HC Deb 19 June 1963 vol 679 cc457-60
Mr. Bottomley

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will make a statement on the situation following the prorogation of the Legislature in British Guiana which took place yesterday.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Nigel Fisher)

On the advice of the Premier, which the Governor was constitutionally bound to accept, Sir Ralph Grey yesterday prorogued the British Guiana Legislature.

As hon. Members know, the general strike began as a protest against the introduction of a Labour Relations Bill. This Bill had passed through the Lower House, but had not yet reached the Upper House. It has, therefore, lapsed with the prorogation and I hope very much that the strike will now be brought speedily to an end.

I urge all parties in British Guiana, now that the cause of the strike has been removed, to work constructively towards remedying the economic damage done to their country in recent weeks, and to try again to resolve the political deadlock.

Mr. Bottomley

May I say, while acknowledging the apology from the Secretary of State for his absence and wishing every courtesy to be extended to the President of India, that I think it unfortunate that the Secretary of State himself was not able to be present to answer the Question, bearing in mind that these troubles, political and economic, have been going on for two months. It is the opinion of all of us on this side of the House that the Secretary of State has not given the matter the close personal attention which the problem deserves.

Can the Under-Secretary of State tell us when the next session will be summoned, because in the meantime a very dangerous situation exists? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can tell us what is to be done immediately to try to solve the present problem and bring the strike to an end.

Mr. Fisher

I apologise to the House for my right hon. Friend's absence. As the right hon. Gentleman said, my right hon. Friend is in attendance upon the President of India—a very long-standing commitment—and I hope that the House will excuse him.

We do not know how long the House of Assembly will remain prorogued, but I understand that six days' notice must be given before it can be recalled. I have sent a telegram to the Governor this morning to ask him for further information on that point.

On the wider question of the settlement of this dispute, I think that the strike will now be settled because the cause of it has been removed by the fact that the Labour Relations Bill, which was so objectionable to the T.U.C., has now lapsed. The difficulty we are in here, as the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate, is the terms and conditions for the resumption of work. Those are a point of real difficulty.

I did, as a matter of fact, try to telephone Mr. George Woodcock this morning, because I hoped that he might be able to suggest someone to go out on this essentially industrial matter. But, unfortunately, he is in Geneva. It was, I know, to the regret of the House that Mr. Cousins was taken ill, because he would have been an ideal catalyst acceptable to both sides.

Mr. Bottomley

While acknowledging what has been done, and hoping that a reputable trade unionist can be found who will be willing to go out at once, I still think that further action is required. I hope that the Government will not resolve their responsibilities by saying that this will settle the matter.

Can the Minister tell us whether it was the Premier of British Guiana who asked for Parliament to be prorogued?

Mr. Fisher

Yes, Sir. It was the Premier of British Guiana who asked for prorogation, and the Governor is bound to act on his advice in this matter under the existing Constitution. I do not want to try to wriggle out of Her Majesty's Government's responsibility in this matter, but this is a fully internal self-governing territory where the Governor has no reserve powers except in the matter of foreign affairs and defence. We hope that they will not always look to Britain to save them from their follies, but will try to help themselves and to reconcile the political and racial difficulties which exist there.

Mr. G. M. Thomson

Can the hon. Gentleman say, either from his own visit recently to British Guiana, or as a result of later information, whether the Premier of British Guiana has given assurances that this legislation will not be reintroduced when the Assembly meets again?

Mr. Fisher

I do not think that the Premier has given any such assurance and I understood this morning that the T.U.C. was inclined to press him so to do. I would hope that we could leave this matter now, because the Bill has lapsed. The cause of the strike is removed and I would hope that the local T.U.C. would not press the matter, because I think that it might further sour up relations which now seem to have a chance of improvement.

Mr. Bellenger

Is there not a matter of grave constitutional importance involved here? As I understood the hon. Gentleman, he said that the Parliament had been prorogued and that, therefore, he thought the strike would come to an end. Is prorogation to be used as a method of strike breaking? Surely the Parliament has got to be called together out there as it would be here. What guarantee can the hon. Gentleman give us that Parliamentary democracy will take its course, quite apart from the settlement of the strike, and that the Parliament will be called together at the appropriate time?

Mr. Fisher

This is purely a matter of fact. The very fact of the prorogation means that the Labour Relations Bill, which has not gone right through the whole Legislature—not to the Upper House—automatically lapses and, therefore, the cause of the strike is automatically removed. Of course, the Assembly will be recalled, but, as I explained to the right hon. Gentleman, I do not know when. I have inquired from the Governor what is proposed.