HC Deb 27 January 1956 vol 548 cc540-59
Mr. Brockway

I beg to move, in page 3, line 1, after "community," to insert: provided that a law made by or by virtue of an Order in Council under this subsection for a colony shall, if it contravene the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, be confirmed within three days by the Legislature of the Colony. The Amendment asks that before a state of emergency be declared any proposals which are made and which contravene the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should, before they are put into operation, be confirmed within three days by the Legislature of the Colony. It is of some significance that the Clause had no counterpart in the Constitution or in the Act which empowered the Constitution of the previous Federation of the Leeward Islands. It is a new proposal so far as the Leeward Islands are concerned, and, in my view, it is a reactionary proposal.

When we drew attention to this matter during Second Reading, the Secretary of State justified the inclusion of the Clause on the ground that emergencies might arise in the Leeward Islands due to hurricanes or other acts of God and that these powers were not necessarily sought to deal with disturbances which might arise in the Islands. Therefore, in drafting the Amendment, I have limited the right of the Legislature to decisions which contravene the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I need not remind the Committee that this country has accepted the Declaration of Human Rights and that we apply it within the British Isles. Unfortunately, we do not apply the Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations to the Colonial Territories. On one occasion when I had the good fortune to win the Ballot for a Private Member's Bill, I introduced a Bill the purpose of which was to apply to our Colonial Territories the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. I attempted in that Bill to include Clauses covering every case in which the Universal Declaration was not met. The consequence was that it was one of the longest Bills introduced by a Private Member. It contained 64 Clauses, which showed case after case in our Colonial Territories of the Declaration of Human Rights not being observed.

12.45 p.m.

By the Amendment, I am asking that when a state of emergency is declared in the Leeward Islands, when any laws or orders are issued which repudiate the Declaration of Human Rights, at least the Legislature in the Leeward Islands should confirm them within three days of their declaration.

It is important that we should appreciate the possibilities of action which might be taken under an emergency. The whole of the Colonial Territories are scattered with precedents: deportation of individuals without trial; banishment for life of individuals without trial; the repudiation of the right of freedom of speech and of free Press; the prohibition of individuals to move from the town in which they live; imprisonment without trial; and, in an extreme case, the suspension of the whole Constitution. All these things could be done in the Leeward Islands under Clause 3. The very modest proposal contained in the Amendment is that before these things are done, any orders which repudiate the principles and declarations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should be confirmed by the Legislature of the Colony within three days.

In these Colonies, there is the right of adult suffrage. The people themselves are now electing their Legislatures. In Antigua, Ministerial responsibility is now accepted. Surely, the least we can say is that in those Colonies their Legislatures, elected by adult suffrage in this way, shall have the right to confirm any repudiation of the Declaration of Human Rights and that such orders should not be enforced unless within three days they are confirmed by those Legislatures. That is the simple proposal of the Amendment, and I hope that the Minister will be able to indicate that the Government are prepared to accept it.

Mr. Benn

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway), who moved the Amendment, I do not want to detain the Committee for very long. I felt, however, that there was something more general that could be added to the plea which my hon. Friend has made and with which he has become associated over the years of his membership of the House.

We in Britain have responsibility for many Colonial Territories in different parts of the world, and the view has been taken—I dare say there is some substance in it—that as a nation we are very well qualified to exercise power in Colonial Territories because of the experience and integrity of our Colonial Civil Service. I suggest to the Committee that the task of transferring power calls for qualities different from those called for in the exercising of that power. The Amendment suggests that there should be for the people of these islands, not a written constitution, but some objective test against which their laws may be judged.

In this country, of course, our whole tradition is to resist anything that is written down. I remember that a year ago when we got into a muddle about the Boundary Commission, we had a great debate on whether the Commission had acted within the law or not and a judge gave an interim ruling to restrain a Minister, and so on. I remember that when I was walking along a corridor I heard a senior Member and ex-Minister saying, "That is what happens when you write anything down." Erskine May does not bind us. Erskine May is a list of practices, very carefully collected, of what has actually happened in the House and we go by these practices. The learned Clerk himself cannot correct me if I am wrong, but it has become the practice of the House and everything else in the country that we do things because of what has happened in the past.

