with urgent requirements that can only he met by further considerable loan expenditure. The Colony is in a position that it cannot float a loan in this country on any reasonable terms, not only because of the discouragement to investors created by the financial situation that I have described, but because there is no reserved power in the Government of the Colony under the Secretary of State to ensure that any undertaking with regard to the repayment of interest or capital will in fact be met. That is in fact a critical and anxious situation, which, naturally, all those who are interested in the affairs of our Colonies have watched with misgiving for many years.
Two years ago, acting on a suggestion originally made by some of the elected members of the Court of Policy in British Guiana, I decided to send out a Parliamentary Commission, and two hon. Members of this House—the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Roy Wilson) and the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Snell)—went out to British Guiana, and presented to me a very valuable and important Report, which, no doubt, has been studied by Members of this House. A great deal of that Report deals with matters not immediately concerned with the Bill before us, but I should like to pay my tribute here to the care, sympathy and understanding with which they threw themselves into their task, and thank them for very many valuable suggestions which they made with regard to the welfare of British Guiana in every direction. They were sent out on an absolutely open road. They were asked:To consider and report on the economic condition of the Colony, the causes which have hitherto retarded and the measures which could be taken to promote development, and any facts which they may consider to have a bearing on the above matters.992 I need not assure the House that there were no secret instructions or indications given to the hon. Members. They were given an absolutely free band to study the position in British Guiana without prejudice from every point of view. Their report on the financial situation of the Colony is very serious. They begin that section of their report by frankly declaring that the present financial position is unsatisfactory. They end by stating that they are "satisfied that the financial position is unsound and the outlook serious," and the conclusion to which they came, absolutely independent of any instruction or suggestion from this side, was that the unsatisfactory financial position was due not so much to any weakness of the administrators sent out to British Guiana, nor to any original sin on the part of the people there, but was due to the structure of the constitution which makes sound finance practically impossible. They point out in their Report:Hand-to-mouth finance and haphazard and ill-considered taxation are the inevitable outcome of a system under which the responsibility for the finances rests with a Government who cannot enforce their policy and the financial power with the elected members who have no real responsibility.I ought to explain to the House the exact nature of the constitution of British Guiana. The ordinary legislature of the Colony, the Court of Policy, is a body constituted on lines analogous to those found all over the Colonial Empire—a Governor with a certain number of official members, some ex-officio, some nominated, and an equal number of elected members, the Governor having a casting vote, and therefore able in an emergency definitely to make his policy prevail. There is a very normal, natural give-and-take between the official and unofficial members of the legislature, but this legislature is entirely precluded from dealing with finance. Finance, divorced from legislation, is dealt with by a separate body, consisting in part of the members of the Court of Policy, and in part also of members elected as financial members, and for no other purpose whatsoever. It is as if every financial matter before this House had to be settled, regardless of the general policy of this House, by a body consisting of the members of this House, and another 300 members chosen purely for that purpose, and as a rule opposed to the Government 993 of the day whatever the Government might be. That position is one which makes it a matter of absolute uncertainty whether carefully considered plans of the Government, however well-endorsed by the main body of the legislature, can in fact go through. After all, there are no schemes of legislation which do not involve some appointments, some salaries, some element of finance, and you have this outside body,, with no general responsibility for the administration or the legislation, with no continuous contact with legislation or administration, coming in for a few days' discussion and able to upset entirely the whole machinery of government. As the Commission point out:The practical consequences of this lack of ultimate control are chiefly to be seen in the financial system of the Colony. This system is prejudicial to trade, inconducive to sound financial policy, and costly in that it prevents the Colony's loans from being issued as trustee securities, We have referred elsewhere in greater detail to the vital importance of establishing a definite far-sighted and consistent financial policy. At present the elected members are in the position of a minor who can overrule his own trustee.They go on to say:The Government in British Guiana have never been able to govern. This situation was possible so long as the function of administration was confined to attempting to prevent mis-government. it is not possible when the Government are expected to take a direct and active part in the development of the country and the improvement of the condition of the people.They add a further point:Provision for ultimate control is also desirable on grounds of political psychology. The divorce of responsibility from power, which is so marked a feature of the constitution, places the elected members as well as the Government in a false position. The elected members tend to be placed in the position of a permanent opposition, Unrestrained by experience or prospect of office. Though we do not wish to press the analogy too closely, the position of the Government, under such conditions, might in some respects he compared to that of a Ministry without a majority, a state of affairs not tending to inspire respect or promote efficiency and highly detrimental to morale.We would welcome any change in the existing Constitution which would give to the people's representative wider powers of usefulness and greater opportunity for constructive criticism. But we do not see how it can he possible either to ensure a consistent financial policy or to exercise efficient 994 control of the Colony's sources of revenue, unless Government have the power in the last resort, and under proper safeguards, to enforce their own decisions.
§ Mr. AMERY
That is the British Guiana Commission consisting of the hon. Member for East Woolwich and the hon. Member for Lichfield. Their point is that the constitution as it exists at present is one which does not secure efficiency either way. Neither the elected representatives nor the Government can ever carry through a consistent policy. The report of that Commission has been subjected to a great deal of vehement criticism in detail by the elected members of the Combined Court. That criticism is published in full in the Paper which was presented to the House yesterday. It is couched in very strong language, but while the elected members lay the blame not so much on themselves as upon successive Governors, Ministries, technical experts, and the ignorance and inaccuracy of the Parliamentary Commission, the fact still remains that their document is from beginning to end also a condemnation of the existing form of Government. I will leave my hon. Friends who were members of the Commission to deal, if they wish, with various criticisms directed against themselves—criticisms which, it seems to me, they have effectively rebutted. I will only read one brief passage with which they prelude their arguments. They point out:We are glad to observe that the Elected Members agree with the main conclusions and recommendations of our Report. Like us, they consider that the financial situation is unsatisfactory; that 'radical reform of the Colony's financial system is essential'; that 'a sustained and successful policy of development is impossible under the present system'; and they are prepared to agree in principle to the granting of a reserve power to the Governor of the Colony, at any rate to enable him 'where any loan has been duly authorised by the Legislature, to certify its service charges without the necessity of a vote being taken in the Combined Court.'The main fact stands out that it is not one or other party which is specially to blame, but that we are dealing here with a survival of a constitutional type which has really never worked successfully anywhere. We boast of the great merit of our constitution with that sense of re- 995 sponsibility from which responsible government draws its name. The position that administration, legislation and finance are intimately linked together in this House, and that those who are responsible for passing laws are also the people responsible for seeing that they are paid for and effectively administered, has only been reached after long centuries of strife and trouble under another type of constitution, that of representative Government where responsibility for legislation and finance was divorced from the responsibility for actual administration.
This is not an occasion on which to dive into the records of our political development, but it may perhaps be worth while reminding the House that the continuous deadlock and friction between the Executive and the Colonial Legislatures in the years which preceded the outbreak of the American Revolution, and, I venture to think, contributed in great part to the sense of irritation on both sides, of irresponsibility on the side of the elected members, and of impatience on the part of Parliament here, was due to the defects of representative as distinct from responsible Government in those Colonies. After the end of the American Revolution we developed in two directions—in the direction of granting responsible Government in our sense wherever the conditions permitted, but, on the other hand, where conditions did not permit, giving a definite responsibility to somebody, in other words, to a Governor responsible to the Secretary of State and, in the last resort, to this House of Commons.
A very eminent American constitutional authority, Professor Lawrence Lowell, of Harvard, in his work on the British Constitution, remarks somewhere that "a Colony may be governed by its own people or it may be governed by the Mother Country, but it cannot under normal conditions be effectively governed by both combined." I would not go quite as far as that eminent authority in one sense, for certainly all over the Empire we are getting very fruitful results from the combination and the co-operation of elected representatives and official administrators, but I think he is absolutely right in saying that a 996 Colony cannot be governed unless in the last resort one authority or other finally prevails and finally enables a policy to be carried out or pledges given by a previous Government to become operative. It is, therefore, as a problem of a type of constitution not workable in itself, and not as a problem of special misgovernment on the part either of officials or of elected members, that we have to consider this matter. In their final conclusion, the Parliamentary Commission sum up the situation by saying:It appears to us essential, as well on the ground of immediate financial exigences as on that of future development, that the authorities finally responsible for the solvency and good government of the Colony should have power in the last resort to carry into effect measures which they consider essential for its well-being. This will involve an alteration in the Constitution, the precise nature which, we suggest, might he referred, in the first instance, to a local commission convened by the Governor to advise upon the steps which should be taken to confer power upon the Governor to carry into effect measures which he and the Secretary of State consider essential for the well-being of the Colony; and also what other improvements. if any, might he effected in the present Constitution.Acting upon that recommendation, I asked the Governor, subject to the general lines laid down in this concluding paragraph, namely, the necessity that the authorities finally responsible should have power to carry into effect the measures they consider essential to the wellbeing of the Colony, to appoint a local commission to frame for themselves the form of amended Constitution which they would consider most desirable and most conducive to the prosperity of the Colony. The Commission consisted of two official and four unofficial members of the community, and their recommendations are unanimous.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Could the right hon. Gentleman say whether they were whites or coloured, whether they were planters or not?
§ Mr. AMERY
I cannot say anything about the actual physical complexion of the members, though I can say that Mr. Hector Josephs, the Attorney-General, is 997 a man of pure African descent, who has rendered conspicuous service to the Crown, both in his own Colony of Jamaica and in British Guiana. These members signed a unanimous Report, the only qualification being that one of the elected members added a note, in which he makes it plain that he would have signed the Report with alacrity if I had promised or even hinted that the result of the Report would be the grant of substantial financial assistance by His Majesty's Government, and that, though he would rather leave the Constitution unchanged, he regards the form of Constitution of which he has approved, together with his other colleagues, as the best to carry out the objects in view.
The local Commission decided that they would prefer to have one Legislative Chamber dealing with both finance and policy instead of two Chambers. They said thatthe preponderance of evidence was in favour of the abolition of the existing Court of Policy and Combined Court, and the substitution therefor of a single legislative body.They expressed as their own opinion:We consider that the plan of dividing public business into financial and nonfinancial matters is not a satisfactory basis on which to frame a Constitution, especially as in all the major problems which face a Government financial and non-financial considerations are closely interwoven.They, therefore, recommended the creation of a single Legislative Council, which should contain the whole of the existing 14 elected members, both of the Court of Policy and Combined Court, and they recommended no alteration in the franchise or in the number of representatives to be elected. Together with that, there is to be a body of official representatives and of nominated unofficial representatives which will enable the Governor to select from those various interests in the community, with the widest possible discretion—they laid great emphasis on that point—men who might not otherwise be represented; and in this body the official element together with the nominated unofficial element would have a majority of one.
With regard to the introduction of a nominated unofficial element, they expressed the view:It is our opinion, and the opinion of every witness who came before us that the 998 introduction into the Legislature of such an element would be an improvement.They also recommended that definite power should be given to the Governorto reserve, for his own decision, any matter which he and the Secretary of State consider essential to the good government of the Colony, but that this power should not be exercised without a previous reference to the Secretary of State (should such be possible), and in any event the Governor's action in this respect should be reviewed by the Secretary of State at the earliest possible moment.They submitted a draft Clause of some length in the White Paper suggesting the way in which that reserve power might be framed. They believe the existence of the knowledge that there does reside somewhere in British Guiana final authority willnaturally tend to the exercise on both sides of those qualities which make for agreement.That then is the recommendation of the local Commission. They know their own conditions, and I have no desire to criticise or go behind their Report. My intention is to base the Order in Council modifying the Constitution of British Guiana upon the Report of the local Commission, and to follow it as closely as may be. I may add, however, that I am still in consultation with the delegation of elected members of the British Guiana Combined Court, who have come over to see how far there are any points on which we can agree between us to modifications which would not prejudice the general type of the new Constitution. That is all, I think, that I need say in commendation of this Bill, except to make one further point plain.
There is no question here of a going back on self-government in the British Empire. The last few years have, in many parts of the British Empire, seen a substantial advance towards fuller representation, in many cases towards a more responsible form of Government, as in the island of Malta, for instance, where a Constitution with precisely the same kind of weakness of divided responsibility had to be modified in 1903. That modification made way 15 years later for that wide measure of responsible Government that is enjoyed to-day. The question is not one of progress to or from self-government, but rather of enabling the car of government to back out of the cul de sac into which it has run, on to the straight high 999 road of constitutional development. The present Constitution of British Guiana is a dead end, out of which there is no outlet for either political or economic development. My hope is that by establishing a Constitution which will lay the final responsibility for Government on the Governor of the Colony, subject to the ultimate authority of the Secretary of State and this House, you will create a condition of things under which the spirit of responsible co-operation and the progress of the Colony will enable the new Legislature to pave the way, in the fullness of time, for further constitutional developments, which are, I am afraid, clearly precluded by the present financial and general situation of the Colony.
§ Mr. AMMON
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months."
