HC Deb 19 March 1969 vol 780 cc493-506
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Michael Stewart)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement on Anguilla.

I must ask the indulgence of the House for its length, but I think that the House will wish to know not only the action we have taken but some of the background and the reasons for it.

I have to inform the House that this morning Her Majesty's Commissioner was installed on Anguilla. A small military force, accompanied by British police officers, landed on the island. The military force is acting in support of the civil power, and I am glad to say that the operation, which took place a few hours ago, has proceeded peacefully, for which great credit is due to those who took part in it.

Independent Commonwealth Governments in the Caribbean were informed of our intention before action was taken and are in general agreement with our objectives. Governments of the Associated States in the Caribbean area have also been kept fully informed and also agree.

St. Christopher, Nevis and Anguilla, which had been administered as a unified territory since 1882, became an associated State on 27th February, 1967, following the usual processes of constitutional advancement. In May of that year, the inhabitants of Anguilla ejected the small detachment of State police from the island, and subsequently purported to declare themselves independent. Since then, there has been no lawful Government on the island. Many attempts have been made to reach a satisfactory settlement in the dispute between the Anguillans and the Central Government. A conference was held in Barbados in July, 1967, attended by Ministers from the independent Commonwealth Caribbean Governments— namely, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, also Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, the St. Kitts Government and leaders of the Anguillans.

A further attempt to provide an interim settlement was made in December, 1967, and January, 1968, when an agreement between Her Majesty's Government, the St. Kitts Government and the Anguillan leaders was negotiated by my hon. Friend, the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) and the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher). This arrangement, or interim settlement as it came to be known, provided for the introduction of a senior British official, Mr. Tony Lee, to advise on the administration on Anguilla for a period of twelve months during which it was agreed that efforts would be made to negotiate a lasting settlement on lines acceptable to both parties, who undertook to refrain from hostile action during this period.

Before the expiry of the twelve month period, a determined effort was made to establish whether common ground existed. Talks were held in London last October under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, attended by the Premier of St. Kitts and the Anguillan leader, Mr. Webster. At these talks, the possibility of a lasting settlement was discussed, and the possibility of extending by agreement the interim settlement. No final agreement was however reached. The Anguillan leader notified me on 30th December that the interim settlement was at an end. Mr. Lee was then withdrawn from the island, but we arranged for him to pay periodic visits to Anguilla. On 9th January, for the second time Mr. Webster declared the island independent of St. Kitts and announced that all legal ties with the Crown had been severed.

Now I come to recent events. In the course of his recent visit to the Eastern Caribbean, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary had discussions in St. Kitts with the State Government. He found that they recognised the strength of feeling in Anguilla against the restoration of control over the island by the State Government. My hon. Friend visited Anguilla on 11th March to put forward our proposals.

He made clear to the islanders when he arrived that the British Government wanted to restore lawful government in Anguilla and then work out a long-term solution of the island's problems acceptable to all concerned, especially the inhabitants of the island itself. For this purpose, Mr. Lee was to be established in Anguilla as Her Majesty's Commissioner.

These proposals received an enthusiastic response at the airport from which it was evident that the Anguillans as a whole would have welcomed them. After this reception, an armed minority decided that the proposals must not be further discussed with the people of the island. My hon. Friend was confronted with a group of armed men who demanded his withdrawal from the island. After shots had been fired, he decided to leave the island to avoid possible bloodshed.—[Interruption.] I think that any hon. Member, had he been in that position and aware of how much the whole future would have been damaged if there had been any loss of life or injury, would have taken the action that my hon. Friend took. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]

Our concern all along has been for the people of Anguilla. We want them to enjoy good government, and to enjoy it unintimidated and in freedom. As I told the House yesterday, it is not our purpose to see the Anguillans living under an administration that they do not want.

We have, however, a responsibility under the West Indies Act. We took action because conditions in Anguilla were such that it was impossible for us to discharge our constitutional responsibilities for defence and external affairs. We have, therefore, installed in Anguilla a Commissioner in whom certain powers have been vested by an Order in Council made yesterday.

