§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. A. G. Bottomley (Middlesbrough, East)
I beg to move,That the British Guiana (Constitution) Order 1964, a draft of which was laid before this House on 25th March, be not submitted to Her Majesty.This is not the first time that the House has been presented with unpleasant business concerning British Guiana. For over ten years British Guiana has been approaching independence. In 1953 the self-government constitution was suspended because of a threat to democratic evolution in that country. It was a matter of hope that, after a period of thought, the political leaders of that unfortunate country might have conducted themselves in such a way as to bring about independence in a peaceful atmosphere. Unfortunately, that has not been the case, 98 and before I say anything critical about the policy of the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and the Colonies I should like to make it clear that I sympathise with him in the trials which he has had to endure in trying to get the leaders of British Guiana to cooperate with each other.
The Secretary of State withheld his legislative hand for a long time in the hope that the two major parties, led by Dr. Jagan and Mr. Burnham, would see sense. They did not and that is why we have before us this draft Order which is the Minister's way of settling the matter, and in my opinion a very unsatisfactory way. In 1953 when drastic action was taken in British Guiana the constitution was suspended. Power reverted to the Governor and so to the United Kingdom Government.
On this occasion the Government have chosen not to do that. I do not say that they are necessarily wrong. It is a difficult matter, but the result is unfortunate for it means that in a Colony which is mainly self-governing in internal matters. We are taking over some of the functions of that Government. We are saying to the British Guiana Government, "You stay in power and you keep the responsibility for running your country, but we are going to interfere to the extent that we think necessary." The result is that no one is charged with the responsibility of governing British Guiana at present—not the Secretary of State, not the Governor, and not the elected Ministers.
One might hope that the British Guiana Ministers would continue to put their efforts into their portfolios, but it is not surprising if they do not when they know that the United Kingdom Government are busy bringing about their electoral defeat. As the Secretary of State knows, that is the expected result of this Measure. The question is whether it would not have been better in the interests of British Guiana to do what was done ten years ago and suspend the constitution. I do not say that that should have been done, but we are entitled to some explanation of what considerations distinguish the present circumstances from those of ten years ago.
Then there are the rather more basic points. When the Secretary of State 99 announced his intentions he set out his reasoning in a statement in Command 2203, which on page 8 states:I concluded that it must be our deliberate aim to stimulate a radical change in the present pattern of racial alignments.He went on to say that to that end he would upset the present electoral system and substitute what is the most extreme form of proportional representation. There were to be no half-measures. He had to go the whole hog and adopt a system of proportional representation which is riddled with disadvantages and which is quite unknown in any other Commonwealth country.
The right hon. Gentleman decided not to require any party to secure a minimum number of votes before it was given a share of seats and he said:…in view of the overriding importance of reshaping the political pattern, there would be no advantage at present in restricting the creation of new parties, which at first will inevitably be small.When I described this in a previous debate as a jiggery-pokery, the Secretary of State, with that air of injured innocence which he commands so well, said that he was only trying to deal with the racial problem. I am sure that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on both Front Benches would readily agree that he was trying to do his best, but the question is whether he has judged the situation right.
I still say that I wish that the right hon. Gentleman's decision on this question was half as wise as it is bold. We have not yet had the election under proportional representation. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman can say tonight when the election will take place. If he can, we shall be glad to know. But all the parties in British Guiana have now had six months to live with the certainty that proportional representation will come about. Have we seen any of them hastening to form multiracial parties and to patch up their differences? Not a bit. Both sides are going on as before—at each other's throats whenever they can. The only difference now is that instead of Dr. Jagan sitting tight and Mr. Burnham gnashing his teeth, Mr. Burnham sits tight whilst Dr. Jagan gnashes his teeth.
I ask the Minister to say simply why he thinks proportional representation will 100 lead to a reduction of the racial element in politics. I agree that, as he says, it will encourage splinter parties, but since in British Guiana race is such an explosive and emotional political issue I should like to know what makes the right hon. Gentleman believe that the splintering will not take place on racial lines. Since under his system a party will qualify for a seat even if it gets only one fifty-third of the total votes, surely it will be in that party's interest to add the racial appeal to whatever platform it adopts. If British Guiana finishes up with a dozen or more small parties none of which has a majority, those parties will have to form coalitions, and in my opinion they will form coalitions on grounds of race. They will be racial blocs.
I hope that I shall be proved wrong. I shall be the first to congratulate the Minister if what he says he wants comes about, but I see no reason to be confident about it. Indeed, there is good reason to think that his decision will have the opposite effect to that intended. The whole operation is rather like tossing a pack of cards into the air and hoping that one will get a better deal when they come down.
Unfortunately, we have seen some of the ill-advised activities of the Secretary of State elsewhere. A year ago we saw him as the healer of the Kashmir dispute. He managed only to irritate that situation at a time when it would have been better to have left it alone. We are now entering another crisis in the Maldive Islands, and I recommend the right hon. Gentleman to get his finger out of that pie before more damage is done. We have also had the right hon. Gentleman's brave face of non-recognition of Zanzibar—a fine example of how to make enemies without getting any benefit from it. We still, of course, have on our hands the consequences of his own private little Suez incident on the Yemen border. It is a tribute to the right hon. Gentleman's public and Parliamentary manner that he gets away with these blunders. It is worth reminding my hon. Friends that if he had been a Labour Minister the Tory Press would have torn him to shreds for every one of these actions.
It is with this background that the right hon. Gentleman brings us this Order and asks us to let him have his way. Proportional representation is not 101 common in the Commonwealth. I can think only of Malta and Australia which have it in any form, and neither has it in the extreme form put forward by the Secretary of State. The faults and advantages attributed to the system of proportional representation are well-known and there is no need for me to dwell on them. Some of the faults can be mitigated by some relaxation of the severity of the system in its most extreme form.
The Secretary of State has chosen consciously to decline to require any minimum of support before a party gets a share of the seats. One of the faults is that this system puts a great deal of power into the hands of the central party machine, because it is they who draw up a list of candidates. That is a strong power to put into any party's hands, and it means that the individual member does not have a connection with any particular area because he has no constituency.
It has been suggested that some of these disadvantages could be removed, or at least modified by a system by which some representatives were elected by proportional representation and others for single member constituencies, or by having two Houses, one elected by one system and one by another. I do not say that I would have chosen one of these systems. I quote them only to contrast the Secretary of State's extreme measures in this case, which I think will give all of us a lot of trouble in the future.
If proportional representation had existed in British Guiana from the beginning, I would not have the same objection to it that I am raising tonight. I object to its introduction at this late stage as a cure for British Guiana's ills. It will not do that at all. What it is likely to do—I hope that I am wrong—is to put Mr. Burnham in power at the head of a mixed coalition, without any form or direct power to rule. And then—what? We are back to where we were last year, with the new Opposition requiring the same kind of protection against the new Government as the old Opposition needed against the old Government.
At this time, with the supposedly cast-iron guarantees of the Cyprus constitu- 102 tion being successfully flouted, no one can speak with confidence about any kind of constitutional safeguards. But, unreliable as many such safeguards are, they are all we have to offer. The Secretary of State cannot go on changing the electoral system in British Guiana whenever he decides that the Government are not behaving themselves. In some form or other, British Guiana will be independent fairly soon now. What we have to do is to see that it becomes independent in a way which ensures that, as far as possible it remains a democratic prosperous State and not one riven by civil war.
The Secretary of State's proposals are quite irrelevant to this all-important aim. Even if the Secretary of State thinks that he has found the solution to the racial problem, he should realise that hardly anyone else thinks so. Those who have supported him have done so, not because they think that this measure will reduce racialism, but because they think that it will put someone in power whom they prefer to Dr. Jagan. It is not surprising, therefore, that the measure should be interpreted as a blatant attempt to replace one leader by another. And since that is the interpretation put on it by a large section of the community in British Guiana, does the Secretary of State not think that this will make relations between the British Government and that section even worse in the future than they have been in the past?
The Secretary of State is entitled to ask me what I think he should have done. But I think he knows. He should have concentrated on working out a constitution which would have ensured, as far as possible, that no Government of British Guiana was able to ride rough-shod over the Opposition.
Many forms of safeguard have been suggested—a Supreme Court with representation from other Commonwealth countries, perhaps a Commonwealth or a United Nations police or military contingent, a treaty of neutrality. I know all the objections that can be raised. I know that we cannot rely utterly on pieces of paper. But what is the Secretary of State to rely upon when a Government comes to power under his system? Is he naïve enough to think that a law-abiding, democratic spirit will 103 be instilled into British Guiana politicians as the result of their being elected by the new system instead of the old?
There is another safeguard which I think he should have tried. For over ten years now, there has been a dispute between the British Guiana Trades Union Council and the People's Progressive Party. This has centred on the feasibility of Government-controlled unions. The trade union movement has rightly resisted attempts to introduce legislation which would, in effect, give a Government power to control unions.
Last year, some degree of compromise was achieved on the text of Dr. Jagan's Labour Relations Bill. I think that it would be a sensible precaution to get some acceptable compromise Bill entrenched in the constitution. Otherwise this same problem will come up again and again, and it will keep the two big parties apart.
I expect that the Secretary of State will say that these constitutional matters have to be settled at a conference after the election. Indeed, he has said so. But there is this consideration. If a good independent constitution had been devised, it is likely that the voters of British Guiana would be influenced by it when they came to vote. If they were confident that the Government's hands were tied in some way, it might have affected the way they voted. At present, they are being asked to buy a pig in a poke—to elect a Government without knowing the terms on which it will have to operate.
I should like to say a word about the new system of registration which has been brought about by the Governor's Regulations. This makes certain fundamental changes in the method of registering the voters. Since 1953 until now calls were made from house to house to take the names and particulars of the persons qualified to vote. Now it is necessary for people to travel to centres and to apply for registration. This is all very well in compact urban areas, but it presents great difficulties for those in rural areas.
Another aspect which troubles many people is the fact that until now any notice of objection about registration could be given without payment. Now, if someone has been registered incor- 104 rectly he must make a deposit of two dollars. If he wishes to object to someone who has been registered, it will be necessary to deposit the sum of five dollars. This is a serious matter for poor people. I see no reason why any alteration was made and feel that some steps ought to be taken to restore the position.
I do not want to waste much time on the arid dispute about the Secretary of State's remark that British Guiana was insolvent and to Dr. Jagan's objection to it. As I see it, the Secretary of State's words were a little unfortunate. The Premier of a self-governing Colony is entitled to expect that the Colonial Secretary will not spoil his country's credit-worthiness by public statements of that kind. By public statements of the kind that the Secretary of State has made, he has made the British Guiana Government feel that this is so. The British Guiana Government managed to balance their books. The Secretary of State says that they did it only by cutting down. I think that the Minister ought to be careful, because we do not want in any way to spoil the opportunities that Colonies may have of building up their economy.
I conclude by referring to the circumstances in which the Secretary of State was enabled to make his drastic decision about British Guiana. The Colonial Secretary has, of course, power by Order in Council to make this or any other change in British Guiana's constitution. But in the case of British Guiana none of the fancy or unintelligible restraints were written into the constitution as were written into the Southern Rhodesian constitution of 1961. But in relation to some other Colonies, the Minister has displayed a great reluctance to use his full powers, even in the most virtuous causes.
In Malta he declines to use his powers of intervention, and aligns himself with the Archbishop to preserve quite unnecessary mediaeval privileges for the Church against the spirit of the present and the preceding papacy. What gave the Secretary of State such a free hand in British Guiana was a letter addressed to him by the three political leaders after it was clear that they were not going to agree about the constitution. They placed themselves in the hands of 105 the Secretary of State. They asked him to settle the issues and agreed to accept his decision. This was, indeed, a tribute to the Secretary of State's diplomatic skill, although I am told that the letter was prepared, ready for signature, by the Minister and not by the leaders themselves.
Three points were at issue—proportional representation or single-member constituencies, voting at 21 or at 18, and fresh elections before independence or not. On each point the Minister decided against the proposals of the Government in power in British Guiana and in favour of the proposals of the Opposition. Indeed, he went beyond some of the points made by the Opposition.
Again, I would point to the contrast of Malta. The Maltese Government got 42 per cent. of the votes at the last election—exactly the same as the proportion cast for Dr. Jagan's party at their last election. Yet the Maltese Government's wishes were taken account of whilst those of the British Guiana Government are turned down on every point. As I said, the Secretary of State was entirely within his rights, but was it wise? Colonial delegations going along to see him will now be advised to leave their pens at home. They perhaps ought to follow the philanderer's advice—"Say it with music, say it with flowers, but don't put it in writing". I regret that the Colonial Secretary should have spoiled the reputation of his office for taking an impartial view of colonial disputes.