At the outset, I want to join with the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State in expressing the appreciation, I am sure, of all parties in the House for the excellent Report and work done by the Commission which went out there, for the information they have given, and anything that I have to say is in no sense a criticism of their work, but rather in appreciation of it. My point of difference will be as to whether or not the Government have taken the right way to meet the difficulties which the Commission have set before us, and in that respect I want to say that I think the House has some real ground for complaint that the important document of criticism by the elected members, consisting of 111 pages, in reply to points raised by the Commission, has been issued only this morning. I suggest to the House, irrespective of party, that it is a serious business to ask us to consider a matter which involves an important point of principle when we have important documents put into our hands only an hour or two before the discussion takes place in this House. It is impossible for any Member to get a full grip of all the points involved and the points of dispute put up by those from the Colony itself. Whether their points are well founded or not it will not do for it to go out from this House that we have dealt with them in so per- 1000 functory a manner as appears on the surface. I am in a favourable position, because I received a copy in advance from British Guiana, but that only emphasises the position in which the House finds itself in having this considerable document thrown at it in this manner. That alone is sufficient to justify the withdrawal of this Bill until the Members of the House have had an opportunity of considering the case and all the published documents in their relationship one with the other.
Having said that, one admits that there is a case to be made against the present administration of the Colony; conditions are such that bankruptcy seems to be staring it in the face, and there is certainly something to be said for a modified reorganisation or a reconsideration of the whole position. So far we are on common ground, and there is no dispute. We should have some grasp of all that is involved, both in the geographical situation of the Colony and its potential resources, and of the problems of constitutional government that are involved. It is an area larger than Great Britain, and it is the only foothold that we have on the South American Continent. It is geographically in relationship with America and the West Indies, which ought, one would think, to have opened up possibilities of great development of the rich potential resources that there are. It is possessed of great national wealth and a virgin soil. The extraordinary thing is that, if we compare the volume of trade between 1836 and 1925, as shown in the Report, we find that there is very little difference. In fact, I do not think that it would be wrong to say that, if you were to take into consideration the increased population, it has actually declined. The curious thing is that at a time in history when most of the people of the world live by taking in each other's washing, here is an opportunity of developing a Colony with great national resources where, somehow, the spirit of adventure, both in capital and emigration, seems to be sadly lacking. Whether that be so or not, the position we have to face is the position that has been sot up by the proposals now before us.
As the Minister has said, the Colony has shown for seven years a deficiency 1001 totalling something like £681,985. As a further instance of what is lacking in business acumen, the Commission draw attention to the fact that in 1925 no less an amount than 871,000 lbs. of refined sugar was imported into the Colony. When one remembers that sugar is the main industry of British Guiana, there does seem to be something to consider. The population is about 300,000, which is less than four to the square mile. All that is common ground, but it is an admission that there is a condition of affairs that calls for inquiry and quick and sympathetic action. It is a question, however, whether or not that sympathetic action is contained in the proposals of the Government. The Government proposals raise more problems than they solve, and here we have the Mother of Parliaments going back on the policy of representative government. That surely is a very serious position, and ought not to be lightly undertaken, even by supporters of the Government itself. We are asked to throw over a system of government that British Guiana has enjoyed for 120 years—surely a serious proposal. The line that we ought to have taken is to run the risks that are necessarily involved in the development of democratic government. That development does involve certain risks in its working out and the whole history of our own system of government shows it. Hardly any Colony or any of our Dominions will tell a different story. In the early stages of the development, say, of Canada and other places, we have the same story of muddle, sometimes of corruption, and sometimes of things that would not commend themselves at the present time. But gradually they worked through these things until there is now a system of government more or less in line with that which has been worked out in the British constitution.
Would we have acted in quite, the same manner as is proposed if the majority of the population of British Guiana had been white? There are one or two directions in which we might have taken a view altogether different from the view proposed. We are told that there is a difficulty in raising loans for the necessary capital in Guiana. The two things that British Guiana needs are population and capital. Sympathy has 1002 not been given to Guiana in regard to capital that may have been given to other Colonies, and, in fact, in the case of Western Australia, has been given; their financial position is certainly no better than that of British Guiana, and yet we have not hesitated to guarantee their loan under the Colonial Stock Acts. In spite of the communication that was sent by the Chancellor of the Exchequer some time ago, there is no reason why they should not have been given the necessary guarantees in order that they might have raised their loan. I wonder whether we are acting strictly legally in the action that we are taking. We have to remember that the Colony is based on the terms of the Capitulation of 1803; in 1843 a similar constitutional crisis arose, and the then Secretary of State said that he had no legal authority to interfere in any way. Now, however, there seems to be quite a different point of view, and it seems as if we are going to ride roughshod over the people who are in the Colony. Surely the Imperial Government could have given a guarantee to raise the necessary money and could have taken the precautions necessary to see that it was properly administered without taking the step that they are now suggesting.
What are needed in Guiana above all things are railroad and harbour development, irrigation and drainage. According to the excellent map that has been given in the Report of the Commission, there seems only one very small portion of first-class road for the whole of the Colony. That is just a little strip on the Atlantic coast. Sympathetic help and assistance from this side could have been given with proper safeguards, which undoubtedly could have been devised, in order to develop the laying down of roads and of their harbours, the chief one of which has been put out of action by silting up, and to help them in their irrigation and drainage. That would have been a much better line of action than that which is now proposed, namely, the handing over of the government very largely into the hands of absentee planters in their interest rather than development to the advantage of the community. I am not sure that the Government themselves in recent years 1003 have not contributed somewhat to the economic disasters that have befallen the Government in Guiana. Quite recently, their sugar crop was bad. They sought to adjust that by going in for rubber plantation. The Government restriction on rubber prevented them going on with it, at any rate according to the statements we get from that side.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Ormsby-Gore)
Restriction in British Guiana?
§ Mr. AMMON
According to the statements supplied to us, the restriction applied there also. I should be glad to hear that that is incorrect. There was, however, a check placed on the possibilities of development in this direction. Incidentally, all that the restrictions have done is to make fortunes for Dutch merchants rather than to help our own people. The line that we should have taken was to reform the existing machinery of government and of the franchise. What we propose to do is to hand the people over to the Colonial Office. The Governor himself is going to have supreme power in the last resort, and the people are going to have no control over finance. To talk about giving a people government without control over finance is like taking the mainspring out of a watch and expecting it to work. Our own history shows that the central feature of our system of government is the right of the people to have the control of finance. Admittedly, they have made blunders and they have often bungled badly; nevertheless, it has worked out to a larger freedom both economically and for the people themselves. The stupid export duties have done a good deal, also, to cripple the development of trade in Guiana. We should have put education on to a proper and uniform basis. I know there are local objections in that regard, because under the present system they are more or less able to keep a certain amount of local control, but that is one of the essentials, and we might have helped them in that direction, and given some devolution of responsibility rather than take away their whole system of representative government, as it is now proposed to do.
1004 I want to put in a word or two with regard to some of the aboriginal inhabitants of the Colony. I have been approached by some of those who have had connection with missionary enterprise out there and who say that gradually the position of these people is being made very much harder by encroachments of other people. We know that the main population of British Guiana is gathered round the coast. There is very little population in the wide hinterland, which even at this stage of the world's history is practically unknown territory inhabited by a. few hands of nomad Indians. The wealth consists of bauxite, sugar, and of that wonderful green-heart wood of which I believe they have almost a monopoly. There is also a diamond industry which is declining, and in view of what has recently happened in South Africa it may be of less value still in future. None the less, there are Undoubtedly great possibilities of making this one of the best wealth-producing parts of the Empire, and one which would provide a means of livelihood to a very much larger population. It ought to be rather a suitable area for the surplus population of our Indian Empire, although there seem to be difficulties from that point of view. The Colony has not worked to increase the vitality of the Indian race or to establish a general standard of physical well-being.
With regard to the aborigines, I wish to ask the Secretary of State to consider what steps can be taken to safeguard their position and to see that ample reservations are made for them. There are certain reservations for the coast aborigines and a certain allowance is made with respect to Crown lands, but with the gradual encroachment on these the possibilities are getting even less in that respect. It is of the Savannah Indians of whom I am thinking at the moment. One of the largest export trades is in balata, which is collected under licences, extending over areas up to 250 square miles, for five to 15 years. I understand it is collected largely by black labour under Government administration or by aborigine Indians, and in the result the non-aborigines are ousting the aborigines. According to the Report, the aborigine Indians are of value in the surveys made in the forests. There is an opportunity here for using them 1005 economically and at the same time affording them work that suits their natural aptitude in the Savannah districts, by employing them in forestry survey work and protecting them in the collection of balata.
We have a moral obligation in this matter. One of the ugliest chapters in the development of other parts of the world has been the conduct of the old world to the aboriginal inhabitants of new lands. The least we can do in this case is to try somehow or other to make the lives of these aborigines more tolerable, to lead them to other ways of life, and to make them an economic unit in the nation itself. I suggest one or two alternatives that the Secretary of State might have put forward before he came down to the House with the proposals that he has made. What he is doing is to place this Colony very much in the position in which his colleague the Minister of Health has placed Bedwellty and West Ham and Poplar. He is putting a caretaker in and depriving the people of the power of self-government and of working out their own salvation. He is making a blot on the escutcheon of this country, in a way for which there is no precedent. He is going back on a form of elected government that has been enjoyed for a long period in order to place the people under the tutelage proposed by the Bill. Moreover, the right hon. Gentleman has caught the House unfairly in that hon. Members have not been in possession of all the information necessary for this discussion to- day.
The right hon. Gentleman might have put before the House other proposals before he made the proposals of the Bill. For instance, he might have gone very much on the lines of the borough councils, in which the elected members can serve on various departmental committees. That would have afforded a far better way of working out the economic salvation of this Colony, and would have done a great deal to disarm the criticism and the opposition that arises from the people themselves. Or elected members could have been placed on the Executive and given some responsibility for departments. Relatively near are Barbadoes and the Bahamas, where there is a large measure of self-government and greater 1006 executive power, and those examples might have been followed. There is yet one other plan. Although I am not committing myself to it, it would be well if the House could have an opportunity of considering it. That is the proposal of Lord Irwin, who suggested dividing the coast government from the hinterland. The House ought to have had an opportunity of discussing these various things. Hon. Members have had the subject thrown at them in such a way that there is danger of inflicting a form of Government on the Colony which the Colony does not want. The scheme is bound to raise a great deal of criticism. It is going back on all that we have done over our long period of history. In regard to one of the suggestions I have made, there is a precedent in the case of South Australia, though here I am open to correction. I believe South Australia did have some form of divided government in regard to the large tropical area which was placed under the Commonwealth of Australia. To have copied that plan in British Guiana would not have been a new experiment. If rumours be true, Western Australia seems to be making suggestions to be treated in a. similar way.
By such a method we would be able to help the colonists to develop and realise the potential wealth that is in their country. The most formidable proposal of all in the Bill and the one that arouses the keenest resentment is the proposal that special reservations should be made on the new council for the absentee planters to be represented. That is a most reprehensible form of government and ought not to be encouraged in any way. The people living in the Colony have to live their daily life there and have responsibilities as citizens. They are the people who are mostly concerned and who should be mostly considered with regard to this system of government. I ask the Secretary of State even now to consider whether it would not be better to defer proceeding with this Bill until the House has had an opportunity to read all the relevant papers and to inform itself fully as to all the problems involved, before committing itself to something which is a retrogressive step in the history of the British Constitution and Parliamentary Government.
I rise to support the Bill as the only native-born British Guianan in this House. My family connection with British Guiana goes back for about five generations, and, as a matter of fact, the much-abused articles of capitulation, which have been referred to by the right hon. Gentleman and the Mover of the rejection of the Bill, were drawn up by the Secretary of Governor Meertens in 1803, who was my great grandfather, P. F. Tinne. With regard to these articles of capitulation I am not going to say anything further, except that though well abused they have managed to stand for 125 years, and that is not a bad record. I propose to confine myself to facts, of which there are plenty to support the Bill, and I shall leave controversy as far as possible to others. There has been a good deal of printers' ink, as may be seen by the documents, and a good deal of breath already spent on the subject, and I do not propose to contribute more than I can help. The main basic fact is, that a Colony which, it is on all hands agreed, has great potential wealth, has been stagnant for nearly a century and a half. The causes are lack of population, indolence and ill-health from tropical conditions, difficulty of access, and in the past racial antipathy, which is at last beginning to disappear. The remedy is being sought in this Bill, and I have great hopes that the Government are going to achieve it.
The authorities for the statements I am making date right back to Sir Walter Raleigh's days and come down the centuries. There are the records of Storm von S'gravesande, one of the old Dutch Governors, published by the Hakluyt Society; Waterton's Wanderings in South America; Stedman's Narrative; Bolingbroke's Voyage in 1807, Dalton's History; Henry Kirk's; The Files of Timehri, whose founder and first editor was Sir E. im Thurn, the greatest living authority on the Indians of Guiana. He, unfortunately, never returned to the Colony as Governor. He was the originator and founder of that journal and during the many years of its existence there were numerous references to all the questions which are dealt with in the Report. Sub- 1008 sequently there were local journals, the "Argosy," and "Daily Chronicle," one of whose representatives is in the delegation at present in this country. There are also numerous references throughout the various issues of the West Indian Committee Circular. Nearly every Governor in his annual report has commented on various things ever since I can remember.
