§ Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [14th June], That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ Question again proposed.
§ 10.4 a.m.
§ Mr. Speaker
When the debate was adjourned last Wednesday, the hon. Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Robert Howarth) was addressing the House, but he does not seem to be here. Mr. Fitt.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
In moving the Second Reading last Wednesday, my hon. Friend the Minister of State stated—and I readily agree with her—that although this was a small Bill it was of the utmost importance. She said:The object of this very short but important Bill is to enable a new Constitution to be established for Bermuda.Later, she added:Provision will … be made to safeguard fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual and to ensure the independence of the judiciary and the public service."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th June, 1967; Vol. 748, c. 480.]Again, I heartily agree. But I suggest that the time to go out of our way to make provision for the protection of fundamental rights in Bermuda is now, before a new constitution is drawn up. It is fortunate that the debate was adjourned last Wednesday because, in the interval, many hon. Members have had time to inquire further into the facts and the circumstances of the Bill and I believe that I myself have been able to elicit a great deal of further information.
For example, in opening the debate for the Opposition last Wednesday, the hon. Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett) said that it was only within recent years that he had noticed racial tensions emerging in Bermuda. I was 1032 in Bermuda on four or five occasions as a merchant seaman between 1941 and 1953. I met many Bermudans. I was not taken on conducted tours but I met ordinary working class people of Bermuda, both coloured and white. In the inquiries I have made in the past few days, I have found that increasing tension has been emerging in Rhodesia—[HON. MEMBERS: "Bermuda."]—Bermuda. The problem is so much the same, but I hope that it will not be as difficult.
The problem now with us in Bermuda began to come to light in 1947, when a petition was presented through the Governor of the island to this House. Objections were made in the petition to the system then operating in Bermuda and these objections were put before the late Arthur Creech Jones, then Colonial Secretary, asking that steps be taken to redress many of the injustices which existed in the island at the time. There was quite a litany of problems, including anti-trade union legislation and the non-existence of proper trade union legislation. But, far and away beyond this, was the objection raised in paragraph (6) of the document then presented to Mr. Creech Jones. It said:Your Petitioners are quite convinced that almost all of the political, economic and social disabilities suffered by the inhabitants of this ancient and loyal Colony have their foundation in the fact that the Parliamentary franchise is extremely limited.In his answer to the Governor, later passed to the House of Assembly, Mr. Creech Jones said:I have given careful consideration to this petition and in the light of the memorandum enclosed with your dispatch I cannot escape the conclusion that it calls for close and serious attention by those responsible for the conduct of affairs in Bermuda.It will be seen that the problem is not a recent one. It has its beginnings in the unrest and discontent which began to appear in 1947. It was obvious then that the greatest ill existing was the unequal franchise. From 1942 until 1960, steps were taken to change the form of franchise. New constituency boundaries were drawn between 1961–62 and the franchise was extended to give the vote to those who had not previously had that right.
One would have thought that this would have ended the problem, but the system remained. This can be seen by 1033 the fact that in the division of Pembroke, North at the last election there were 4,977 electors. Of that figure, 4,381 were coloured. In Southampton, West there were 331 electors, of whom 132 were coloured. Each of these constituencies sends two members to the Assembly, yet there is this great discrepancy in the electorate. This system made the wrongs more blatant and understandable to those involved.
As one representing Northern Ireland and very concerned with gerrymandering at all levels, I take it upon myself to make a plea to the hon. Lady that, before going ahead with this Bill, she will determine the feelings of the ordinary people in Bermuda. If we go ahead and accept the recommendations of the Boundary Commission, we are sowing the seeds of discontent and within a few years we will have a situation such as that existing in Watts County.
The hon. Member for Torquay gave as one of the reasons why discontent had become apparent in recent years the fact that American newspapers were readily available in Bermuda. I do not accept this. Where there is a relatively affluent society and a reasonably high standard of living, where there is no reason for discontent and all people are treated as equals, it would take a good deal more than American newspapers to create this discontent and to bring people on to the streets to fight for their rights.
It was said last week that there are two copies of the Boundary Commission Report in the Library. I claim responsibility for having them placed there, because I rang the Colonial Affairs Office, and asked that this should be done. I am one of the fortunate Members who has received a copy personally. In the absence of the recommendations of the Boundary Commission being made available to all Members of this House, the Minister should not proceed with this Bill, because the House is in no position to make a decision.
Are hon. Members aware that the acceptance of the Report was not unanimous in the House of Assembly in Bermuda? The voting was 19 to seven, with nine abstentions. This shows anything but unanimity in the acceptance of the Report. A total of 15 elected members of the Assembly attended the Ber- 1034 muda Conference in London. They returned home with instructions to draw up a report relating to constituencies.
When the debate on the Report took place in Committee in Bermuda it was found that of those 15 members six voted for, and they were aided by the Speaker, who, unlike yourself, Sir, can be rather partisan, and speak and vote on issues. Seven out of the 15 who attended the Conference supported the recommendations of the Commission. Six people who had been to the Conference voted against and two abstained. So out of those 15 members there was a majority against accepting the proposal of the Boundary Commission. With such a division of opinion it ill-becomes any hon. Member of this House to agree to this Measure.
I am placed in a rather unusual position. I have recently been reading a book by Sir Winston Churchill, published in 1936, "Great Contemporaries". He was speaking of Charles Stewart Parnell and the part that he played in the Irish Parliamentary Party in defence of colonial peoples. He said:In every movement of reform, now achieved and long surpassed, Parnell brought the Irish Parliamentary Party to the aid of the most advanced and challenging forces in British public life.I hope that in a small way I am carrying on this tradition this morning.
I have a more personal reason, because I believe that the House is being asked to endorse a vicious gerrymander in the oldest Parliament in the Commonwealth. It is a Parliament which has been in existence since 1620. I know that in Northern Ireland some people believe that the world began in 1690, but the Bermuda Parliament has been in existence since 1620.
The Report of the Boundary Commission provides for the perpetuation of a gerrymander. In the constituency of Devonshire, the boundaries have been so drawn as to make it a racial division. On the one side there is the coloured working class and on the other there are the white electors. One must ask: why gerrymander in the first place? One does not gerrymander from a purely academic point of view. The logical sequence to a gerrymander, to an unfair distribution of electors and the rigging of boundaries, is that one section of the electors receives favoured treatment from the party in 1035 power. Once we accept the underlying principle of gerrymandering—that it is meant to divide the people on political lines so that one section of them will vote for a particular party, whether it be on grounds of politics, race, religion or colour—the people who gain from the existence of the gerrymandering will be placed in the role of first-class citizens vis-à-vis the people who are denied their just rights by the existence of the gerrymander.