I have no hope that the Government will be moved by even the most logical case. They will go ahead with this Measure. After 12 years of office they seem to be displaying a disregard for Parliamentary criticism that is contrary to our democratic practice. But it behoves us in Parliament to tell them that we do not accept their reasoning and to warn them of the dangers.
I am sure that I carry the whole of the House with me when I say to the people of British Guiana: Do not engage in violence. This violence which is going on in that country is not against a dominant imperial Power. It is against each other. People have got to live together in the future. In opposing the 106 Government I would join with the Government in making an appeal that there should be no violence in British Guiana, in whatever form the elections may be, and ultimately that that Colony will be ruled in peace.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Iain Macleod (Enfield, West)
The concluding words of the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Bottomley) will certainly find an echo on both sides of the House. I was myself, as Secretary of State, in the chair for the meeting in March, 1960, and it is largely to reverse what we decided on then that these proposals come before the House.
I have no particular pride of paternity so far as the proposals in the White Paper are concerned. As the White Paper says with unusual frankness, it was in fact a compromise, and three or four years later it is wholly right that we should be reconsidering new proposals. The question posed and answered in the negative by the right hon. Gentleman, in a very moderate speech, was whether these are the right proposals and whether this is the right key to this grim puzzle of British Guiana. I believe that these are not only the right proposals. I cannot see what else in the circumstances my right hon. Friend could have done. But it is true that these proposals are highly unusual and, therefore, it is right that the House of Commons should have an opportunity of dissecting them.
If we look at the problem for a moment statistically, first by race, secondly by seats and thirdly by votes, this, as I understand it, is the position. Taking a very rough basis of 100,000 each, the ratio is, in race, three Indian, two negro and one for the rest including Amerindian, coloured, white and Chinese. It is clear that there there is no majority.
If we take the matter of seats, at the General Election of August, 1961 which followed on the constitution for which I had a responsibility, the P.P.P. secured 20 seats out of 35. Therefore, clearly so far as seats are concerned, Dr. Jagan's party holds the majority.
So far as votes are concerned, Dr. Jagan's party obtained 43 per cent. of 107 the votes and the parties led by Mr. Burnham and Mr. d'Aguiar collected 57. Clearly when we look at votes the majority swings against the Government.
I think there is something that we are apt to forget in considering colonial affairs, and that is that where a country votes wholly or mainly in a racial pattern the election is not merely decided, as it is here, for example, at the ballot box. It is decided at the conference table. In other words, it is decided at Lancaster House or in the House of Commons.
The key is the plan that the British Government put forward. There has been only one exception since South Africa became independent, and that is Zanzibar, and it is not a very happy precedent for independence passing to a Government which itself was composed of a minority race. In Zanzibar the Afro-Shirazi Party got 63 per cent. of the votes, and if we count Pemba it got 54 per cent., but it got only 13 out of the 31 seats. We understand that this can happen. We can think of cases in this country. For example, in 1951 when the Conservative Government were returned, they had a minority of the votes. I can think of a period of six or eight years running in my own constituency in Enfield, when it worked the other way, when there were more Conservative votes but the Socialists got more seats.
We are accustomed to this rather sophisticated method, to the swings and the roundabouts, and we recognise that an over-emphasis on government, whether at the local or national level, is part of the price that one pays for clarity. But it is a great deal less easy, as we have seen recently in Zanzibar, to persuade a party that knows it represents the majority of a country that it must be content with a minority of the seats.
In considering this question of the decision of the Secretary of State, I concern myself only with the constitutional point. I am not going to touch on violence, except to echo what the right hon. Gentleman said. I am not going to touch on the trade union conflicts, because I consider that those are really a mirror of the racial controversies that exist. I am not even going to discuss 108 the general strike that followed the Budget a year or so ago, although the Opposition will understand that it would be tempting to expand on what happens when orthodox Left-wing economic views run into the facts of real life.
There are two quotations from the last two White Papers which have got to be in our minds as we consider this. In paragraph 11 of the White Paper on the 1962 Independence Conference, we read:The leaders of all three delegations stated that they were unwilling to agree to arbitration by the British Government. Mr. Sandys, for his part, stated that, if they were not prepared to accept arbitration, he would not consider it appropriate at this stage to impose decisions against the wishes of the Government party which held a majority of seats in the Legislative Assembly, or alternatively against the wishes of the Opposition parties which together had polled a majority of votes at the last election.That was in November, 1962. A year later, in November, 1963, after further discussions—I think that we should have the words on record, although the right hon. Gentleman referred to them—this is what was said in the letter signed by the leaders of the three parties:We regret to have to report to you that we have not succeeded in reaching agreement; and we have reluctantly come to the conclusion that there is no prospect of an agreed solution. Another adjournment of the Conference for further discussions between ourselves would therefore serve no useful purpose and would result only in further delaying British Guiana's independence and in continued uncertainty in the country.In these circumstances we are agreed to ask the British Government to settle on their authority all outstanding constitutional issues, and we undertake to accept their decisions.That was signed by Cheddi Jagan, F. L. S. Burnham and P. S. D'Aguiar.
So they agreed. In my view, it would be only if the Secretary of State had produced a wholly unexpected solution to this problem that anyone could fairly say that they had agreed not knowing all the circumstances. This proposal, of course, far from being unexpected, was the main point on which the Conference and the leaders had reached deadlock. In paragraph 2(a) of that same White Paper in 1963 one reads:Despite exhaustive discussion it proved impossible to reach agreement on a number of major questions, the most important of which were:(a) should elections be contested on the basis of single-member constituencies, as at present, or on the basis of proportional representation?".109 My right hon. Friend, therefore, was invited by the three parties to discuss this matter.
From what the right hon. Gentleman said—he did not make the matter clear, perhaps deliberately—I am not sure whether the Opposition intend to vote on this issue or not. We shall see when the time comes, but I hope very much that they will not because there is at least a danger—those who have read, for example, Tom Stacey's article in the Sunday Times will realise this—that such a vote might exacerbate an already difficult situation in British Guiana.
In the last analysis, we are considering whether it is reasonable to expect the Premier of a territory, which is at present a Colonial Territory but which will within a quite short time become independent, to keep his pledged word to the Secretary of State. This, after all, is what lies behind the draft which we are now considering.
I think that it is unreal to consider this wholly as a problem for Britain, although, naturally, the final decision, rightly, remains with us. Other countries, America, Jamaica and, perhaps, above all, Trinidad and Tobago are closely concerned. There is an irony which we all recognise in the fact of America urging us all over the world towards colonial freedom except when it approaches her own doorstep. When I was last in America, in May and June of last year, I discussed with many people, including President Kennedy, this particular question which weighs anxiously on their minds. I myself think that their fears are exaggerated. I do not think, for example, that Dr. Jagan himself is a Communist. In any case, it is no part of my argument in support of the Secretary of State that he is. The American attitude seems to me to be dangerous in this respect. If one puts off independence because one fears that one may get a Left-wing Government, in my experience, the most likely thing to happen is that one will get a Government still further to the Left.
Above all, we ought to consider the problems of Trinidad. We have in this matter no fundamental deep British interest except an interest in an orderly transfer to responsible Government—which will be difficult enough to achieve 110 —in British Guiana. But, one day, we shall have gone. Trinidad will always be there. To some extent, of course, this problem is always with Trinidad, with, I think, something like 35 per cent. of the population of Indian extraction, but Trinidad manages very well indeed to cope with the complicated problems which such a situation entails. Dr. Williams, the Prime Minister of Trinidad, is a very remarkable man. He has expressed himself, as have the Prime Minister of Jamaica and the Prime Minister of Barbados, on this particular issue. It would be quite wrong for us, thousands of miles away, not to pay great attention to what they say.
Speaking in the Trinidad Assembly in November, 1963, Dr. Williams said that although he and the Governments of Trinidad, Jamaica and Barbados were opposed to proportional representation, his conclusion nevertheless was that, against the background of the failure of all the efforts which he had described to resolve the problem, in whichTrinidad and Tobago were unable to find anything in British Guiana to hold on to",they were unable to suggest any alternative method which might be adopted. We should be wise to pay a good deal of attention particularly to the words of Dr. Williams. No one can foresee what the final groupings in the Caribbean may be. One day, these countries may come together. It may well be that there is more of an affinity between these islands and the mainland where British Guiana is than we realise from this distance. All the doors should be kept open.
There are two possible interpretations of what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has done. One is quite simple, that it is to keep out Dr. Jagan. The other is that it is to secure time. My view is that, if one plans a constitution to block one man, one will be very unlikely to succeed. In any case, the tide of both birthrate and emigration flow in favour, if the racial relationship persists, of Dr. Jagan. I should think that, even under this system, if he did not secure a majority in 1964, the election after that might, and almost certainly would, bring him victory.
111 But this is on the assumption that politics in British Guiana will continue wholly on racial lines. It is in an effort to stop this, as I understand it, that my right hon. Friend has put forward these proposals. What he seeks to obtain is time, and anyone who has been Secretary of State knows that time is the rarest and most priceless commodity of all in dealing with the many problems which lie upon his desk.
The right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East said that there had been no results so far from what had been proposed. I am not sure that this is so, and I very much hope that my right hon. Friend will tell us whether there has been any slight cracking of the ice. There has been one, admittedly very small, new party formed, the Muslim Party, and there are other groups which may or may not develop into political parties. There is, at least, a chance that they will do so. Therefore, in my view, there is considerable justification for my right hon. Friend's action, not only in hope for the future but, to some extent, in the light of what has happened over the past few months.
Lastly, one simply comes back to this point. Almost everybody—successive Secretaries of State, all the leaders of the ex-British territories in the Caribbean, the United Nations, Ghana. America—has tried to find an answer to a particularly intractable problem, and they have all failed. Although this may be a wholly unusual solution, I am bound to say that I believe that it would be irresponsible for Britain to throw in her hand without making this one last effort to bring peace and, one would hope, a measure of stability to a very unhappy country.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
Like the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod), I had experience in seeking to bring about constitutional advance in British Guiana which would bring that country eventually to independence. I hope that I will not be thought immodest if I say that I think that the best constitution yet proposed for British Guiana was the one which followed the Waddington Commission. It brought 112 British Guiana to the threshhold of independence. In the elections which followed, under the terms of the Order in Council, which followed very closely the recommendations of the Waddington Commission, the People's Progressive Party came to power with a decisive majority, and with a great opportunity.
I then had two hopes: that British Guiana would march in step with the other territories in the Caribbean, and that it would attain independence at about the same time. I confess that I had hoped that it would become part of a Caribbean Federation, something which has disappointed us all. What I saw there was a large number of territories with an extraordinarily friendly people. One of the most pleasing things about the Caribbean territories, the West Indies, is the splendid race relations which have characterised them for generations. Anyone who goes out to these islands comes back deeply impressed by the fact that peoples of varying races live together so happily and joyously. One had hopes that there would be an area in which we could build up democratic governments in which all races would join together and live amicably and co-operate together.
It was my hope that the Waddington Commission would provide the opportunity for British Guiana to march step in step with the other territories—Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados and all the others. At that time our hopes were high, for the People's Progressive Party was led by Dr. Jagan and Mr. Burnham and represented the majority of the people of all races in the territory. Something then happened which I do not want to go over again and the constitution was suspended.
Speaking from the Dispatch Box, I urged that the constitution should not be suspended. I believed that there were other ways—I might have been wrong—by which that situation could have been dealt with. I still cannot help thinking and believing that if that constitution had been maintained, and if other efforts had been made which I think could have been made to bring the Government of British Guiana, the Secretary of State and the Government together, it would have been better for British Guiana and for us. I believe that if that had been done at that time British Guiana would now be independent. I 113 have said before, and I say it again, that we missed a great opportunity. The story of British Guiana is a tragic story of missed opportunities and misused opportunities.
Tonight, we are considering another new constitution. I do not know how many it makes in 12 or 13 years, but it is a large number. I cannot believe that the new constitution which the Secretary of State has presented this evening, which I have no doubt will be carried and will be put into operation, is the solution to the problem. I will discuss later what I believe the Secretary of State hopes to achieve by it and whether what he hopes to achieve will achieve what we all want, namely, to see British Guiana with a Government which commands the respect and support of its people, which will go about solving the immense problems which are presented and which will become independent and a partner in the Commonwealth. If a new constitution could have solved the problem, I think that it would have been introduced a long time ago. I have expressed views about the first constitution with which I had something to do.
I come to the present situation. Unfortunately and tragically, two young, educated men of the professions who had a wonderful opportunity, for some reason quarrelled and disagreed. I do not know whether the reason was ideological or personal, but that quarrel has had tragic consequences for their country. It has divided the country deeply—we had better face facts—and bitterly on racial grounds. The parties are no longer parties in the sense in which we think of them. I want the right hon. Member for Enfield, West, who is an ex-Colonial Secretary, and the Secretary of State to consider this. These are not parties in the normal sense, like the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and the Labour Party. These are racial parties and everyone knows that. We had better face the fact.
That is true not only of the political parties. Let me say as an old trade unionist how deeply I regret that racial divisions have now entered the trade unions. The trade unions have become divided on racial grounds. If this was a question of ideology or policy, the problem could much more easily be solved. But it is not. The result is 114 that the trade union movement is divided. I pay tribute to the attempt made by Mr. Robert Willis at the Trades Union Congress to try to get the trade unions together. I deeply regret and deplore that the trade union movement should be divided in this way.
The other day, I spoke out in my constituency about a complaint by the Welsh Nationalist Party about Durham miners coming to my constituency and dividing miners between Welsh and Durham miners. It showed that that body did not understand miners at all.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Bottomley) has spoken about the proposed constitution. I should like to thank him for his speech and its constructive nature. He asked a number of pertinent questions about the constitution and how it will work. I had the opportunity to be a member of a Speaker's Conference in the latter stages of the Second World War when we considered the constitution of our own country. I had the opportunity of making up my mind on whether I favoured the introduction of proportional representation. I was against it because I believe that in countries like ours that would lead to a proliferation of parties and weakening of Government and Parliament. But I am not saying that I am against it in every country. I am trying to understand why the Secretary of State proposes to introduce a system of proportional representation in British Guiana. As far as I can understand, the whole country will be one constituency. There will be party lists, and so on.
Whether we are for or against proportional representation, it is a system for a sophisticated electorate. I would expect that in a country like ours, if we had a proportional representation instead of voting by a simple cross, there would be an enormous number of spoiled votes. I should like the Secretary of State to tell us much more than he has about the system which he proposes to introduce for British Guiana.
I assume that the right hon. Gentleman hopes to achieve political stalemate by this constitution, to make it impossible for any single party to gain a majority in the House so that it could form a Government and thereby make 115 it virtually certain that there will have to be a coalition. I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for his valiant efforts to get a coalition of all the parties which exist at present. Unfortunately, he failed to persuade them and feels that he must now compel them. If he succeeds, good luck to him. But I have my doubts.
My first doubt is that, from all I hear and read, the constitution will be regarded, at least by some people and some parties, as one imposed by this Government and Parliament against their will. I understand that more than that is being said—with what justification I do not know. I believe we must face the fact that, if the constitution is imposed for the purpose of ensuring that no one party gets a majority, elections held under it may be the occasion or the cause of another outburst of racial bitterness, hatred and rioting. No one can read of events in British Guiana without feeling sore at heart. If the situation goes on as it is, the country will be ruined.
It is a tragedy that people there should be blighting their country when there is such an enormous job to do in it and, indeed, throughout the West Indies. However, I am told that it is likely that there will be violence during the election because the constitution will be regarded as having been imposed and that, following the elections, there will be such proliferation of parties that the formation of a Government exercising authority will be virtually impossible.
The parties will be compelled to bargain with each other only to form, in the end, a weak Government without real authority in a country where what is needed most of all is a Government carrying the respect and support of the people. A tremendous burden falls on the poor Governor, who is acting for us. We placed a great burden on the Governor under the old constitution. Let us remember what happened.
It may be that, as the right hon. Gentleman said, there was nothing else he could have done, having tried persuasion and failed. But I believe that he is asking us to agree to a constitution which presents to British Guiana the choice of either having a coalition or no Government at all. Here I agree with 116 the right hon. Member for Enfield, West that timing is important. One thing I note with pleasure, however, is that if the House agrees to this Order the date upon which it becomes operative is still open. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State has made any pledge about the date or about independence. As far as I read the situation, it will be for him and the Governor together to set the date on which the constitution becomes operative. That does give time. Should we not use it to make one more effort?
British Guiana is in some respects a Commonwealth in miniature. It presents a reflection in small of the Commonwealth of which we are all proud. In that Commonwealth there are many areas where different races and peoples with different languages and religions have learned to live and work together. In another two months the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference will convene in London.
To that Conference will come, for the first time, the Prime Ministers of many of the new countries in Africa and Asia. Why not seek their aid in this? Some time ago, the Secretary of State, when speaking about Central Africa, suggested that there might be advantage in seeking the co-operation of other Commonwealth countries in helping to find a solution. I commended him for that suggestion. Why not do the same with British Guiana?
The Prime Ministers of the independent territories in the West Indies will be here. Among them is Dr. Eric Williams, who is doing such a splendid job in Trinidad. I have known him since he was a student, as I have known so many of them. He has used his great influence already in British Guiana but has also failed. The Prime Ministers of African countries and the Prime Minister of India will also be here.
The date on which this constitution becomes operative is not yet fixed. Knowing that there may be violence during the election and proliferation of parties in unwilling co-operation after it under that constitution, let us admit that there is no collective will to work this or any other constitution. It is, therefore, worth one more effort to persuade. We may fail, and if we fail it may be that the only solution is to 117 have a device—and this constitution is really only a device—to secure political stalemate.
It seems that the most that the Secretary of State could say in favour of the constitution was that it would buy time. Why not use that time? I ask him to consider his own suggestion and seek the advice, help and co-operation of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers in July on this great problem. Let him ask Dr. Jagan and Mr. Burnham and other leaders of British Guiana to come here and join in another effort. I intervened in the debate to make that suggestion.
I hope that the Secretary of State will reply to the points which my right hon. Friend put to him, and I conclude by making an appeal, too—by joining the appeal which has been made to the people in British Guiana to come together to stop this violence, which makes such a very sad story that we hear of what is being done, amongst people living in one and the same country.
It is a large country, ten times the size of my own country, Wales, with a population of 600,000 highly concentrated in the coastal belt, with behind it almost a continent, almost unexplored, and left to 25,000 Amerindians. What it contains no one knows; it has never been completely surveyed. For all we know, it may be rich in resources, but to make use of them would require an immense job, immense capital, immense effort.
I appeal to those young men out there. They are young, compared with me. I spoke to them personally, and I told them that it took my party a long time to come to power in this country. I do not say it unkindly, but I join with those who have pleaded for the building of a multi-racial society of Indians and Africans. Let us remember this. We, Britain, brought their ancestors there. Some were taken as slaves; the Indians were indentured labour. We created the problem generations ago. Now we are asked to help to solve it. We cannot solve it by any constitution, unless it commands the support of the people, unless there is the will of the people to make it a success.
Before we try this new constitution, giving the Secretary of State power to bring it into operation, I would suggest 118 that he should put off the date and make one last supreme effort. I am sure I speak for all hon. and right hon. Members on this side of the House when I say that this is a matter on which the House of Commons should act as the House of Commons, and let us all join our influence together to get the leaders of those two major races in British Guiana to work together—in time: to stop ruining their country, and to save it, and to work out a decent future for it.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. F. M. Bennett (Torquay)
Surely no one would deny either the sincerity or the experience of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths). So I, for my part, should not like to begin by criticising the suggestion he has put forward for a last-minute effort in this matter. However, I am entitled to say in advance that I am not particularly optimistic about it, because I have an uneasy fear that precisely because it is a multi-racial Commonwealth in which one race or another is predominant in each of the constituent areas it may introduce even more racial tension than exists at present. What one wants to do is to take the emphasis off race rather than stress its multi-racial character. However, as I say, this is such a desperate problem that anyone would be foolish indeed to speak against any initiative which might produce useful results.
I think it fair to remind the right hon. Gentleman of what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod), whom I should like to congratulate on the best speech we have heard here for some time on a matter like this. Some of the people concerned Lave already tried. It has been tried by Ghana. It has been tried by Dr. Eric Williams, whom I also know and respect. It has been tried by two other Caribbean countries. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West said, they had to sum up in the end by admitting that they could not think of anything different from what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has put forward. While not being optimistic, however, I have said I do not wish to condemn in advance what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly has suggested.
119 I suspect that most of the speeches we shall hear tonight will say that while we are not completely convinced that what we are discussing will be the answer, we cannot think of anything very much better. That has been the substance of the speeches so far. Some of us are openly enthusiastic about the new plan, as I am; some may wish to damn it with faint praise; but generally speaking, I think he would be a very brave man who here tonight would suggest that he had any other bright ideas now to solve this intractable problem.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Bottomley) at one point in his speech pointed out very truthfully the great errors history has shown in relying on constitutional safeguards. He said—I think I am paraphrasing him aright—that we could not rely on constitutional safeguards even of the strongest in the light of what had happened elsewhere, as in Cyprus. Later, he said he would favour a situation in which there would be maximum constitutional safeguards, though earlier he was saying that safeguards had proved utterly worthless elsewhere, where there was not the will of the people to make them work. I am not condemning the right hon. Gentleman because of what he said, for I am myself in as much difficulty in knowing how one can make the best provisions. However, it is certain that constitutional provisions, be they good, bad or indifferent, and no matter how carefully worked out, will ultimately depend upon the will of the people to make them succeed, and they will not succeed if the people will not make them work, or if they work to make them fail. This is what seems to me more important in the last resort than all the drafting of the constitutional lawyers.
One of our great troubles, it seems to me, about our present situation is that there are two misconceptions which are very rife in British Guiana about my right hon. Friend's suggestions at the present time. I think that tonight at least we should all do our best to clear this up. It has been conveyed to me that a number of members of the present Government of Dr. Jagan and a number of his supporters think that this is nothing more nor less than a deliberate plot, 120 by my right hon. Friend in particular, and by Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom in general, to ensure his defeat at the next election. This does not really bear a moment's examination. I do not think there can be one Member in this House who thinks that my right hon. Friend, after all the efforts he has made to get those people together, to call conferences, to talk to them, to get them to work something out, would have had all the while in his mind a dark, devious plot to ensure the defeat of the Government of British Guiana. This is simply not in accordance with the facts. The very letter which my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West read showed conclusively that at the time of the conference here their fate was put at the sole arbitrary decision and openly in the hands of someone they now seem to regard as the master plotter.
So I hope that there will be at least one unanimous message which goes out from this House tonight, that there is no substance in that, and that whether good, bad or indifferent—I happen to think it is extremely good—this is not a deliberate plot by anyone in this House of Commons of either party to try to intervene in local domestic politics out there.
The other point which seems to be made all the while is that we have no right, because we have not proportional representation in this country, to introduce it in any one of our Colonial Territories, and that what we are under some moral obligation to do is to export our own Westminster pattern. There is no validity in this, either. In country after country we find not one whose constitution is based on the Westminster pattern. Among the older Dominions, Canada and Australia have federal Governments. No one suggests that it was not permissible for them to have them because we ourselves had not such a pattern to export. In Malaya there is the most complicated constitution because of the racial make-up of that country. No one suggests that it should be otherwise, simply because similar steps were not taken in this country; whereas there is the most complicated system of representation of the races and parties with built-in racial protections and an elective monarchy. Wherever 121 one looks—in Nigeria, or Kenya—Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, whether Labour or Conservative, have always tried, in discharging their responsibilies, to find a constitution which would pragmatically best reflect the conditions of the country. That is what my right hon. Friend has tried to do in this case.
Doubts were cast by the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East, in opening the debate about whether any progress in Her Majesty's Government's declared aims had been made, and I was glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West commented on this. Of course, we do not have access to all the material, but, at least, there seems to be a sign that there is beginning to be a break-up in the logjam on racial lines. Two Indian parties have now emerged, one Muslim and one Hindu anti-Communist party. There are signs of grouping, too, away from the existing hegemony within Mr. Burnham's party. Therefore, looking around at this stage, at least, the indications are that we may, perhaps, be able to get a break-away from the two monolithic race parties which, we know well, are at this stage as bitterly divided as the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East and the right hon. Member for Llanelly suggested, however much we may regret the fact.
I am determined not to introduce any party note into this debate. From the two speeches which have been made from the Opposition benches, I can tell that the impression which has been given in British Guiana is wholly wrong. It is clear from the two extraordinarily sensible speeches from the Opposition side that there is no intention by the Socialist Party in this country to give British Guiana the impression that as and when the British election takes place, in the event of a reversal of political power here British Guiana can depend upon an imposed change on something which has already been agreed by the United Kingdom Government. I feel strongly about this.
That, however, is nevertheless the impression which exists to some extent in British Guiana, and it is regrettable. I do not blame anybody in this House, but the fact remains that it exists. The danger from this is not a question of a 122 reversal of the political position here or of the constitution over there. It is rather the suggestion that provided sufficient pressure, intimidation, stalling, and so on, can be applied over there, an election can be held off until after another party has, perhaps, been elected in this country. The consequence of that would be that we in this country were condoning the very violence which we are all condemning tonight. This is a most serious position.
I said that I would give evidence, and I will do so. As I said in advance, I in no way criticise the Leader of the Opposition, to whom I am about to refer. There is, however, a paper circulating in British Guiana called The Mirror, which on Tuesday, 11th February, contained the following:A letter received at Freedom House yesterday signed by Mr. Harold Wilson Leader of the British Labour Party the man who might be Britain's next Prime Minister reads as follows:'Thank you for your letter of 18th December about the situation in British Guiana. You are no doubt aware that the Labour Patty's spokesmen have strongly criticised the Colonial Secretary's decision to impose proportional representation in British Guiana. We therefore have considerable sympathy with the contents of your letter and shall be raising the matter in the House of Commons.'Of course, I have no idea what are the contents of the letter referred to; and it might have been wise to phrase that reply slightly differently in view of the tense position in British Guiana. Yet I certainly do not set myself up to be critical on that score. The interesting thing, however, is the leader writer's conclusions at the end of the article.
On a lighter note, perhaps I may interpose to say that the article next goes on to criticise an apparent plot by the postal services in this country, the letter having been grossly delayed in transit because the Leader of the Opposition used only a 3d. instead of 1s. 3d. stamp. I gather that this was thought somehow to be a capitalist plot.
To proceed to the more serious conclusion, at the end of the article it states:Anyway, whatever the cause of the delay"—that is, in the transit by post—this 'Dr. Mr. Annibourne…yours sincerely, Harold Wilson' message is bound to create 123 a mood of depression in Opposition circles in British Guiana and considerably raise the enthusiasm of those who are opposed to any further violation by Britain of the constitution.This is a simple example of how something which, in the light of our sophisticated politics here, means nothing, can be interpreted in British Guiana as an indication that the party opposite will do something which nobody here considers that they have any intention of doing.
Whatever else happens as a result of this debate, we should not seek to convey any impression that we are prepared to play party politics by jiggering about with the constitution even though we may not all be in full agreement with it. The Order having been brought in, and whatever doubts some people may have about it, we shall naturally accept that it is obviously our intention to make it work.
In that way there is a better chance, in the light of what the right hon. Member for Llanelly said, of some intervening point of agreement there, provided there is not uncertainty and the belief that provided enough hell is caused locally, there will be a change in the constitution which has already been granted.
Having pleaded for restraint here, I now add that this must be observed in British Guiana, too. Of the documents which have been sent to me none seem to be particularly innocent in this matter, although, in fairness, I must say that the most extremist documents and articles that have been written, emanate from the Government side. That may well be because it is they who object most forcibly to what is taking place. If the Government leaders over there continue to keep up their pressure in the way that they are doing, there is not the slightest doubt that any initiative meanwhile to achieve any form of party or racial composition will fail.
It seems to me, more particularly as a number of Dr. Jagan's colleagues think that they will win the next election anyway, that the best thing they could do would be to concentrate on the governing of the country and to see what they can do to patch up their differences with the other side and whether some sort of composition would 124 not be possible. That is what they should do, because I do not believe that anyone seriously thinks that the constitution will suddenly be reversed and that they will go again through the whole of the process between now and November.
Recently, there has been a significant amount of increasingly growing strife. I have received a document which is published and issued by the Youth Leader of the United Movement in the P.P.P. I deliberately will not quote it, because it is so violent that it could serve only further to increase tensions, which we would not wish. But as long as this sort of document, which openly encourages intimidation and attacks the leaders of neighbouring Caribbean territories for being imperialist stooges, is issued, there is not the slightest hope of any accommodation being reached, whatever may be the constitutional position.
Only today I had a recent copy of the Guiana Graphic, in which a long speech by Dr. Jagan is printed, in which he responds to a request to do what he could to lower racial clashes throughout the colony. Much of it is unexceptionable, but I ask whether the House considers that these two paragraphs in a speech which, it is accepted, from beginning to end is meant to reduce racial tension and to urge people not to fight one another, but to work together and to forget their racial differences, fit in with that laudable intention:So long as we have in our country stooges who are prepared to sell their souls, so long as issues are settled on the basis of expediency and not on principle, there is bound to be trouble. He asked the crowds to bear in mind that the British capitalists do not care if Indians, Africans, Muslims and Hindus slaughter each other. They only want to succeed in dividing and ruling.Can that, in anybody's belief, be regarded as an appeal to end racial strife and inter-racial violence? Of course not.
I would not want to be thought in this matter—it would be wholly wrong for any of us, whether Conservative or Labour—to take into account, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West said, whether this or that leader is pro- or anti-Communist. From the viewpoint of the constitutional position, this is wholly irrelevant. What we are entitled to ask it that whatever their 125 party political allegiance in the future or whatever political party they want, they should pursue their aims constitutionally. If I had had brought before me speeches by the leaders of the opposition of any degree of the sort of extremism I have quoted, I would have certainly said the same, although I have already admitted that in fairness that is probably less likely because they feel that they do not at present have so much to protest about.
Finally, we should point out to all the leaders of British Guiana that we are getting a little tired of the way in which they are conducting their affairs, and that when the next election has come and gone we will not be able to go on indefinitely accepting responsibility for their political affairs. Sooner or later they must learn to behave responsibly. So another message which should go out from the House tonight is that after the next election, whoever wins, they will have to pull themselves together and stand on their own feet and not rely on abuse of their political opponents at home and abroad to justify being unable to accomplish their ends, ambitions and lust for power.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)
I support the plea of my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) that the Minister should pause and think carefully before proceeding with his present proposals. As we all do, I devoutly hope that in the next months there will not be increasing rioting and violence in British Guiana, but we are deluding ourselves if we do not recognise that unless some new element is introduced into the situation that is precisely what will happen.
Seen from the point of view of the People's Progressive Party and Dr. Jagan, it looks as though a hysterical anti-Communist campaign, which has been strengthened by outside forces, quite powerful forces from the United States of America, has been intended above all at any cost to keep Dr. Jagan from winning the next election. We must consider this matter seriously from that point of view.
It is no use saying that that is all nonsense. We know that the American State Department has been afraid that 126 British Guiana would become another Cuba. One of the many reasons for regretting the tragic loss of President Kennedy is that in the very last days of his life he was trying to make some kind of approach to the Cuban Government on the recognition that these new and poor countries needed trade and friendship above all.
We may get some help in this British Guiana situation from the changing temperature of relations between Russia and America. Most of us know what has been going on. I have very good American trade union friends, and when they operate outside America they do so in the very closest relationship with the American State Department. They did it in Europe after the war. They go into a country providing cash, personnel and influence on the side of whatever party or trade union they consider to be anti-Communist. That is what has been happening and it is a good thing that this hysteria is beginning to diminish.
That is why, like my right hon. Friend, I wish that we could have the help of time. I wish that I were optimistic enough to think that it would be enough to wait until the Prime Ministers' Conference in the summer, but I do not think that that will be long enough. We would be wise to share the responsibility with other Commonwealth Prime Ministers, but I cannot see the atmospherics in British Guiana changing sufficiently radically in that time.
We are in the last months of this Parliament and it would be wise to leave final commitments until this House has been refreshed by a General Election. I am not making a party point. No one will envy the Colonial Secretary, whatever his party, who has to handle this matter, not in the next few months, but in the next few years. It will be extremely difficult in the best of circumstances. That is why I suggest that it would be wise to wait for the beginning of a new Parliament, because we would then have a chance at least to make the people of British Guiana feel that we were seeking a solution in their own best interests and not merely blindly anti-Dr. Jagan, or hysterically afraid of Communist infiltration, or anything else.
In addition to the proposals for proportional representation, we must also 127 consider the effect in British Guiana of the new system of registration, which will disfranchise thousands of voters, who will be the poorest voters. They and those in rural areas will find it difficult to take the positive action of being registered. Existing bitterness will be deepened by this further consideration.
Why cannot we keep to the present situation and present methods of collecting voters door to door, giving the poorest as well as the richest a chance? Why should we change now? Why should we be committed to proportional representation when, as the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) said, in our own country we have had occasions—1951 was one—when the Government have been elected on a minority poll. Quite a number of hon. Members have been elected on a minority poll. We cannot tackle the British Guiana situation, any more than our own, on a strictly arithmetical basis. What it needs above all is a secure Government and a responsible Opposition.
I am convinced that if we stuck to the present constitution we would be nearer to getting that than if we took a country already so divided and divided it still more by the fragmentation which would follow from proportional representation. I am wholly opposed to proportional representation for British Guiana. I am speaking for myself and not saying what decision a Labour Government would have to make. I think that the remedy for this dangerous and difficult situation should be postponed until the House is refreshed after a General Election so that whoever has the responsibility will have time to work it out.
What will happen if we go ahead now? The Indian community represents many of the poorest citizens of British Guiana, but it also has its professional classes and business people. I do not like the idea of having a Right-wing Muslim party, because too much of the communal spirit is developing there. We have seen what has happened in India and Pakistan between the Muslims and the Hindus. There is far too much communalism, and I have a sense of guilt about it.
I do not think that this situation would have arisen if British Guiana had 128 been handled more sympathetically since the end of the last war. I had my own quarrels with my party about this. I do not think that this situation would have arisen if we had been a little kinder to Dr. Jagan and to Mr. Burnham when they first came here. It says something for Dr. Jagan that after the treatment that he received from us from time to time he was such an innocent as to give the Colonial Secretary a blank cheque. I certainly would not have done that. Is that the behaviour of a theoretical Communist? Of course not. It is the behaviour of a rather too innocent fellow. Instead of concentrating fire on Dr. Jagan, I think that we ought to pause and think of what will follow after him if the impression is given that the leadership of the P.P.P. is too soft, and not too hard.
Because of those considerations, and because of the right hon. Gentleman's reference to lovely race relations in those island countries, I think that we have to ask ourselves what has gone wrong. Even as we discuss this topic tonight, negro families are leaving Indian-dominated villages and moving to other villages to join their fellow negroes. Poor Indian families are leaving their homes to move into the protection of Indian villages. It does not say much for British rule that at this point of time we have maximised these racial differences.
I refuse to accept that the situation has arisen because of temperamental differences between Dr. Jagan and Mr. Burnham. We must try to bring them closer together. If we impose proportional representation, and this new form of registration, it may be that the Minister will buy time in which to try to solve this difficult problem, but I fundamentally disagree with him. The situation is now so complicated that the only thing that we can do is to pause, and I think that the pause which is necessary while we try to halt some of these communal and other conflicts will have to be rather longer than waiting for the Prime Ministers' Conference. I very much hope that nothing will be done before then, and that all the Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth will be asked to give their counsel.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Gardner (Billericay)
I was very surprised to hear the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) suggest that the Government have been responsible, as it were, for inflaming the situation in British Guiana. I suggest that my right hon. Friend, on behalf of the Government, has done everything in his power and everything that anyone could be expected to do in the situation to try to resolve the problem.
I do not wish to say anything that will excite the troubles in that country or inflame the racial tensions which at bottom are the cause of the present distress in that country. I would not, however, like to think that I was shirking facts merely to be diplomatic. I think that we have to look at the facts of British Guiana and the present situation there if we are to decide what is the best solution.
The first fact is the geographical one that British Guiana is on the mainland of South America, with Venezuela to the north and Brazil to the south. It is thought by some—by America in particular—that in that geographical position, dominated as it might be by a Communist Government, British Guiana could provide a more effective base for Communist propaganda than Cuba. I am not sure whether that is factually correct, but the geographical position of British Guiana suggests that at least it is a danger.
The other fact which we have to face is that British Guiana is a land of hot steaming jungles which are filled with riches of timber and where there are diamonds, coal, and possibly oil. There are riches in abundance for any organised community to enjoy. It could be a land of promise for more than half a million people who live there, most of them on the coastal strip. A fact which we must face, if we are to find a solution which will be the best for this problem, is that these hopes are far from being fulfilled. Indeed, one hears from people returning from British Guiana that these hopes have been extinguished, and this seemed to me to be the case when I was there a few years ago. I found a sort of nightmare atmosphere of neo-Communism under the guidance and influence of two people—Dr. Jagan and his wife.
130 I do not wish to say anything which will be regarded as in any way hysterical, but at least one can state the facts. We should not be frightened of them. The fact is that Dr. Jagan has declared himself to be a Communist. Last year he gave evidence before a Commission. One of the Commissioners was the former Mr. Justice Wynn Parry. After that evidence had been given, Mr. Justice Wynn Parry came to the conclusion, which he expressed in open court, that Dr. Jagan was an avowed Communist. This appears to be a fact which we must accept.
§ Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman saying that during that cross-examination Dr. Jagan admitted that he was a Communist, or that that was the judge's view?
§ Mr. Gardner
I am saying—I am not quoting precisely, because I have not got the transcript with me, though I would be perfectly prepared to let the hon. Gentleman see the transcript, which I can get for him—that in effect that is what Dr. Jagan said, and it was from what Dr. Jagan said in evidence that the learned judge came to that conclusion.
§ Mr. Donald Chapman (Birmingham, Northfield)
The hon. and learned Gentleman said—I have got the words clearly in my mind—that Dr. Jagan admitted that he was a Communist. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman stand by those words, or is he now saying something quite different? This is a most unfortunate matter, because I happen to agree with much of the rest of what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said. However, he makes the matter much worse by putting in phrases like that.
§ Mr. Gardner
I am saying that Dr. Jagan admitted during the course of his evidence that he was a Communist. It was said at one time that he was a Marxist.
§ Mr. Gardner
I agree that that is something quite different. During the course of his evidence Dr. Jagan admitted that he was a Communist, and it was found by the learned judge that 131 he was an avowed Communist. This, I submit, is a fact we have to deal with.
However distasteful it may be to the House or to British Guiana, another fact we have to deal with is that Mrs. Jagan is a charming, clever and ruthless Communist. We must face the facts. The result is that we are faced with a Government who, if we do not describe them as Communist because we do not like that word, are very near to a Communist Government and are one whom many of us dislike.
I bring this fact before the House, because I personally will be frank, as many of my right hon. and hon. Friends will be frank. We are frank enough to say that we do not like Communists and we do not like Communist Governments, particularly if they are in the British Commonwealth. We must look at this fact and be certain that we are not being swayed by this, or that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is not being swayed by this. I suggest to the House that in fact my right hon. Friend has taken a dispassionate and, to use that overworked word, objective view of the situation, on the invitation of Dr. Jagan. I disagree with the hon. Member for Cannock that he is an innocent. A less innocent man, politically at any rate, than Dr. Jagan I should say that it would be hard to find.
We have to make clear that this decision has been taken for the best of all reasons, that in British Guiana we are dealing, as we all know so well, with racial tensions and racial conflicts. There is the greatest minority party, the Indians, standing alone almost as a bloc behind Dr. Jagan, and at the moment they form a minority although they are the governing party in the country. Then, as was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod), there are the people of Portuguese, Armenian and Chinese descent who fall into two opposition parties, and because of this divided vote have up to now become subjects of Dr. Jagan's P.P. Party.
The tragedy of all this is that these inflammatory racial tensions are all the time corroding the hopes which we all have for the future happiness and prosperity of British Guiana. As one reads them from the local Press, as sent back 132 here from Georgetown, all the speeches of Dr. Jagan, including those supposed to appeal for peace and tolerance between the races, are laced with the poison of race prejudice. It is deplorable, but it is a fact that we have to face. I ask that we consider these facts as dispassionately as we can.
As we know, last year this Colony suffered something which came near to civil war and the largest general strike ever recorded anywhere. Last week the Governor had to sign a proclamation putting voluntary forces on an alert basis. The reason was again that there is the peril of more rioting and violence in British Guiana. It is quite clear that Dr. Jagan has two purposes, one to keep in power and the other to extend his power. With the amendment to the constitution which would bring in proportional representation it so happens that it is very unlikely that Dr. Jagan will remain in power after the general election. Without any amendment to the constitution, it is equally likely that he may remain in power indefinitely.
In other words—this I submit again is a fact—proportional representation will give the minority races—the people who fear for their own lives and the lives of their families in that country now—representation which will be effective; and the probability is that the opposition party will come to power. This again is a fact, and it seems to me to be a beneficial fact, because it will give time, which was described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West as being the most precious commodity, for a realignment of the present parties. It will give time for the subduing of this racial conflict. I hope that it may—I am sure we all pray that it will—give time for this solution to work itself out to the future happiness of British Guiana.
When looking at the facts, one must remember that Dr. Jagan has been trying to extend his power in the country by replacing the trade union in the sugar industry—the Manpower Citizens Association—with a union organised by Dr. Jagan's party. He tried to do that last year by legislation but failed. It is now being said in British Guiana—and this is a grave charge to which we should give serious attention—that he is trying to impose an organisation of the 133 Government's choice on the country and to replace the official and reputable trade union by terrorism. It is also being said there that the young supporters of the P.P.P. are being sent to Cuba for training as terrorists.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West referred to a dispatch sent by Tom Stacey to the Sunday Times in which he pointed out that children and old men had been killed, houses set on fire and bombed, and acres of valuable sugar estates burnt down. It is against the background of these facts that we must try to find a solution for British Guiana. I submit that in trying to find the right answer the Secretary of State has chosen the only solution that could possibly be expected to work for the betterment of conditions in British Guiana.
We should recall when considering the facts that in 1961 a candidate supporting Dr. Jagan's party succeeded at the General Election. In August 1961 a petition was presented alleging that there had been irregularities and unlawful conduct by members of the P.P.P. in getting that man elected. The courts heard the petition and, as a result, he was unseated. That happened in November 1961. It should also be remembered that after the resignation of one of Dr. Jagan's Ministers a few months ago, Dr. Jagan now has 17 seats against the 16 held by the Opposition. It should be remembered that the seat in the Houston division of Georgetown is still vacant. It was a marginal seat in the first place and had it been fought at any time since 1951 it would probably have been won by the Opposition. Dr. Jagan has deliberately kept it vacant.
I cannot see what other steps the Secretary of State could have taken. He was approached by the three leaders—Dr. Jagan, the Prime Minister; Mr. Forbes Burnham and Mr. Peter D'Aguiar—who said that they were in a desperate position. "We cannot reach a settlement," they said, in effect, and added, "Will you help us and, furthermore, if you will come to our help now we will undertake in writing to accept your decision as final and to abide by your conclusions". This is a fact we have to recognise and to accept in considering whether the Secretary of State was right in what he did last year. He was 134 asked to do it and voluntarily told by all the three leaders that if he did it they would all abide by it.
It is perhaps not surprising that the Opposition parties in British Guiana now feel very distressed to learn that the decision then made at the request of those three leaders, and agreed voluntarily in writing, is now being exposed to question. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett) that it was never the intention of anyone on the Opposition benches to do anything to exacerbate the present situation. I will not charge, or be thought that I am charging, the Leader of the Opposition with any such intention, but there is no doubt, as my hon. Friend told the House, that feeling has been produced in British Guiana.
I have in my hand a copy of a cable which came to this country yesterday. It was addressed to a distinguished member of the Opposition party in British Guiana, now in London. It comes from Mr. Peter D'Aguiar, leader of the United Force, and reads as follows:Urgent you do all possible emphasise Sandys and all sections British Press that Labour Party encouraging Jagan belief P.R. decision may be reversed. Wilson wrote P.Y.O. Labour has much sympathy P.P.P. protest. Violence in last week deliberately aimed at influence Labour vote Monday. Wilson must make clear statement Labour intention P.R. wise or take responsibility continued arson and racial murder in country so long as P.P.P. possible reversal. DAguiar.
§ Mr. Bottomley
Would the hon. and learned Member accept an assurance from me that the letter from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was a letter of courtesy confirming what has been said in this House before and what I have said tonight about proportional representation and why we think it undesirable to pursue it at this time? Is he aware that it is alleged that Mr. Burnham has been using comments made in communications from the Secretary of State? It is not unknown in this House to use letters for political purposes.
§ The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Duncan Sandys)
Will my hon. and learned Friend allow 135 me? If it is in order to interrupt, I wonder if the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Bottomley), later if not now, could give me information about that? I am not aware of that.
§ Mr. Gardner
I began my speech by saying that I did not want to say or do anything in this debate to inflame feeling. I have been merely trying to examine the facts. The fact is that that is the reaction which apparently has been felt in British Guiana. I thought it right to read this cable. I am grateful for what the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Bottomley) has said.
I hope that the House in the circumstances of this troubled situation in British Guiana will consider that whatever the disadvantages of proportional representation may be, and I would be the first to admit that there are disadvantages, this is the only practical solution that can be brought forward which is likely to produce the fruits that we all seek. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his decision.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)
I have been feeling sorry for the Secretary of State whilst he was listening to the speech of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Gardner). The hon. and learned Member said that he did not want to exacerbate the situation. I can imagine no utterance in the House which will have a worse effect on relations in British Guiana than the speech which the hon. Member has just made.
Every one of us in the House have a sense of the tragedy there is in British Guiana at the moment. If some of us begin to despair at times about the future of humanity it is because of the strength of racialist feeling that still exists. It exists not only in British Guiana but in Africa, between the two tribes of Ruanda and Urundi. It exists in the Middle East between the Arabs and the Israelis. It exists in India between the Hindus and the Moslems. We can take pride in the fact that since the recognition of the independence of India and Pakistan, with few exceptions, during the administration of 136 the colonial territories by Britain, we have avoided to an extraordinary degree these racial tensions. I do not believe that in British Guiana this racial tension is permanent or inherent.
I have in my hand a statement which Mr. Harry Snell, whom many of us remember with affection, made in 1927 at the time of the Wilson-Snell Constitution Commission. These were his words:That the colony has…succeeded in creating a basis of unity in the common love of their country on the part of African, Hindoo, and Chinese alike is itself a great achievement, and one that offers bright promise for the future. These separate races do, in fact, live side by side with each other, respect each other's ideals and prejudices, acknowledge allegiance to communal laws and work together for the good of the Colony. Upon a basis of this kind the Colony can build for the future without fear and without failure".This was in 1937. Let the House compare the conditions today.
It is not for us tonight to hold an inquest upon what has brought about the division between the African and Indian races in British Guiana. It is quite possible that personal ambitions and the fact that the leaderships of the two parties belong to two different races had something to do with it, but I should not be honest with the House if I did not say that I believe that the greatest cause of the division has been the obsession with Communism which was reflected in the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Billericay.
During these years, ever since the emergence of Dr. Jagan, from this country and from America, charges of Communism, White Papers, and money have been pouring into that country which have brought about the division, because Dr. Jagan is an Indian and has been beloved by the Indian community. I believe that this is the greatest reason for the present division in British Guiana. I say that, whilst I believe in liberties and democracies so much, that I would not want to see in British Guiana or in any British Colony a repetition of totalitarian systems of Communism.
May I say how much pleasure I had in listening to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod). When he was Secretary of State for the Colonies he 137 had a great record in many spheres. I felt real sorrow in the last days of his administration when in Northern Rhodesia he seemed to deny some of the things which he had done for the freedom and equality of peoples in his previous record. But every one of us must have respect for him and must have listened tonight with consideration to what he said. He read the letter which was signed by the three representatives of British Guiana at the conference in October last year. I did not take down his words, but he indicated that the only excuse for not obeying the promise expressed in that letter would be a decision which denied all expectations created at the conference. I do not want to misquote the right hon. Gentleman, but I think that I am right in indicating that that was his view.
I am afraid that that is exactly what has occurred. None of us was at that conference, except the right hon. Gentleman and the Under Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, but from what we have heard from those who attended the conference the spirit was created there by the right hon. Gentleman of seeking to reach an agreement between the two sides by impartiality, and this led to the leaders of both sides concluding that if the matter were put to him for decision one would be made which would accommodate the views of all those who were there. If there has been shock in British Guiana, it has been due to the fact that those expectations were not realised, that a decision was made by the right hon. Gentleman which has been acceptable to one side and entirely unacceptable to the other—a feeling that he did not act as an arbitrator but acted as an exponent of the point of view of one party.
The right hon. Member for Enfield, West urged that the proposal of proportional representation was not only the best solution for the immediate difficulties but even gave some promise of ending the racial problems. I listened with some surprise to that argument. I believe that from the point of view of democracy there is a great deal to be said for proportional representation. I think that if we are going to have proportional representation in any State, particularly in this country, we shall need a great reconstruction of our Parlia- 138 mentary procedure. It would necessarily involve that we would not have two disciplined parties in opposition to each other, but that we would have a wider representation which would necessitate much greater freedom for individuals.
But whilst I recognise the case for proportional representation in a reconstituted Parliamentary constitution, I believe that it would be absolutely fatal in British Guiana at this moment. It would be fatal for the very reason that proportional representation means that one appeals to communal feelings. It means that one selects in the electorate pockets of voters who hold particular convictions in separate communities and, by appealing to them, one hopes that one will secure a proportionate vote which will secure for oneself representation in the Legislature.
The very fact that today, after the announcement of proportional representation, new parties are springing up on communal lines, that there is not only the Muslim party to which the right hon. Gentleman referred but that now there is the Hindu party, indicates that racial and religious prejudices and partisanship are likely to grow in British Guiana and not decrease, because we have introduced a system of proportional representation.
I wish to say a word or two in support of what my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) said about the regulations. I emphasise, as she has emphasised, that if these regulations are put into operation there can be no hope of democratic decisions in the coming election in British Guiana. The system of having an enumeration of voters by going from house to house where they live has not been adopted. Before anyone can be registered as a voter at all, he or she must go to the district registrar's office. My hon. Friend was perfectly correct when she said that this would differentiate between one section of the people of British Guiana and another, not only between the rich and the poor, but more particularly between those who are living in rural areas and those in the towns.
The registration is likely to take place in the rainy season in British Guiana. There will be some voters in British Guiana who may be, I am informed, as far as 20 miles away from the registration office. At the best, if they are to 139 reach the registration office they will have to lose a day's pay and a day's work. If our claim to be a democracy and wanting democracy in British Guiana is to find expression, we are proceeding in a way which will mean that thousands of people who have the right to vote in British Guiana will be denied it under the regulations.
I am astonished at some of the requirements. I have read the whole series of regulations, occupying nearly a page, which have to be met if one is to be registered as an elector. I am amused by some of them. If necessary, a person has to produce a birth certificate. How many thousands of people in British Guiana have had no registration of birth at all? The height of the person is to be noted. The colour of eyes is to be noted. Anyone who knows the people of British Guiana must laugh at this. Whether African, Indian or of mixed race, nearly everyone in British Guiana has brown eyes. Finally, there is the requirement that fingerprints must be taken. What for? When someone goes to vote and the fingerprint is produced, will there be an expert at the voting place who can judge whether the fingerprint is really that of the voter or not? These regulations, not only on the principle to which my hon. Friend laid down, but in all their details, are something of which we should be ashamed.
A number of hon. Members opposite have challenged this side of the House to produce an alternative to the constitution which the right hon. Gentleman has suggested. This is my reply. Since the conference at Lancaster House, there have been tendencies in British Guiana which ought to have been encouraged and which, if they had been encouraged, could have produced a solution of the problem today. There was the mission of good will from Ghana, itself African and, therefore, making a particular approach to Mr. Forbes Burnham.
At the time of the visit of this mission, Dr. Jagan retreated from the earlier position in which he had insisted on a majority in the coalition Government and agreed to a basis of 50–50 representation with Mr. Forbes Burnham's party. He went very far indeed to meet the fear that British Guiana might side with the Communist countries. He was 140 prepared to have a mixed Commonwealth force. He was even prepared to see United Nations officers within that force. He was prepared to sign the most concrete treaty of neutralism which could be devised, and he indicated the Austrian Treaty as an example. He even went to the point of accepting the system of proportional representation for a certain proportion of the Legislature or for the Second Chamber. When Dr. Jagan and his party had gone so very far in making concessions and seeking agreement, a Secretary of State in this country who was dedicated to the purpose of seeking an end to racial conflict in British Guiana could have achieved it if he had given his helping hand.
More than one speaker opposite—I am encouraged to say this because it was referred to particularly by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West—pointed out that American influence has been exerted in British Guiana particularly against Dr. Jagan and the People's Progressive Party. Unless I heard wrongly, the right hon. Member for Enfield, West replied in advance to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Billericay. Unless I heard wrongly, the right hon. Gentleman said that he did not believe that Dr. Jagan is a Communist. But America has been obsessed by the idea that a Communist country might spring up on the mainland in South America. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock when she says that in the last days before the tragic death of President Kennedy a change of attitude was taking place on these matters, and I think that America will have to take a new view about the whole continent of South America. I think that inevitably in South America there will be revolutions of an economic, social and political kind which will necessitate a revision of the policy of the United States.
Dr. Jagan is a Marxist. Others in his Administration to the left of him are undoubtedly Communists. Others in that Administration are Socialists as we are Socialists on these benches. That is characteristic of Governments of the new nations. They are seeking the establishment of a new social and economic order. Some of them are Marxists and some Communists. Many 141 of them are Socialists. All of them are seeking to establish their new societies. If this country, America or any country in the West says that it will decide its attitude towards them and will exert the whole of its influence against them coming to power because of their fears, the result will be an explosion beneath which will create a much more dangerous situation than would be created by sympathy and co-operation.
I want with all the warmth that I can put into my words to support the appeal of my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) that we should take the opportunity at the coming Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference to discuss this question and to seek a solution other than the solution being suggested tonight. There are the two populations in British Guiana—the African population, descendants from the slaves who were kidnapped from West Africa, and the Indian population, descendants of the indentured labourers who were taken to the sugar plantations. At the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference there will be leaders of Africa and leaders of India. I find it difficult to believe that the leaders of either the parties or the races in British Guiana would not respond to an appeal by the Prime Ministers from Asia and Africa.
In view of the dangers that there are in British Guiana, and in view of all the horrors of racial conflict between peoples, I beg the Secretary of State, even now, to change his mind about imposing this constitution and instead to seek the lead of the members of the Commonwealth to make a proposal to bring the races together on a basis which will give new hope to British Guiana.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
I remind the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) that there was recently a meeting in Jamaica at which the Prime Ministers of Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados tried to do exactly what the hon. Member hopes the Commonwealth Prime Ministers will do. Regrettably, they were not successful. These people have been successful in helping to bring together similar races in their own country and, there- 142 fore, they have had representation from both the African, Indian and Chinese peoples. Having been in Jamaica at the time, I know that they did their best to bring about a happy solution—they were not keen upon proportional representation—but they failed. Therefore, we cannot delay the matter any longer.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and for the Colonies will not accede to the pleas which have been made to him by certain hon. Members to delay the matter. To delay it still further might make for worse racial tension.
I have had the opportunity of going to the country on two separate occasions, admittedly both of them for only short visits, and of meeting many of its people in this country. I agree with the hon. Member for Eton and Slough and with the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) that the feelings of America have, in the past, been unfortunate. Senator Fulbright has, however, recently tried to change the opinion of the American people, because he said:We are confronted with a complex and fluid world situation, and we are not adapting ourselves to it… We are clinging to old myths in the face of new realities.In regard to Cuba, which is important in the context of British Guiana, he said thatthe time is overdue for a candid re-evaluation of our policy, even though it may lead to distasteful conclusions.Perhaps the Americans may be more understanding in the future in regard to the present Government in British Guiana.
It is a great mistake to take the definite stand or even to prophesy that the Government of the P.P. Party will not be in power if British Guiana has proportional representation. When proportional representation was introduced in Eire, it was thought that Mr. de Valera would not get back to power. His party has been in power ever since.
What we must decide and get the people of British Guiana to agree to, as they could not make their own decisions—and nobody could blame my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for not signing a blank cheque—is that now that they have been given this opportunity and they have a decision, they must stick to it. It 143 would be disastrous if further riots and upsets were to occur and then, perhaps, regiments had to be brought in to restore peace. Each type of suggestion has been put forward and we now have four of the five parties, including the two new ones, agreeing to proportional representation. It should, therefore, be given a fair chance.
I wish to pay tribute to the Governor, Sir Ralph Grey, who over a long period has done everything he could to get matters on to a happier basis. It was a great disappointment to him, on taking up his new job in the Bahamas, that he had to leave the situation as it was.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has also shown great patience. He has visited the country, attended conferences and devoted a great deal of time to seeing individual people. I hope that the House supports him in the proposal which he has put before us and that we will encourage the people of British Guiana to make it work.
Having visited the country on two occasions, I agree with the Wynn Parry Commonwealth Commission which inquired into the disturbances of 1962. It said that the racial difference as it existed did not go very deep.
I personally think that it is the political racial feelings which go deep, not racial feelings between individual people. When there is one race in particular in power it always means that the other races are suspicious of them when they bring in a new order or a new law, because they think that that is being done on a racial basis. This is, of course, not the situation as the Government see it. They bring in a certain Act because they feel it is needed for the country. It is when there is one race in power that it is open to suspicion by the other races.
The Indian population at present, I understand, is about 315,000 and increasing at an annual rate of 4.4 per cent. The negroes at the moment number about 204,000 and are increasing at a rate of about 3 per cent. People of the other races number about 120,000. At the present rate of increase the Indians will have an overall majority by 1968.
I hope that given this proportional representation, and realising that it is to 144 be done on a just basis, it will work, and that it will prove, as time goes on, one which will give security to all races in the community. I have had an opportunity of seeing for myself how the races can get on together. I went to the opening of a self-help housing scheme on my last visit. It was on a plot of land on which individuals had been building their own houses. I was invited to attend as a guest. The Minister of Housing, who was an Indian, performed the opening ceremony and his wife presented the keys to individual tenants. Mr. Burnham, at that time the Mayor of Georgetown, made a congratulatory speech, and it was a European who gave the blessing. Everybody afterwards had a very happy party. I am quite certain that it is on this basis that people will work together. It is only when they get political divisions that they are drawn apart.
At the moment there this desperate need to get stable government because the economy is really being ruined by the strikes. This has been mentioned by one or two of my hon. Friends, and I regret, as they do, that P.E.P. has supported piratical unions because there was the excellent work done by Mr. Willis—I think it was—of the Trades Union Congress who went out there and settled the trade unions on a non-political basis. It is extremely helpful, and I think we should pay tribute to the trade unions for the way they have worked in the past. But now a great many people do live in fear, and it is very unfortunate that there are these racial strikes going on, carried on in the every-day life of the working people, preventing them, through fear, from going to work, and giving them no rest in their villages at night.
I would suggest that as all parties have signed this agreement they should now try to make it workable. On the other hand, I should like to support what was said by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough and the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock in regard to registration difficulties. The Colonial Office Commission in 1928 stated:With respect to our contention that Government does not offer reasonable facilities for the registration of voters we would draw attention to a return laid on the table of the Combined Court by Government at the first 145 general session of 1927 where it is admitted that of the 5,192 claims filed in April last, 420 were rejected for the lack of formality.The people are to register themselves in a new type of manner. But many are illiterate and a number of immigrants will not be able to produce either baptismal or birth certificates. Thus, a great many will be disfranchised. I hope my right hon. Friend will look into this to se if he cannot introduce a system that all parties have requested—the use of photographs instead of fingerprints. As the hon. Member for Eton and Slough said, it will not be easy to distinguish people by the colour of their eyes or by their height. The photograph system has been used in the Bahamas successfully. It is a better and easier method.
I hope that more help will be given to individuals about filling in the forms, because I do not know how many Amerindians will be able to manage otherwise. I should also like to know about the proposal that money will have to be put in for being improperly registered—I gather this sum will be about 8s. 4d.—or, if there are objections, which will cost about £1. Will this money be refunded if the objections are not upheld?
Will my right hon. Friend also see that every facility is given through the radio to inform everyone about this new method of voting? The proportional representation system is not very easy when one comes to put one's mark on the ballot paper. I hope that every detail will be given to the voters.
I am sure that the feelings in British Guiana are politically racial and not individually racial—in other words, if it were not for politics everyone would get on happily. I pay tribute to the police and the steadfast way in which they have worked in difficult times. Great tribute must also be paid to the British residents.
When I was there I took the opportunity to visit the Grenadier Guards, who were standing by, and I went with them into the jungle to see them practising jungle warfare. These are lads from all over the United Kingdom and they have done a magnificent job. Their behaviour has obviously eased tension. They have made great friends with many of the people. Very often we do not realise how much our troops have 146 helped in many countries where trouble has arisen and what great ambassadors they are for Britain.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will see that this Order goes through tonight without delay, because the more delay there is the greater will be the tension and uncertainty.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Chapman (Birmingham, Northfield)
I am glad that the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devon-port (Miss Vickers) spoke of the example, forebearance and invaluable help of our troops in British Guiana. When we remember the terrible things happening out there, the example shown by our Forces is something we can be proud of, just as we can be proud of it as they serve in so many other parts of the world. I am very pleased that the hon. Lady made that point.
This has been a very responsible and restrained debate with the exception of a speech by one hon. Member opposite. I hope I can follow in the general tone of the debate. I was particularly pleased with the moderate way in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) began the discussion. His speech showed that the Labour Party was making a careful, balanced and moderate approach to this problem. That is the kind of approach with which I agree. However, I hope that my right hon. Friend will allow me to say, when I go a little further into what I have to say, that I cannot agree with everything he said.
For reasons which I want to set out, I personally believe that the decision to have proportional representation, even though we may criticise the right hon. Gentleman for the emergence of the system, can be finally turned to good. Given the situation, our thoughts should be addressed to how we can now create something good, something settled, something which will bring racial harmony to British Guiana. It is on the eventual outcome that I disagree a little with my right hon. Friend.
As the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) said, British—I use the word almost automatically; although it is no longer the British West Indies, I always think of it as the British West Indies—the West Indies 147 throughout the history of the last ten or fifteen years and even before have been extraordinarily fortunate in the calibre of the leaders who have emerged in these tiny islands.