The whole Caribbean area needs stability in order to make progress. It is an area which is particularly susceptible to exploitation. There is also among these small islands the danger of fragmentation. The countries of the Commonwealth in the Caribbean attach great importance to the rule of law and to acting in accordance with constitutions rather than flouting them. A meeting of Heads of Government of Caribbean states last month expressed concern at the situation on Anguilla and called upon Her Majesty's Government to take all the necessary steps, in collaboration with the Government of the State, to confirm the territorial integrity of St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla.

As regards the future, Her Majesty's Commissioner will remain on the island until a lasting settlement can be negotiated which will pay full regard to the wishes and interests of all concerned, in particular to those of the inhabitants of the island, who can then go ahead with the development of the possibilities and amenities of their island.

Mr. Maudling

I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House are glad to know that this operation took place without bloodshed. At a later date, probably we shall wish to raise the question why the Government have been so long in facing up to this situation, which has developed over a long period.

I want to ask some serious question about the status of this operation. The right hon. Gentleman said that this was a dispute between the Anguillans and the Central Government; in other words, an internal dispute within the islands. As I understand it, we are reimposing a form of direct rule and, under the West Indies Act, 1967, we can do this either if our obligations in matters of defence and foreign affairs are made impossible to carry out or, alternatively, at the request and with the consent of the St. Kitts Government.

Do Her Majesty's Government really maintain that their action has been part of defending Anguilla against external aggression? Secondly, how can they remain there for the long time envisaged by the Foreign Secretary on that basis unless they have the request and consent of the St. Kitts Government? In those circumstances, can they expect the people of Anguilla to be confident that their wishes will be regarded as paramount?

Mr. Stewart

On the first point, I described the steps which had been taken, ever since this dispute arose, to reach agreement. But we have to remember that, although there has been this recent dispute, it is only a modern form of a profound difference which has existed for a number of decades. We felt it right, therefore, when the dispute arose in its present form, to expend a good deal of time and patience in trying to get agreement. It was not a question of our doing nothing about this. I described to the House the many steps taken to reach agreement. I think that it was right to expend time and patience on that.

On the second point, the right hon. Gentleman will realise that we are responsible both for the defence and the external relations of an Associated State. The position here is that in this part of the Associated State there was a danger that somewhat disreputable characters from outside the State and possessing arms were exercising influence on those who purported to be its Government.

That was one point. There was also the fact that if, as a result of the absence of any lawful government or good order in the island, any injury were done to the personal property of a national of any other country, we, by virtue of our responsibility for external relations, would have been held responsible. Therefore, the situation was that we could not fully discharge our responsibilities for external relations unless we took action about the situation in Anguilla. That is why the strict legal basis for what we have done rests on an Order in Council made under Section 7(2) of the Act, which refers to external relations. But, in fact, what we have done has also been done with the full agreement of the St. Kitts Government.

As to the future, I am sure that the right course now is for Her Majesty's Commissioner to have an opportunity to do his work, to see that the island is well governed and developed, for everyone to have a breathing space, and for everyone concerned, including the Anguillans, to have time for reflection and then judge where their real interests in the future lie.

Mr. Henig

Now that the House has heard the facts from my right hon. Friend, many people will feel that the British Government have acted with complete honour. Will my right hon. Friend draw from this the lesson that, as this affair proceeds, absolute frankness will be the best policy? Will he in due course, since there has been some controversy over this matter, give the House further details of the alleged Mafia and gangster activities which have been going on in Anguilla?

Mr. Stewart

I hope that the House will not accuse me of any lack of frankness in this matter. At certain times I have been obliged to tell the House that there was some information I could not yet give—particularly information about the exact timing and nature of a military operation. So far as is humanly possible, I have given the House a correct picture of what has been happening.

On the use of the word "Mafia", I think that is an exaggerated term, I drew my hon. Friend's attention to the phrase that I used, "disreputable characters"— but they were disreputable characters who had arms.

Mr. Marten

Is it now a principle of government that the Government can intervene where there are disreputable characters in other places? Can the Foreign Secretary say what are the legal powers of Her Majesty's Commissioner and with whom in Anguilla the High Commissioner will deal?