Things are either done or not done. We assume that an election will work properly and a policeman stands in the voting room and chats with us and tells us how many people have voted, and so on, but we do not fear that our basic traditions of political liberty will be challenged. It is with this idea of the way government should be conducted that we approach the problem of giving freedom to the Colonial Territories.

The fact of the matter is that although they may share our desire for the same sort of Government, they have none of the circumstances which give us the stability on which our form of government actually rests. This great volume of an economic report on the British West Indies includes figures about the Leeward Islands. There are the usual circumstances and literacy figures, figures of the literacy rate, infant mortality and overcrowding, diseases and deficiency diseases. I make no point of any one of those figures except to say that one must realise that the framework within which a constitution has to work is totally different from that which exists in this country.

We ought again to look at this problem of written constitutions, written safeguards or written charters of human rights when we come to Colonial Territories. I will limit myself to two examples of written constitutions and written safeguards which are now being put to the test in very different directions. Despite the punishment which I got from my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) about envying the liberty of American Congressmen, I come again to the American Constitution. Although, when it was written and devised, 170 years ago, nobody thought of the African negro other than as a slave having no rights under the Constitution—it was very far from the intention that they should—it is that very same Constitution which has now led to the famous decision on segregation in American schools, which puts the Americans, with all their difficulties, ahead of any other multi-racial country in their handling of this problem.

Mr. Hale

My hon. Friend is saying what I was saying three months ago until I read the recent news from America that the Southern States will overthrow that and re-establish the old system.

Mr. Benn

Although I am the last person to lecture about the United States, my hon. Friend should not think that the Supreme Court is as easily put aside as that. It may be twenty years before this is done, but he should remember that the Northern States were willing to fight the Southern States on the issue of the status of the negro.

Mr. Hale

It is the only Supreme Court that has over-ruled itself.

The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

We are getting a little far from the Amendment.

Mr. Hale

I am not going far from the Amendment, because we are talking about human rights. I took the trouble to write a book recently on this very point and humbly paid such tributes as I could to the Supreme Court of the United States for some of its humanitarian decisions and to such names as Marshall and Oliver Wendell Holmes; but I also pointed out it has a history of a long period of reactionary, bitter, partisan, Tory judgments supported by Republican Presidents repressing libertarian laws.

The Deputy-Chairman

Much as I enjoy listening to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) on American history, this has nothing to do with the Amendment.

Mr. J. Griffiths

We congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West on his book, and hope that there will be sufficient copies in the Library for us all to read them.

Mr. Benn

We bow to your Ruling, Sir Rhys. I congratulate my hon. Friend on taking the trouble to write a book and I hope that he will not think it un-courteous of me to say that I have read the book and that I greatly enjoyed it.

There is no other part of the world where British people are living in conjunction with people of coloured races where there is the same approach to the difficulties of the colour bar which we find in the United States today—although it will take a very long time to reach desegregation—and where there is an example of a document, ahead of its time when it was introduced, turning out to be a fruitful instrument for the achievement of human rights in the future.

I hope, Sir Rhys, that you are looking at me more than in interest than in warning. I am coming to the second example of a constitution and of a constitutional safeguard which is fighting a rearguard action and I hope that in this I shall not come into conflict with my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West. It is the South African Constitution, into which we did put written safeguards and where we entrenched them. The South African Parliament is now engaged in a bitter struggle to remove the entrenched position to achieve objects which nobody in the House can want to see achieved. In South Africa, the Constitution may be set aside after a bitter struggle inside and outside Parliament, and the struggle for segregation may take a long time and be frustrated by judges. In both cases safeguards have been made. In the one case there has been fruitful progress and in the other a long and more or less defensive battle.

In transferring power we must not forget something entrenched, something written, a safeguard available to the people of the territory to whom we giving power, may be a rock on which they can build something stronger and more permanent and which, in the end, will give them the freedom which we ourselves enjoy.

Mr. Hare

The hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) and the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) have made speeches with the skill which we expected and I would be the last to doubt for a single moment the very real sincerity with which their arguments have been put forward. I regret very much that once again I have to say "No". I do so because I believe equally sincerely that the Amendment is not something which can practicably be accepted. I want to expand the reasons why I think that it would not be right to accept the arguments that have been made.