Let me say a word on the question of the aborigines, which was brought up by the hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill. He spoke of lack of population and put in a word for the aborigines. There is a relatively small number of real natives—probably about 20,000 nomad Indians belonging to the tribes of Carib, Acawai, Arawak and Macusi. Sir C. Clementi, who had a good deal to do with them in traveling in the interior, definitely stated that he believed the tribes were never more numerous than that. With regard to that, if you read Sir Arthur Helps' "History of the Spanish Conquest of South America," and realise the dreadful slaughter of the aboriginal Indians afterwards, that statement is open to some doubt; but there is no doubt that like any nomad tribe, they are undoubtedly dying out gradually before the advance of civilisation, and I very much doubt whether anything we can do will prevent it. It is absolutely useless to offer them employment of the ordinary type or to try to induce them to come into settlements, because they will not come. They are Indians, they are ferœ naturæ, they belong to the wild, and will not come in: and small blame to them from my point of view. But the real natives of the Colony, if one can describe them as natives, are what we West Indians describe as Creoles. In Paragraph A7 of the Delegation's answer to the Report, the memorandum by the elective members states that the bulk of those described as Creoles include many exotic stocks born in Guiana, a large number of East Indians, a rather smaller number of negroes, who came there originally as slaves, a number of Madeiran Portuguese, who were brought in at a time when the sugar planters attempted to get indentured labour from Madeira, a few of the old Dutch settlers and some English, and all grades in between as the result of inter-marriage, 1009 and, of course, there are also Chinese. Then the term "creole" is locally extended to include even native-bred farm animals, that is, those born locally as distinguished from imported; and they even go as far as using "creole" in referring to vegetable products, speaking of "creole rice" instead of rice grown locally in the Colony.
The memorandum of the electives absolutely denies that there is any racial antipathy. As an old colonist, I am only too happy to accept their assertion, but if their memories went back as far as mine they would recall that there were many riots in days not far back which were undoubtedly due to racial antipathy, and I regard that factor as one of the causes of the Colony's delayed development. I do not want to dwell upon it, but I mention it because it is a fact which must be taken into account. With regard to the lack of population, the first remedy for this is undoubtedly, to encourage immigration, and the second is better health conditions and improved sanitation, securing a natural increase by the reduction of infant mortality, which was referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies. The old indentured immigration has gone by the board. What we hope to see now is a satisfactory colonisation scheme whereby families with a proper proportion of women and children will be brought in as settlers in place of people coming as indentured immigrants, to be returned when their term of indenture is up. We want these immigrants to stay to form a permanent population. The Colony can offer to the East Indian, who has been our most satisfactory immigrant—I am speaking now from the sugar point of view—a home which is just as suitable for him as the home which Canada or Australia offers to white migrants. Our motto Damus petimusque vicissim asks for reciprocity, but in the almost impossible conditions which the Indian Government has required of us before giving us immigrants there seems to be some inversion of Canning's old gibe against the original Dutch colonials in his rhyming despatch of January, 1826:In matters of commerce the fault of the DutchIs giving too little and asking too much.1010 As a matter of fact, we want to give them land and all sorts of other inducements to come, and yet the Indian Government are "sticking" us, I suppose because we are rather easily "stickable." We would be only too glad to welcome Indians and to give them the most satisfactory conditions when they arrive.
As regards the question of a natural increase of population by improved sanitation and so on, may I be excused for bragging, but the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, which is the pioneer in such matters, is doing much by research and teaching to improve tropical conditions, and we look for great results from the metazoan immunity research, upon which we are now engaged. For a grant towards this work we have to thank the Empire Marketing Board. The London Tropical School is also doing fine work, with its larger resources, and so, also, is the Ross Institute. At the moment we are hoping to secure immunity from certain diseases in the tropics, and I trust that the London School will also take up the same line of research and help us with it.
In the past there has always been a lack of continuity of policy arising from the constant changes of governors and officials. If, for instance, the Secretary of State for the Colonies could come with me and take a walk along the sea shore in Demarara, and observe the "common objects," he would see the remains of various pet schemes for sea defence of successive colonial civil engineers, which have been referred to in various reports regarding waste of money. In front of one estate with which I am connected he would see a regular museum of curiosities, including loose stone boxwork groynes and remains of fascine work. He would see high groynes upon which one colonial engineer pinned his faith, and low groynes upon which another colonial engineer pinned his faith, and he would see, further, enclosures for trapping silt, planted with marram grass to hold it together, which were the device of another civil engineer. The only permanent work which has stood the test of time is Baron Siccama's sea wall, which was built in the 70's. He was a Dutch engineer who was engaged specially to complete the job, and not 1011 merely for a term. I commend that system to His Majesty's Government, because the practice of engaging men for a short term, or employing them for a short term, and letting them go before they have finished the job, does not conduce to efficiency, in my view. Only those who have kept up their own sea frontage at great expense, and then seen the Atlantic come pouring over their land through a breach in the defences of their neighbours can realise the bitterness of spirit with which one speaks.
Worst of all have been the constant disputes between the Governors and the Court of Policy, and the resulting stalemates. There is hardly a Governor, and I have personally known most of them since childhood, who has not had such disputes—going back from His Excellency the present Governor, Sir C. H. Rodwell, to Sir Graeme Thomson, Sir Wilfred Collett—I remember his having a dispute about rice; Sir Walter Egerton, who had a dispute about the local mail steamer contracts; dear old Sir Frederick Hodgson, who was, in his day, a very great man; Sir James Swettenham—I think he had frequent trials, I can remember one or two myself; Sir Augustus Hemming, Sir Walter Sendall, Sir Charles Lees, Sir C. J. Kortright and Lord Gormanston. There have been many others, if one could remember them all, and hardly one of them ever got through without one or two disputes with the Court of Policy.
I belong to the well-abused plantocracy, and I have no false modesty in stating my belief that the prosperity of the Colony varies with the prosperity of sugar and depends upon it. As regards paragraph A5 in the Delegation's memorandum, and the references in the West Indian Royal Commission's Report and in the Snell-Wilson Report, it presumably does not occur to any of our critics that the sugar planter must be tolerably efficient if he is going to survive at all. At all events, the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Roy Wilson) may give me credit for having at once started to test his theory about the growing of ground nuts, so far, I am sorry to say, without success, but I am going on trying, and I hope to have a better report later. That is true of planters at all times. We 1012 cannot afford not to be up to date and not to try any possible crop which shows a prospect of success—any proposal either for a change in cultural methods or the growing of alternative crops, and our support of the Imperial Tropical Agricultural College in Trinidad is surely proof of that. We are not afraid of spending money in order to help things along. We are not afraid of trying new things. We want to try new things. It is our business to do so. In my time I have tried, and am still trying where there is any prospect of success, coffee, cocoa and rubber.
An hon. Member opposite talked about restrictions on rubber. If he would like some rubber I will bring him some which I have grown myself. Other crops which I have tried include kola, fibres, nutmeg and spices and citrus fruits—in fact, anything that comes along, even cotton. I am sorry to say I cannot grow cotton at an economic price, though I can grow very good cotton. Therefore I think our critics might give us the credit for having ordinary commonsense and knowing something about our own business. A censorious critic, after I had refused to try some wild cat experiment, said of me once, that I had no public spirit and was merely competent. The West Indian planters who remain have survived Continental bounties and the closing of the United States market, and now that Imperial preference is an accomplished fact, and that we have a beet subsidy in this country, the shade of Sir Nevile Lubbock and others who ran the Anti-bounty League must sometimes smile down in the Elysian fields when they consider the present policy.
We have reached the stage in the history of the Colony at which timid treatment is comparable to medical fiddling when a drastic surgical operation is really necessary to restore the patient's health. However much I may differ in detail from this and that statement in the Report, I whole-heartedly support its main recommendation to place the Colony under Crown Colony government. An old colonial gourmet once said that whoever ate labba—which is a succulent dish—and drank creek water would return to the Colony to die. Under that prophesy I am due to go back there and die in due course. Of course, I may not physically fulfil the requirements, but 1013 perhaps when Charon ferries me across the Styx and I meet my great grandfather, I shall be able to justify myself by saying to him with a clear conscience that I thoroughly support this proposal for giving a Second Reading to this Bill.
§ Mr. SNELL
Perhaps the House will forgive me if I preface the few remarks I have to offer to-day with a personal word. My fellow Commissioner the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Roy Wilson) is in no way responsible for any view or opinion which I may express to-day, and I should be very sorry to repay him for his unfailing courtesy and consideration by associating him in any way with views with which he may disagree. I do not think it would be useful for me to try to cover all the ground gone over in the Report which we had the honour of presenting to the Secretary of State. Our business this afternoon is to deal with the proposals regarding the constitution, and yet no one can understand the reason for the recommendation we made unless the whole problem of the Colony is taken into consideration. There is no key problem which unlocks all the rest. The problems of the Colony are so interlocked that the question has to be looked at as a whole. So far as I can find, it is agreed on all hands that some change in the constitution is required. The electives agree that such a chang is required, and it is agreed by everybody in the Colony not only that a change is desirable, hut that it cannot be delayed for long. What we have to consider is not a change that would conform to our ultimate political ideals, but one that would help us to overcome pressing difficulties at the present time. In the history of its constitution there has always been friction between what we may call the electives on one side and the Government on the other side, and no one is entitled to point to the present electives and say that they have themselves created these difficulties.
In regard to the powers of the Crown, the emancipation of slaves, free trade at home, and things of that kind, the Colony pursued a deliberately selfish policy; indeed the reform of 1891 arose out of the action of the old order in refusing to vote the salaries of the sanitary authorities who were trying to improve health conditions on the sugar estates.
1014 Therefore, we must not assume that the troubles which are in existence at the present time in the Colony have been created by the present generation. The Secretary of State for the Colonies has already pointed out that the constitution of this Colony is unique in the British Constitution. It is rather cumbersome; it is not fair to the Government or to the people. No constitution which perpetually embarrasses a Government on the one hand, and on the other hand gives to the electives only the shadow and withholds the substance of government can be counted as proper and effective. The real question before the members of the Commission and before this House is, what shall be done in the way of a change which everybody desires having regard to opinion in the Colony which is, quite naturally, very sharply divided. One party desires that the Government should have increased power to carry out its policy in its own way. As opposed to that, another party desires that the powers of the Government should actually be reduced, and that extended powers should be given to the elected section of the community.
The Combined Court has been accused of having frightened away capital, of having created industrial insecurity, and so on. On the other hand, the Government have been accused of being responsible for the difficulties that exist because they have been guilty of delay in granting concessions. They are also accused of muddling their estimates, and responsibility is thrown from one side to the other. The crisis which has arisen in British Guiana is not unique in the history of our Empire experience. It always happens that when a people grow up towards self-government they have aspirations for larger powers, and when the people concerned are white people, that crisis results in self-government such as has been given to the Dominion of Southern Rhodesia, and elsewhere. When you are dealing with a mixed or coloured population, you have a crisis such as that which exists to-day in India, Kenya, Ceylon and British Guiana. When a crisis of that kind arises, the philosophy of the Labour party and of myself is that we should try at all costs to secure the co-operation of the people affected. First of all, we should endeavour to secure good government for their 1015 country; and secondly, by a suitable adjustment of machinery to give to the people that training which will enable them, in due time, to have full and complete self-government.
That may appear to be a contradiction of the recommendation which the Commission made to the Secretary of State. On the lines on which the Colony now finds itself there is no hope of progress, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman spoke correctly when he said that the Colony was in a cul de sac, and it is necessary to get it back into the main stream of British development. On the lines on which the Colony is now proceeding it cannot go much further, but if it is brought into the main stream of British development there is no reason at all why, within a comparatively short time, it should not have complete self-government. It is necessary in estimating the problem before us to make certain discounts. First of all, it is necessary to discount the vehemence of some of the criticisms of the elected members in their memorandum. On the other hand, it is necessary to discount some of the official criticisms of the elected members. These criticisms of elected members are common form throughout the Empire. Officials always have a rather poor opinion of the elected person, and if we could penetrate into the minds of Government Departments in our own country we should probably be shocked to find the low opinion they have of hon. Members of this House. Therefore, let us not be unfair to the elected members of the Colony. They may lack administrative experience and they may lack the wisdom that we think they should possess, but on the whole we may find in the development of the affairs of the Colony that their indigenous intuition will carry the Colony quite as far as expert administrative advice, which is often detached and only temporary.
The Secretary of State for the Colonies has described the financial position, and I only desire to deal with that question in a general way. First of all, allow me to say that had the Commissioners to write their Report again they would withdraw nothing that they have said. The only difference they would make would be to place additional 1016 emphasis on the financial criticisms they have made. The financial position of the Colony is the fault of nobody. It is not the fault of the electives or of the Government. It is the fault, first of all, of the political system under which the Colony is governed. In the second place, it is due to the unfavourable economic conditions. The Colony has been passing through a very difficult time. There has been a period of drought and depression in the sugar industry, and there had to be a great sea-wall built at a heavy cost. This was absolutely necessary for the well-being of the Colony, but it involved vast overhead charges which are too high for a population of 300,000 people to bear. These things have tended to create a financial crisis in the Colony.