We have had a great deal of experience of this, not only in the Commonwealth, but in parts of the United Kingdom. In my maiden speech in this House—
§ Mr. Speaker
Parnell learnt the rules of the House by breaking all of them in turn. The hon. Gentleman must keep in order.
§ Mr. Fitt
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I am drawing this parallel because we already have experience of the discontent which can arise from the existence of gerrymandering. I am making a plea to my hon. Friend the Minister of State to ensure that the same thing does not happen in Bermuda. I do not wish to see exist in Bermuda the trouble, discontent, division and schisms which exist in my homeland. That is all that I wish to say on that point. I know that it will be accepted by my hon. Friend with the sincerity with which it was said.
At the Constitutional Conference it was recommended to the people in attendance that a person of high legal status from Britain should go to Bermuda to inquire into the system of registration and to see whether it could be improved. This recommendation was accepted. The idea was to see whether the system could be abolished or whether the British system of registration could be implanted in Bermuda. But the person who went there did not do that. He said in his report that the terms of reference which were given to him prevented him from changing the registration system and implementing the British system in Bermuda. He said that all he could do was to see how the existing system of 1036 registration could be improved. There has been a gross misinterpretation of the thinking of the people who attended the Constitutional Conference. I think that before the Bill is given a Second Reading the Minister should clarify this very important point.
In his report, Mr. Hucks said that under the system in operation 63 per cent. of the people were registered as voters. With the improvements which he has recommended, this would be increased by 7 per cent. If the recommendation of Mr. Hucks is accepted, 70 per cent. of the people will be registered rather than 63 per cent. This is certainly not a dramatic improvement. If the system under which we operate in these islands —and I am prepared to say that it is the best system for registration which is available, not only in this part of the world, but in any other part—is good enough for the United Kingdom it must be suitable for the less fortunate people of Bermuda.
There is embodied in the Boundary Commission's Report something which is tantamount to an acceptance of the fact that there is a race problem in Bermuda. The report of the Constitutional Conference said that no regard should be paid to race or colour in the drawing of constituency boundaries. But the fact that Devonshire has been drawn on white and black lines and racial lines makes it clear that those who were in charge of drawing up the Boundary Commission's Report did pay regard to race and colour. In the Pembroke constituency, the majority of the electors are not the coloured but the white working class. It may not be generally known that in Bermuda there are three classes: the coloured working class, the Portuguese working class and the dominating white master race.
If we pass the Bill in its present form without knowing all the ramifications of the discussions which have taken place in Bermuda over the past two or three weeks, we shall be in no position to give a decision.
On the question of the ability to stand for Parliament, we are operating in a vacuum. Last week, the Minister said that no decision had been taken. My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) said that, according to his 1037 information, a decision had been taken that no change should be made. If the present system is continued, the vast majority of the working class people will he debarred from standing as candidates for Parliament. Would my hon. Friend let us know whether this is the case? Has a decision been taken by the Select Committee that no change should be made, or has a decision been taken by the United Bankers Party, which would be more correctly entitled the United Bermudan Party, that, irrespective of the deliberations of the Select Committee, it will not accept that changes should be made which would open up candidature for Parliament to a lot of people who were previously debarred? This is very important. The passing of the Bill is not of great urgency. Surely the House would be better advised to take a decision when it is aware of all the facts than in a vacuum.
The Bill makes provision in subsection (2) and (3) of Clause 1 that the supreme responsibility for the operation of government in Bermuda rests with this House. Subsection (2) provides:Any Order in Council under this section may vary or revoke, or provide for the variation or revocation of, any Letters Patent relating to the government of Bermuda, any instrument issued in pursuance of any such Letters Patent, or any law relating to the government of Bermuda and made by any legislature for the time being constituted as the legislature of Bermuda.If the Bill is unfortunately pushed through the House this morning, and if in the months which lie ahead it becomes apparent that racialism is emerging in Bermuda, will the British Parliament be prepared to act? That is what the subsections mean. Are we prepared to take a stand?
As most of my hon. Friends and I understand subsections (2) and (3), they read suspiciously like the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, by Section 75 of which full responsibilityover all persons, matters, and thingsin Northern Ireland was retained in this House. We have, however, noted the decided reluctance over the years to implement that Section of the Act in defence of many objections which have been raised.
I am drawing a parallel with what I see in the Bill. I am asking my hon. 1038 Friend the Minister of State this: if in the years which lie ahead it becomes apparent that action is necessary to be taken by the British Government, will we, take that action or will we be told that a convention has been built up that those things are not done and that if we were to do those things we would be breaking the convention? Such a convention has existed concerning Northern Ireland for over 40 years. It has existed in Bermuda, not for 40 years, but for six months, and is in process of being built up. Before I can support the Bill, I want to make certain that if action is necessary to be taken by the British Government, it will be taken and in no uncertain manner.
I ask my hon. Friend the Minister of State, with all the sincerity at my command, to accept the arguments which I have put forward. If I believed that the Boundary Commission in Bermuda would lead to a more happy and contented existence for the majority of people in that island, I would have no hesitation in accepting and supporting it. In view, however, of the history in my own homeland, I must question what is liable to happen in Bermuda.
I say again to my hon. Friend that there is no great urgency for the Bill until we have had a report from the Select Committee about whether it will change the law concerning candidates. Let us wait until we have had a report from those who were in attendance at the constitutional conference who objected to the Boundary Commission's proposal.
Would it not be right and proper, in fact, that the people of Bermuda should be given a chance to decide what their constitution and what the boundary commission should be? There are only 50,000 people in the island. We could carry out a referendum within a week in Bermuda, the same as we are to do in Gibraltar in the latter part of the year, or is it a fact that one carries out a, referendum only when one is sure that the result will be in one's favour? The people of Bermuda should have a chance to decide their own political destiny in this connection.
I ask my hon. Friend to take note of the objections which were raised last week by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking and another hon. Member on 1039 this side, who voiced sincerely-held suspicions, and the objections which I, too, have voiced. I have no doubt that other hon. Members will wish to speak. I ask my hon. Friend to take all these into consideration and not to attempt to push the Bill through this morning. I believe that if our suspicions could be allayed in any way, we would certainly be prepared to support the Bill.