I must remind the Committee that the Declaration of Human Rights is not a legal document, setting out obligations in legal language. That is one of the real difficulties posed by the Amendment. The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East quite fairly pointed out that in this country, on the whole, we dislike writing things down and he fairly made a point that in newer countries where the constitutions are newer there may be arguments for writing things down. To write down in the form of legislation the Declaration of Human Rights presents immense difficulties.

Mr. Brockway

An effort is now being made to put the principles of the Declaration of Human Rights into legal form, in a convention. When that convention is internationally adopted, would it not then be possible to insist that its terms should be accepted in cases like this?

1.0 p.m.

Mr. Hare

Goodness knows how long that will take, which rather proves what I was saying. This is a most difficult thing to put into legal words. I think it was said in the resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations, at which the Declaration was adopted, that this is a common standard of achievement for all peoples of all nations. In other words, it is, in fact, a statement of aim for the guidance of Governments and not a legal obligation. I believe that its terms, as I am sure legal experts in the Committee will appreciate, are really almost impossible to include in a law, either directly or by reference. Earl Attlee made that point very clear when he was questioned on this subject in the House of Commons as far back as in 1949.

If we were to accept the Amendment I am afraid that by doing so we should place an intolerable burden upon the courts in determining whether a law passed under Clause 3 had, in fact, contravened the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I see vistas and endless prospects of litigation which I do not think the Committee would wish to contemplate. Of course, the Government subscribe just as much as did our predecessors to all the ideals embodied in the Declaration.

It is our consistent endeavour to work towards those ideals and to uphold them. If it should ever be necessary—I hope that it will not—to introduce emergency laws under this Clause, I know that I can speak for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State when I say that it would be his function to see that the aims and objects of the Declaration were constantly borne in mind by those who had to administer those laws.

Those are the reasons why I regret that I cannot accept the Amendment, although I appreciate the sincere motives which have led to its being moved.

Mr. Hale

My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), in the very interesting and informative speech which he made on the first Amendment, made a suggestion which I described in his absence as one of very great constitutional importance and interest and which, I hope, will be pursued. I believe it to be of great importance, but I should humbly like to suggest——

Mr. Ellis Smith

I listened very carefully to my right hon. Friend, and I am in complete agreement with him provided that the committees have power and are not merely advisory.

Mr. Hale

I have always taken the view that the period of gestation which goes between the conception of an idea and its realisation is not the period for argument about the precise appearance of the child which is to be born. Once the idea is conceived, we should let it develop without trying to limit it too much. It would be a matter of importance——

Mr. J. Griffiths

May I remind my hon. Friend that Mrs. Beatrice Webb used to say and to deplore that from the beginning of an idea until its adoption in this country the average period was 30 years.

Mr. Hale

I forget the period of gestation of an elephant. One of my hon. Friends says that it is 18 months, but I would not be sure.

Mr. Benn

I remember, because it is 10 per cent. of the period that it takes for the recommendations of Royal Commissions to be implemented.

Mr. Hale

My hon. Friend is generous to Royal Commissions. The one I have in mind was a Resolution of the House of 1848 about breaches of promise, and the distinguished services of my most brilliant predecessor, the ablest man who ever represented Oldham, John Fielden, who, in the Parliament of 1832, moved for the abolition of corporal punishment, capital punishment and long hours in factories. If I pursue that line of thought, perhaps I shall be out of order.

On the whole question of human rights, the question of the American Constitution is indeed of singular importance. There is a great and fascinating contrast in procedure between the laying down of certain fundamental rights by Hamilton, Jefferson, and probably by Tom Paine, as a conception of human rights and a bulwark which brings with it, as we have seen, one great advantage and one great disadvantage. It means—and this is of vital importance in our Colonial Territories if we apply it—that the humblest individual can take his case to the Supreme Court of the United States.

That is a very great power. It is no use saying, "How can the child of a negro do this?" because they do. The Association for the Protection of Civil Rights, and the various organisations concerned with freedom of thought and expression make it possible in the United States for the humblest person to take his case before the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court can say that the act of the State Legislature is ultra vires because it is beyond the Constitution, or that the act of the United States Congress is ultra vires. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) will remember that the court found invalid nearly all President Roosevelt's early measures for dealing with the economic crisis of the thirties.