The question of the reserve power and the certification of the loans of the Colony under the Colonial Stock Acts has increased the difficulty. It is calculated that the Colony could not issue at the present time a loan under 6 per cent., but even the reserve power is not the only thing involved. The Customs and Tax Ordinances have to be introduced each year, and that creates a kind of insecurity which finds expression in the shyness of investors generally. Let me point out that the electives themselves appear to be quite willing to face the question of a reserve power in that respect. This is what they say:They feel that it the Colony should be reduced to such a position that it could not meet its financial obligations, the Secretary of State for the Colonies might then be entitled to recommend a change in the Constitution, and only then.That means that the thing is to drift until a financial crisis arises, and then the British taxpayer is once more to relieve the people in that position. That is a matter upon which the House must make up its mind. Are you going to allow a Constitution of that kind to drift, or are you going to endeavour to find some means of preventing the worst from happening A good deal of emphasis has been placed upon the question of the reserve power and the evil that it was likely to effect. The Commissioners say:It is a very rare occurrence indeed for the Government to be unsuccessful in matters of any importance whatever in securing a decision in its favour in the Combined Court.1017 If it is a very rare occurrence that the Combined Court conies into conflict with the Government, it would be a still rarer occurrence when the reserve power granted would ever have to be used. I want to answer a criticism which has been made in regard to the position of the Commissioners. One criticism is that the sugar interests of the Colony, finding themselves defeated at the polls, seek to regain control through a gerrymandered Constitution, and therefore a Commission was appointed to do what was necessary in that direction. One of them especially was the blind and dutiful menial of the Government, on the one hand, and of the planters on the other. From what I have learned of the history of the sugarcrats of the Colony, let me say that I received no encouragement at all to replace power in their hands. In my judgment, they were in no small degree responsible for the position in which the Colony finds itself. They were interested only in the fertile strip of land on the coast; they were hostile, and to-day they remain indifferent, to the development of the interior an a whole. They did extraordinarily well. They consumed the profits of the fat years, and put nothing away for lean years. It was a great place for them in those days; sugar was not only sweet, but profitable. They thought of the Colony as Falstaff thought of Mistress Page:She bears the purse, too; she is a region in Guiana, all gold and bounty.That was the old order. As between plantocracy and democracy, there is a great deal to be said for democracy, and I, therefore, want to put thin question before the House: If a change is inevitable, as is on all hands agreed, what shall that change be? That is what we have to decide. The members of the Commission received no instructions; they might have ignored the question altogether in the hope that the Colony would muddle through to some kind of renewed prosperity. But to ignore a problem is not to solve it, and no body, charged with the responsibility with which the Commissioners were charged, could ignore the expert advice that was put before them; they had to face the problem whether they would or no.
Or, secondly, they might have suggested that the powers of the Govern- 1018 ment should be reduced, but there would in any case have been practical difficulties along those lines. It would most certainly have intensified such crisis as exists, and, if a Colony is to be handed over to a self-governing people, I should prefer it to be at a time when it was free from embarrassment, when we were not putting upon the people a load and a burden and a responsibility which they would be unable to bear. I hope that, in due course, the Colony will get self-government, but you could not hand over a Colony to the people in the condition in which it is now. I think that, in the circumstances, I might ask without offence, and I think that the House has a right to hear, precisely what critics would have recommended. Something has to be done; what shall it be? I had my own scheme, which, if necessary, I could have put forward, but,, like a good democrat, I felt that it was the right thing to refer the whole matter to the Colony itself to discuss. Our recommendation on that matter was quite specific. It said:Whether ultimate control can best be exercised through the medium of the reserve power, or by securing control through the nominated members of the Combined Court, is a matter for discussion, which might be referred in the first instance for consideration to a strong local Commission appointed by the Governor. In view of the very special importance of this Commission, every effort should he made to enlist the assistance of the best brains of the Colony, and men with experience of other political systems as well as of local affairs.I preferred a nominated majority if it had to be, rather than reserve power, because I thought it would be less likely to bring his Excellency the Governor into conflict with the Colony, and, secondly, because I thought it would be more easily modified when the time for revision came. But let it be understood that the Electives themselves accept the reserve power if it is accompanied by some sort of help from the Government.
On the question of the reserve power, may I say that I think it is an enormously serious thing to do what the House is asked to do to-day. I am not underrating it at all; it caused me the greatest personal anxiety; but I thought it right that the Colony should have the opportunity of examining the matter itself and seeing whether, by accommodation on both sides, an agreement could not be 1019 reached. The local report, however, seems to be, from my standpoint, a disappointment. The Electives would have done far better at my hands than they have done for themselves. This proposal of the local Commission abolishes the electoral financial control; it abolishes the very slight legislative check that exists; it creates a new executive power which, in some ways, is unique in British Colonies, and, although it is only to be used in cases of supreme importance, there is always a danger that it may be stretched to cover trivial things. The only set-off against what I think are serious proposals is the addition of nominated members, and that, again, will depend upon the quality of those members and what they actually represent.
I do not know how the elected members who were on that Commission could have signed that document. It contains things that I never would have signed. I could not have signed on this question of reserve power without having a considerably extended franchise. I should have wanted a definite time limit in regard to the reserve power, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman now, is it not possible to meet the difficulty by saying that the question shall be reconsidered in the course of a few years—say five years, or whatever is a right period? Then there is the question of double security. I can understand, in the condition in which the Colony is placed, that the Government desire to have either the reserve power or a nominated majority, but I do not know why they want both. It seems to me, therefore, that their report does not meet the desire of the Colony to achieve some improvement, in the way that is likely to secure the best results. When these criticisms have been made, it does give to the Electives an entirely new status, and that should not be overlooked. It brings them on to the Executive Council of the Colony; it makes them statesmen rather than critics; it gives them powers of initiative, and, if I personally had to choose between that and the present undignified and irresponsible position in which they are now placed, I should prefer what is now offered.
I wish to say again that I must not associate my fellow-Commissioner with my views on the matter about which I now propose to speak. Let me say to my own party that our Report never once 1020 goes outside the philosophy for which I have always stood, namely, that of State supremacy in regard to the land. If you read the Memorandum of the Electives, you see that, 50 times almost, it invites a capitalist invasion into the Colony, asking for concessions here and opportunities there for capitalistic development. It is, therefore, a question of what attitude we must take in regard to the natural wealth and resources of the Colony. It may be that these concessions have to be given, but, if they have to be given, they should be given by the Government, who could exact terms which would be equitable to the exploiters as well as to the Colony as a whole. Let me point out what happened in America. At the time of the Confederation, the State owned all the land between the Alleghanies and the Mississippi, and, with the addition of the Louisiana purchase, that amounted to 3,000,000 square miles. Every bit of that passed into private ownership; every land thief had his fill. The same thing, more or less, happened in Canada and Australia. British Guiana now represents one of the places where the land, in the main, still belongs to the State, and I personally want to feel that, as long as it can be, that land is kept as a heritage for the people themselves. Some day the people of the Colony, who are now putting all their emphasis on this theoretical question of the reserve power may wake up to find that their natural wealth, their natural heritage, has been grafted out of their possession.
There is another point. We on this side of the House do not support self-government for Kenya at present, because we think that the natives are not able as yet to protect themselves as against the white settler. Neither do I think that the whole of the people of British Guiana are yet able to protect themselves against the inroads of the concession hunter and the economic invader. I ask the African people of that Colony, especially, to remember and to beware lest the slavery of yesterday is succeeded by the serfdom of to-morrow, as it will be if the lands and the forests and the minerals pass out of their hands. I want those things to be a free heritage for them from generation to generation. If the final power in that regard rests in the hands of the Secretary of State, he 1021 will be responsible to this House for what he does in regard to alienating that land from the people.
I want to conclude by referring to a brighter side than this rather sad economic story. Personally, I found the people in the Colony immensely attractive, and I am sure I should have become very much attached to them if I had known them longer. All of them seemed to me to be attractive and nice people. The African, especially, is a joyous, docile, industrious and loyal citizen. He has acquired a certain serenity which we hate not acquired for ourselves. That is illustrated by what one of them said to a white man. He said, "Well boss, it's like this. The white man sits down and thinks about his troubles till he just goes and shoots himself. The black man sits down and thinks about his troubles till he just naturally falls asleep." He, therefore, has gained a serenity that is denied to us. The East Indian is fundamentally an agriculturist, a splendid colonist, and it is nothing short of a tragedy that India is unwilling to assist in helping her sons to go to British Guiana, where their economic conditions would be superior beyond all comparison to those which they enjoy at home. Then some criticism has been made of the Commissioners in regard to the question of the loyalty of the Colonists. Let me say that, so far as I know, no one has a right to say a word about the loyalty of these people. I found them proud of their Colony, proud of their partnership in the British Empire, and in every way they seemed to me to be a desirable set of colonists. In some ways they have got spiritual gains which are most marked. They have no trouble over racial divisions and, whether they are African or Asiatic, whether they are Chinese or Portuguese, whatever they are, they live together as one people, wanting merely the good of their Colony as they see it. That is the most important thing of all. With that as a basis to build upon, no one need despair of the Colony overcoming these present difficulties.
I wish to say one word in regard to myself. I do not propose to reply to the stream of abuse that has been poured upon me from the Colony except in one matter which affects the Governor of the Colony and his staff. It was said that, in contradistinction to other Labour 1022 Members who had visited the Colony, I was forbidden to associate there with my own people and to make political speeches there. I received, I need hardly tell the House, no advice on the matter. I was charged with a very high and responsible duty, and I should have unfitted myself for the task if I had so forgotten myself as to make political speeches. The way of the constitution-maker is notoriously hard, and I do not know that anyone has a right to complain. It is work that no man would seek. It brings only the wages of reproach and repudiation. But if a man is called to that work, he is not from any motive of ease or discomfort entitled to decline it. The Commissioners were faced with a very heavy and responsible duty, and they had to look the facts straight in the face and to report, not as they would wish things to be according to their political ideals, but as they found them now—positions that had to be met. They were in a position in which they had a problem to face such as that which Browning deals with in "Bishop Blougram's Apology," Their problem wasNot. to fancy what were fair in life Provided it could be,—but, finding first What may be, then how to make it fair Up to our means: a very different thing"!I am sure the House as a whole will believe that the Commissioners, free, unguided, uncoerced, brought to their high task their highest powers, and when the Colony has turned this difficult period in her history, and she is marching on the free highway towards prosperity and self-government, I, far one, shall not be ashamed to have been associated with the beginning of her new and fuller life.
§ Mr. HURD
As I happen to have just returned from British Guiana on an all too short visit, perhaps the House will allow me to give a few impressions I brought back as far as they bear upon this Bill. I am sure in all sections of the House we listened with the deepest interest to the speech that has just been delivered. Its tone and its calm judicial understanding and sympathetic character must, I am sure, have dispelled any fears we may have had when the hon. Member rose to his feet. It is a happy illustration of the tendency of these Empire matters to move out of the range of ordinary party controversy. We owe 1023 that in no small measure to the great degree in which hon. Members are now travelling oversea and also to the fact that, whatever their political complexion here, they find when they reach those oversea countries and forget their party divisions here, that they are received with a welcome and a cordiality which is often embarrassing and very surprising. That was my fortune in British Guiana, and I gather it was also the good fortune of my two hon. Friends who formed this Commission. I did not go there with any direct personal interest in the Colony or any of its industries. I went there, as many other Members have gone to other parts of the Empire, as an independent Member of Parliament, keenly sympathetic and anxious to observe and to learn. I am bound to say, looking at it from that point of view, I share the regret expressed from the Front Opposition Bench that these important documents were not put before the House at a period when they could be given more detailed consideration. They cover a very wide range of subjects, and I am sure it must have been through some misadventure, and not by deliberate intention, that the House did not have the documents at an earlier period.
But, after all, this it not a new story. It is a very old story, and the main points of that story have been before those who have taken part in Empire discussions for very many years. The only way of solution has been pretty clear for some time, and therefore, although these documents are only now put before the House in detail, the main facts of the problem have been before the public for a great many years. I agree with the hon. Member who has just spoken that this is a very serious step that Parliament is asked to take. We pride ourselves upon the development of the British Empire from precedent to precedent, moving nearly always on lines of greater freedom but always on the basis of proved capacity for self-government. It is, as we know, a most difficult thing to govern oneself. It is a far more difficult thing for a community to govern itself. We have talked a great deal in the past decade about self-determination, but we have learned something about the limitations of self-determination, and I feel myself that British Guiana is an illus- 1024 tration of those limitations. I know there is a contention, which you find in these official documents put forward by the elected members, that British Guiana in this matter of self-government stands apart. We are asked to remember that British Guiana is a sovereign State. That phrase is actually used by one of the elected members. We are reminded that it was not conquered, like Canada, nor settled, like Australia, and one elected member who has taken a prominent part in the discussion has gone so far as to suggest that the Secretary of State could, if he wished, deprive Canada or Australia of its constitution, but my right hon. Friend knows enough of the movement of opinion and the status of the Dominions to-day not to anticipate any proposal of that sort. He says, while that could possibly be done, you could not deprive British Guiana of its constitution except by reconquest or consent.
I will not attempt to get into the rarefied air of Constitution niceties, but I would beg the House to ask itself what is the good of a Constitution if it does not work? The plain truth of the matter is that this Constitution in British Guiana does not work. It is not fitted to modern conditions, or to the needs of development with which the Colony is immediately faced. My hon. Friend has referred to the long drawn-out character of these difficulties. If you go back to 1848 you will find much the same happenings, much the same refusal of supplies and the same deadlock as you find to-day. All through this period you have had this fact, that the elected members have control in effect without responsibility, while the Government have responsibility without control, and the result has been what one elected member has called a bewildering and kaleidoscopic state of things. In 35 years there have been 17 administrators. How can a man who is trying to lead the Colony into effective economic administration help being discouraged in the face of a deadlock of that kind? It is said in this book, "It is our own little mess out here. Let us clear it up ourselves." But the point of the problem is that it has not been cleared up, and it gets worse. The debt is unliquidated. There are abundant openings on every hand, but there is no security for new capital or enterprise to develop the resources of the Colony. Political freedom 1025 is futile if it means merely a freedom to make a mess of things or to stand in the way of progress.
I suppose this Empire has never known a more liberalising statesman than Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who was Prime Minister of Canada. I had an intimate talk with him on the first visit he paid to this country in 1897, when the South African trouble was piling up to the climax that came with the South African War. In the course of conversation I sought to ascertain what his view was of President Kruger's attitude in standing in the way, as I thought, of progress in South Africa. I said, he is claiming the rights of self-government; he is claiming the power of his people to manage their own country as they please. Sir Wilfrid Laurier stopped me and said, "That is not the true point of view. No man, whatever his position, and no Constitution have a right to stand in the way of the proper development of a country's resources."
§ Mr. HURD
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman knew Sir Wilfrid Laurier, he would know that his idea of development was not an undemocratic one. Later on, when the trouble came, we know what part Canadian troops took in giving South Africa the first step in the freedom she now happily enjoys.
I have tried to look at this question independently, and I am bound to say I see no better way than this Bill. I regret it. I wish some other way had been possible, but I think no other way is available, and the sooner this Bill is passed and the Colony can go forward to its task of development, the better it will be all round. I am not going to say there are no risks. I think there are risks. I am not going to say the, Colonial Office, in its administration, is always wise. No one is always wise in this world. In fact I have found out that the Colonial Office is not always loved. I suppose that would be true of many of the Colonies of the British Empire. In fact, a delegation came to me in British Guiana, and asked me, knowing that I had some associations with Canada, whether I thought there was any prospect of British Guiana being brought within that Dominion so as to escape the constant, watchful eye of Downing Street. 1026 I discussed the matter with them, and pointed out the difficulties in the way of a solution of that kind. Canada has always prided herself upon a freedom from the colour problem. Furthermore, there could not be any special arrangement between Canada and British Guiana which did not also remember the existence of Jamaica and Trinidad, but I pointed out, "If you get rid of your constitutional difficulties, if you give security to capital you may look forward to the introduction of Canadian capital and Canadian enterprise to assist you in the development of the undoubtedly great resources that you possess."
One hon. Gentleman has spoken of the degradation of descending to Crown Colony government. I would ask him to remember that in the British Empire there are a great variety of Crown Colony governments. I see, for instance, that the Acting-Governor of British Guiana when discussing the matter with the elected members pointed out to them that it might be the idea of those in power that 50 per cent. Crown Colony government was not quite enough, but that possibly 75 per cent. or something of that sort would suit the case. It would be very interesting if the Secretary of State could tell us what he himself has in his mind, following upon this Bill. in the way of the legislature that this Colony is to possess. I think Members of the House, when they come to reflect, will agree with me that control, and the power to carry into effect Measures essential to the welfare of the Colony are essential. The future will largely depend upon the character of the nominated men who are chosen under ally new constitution.
I hope that means may he found of bringing into the legislative life of the Colony business men who are not there now, men who have ripe experience, who are public-spirited and who desire to serve. They will not serve under present conditions. I know the difficulty arises at once: Are they to be official members? These men of character and experience will not go upon any legislafive body if they have to run the gamut of elections under any such conditions as we now see, and have to be labelled official members. I think it would be most desirable if means could be found 1027 to secure on this new legislative body representatives of the best business interests of the Colony, as nominated members certainly, but not as official members. The hon. Member for Camberwell, North (Mr. Ammon) who spoke from the front Opposition bench seemed to fear that this was a step down, and not a step up. I have no doubt that he has watched the progress which the Secretary of State for the Dominions has just made through the Empire, and I would ask him if he has not noticed that wherever the Secretary of State has gone he has always spoken and acted in this sense, namely, that the British Empire is doing its best work in the world when it is continually moving along the path of more self-government where capacity is shown.
§ Mr. HURD
The whole point, therefore, between the two Front benches is this: Is it possible to leave things as they are? Obviously, it is not. Is this the best way to get British Guiana on the road to self-government? I believe it is. I believe it is a thorny and a very difficult path, but I think that British Guiana will best traverse it if it follows the line suggested in this Bill. The opening for new development is obvious to anyone who goes there. I hope that this Government before leaving office, and following on this new constitution in British Guiana, will be able to put new heart into the Colony. I would like to see, for instance, the main product of the Colony, sugar, put upon the free list as far as this country is concerned. If we had only Free Trade in sugar within the British Empire, this constitution would give British Guiana means and chances of development beyond anything the past has known, and we should, at the same time, have served the interests of the British consumer by giving cheaper sugar.
Reference has been made to the question of coolie labour. We have had the appointment by this House of the Simon Commission, with a distinguished Member of this House as Chairman. In the course of that Commission's inquiry they may look upon the labour problem from the Indian point of view. I am hopeful that an opportunity may be 1028 given to British Guiana to put evidence before the Commission of the openings for Indian labour which British Guiana offers far beyond anything that is available to those people in their own country of India. I hope that the Secretary of State will not fail to take the opportunity of suggesting to British Guiana that it should put before that Commission evidence of the wisdom of such action, and the fair terms that Colony is prepared to offer when such emigrants have reached that country. The real solution is, in all these matters, that we should have a little more business and a little less politics. Let us have a good deal more good will on the part of all parties concerned.
§ Mr. ELLIS DAVIES
The hon. Member who has just sat down referred to the fact that the real solution is more business and less politics. I have had a long experience of this House, and I have often found that the word "business" is not only very closely associated with politics but that it is the only politics which a number of people have. The hon. Member seemed to he more concerned not about the interests of the community in British Guiana but about the interests of capital.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I am sorry if, in giving expression to the impression made on me, I have done an injustice to the hon. Member, but I would remind him that more than once he referred to the fact that there would be more security for capital, and that he ended with a request for more business and less politics. I think he even went so far as to suggest a change in the financial relations between various parts of the Empire and this particular Colony.
It seems to me, that before this Bill is passed we are entitled to ask the Government to give us an outline as to what is intended to be done. May I also, before I go any further, point out one other difficulty? I am rather amazed that the third proposal in the first Subsection of Clause I should be advanced by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. We have been taught for years, both on platforms and in the House of Commons, to what a terrible danger we are going to expose this country if a Labour 1029 Government are returned to power. I find that the third proposal of the Government, which is contained in this Sub-section, reads:There shall be reserved to or conferred on His Majesty full power by Order in Council from time to time to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Colony of British Guiana.What is going to happen if a Socialist Government be in power in this country? Are we to understand that the Secretary of State for the Colonies is prepared to face that dire calamity and to see a Labour Government on the Benches opposite legislating without the consent of the locality, without the consent of the legislature in British Guiana, and making laws for the control, order, and good government of the country? That is what he is really proposing himself. An hon. Member who spoke from above the Gangway a short them ago referred, in particular, to the question of the land. He pointed out that the land at the present moment in the Colony belongs to the Government. He was particularly anxious, he said, that under this new scheme it should not be handed over to capitalists. But in the scheme proposed by the Government, if a Socialist Government—and I am not using the word as it is always used from the other side, because I do not think it, is quite a fair term—come into power, the result will be that the whole control of the capital invested in the land will be vested in the Secretary for the Colonies.
It seems to me that we are also entitled to draw attention to other matters. It is proposed tocreate and constitute in substitution for the existing Legislature, a Legislature for the Colony of British Guiana in such form and with such powers as His Majesty in Council may determine, and from time to time to alter and amend the constitution of the Legislature and any powers thereof.What is the position? The first position is that by Order in Council you can substitute another legislature for the existing one of which we have no details and no information. Secondly, you can by a mere Order in Council, which is to be placed on the Table for 40 days or so, amend or alter it. But the third power which the Government are keeping for themselves, as I said, is to make whatever laws for peace, order, and good government they may, in their wisdom decide. I protest to the House that it 1030 is not dealing quite fairly with the Colony and in accordance with the traditions of this House. The hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hurd) referred to the colonists—I do not want to give offence, particularly when he is not listening—as almost incapable of government. Is not the serious trouble we have in India, and is not the serious trouble we have had in various Colonies due to the adoption of an attitude of superiority in regard to the people? Is it quite clear that, apart from what is called business, this country lacks intelligence, decision, and judgment in its own affairs? An eminent politician within the last 20 years said that a bad Government by the people themselves is very much better than a good Government by an outside body. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that when he is considering the Government of a Colony constituted of 300,000 people, with a town, Georgetown, containing a population of no fewer than 56,000 people, he really should pay some respect not to the men concerned with making money in that country—they are not the people whose interest should have first consideration—his first consideration, I submit, should be the natives of that country, the people who have inherited the creed, the position, and the ideas of the Colony itself.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I am not prepared to quarrel with my hon. Friend the Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Snell) on the question as to whether it was possible to continue the present Constitution of British Guiana. He has been there. I have enormous confidence in him, and he may be right. But the question before us to-night is not the Report of the Commission on British Guiana, or the question of whether the Constitution which has been in operation for 100 years ought to be changed. The question before us to-night is what is the new Constitution going to be? On that we have had singularly little light. We have had the Report of the Committee that was appointed in British Guiana, and we do not yet know how far the Secretary of State for the Colonies considers himself bound to implement every one of those conditions.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I am very sorry to hear that. I was not certain that the right hon. Gentleman got as far as that, because it seems to me that he is abdicating the duty of which the Colonial Office has always taken charge in the past, the duty of bringing to bear upon this problem the ripe experience they have had in other Crown Colonies in the world. They have left it to a Local Commission in British Guiana to decide upon the new Constitution for Guiana and they have not considered what has been done in other Crown Colonies, from which they might learn that there are better methods than are proposed in the Report for combining efficiency with democracy. I only refer the Under-Secretary to an example which he knows as well as I do, if not better, and that is the case of Ceylon. The Ceylon Constitution is certainly infinitely more liberal than the Constitution now proposed for British Guiana, and infinitely more democratic, and yet there the Governor is able to carry on on sound lines in close proximity to the different and difficult Indian problems. The new Constitution which was granted there three years ago has worked with surprising success, when you consider the neighbouring associations of the larger continent of India.
The Constitution which is now proposed is infinitely bad. I cannot conceive why the right hon. Gentleman has accepted the terms laid down. True, the Constitution avoids the risk of communal representation. I am glad to see that that is one mistake which has been avoided but the narrowness of the franchise and the smallness of the legislative body are vices which both right hon. Gentlemen opposite know perfectly well have proved to be mistakes in other Colonies, and should have been avoided here. Fourteen elected representatives is a number far too small. It prevents any contact between the representative and his constituents. The constituencies have to be much too large. The electorate as a whole is an electorate limited by property qualification, which rules out three-fourths or nine-tenths of the inhabitants. There are uniquely in the British Empire property qualifications for the people who are elected. Not everybody who has a vote is entitled to be elected, and in every ease they must have property qualifica- 1032 tions. We wiped that out in this country nearly 100 years ago. In no other Crown Colony do you find anything of the sort, but here in British Guiana, in 1928, this principle is adopted.
With regard to the reserved powers, the hon. Member for Woolwich East (Mr. Snell) was perfectly clear and accurate. Everyone knows that you must have either one or the other, but why both? Either have a nominated majority with-out reserved powers, or as in Ceylon have an elected majority with reserved powers. Why have both? The real reason why I shall go into the Lobby against this Constitution to-night with perfect confidence, is because of the speech of the hon. Mernber for Devizes (Mr. Hurd). He let the cat out of the bag. When my hon. Friend the Member for East Woolwich was speaking I was very nearly converted to thinking that possibly we might trust the Government. It was in order to protect the aborigines and the poor workers who have no votes from exploitation that he was going to preserve the right of the Colonial Office to govern this country and not to allow the rich or middle-class planters and others in British Guiana to exploit them. There is a great deal to be said for that point of view, and I hope the Government will learn in regard to British Guiana something about similar sensible reforms in Kenya. We know that it is not possible really to preserve State domains when they contain diamonds, even by handing over the control to a governor. Diamonds, alluvial diamonds, seem to have a sort of mysterious attraction for ex-Governors. I do not know whether we are particularly unfortunate in our ex-Governors or in our Colonies which contain diamonds, but when we are to entrust these things to somebody we must be quite certain that we are trusting the people who can be controlled. I would like to know whether the Colonial Office, in view of what has happened recently, think of preventing Governors when they retire from office from exploiting diamond fields.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
How does the hon. and gallant Member connect this argument with the proposed grant of a new Constitution to British Guiana?
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I will try to make it a little clearer. The question is whether we are to trust the somewhat rough diamond of democracy in British Guiana to protect the interests of the aborigines and to preserve the assets of the State in British Guiana, or whether we are to trust the Colonial Office. We must learn in these matters from experience in other Colonies, and, unfortunately, we are at this moment considering how certain ex-officials of the West Coast Colonies in Africa—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The hon. Member is raising controversial matter which is not within the scope of this Bill.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
It is a question which we have to consider in connection with this Bill, because this Bill puts into the hands of the Governor, and the Governor alone, of British Guiana the power to govern that Colony. It is taken by this Bill out of the hands of the electorate. They may have been a poor electorate; they may have been a corrupt electorate, but this Bill puts the power absolutely in the hands of the Governor. The Colonial Office will require to watch that very particularly, in view of the speech we have heard from the hon. Member for Devizes, because he said that so long as the Colony goes on as it is at the present time, we shall never get capital invested in that country for the exploitation of its natural wealth. Under the new change we are to get capital invested for the exploitation of the undeveloped wealth of British Guiana. I think we should have more confidence in the change if we could see a change of policy at the Colonial Office as regards the development and the exploitation of wealth and the people who exploit that wealth. Will they preserve the rights of the State over the land, or are they going to give concessions of vast areas for all time to any body of capitalists who manage to get in first? Are we going to have the experience of Kenya repeated and to find these vast areas given away to people on the ground floor who afterwards dispose of them at enormously enhanced prices to other people? Are we going to have a change of heart at the Colonial Office, when under this Bill 1034 they are going to increase the power of the Governor in the Colony? I hope that the Colonial Office, who take the same view as myself on these problems, will have the strength of mind to stand up to the exploiters and the concession hunters and to preserve for the State the natural wealth of British Guiana.