§ 10.34 a.m.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills (Belfast, North)
I wish to intervene merely to join in the expressions of good wishes to Bermuda on her independence and to follow briefly the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). You may recall, Mr. Speaker, the interesting precedent in the days of Parnell, when Tim Healy delivered a lengthy and ornate speech on the problems of Uganda and then, at the end of that lengthy speech, which I think occupied the House for three-quarters of an hour, said, "Mr. Speaker, did I say Uganda throughout my speech? I really meant to say Ireland". I thought that the hon. Member for Belfast, West would follow that precedent.
§ Mr. Mills
The hon. Member for Belfast, West made a very interesting speech, to which I certainly listened with rapt attention, as I noticed did you, Mr. Speaker. However, he made a number of charges of gerrymandering and charges of a constitutional nature. As the hon. Member tends to say things of that kind everywhere he looks, I hope that the Minister of State, if I may say this politely, will take them with a slight pinch of salt.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West is following close to the traditions of Parnell. It will be recalled that the main thing that Parnell did was to bore the House—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member must not himself be tempted to follow the traditions of Parnell. He must come to the Bill.
§ Mr. Mills
I will try on all occasions, Mr. Speaker, to avoid anything of 1040 the traditions of Parnell. I merely say that on this occasion the House listened to the hon. Member with great tolerance and I certainly do not wish to raise the temperature. I merely conclude, as I began, by expressing my good wishes to the people of Bermuda on independence.
§ 10.36 a.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
When this matter was debated in the House last week I was in Committee upstairs, and I would not have intervened in these discussions—because I am no expert on Bermuda and have never been there—had not my reading of HANSARD over the weekend persuaded me that some general principles were involved in this decision. It is not a decision which can be regarded as one which has no effect outside Bermuda, because whatever decision is taken by this House is the responsibility of this House.
Therefore, we are all responsible for what happens in any legislation to which we are party. We cannot slide out by saying, "I know nothing about Bermuda. Bermuda is nothing to do with me. Therefore, what happens in this connection is not my responsibility and I am not concerned with it." We have a responsibility and we are concerned. Therefore, when I read HANSARD over the weekend and saw that there were some general issues, I intended to ask my hon. Friend the Minister of State to answer certain questions.
I have, however, been anticipated in some degree by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) in his entertaining and instructive speech. Therefore, it is not necessary to ask some of those questions, because he has already asked them and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will reply to them in due course. They are important questions.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State said on 14th June, repeating her words from an earlier occasion:Any constitution is an interim constitution. I think that you must regard constitutional development as a steady process. Bermuda's new constitution is a very big advance on the previous one. It will be a good thing if people are interested enough to discuss how it will evolve further. If there is a demand"—this is the point—for further change, then further change will no doubt occur.1041 My hon. Friend added thatFrankly I do not think one could put the position more fairly."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th June, 1967; Vol. 748, c. 484.]I do not quarrel with that—it is fair enough—but it is rather less than positive. My hon. Friend said:…then further change will no doubt occur.What we would like to know is how further change will occur. What about the responsibilities of this House in relation to further change? Some of the questions are not absolutely clear, because I have read the Bill and it seems to suggest that the responsibility for ensuring further change will rest with us in the House of Commons. What degree of responsibility will it be?
It seems to me that there is danger in establishing a constitution in which a certain party has a privileged position. I have not known of any constitution in which a certain group which has been established in a privileged position has readily given up its privileges. As my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West has pointed out, privileges were established in Northern Ireland for a certain group, in that case a religious group. The question to which one addresses oneself on this occasion is whether the privileges which are being established in the Bermuda Constitution—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman must leave Northern Ireland out of this. I have prevented even hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies from talking about it.
§ Mr. Jenkins
Mr. Speaker, I have no intention of talking about Northern Ireland. I was asking simply whether the privileges being established in this Constitution—because I do not think that anyone would argue—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman was making an assertion which could lead to a debate on Northern Ireland, all of which would be out of order.
§ Mr. Jenkins
Mr. Speaker, I am not talking about Northern Ireland. I am talking about Bermuda and the Report of the Boundaries Commission under the Boundaries Act, 1967. I am pointing out that paragraph 6 of that Report shows that the effect of the terms laid down 1042 by the Conference majority Report are, generally speaking, to make working class and coloured constituencies almost four times the size of wealthy and white ones. That creates a privileged group in Bermuda, and I am asking what provision there is in the Bill to ensure that that privileged group does not decide to hang on to its privileges, as is the custom among privileged groups throughout the world. The fact that this occurs in Northern Ireland is merely an example.
I turn now to a point which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) in a well-informed speech and also by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg), who said:The second most important aspect of the Report is the promise of consultations to widen the basis of candidature. At present—and this is a most extraordinary aspect of the undemocratic system in Bermuda—all public servants are debarred from standing for the House of Assembly.That is an extraordinary state of affairs. In paragraph 15 of the Report of the Constitutional Conference it is said that:The Conference agreed that the present law by which all persons paid from public funds are disqualified from membership of the Legislature should be reconsidered. The United Bermuda Party representatives said that their Party would consult with the Progressive Labour Party and the Independents in the House of Assembly on this matter with a view to the alteration of the law.That alteration has not taken place. What we should like to know is whether it is to take place. The words,with a view to the alteration of the laware important in that connection.
My I remind hon. Members of the Motion which was signed by a number of hon. Members of this House, saying:That this House will decline to enact any legislation enabling additional powers to be granted to the Legislature of the Colony of Bermuda until such time as that Legislature has provided by law that the House of Assembly of the Island shall be composed of members elected from constituencies of approximately equal population delimited without regard to colour or social status.That has not happened, but we are asked, in other words, to do precisely what that Motion said we would not do. If we are to do it, we must be assured that what we want to see comes about, 1043 and that it is fairly well assured in the Bill that it will come about.
We cannot see precisely what the Order in Council says, because we have not got it. It would have been happier if we had had it. We are told what it will say, but in the present situation the precise wording is important. My hon. Friend the Member for Barking asked whether the House will have an opportunity of debating the Order in Council itself. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will reply to that question later on if the opportunity is given to her, as I am sure that it will be.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, West pointed out thatClause 1(4) of the Bill seems quite straightforward in its provision that Orders in Council will be laid before Parliament so that we shall be able to look at some of these settlements later".But is that the case? It seems to me that that is a most important question, but it is one which is in doubt. I would not press it if I did not think that it was in doubt, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will be able to reassure us.
A number of hon. Members have referred to the fact that public servants will not be able to offer themselves for election. It is not only a question of higher civil servants, which one might understand in a small community, because one can appreciate that higher civil servants would find it difficult to stand for Parliament, and the decision that public servants above a certain level should not stand would have justification. However, I understand that it applies to such people as teachers, bus drivers and conductors, and certain manual workers in the direct employ of the State. If that is so, it is going altogether too far.
As was pointed out by the hon. Member for Rye (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine), paragraph 6 of the Report of the Constitutional Conference says:There was general agreement, the Progressive Labour Party representatives dissenting, that all shades of political opinion in Bermuda were represented at the Conference.He went on:… it is clear that there was general agreement at the conference that all shades of political opinion were represented.1044 He left out the reference to the Progressive Labour Party's dissent from that agreement, and that dissent is an important factor. After all, it is that party which believes that it would secure power in the island if the Constitution were a fair and equal one and not only one man, one vote, which it is, but one man, one equal vote.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State has said that considerable progress has been made. Some of the votes of the coloured population have been increased in value. I understand that they are something of the order of one-tenth of the value of the vote of a white person, and they are to be increased to about one-third. If we are to accept a proposition of that sort, we must be sure that, eventually, one man, one vote means as nearly as possible, one man, one equal vote.
Even in our own community, votes cannot be completely equal. From time to time, we have to alter boundaries to restore reasonable equity throughout the country. But what assurance have we that a similar view would be taken in Bermuda of the necessity to march towards equity as that taken in our own country? That point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Rowland) when he said:What hon. Members on this side of the House are trying to get clear is that if the party representing the majority of the popular vote, which may have only a minority of members in the new Legislation, want change the British Government will consider it even if the majority of members are still reluctant to go any further forward.My hon. Friend the Minister of State will do us all a great service if she replies to that point, as I am sure that she will.
I want finally to comment on the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Robert Howarth). I am sorry that he is not here this morning, because I take amiss the reference which he made to Mr. Geoffrey Bing. He said:… his rôle in Africa, from which he did not dissociate himself—he was thrown out after the changes in Ghana—makes him very suspect."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 14th June, 1967, Vol. 748, c. 494, 502, 507, 512, 517.]The reason for my hon. Friend saying that is that Mr. Bing is constitutional adviser to the Progressive Labour Party. It was unfortunate that that remark 1045 should have been made, because Mr. Bing was at one time a distinguished Member of this House. He is still a member of the Labour Party, he is a Queen's Counsel and a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George.
Mr. Bing is a leading barrister, and the point should be made that while he was in Ghana he was a civil servant. The position of the Attorney-Genera] there is not a political appointment, as in this House, and I believe that this has given rise to a great deal of confusion about his rôle in Ghana.
It is regrettable that my hon. Friend should have made these references, and I hope that when he sees what I have said and looks into the position which Mr. Bing occupied in Ghana, and possibly when he reads Mr. Bing's forthcoming book he will see fit to withdraw them, because if the position was that every civil servant was responsible for the actions of the Government which he advises civil servants would indeed be in a difficult position, and some gentlemen in that box would soon be in some other box rather than that one.
§ Mr. Jenkins
Mr. Speaker, I accept your Ruling entirely. You are, as always, absolutely right. Hiving made the remarks that I wanted to make, and having asked the questions that I wanted to ask, I propose to sit down, and I look forward to hearing the answers in due course.
§ 10.51 a.m.
§ Mr. R. Chichester-Clark (Londonderry)
I welcome the opportunity to relieve the anxieties of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) in connection with Clause 1(2). He was worried about the possible future operation of a Convention, and in this connection he referred to Section 75 of another Act. I remind the hon. Gentleman that Section 75 does not stand on its own, but has to be seen in the context of Section 1(2) of the Ireland Act, 1949, and specific declarations by several Prime Ministers and other senior Ministers of the House since then. I therefore think that the hon. Gentleman was making a false comparison, and that he need have no worries on that score.
1046 Finally, I add my voice to those who have wished the Bill a smooth passage. I hope that there is nothing in it—in fact, I am sure there is not—which will ever lead to the election of a member of the Legislature there who will use even a sporting occasion to utter sentences of bigotry and intolerance and be condemned for uttering them in such terms not only by members of my party but by members of the Labour Party, as was the hon. Member for Belfast, West.
§ 10.53 a.m.
§ Miss Joan Lestor (Eton and Slough)
Unfortunately, like my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins), I, too, was delayed in a Committee last week when this Measure was debated and, therefore, was not able to attend, but I have had made available to me all the necessary documents, including the relevant copy of HANSARD, and I therefore feel that I am fully acquainted with what has taken place so far.
During the debate last week the hon. Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett) said,We in this House would be very foolish if we were to encourage any steps that would damage such a notable achievement."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th June, 1967; Vol. 748. c. 486.]He was referring to what he called the economic advance of Bermuda and the standard of living there, which he said compared favourably with that of Canada and the United States of America. This is true, and I accept it. Likewise, we would be very foolish to endorse a constitution which prevented further advance or placed difficulties and sanctions in the way of it and put the constitution in the hands of people who might be able to use it for their own ends.
I would like now to discuss what seems to me to be a contradiction in the attitudes towards the standard of living there, as expressed by one or two hon. Members last week. Reference was made to this in the Daily Telegraph recently and the problem was foreseen by Mr. Creech Jones, in 1947, when he asked for a system of direct taxation for Bermuda to alleviate the poverty which he could see would not be alleviated without some change in the structure.
1047 In October, 1966, just before the constitutional conference, the Daily Telegraph carried an article which said:There are no old-age pensions, no low-cost housing schemes, no unemployment insurance. The level of education is very low by British standards, and trade unions are only slowly being accepted …Negroes feel at a disadvantage in getting jobs, and claim that the Board of Immigration admits unskilled volunteers too easily …The population is now 48,000 and is growing …There is no income tax, no estate duties, no profits tax, and no laws against monopolies.If U.B.P. gets its own way in the coming constitutional talks, particularly on the electoral boundaries issue, the present system will ossify and the grip of the oligarchy will tighten.As I read the Constitution which we are being asked to endorse—and I hope that my hon. Friend will clarify this when she replies—it seems that the proposed new Upper Chamber will have the power to veto any taxation Bill which it is desired to introduce. If this is so, it seems that we shall be bequeathing to Bermuda a constitution which will militate against economic advancement and against the policies of a Labour Party, or any progressive party, which comes to power and wishes to change the taxation laws.
I propose next to deal with the question of the Boundaries Commission to which reference has already been made. One of the most important things in an electoral and voting system is that, as far as possible, there is equality in how people vote, and how their votes are expressed. This should cut across class and race. Much discussion has taken place on these proposed new boundaries, and from my reading of the minutes of the House of Assembly it appears that there is a good deal of doubt among those who first made these suggestions.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) said, at the conference 11 Members of the House of Assembly signed the majority Report, three submitted a minority Report, and one member abstained. When the final boundaries were presented to the House of Assembly, of the original 11 who voted for them two voted against, Mr. Francis and Mr. Ratteray, and two abstained. One can hardy say, therefore, 1048 that the proposal was carried even by a majority of the Members who first made the recommendations.
When the matter was considered in the Assembly, of the 36 Members one, the Chairman of the Committee, did not vote, 16, plus the Speaker, voted for the recommendation, nine voted against, and nine abstained. I therefore think that when we are bequeathing a Constitution to a country bent on independence we want to be sure that all the people who will have to operate it and serve under it are assured that it is workable and is not likely to militate against the interests of certain sections of the community. I hope that my hon. Friend will deal with this, too, when she replies to the debate.
I want now to come back to the question of registration, because this is something which forms the basis of an electoral system. If we are not talking about democracy in Bermuda, what I am about to say does not apply. If we are merely talking about the easiest, and perhaps the cheapest, method of getting people on to the electoral register, and we are not concerned with democracy, my comments are not applicable, but if we are concerned, as I think we should be, with handing Bermuda a Constitution which is democratic, and which will involve as near as possible the majority of the electors, then the way in which the register is compiled is of paramount importance.
It has already been pointed out that because of the criticisms made of the method of registration the recommendation of the Progressive Labour Party was accepted by the Conference and it was agreed that somebody should go out from this country to decide upon the adoption of a registration system based on ours. Mr. Hucks went out and interpreted his terms of reference not from the point of view of changing the system of registration to a system like that operating here, but merely suggesting changes in the present structure in Bermuda in order to ensure that it included a few more people. It is fair to him to point out that he made certain suggestions on those lines. I ask my hon. Friend whether those suggestions will be endorsed and included in the Constitution, because we have no news about that point.
The important consideration in this respect is the difference between an automatic system and a voluntary system 1049 of registration. We have an automatic system, which is endorsed by authority. Forms are sent to people and they are asked to fill them in. If they are not completed, other people are employed to assist them in filling in the forms, in order that, as far as possible, the maximum effort is put into ensuring that the names of all those who are entitled to vote are put on the register.
In Bermuda there is a voluntary system, relying on individuals to make an effort to register in order to become eligible to vote. In such circumstances political parties have two campaigns to fight—one to ensure that their supporters' names get on to the register and then the normal fight to make sure that their supporters vote at elections. In such circumstances an important point to consider is the relative ability of various political parties to afford the added expense and inconvenience of making sure that their supporters are on the register. In agreeing to this Constitution we must try to ensure that the best method of registration is put into operation—and the method which every hon. Member considers to be the most workable and acceptable is that which operates in this country.
Another point relating to the question of a voluntary system is raised in the article in the Daily Telegraph to which I have already referred. It says:The banks are private and locally controlled.The article goes on to say thatThe general manager of the Bank of Bermuda is Sir Henry Tucker, Parliamentary leader of the U.B.P., who is also a director of the Bermuda Electric Light Company and of the Bermuda Telephone Company, and chairman of the Bermuda Broadcasting Company.Front Street is feared by the mass of the people. It takes a brave man with an overdraft or a mortgage to defy the oligarchy. Opposition by the Press is quickly slapped down. Recently a newspaper published an article mildly criticising the U.D.P The Editor was sharply reprimanded.It points out the fears of many people about voluntary registration and says that it would be preferable and much wiser to have a system of automatic registration, under which such circumstances could not arise, whether they be imaginary or factual. As far as I can make out they are factual.
1050 When my hon. Friend replies perhaps she will tell us whether the recommendations made by Mr. Hucks, for a policy which would ensure an increase in the number of people registered, have been accepted and will be put into operation.
The other point on which the conference was promised a report concerned the question of the payment of members, which is very important. If members are not paid Parliament becomes dominated by a section of the population which can afford to pay the cost of being members of Parliament. That is why we introduced payment in this country. Some people would like us to introduce a system of payment for members of local authorities, on the same argument, namely, that it is more difficult for people who have no independent means to become members. In the case of Bermuda, such people who have to rely on the good will of their employers to allow them time off to attend meetings of the Assembly should they become elected.
I understood that talks regarding the payment of members would be held and that recommendations would be made. If it is not clear to what extent the question of payment of members will be endorsed we are in danger of endorsing a constitution which militates against the democratic development of Bermuda and the democratic rights of its people not only to vote but to become candidates.
The question of people standing as candidates has also been raised. We are told that public servants cannot stand for the Assembly—although it was agreed that all-party talks would be held in order to decide how best to deal with this question. I have here a quotation from the Bermuda Sun of May, 1967 dealing with a school teacher who voted Conservative when in England. He wished to stand in Bermuda, and he said:A teacher has to give his employer three months' notice to make sure that he is not being paid out of the public treasury at the time of nomination. I think we should have the same system as in England that anyone should be free to stand as a candidate. …In the light of all the points that have been put forward it is clear that much more explanation is required about the interpretation of the Constitution. Once this Bill is passed Britain loses responsibility and future intervention becomes very difficult.
1051 Another cause for confusion arises in connection with the classification created in respect of Bermuda called "Bermuda status". In order to be nominated one must either be born in Bermuda or possess Bermuda status. I hope that my hon. Friend will refer to the relevant figures because it seems to me that Bermuda status is reserved for white people. Since the establishment of this qualification 700 white people have been granted it and six coloured people. Two of the coloured people are Dr. King and Mr. Richards, who are well known supporters of the U.D.P. If Bermuda status is to be one of the qualifications for standing for Parliament we need an explanation why 700 white people have achieved it as opposed to only 6 coloured people.
This country has a tremendous responsibility in endorsing a Constitution which will usher in independence for another country. We have a responsibility to see that what we endorse is, as far as possible, as good and valid as the system under which this country operates. If it is not, we ought to think again about the matter and consider some of the points mentioned by other hon. Members and myself, in order to make sure that when the Constitution is endorsed we can be confident that it will operate democratically and will serve the interests of all the people, irrespective of class or race.
§ 11.10 a.m.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
The hon. Gentleman has spoken already and has no right to a second speech. Erskine May indicates that it is normal to allow a second speech to the Minister, but only to other Members under special circumstances. If the House signifies its pleasure, the hon. Gentleman may speak again of course.
§ Sir F. Bennett
On a point of order. I had hoped to speak for only a couple of minutes this morning, because the circumstances are a little unusual, in that a number of speeches from the opposite benches have been directed against points of view expressed by the Opposition, supporting a Government Bill. I am not referring only to this morning's debate but also to last week's debate. If I were allowed to say a few words it would 1052 be simply to deal with these points and in no way to impinge upon the Minister's right to reply to the debate. I am perfectly willing to bow to the wishes of the House in this matter if there is any strong feeling against my speaking again.
§ Sir F. Bennett
As I said in my point of order, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak again, it would be wrong of me to seek to usurp the Minister's right of reply in this matter. This is a Government Bill, which has received general support from the Opposition.
There are two points which I would like to make. This morning the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) said that we on this side of the House had made the point that tensions had been rising recently, and that we had added that they were not present some time ago. In a rather contradictory way he went on to admit that the franchise had been rapidly extended in recent years, but added that it was the lack of a suitable franchise which had caused the extensions. Yet he said that the extensions were taking place, thus meeting his own earlier point.
Some of us have been criticised for comparing conditions in United Kingdom constituencies and the Bermudan constituencies. I would like to quote here no less an authority than the right hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Frederick Lee), a former Colonial Secretary. In an Oral Reply of 20th December, 1966, to a Question he said:The arrangements we arrived at at the conferenceas regards the franchisehave brought about a situation in which there will be far and away greater equality in voting than there has ever been before, and I would venture to say, far greater equality than there is in Britain at the moment"— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th December 1966; Vol. 738, c. 1150.]I want to raise a point about our interpretations of the racial tensions we made from these benches last week. It has never been our thought that tourism would be deterred just by riot or actual racial strife. Fortunately, this is almost unthinkable in the Bermuda of today. What we have been seeking to say, and 1053 I think the Minister will understand and appreciate this, is that even an atmosphere of racial tension and atmosphere of unfriendliness between the two races reflects itself in the welcome that the tourist gets, and it could do a great deal of harm to Bermuda's economy if there is felt to be a simmering tension between the two races.
I praise the Government for reaching this negotiated settlement. It is unfair to suggest that they could have achieved more by some mandatory authority. It is no good this country abandoning the pretence of being a great imperial power, able to inflict our will wherever we like overseas in one context, and then attempting to assert it in another. It will be see that anything other than a negotiated settlement would have been impossible for any Minister if we look at the position in Bermuda. To talk of imposing a settlement is wholly unreal.
Economically, Bermuda is completely secure and independent. She needs no help from us. In fact the boot is on the other foot, in that she is a very valuable and significant contributor to the hard currency reserves of the sterling area. We have, therefore, no economic hold, and it will be seen that we can have no political hold either. If we look at her geographical position, and the American base situation on the island, can anyone imagine that we are in a position by force to impose a settlement against the will of the Bermudan people?
The Ministers concerned have done a good job, and while one hopes to see further advances, they can only be made by ties of mutual confidence and friendship between us and Bermuda, because these are the only means that we have left.
§ 11.15 a.m.
§ The Minister of State for Commonwealth Affairs (Mrs. Judith Hart)
With the leave of the House, I would like to reply to a number of points raised.
We can all agree that this has been an extremely interesting debate. Before I turn to the various points I would like to say how glad I am that the House has shown itself so very sincerely concerned about the future of Bermuda. Concern has particularly been expressed for the rights of the coloured people there, and guarantees that there can be further constitutional progress have been 1054 asked for. I am very glad that so many people who have visited Bermuda and who know it so well have taken part in the debate. It has been very well informed and very valuable.
May I take the further point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor), who spoke about taxation Bills. She was worried that under the new Constitution the Upper House would have stronger powers in relation to such Bills. She is under a slight misapprehension here. At present—before the new Constitution comes into existence—a taxation or any other Bill must be passed by the Upper House if it is to become law. Under the new Constitution, the Upper House will lose this power of veto and there will be a strengthening of the Lower House.
The powers of the Upper House will be limited only to a power of delay. In the case of taxation Bills, it will be possible to present these to the Governor for assent notwithstanding objection by the Upper House, if they are passed twice in two successive Sessions by the House of Assembly, and if the period between their passage on each occasion by that House is not less than one year. I can, therefore, completely allay my hon. Friend's anxiety on this point. The position will be very much improved.
The purpose of the Bill, in general, is to enable the new Constitution to be established by an Order in Council. I ought to dispose of a misapprehension, held by the hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr. Stratton Mills), who talked about this being a Bermuda (Independence) Bill. If it were, it would obviously put our debate in a very different light. This is to enable an Order in Council to be made to create a new Constitution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) has sent me a message to say how sorry he is that he cannot be here because he is not well and is at home. He asked whether the Order in Council governing the Constitution would be debatable. Other hon. Members have raised this, too, and it has been suggested that this would be desirable because, in the drafting of the Order, changes might be made in the decisions of a constitutional conference as set out in the Conference Report. I must assure the House very positively that the Order 1055 in Council will be drafted to reflect precisely the decisions of the Conference, as set out in Appendix A of the Report.
This is always the case when an Order in Council is made following a Bill which follows a constitutional conference. The Order in Council, as is the normal practice with Orders making provision for the constitutions of Colonial Territories, will be laid before Parliament before being made and will not be subject to affirmative or negative Resolution.
§ Sir F. Bennett
Even if it were debatable, it would only be a question of refusing or accepting it. We would not be able to amend it.
§ Mrs. Hart
This is the kind of Constitutional Order which is made by Her Majesty in Council. When it is made, it is made, and that is that. That is why it is imperative from the point of view of the House of Commons that such Orders should reflect, as they always do, precisely what the House has before it by way of appendices to constitutional conferences, saying what will be in the Constitution.
A point was raised last week by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Woodside (Mr. Carmichael) about the choice of the expert on registration who visited Bermuda last March. The expert who went out had served with great distinction, not in the Colonial Office, as one or two of my hon. Friends seemed to think, but in the Colonial Service overseas. He had experience of advising the Governments of several widely differing countries on registration methods, including Mauritius and St. Vincent.
A suggestion was discussed at the Constitutional Conference that the registration system in Bermuda should be changed to the kind of system used in this country. But there was no convincing evidence that the present system operated unfairly. Indeed, an undertaking was given at the Constitutional Conference in these words:Moreover, in order to meet the criticism by the Progressive Labour Party representatives that the existing system of registration resulted in many qualified persons not being registered, the Secretary of State offered to send an expert to Bermuda to see what improvements could be made to the existing registration system.1056 There were no apprehensions about this matter. The job of the registration expert was to advise on improvements to the existing system, but not on whether there should be a new system. It may well be that there are misapprehensions about this on the part of some of the members of the P.L.P. who have not looked back to that paragraph in the Report.
