HC Deb 02 February 1955 vol 536 cc1093-6
107. Sir R. ROBINSON

To ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he will make a statement on the present position with regard to a federation of the British Caribbean territories.

The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)

It will be recalled that at the London Conference of April, 1953, delegates from Barbados, Jamaica, the Leeward Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Windward Islands agreed on a plan for a British Caribbean Federation. Her Majesty's Government welcomed the agreement reached on this plan, and stated that if the Territories desired to adopt it they were prepared to take the measures indicated to the Conference to enable the Federation to be set up. The plan was then referred to the Legislatures of those territories for their approval.

The Federal plan has now been adopted by all the Legislatures of the Territories concerned. Her Majesty's Government have been most happy to learn of this general agreement.

In accordance with the suggestion made in the West Indies, Her Majesty's Government will shortly call a conference of representatives of West Indian Governments to reconsider the question of the control of the movement of persons between one member Territory of the proposed British Caribbean Federation and another.

In the meantime, in the expectation of agreement between West Indian Governments on the control of movement of persons, Her Majesty's Government will proceed with the next steps towards a federation. In order that the fiscal, Civil Service and judicial arrangements for the Federation may be worked out with the minimum of delay, Her Majesty's Government propose to appoint three Commissions for this purpose. The Comptroller for Development and Welfare in the West Indies is being designated Commissioner for the preparation of the Federal Organisation. These Commissions and the Comptroller will carry out their tasks in the West Indies in close touch with Territorial Governments, and will seek the advice of regional bodies such as the Regional Economic Committee.

A final plan, taking into account the results of the work of the three Commissions, of the Commissioner for the preparation of the Federal Organisation, and of the Conference on Movement, will then be drawn up. Meanwhile, in order to save time at a later stage, as much work as possible will be done on the constitutional instruments. They will provide for additions to the Federation if other Territories later wish to join it.

The plan will be laid before a final West Indian Conference to which West Indian Governments will be asked to send plenipotentiary delegates. When a final plan has been agreed by the Conference, the Secretary of State will then ask Parliament to pass the necessary United Kingdom legislation.

I am sure that all parties in the House will join with me in welcoming this significant step and the fact that we may now look forward to the establishment of a British Caribbean Federation.

Sir R. Robinson

While congratulating my right hon. Friend on the very satisfactory results which have been achieved, may I ask whether it is abundantly clear that an opportunity may be given to British Guiana to enter the Federation at a later date? If the answer is in the affirmative, will British Guiana be asked to send an observer to the forthcoming conference?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his congratulations. I must, in fairness, say that this preparatory progress is a result of the work of my predecessors of both parties. It is quite true that, while British Guiana has, at the moment, rejected proposals for joining the Federation, the Federal constitution will provide for later additions and the way will, therefore, be open for British Guiana to join, if it desires to do so. I would remind the House that British Guiana and the British West Indies have many interests in common—currency, marketing of products, shipping and many other things.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept from me that it is the earnest wish of all Members in all parts of the House that success will be attained in this long-desired movement towards federation in the Caribbean?

The right hon. Gentleman says that British Guiana will be welcomed. Does that also include British Honduras? It would be unfortunate if it went out from the House that we were thinking of one without the other. I am glad to know, if I understood his statement correctly, that the door will be kept open for others to join, including British Guiana and British Honduras.

This work is reaching the end, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would agree with me in saying that we thank all those who have been concerned, in particular Viscount Hall and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Creech Jones), who took the initial steps in bringing this about.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to bear in mind—and I do not press him for an answer now—that we are now in the stage of creating a new Dominion in the British Commonwealth. Would it not be a fine send-off if the British Commonwealth Prime Ministers, now in session, declared to the world that when the Federation reaches that stage it will be welcomed as a full member of the Commonwealth?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, it would be a little improper for me to make a comment as to what would be the position of the Prime Ministers now in session in London, but, speaking for Her Majesty's Government, I can say that we welcome the support of the Opposition for this Federation, in the initial stages of which they played a conspicuous and most helpful part. The constitutional instrument will certainly provide that British Honduras or British Guiana, and other territories which might care to do so, will be quite free to join the Federation.

Mr. Boyle

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the two mainland territories are the under - populated territories and that if they joined there would be a greater opportunity for the movement of population from the overpopulated Colonies? Will he therefore continue in his efforts to get British Guiana and British Honduras within the Federation?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I quite realise the importance of both those observations.

Mr. Dugdale

Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us the names of those who will serve on the Commissions?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I have already mentioned the Comptroller, but the chairmen of the three Commissions have not yet been selected. I will take an early opportunity of telling the House when they are.

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper: