HC Deb 19 June 1961 vol 642 cc948-54
The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Kin Macleod)

I will, with permission, make a statement on the West Indian Constitutional Conference, which concluded at Lancaster House on Friday, 16th June.

Its conclusions, setting out the principal features of the Constitution under which the West Indies may move to independence, will be published as a White Paper and will be presented to the House as soon as it is possible to arrange for its simultaneous publication in the West Indies.

There will be a further conference in London, opening on 8th January, 1962, which will deal with defence, financial, economic, international relations and other matters which concern the independence of the Federation. Her Majesty's Government will discuss with the West Indies at this conference the form and scale of the economic assistance that the United Kingdom will accord the Federation after independence.

In deference, however, to representations made during the Conference on behalf of the smaller territories concerning the urgency of their need for development, Her Majesty's Government have stated their readiness to send a small official mission to the West Indies, as soon as this can be mounted, with the object of considering, in consultation with the unit Governments of the Windward and Leeward Islands and the Federal Government, any particular short-term projects which are of special urgency or importance to the smaller islands but which, for one reason or another, have not found a place within the existing approved development programmes.

The United States Government have agreed to be associated with this mission, and we warmly welcome this. Her Majesty's Government and the United States authorities would respectively consider the provision of finance for such projects as the mission might recommend. In the case of the United Kingdom contribution, this finance will be additional to the existing colonial development and welfare allocations.

These arrangements represent a special approach to a specific problem and do not in any way prejudge or prejudice the total amount of assistance which Her Majesty's Government may be able to accord the West Indies in the light of the later discussions.

With so many delegations present, it was inevitable that certain of them should record dissent on particular items. It was made clear that, in accepting the scheme as a whole for the purpose of presentation to their Legislatures, delegates would be fully entitled to explain the stand which they had taken on particular matters. Nevertheless, all delegations were satisfied that the agreed scheme was one which would give the West Indies its opportunity to achieve independence, to play an effective and constructive rôle in international affairs, and to provide more adequately than hitherto certain common services.

Against this background, the Conference agreed to request Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom to take the necessary stops to revise the Federal and Unit Constitutions. The Conference agreed that it would not be necessary to hold elections in the unit territories specifically in relation to independence but that a Federal General Election should be held, on the basis of the new Constitution, not later than six weeks after Independence Day.

Her Majesty's Government have, therefore, agreed that, provided this scheme is accepted by the Legislatures and peoples concerned, they will introduce legislation to grant the West Indies independence on 31st May, 1962.

The Conference also expressed the desire of the West Indies to become, on independence, a member of the Common wealth. Her Majesty's Government warmly welcome this proposal, and at the appropriate time will consult the other Commonwealth Governments with a view to securing their concurrence.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we on this side of the House warmly welcome the decision of Her Majesty's Government to grant the West Indies independence on 31st May, 1962, provided that the particular scheme worked out is accepted by the various Legislatures and peoples, and that it is also the desire of the West Indies to become a member of the Commonwealth?

We are in some difficulty, because, of course, we have not seen the White Paper, but perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could at least give us a little guidance on this matter. Could he say, broadly speaking, what subjects are to be reserved to the islands and are not to come within Federal jurisdiction? What is the position regarding the movement of labour, which, I believe, has been one of the difficulties in the Conference?

Can he also say a little more about economic assistance after independence? Is this likely to take the form of a continuation of colonial development and welfare grants, or will it take the form of loans? Has he something new in mind which has not been accorded to other territories which have reached independence?

Mr. Macleod

The White Paper will, I hope, be issued on Friday or Saturday. It is a comprehensive document.

As far as the smaller units are concerned, there is a sort of hang-over conference this week to decide matters in relation to unit Constitutions for the Windward and Leeward Islands, so it is not possible to be precise on all these details yet. In general, however, it is a rather loose form of federation and, as the House probably knows, there is considerable conflict and some tension between the islands which wanted a loose form of federation and those which wanted a much more centralised form, particularly in relation to economic planning.

A rather elaborate formula was worked out about freedom of movement within the islands, and I will not try to paraphrase it. I hope that the House will study it carefully. It provides for reviews at the end of four years and again after nine years.

I would rather not be drawn into details about finance. I have no new plans, as it were, in my mind. There will, no doubt, be some continuation of colonial development and welfare in the form of grants, and the West Indies will also be eligible for special assistance, perhaps in defence matters, and also, of course, for Commonwealth assistance loans.

Mr. Fisher

From this side of the House, may I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the successful outcome of this extremely difficult Conference? We do not yet know any of the details, but would my right hon. Friend himself consider that the result of the Conference, subject, of course, to the success of the referendum in Jamaica later this year, provides an adequate basis and framework for the independence of the West Indies next year in the context of a united and effective federation?