But, of course, it has its disadvantages, too. It enables a reactionary court to use what was designed as a safeguard of liberty for the restriction of rights. My hon. Friend will recall that the Sherman Act passed to deal with monopolies was in fact applied to deal with trade unions, to enforce the colour bar, to enable the Yellow Knife contract to survive, and so on.

The history of the Supreme Court is a history of a period of extreme Tory, reactionary judges giving shocking decisions. Then the alteration that came in with Evans Hughes supporting Oliver Wendell Holmes and giving a five to four majority brought back a new Liberalism to America.

These are the difficulties, I venture to say, though on this subject I always speak, I hope, with humility; but I would say that perhaps I have spent more time in considering and reflecting on this than on any other subject. If we consider the vast complexity of our Colonial Territories—whether they be the Leeward Islands or the Colonies of Africa—and if we can device a procedure which would guarantee a human being against the invasion of a few fundamental rights one can see how easy it would be in respect of those Colonies for which we still retain full legislative functions to have a system without expense.

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is gradually ceasing to function as a committee in respect of many Colonial and Dominion Territories. More and more the right of appeal is being abrogated. More and more countries are saying, "We have now achieved self-government and we are not going to submit to a right of appeal to Westminster." the Judicial Committee has not very much to do. With a few new ideas it would not be difficult to apply a fundamental human right by statute, superimposed on the legislature of the Colonies, and to say that where before any magistrate a question of an invasion on human rights occurred, he should have the right to refer it, in the first place, for advice, to the staff of the internationally manned tribunal which was there to deal with human rights.

It would be referred, in the first place, for advice. Even to arrange for a sort of travelling assize, an international tribunal, to go to the Colonies, would not cost very much. We could have a competent staff issuing provisional rulings and advice to guide magistrates in the exercise of their duties, with the right still for an appeal to be submitted by affidavit and finally the right of the court itself to order an oral hearing when it is satisfied by affidavit that a matter of such importance has arisen that an oral hearing ought to be held. That would not involve the individual or anyone else in great expense. I am certain that the wealth of humane libertarian opinion would produce the finance to enable any individual or collection of individuals to challenge a fundamental invasion of human rights.

Mr. Smithers

If my recollection is right, the Government have, in fact, accepted and applied to the Colonial Territories the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms which is in force until notification is sent to the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe. Does not that go in some direction to meet this case?

Mr. Hale

It depends what is meant by "some direction." The Minister—I do not wish to criticise him, because he has dealt with this debate so ably and courteously—announced with delight that we had made one step in the direction of reform in connection with a Colony which we have possessed for 330 years.

When I was about 12 years of age, I used to sing, in a piping treble, a deeply moving hymn. I should not for a moment like to quote that in terms which might be regarded as irreverent, but in the days when, possibly, I was even more innocent than I am now, I used to sing about viewing the "distant scene" and one step being enough. It may well be doubted whether those words when applied to colonial affairs are really satisfying to people who have been waiting for a step for 327 years.

What happened was that the Colonial Office did make an announcement. My hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough and I tried to find out what was meant. We have not found out. The European Convention contains no provision for enforcement. There are no sanctions.

Mr. Smithers

I do not think that the hon. Member is quite right there. If the application is to be suspended, there must be a report to the Council of Europe, and, while the Council cannot impose a penalty, it can debate it and give unfavourable publicity to it.

Mr. Hale

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman and I will accept that. I do not for a moment wish to be thought to be criticising this. It was a step in the right direction. Indeed, in the circumstances it was a courageous step to take. But there must be some form of legal sanction. One does not particularly want punishment so long as a decision on the matter can be enforced. Of course, there might be punishments in cases of flagrant physical invasion of human rights.

I have no wish to detain the Committee. We have profited greatly from a debate which has ranged over a wide sphere. But I make the suggestion with all the seriousness at my command. I believe that it could be done. I sometimes think that there is a very real danger in talking airily about advancement and self-government without thinking that there are many colonial territories which are not of themselves economically viable. There are others who, given self-government, would, because of the absence of communications, ports and seaboard, face vital difficulties.