The expert's report is being considered by the Select Committee of the Bermuda Legislature. I think that we chose the right kind of specialist, and that someone experienced in registration in this country would not have been able to contribute half as much to the solution of the problems presented by Bermuda.
I come now to the question about whether public servants are allowed to stand for election to the House of Assembly. We have to be very clear about this. It was my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough or my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins), who said that a letter had been received from somebody saying that the system should be the same as the system in this country and that everyone should be able to stand for election. In this country higher civil servants may not stand for election to Parliament. Local government servants may not stand for election to the council by which they are employed. Therefore, there is a number of quite severe restrictions in this country as to who may stand for election.
In such a country as Bermuda, and in a number of dependent territories and new independencies, almost all the public service work is carried out by direct employees of the Government and not by local authority employees. It looks as though the principle in this country that civil servants may not stand for election to the House of Commons is bound to extend. However, there was a case for considering whether it might be possible to work out a way of changing the system.
Therefore, the Bermuda Select Committee was set up. It was considering whether there might be exceptions to a general disqualification. It was considering the local law and its implications. I emphasise that this kind of question is invariably left to local legislation.
1057 The British Parliament would not legislate for a colony which had a degree of self-government. We have sent to the Governor information about the practice elsewhere. That information is to the effect that it is almost invariably the practice that civil servants in Commonwealth countries, both independent and dependent, are excluded from membership of the Legislature. It is not unprecedented for school teachers paid from government funds to have to resign their appointment if elected to membership of the legislature. This is the situation in Trinidad and Kenya.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
Would my hon. Friend deal with the point which I made? I accept that a line must be drawn somewhere, but it appears to be drawn so widely as to exclude everybody who works for the Government in any respect. It appears to exclude such people as bus conductors and even some manual workers. Is there not a strong case for saying that that line should be drawn very much higher than appears to be the case now?
§ Mrs. Hart
That is a question which is being considered by the Select Committee in Bermuda. It is a matter within the competence and powers of the local Parliament. It is not a matter for us. I know that I have clashed with several of my hon. Friends on this very point. Those who argue that certain things are being done wrongly in a dependent territory and, therefore, ask that the British House of Commons should legislate to change them are the first people to argue for self-government for dependent territories. They cannot have it both ways.
If my hon. Friends are prepared to say that Bermuda should not advance any degree whatsoever along the road to self-government and should return to being directly ruled in every detail by the House of Commons and civil servants in London, let them say so. But, unless they say so, they cannot argue that we should legislate in a matter which is correctly within the competence of a self-governing body.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
My hon. Friend has mistaken the point. What we are suggesting is that when countries are encouraged to march along the path of self-government they should be encouraged to follow the right path and not the wrong path.
§ Mrs. Hart
This is where we get involved in the more fundamental question of the constitution and the relationship between the British House of Commons and the Government of Bermuda. My hon. Friends may say that if they had been members of the Select Committee in Bermuda they would have urged that different recommendations should be made. But, unless they are prepared to say that power should be taken away from the Bermuda House of Assembly, they cannot argue that we should legislate and impose our will in a matter which is for the local Parliament. I will turn to the general question of the Constitution in a moment.
The main purpose of the Bill is to extend the powers of Her Majesty in Council so that a new Constitution, which includes the approved constituency arrangements which were agreed at last year's Conference, can be incorporated in an Order in Council. The Boundaries Commission was, again, reporting not to this Government but to the Government of Bermuda, and this is why I certainly could not accept the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Barking that we should have ensured that copies of the Commission's report were available in the Vote Office. They are not Parliamentary Papers for this House of Commons, but Parliamentary Papers for the House of Assembly in Bermuda. The same point arises. Here was a body reporting to the Members of the House of Assembly out there and not to Members of this House, so that the copies placed in the Library were for the information of hon. Members—I am glad that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) made sure that he got a copy for himself; he is one up on everyone else there—and to have had copies available in the Vote Office would not have been relevant.
The Report of the Boundaries Commission has been accepted by the House of Assembly in Bermuda. There has been a good deal of discussion of its contents and the attitudes of many members in the Legislature in Bermuda to it. The Report was unanimous in respect of the constituency boundaries to be drawn within eight of the nine parishes —and the eight included Pembroke Parish. It is true that the P.L.P. representative on the Commission submitted a minority Report in respect of the boundary in the parish of Devonshire, but the 1059 P.L.P. amendment, based on its representative's minority Report—and these are the actual figures—was defeated in the House of Assembly by 16 votes to 6, and the majority Report was adopted by 17 votes to 9.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
I would remind my hon. Friend that the figures she has just quoted show that less than half the Members of the House of Assembly voted in favour.
§ Mrs. Hart
I would remind by hon. Friend that that is often the case with quite important Bills going through this House of Commons.
The voting figures were not unusual in respect of the Boundaries Commission report as compared with voting figures on matters of equal importance that go through the House of Assembly in Bermuda. On constitutional grounds, the numbers attending the debate and the numbers of those who actually vote is not of constitutional relevance to the validity of a Bill that is accepted by the House.
§ Miss Lestor
This is a very important matter. My hon. Friend has said that 17—that is, 16 plus the Speaker—voted in favour, and that nine voted against, but, in fact, nine abstained. It was not a question of their not being there—they abstained. That is the relevant point. Further, there was a change in the voting of those who originally endorsed the boundaries but who later reconsidered them in the House of Assembly.
§ Mrs. Hart
The question of abstention is extremely difficult, because it is not possible to say how many Members abstained deliberately and how many were not there. In fact, in some of our debates it is not always easy to decide who on this side of the House has abstained. One therefore cannot take that point as being valid.
The main criticism directed by the minority who voted against the Constitutional Conference conclusions, and the criticism that has been expressed by a number of my hon. Friends is criticism of the disparity between the electorates in the constituencies which, it has been said, results in coloured votes having less 1060 value than white votes. My hon. Friend the Member for Barking said that… if one was a coloured voter one's vote was worth one-ninth of the vote of a white man, now it would be worth one-third."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th June, 1967; Vol. 748, c. 496.]I believe that there are complications here that have not been fully understood. I regret this emphasis on race, which I am glad to note was not a feature of the letter of the leader of the P.L.P. published in The Times last November.
