HC Deb 14 April 1969 vol 781 cc798-804

Mr. Henig (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, if he will make a statement on the new developments in Anguilla.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Michael Stewart)

My right hon. and noble Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs went to Anguilla at my request on 28th March, leaving for St. Kitts on 31st March for discussions with the State Premier, and returning to New York on the following day.

On arrival on the island my right hon. and noble Friend had conversations with representatives of all sections of opinion, including Mr. Ronald Webster and other leading citizens, and after discussion signed with them a joint declaration.

This declaration made provision for an immediate period of constructive co-operation in the interests of all the people of Anguilla, and recorded the conviction of those who signed it that this co-operation would only be achieved by working together in agreement and friendship. It established that the administration of the island was to be conducted by Her Majesty's Representative in full consultation and co-operation with representatives of the people. I will, with permission, circulate the text in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Shortly after the return of my right hon. and noble Friend to New York, Mr. Ronald Webster made allegations to the Press to the effect that Her Majesty's Commissioner on Anguilla was in breach of the joint declaration. These allegations were totally unwarranted, but in view of the recrudescence of tension on the island I authorised my right hon. and noble Friend to pay a further visit to Anguilla on 11th April.

His purpose was to persuade the Anguillans to keep to the terms of the joint declaration, so recently negotiated, but owing to what my right hon. and noble Friend has described as a campaign of deliberate misunderstanding, accompanied by threats of violence, he was unable to hold discussions with Mr. Webster and the members of the Council—not all of whom, I may add, by any means share the extreme position urged on Mr. Webster by those around him.

We stand firmly by the joint declaration, which we regard as the best and indeed the only way forward at the moment. The immediate need is to restore law and order on the island. In this task the armed forces and the police are doing an excellent job in very difficult circumstances. This is a prelude to working out a long-term settlement acceptable to all concerned and in particular to the inhabitants of Anguilla.

Mr. Henig

As it is most important for our reputation in the Caribbean that we are completely forthcoming and explicit on the objects of our policy in Anguilla, can my right hon. Friend clear up the mystery surrounding the position of Mr. Lee? Could he also at this late date give some more definite evidence than hitherto about the so-called disreputable elements whose activities presumably provide the sole moral justification for British intervention in Anguilla, and say what will be the attitude of Her Majesty's Government towards the referendum to be conducted by Mr. Webster next week?

Mr. Stewart

The referendum will have no legal standing. The present position is that the island is being administered by Her Majesty's Commissioner, and we shall seek as far as humanly possible to do that in accordance with the agreement which was reached between Her Majesty's Commissioner and Lord Caradon and Mr. Webster and others.

On the position of Mr. Lee, I should say this. Lord Caradon, with my agreement, announced in Anguilla on 12th April that Mr. Lee would be going on leave in due course, and that when he went on leave he would hand over to Mr. Cumber. This statement was interpreted in certain quarters as meaning the dismissal of Mr. Lee. Since that was not true, I thought it right to make it clear in an answer I gave in an interview that Mr. Lee is still Her Majesty's Commissioner in Anguilla. I shall, of course, see him when he returns home, and I shall want to do that before any final decision is taken about his future.

As to the middle part of my hon. Friend's question, we are now finding, with the progressive collection of arms and with the fact that it has been possible to re-establish the newspaper in Anguilla, which had been forcibly suppressed before we arrived, that our action there was necessary if the people of the island were to have a law-abiding way of life.

Mr. Braine

Can the right hon. Gentleman throw a little more light on this unhappy, muddled and somewhat humiliating affair? What exactly does he mean when he talks about having a talk with Mr. Lee about his future? Is Mr. Lee to return to the island as Her Majesty's Commissioner?

Having neglected this festering issue for so long that military force had to be sent into the island, will the right hon. Gentleman now make it plain that Britain intends to find a political solution to the problem speedily and will not remain in the island for years, as he previously indicated? When will he make a statement about what form a political solution will take?

Mr. Stewart

I shall not modify what I said about the time it may take to reach a final solution of this complicated problem. I admit that there has been neglect, as many commentators have pointed out, for the past 300 years, but I am not prepared to take the sole responsibility for that.

This is a complicated problem. We are dealing with a territory that is part of an Associated State and in which for some time there had not been a lawful administration. I do not think it sensible to say that a final settlement can be reached in a hurry. We must be in consultation with Caribbean Governments about this.

As to Mr. Lee, I want to make it clear that it was first announced correctly that he was going on leave. Normally, when an officer goes on leave he returns to his post at the end of it. That is why when I was asked whether he was returning I said, "Yes". It might be that I should have given a longer, more temporising, more complicated answer. I did not wish to do so. I said plainly, "Yes", because I did not wish to prejudice Mr. Lee's position, which is still that of Her Majesty's Commissioner in Anguilla. But I shall, of course, want to discuss the whole situation with him when he comes on leave.