Therefore, while I do not disagree about the overwhelming importance of self-government—were I an African I should regard that as most important of all—sitting in this chamber, I reserve the right to say that economic advance and the preservation of human rights may be equally important in preserving the fundamental needs of humanity in Africa; in preserving Africa as a unit which can make a contribution to the world.

It is all very well, but I do not think that a transfer from a fairly inefficient white Government to a fairly inefficient black Government, of itself, will solve the economic problems or indeed, any of the social problems, however important it is that this should be so. That is why I think that this Amendment has raised an issue of principle of the first import- ance. I do not press the Minister to reply again on a matter of this kind. I appreciate that I have raised rather wide issues, but I have raised them with all sincerity. It may be that in this particular field of thought it would be a good thing if we had the kind of Standing Committee suggested by my right hon. Friend. Were we to have more frequent discussions on colonial affairs, these are issues which would bring new hope, new faith and new courage to several hundreds of millions of people who have been waiting for a very long time to see a little more light.

1.15 p.m.

Mr. J. Griffiths

I do not wish to delay the debate, but I want to say one thing. In the present situation in all the Colonies the Minister will know that the one outstanding problem upon which the success of our national policy will depend is the problem of the colour bar. Indeed, in my view it puts Africa in the centre of a great human drama. We have a tremendous responsibility regarding Africa, where the great problem of the future relationship between white people and black people is being worked out. We know how difficult it is to remove discrimination by legislation. Sometimes a decision can have a purpose not only to enforce a law but to be a gesture, and one sometimes wonders whether it might be possible for us to frame a Bill ourselves. In this respect our example is much more important than our words.

As I have said when I have had opportunities to speak about this matter, any single act of racial discrimination committed in this country reverberates throughout the world. It may be only a minor incident which the people in this country would have to search for in the newspapers, but such an incident, in some town or somewhere in this country, is front-page news in Africa. Two things result from it. It becomes an alibi for the racialists, who say, "Who are you to talk to us in South Africa or anywhere else? Clear your own doorstep first." The second thing is that it creates a good deal of suspicion about our intentions among coloured people all over the world. It may be that in this field such a declaration of the kind referred to would have so many things in it that we should not be able to perform any of them.

Mr. Hale

I said that.

Mr. Griffiths

I agree that my hon. Friend referred to that point, but if we did one thing only which was of importance it might be an advantage.

I hope that the Minister will consider whether at some time this matter might form the subject of a Private Member's Bill. I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) brought in a Bill of that kind, but perhaps we might make another attempt. On the whole, I think that we may be proud of our country, and we need not be ashamed of our efforts, though sometimes things happen here which disturb us very much. But by our own acts we can show that racial discrimination is something which we abhor, and something which is an offence to the law as well as to the spirit and morality of any country in the Commonwealth, which is the greatest multi-racial community in the world. We have a marvellous opportunity to show the world that people of different colour, religion and creed can live in dignity and equality with one another.

Whatever happens to this Amendment, I hope that we shall have the opportunity of considering whether we can do something in this country and, by our example, give encouragement to others to do the same.

Mr. Brockway

Before tie Question is put to the Committee, I should like, as the mover of the Amendment, to make a few remarks, the first of which is a general remark, that I think it very likely indeed in the future that today's debate will be regarded as significant and important, not so much for the declarations which have been made by the Minister as for the declarations which have been made from the Opposition Front Bench. I wish to say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) how much I welcomed his contribution, both on this and the earlier Amendments, because I think that they can be tremendously important for the future.

The Minister has rejected this Amendment on the grounds that it would be wrong to introduce into the actual terms of a constitution or legislation references to the Declaration of Human Rights. May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that several countries have constitutions which actually include the statement that they will maintain the principles of the Declaration of Human Rights. I have no doubt that such a statement is of real value to the peoples of those territories, because it enables them to appeal to the constitution whenever they feel wronged.

Although I welcome the Minister's statement that in this Constitution the Government will seek to apply the principles of the Declaration of Human Rights, I am sure he will forgive me if I am a little sceptical about it because of my knowledge of what has happened after similar declarations have been made. We have only to look at our Colonial Territories to see the way in which individuals who are standing up for the rights of their peoples are deported without trial, how the Press and public meetings are suppressed, how literature is not allowed to be introduced into those Territories and how people have been kept to a particular town.

