HC Deb 28 February 1949 vol 462 cc85-100

The provisions of this Act shall not extend to Colonies in the Western Hemisphere.—[Mr. Emrys Hughes.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

6.0 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I beg to move, "That the Clause he read a Second time."

On Second Reading we asked the Colonial Secretary for some detailed explanations of the purpose of the Bill. His explanations were not satisfactory, especially in regard to the general question of naval strategy. I have put down this new Clause because I do not think we are justified in suggesting to any-Colony in the Western Hemisphere that they shall undertake any new financial burdens under the provisions of the Bill.

I know the Admiralty take the view that we need to conduct naval strategy somewhere in the Western Hemisphere, and I know that in recent months the British Fleet has conducted an expensive naval exercise in that part of the world, but some of us want to know why? Why is it necessary to have a Bill of this kind to make further provisions for the naval defence of overseas territories, and especially in the Western Hemisphere?

The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies suggested in defence of this Bill on Second Reading, that it was necessary to safeguard us against pirates. I am certainly not in favour of piracy; I regard it as a rather romantic but undesirable form of private enterprise. As far as our Colonies in the West Indies are concerned, I suggest that there is absolutely no danger from pirates, and that the minds of those at the Admiralty and of the Colonial Secretary have not moved forward from the time when Sir Richard Grenville lay "at Flores in the Azores" and conducted his great epic battle.

Can the Parliamentary Secretary explain to us what earthly purpose there is in the year 1949, for empowering the legislatures of the Colonies in the West Indies to make further provision for naval defence? After all, we have moved on, even since the Act of 1931, and it is quite obvious today that the security of the Colonies in the Western Hemisphere can be safeguarded adequately by the navy of the United States of America. In the Press yesterday we were told that today there will be extensive naval operations carried out near the West Indies by a powerful Fleet composed of aircraft carriers, battleships, cruisers and all other kinds of naval craft. In face of that, I suggest that the time has come when we should he realistic and recognise that, as far as the Western Hemisphere is concerned, the security of those Islands, if threatened, can be safely left to the United States of America.

As far as we are concerned, what potential enemy is threatening the West Indies? Surely it cannot be argued that Russia is contemplating an attack on these Islands from a base in the West Indies? That would seem to be rather the strategy of the gentleman in Chester-ton's poem who wished to make his way to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head. I suggest that there is no threat to the security of the West Indies from the Navy of the U.S.S.R., and that in making this provision we are living in past centuries with absolutely no realisation of the strategy of today.

I can quite imagine a citizen of the United States of America reading this Bill and asking, "Why does Great Britain want to be bothered about the strategy and safety of the West Indies at this time of day? Cannot they use the money from Marshall Aid to far greater advantage than building up a Navy where it is not required?" So whatever may be said in favour of other parts of the Bill. I fail to see why we should be making provisions in the year 1949 to raise a new naval force in the West Indies. We should recognise that history has now moved forward, that we are not living in the time of Drake or the Spanish Armada or of any possible war with Spain or anybody else, and that we can safely leave the Western Hemisphere out of this Bill.

Under its terms, if there is no actual obligation upon the legislatures of the West Indies, encouragement is certainly given to them to spend certain sums from their Budgets in organising naval defence. Are we in this Committee satisfied that conditions in the West Indies are so good that we can encourage these legislatures to divert finance from the necessary expenditure on education, on social reform, on housing, and on all the other items which will necessarily come up in those budgets? I listened carefully to the recent Adjournment Debate when the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) gave an interesting account of the West Indies. He was supported by the hon. and learned Member for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan). The hon. Member for Maldon said: These Jamaican people are living in shacks actually made of old cardboard and bits of old tin just strung together anyhow, in the most insanitary surroundings. It is a monstrous anomaly, too, at a time when, in public hospitals, patients had to be put two or three in a bed, because even that was better than leaving them in the filthy hovels in which they lived."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th February, 1949; Vol. 460, c. 2026.] In order to stress his point about the West Indies, the hon. Member for Maldon argued that housing conditions were even worse there than in Scotland. I suggest that legislation which encourages the West Indies legislatures to divert money away from the expenditure necessary to improve social conditions is quite unnecessary. If the West Indies have money to throw away, let us remember the facts given to us by the hon. Member for Maldon that 27 per cent. of the people live in a state of illiteracy.