I think, first, of Mr. Norman Manley in Jamaica, who is a leader of world stature. He is a statesman on the world platform and not just a leader or former leader of 1,750,000 people in Jamaica. I also think of Dr. Eric Williams, and I agree that the future in the West Indies may lie more with Dr. Eric Williams than with anyone. It is possible that new groupings will emerge, mainly because of his leadership, and at all costs we must keep all doors in the area open so that some new federation of some kind may eventually emerge, a new federation of which British Guiana can be a part. I think that this is fundamental to the future.
I mention only one thing as an example. While the present leadership in British Guiana is probably representative of the people of British Guiana, one of the things which should clearly happen is for migration in the West Indies to include migration from Jamaica and other over-populated areas to British Guiana and British Honduras. They are outlets for these populations. It has to come in time and we should keep that door open in the hope that that kind of thing can eventually emerge.
However, British Guiana is one of the parts of the West Indies where the great examples of leadership in the other islands do not occur. I do not want to seem to be denigrating the leaders in British Guiana. We have been very fortunate by world standards with the rest of them and we cannot have fabulous luck all the way round. This is one of the tragedies of British Guiana. My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) said that Dr. Jagan was not a Communist and the hon. and learned Member for Billericay (Mr. Gardner) said that he was and made him out to be, whatever else, a rogue.
I do not think that he is a rogue. He may be a fool and he may be weak and not up to the standards of the remainder of the West Indian leaders, but he is not a rogue. On that I disagree with the hon. and learned Gentleman because, 148 whatever else he said, that was the only interpretation of his view of Dr. Jagan.
§ Mr. Chapman
I accept that, but the whole House heard what the hon. and learned Gentleman said and I think that mine was a fair interpretation. He made him out to be an evil man in most senses of the word, and that is wrong. British Guiana has just not had leadership of enormous calibre. I think that tonight the House has missed one essential factor in the present situation. That factor emerges from an examination of the history of the last 10 years. What happened under what we might call the-first-past-the-post type of electoral system—the one that we have here—was that Dr. Jagan, particularly in the 'fifties, had a built-in reason for being unwilling to adopt the obvious solution for British Guiana—a coalition Government. He was doing very well, thank you, out of the present electoral system. All the cards were in his hands. Why should he make the gesture of a coalition on the basis of equality, which is essential to the solution of the problem in British Guiana? Why should he make the gesture of a coalition with Mr. Burnham when all the cards were clearly in his hands under a system which gave him a majority of seats although not a majority of votes? He had all the cards, and he was determined to hang on to them.
I do not want to exacerbate the situation, but I was very impressed with the statement made by a young man who came to this country from British Guiana. I am referring to Mr. Laurence Mann who was a Minister in Dr. Jagan's Government. He left the country because he was disgusted with Dr. Jagan's party. I propose to quote his statement to show how the situation arose in which there was very little chance of a coalition on the basis of equality. At one period he was charged by Dr. Jagan with negotiating with the Opposition in an attempt to find some basis for a coalition, and in his statement he said:It became clear during those discussions that what was needed was not so much a constitutional device for the electoral advantage of one side or another, but a guaranteed co-operation between the two parties.149 Here was a man who realised that it was important that the coalition should be on the basis of absolute trust and equality. He went on to say:When this proposal was put to our executive"—that is the executive of Dr. Jagan's party—it was laughed out of court. The prevalent feeling was that an army was a more useful proposition for British Guiana.In other words, he was saying that his own party was unwilling to have a coalition on the basis of equality, and that it thought that an army to hold on to power once it got it—and independence with it—was the real thing that mattered. That is the sort of tragedy on which the 'fifties were built. The situation arose because of the refusal of Dr. Jagan and his party to think in terms of a real coalition with the Opposition party, which was the only way of solving the racial tensions.
The crucial point that has been missed this evening is what is happening under the right hon. Gentleman's scheme. Under the threat of proportional representation the rôles are becoming reversed. As a result of a proportional representation election, Dr. Jagan may just have a majority of seats, but not an overall majority. Because of the bitter relations which have lingered on since the 'fifties, it is possible that Mr. Burnham will refuse to serve with Dr. Jagan in a coalition Government. He may well say, "I prefer instead to have a coalition with the United Force or with several of the splinter parties, and we shall then drive Dr. Jagan out of office".
Should that happen, racial hellfire will be let loose again, because Dr. Jagan will be able to storm round the country saying, "I told you so. I have been gerrymandered out of office", and the conflict, the fighting, and the killing will go on again.
This is the danger. In other words, the cards are now all in Mr. Burnham's hands, instead of them being all in Dr. Jagan's hands. Mr. Burnham now does not want a coalition with Dr. Jagan on terms of equality, because he thinks that proportional representation will put him in power. He now feels that the rôles are reversed; he feels a sense of power; he feels that he is to be the new ruler 150 of British Guiana, as he might well be under this system.
The real challenge we ought to be making to British Guiana tonight is this. We ought to be saying to Mr. Burnham, more than to anybody else in these circumstances, "We hope you will rise above this situation, in the interests of your country". It is for Mr. Burnham now to make a big gesture and say whether, given the results of a proportional representation election, he is willing to serve in a coalition with Dr. Jagan. This is the only hope for British Guiana. It is the one thing on which we should be concentrating this evening.
I have tried to check whether the right hon. Gentleman's announcement is moving the two sides together in the way I want to see. My hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) said that there is now a new willingness on the part of Dr. Jagan's party to think in terms of coalition. As Dr. Jagan's party will not do quite so well out of proportional representation as it did out of the old system, it now has a newfound interest in a coalition. A most significant speech was made in British Guiana on 14th April by the Education Minister, Mr. Nunes, Dr. Jagan's No. 2. The great headline of the speech is this:P.P.P.-P.N C. Coalition the only answer under P.R.So Dr. Jagan's party is saying clearly,We are willing to serve in a coalition".Try as I may and watch as I may, I cannot find Mr. Burnham making the same statement. He is going about the country today, under immense provocations, trying to keep people calm, telling the negro population not to respond to attacks on them and not to take part in racial riots. I am not saying that Dr. Jagan is not doing that. To some extent he is doing that as well. The point I am making is that there is no obvious gesture on the part of Mr. Burnham to say that he is willing at last, even now when the cards are all in his hands, to have a coalition on the basis of equality with Dr. Jagan. This must be the solution, otherwise, with Dr. Jagan in opposition, the country will be set alight again after the elections which the right hon. Gentleman is bringing about.
It is in this sense, but only in this sense, that I disagree with my right hon. 151 Friend. I join with my right hon. Friend in criticising the lack of impartiality displayed by the right hon. Gentleman in some of his actions. When compared with what he has done in Malta, this is so obvious that it is noted in places like British Guiana. I say to the right hon. Gentleman in all friendliness that, on obtaining his signed piece of paper giving him the opportunity and the signed agreement to make all the decisions, he would have been a wiser man if he had sought something which looked more like a compromise, instead of something which looks as if it is stacking everything against Dr. Jagan. The right hon. Gentleman, in his general imposition of a system, could have sought things which would have looked a little better to those in British Guiana.
I have a third criticism. Despite all the right hon. Gentleman's diligence, activity and energy in this matter, there ought to be more energy in British Guiana. I do not know what the answer is. This is the right hon. Gentleman's problem not mine. I do not think we can keep on trying to solve this problem by sitting here in London. We must have more consultations going on all the time with more high-powered Commissioners out there in the Caribbean trying to bring not only nations but parties within British Guiana together. I join with my right hon. Friend in criticising the semblance at least of some of the right hon. Gentleman's activities. But in the end I come back to the only real point which I wish to make. Having arrived at P.R. we may as well get some result out of it. I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough. At least one half of the nation is in favour of coalition on the basis of equality. The next half must be Mr. Burnham, and I want the right hon. Gentleman to make the challenge to Mr. Burnham in the hope that he will respond.
In the early part of the debate one hon. Gentleman—in fact more than one—asked what a Labour Government would do about the situation. I think that the speech of my right hon. Friend made the position clear. I did not hear him make any promises that Dr. Jagan 152 could misuse. Dr. Jagan cannot now—I think this point should come out tonight—go round British Guiana stirring up trouble and saying, "Let us keep the pot boiling until a Labour Government comes, because they would change it all". No such pledge has been given by the Labour Party spokesman and I was pleased to note that. The message which should go out to Dr. Jagan and to Mr. Burnham is that the job ahead is to make proportional representation work if it comes into practice before a general election is held. More important than that, the job is to find a basis of racial tolerance based on living together which can be the only future for any change from proportional representation for some years hence.
I see it like this: get pledges from the two sides, not from one. If necessary the proportional representation system will have to go through with elections based on it. It must be made to work as the only basis left for finding racial tolerance if we can see that emerging in the next four years—or X years, I do not care what is the figure. Let us say that we are willing to reconsider it and move to some other system which they prefer once it has been useful in bringing the result we all want, in other words, the tolerance of Indian for negro which is the basic requirement for justice, harmony and peaceful living in that country.
In sum, all I wish to say is that I do not feel quite so despondent about the situation as does my right hon. Friend. Given the chance now of elections, given the challenge to Mr. Burnham to respond to the situation now that the cards are in his hands, I think good can yet emerge from this terrible situation. I have been fortified all the way through in my sorrow—not in my sorrow, my anxiety—about this situation by another factor which was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West. That is the attempt made by Dr. Eric Williams.
I have here the OFFICIAL REPORT of the speech of Dr. Eric Williams in his own Assembly at Trinidad. It runs to 15 pages and reveals the attempts he made in recent years to bring some rapprochement between the parties and to find an agreeable constitution for British Guiana. This is the sort of thing 153 he says—I think that some of his speech was quoted by the right hon. Gentleman—There was at no time any response at all, neither favourable nor unfavourable, to the proposition which was presented to British Guiana…And at the end of his speech he said:Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hate to say it again: all our efforts failed. To put it a little more crudely, perhaps, we were unable to find anything in British Guiana to hold on to.There are 15 pages setting out the attempts of the friends of Dr. Jagan and British Guiana in that part of the world to bring to that troubled country the peace that it had failed to find.
Finally, I do not blame the right hon. Gentleman. He had to find some solution. He had to try something and show determination in putting it through. I am sorry that some of the things he did are open to criticism in the way I have expressed. Nevertheless, I wish him luck in the venture he has undertaken and I hope that the whole House will unite in saying to the people of British Guiana, "If this must go through, then make it work and get out of it the racial tolerance which is the only basis on which your nation can exist in the future".
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ Sir Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)
All hon. Members will agree with the final words of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman). I rise to speak for only a few minutes because the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm MacPherson) and myself and another Member of this House journeyed to British Guiana last September. While there we had the opportunity of hearing the leaders of all the political parties, the trade unions and others who were prepared to say what they really thought to us. I must refer to the great courtesy and kindness which was extended to us. One of the most pathetic things is the necessity for this Order to be before the House.
Those of us who have known for years and have frequently visited the islands in the Caribbean have always felt that the people there had found something precious—that different races can live together, respect each other and can 154 form a nation. It is a shame that this has not yet been found possible in British Guiana.
While there, and having taken advantage of listening to every point of view, I came to the conclusion that fear was at the basis of everything. They feared what would happen in the future. They feared what would happen if independence came very quickly. Time and again their fears were brought home to me. Having heard the speeches from hon. Members opposite, I must assume that they desire somehow to put off making a decision now and to place the responsibility for ultimately making one on somebody else. As my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) pointed out, the most important thing is for a decision to be made now. The only real chance of achieving peace and understanding in British Guiana is for a decision to be taken at this moment.
I have been somewhat surprised at the different points of view expressed about registration. Hon. Members have not really discussed the deep feeling which I found to exist throughout British Guiana about the original registration. I understood that this was originally done by the three parties, which collected the registrations. It is felt that it should be taken out of their hands and put on a sort of Civil Service basis. I therefore do not agree that the registration system should go back to its old form.
It has been recognised by all hon. Members that my right hon. Friend has had a tremendous responsibility placed on him. In view of the great bitterness that has existed in British Guiana and the difficulties that have confronted him, my right hon. Friend has indeed been confronted with a difficult task.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport that this is not simply a racial problem. My belief is that as these races worked together before, they can work together again if the political content is taken out of the problem. My right hon. Friend has made a brave decision, one which in the end, let us all hope, will be proved to be the right decision and that they will find a way whereby they can get a form of political agreement which will give endless opportunity to realise the 155 wealth in British Guiana and reduce the 20 per cent. unemployment there at present.
§ 10.1 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Duncan Sandys)
I think everyone who has listened to this debate will feel that we have been present on an exceptional occasion, on which a great number of most interesting and tremendously sincere speeches have been made from both sides of the House. Everyone who took part showed a deep and genuine desire to see a solution found to this very unhappy problem.