Mr. Macleod

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. I am all for being congratulated on schemes of which the House does not know the details. It seems to me a much safer procedure.

Seriously speaking, it is, frankly, too early to rejoice about this scheme. Everybody who knows anything about the West Indies knows perfectly well that there are tensions between those who wanted a loose and those who wanted a firm form of federation. There are also inevitable tensions between, as it were, the haves and the have-nots in the West Indies. There are many discussions taking place in unit Legislatures which may prove difficult.

All the same, I hold to my conviction that it is essential for the islands, great and small alike, to be bound together in federation. I believe that all of them, whether they are large powerful units like Jamaica and Trinidad, or small, like Monserrat, will gain a great deal from federal government and that the scheme, which we have together hammered out with a good deal of difficulty, will prove successful.

Mrs. Castle

Have not the discussions at the Conference made clear that any move by Her Majesty's Government to introduce restrictions on West Indian imigration into this country would ruin any hope of a successful launching of the West Indian Federation? Will the Colonial Secretary, therefore, use his enlightened influence in Her Majesty's Government to block the introduction of any such restriction?

Mr. Macleod

There is no reference to this matter in the White Paper, although we spent most of a morning discussing it. As the hon. Lady knows, Her Majesty's Government have been watching with concern the rising graph of those who come into this country, but I have no statement to make on the matter, nor did I make one to the Conference.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, as far as they have gone, the negotiations have appeared to the world generally to be a model? Will he impress upon the United States Government that, in addition to giving financial help, it could contribute by releasing the territories which it got on the cheap during the war at a much earlier date than it intends?

Mr. Macleod

The last negotiations about the West Indian bases were extremely satisfactory and the outcome was satisfactory not only for the West Indies, but for the United States and Britain. I would like to pay a tribute to the United States. I got in touch with the authorities there and got an answer within 48 hours on the very difficult question of economic aid to the smaller islands. The way in which they expedited matters was very imaginative.

Mr. Chapman

Can the right hon. Gentleman give any estimate of what the Federal revenue will be under the system of revenue from Customs duties? Is he aware that many of us have been very distressed by the small amount of money on which the Federal Government have had to manage? Will there be a sufficient improvement in revenue for federal affairs to be conducted with the sort of propriety that a Federation of this nature needs?

Secondly, in the arrangements made and the accommodation reached with Jamaica over such things as income tax and industrial development remaining on the reserved list, can we now be hopeful that noshing stands in the way of a successful outcome of the referendum in Jamaica on federation?

Mr. Macleod

We had very much in mind the first factor mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. The present amount is about 9 million British West Indies dollars, which is entirely inadequate, as he knows very well. The figure will go up to about 28 million dollars and will rise higher still later. I am sure that that will enable the West Indies to play a full part.

We had very long and, frankly, very difficult discussions on the question of what was the reserved list which, incidentally, we have abolished, and the place on it of income tax and development. But, in the end, we found a solution which was acceptable to all except one delegation.

Mr. Gaitskell

May I ask the Colonial Secretary one further question, but preface it by saying how much we appreciate his frankness in telling us that we are not through the difficulties yet? In view of the enormous importance of the economic problems facing the smaller islands, which I believe to be one of the difficulties in the way of federation, can the right hon. Gentleman say a little more about the economic assistance which it is intended, as I gather, that the United Kingdom will make available after independence?

Does he mean that the C.D. and W. grants will continue as if there had not been independence? Will they be grants or loans? Is C.D.C. to continue its activities, or has the right hon. Gentleman in mind something new? Will this financial assistance be made available—I presume that this is the case—only through the Federal Government for them to dispose of as they think fit, or on some other terms?

Mr. Macleod

The help to the smaller islands falls into two parts. First, I am sending at once a mission, as I have said, to see whether there are small improvements—not small in size, but propects which one can bring swiftly to fruition. In that, we will be helped with the sort of interim grant aid programme of the United States of America.

I would rather not anticipate the January talks too much, but I can give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance that the needs of the smaller islands will be specially considered and that we will take into account the sort of figures which we have been giving in the past in the form of grants-in-aid as a measure of the aid which we should give after independence.

Mr. F. M. Bennett

On the question of the very welcome short-term economic mission by Britain and the United States to the smaller islands, can my right hon. Friend say whether there is any prospect of Canada joining in this enterprise, in view of its oft-stated and benevolent interest in this part of the world?

Mr. Macleod

That is an interesting idea. I am not sure whether it could be arranged in time. Canada has been giving some assistance to the West Indies, as my hon. Friend knows, and I hope that it will continue. It would be very helpful to the newly independent country if it did.