The Under-Secretary of State suggested that this would not incur any great measure of expenditure. His idea was that we should put at the disposal of these Colonies old ships and old officers. [Laughter.] Oh, yes—hon. Members may laugh—he said we could not afford to give them these out of our present naval Forces, but that we should put at their disposal elderly veterans of the Naval Reserve.

Mr. Austin (Stretford)

For training only.

Mr. Hughes

I would point out to the Under-Secretary that he should pay far greater attention to the problem of manpower of the nation, and that he should remember that we have not the manpower to spare. I would advise him to read the latest statement from the Admiralty issued yesterday showing that the recruiting for the Naval Reserve is going too slowly. Can we afford to supply officers and men of the Naval Reserve to legislatures contemplating naval preparation in the West Indies? The Admiralty have said that, so far, only about 8 per cent. of the men required immediately have volunteered and that this is no more than 1 per cent. of the figure aimed at.

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member has been only just in Order the whole time. Now he is going a little too far. He must relate all his remarks to the position in the West Indies or in the Colonies in the Western Hemisphere.

Mr. Hughes

I am obliged to you for your guidance, Mr. Bowles, and for your tolerance in letting me develop my argument.

I will sum up. First, as far as the defence of the Western Hemisphere is concerned—if it needs any such defence—it can be left safely to the United States of America. Second, there is no demand in these Colonies that expenditure on naval preparation should have priority. Third, we are not able to provide this Colony with the men, material and money suggested by the Parliamentary Secretary.

Mr. Willis (Edinburgh, North)

I support the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) for the reason that we in this Committee deserve a better explanation of the reasons for the Bill than was given during the Second Reading. The only real reason then given to us was, as my hon. Friend has said, that the Bill was necessary in order to put down piracy.

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Gentleman must confine himself to the new Clause and not extend his remarks to the Bill in general.

Mr. Willis

I am sorry, Mr. Bowles, but I am just coming to the Clause.

Two facts must be borne in mind regarding the colonies in the Western Hemisphere. One is that America is not our enemy and the other is that America now has a two-ocean navy. In the light of these facts, what service can be given by naval forces in the West Indies or Western Hemisphere? We are entitled to an answer about this. They can be of service only if they form part of larger forces. There appears to be no necessity for these armed forces for the purpose previously explained to us—the suppression of piracy—because that can be effected by the United States. Are these forces required to provide us with reserves for our own naval forces? If so, whilst I think it undesirable that we should ask Western Hemisphere colonies to pay for this purpose, then we must have regard to the conditions in those colonies. An enormous amount of work requires to be done in them and I should have thought, without wishing to be out of Order, that the available money would be much better spent on providing social services, education, hospitals, water supplies and all the rest rather than on providing the major Powers of the world with naval reserves.

Mr. Skinnard (Harrow, East)

I oppose the new Clause, because this is a permissive Bill which confers certain powers upon colonies which are gradually getting nearer and nearer to the ideal of self-government. The legislatures which have attained very nearly to self-government in the British West Indies would feel it invidious if they were especially excluded from the provisions of the Bill.

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) made playful reference to the remote possibility of piracy in the region of the West Indies, but the West Indies and Caribbean as a whole is not exactly the most settled area of the globe. Apart from piracy there is a danger of the landing on the mainland of armed forces known as filibusters. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire is a very fine example—

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Can the hon. Gentleman explain where these filibusters are coming from? Is it from the United States?

Mr. Skinnard

I am obliged to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire, who is the finest example we have in the House of Commons of a Scottish filibuster. The chief objection of our West Indian colonies to being excluded from the Bill is that it would mean their being delivered entirely to the protection of the United States of America.

Mr. Willis

And of ourselves.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. Skinnard

It has been said that the finest example of filibustering so far in recent history in the Caribbean has been the exploits of the United States Marines aided by United States naval vessels.

Mr. Willis

Surely, we have a fleet in the West Indies which is quite capable of dealing with all these things?

Mr. Skinnard

That may be so, but it does not alter the main point that the British West Indies are very loyal to the British connection. When I was in the West Indies I was assured that there was a rooted objection to further American economic or imperialistic penetration in our area of the Caribbean.

Dr. Morgan (Rochdale)

Would my right hon. Friend the Member for East Harrow (Mr. Skinnard)—I am sorry, I should say my hon. Friend—would he tell me how many West Indians of any race or colour are employed by the British Navy in the North Atlantic Fleet?

Mr. Skinnard

That is a question which should be more properly addressed to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty. Nevertheless, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan) for realising the shape of things to come and giving me an honorific to which at present I am not entitled. I think it is a quid pro quo for his elevation by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire from the medical to the legal profession.

We must not allow our West Indian Colonies to feel that we are prepared to hand them over to the protection of a Power which they feel, rightly or wrongly, they have had occasion to distrust. Furthermore, we can leave it to the good sense of the legislatures whether they wish to take advantage of the powers permitted to them under the Bill. Rather than bring about a situation which the new Clause, if agreed to, would create, we should let the West Indian legislators decide for themselves. There has been too much imposition from here of grandmotherly legislation in the past, as the hon. Member for Rochdale knows very well, and it has not been very successful.

Here is a Bill which enables a colonial legislature or groups of legislatures, if they so desire, to form a small nucleus of naval forces; nothing more. It is not our task to make exceptions here and there, but rather to leave it to the colonial legislatures themselves to judge from local conditions whether there is need or not. Presently there will be a great development, I hope, of fisheries in the Caribbean area. That is part of the development plans. Fisheries need protection nowhere more than in the Caribbean area, where respect for maritime law has not always been conspicuous. We can safely leave it to the legislatures of the British West Indian islands and mainland Colonies to take the Bill and to act upon it or not as they feel fit within their area.

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

I wish to support my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) because, irrespective of what anyone may say, this gives the Committee a chance of raising the issue of the relationship between coloured members of the Commonwealth and the British Navy. This is a simple Bill—

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member must not talk about the Bill; he must talk about the Clause.

Mr. Davies

I had to mention the Bill because I wanted to mention the Clause. The purpose of the proposed new Clause is to exclude the Western Hemisphere from the Bill, for reasons which have been well stated. If the purpose is to extend defence against piracy, a few aero-planes in the Caribbean Sea could do that. Before we think in terms of naval defence there, we ought to increase the Mercantile Marine in that area. I hope I am in Order here. This money which would be spent on extending naval defence there could be spent on that, because the greatest defence of any country in the 20th century is to have efficient material equipment, piston rods and spanners, rather than masses of troops and fleets which cannot be supplied because the West Indies standard of equipment could not meet the problem if there were a major war.

I welcome the opportunity of supporting the proposed new Clause, because if we are to integrate Colonial naval services with British naval services, there must be an opportunity for coloured members of the Commonwealth, equally with white people, to reach the greatest heights in the British Navy. That is a point worth bringing forward and for that reason I welcome the proposed Clause. I beg the Minister to see that every opportunity is given to coloured members of the Commonwealth to have equal opportunity with white people, of climbing the ladder of promotion in the British Navy.

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member must realise that this is a negative Clause which says that the Bill shall not apply to certain parts of the Western Hemisphere. Therefore, he is completely out of Order in referring to other parts of the Empire not mentioned in the proposed new Clause.

Mr. Davies

I beg your pardon, Mr. Bowles, but I have made my remarks, and I thought they were in Order.