Mr. ROY WILSON
The Bill before the House is, as the Secretary of State said, the direct result of the Report of the British Guiana Commission, of which I had the honour to be the Chairman. Before I attempt to give my reasons in support of those so ably put forward by my colleague, I should like to make three personal observations. First of all, I should like to thank the Secretary of State for his warm commendation of the services rendered by my colleague the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Snell) and myself, in what was a very interesting and engrossing task. I should like also to thank the hon. Member for Camberwell North (Mr. Ammon) for his graceful reference to the Report as it stands and, lastly, I should like to sound a personal note about my colleague on the Commission. Nobody could have had a more capable courageous or more excellent colleague than I had in my work on the Commission, and I should like to remind the House of this fact, and it is my duty to do so, that during part of the time we were in British Guiana when I was ill the whole work of the Commission had to be carried on the shoulders of my colleague. During my absence when my colleague had to undertake this work himself he carried it out on exactly the same lines that we had laid down at the outset, and with a capacity, diligence and assiduity which I greatly admired.
I want to explain the reasons which prompted me to make what I have always regarded as a far reaching and grave recommendation in the Report, namely, a change of Constitution in this ancient Colony. The Secretary of State has told the House the terms of reference to the Commission. I do not propose to read those terms but to refer to them shortly. We were asked to go out to the Colony and try to find out what was the matter with it and what recommendations we could bring forward to improve the commercial and economic develop- 1035 ment of this far distant part of the British Empire. It has been said in this Debate that the change which is recommended in the Constitution of the Colony is a retrograde step. I certainly do not regard it in that light. I regard it as a necessary change if the Colony is to keep on the high road of what I would call really successful and prosperous government through the broad avenue of Crown Colony government, until she reaches ultimately, as I hope she will, the time when a fuller measure of self government can be afforded to her.
The Colony first came into our possession in the year 1796, when we seized it from the Dutch. Finally it came into the possession of Great Britain in 1814, and it is a remarkable fact, and one which the House should remember, that ever since 1836 this Colony has not been successful. It has, in fact, been the one Colony in the British Empire which Las not shown that development or progress which all of us who look with pride on the British Empire would desire to see. It should be remembered that we inherited with this Colony its cumbersome legislature. Nearly the whole of the population of the Colony, 300,000 people, live on its fertile coastline and many hundreds of thousands of pounds have had to be spent in the past on drainage and irrigation. Some 87 per cent. of the total area of the Colony—some 78,000 square miles in all—consists of dense virgin forests. Only about twelve months ago was the first survey made of that wonderful forest area. That first survey, which was over an area of 650 square miles, disclosed the fact that in this dense forest area 31 per cent. of the timber was green heart which, as I think the House knows, is one of the most valuable and the most difficult to obtain of the hard timbers in the world.
What was the first thing that struck us as a Commission when we began to look into the affairs of this backward and undeveloped Colony? The first thing we examined was the Colony's financial position. If to-night I go over again some of the ground in regard to the financial position of the Colony, I hope the House will forgive me, because it is important that we should get clearly into our minds not only what is the financial 1036 position to-day but what its past record has been and what is the outlook for the future if the Colony remains as it is. When we examined the financial position in November, 1926, we found that over the seven years, from 1921 until 1927, there had been successive deficits in the Colony's Budgets, with the exception of the year 1923 when there was a small surplus of about £33,000; and that at the end of 1927 the total deficits for those seven years amounted to no less than £682,000. The Secretary of State has told the House that the funded debt of the Colony and its temporary indebtedness is extremely heavy.
In our Report we pointed out that the total funded and unfunded Debt amounts to a sum of £4,300,000, and that, is an extremely heavy load per head on this small population. The facts are that the money which has been spent on the development up to now of the Colony, would have been justified if there had been four or five times the population in British Guiana that there has been for the last 50 years. They have, in short, arrived at a stage in their development worthy of a Colony with a much larger population and more capable of bearing the very heavy expenditure of public debt with which the Colony is faced. Another important factor to remember is this: the Colony has no reserve fund. She has disposed of her surplus fund and her reserve fund. They were applied last year to the Colony's indebtedness, and the position which was reported in the autumn of 1926 has gone steadily worse.
The position to-day is that the ascertained deficit for the single year 1927 is no less than £230,000, and £80,000 is the estimated deficit for the current year 1928. Not only is that the position but the most serious aspect of the Colony's financial state is that it is actually borrowing by ways and means advances from the Crown Agents of the Colonies to meet its ordinary current commitments, which the Colony should be able to provide out of revenue. Instead supplies are being borrowed to-day from the Crown Agents to the Colonies, and when we were there in 1926, we found that the total sum owing by the Colony to the Crown Agents on ways and means advances, purely temporary advances. was £1,200,000. To-day it has increased to £1,360,000 and 1037 the House will see that the financial position is steadily getting worse. In our Report we say this:The first duty of the Government of this colony is to balance expenditure and revenue, to establish and adhere to a sound, consistent financial policy, and so to frame estimates each year as to provide a surplus for building up a reserve fund.I am certain that every Member of the House who has read the Report and our remarks on the finances of the Colony, will agree that we have not laid down anything which is particularly new from a financial standpoint. These are elementary principles of finance but, unfortunately, the Colony has never adhered to them. There has never been in the whole history of British Guiana a sound and stable financial policy for the simple reason that the Government have never had control in their hands in order to establish that policy or see that it was adhered it. Let me briefly explain the position to-day in regard to the legislature. There are two bodies, the Court of Policy and the Combined Court, and I want to remind the House of the actual procedure when the financial affairs of the Colony come before the legislature, such as it is. The Court of Policy is a body where the Government have a majority of one, and has the power to legislate in all matters not fiscal; but the Combined Court, which consists of the members of the Court of Policy with six more elected members, who are called financial representatives, is the body in whose hands is vested the control, real and actual, of the Colony's finances.
On that body, the Combined Court, the position to-day is that when financial matters are discussed the Government's representatives number seven and there are 14 elected representatives of the people. The Government, therefore, are in a minority of two to one. The Secretary of State has reminded the House that 83 per cent. of the whole revenue of the Colony is collected under Customs Duties Ordinance and Tax Ordinance, and in this Colony we have this remarkable position, that these Customs Duties Ordinance and Tax Ordinance are brought in each year. In every Crown Colony with which I have had any intimate association the exact reverse is the case; Customs Duties Ordinance and Tax Ordinance are brought in permanently. They are brought up for review each 1038 year, and at times they may be amended, but there is a security to the mercantile community which you cannot get in British Guiana.
The Combined Court has another power linked up with finance, which has not been mentioned to-day, and it is this, that, apart from certain Government officials, whose salaries are guaranteed in British Guiana for a period of five years, there is no legislative provision at all for the payment of the salaries of civil servants in British Guiana; and I put this question to the House: How can any man go out to a Colony like British Guiana, make the sacrifices which Government officials have to make in leaving home in order to serve the Empire in these distant place, give of their best and devote all their abilities to the job which they have undertaken, when they know perfectly well that the elected members of the Combined Court in British Guiana can strike off or reduce the salary of any officer not on the civil list?? Their position cannot be guaranteed, and they have to live from day to day in the hope that their position will be made secure. It is an impossible position and one which I cannot visualise any man of ability taking up. It is one of the reasons why, perhaps, British Guiana has only been able to attract to the lower ranks of its Civil Service not the best men available for the duties.
Now take the procedure in regard to the financial estimates of each year in British Guiana. The Government prepare the estimates of expenditure each year, and these estimates are submitted and discussed at the Combined Court. After they have been passed, the Governor withdraws, and the Combined Court resolves itself into a committee of ways and means to consider the Government's proposals for raising revenue for the year. This committee of ways and means has a majority of two against one in favour of the Government, and it must be remembered that they can accept, amend or reject any of the Government's most carefully thought out proposals for raising revenue without giving a moment's notice of their intention to do so. The only thing they cannot do is to increase any item in the annual estimates presented by the Government. The important point to 1039 remember is this: that as the financial position stands to-day, this Combined Court can, if it chooses—I do not say that it would do so—stop the provisions for the interest and sinking fund on the Colony's loans.
I should like to say to the hon. Member for North Camberwell that this is the reason why the Secretary of State cannot agree to the classification of the loans of British Guiana under the Colonial Stocks Act; it is because the Government of the Colony has not the power to provide for the interest and sinking fund on its own debt. It is not a question of guaranteeing the sinking fund in British Guiana. We do not guarantee the position in Australia in connection with any of the State loans, or the loans in the Crown Colonies, because they are masters in their own financial houses and can provide the interest and sinking fund on their own loans and loan obligations. This is a point which I want the House to remember. It has been said that the Combined Court is never likely to override the Government in any material matters, but I must tell the House this, that within the last month the elected members of the Combined Court, knowing well that this Bill was coming before the House of Commons, have thrown out the Government's Estimates for the year 1928. The Government, after careful thought, brought in recommendations last month for raising revenue for the year 1928 by means of an Income Tax, a graduated tax, and this was thrown out by the elected members of the Combined Court. The position in the Colony at the present moment, so far as the revenue for 1928 is concerned, is in a state of chaos.
The position from the financial point of view is in my judgment absolutely impossible. It has been the cause, I am convinced, of the backward position of this Colony in the past, and I would remind hon. Members who say that this is a retrograde step that there can be no retrograde step when British Guiana has had an opportunity for the last 120 years of working under this constitution. She has not been as successful as her well-wishers desire and it is high time that there was a change in this ancient constitution. Briefly, let me tell the 1040 House the rest of the recommendations we made in our Report. We urged the necessity of an enlightened policy of drainage and irrigation along the fertile and inhabited coastal area; that new industries, agricultural and mineral, should be assisted and encouraged, that the Public Health Department should be reformed and strengthened with the object of improving sanitation and stamping out preventable disease, that education should be thoroughly overhauled and reformed on the lines suggested by the Education Commission which visited the Colony in 1924, and that the interior should be opened up by railway construction with all possible speed, so that its vast and rich forest area might be exploited and developed. The much-needed population required in British Guiana—to-day there are only 300,000 souls in the Colony, which is the size of Great Britain—can, I think, be obtained by fostering and encouraging a properly-balanced scheme of immigration from the West Indies.
But this is the important thing to remember. All these recommendations depend for their fulfilment on the financial position. These things are urgent, but I want to assure the House that grave as is the financial position, I am perfectly certain it is not hopeless, and if British Guiana sets about putting her house in order, with the aid of the Secretary of State, the position can be improved. She has reached a stage in her development when she is ripe for exploitation in its best sense. I assure the House that the hon. Member for East Woolwich and myself have no desire to see any of the land given to any private person. We never advocated that in our Report, but the whole Colony to-day is ripe for development, and it can only be carried out if this constitution is altered and the Government are made masters in their own financial house. I am sure the House will agree that under any political system it is absolutely essential that a Government should have the power to govern. That is what we want in British Guiana.
May I make a brief reference to the Memorandum which was placed in the hands of hon. Members last night and regarding which my right hon. Friend remarked that either my colleague or 1041 myself might have something to say. This is a long Memorandum of 67 pages which was sent to England about two months ago by the elected members of the Combined Court and it is signed by every one of them. It contains accusations against our Commission. It states that we grossly misstated certain facts and distorted others. It attacks the Secretary of State, the Crown Agents and the contractors. In our letter to the Secretary of State, sending our comments upon this Memorandum, we said we were not concerned with the attacks on the Crown Agents, on the Secretary of State or on the contractors, but we were concerned very much with the attacks upon ourselves and on the report. This Memorandum contains every one of the alleged misstatements of the British Guiana Commission with our comments upon them, and I am certain that any hon. Member who reads those comments will be entirely satisfied that we made no misstatements, that the allegations against us of distortion of the facts are utterly untrue, and that we have quite a complete answer to this Memorandum. Before passing from it, may I call the attention of the House to this remarkable fact. This Memorandum, compiled and prepared, no doubt, with much study, by members of the Combined Court, contains some of the most amazing inaccuracies which I have ever found in any responsible document.