In view of all this record which has stretched over Colonial Territory after Colonial Territory, the right hon. Gentleman must forgive us if we are not satisfied by his declaration that the Minister will, whenever these issues arise, seek to apply the Declaration of Human Rights. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that this Parliament ought not to apply in any Colonial Territory any order which it would not dare to apply in this country. We are repeatedly doing just that because of the idea that the colonial peoples have no right to determine these things for themselves and that they are children who must be educated up to our standards, a self-righteous and patronising attitude which has been repudiated by territory after territory as it has moved towards self-government and independence and which has shown a greater ability—as the Gold Coast Government are now doing—to change conditions in those territories than we showed when we were responsible for them. We must thrust aside the whole idea of patronage to the colonial peoples, and the Committee ought to accept the principle that we should never apply to any of these territories infringements of liberty which we know that our own people would never accept for themselves.

In view of the fact that we have been able to ventilate these ideas, I am prepared to withdraw the Amendment. I hope the result will be that in his new office the right hon. Gentleman will endeavour, as far as he possibly can, not to apply in the Colonies actions which we would not tolerate in our own country. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Hale

I beg to move, in page 3, line 19, to leave out from "declaration" to the end of line 23 and to add: of the Legislative Assembly of the Presidency that a state of emergency exists. This Amendment has to some extent been covered in the previous discussion. We had some discussion on the suspension of constitutions and some detailed discussion on the suspension of the Constitution of British Guiana. The really important fact, of course, is who decides when a state of emergency arises. Does the Parliament of the country decide or does it not?

In order to take a fairly simply and non-controversial example of the sort of situation which arises, I want to speak quite bluntly. My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), with whose almost every remark I find myself in agreement, referred to the number of constitutions granted. Let us say that some have been bogus constitutions. It may well be that they were the maximum measures which in certain circumstances could be accorded. But it is a little tough to describe as a constitution something which can be suspended at Balmoral on a Sunday afternoon without consulting anybody.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would regard it as particularly felicitious if, as an example, I went back to the Irish Constitution of 1782, which is almost the same Constitution as that which we are granting to Colonial Territories 150 years afterwards. The right hon. Gentleman would regard it as felicitious because the final abolition and suspension of that Constitution was the cause which now permits him to claim association with a member of another place. The Unionist peerages followed the peerages given to Townsend and others to secure the subservience of an Irish Parliament. Perhaps a happy result is that so brilliant a representative is able to talk about colonial affairs in another place which, on the whole, perhaps, was not the best possible means of securing recognition. Grattan was given his £50,000. He thought that he had secured a victory, but he found that the whole right of veto was there. The Viceroy and the Lord Chancellor were appointed from Britain. Fitzgibbon was the man appointed. The Privy Council existed in Westminster, and it could still advise certain statutes. When Grattan passed the Measures, they passed through the Irish Parliament and came here to be enacted or amended. When they went back, the Irish Government could not amend them, and overall was the veto of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

If we apply this procedure to the question we are now considering, a great deal of importance attaches to who is appointed as Governor in the event of a Caribbean Federation. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us that in dealing with this new great venture and with what my right hon. Friend has very properly referred to as one of the most romantic, courageous and important experiments in federation which we have ever seen, there is no intention of sending some discarded and rejected Tory M.P. who has been bunked up to another place as the Governor. It would be a tragedy if that were done. This is too big an experiment to be tarnished by the soiled and cast-off clothing of past politics.

We must try to select the best man regardless of party failures and personal humiliations, a man who can go there with the entire confidence of the people. I hope that we shall look back on the past and realise that it has sometimes been a sorry past regarding one or two of these aspects, and that when we appoint the new Governor we shall not consider that failure in public office in this House is a qualification for being appointed Governor in charge of a great new federation. I am trying to say as little as I can. It is not associated with any sort of Lobby rumour, private information, or any sort of suggestion. I can only say that if this sort of fantastic and no doubt untrue rumour had the slightest justification, there might be a very considerable resurgence of opinion in both the West Indies and Westminster.

1.30 p.m.

Are we to suspend the constitution without the advice of Parliament? I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) has returned. He made some interesting interventions about British Guiana. Does he think that anyone here knows the truth about British Guiana?