Mr. Stewart

I think that I explained the legal position in answer to the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling). A situation developed in Anguilla which was making it impossible for us to discharge our duties as we are responsible for external relations. That is why we took action. Her Majesty's Commissioner will act, of course, in accordance with directives given by Her Majesty. He is Her Majesty's Commissioner. I say emphatically that any Anguillans—and I believe this is the overwhelming majority— who wish and are willing to help the Commissioner to do his job of providing the island with good government and enabling it to think carefully and wisely what it wants in future, will be regarded as our friends, and Her Majesty's Commissioner will work with them.

Mr. Albu

Does my right hon. Friend mean that in future, whenever we disapprove of the kind of people who are trying to sell their services to a Government in an Associated State, we shall be entitled to intervene? Also, may I ask what are the British interests involved?

Mr. Stewart

I think that my hon. Friend is stretching this beyond all reason. Let us stick to the facts of the case. This was part of an Associated State for whose external relations we were responsible. Events had so developed that it was going to be impossible for us to carry out that responsibility until good government was restored in Anguilla, and, above all, the Anguillans were given a chance to express their real wishes free from intimidation.

As to British interests, it was here even more a question of the clear legal responsibility of this Government to carry out their responsibilities for the external relations of this Associated State. Beyond that Britain has a very great interest in the stability and progress of the whole Caribbean area.

Mr. Turton

If, as the Foreign Secretary says, the Government of St. Kitts agreed to this, surely force was quite unnecessary? The right hon. Gentleman could have proceeded under Section 9 of the West Indies Act and made that change of status without this quite unnecessary invasion. Does not this demonstrate the weakness of the whole system of associated status, and will the right hon. Gentleman seek to amend the West Indies Act?

Mr. Stewart

I think that we would all accept that the concept of associated status has difficulties, but I am not prepared to say that we must regard them at this stage as irretrievable weaknesses. Nor do I wish to talk about amendment of the Act.

On the other part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State went to the island with these proposals. We believed that it was right, though conscious of certain risks, that he should go there without any show of force whatever so that the Anguillans should have the opportunity, without anyone being able to accuse us of duress, of saying what they really wanted.

The evidence from that visit clearly was that the great majority of Anguillans wanted these proposals, but they were being frustrated by a small armed minority. I believe that it was our duty, in those circumstances, to make quite clear that the armed minority was not going to have its way. For that reason, it was necessary, and I believe right, to send a force which, though by no means gigantic, would be of sufficient size to make quite sure that the armed minority would not have its way and that the people of Anguilla would come into their own.

Mr. George Brown

Two things occur to me. I make no objection to the timing of the statement, but I think that the House will want time to read it in full. However, there are two things which I should like to put to my right hon. Friend—

Hon. Members


Mr. Brown

I want to put these things to my right hon. Friend. There is a question.

The first point that I should like to put to my right hon. Friend in the form of a question—I do not know how else to put it—is: are there not some contradictions in the statement that he has made? How can we assure the Anguillans that it is no part of our purpose, as my hon. Friend said yesterday, to arrange that they should be under an administration that they do not want to be under if at the same time he says, in the same statement, that we have done this at the request, and with the support, of the St. Kitts Government, the administration that they do not want to be under? May I ask how we can persuade anybody that one half of that statement does not contradict the other?

My second question, to me much the more important, is: on the basis of the arguments that it seemed to me my right hon. Friend was using in his statement today, how, at the United Nations, whether in the Anti-Colonial Committee, the Committee of Twenty-four or in the Assembly itself, are we going to answer those who demand that we should do exactly the same on exactly the same grounds elsewhere? Are we to say that we can do it where there is only a rusty gun, but we cannot do it elsewhere, and our principles are decided by our estimate of the strength required?

Mr. Stewart

On the first point, it is quite true that I stated it is no part of our purpose that the Anguillans should live under an administration that they do not want. I also stated that what we have done is with the agreement of the Government of St. Kitts. But we made clear to the Government of St. Kitts that in going there they must understand that it was no part of our purpose to make the Anguillans live under a régime that they do not want. The part of my statement which I think my right hon. Friend did not notice and which provides the answer is where I pointed out that the Government of St. Kitts realise the strength of feeling in Anguilla against its connection with St. Kitts. So in effect— and this is understood by us, by St. Kitts and by Anguilla—we are in a situation where everyone realises that the Anguillans do not like being part of this Associated State.

However, I am not prepared to say what the situation will be after a number of years when the Administrator has done his work. I should make it clear to the House that while the military presence there will be very brief, it is the case—and this is also understood by the Government of St. Kitts—that the administrator, Her Majesty's Commissioner, will be there for some time. It is his job to work out, if it can possibly be done, an agreement that will satisfy all parties, including the Anguillans. What the exact nature of that settlement will be I do not think I or anyone else can predict. What we are all agreed on is that what is needed now is this breathing space.

I think that the second part of my right hon. Friend's question, put in plain terms, is "If you send a small force to Anguilla, why do you not try to solve the Rhodesian question by force?". I believe that when one considers the use of armed force it is right to consider what the results of using it would be, what the destruction of life and wealth would be. I believe that an attempt to solve the Rhodesian question by force would have resulted in such a destruction of life and wealth, and such embitterment throughout Africa, that the thing we surely all want in Rhodesia, a just régime for men of all colours of skin, would have been indefinitely postponed. Whatever one may say about the law, and the morality of it, in effect the result would have been disastrous. It seems to me that one can properly reach that decision, and still say that it is sensible to send a moderate force to enable the people of Anguilla to express their views freely and not be intimidated by a handful of people.

Mr. Heath

If I understood the right hon. Gentleman's statement aright, the Government have imposed direct rule on this island by force. The grounds on which the Government justify this action are that it was necessary for the external defence of the island. This will, I think, to say the least, require careful consideration, but the questions which I want to put to the right hon. Gentleman are concerned with the future.

The right hon. Gentleman has constantly emphasised, quite rightly, that it is not the Government's purpose to see the Anguillans living under an administration they do not want. What steps are the Government going to take at the earliest possible moment to enable the Anguillans to choose the administration under which they want to live?

The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of a period of several years of direct rule. If the Anguillans do not want to live under the direct rule of the British Government in Whitehall, why does this situation have to continue for several years? Surely the Government should devote their attention to the means of ascertaining the wishes of the islanders, whatever those wishes may be?

Finally, does the right hon. Gentleman maintain that this form of Associated State must remain as it is, or can the Anguillans have a real choice as to the form of administration under which they want to live?

Mr. Stewart

The right hon. Gentleman said that we had imposed direct rule by force. I do not quarrel with the phrase "direct rule", but when one uses the phrase "by force" one must take into account the fact—and this is quite clear—that we have not done this against the wishes of the great majority of Anguillans. The force was necessary only because the wishes of the great majority were being frustrated by a few. I have no doubt at all that both what has happened to date and what will happen in the future will demonstrate that that is so.

As to the future, in the first instance it will be the task of Her Majesty's Commissioner to assemble for himself an advisory council from Anguillans, and to proceed as soon as possible to get this on an elected basis.

The right hon. Gentleman will remember what I said in my statement about the attempts which have been made to reach an agreement acceptable to all the parties. I think that we shall have to try again to see whether that can be achieved, but I am sure that I am right in not trying to predict to the House now the final outcome of this, because the one thing on which I think we are all agreed—St. Kitts, the Anguillans, Her Majesty's Government, and the Caribbean states—is that the right step for the present is that Her Majesty's Commissioner should do the job with the increasing participation of the Anguillans, and we may be able to judge better in a calmer and more peaceful atmosphere what is the right solution for the future.

Mr. David Steel

Will the Commissioner on Anguilla be subject to the right hon. Gentleman's directions or to directions from the St. Kitts Government? Can the right hon. Gentleman say a little more about the political future which must follow a military initiative? Will he take the precedent of the Central African Federation and consider a commission on Monckton lines, and then leave the people of Anguilla to determine whether they find any proposed solution acceptable?

Mr. Stewart

Her Majesty's Commissioner will be subject to directions from London. That is understood all round.

On the second point, I think we should hesitate to try to draw an analogy between this part of the world and Central Africa, or indeed many other parts. I think that Her Majesty's Commissioner must be given a chance to get on with his job before we start being too dogmatic about the future.