I am sure the House will hardly realise that the 14 gentlemen who have signed this Report—the elected members of the Combined Court who claim to have the right and the capacity to-day to govern—do not even know the revenue of their own Colony. They have given the revenue as £1,950,000, but I can assure the House that it has never touched £1,200,000 during the last eight years of its history. I need not do more than refer to the fact that the population of Queensland is given as 322,000, while every schoolboy knows that it is nearly 900,000, but the Memorandum is full of inaccuracies. It should be studied with care. It is an interesting document, if only as showing the mentality of the people who compiled it, but I ask the House to reserve judgment on the figures given in this document. I have had to go very sketchily and hurriedly over the financial position and the report of our Commission but, for all the reasons I have attempted to 1042 give, I hope the House to-night will give a Second Reading to the Bill. British Guiana, as has been said by various Members to-night, is in a cul de sac. But perplexing and difficult as are the problems, financial and economic, with which she is faced, I, for one, firmly believe that if we can only enable her to get on to that path which will give the Government control over its own finance we need not despair of the future. Indeed, I would go further and say that in those circumstances, I believe at no distant date we shall see this backward, undeveloped colony marching steadily upon that road of progress and development which we all desire to find for her and which will lead her eventually, through a gradual process, to a large measure of self-government and to a state of peace and prosperity far beyond the dreams of any of her inhabitants to-day.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I would not have taken part in this discussion but for the fact that during the past three years I have had considerable correspondence and personal intercourse with men representing the people of British Guiana, and they are all, without exception, opposed to the proposal which the Secretary of State has put forward. Before saying anything further, I wish to join in the protest against the fact that we were only able to obtain copies of this document to-day. No one can properly discuss this question without studying all the documents issued by the Colonial Office, and I think most of us have been too busy to read them in the time which has been available. I should also like to say at the outset, that I regret very much that the two Commissioners should have treated this Debate as if those of us who oppose the view of the Secretary of State were sitting in judgment on them, or were desirous of censuring them directly or indirectly for anything they have said in their Report. I should be the last, with regard to my hon. Friend the Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Snell) to call in question his bona fides and I have not, nor has any one of us, a shred of sympathy with the statements made about them. I have received myself most abusive letters in reference to both Commissioners but, instead of replying to those letters, I have handed them to my hon. Friend. But the position in which we find ourselves is this. We are 1043 told the Colony is in a difficult position, but from the speeches to-night I have not gathered that there is any charge of corruption against the people who have had the management of the Colony's affairs. Neither have I heard anything to-night which would lend countenance to the view that people who lend money to this Colony are not likely to be repaid, or that there is likely to be some default on the part of the representative people of the Colony. I know they are in debt and that at present they are not paying their way. I also know that if the Governor gets this reserve power and uses it, he will be using it perhaps to guarantee some loan and it is held, I understand, that his guarantee will be of more worth than the ordinary guarantee of the legislative council or Government of the Colony.
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
The point is this. The Colony can borrow in the open market on any constitution, but the loan could not be a trustee security under our Trustee Act unless the Secretary of State for the Colonies was in a position to secure the services of that debt or unless the Colony had full responsible self-government like a Dominion. That is our Colonial Stocks Act, and if they could borrow under the Colonial Stocks Act, they could borrow I per cent. cheaper than they could conveniently do it in the open market without that guarantee.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I know that, and if we are agreed about that point I cannot understand why the Colonial Office or the Treasury cannot accept the Colony's own guarantee without this reserve power being given to the Governor. If there is no question of default then why make this proposal? You can only want to call in someone with a reserve power because you are afraid that these people will not pay of their own volition. You are showing towards them an attitude of mind which assumes that, if they borrow money, they may not repay it, but that when the Governor gives his sanction 1044 that is a sort of guarantee which will enable them to borrow I per cent. cheaper than they could borrow otherwise. Under the Colonial Stocks Act, if a Colony agrees to the Treasury conditions then the stock can be put on the market and get the best terms. It says:Any Colonial stock with respect to which there have been observed such conditions, if any, as the Treasury may by order, etc., prescribe.As I understand it, the Treasury do prescribe certain orders, and the point I make is that the people who have had control of this Colony have not up to the present defaulted, and no question of corruption arises in regard to that. Therefore, I want to be told why it is necessary now to call m this new power of the Governor. What has arisen to make it necessary? So far in this discussion I have not heard from the Secretary of State or from anyone else any reason why that should be done. On the question of indebtedness, it is very easy for anyone to criticise this Colony, but I expect, if we knew all the history, we should discover that a great deal of this indebtedness was due to natural causes over which nobody could have any control. All who listened to the speech of the hon. Member for the Wavertree Division (Mr. Tinne) must have been riot only interested but instructed, and he was able to tell us from his own knowledge of the enormous sums of money lost in trying to carry out public improvements which nature, and nothing else, had broken down. Consequently, when we are considering this cul de sac, as it has been termed, and when we are discussing the financial liabilities of this Colony and inferentially assuming that it is not fit to continue as a self-governing entity, we ought to remember that portion of the gigantic debt—gigantic for a Colony of that size—is due to causes which the most enlightened administrator would probably not have been able to foresee or prevent. When we come to the question of the people who have said that they do not object to the proposal, I think the right hon. Gentleman was not quite fair. I am not making any charge against him about it, but Mr. Woolford who issued a separate Memorandum in regard to the Report is, I understand, one who may be called a representative of the colonists, though not official and not associated with the Government, and he definitely 1045 says that he signed the Report with reservations. He says:When invited by the Governor to serve on the Commission I then indicated that, while I was most ready and willing to do so, I did not approve of the terms of reference as settled by the Secretary of State—restricted as they were—nor did I consider that any real necessity had arisen for recommending the changes in the constitution suggested by him in his despatch.7.0. p.m.
I cannot help being opposed to the very drastic changes in our constitution foreshadowed by him, and cannot conscientiously agree to any limitation or curtailment of any of the Constitutional privileges the Colony now enjoys. If I did so, I should be squandering all the experience I have gained and the knowledge I believe I possess of public affairs in this Colony. No such control as is being advocated will, I feel certain, habilitate the Colony's fortunes—the present financial position being due to our economic, and not to our political. difficulties. If our expenditure, though I admit necessary, had been properly controlled, we should have been able to balance our budgets quite readily and easily. I am, moreover, strongly of opinion that we shall recover our position in a few years' time, and that we should be allowed an opportunity of doing this. We shall then have profited by our experiences."
This is the part on which the right hon. Gentleman relies. I am going to read it all, because it gives the man's point of view quite clearly:Notwithstanding, however, the views I entertain, I should have been ready and willing at once to consent to the proposal that the Governor of the Colony, after consultation with the Secretary of State, should be given a reserved power of control in the last instance, if I were satisfied that some immediate material benefit would be gained thereby. If the Secretary of State had given any assurances, or even hinted, that if this power were given substantial financial assistance might be expected from the Imperial Government, I should have deemed it my duty in the best interests of the Colony to agree to such control being taken and preserved until the loan—if it took such a form—had been repaid by the Colony. No such prospect, however, is being held out to the Colony.That proves that this gentleman did not agree to give for all time power to the Government, or even temporarily, except for the one specific purpose of the loan. Yet the right hon. Gentleman seemed to infer that the Report was agreed to unanimously, and even that this man agreed, if he could be assured that some money could be forthcoming. It is proved very conclusively that the Report was not an agreed one, but was one from 1046 which the leading representative of the Colony definitely disagreed. Those of us who are going to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill will do so because we so thoroughly agree with the right hon. Gentleman's statement that you have either to give a Colony self-government or to govern it. We thoroughly disagree —and the experience in India during the last few years has shown it—with this business of pretending to give self-government and retaining an overriding power in certain subjects, and especially in finance. It is not leading to peace and contentment, as the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Roy Wilson) told us, but it is leading to a great deal of discontent and of conflict between the Governor and the people who are elected. In order that the House may understand why the Governor's reserved power leads to discontent, I will read out a passage that makes that clear, because I happen to have taken some interest in this case through the Labour Commonwealth group which meets on Monday, and before whom we have had the people representing this Colony. The statement in question is made in paragraph 23 on page 7:Having regard to the absolute necessity of safeguarding at the present time the credit and financial stability of the Colony, we think that the mere possibility of a deadlock, although, we believe, a remote one, might have the effect of making it difficult to float the Colony's loans on advantageous terms, and might also give rise to doubt in the minds of capitalists and others who would otherwise be prepared to engage in commercial undertakings in the Colony. On these grounds we recommend that the Governor should be given power to reserve, for his own decision, any matter which he and the Secretary of State consider essential to the good government of the Colony, but that this power should not be exercised without a previous reference to the Secretary of State (should such be possible)"—I call attention to that reservation—and in any event the Governor's action in this respect should be reviewed by the Secretary of State at the earliest possible moment.The Governor then may exercise his power and tell us afterwards, and in this House we know that it is extremely difficult to reverse an official decision once it has been made. But I would call the attention of the House to the fact that the Commission contemplated disagreement between the elected body 1047 and the Governor on such questions as concessions given to capitalists, and others. That lends some point to the statement of the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), who said, and I hold the view strongly, that we ought not to give Governors powers to override the elected members' in regard to concessions and in regard to the granting or selling of leases for those valuable forests. It is possible that, in order to get a big loan right away, the Governor might think it advisable and right to give some monopolist company a lease over these very valuable timber forests which are waiting to be developed, and the people there might imagine that there ought to be better terms, or that it ought to be split up, or that it should be done in some different way. The people on the spot who live in the Colony ought to have the last word in that matter. It is not just a question of the financial stability of the Colony or of raising a loan, but it is a question of giving the Governor power to determine over the heads of the people how the Colony should be developed.
I think that the India Office ought to have had something to say on this subject, because those who went there from India and the other colonists there went with the constitution as it is and with the idea of building up a Colony under a certain form of government. We are not entitled to ride roughshod over them because of these financial difficulties, which are not the fault of any absolute maladministration or corruption. These difficulties are no reason for taking away the power which this Colony has possessed all these years. When it comes to the Colonial Office having that power, we have exactly the same want of confidence in the right hon. Gentleman and his administration as they would have in a Socialist administration. From my point of view, I do not trust them in this matter of granting concessions. I do not trust either the Governors or the Colonial Office. I would rather that the people, who have lived there for 150 years in the delightful manner which has been described to us by the hon. Member for Wavertree and the hon. Member for East Woolwich, people of all races and religions living happily together, should he allowed to decide their own future. 1048 It is because this Bill is a retrograde Bill, taking away complete self-government from a Colony that has possessed it for 150 years, that we shall go into the Lobby against it. The point on which we maintain it takes away that power is one which is vital to all countries governed under democratic conditions. We know that this House values the Power which we have to control finance. You are taking away from the people in the Colony the power to control finance and a much greater power to determine how, by whom, and when the natural resources of their country shall be developed.
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
With the possible exception of the hon. Member who has just sat down, the whole House seems agreed that the Bill is necessary, although it differs in its opinion as to what ought to be the Order-in-Council that will follow upon it. Everybody is agreed, with the exception of the hon. Member, that some change is necessary.
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
If some change in the constitution of British Guiana is necessary, then this Bill in its present form is necessary. There is probably no other authority than this Parliament that can alter the constitution which has remained in fundamentals unaltered and unalterable since we took it over from the Dutch. The constitution of British Guiana is unlike any other constitution in the British Empire, and I am very glad of it. It is not the constitution that we should ever grant, though it has an analogy to some which we granted in the 17th century. This constitution we took over from the Dutch, and it has a hoary antiquity to be proud of, but nothing else. In the first place, it is not complete self-government, as the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) seemed to think it was. It is a power to hold up the Government on finance at every turn and to hold up individual citizens. Under the British Guiana constitution, there is no element of self-government for the people of British Guiana either in legislation or in administration. Self-government, after all, means legislation, administration, and finance together. Neither of the two Houses in British Guiana has power to change the con- 1049 stitution fundamentally. In practically every other Colony the constitution can be changed and is frequently changed by Order-in-Council by the Secretary of State for the Colonies.
There are comparatively few Colonial constitutions that have not been changed by Order-in-Council since the War. Those of the Gold Coast, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Tanganyika, Southern Rhodesia, Ceylon—the whole gamut of Colonial constitutions—have been changed, either as in the case of Southern Rhodesia, by the grant of Letters Patent, or by Orders-in-Council, and all that this Bill is designed to do is to give to this Secretary of State and successive Secretaries of State the power from time to time to alter the constitution of British Guiana, which is to-day absolutely in a cul-de-sac, unalterable, nobody at present having power to alter it in any direction and having no prospect of altering it. Therefore, I think that in many ways we might claim that the Second Reading of this Bill should not be opposed, though we quite recognise that in the main the opposition has come, not to the Second Reading so much as to the adoption of an act of administrative policy by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on the recommendation of the local Commission.
It is my duty to put one or two points in that regard before the House. When you begin to change an ancient constitution, quite frankly, you do not want to make more changes than are necessary, and the local Commission have clearly not gone deeply into these franchise questions and these other questions which are bound to come up and be gone into in future, or even into constituency demarcations and all the points raised by the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) in his interesting speech. Those questions are bound to come up, but the main structure of the old tradition, after all, is being retained; that is to say, the local Commission are retaining the 14 existing elected members, and they are giving to the constitution, to that structure, the necessary body to enable it to function as an effective governing machine, mainly by adding to the old Combined Court of 14 elected members 1050 two other officials and five nominated unofficial individuals. Those five nominated unofficial members will be selected by the Secretary of State and by the Governor in consultation from among any element of the community. I want to disabuse the House of any idea that it will necessarily be, or should be, from the "plantocracy" or any other "ocracy." The five men will probably be selected on account of their variety, and, in accordance with the almost universal rule for nominated unofficial members of the Council in the other West Indian islands, they will take their part freely and in a completely unbound way during the lifetime of the Legislative Council to which they are nominated.
Therefore, British Guiana will still have an advanced type of Crown Colony constitution. The Government will still be in a minority as against the unofficial members. There will be 19 unofficial members, 14 of whom will be elected and five nominated individuals, free in every respect, as against 10 on the official side. The total is 29. I would like to reassure the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme—I do not think he is quite familiar with the country—that the whole of the voters are in a comparatively small area, and it is not a ease of the 14 elected members finding it difficult to keep in touch with their constituents. One of the troubles of British Guiana is that you are dealing, in effect, with an extremely small population, and so far from 14 constituencies being too few, there is a great deal to be said for the view that eight constituencies would be ample, but as there have been 14 elected members, the minimum of change to ensure the necessary results, and advance, and stability, and good government has been made.