Mr. Chapman

Is my right hon. Friend aware that those of us who know both Mr. Cumber and Mr. Webster, and know of the dedication of both of them, hope very much that Mr. Webster will now find it possible to begin to co-operate with Mr. Cumber, who is a dedicated public servant who can do a great deal of good for the island? At the same time, will he leave open the possibility in the medium term of finding a West Indian to become Her Majesty's Commissioner in Anguilla?

Mr. Stewart

That is a possibility. I fully agree with what my hon. Friend said in the first part of his question; it is certainly the counsel of wisdom for Mr. Webster. It was open to him to follow that path following the agreement made with the help of Lord Caradon, and I trust that on further consideration he will see the wisdom of doing so.

Mr. Marten

In view of the many conflicting reports about the origin of this tragic situation, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is the Government's intention that Anguilla shall be given the option of being independent, or have the Government made an agreement with Mr. Bradshaw that Anguilla will be returned to the associated status? Could he not send out a senior Cabinet Minister, such as the Minister without Portfolio, to stay there a little longer than the fleeting visits of Ministers and really sort the situation out?

Mr. Stewart

This is a difficult and vexatious situation, but I do not think that we need accept the word "tragic". One of the most important things to notice is that the situation has so far been dealt with without any loss of life, which has by no meals always been the case when we have had to deal with difficult colonial situations. I want that situation to continue. I shall deliberately not try to lay down what the form of the final settlement must be. We must try, as I said at the end of my original Answer, to reach a settlement that will be agreeable to all parties concerned, particularly to the people of Anguilla.

Mr. Shinwell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of us are getting a little bored by this world-shattering event? If the people of Anguilla want to stew in their own juice, for heaven's sake why not let them and be done with it?

Mr. Stewart

I ask my right hon. Friend to realise that it is not quite as simple as that. If we had done that it would have been a cause for considerable anxiety throughout the whole Caribbean area. The need for action was urged on us very strongly by Caribbean Governments, with whom we shall remain in consultation.

Mr. Thorpe

Accepting that Mr. Webster is not perhaps the most easy person with whom to co-operate, is there any reason why Her Majesty's Commissioner should not be a person acceptable to everyone concerned? Since we are dealing with a situation in which on a minor scale there is the same hatred of federation as there was in Central Africa, is it not time we started political talks to see whether there are alternative forms of association for Anguilla which might well mean changing the present federation, such as the possibility of her joining with the Virgin Islands?

Mr. Stewart

I have said that we are in consultation with Caribbean Governments about a final solution. As to a person acceptable to Mr. Webster, it is not so long ago that Mr. Webster entered into a very clear agreement to co-operate with Mr. Lee. He knew Mr. Lee then and he signed the agreement knowing what it meant. The difficulties now are due to his repudiation of that agreement.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

Will the Government do their utmost to ensure that the final settlement is not dictated by gangster influences, whether Anguillan or foreign?

Mr. Stewart

Yes Sir. That is one of the things which we have had very much in mind in the conduct of the whole operation.

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

Will the right hon. Gentleman use the time which he says it will take to settle this affair to consider how we could better administer these very small colonial and ex-colonial territories? Will he look at the way in which the French undertake these operations? The French seem to administer such territories successfully and more peacefully and do not get into the muddle which this Government get into.

Mr. Stewart

The hon. Gentleman is mistaken if he imagines that Britain is the only former imperial Power that has difficulties with some of its small territories. It is quite true that these small territories can present a difficult problem. In some cases we have found the right solution, and we are endeavouring to see what is the right solution in this and in some other cases.

Viscount Lambton

Will not the Foreign Secretary agree that there will be no peace in Anguilla until it is understood there that in no circumstances will the island be returned under the authority of St. Kitts, and will he make that statement today?

Mr. Stewart

I have already made a statement that it is no part of our purpose to oblige the Anguillans to live under an administration that they do not want. I am deliberately not making a statement more precise than that in either direction. This is exactly what we have to examine in the future.

Following is the Declaration:


1. We who sign this Declaration believe that what is now needed is a period of constructive co-operation in the interests of all the people of Anguilla.

2. We are convinced that this can be achieved only by working together in agreement and friendship.

3. The administration of the island shall be conducted by Her Majesty's Representative in full consultation and co-operation with representatives of the people of Anguilla.

4. The Members of the 1968 Council will be recognised as elected representatives of the people, and will serve as members of a Council to be set up for the above purposes. This Council may be expanded if so desired by election or co-option.

5. Our hope is that this initial period can start at once to enable a very early return to normality and withdrawal of the Parachute Regiment.

6. There will be further consultations, including consultations with Caribbean Governments, on the future of the island.

7. The following undertaking of the British Government given in the House of Commons has been noted: "It is no part of our purpose to put them [the Anguillans] under an Administration under which they do not want to live".