Mr. Fisher


Mr. Hale

Does he think that anybody besides himself knows the truth about British Guiana?

Mr. Fisher


Mr. Hale

Then the circle is widening. I have the gravest doubts about the truth, to this day.

The Chairman

I have the gravest doubts whether the hon. Member is in order.

Mr. Hale

So long as we have only reached the stage of doubts, Sir Charles, perhaps we can continue to refer to the matter until we have resolved those doubts.

The Chairman

I was merely being polite. The hon. Member has got out of order.

Mr. Hale

I am very grateful to you, Sir Charles. You have been very good, and I would not wish to abuse the generosity which you have shown to the Committee, which has made our debate shorter, extremely useful, and interesting.

I do not want to detain the Commitee for more than a few minutes upon the question of the suspension of the constitution. I hope that the Minister of State will consider for a moment what has happened in the last 12 or 18 months in regard to British Guiana; British Honduras; Guatemala, and Argentina. I wonder whether he is satisfied with events in those places. If he investigates them he will find a curious chain of circumstance. It is what those of my hon. Friends or hon. Members opposite, when they wish to abrogate a principle, call "taking a realistic view of the situation."

In British Guiana there was the question of the Aluminium Corporation; in Guatemala it was the United Fruit Corporation, and in British Honduras it was another big corporation with its offices abroad. In Argentina it was our old friend the Standard Oil Company making a come-back in international affairs. In almost every case, what we used to call a sine qua non if not a causa causans, was some great company, interested in cheap labour. The Standard Oil Company sought to establish something in the nature of a Panama Republic in the Argentine, perfectly reasonable from its own point of view.

That is why we want advice from people on the spot, who know the facts. I had the very greatest respect for the former Secretary of State for the Colonies who is now a noble Viscount in another place—Lord Chandos. I always had a very great respect for his integrity, courage and sincerity. I disagreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) about that—and I very rarely disagree with him upon estimates of the respective merits of the holders of the office. But I am not sure that even Lord Chandos, at 2.15 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon at Balmoral, was necessarily in a position to be able to estimate and evaluate all the circumstances of a development in a Colony merely upon the strength of a telegram from the Governor. However good the Governor—and everybody respects the Governor of the Leeward Islands—it is really a matter for the legislature.

Mr. Hare

I do not know whether I was insulting or honouring the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) when I referred to him as "the hon. and learned Member." He has always impressed me as being a very learned person. I am sorry that I made that mistake. As the hon. Member indicated, we have already touched upon the main points which are at issue in the Amendment. That being so, I hope the Committee will forgive me if I do not answer the hon. Gentleman in too great detail. If I did I should merely be repeating some of the arguments which the Committee has already heard.

The effect of the Amendment would be that before a state of emergency could be declared in any presidency the legislative assembly would have to be called together in order to declare it. I must again refer to what I said about an emergency. Emergencies can arise when legislative assemblies are not sitting—when they are prorogued or dissolved—and events such as hurricanes move with immense speed. It may be that the hon. Member still fails to appreciate the element of emergency and crisis with which emergency legislation is designed to cope. I think it is because of these considerations that in all Colonial Territories—so far as I know—the power to declare an emergency is vested in the executive government and not the legislative chamber. The provisions of the Bill merely follow what is common form.

As to the reasons why we need the powers, I went into them at some length earlier on. I end by saying that Her Majesty's Government think it essential that the Governor of the Leewards, like the great majority of other Governors, ought to have these powers, now that we are taking the responsibility of ending the Federation, setting up these new Colonies and establishing Ministerial systems in the two largest of them.

Hon. Members opposite may not agree, but the Government feel that it is only right that at the same time as we do these things we should take the responsibility of providing the Governor with the necessary powers to deal with any sort of emergency which may suddenly arise. I am afraid I have to say "No once again to the hon. Member, and ask the Committee to reject the Amendment.

Mr. Hale

I do not regard that explanation as satisfactory—but at least it is as satisfactory as I could have hoped from the Front Bench opposite in the circumstances. Therefore, in view of the hour and the day, and the fact that we have made our points clearly understandable, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 4 to 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule agreed to.

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