Mr. Cecil Poole (Lichfield)

I am sorry you have given that Ruling, Mr. Bowles, although I was fully expecting you to rule in those terms. Because those who follow do not take up this point and subscribe to it, I hope that we shall not be charged with not having the same desirable objectives as those who have preceded us. I am always intrigued by lessons in strategy from the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). It is quite obvious he has very carefully thought out the next war and exactly how the Powers will divide themselves and who will be fighting whom. I congratulate him on that. We know his very great interest in Service matters in this House and the very great authority he is on all these points. He has not only decided what the line-up will be, but what surprises me—

Dr. Morgan

Is this in Order?

Mr. Poole

I am replying to what has been said and I am sure that the Deputy-Chairman would rule me out of Order if this were not in Order.

Dr. Morgan

I am asking the Chair.

Mr. Poole

Get up on your feet, then. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire has also got to a position, in which we are very glad to find him, in which he has accepted the United States as the perfectly logical ally to the British Empire. We are very pleased to find that he has come so far along the road, because we always felt he was travelling a very different road—

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member for South Ayrshire was in Order when he suggested that defence in this part of the world could be left to the United States of America, but I do not think the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. C. Poole) is in Order in suggesting a literal alliance between ourselves and America.

Mr. Poole

That is exactly the point I am making. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire says there is no need to worry about Colonial defence in the West Indies which could be rightly, properly and safely left to the United States of America. I cannot imagine the United States of America defending the West Indies, unless they were our allies. The argument that the conditions of the West Indies are so appallingly bad—and I subscribe to his description of the West Indies—that any money spent there could be far better spent on houses, hospitals and things like that, is true, but it is not only true of the West Indies but of Great Britain. I should expect, if he were sincere in that argument, that he would be voting against the Defence Estimates all through because the £70 odd million could be better spent—

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member is going too wide and I must ask him to keep to the proposed new Clause.

Mr. Poole

It is very difficult, with all due respect, when we get a highly con- troversial speech, making these self-same points, by the hon. Member who moved the new Clause and are not allowed to reply to him. However, I will respect your Ruling, Mr. Bowles, and leave the point inadequately made at the stage at which I had arrived. What we are entitled to ask the hon. Member is for what reason he wants the Western Hemisphere excluded? Is it because there will be no need to defend those Colonies because there will be no attack? Is that the case? Or is it because he says America could do it very much better, or because the Colonies cannot afford it? On what foot is he standing?

My line is that these people are part of the British Commonwealth and are entitled to be defended, either by their own resources or by the resources of the British Navy. To me it is a shocking thing that there are some people who will stand up in this Committee and suggest that a primitive Colony shall be left to the tender mercies of any influence which might be brought to bear, and that we shall not place at their disposal the full resources of which we are capable. I was halfway across the Atlantic in 1942 in a small 3,000 ton ship when the news came through that Singapore had fallen. There were only half a dozen passengers on that ship, and I remember what a shock it was to find that our people in Singapore had been almost defenceless, overwhelmed and subjected subsequently to the awful treatment which befell them.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

When the hon. Member says that Singapore was left defenceless, is he aware that we spent about £40 million on its defences?

Mr. Poole

I am well aware of what we spent, but the spending of money does not necessarily lead to defence of a Colony. I do not know what argument the hon. Member is trying to make. I am not prepared to leave any Colonial people defenceless in any part of the world, whether in the Western Hemisphere or the Eastern Hemisphere, or to delegate to some foreign Power responsibility for the defence of Colonial people. I am amazed that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire, who has been so bitterly opposed to any association with America, should suggest now that they could be charged with the responsibility of defending the Commonwealth.

Dr. Morgan (Rochdale)

I hope I shall not add to the heat of the discussion. I wish to support the proposed new Clause. The last speech was a most peculiar speech. The West Indian people have no desire to be left defenceless. They are associated with Great Britain and can be defended by Great Britain. Perhaps the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. C. Poole) does not know that there is such a thing as a North Atlantic Fleet based on Canadian ports and that care can be taken of the West Indies from those ports—

Mr. Poole

Which ports?

Dr. Morgan


Mr. Poole

How many days journey away?

Dr. Morgan

Three days journey, four days in a fleet. I do not know why the hon. Member has suddenly evinced this great interest in the West Indies. The preliminaries for the inclusion of the West Indies in this Bill have not been observed. To my knowledge there has not yet been any boys from West Indian schools taken into the ships of the British Navy, the North Atlantic Fleet, and trained.

6.30 p.m.

Some years ago I put up a scheme to the Colonial Office for the peace-time training of boys at an educational naval training school, at which they would be taught elementary seamanship and something about naval matters, as well as general knowledge. The Colonial Secretary wrote in reply that it was a fine scheme but that he was engaged in so many other economic and welfare schemes that he would not undertake it. He indicated however that he would give his warm approval to the idea if it was taken up by any interested welfare body. My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. C. Poole), like the honourable filibuster from East Harrow, tells us what the West Indies should have. I first want the Colonial peoples to be put on an equal footing with the rest of the people throughout the Commonwealth. That partly consists of training them in British ships and teaching them the honour, discipline and the whole system of training of the British Navy.

Mr. C. Poole

Will my hon. Friend tell the Committee where in this Bill or in this new Clause there is anything which prevents that taking place?

Dr. Morgan

My hon. Friend could not have heard my first observation that the conditions for the inclusion of the West Indies in this Bill for defence purposes have not been fulfilled. Certain conditions must be fulfilled. Firstly, the West Indies themselves, or their Legislatures, are being given the power to come into the scheme, but they are not free Legislatures. They are Colonial Legislatures with nominated members, for whom His Majesty's Government are responsible, in the majority. The elected members are not in a majority. That is not free government. Only Jamaica has anything of that kind, and I say that the preliminaries for the inclusion of the defence of the West Indies in this Bill have not been fulfilled. On that account, I agree with and approve of, not for the first time, the viewpoint of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) as set out in this new Clause.

I approve of the Clause for three reasons. The first is the remoteness of the West Indies from any possibility of attack. The second is the fact that we have ships based on Canada, and in addition to that a friendly Power, the United States, which now has bases in our West Indian Islands, is on the spot to defend them. My third reason is, as I have already said, that no steps have really been taken to give the West Indies an opportunity to have even coastal defence. Even now, in the islands of Antigua and St. Kitts, we have no naval or other defence to protect the islands from smuggling from the neighbouring French islands. Why not let them undertake that now? It could be done by giving the Legislatures the power which they have not yet been given to have their own ships. That is not being done by this Bill.

The way to proceed is by giving them a free Constitution and giving them powers to act themselves. They do not want us to proceed in this way. They want us to do so in the way which seems proper to them—by giving them a free federated self-governing West Indies and the necessary power.

The Deputy-Chairman

I think that the hon. Member knew that I was about to tell him that he was getting out of Order. He must not proceed further along those lines.

Dr. Morgan

I willingly obey your Ruling, Mr. Bowles. I approve of this new Clause. I think it is appropriate to have such a Clause to exclude the West Indies and the Western Hemisphere from the scope of this Bill because the preliminary conditions for including them in the Bill have not been fulfilled.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I hope that despite the fact that this new Clause has met with support from no fewer than three supporters of the Government it will nevertheless not be accepted by the Government. Having heard the whole of this Debate, I can conceive of no other reason for this new Clause than that it is consistent with the policy which the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has so often expressed, of shelving our responsibilities, liquidating the British Empire and reducing this country to a state of impotence at the earliest possible moment. As I say, I trust that the Government will not accept this new Clause. We have taken a considerable time in discussing it, and the discussion has covered a wide field. I do not propose to answer the points which have been put forward by its supporters except to say that I believe that if it were accepted it would be contrary not only to the true interests of the Colonies in the Western Hemisphere but also contrary to the interests of the Western countries of the world.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Rees-Williams)

I ask the Committee to reject this new Clause. I see no merit whatever in it. I can only imagine that my hon. Friend has not understood the purpose of the Bill because otherwise I think that even he would never have moved the Clause. I am glad to find strong if belated interest in the defence of the West Indies. I hope that when we discuss other matters which it would be out of Order to discuss now, we shall find the same interest being shown. The purpose of this Bill is not to force any Colony or group of Colonies to do anything. It merely gives certain groups of Colonies the power to set up naval forces if they so desire. It is left to their Legislatures to decide.