The implication is that the parish of Pembroke contained only coloured voters. That is not so. It contains, it is true, a larger number of coloured voters than any other parish but it should be said that about 35 per cent. of the voters of Pembroke are white—a much larger number of white voters than in any other parish. Moreover, the parishes with the smallest numbers of voters are not parishes with white majorities. The figures given in the P.L.P. memorandum to the Conference show that the two parishes with the smallest number of registered voters, according to the 1966 Register, are Southampton and Hamilton, both of which have coloured majorities. Indeed, only two parishes have white majorities—the other seven have coloured majorities—yet the adult white population is about 40 per cent. of the whole adult population.
While it cannot, of course, be denied that constituencies in Bermuda, though improved under the Boundaries Commission report, will contain an unequal number of voters, but it is misleading to suggest that the inequalities are all at the expense of the coloured people. It is significant that at the last election there was a majority of constituencies in which the coloured voter predominated. The results of that election proved that there has been no really strong tendency for Bermudians to vote on a colour basis.
The degree to which the coloured Member represents what some of his coloured voters wish him to represent is, of course, another matter, but there has not been a sharp racial electoral division in regard to the people elected to the House of Assembly. There will still be imperfections in the degree to which there is true representation of the coloured 1061 voter in the House of Assembly, but the important question is what opportunities may exist in the future if it should be felt in Bermuda that there should be a further change.
My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Rowland), whose remarks were underlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney, said:What hon. Members on this side of the House are trying to get clear is that if the party representing the majority of the popular vote, which may have only a minority of members in the new Legislature, want change the British Government will consider it even if the majority of members are still reluctant to go any further forward."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 14th June. 1967; Vol. 748, c. 512.]In reply to my hon. Friend, I make it quite clear that if, after the next elections in Bermuda under the new Constitution, there were a demand for constitutional change the Government would certainly consider it. In other words, it does not have to be a request made by the electors of the majority party, and it does not have to be the majority party only in the House of Assembly which asks us to consider further changes to be considered. If the P.L.P., after the next election, says that we should look again at this matter, we shall consider that request although, obviously, I cannot give a free commitment because one does not know just what the request might be.
Having given that assurance, which I trust will allay the anxieties of my hon. Friends—and I well understand those anxieties, as I think that we have a very great feeling of responsibility for ensuring that things move smoothly forward in Bermuda—let me make a simple point. The new Constitution that will be established under the Order in Council that will follow this Bill will, if anything, give this House of Commons more opportunities in regard to what happens in Bermuda rather than fewer, because to the extent that the Constitution will tidy up a number of the present anomalies while not, at the same time introducing any striking new advances in self-government other than those outlined in the White Paper, this House will still have the unimpaired advantage of the ability to comment on matters in Bermuda, to comment on progress towards racial equality in Bermuda.
1062 On the question of racial tension in Bermuda, I say, very seriously indeed, just one thing. It is possible to have white people in a community who try to stay too white for too long. I think that this danger has now receded in Bermuda because there is a real awareness on the part of the white people that a multiracial community has to be built up. At the same time, it is possible for the reactions of a coloured majority to be extremely strong.
What I hope will be avoided in Bermuda is the trend among not all but some part of the P.L.P. to fight for their policies on purely racialist grounds. I hope that that will not gain ground. I can understand it if it does. I can well understand the kind of motivation which leads to a party fighting for people of its own race to develop this predominantly political awareness. The influence of the American Civil Rights movement and particularly the more extreme elements of that movement have to be regarded.
My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden said last week that the P.L.P. recently held a meeting in Bermuda at which all whites were asked to leave. I have checked this and found it to be true. I can understand how this happens, but I do not think that it is best either for the P.L.P. or for the people it represents. It can be possible to build up a multi-racial society in Bermuda without the tensions and dangers which have been mentioned but the tricky point is whether the chance to create such a community is taken or whether people will put too much emphasis on racial politics.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me an opportunity to say how much I agree with what she has been saying, but I wish to have clarification on a point she made earlier. She said that any question of a change in the Constitution could be brought to the Parliament of this country. Suppose there were a question, not so much of a change in the Constitution, but concerning the size and shape of constituencies. Would it be a matter to be considered here or by the Government of Bermuda?
§ Mrs. Hart
This is an open-ended question. If, after the next election, either of the parties said that it wanted to discuss the Constitution again and that 1063 the question of constituencies should be looked at particularly, it would be for the British Government to decide whether or not the points put to the British Government were valid and whether they demanded acceptance or discussion.
Then it would be for the British Government, as on the last occasion, perhaps to propose that another boundaries commission should be set up with certain terms of reference. The terms of reference would be important and they would probably lead to another constitutional conference. This would be the responsibility of the Government here and of the Parliament in Bermuda.
I hope that the House will accord a Second Reading to the Bill on the clear understanding that, in spite of the Motion which a number of my hon. Friends have signed, if they refrained from giving a Second Reading to the Bill they would be holding back developments which they wished to see in Bermuda and, secondly, refraining from giving this House the degree of responsibility for constitutional development in Bermuda which they wished to see and which the Bill would allow the House to establish.
§ 11.45 a.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
In her winding-up speech, my hon. Friend the Minister of State made one or two declarations of great importance which perhaps could have been better made when she introduced the Bill. She made quite clear that the Order in Council will follow in most scrupulous detail the recommendations of the Constitutional Conference. What we are deciding today is not merely to give this Bill a Second Reading, but to put into effect by Order in Council any recommendations of the Constitutional Conference. It will be too late to make any changes in the constitutional arrangements except to the extent of the concession my hon. Friend made.
My hon. Friend announced that the British Government will listen to P.L.P. or any other representations which may be made after the election has taken place, based on the new Constitution. I interpret that to mean that the Government of the United Kingdom will use the powers in Clause 1(2) by which the British Government may vary or revoke 1064any law relating to the Government of Bermudaand made by the Legislature. We have very important reserve powers which will enable the British Government, if they wish, to make whatever changes in the Constitution they may consider desirable or necessary.
To that extent my hon. Friend is right in saying that the Bill will give the House of Commons more power than it has at present. That will be a little consolation to my hon. Friends who have rightly expressed doubts which have been ventilated in the debate. With some small degree of satisfaction, I welcome my hon. Friend's statement that the Bill gives the House more powers in respect of the new Government to be set up in Bermuda.
I hope that the P.L.P. will have some of its fears removed because this the final word will not have been spoken when the Bill goes on to the Statute Book.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second Time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Harold Walker.]
§ Committee Tomorrow.