Mr. George Brown

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether it is not quite clear to him on reflection that I did not argue for the use of force in Rhodesia? What I asked was, having defended ourselves for not using force there on moral principles, how we could now defend ourselves, when all we are arguing now is that the opposition to overcome was small, whereas in the other case it was big.

Mr. Stewart

I do not believe that my answer is in any way disreputable or unprincipled. Whenever one decides or thinks of using force one must ask what the objections are, and how much misery and distress will be caused in the using of it. It is clear, fortunately, on this occasion that no misery or distress has been caused, and that I believe justifies the step which we have taken. To use it in Rhodesia would, for the reasons I gave earlier, be a completely different operation.

Mr. Crawshaw

Does my right hon. Friend realise that many hon. Members on this side of the House appreciate the action that is being taken and pay tribute to him, but may I ask whether he would have settled the problem out there had he started by saying that under no circumstances would we ever use force, as we did in Rhodesia? Whatever we think in this House, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that many people throughout the world think that we have double standards, depending on whether it is black or white that we are dealing with?

Mr. Stewart

I know that that argument is used. As I understand it, my hon. Friend is quoting it as an argument that is used by others, and it is not one that he himself advances. I say to my hon. Friend, and to anyone who advances that argument, "If you weigh up the costs, the results, the actual effect of attempting to solve the Rhodesian question by force, you will reach one answer. If you are then asked whether it was right to make this very modest display of force in order to give the 6,000 inhabitants of this island the opportunity to express their real wishes, I believe that the answer must be yes".

Mr. Birch

Will the right hon. Gentleman convey to the Prime Minister the congratulations of the House on at last taking on somebody of his own size?

Mr. Stewart

As to size, I think that that question illustrates the contrast between the greatness of the issues involved here and the littleness of the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Woodburn

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that there is an analogy in Africa from the fact that Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, when they were faced with armed insurrection inside their own countries, requested us to send troops there and that we did that without any of the objection which has been offered today?

Mr. Stewart

That is so. It seems to me that the decision of a Government to use, or even to consider the use of, armed force is one of the gravest decisions that a Government can take. If one is always so terrified of the results, one always answers "No". One may have to put up with the growth of disorder and danger throughout the world. If one uses it recklessly, one may cause misery and loss of life for no adequate return. I tried to judge in this issue what degree of force it was necessary to prepare to use. I rejoice greatly that it went no further than preparation.

Mr. Tapsell

Would the right hon. Gentleman accept that some of us who know this area and the personalities involved fairly well will feel that, after the events of last week, the actions which the Government have taken have been absolutely right and inevitable? But would he also re-emphasise the Government's policy of consulting the Anguillan people at an early date about their future and not assuming that a mere passage of time and change of personalities will change the feelings between Anguilla and St. Kitts?

Mr. Stewart

I am grateful to the hon. Member for the first part of his question. I fully accept and understand the rest of what he said.

Mr. Whitaker

While the House is convinced of the necessity and right of removing a disreputable armed minority in Rhodesia and allowing the people there self-determination, are we fully satisfied that our movements in Anguilla are in accordance with the principles of the United Nations, and has that organisation been consulted?

Mr. Stewart

Yes, I think that there is no doubt that what we have done here is in accord with the United Nations Charter and our legal responsibilities.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We must move on.

Mr. Faulds

On a point of order. Are you aware, Mr. Speaker, that your myopia has now become so acute and so partisan—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman has gone far enough—

Mr. Faulds

I had not finished.

Mr. Speaker

Order. If the hon. Gentleman wants to criticise the Chair, he can do so by putting a Motion down on the Order Paper. He must not insult the Chair in the way that he has done. I must ask him to withdraw what he has said.

Mr. Faulds

Will you explain to me, Mr. Speaker, how I can withdraw a remark which happens to be—

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I am not asking the hon. Gentleman to accept an explanation. I am instructing him to withdraw what he said.

Mr. Faulds

You have me across a barrel, Mr. Speaker. I have no choice but to withdraw, which I do under protest. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has withdrawn, even if under protest.