The next point about which I wish to speak is that which has been raised by several hon. Members in regard to the production of papers. After all, the main document was produced early last year, containing the Report of the Parliamentary Commission. Till the Parliamentary Commission came back, neither my right hon. Friend, nor the Governor, nor anybody else, had raised the question of the Constitution. They were given wide terms of reference, to 1051 inquire into things in British Guiana generally, and, quite apart from what they have recommended in regard to the Constitution, they have produced a most valuable, constructive, and helpful Report. But they did find in this anomalous Constitution, peculiar and unlike any other Constitution in the British Empire, one of the difficulties inherent in the situation. It is true that British Guiana, although it has great natural riches and resources, is faced with this difficulty: that, while its timber is the most valuable type of timber in the world and is growing there in great quantities, it has never been developed or brought to the service of humanity and the enriching of the Colony, very largely because it will not float, because it is too heavy.
You are up against factors of that kind that do present great difficulties. It is no use blaming the Combined Courts, or successive Governors, or Secretaries of State, but, none the less, when all that has been allowed for, nobody, looking at the history of British Guiana for the last 150 years, can doubt that the perpetual friction between Governor and Combined Court that has gone on—and, quite frankly, that is revealed in the type of document that has been presented to-day, in the very language that is used there—is in itself a criticism of the type of Constitution which British Guiana has had. As to these documents, the basic document was this Report of the Parliamentary Commission, which suggested to my right hon. Friend that the right way to proceed was by local Commission. He proceeded by local Commission, and, therefore, I think it is a little hard that we should be blamed by the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme for not imposing our ideas and evolving for ourselves—and I quite agree we might have done it better—a brand new Constitution out of our own heads at the Colonial Office. We have left it as far as possible to the people in the Colony, and the local Commission was composed of a chairman, three officials, including the Attorney-General, a singularly able man, one unofficial individual connected with the Colony, who has lived there most of his life, and two of the elected members. They have produced a scheme 1052 which, at any rate, at this stage of the revision of the Constitution, my right hon. Friend proposes to accept in the main, and he has been discussing one or two of the details with the delegation of elected members who have been over here.
We presented last November the second main document, which has been before the House, therefore, for three or four months, namely, the plan of Constitution which it was proposed to adopt. The new document presented to-day contains material of a highly controversial kind from the elected members, which we received some few weeks ago, and to which we thought it important that some reply should be made by the people who were specifically referred to in the elected members' remarks. As hon. Members will see from the document, we only received the reply from the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Snell) and the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Roy Wilson), who are somewhat vigorously assailed in the document, on the 31st January; from the Governor on the 27th January; from the Crown Agents on the 1st February; and from the people who were almost more vigorously assailed than anybody, namely, the consulting engineers in connection with the Georgetown improvement scheme, on the 1st March. I must pay a special tribute to the work of the Stationery Office in this connection. Since receiving on the 1st March the final document in reply, they have been able to get out what is, after all, quite a formidable Blue Book, and they have done it very quickly.
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
The hon. Member knows that when we get into the financial work of the Session it becomes more and more difficult to find time for legislation, but let the House remember that, although usually it is not the custom to lay on the Table proposed Orders-in-Council changing Colonial constitutions, in this particular case, as it is the first revision for 150 years, we propose to lay the Order-in-Council, the draft of which has now begun and will amount to 70 odd Clauses, on the Table of the House, and, of course, it could be the subject of a Prayer. The hon. Member for Wavertree (Mr. Tinne) and the bon. Member for Lichfield have shown conclusively that the financial condition of 1053 the Colony is one causing very serious preoccupation to all who have the interests of this and any other Colony at heart, and I am glad that both of them, speaking, one with considerable commercial experience in connection with this Colony, and the other having been a Commissioner with considerable financial experience outside, ended on a note of some optimism, namely, that once a more harmonious relation between the present elements of the Combined Court and the Government has been effected, and once there is public confidence that the constitution is on British and not on exotic lines, there will be, both for public and for private finance, an element of confidence Which undoubtedly has been lacking and which will be very much needed in the difficult times of the next few years through which British Guiana must go.
Make no doubt about it, that the change in the form of constitution will not work miracles, but will have to be followed by a very careful pruning of expenditure and a very careful overhauling of the present very heterogeneous system of taxation. It has been altered from year to year, very often by a series of compromises which have been most unscientific. One of the most effective results of the Report of the Commission, composed of the hon. Member for Lichfield and the hon. Member for East Woolwich, was to secure the passing of the Forest Trust Ordinance. We had been informed by the Governor that it was very unlikely that it would go through, and that any such proposal was infringing on ancient privileges and powers, When they saw the importance which these two hon. Members attached to continuity in forest policy and the conserving of national forest resources, and above all that the experienced forest officers should feel secure in their positions; and when they saw the emphasis which was laid upon that point, which had been emphasised frequently by the Colonial Office before, we secured the co-operation of many of the elected members in passing what had obviously never been passed before.
I think we may say that already there are signs of an improved state of affairs.
§ Quite apart from all proposals in the form of controls and the form of securing ultimate responsibility, not so much to an irresponsible Governor, but to a Governor acting under the authority of the Secretary of State here, who is responsible to this House—quite apart from all that is the proposal in the local Commission's Report for greater association between the unofficial elements, both elected and non—elected, in the work of the Executive Council. One of the problems in all our constitutional difficulties throughout has been that, while we have been thinking in terms of franchise and in terms of powers of bodies, we have forgotten the essential thing, namely, that ultimately it is the Executive Government that is the all important thing, and that in the growth and evolution of democracy it is the association of the ordinary critics of governments in the responsibilities of government that is the vital thing if we are to secure the advance in freedom, the advance in true democratic development that has been the genius and tradition of the British race.
§ It is upon that side of the development of the Executive Council that I see the most valuable hope in the present change that we are recommending to Parliament. I am quite sure that really the House wants the change in order that British Guiana may have the chance that it has not had for the last few years. I am sure, too, that we are all fundamentally agreed in spirit in the aims and objects which we have at heart. We are bound by our different political traditions to have suspicions one of the other, and to have suspicions of particular views at particular times. I am, nevertheless, quite satisfied in the main that, when this Bill becomes an Act, it will not merely have the assent of both Houses of Parliament, but will have the goodwill and interest of all parties, and that we shall all endeavour to unite in supporting British Guiana in the future which lies before it.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 200; Noes, 89.1057
|Division No. 25.]||AYES.||[7.35 p.m.|
|Agg-Gardner. Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Allen, J. Sandeman (L'pool, W. Derby)||Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Balfour, George (Hampstead)|
|Alexander, Sir Wm. (Glasgow, Cent'l)||Astor, Maj. Hn. John J.(Kent, Dover)||Barclay-Harvey, C. M.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Grotrian, H. Brent||Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)|
|Beckett, Sir Gervase (Leeds, N.)||Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F.E. (Bristol, N.)||Plicher, G.|
|Bellairs, Commander Cariyon W.||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Price, Major C. W. M.|
|Berry, Sir George||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Ramsden, E.|
|Bethel, A.||Hamliton, Sir George||Reid, Capt. Cunningham (Warrington)|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Hammersley, S. S.||Reid, D. D. (County Down)|
|Bird, Sir R. B. (Wolverhampton, W.)||Harrison, G. J. C.||Rentoul, G. S.|
|Blundell, F. N.||Hartington, Marquess of||Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Rice, Sir Frederick|
|Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.||Haslam, Henry C.||Roberts, Sir Samuel (Hereford)|
|Brassey, Sir Leonard||Henderson, Capt. R.R.(Oxford, Henley)||Ropner, Major L.|
|Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||Henderson, Sir Vivian (Bootle)||Ruggies-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.|
|Briggs, J. Harold||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Salmon, Major I.|
|Brittain, Sir Harry||Henn, Sir Sydney H.||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'I'd., Hexham)||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Sanders, Sir Robert A.|
|Buchan, John||Hills, Major John Waller||Sanderson, Sir Frank|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Hilton, Cecil||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.|
|Burman, J. B.||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)||Savery, S. S,|
|Calne, Gordon Hall||Hohler, Sir Gerald Fitzroy||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley|
|Campbell, E. T.||Holt, Captain H. P.||Shepperson, E. W.|
|Cassels, J. D.||Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar)||Skelton, A. N.|
|Cazalet, Captain Victor A.||Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Slaney, Major P. Kenyon|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.)||Hudson,Capt. A. U. M.(Hackney, N.)||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dlne, C.)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood)||Hurd, Percy A.||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Charteris, Brigadier-General J.||Hutchison, Sir Robert (Montrose)||Smithers Waldron|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Iveagh, Countess of||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir George||Kennedy, A. R. (Preston).||Sprot, Sir Alexander|
|Cope, Major William||King, Commodore Henry Douglas||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Couper, J. B.||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)||Knox, Sir Alfred||Steel, Major Samuel Strang|
|Craig, Sir Ernest (Chester, Crewe)||Lamb, J. Q.||Storry-Deans, R.|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Leigh, Sir John (Clapham)||Stott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H.|
|Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick)||Lioyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)||Strauss, E. A.|
|Crookshank, Cpt. H.(Lindsey,Gainsbro)||Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green)||Streatfeild. Captain S. R.|
|Cunilffe, Sir Herbert||Loder, J. de V.||Stuart, Crichton-, Lord C.|
|Curzon, Captain Viscount||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser|
|Davidson, Major-General Sir John H.||Luce, Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset, Yeovil)||Lumley, L. R.||Templeton, w. P.|
|Davies Sir Thomas (Clrencester)||MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen||Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||Macdonald, R. (Glasgow, Cathcart)||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Edge, Sir William||McDonnell, Colonel Hon. Angus||Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell|
|Edwards, J. Hugh (Accrington)||McLean, Major A.||Tinne, J. A.|
|England, Colonel A.||Macmillan Captain H.||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Erskine, Lord (Somerset.Weston-s.-M.)||Macnaghten, Hon. sir Malcolm||Waddington, R|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)||MacRobert, Alexander M.||Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.|
|Fairfax, Captain J. G.||Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Faile Sir Bertram G.||Marriott, Sir J. A. R.||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Fanshawe, Captain G. D.||Merriman, F. B.||Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)|
|Fenby, T. D.||Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark)||Watts, Dr. T.|
|Forestler-Walker. Sir L.||Morrison, H. (Wilts, Salisbury)||Wells, S. R.|
|Forrest, W.||Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive||Wiggins, William Martin|
|Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Nail, Colonel Sir Joseph||Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)|
|Gadie, Lieut.-Col. Anthony||Nelson, Sir Frank||Williams, C. P. (Denbigh, Wrexham)|
|Galbraith, J. F. W.||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)|
|Ganzonl, Sir John||Nicholson, O. (Westminster)||Windsor-Clive. Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton||Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W.G. (Ptrsf'ld.)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||O'Connor, T. J. (Bedford, Luton)||Withers, John James|
|Glyn Major R. G. C.||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William||Womersley, W. J.|
|Goff Sir Park||Owen, Major G.||Wood. E. (Chester, Statyb'ge & Hyde)|
|Gower, Sir Robert||Pennefather, Sir John||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Grace, John||Penny, Frederick George|
|Grant, Sir J. A.||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.||Perkins, Colonel E. K.||Captain Margesson and Captain|
|Greene, W. P. Crawford||Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)||Wallace.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Day, Harry||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley)|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Dennison, R.||Henderson. T. (Glasgow)|
|Ammon, Charles George||Dunnico, H.||Hirst, G. H.|
|Baker, Walter||Gardner, J. P.||Hirst. W. (Bradford, South)|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Gibbins, Joseph||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)|
|Barnes, A.||Gosling, Harry||Johnston, Thomas (Dundee)|
|Bondfield, Margaret||Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edln., Cent.)||Kelly, W. T.|
|Bromfield, William||Greenail, T.||Kennedy, T.|
|Bromley, J||Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.|
|Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Kirkwood, D.|
|Buchanan, G||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Lansbury, George|
|Charleton, H. C.||Groves, T.||Lawrence, Susan|
|Clowes, S.||Grundy, T. W.||Lowth, T.|
|Davies, Ellis (Denbigh, Denbigh)||Hall. G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Lunn, William|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Hardle, George D.||MacLaren, Andrew|
|Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Scurr, John||Walsh, Rt. Hon. Stephen|
|Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'tnampton)||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)||Watson, W. M. (Duntermline)|
|March, S.||Slesser, Sir Henry H.||Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney|
|Morris, R. H.||Smillie, Robert||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah|
|Murnin, H.||Smith, Rennie (Penlstone)||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Naylor, T. E.||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip||Welsh, J. C.|
|Ponsonby, Arthur||Stamford, T. W.||Westwood, J.|
|Potts, John S.||Stephen, Campbell||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)||Whiteley, W.|
|Riley, Ben||Sutton, J. E.||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O.(W.Bromwich)||Taylor, R. A.||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Robinson, W. C. (Yorks, W.R., Elland)||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plalstow)|
|Sakiatvala, Shapurji||Tinker, John Joseph||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Salter, Dr. Alfred||Viant, S. P.||Mr. Allen Parkinson and Mr. Charles|
|Scrymgeour, E.||Wallhead, Richard C.||Edwards.|
Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House for To-marrow.—[Mr. Amery.]