The idea that we in this country are dictating to the people of the West Indies and the Caribbeans whether they should have forces and if so, what forces they should be, is entirely erroneous.

Dr. Morgan

It is not the people. It is the Legislatures appointed by His Majesty's Government.

Mr. Rees-Williams

The defence of the Commonwealth cannot be splintered in the way my hon. Friend suggests. In past wars through which this country has emerged victorious, the Colonies, including the remote parts, have hastened to send contingents to help us in the common struggle. To suggest that because there is no immediate enemy in the neighbourhood of a Colony, that Colony should not produce any forces is entirely against the desires of the people of the Colonies as a whole. They wish to take their part in the defence of the Commonwealth.

My hon. Friends the Members for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan) and Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) have suggested that it is desirable for us to train Colonial subjects in the Royal Navy. That is one of the matters which follow from this Bill.

Mr. Harold Davies

And without colour discrimination.

Mr. Rees-Williams

Exactly. When this Bill received its Second Reading I said that the Royal Navy had undertaken to train certain of these men, to have them over here to take part in courses in the Royal Navy, in other words, to bring them into the general comradeship of that fine Service.

Dr. Morgan

Why have the Government not done that before?

Mr. Rees-Williams

I do not think that the suggestion that we have not done it before is any argument for not doing it now. I am pointing out that we are now going to do it, and that we are doing what my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale suggests we ought to do.

I do not think that my hon. Friend's description of the measure of self-government now attained by the various Governments in the Caribbean and the West Indies will please those Colonies. I should have thought his suggestion as to the powers of Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados and Bahamas, to give only a few, will be received with no welcome in those territories. In fact, they have wide powers, and the suggestion that we in Whitehall dictate to the legislative councils is entirely wrong. Those legislative councils have wide powers of responsibility and they will consider these matters if they come before them in the light of the defence of the Commonwealth as a whole and their own Colonies in particular. I do not think there is any need to detain the Committee at length in this matter and I ask them to reject this proposed new Clause.

Question "That the Clause be read a Second time" put, and negatived.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

6.43 p.m.

Mr. Bramall (Bexley)

I wish to ask if my hon. Friend could enlighten me regarding one phrase which I do not understand in Clause 1 (3. a) where reference is made to a territory for the time being administered by the Government in a Dominion. Could my hon. Friend tell me what type of territory is there referred to?

Mr. Rees-Williams

I do not understand the point. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Bexley (Mr. Bramall) will extend it a little further.

Mr. Bramall

Clause 1, (3, a)—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Bowles)

The hon. Member has already addressed the House. He cannot speak again without leave of the House.

Mr. Braman

By leave of the House, may I say that Clause 1 (3, a) deals with two types of territories which are being brought within the scope of this Bill and which were not within the scope of the original Act of 1931. The first type of territory I understand. It is territories which are not British territories, but presumably British Protectorates. The second type I cannot understand, that is: … a territory for the time being administered by His Majesty's Government in a Dominion within the meaning of the Statute of Westminster, 1931. Thinking over the territories within the British Commonwealth I cannot think of any territory that meets that definition.

Mr. Rees-Williams

Such a territory would be similar to New Guinea Territory administered by the Dominion of Australia, for example. There may be other territories administered by the Government of a Dominion which may be colonial territories but do not come under the aegis of the Colonial Office here.

Mr. Bramall

Again with leave of the House may I—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member has already spoken twice. He cannot speak again.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed, without Amendment.