The right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Bottomley) and others were good enough to recognise the sincerity of my efforts to bring about agreement between the parties in British Guiana. I particularly appreciated the very generous words of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman). My hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett) summed up much that had been said, when he said that most hon. Members who had spoken, were not sure whether the plan which I have decided upon will work, but none was able to suggest any other solution.
No one during the course of this debate has said how he would solve the problem differently from the manner in which I have proposed, except possibly—I am not sure if he meant it—the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East, who hinted that it might perhaps have been better to suspend the constitution, as was done on a previous occasion. I think that on reflection the House will feel that that is the last step which the British Government should take and that, despite all the difficulties and uncertainties through which we are now passing, we ought to hesitate very much before suspending the constitution.
The right hon. Member said that he wished my decision had been as wise as it had been bold. My right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) said that he considered my plan to be unusual but right. The right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East, who opened the debate, agreed with my objective, but doubted 156 whether my scheme would achieve it. He thought that my intervention in British Guiana would be as unfortunate as my interventions elsewhere. I think that he was a little unfair there, but this is all good stuff in a debate.
The right hon. Gentleman quoted one or two examples of where he thought that my intervention had been so unfortunate. One was in regard to Kashmir. I think that I am entitled to remind him of the reaction of his hon. Friends to my journey to Kashmir. After I had made my statement on my return from India, and had explained to the House the efforts which I had made to try and bring about negotiations between India and Pakistan on the question of Kashmir, this is what the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) said:The whole House will feel that the right hon. Gentleman's journey was both necessary and valuable and would wish to congratulate him on its results."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December, 1962; Vol. 668, c. 936.]Therefore, I do not think that that jibe was altogether justified; but let us leave it at that.
I should like to start by dealing with a few specific points raised in the debate before I come to the main issues that were discussed. The right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), who always makes such a valuable contribution from his own personal experience in debates of this kind, said that proportional representation was too complicated a system and that it would have been much simpler for less sophisticated people to vote by the "first past the post" system. I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman in the least. Under the system which we have here, one has to put a cross against the name of a candidate. It is not always easy, as we know ourselves when we go into a polling booth, to remember exactly who is the party candidate we wish to support. He is not usually identified, whereas under a proportional representation system the process is very much simpler.
The right hon. Gentleman suggested that one had to put a cross against 1, 5, 8, 12 or 19, or whatever the figure might be, but that is not the system that is proposed. In the case of British Guiana, as in the case of most countries that go in for this kind of proportional representation, there will be the possibility of 157 voting for party lists. It will be quite simple to put one's cross against one party list, and in that way cast one's vote for all the candidates on that list. If people want to pick and choose they can do so; but that is a very sophisticated form of voting, for one candidate in one list and another in another. This is quite a simple system and should not give rise to undue difficulty.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Sir Douglas Marshall) pointed out that the existing electoral system has been open to a great deal of criticism for a long time, has given rise to many allegations of cheating and impropriety of all kinds, and is by no means an ideal arrangement, and that therefore there is no strong case on electoral grounds for preserving the present system. Several hon. Members have criticised the decision to require electors to apply for registration. Hitherto people have been placed on the register automatically on the basis of reports from what are called enumerators, who go from house to house compiling a list of persons whom they consider eligible to vote.
Under the new system the elector will have to go to the registrar and secure from him his identity card. It is of course true that that means that people who do not bother to register will not have the vote, but on the other hand, I think that this system will avoid a great deal of cheating, or allegations of cheating, since representatives of the political parties will be allowed to be present at the process of registration in order to see that there is fair play.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) and other hon. Members asked why we had adopted the system of fingerprinting, and not photographs for identification. Apart from the practical difficulties and expense of photographing 250,000 people, some of them in remote areas, we are satisfied from experience in other countries, such as Singapore and Tanganyika, that fingerprints are, in fact, a more reliable method of identification than photographs. I understand that when the identity of anyone is challenged at the polling station, that person is asked to put his thumb on the ink pad and on the paper, and that it is comparatively easy, even for people who are not fingerprint experts, to see whether those 158 fingerprints are obviously different. I am not an expert in this matter, but this is a system which has been adopted very successfully in a number of countries, and I have no reason to suppose that it will not be successful in British Guiana.
My hon. Friend the Member for Devonport, I am glad to say, took this opportunity to express her praise of the police and of the British troops in British Guiana, and I am sure the whole House will wish to join with her and with me in expressing our appreciation.
The House may like to know that I have just heard from the Governor that the police, who are very efficient in this matter, have just discovered a number of deposits of arms buried underground in the sugar plantations, including submachine guns and quite a quantity of ammunition. I will not say any more on that matter today because investigations are going on, but I thought the House would like to know that the police are constantly vigilant in this matter.
The right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East said that I had spoilt the reputation of my office by imposing an altogether one-sided solution. First, I should like to make it clear that I did not impose any solution at all. In 1962, when we had the conference in London, I might have decided, in view of the total deadlock between the parties, that the only thing to do was to impose a solution, and there were a lot of people who thought that that was the right thing to do. But I decided not to do so. Instead, I asked the delegates to go back to British Guiana, and to have further consultations among themselves to see if they could not reach agreement.
Again in 1963, when we had our conference last October, I might at a certain moment have said, "I will impose a solution". But I did not. I said perfectly clearly, "I am not willing to impose a solution. If you cannot agree among yourselves, then the conference must again be adjourned." But rather than see that happen, they decided to ask me to arbitrate and to take a decision, and they promised to accept the decision which I might take.
The hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) said that my past efforts to obtain agreement between them, which had been going on for a 159 year, both in London and when I went to British Guiana to talk to them on the spot, had led them to expect that I would take a decision—I think these were his words—"which would accommodate both sides".
§ Mr. Brockway
I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was referring to the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman and the confidence which he created during the proceedings at the Lancaster House Conference.
§ Mr. Sandys
I am very glad of that. Not only in 1962, not only in British Guiana, but during the conference in 1963, too, I very genuinely tried, up to the last moment, to bring about agreement between the parties. It is not surprising, therefore, that they felt that I was sincere in my desire to find agreement, and that it was only in the event of failure to reach agreement that I was really prepared to consider arbitrating.
I assure hon. Members that it is no fun arbitrating in a matter of this kind. There has been reference to Malta. I was asked to arbitrate there, but I refused. There are some hot potatoes which I am not prepared to take hold of. [Laughter.]
The hon. Member for Eton and Slough said that it had been expected that I would take a decision which would accommodate both sides. Those were his words. I was at a loss to know what he meant. What was this solution which would accommodate both sides?
§ Mr. Brockway
I suggested it during my speech. I said that, when the mission of good will from Ghana went there, extraordinary concessions were made by Dr. Jagan's side and, if the right hon. Gentleman had followed these up, we might not have been in the situation we are now.
§ Mr. Sandys
All I can say is that the parties are still as far apart as they were before.
The hon. Gentleman said that I had acted not as an arbitrator but as a protagonist of one side, and the hon. Member 160 for Birmingham, Northfield at one point said very much the same. The duty of an arbitrator, in my view, is not to produce some unworkable compromise. It is to decide what he thinks best. We had been trying for two years to bring about agreement. Having failed in that, I should have produced the worst of all possible worlds if I had sat down and said, "I will give a bit to one side and a bit to the other and produce a system which is neither first past the post nor proportional representation but a mixture of the two; for example, the one for the upper Chamber and the other for the lower Chamber", or something like that. That would not have been a responsible thing to do. I was given the responsibility for doing what I thought was best for British Guiana, and that is what I did.
On this difficult question of proportional representation or first past the post, there is no doubt that the decision was bound to please one side and displease the other. No other result was possible. Those who asked me to arbitrate must have been fully alive to this. Of course, some may have thought that I would give a decision in their favour, and others might have thought that I would give it to them. I do not know. But no one could have been under any illusion but that the decision was bound to please one and displease the other.
The right hon. Member for Llanelly said that my decision would have the result of making a large section of the population feel that the new constitution had been imposed against their wishes.
§ Mr. Sandys
A section. This is so, of course, but the fact remains that the parties representing 57 per cent. of the electors at the last election were in favour of proportional representation; though I tell the House frankly that that is not the reason why I came to the decision I did: I came to it for the reasons I have already explained to the House on an earlier occasion. Therefore, my decision cannot be criticised on the ground that it was undemocratic.
In the absence of agreement, there were only two alternatives; to allow the situation to drift on without any decision and postpone independence indefinitely; or to leave it to the British Government 161 to take the decision. As I have said, the leaders in British Guiana decided to take the second course. They asked me to arbitrate and they promised to accept my ruling.
The right hon. Member for Llanelly recognised that both main parties are racial parties, yet—and this I find difficult to understand—he criticised proportional representation on the ground that no single party would get an absolute majority, and that this would make a coalition inevitable. But surely that is a most desirable result. That is what we have been trying to do all the time. We have been trying to get these parties to agree to form a coalition. We failed. If as a result of this decision of mine we bring about that result, I cannot see why the right hon. Gentleman would be unhappy about it.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
No constitution will work unless there is a will to work it, and that means a will among both races to work together.
§ Mr. Sandys
We can all say that it would be very nice if they agreed and if they all worked happily together. But the basic problem is that they do not work together. Therefore, in one way or another, we must try to produce a system which will oblige them to work together; and that is the purpose of my decision. Whether it works out like that, I cannot say. All I can say is that no one in the course of this debate has suggested any other method.
The right hon. Member for Llanelly and others urged a postponement of the new constitution to give the Commonwealth Prime Ministers, at their conference, a chance to try their hand and to find a solution. On the other hand, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport and others urged me in the opposite sense—to go ahead without any further delay. If I thought that the Prime Ministers' Conference were likely to produce an agreed solution, I should not hesitate, even at this stage, to hold everything up—I certainly would not.
But I ask hon. Members, what grounds there are for believing that, in the few hours available to the Commonwealth Prime Ministers, they could find a basis for agreement when all others 162 have hitherto failed. The British Government have failed after two years of effort. The Government of Ghana, who recently sent a good will mission to British Guiana, failed also. As has been said in this debate, the Prime Ministers of the two Commonwealth countries most closely connected—Trinidad and Jamaica—hive said publicly that, although they do not like proportional representation in principle they could not see what else we could have done.
For these reasons, I do not believe that there would be any advantage in further prolonging the uncertainty. This could only increase the tension and with it, the danger of further violence. I believe therefore that we must go ahead with the plan, and we must hope—I have considerable confidence in it—that it will produce the results for which it was designed.
The hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) said that the aim of my decision was to defeat Dr. Jagan. I am glad to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay stood up for me and said that that was most unfair. The object of my decision was stated, I think the House will agree, with absolute and unequivocal frankness in the Report. There was no mincing of words. I said exactly what was in my mind—exactly the reasons which had led me to this decision. The objective of our policy remains unchanged. It is to give British Guiana independence as soon as can be done in conditions of peace and stability. That is our aim—independence. I assure the people of British Guiana that Britain gains no advantage by governing them. It is a military and financial burden, and causes us considerable international political embarrassment. The sooner we are relieved of these duties, the better we shall be pleased.
The sole reason for maintaining British rule is that we and the rest of the world, would think it irresponsible to get out in circumstances which would lead almost certainly to civil war between the two racial communities. British Guiana is plagued by mutual fear and suspicion between the Indians and the Negroes. Although each of them would like independence, neither wants it under the rule of the other. This intense inter-racial animosity has 163 largely been engendered in recent years by the identification of race with political parties. In fact, racial politics is at the root of the present trouble.
It is, therefore, one of the deliberate aims of our policy to encourage a realignment of political loyalties on multiracial lines. That is the main reason why, when asked to arbitrate, I decided in favour of proportional representation. After much thought and discussion, I was convinced that the introduction of this system offered the best hope of bringing about political groupings across the racial boundaries.
The aim of our policy can be stated quite simply. It is to bring back a sense of security and mutual trust, and to banish the fear which haunts that unhappy country. It is not such a long time ago that both races were able to live peaceably side by side. Nobody will dispute the rightness of our objective. Those who question the method by which we seek to achieve it have, as I have already said, suggested no alternative, other than to go on as we are. That is a counsel of despair, for there is no 164 reason to suppose that the disease would be cured by a policy of inaction and drift. A surgical operation is needed and that is what we are trying to perform.
All who care about the peace and happiness of British Guiana must surely wish us success. I therefore appeal to all parties, there and here, to give us their support and co-operation in this difficult, but essential task. I appeal to them also, as has been done by so many hon. Members today, to put an end to violence and bloodshed.
§ 10.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Bottomley
Nobody can be in any doubt about the difficulties confronting the Secretary of State. What we are challenging is his judgment. Time, and time alone, will show who is right. I have placed on record the views of the Opposition and in view of the pleas which have been made that if we were to force a Division, this might exacerbate feelings and cause more violence, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.