HC Deb 14 December 1978 vol 960 cc1143-74

2.46 a.m.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Edward Rowlands)

I beg to move,

That the draft Saint Lucia Termination of Association Order 1978, which was laid before this House on 5th December, be approved.

It is proposed that the order should come into effect on 22nd February 1979. The West Indies Act requires that any order made under the relevant section must be laid in draft before Parliament and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.

This is the third order of its kind relating to the third associated State to move to independence under such orders. The House will recall approving the termination of association order for Dominica on 21st July this year, and that for Grenada in 1974.

Let me deal with the background to the order and of the legislation of 1967. In moving the Second Reading of the West Indies Bill on 31st January 1967, the then Minister of State stated that its purpose was to give effect to the conclusions of the conference held with certain Caribbean countries. It was decided that

the present colonial relationship with Britain should…be replaced by a new pattern of association with us. This would be free and voluntary; it could be ended by either country at any time ".—[Official Report, 31st January 1967; Vol. 740, c. 335.]

Associated statehood has served us well, but the time has come when if individual States wish to proceed to independence we should not oppose that process. On the contrary, we feel that by assuming full responsibility for their own external affairs and defence, they can re-engage in a modern relationship with the United Kingdom. This is an act not of disengagement but of re-engagement once the process of terminating the association has been completed.

The power of the Government under the West Indies Act to terminate association under section 10(2) was devised to enable either side to terminate the association. Two provisions were made. One provided, in section 10(1), for a referendum by which it was possible to ensure that if an associated State wanted to terminate the association against the wishes of the British Government, it could do so. Also, if it wished to re-engage itself in any federal concept or any arrangement with any other territory, that, too, could be undertaken.

Section 10(2) allowed the British Government to terminate the arrangement, but throughout the discussions on the 1967 Act this was regarded as a free and voluntary arrangement and it was felt that if both sides agreed. the provision could be exercised.

Mr. Tony Durant (Reading, North)

The Minister has mentioned a referendum in this procedure. Has that been carried out in St. Lucia? Has there been a referendum on what has been proposed?

Mr. Rowlands

No. Not only the Government of St. Lucia but other Governments in associated States have said that they do not wish to use that right, especially as the provision in section 10(2) exists where, by agreement with the British Government, the association can be terminated. I shall come back to the point about a referendum, and I think that I shall answer the hon. Gentleman's query.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

My hon. Friend has just used words in reference to section 10(2) which seemed a little odd. He said that that is a provision that can be used in agreement with the British Government. Everyone understands that in section 9 of the 1967 Act there is provision for agreement between the associated State and the British Government, but he will confirm, will he not, that in section 10(2) there is no suggestion that there needs to be agreement between the associated State and the British Government, which suggests that section 10(2) was intended for a situation where the British Parliament was taking action on its own initiative?

Mr. Rowlands

Yes, of course, the original Act allowed a British Government unilaterally to terminate the association. It is perfectly possible, by agreement, to use a section 10(2) procedure, and it has been used on the two occasions that I mentioned. So I do not think that the point I make is invalidated. When the concept of associated statehood was and has been that of a free and voluntary arrangement which could be terminated by either side by a combination of procedures, if there is a common agreement to terminate by the section 10(2) procedure, that is perfectly possible and not invalid. That has certainly been so.

I think that both this Government and previous Governments have considered that it is proper to use a section 10(2) order for this purpose. The procedure has been endorsed by Parliament on two occasions, as I have said. A major reason for this is that the aim has been to try to create the best possible consensus in the process of going towards independence.

The process of referendum can often be very divisive in a small community, whereas the whole aim and purpose of British Government efforts has been to try to build wherever possible a consensus around a viable and effective constitution.

Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Mitcham and Morden)

Will my hon. Friend elaborate a little on why a referendum would be divisive in these circumstances? Also, could he tell the House whether he agrees that it has now to some extent been accepted that in circumstances of substantial or fundamental constitutional change, in the light of the Scotland Act and the Wales Act, there should be a referendum before a decision is made?

Mr. Rowlands

Let us define what we are doing. We are not making a fundamental constitutional change. That is the first point to be made. We are terminating the association where, to all intents and purposes, the State has been independent. The formal responsibilities which have remained have been for external affairs and defence matters. In practice, however, Mr. Compton or other Premiers of associated States have exercised those responsibilities themselves in a de facto sense. They attend regional conferences, they exercise in a de facto way their responsibilities as Premiers, and they have relationships with other territories.

Therefore, I think that we are formalising a process which was virtually already complete, and we are not making any massive or fundamental change. We are terminating an association. That is the first point.

Secondly, a referendum is obviously divisive in a small society. It can be extremely bitter on personal and other grounds. Personalities come into these issues in a very strong way.

If I may elaborate that point a little, I can tell the House that in all the discussions that I have had, which have now stretched over three years, the principle of independence has not been in contention between the parties concerned. It has been a question of timing, manner and method.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

Is my hon. Friend's information that one cannot place too much emphasis on the messages coming to some of us from the island? Some of us have been there, and therefore it is natural for people to make contact with us if they have doubts about the step that is being taken. They have certain fears, but it is difficult for someone like me to unravel the reality or the depth of those fears. Is my hon. Friend satisfied that they are minimal and that an element of delay might not eradicate them?

Mr. Rowlands

My hon. Friend makes a very sensible and reasonable point. I am satisfied that those fears are unjustified. My hon. Friend also talked about a little more delay. For two and a half to three years one has been trying to allay fears and build up areas of consensus around the constitution.

The Premier of St. Lucia first raised the question of independence in late 1975. Since then we have had many discussions. The discussion of and preparation for independence have now lasted for three years. This is not a precipitate act. It is not a hasty, last-minute decision which we are trying to have approved without forethought.

I have spent three years deliberating, discussing and preparing, trying to work out wherever possible a degree of consensus. The process has taken that long because the British Government have insisted that the Government of St. Lucia, the Opposition party and many public organisations there should be fully consulted. There have been considerable discussions about the implications of independence, even though in practical constitutional terms the step itself is not a major and substantive one. Our objective has been to create a maximum degree of consensus in St. Lucia on the question of constitutional advance. We need to proceed by the process of consultation and discussion, and we have spent a great deal of time and energy on it. I have had a number of meetings with the Government of St. Lucia and the Opposition in preparation, leading up to the constitutional conference earlier this year. We did not race or decide to bowl the matter through in an underhand or covert way. On the contrary, we spent two to three years talking, arguing and discussing.

I held rounds of talks in London in March this year with both the Government and Opposition to consider the public discussion of independence and the proposed amendments to the constitution. There were intensive talks lasting over three days. including two plenary sessions and three sessions each with the Government and Opposition alone. The whole intention of the talks this year, even before the constitutional conference, was to create the maximum degree of consensus on the way forward between the two parties.

Mr. George Cunningham

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the result of all that consultation is that the Opposition in St. Lucia, which, after all, represent seven out of the 17 seats and I think 45 per cent. or so of the votes in the last election, have asked him and the rest of us not to pass the order until there has been a referendum on the island?

Mr. Rowlands

For the whole of those two years the Opposition have been ambivalent on the question of a referendum. I have spent a great deal of time discussing the issue. Their preference has been, certainly in the past 12 months or more, for an election, not a referendum. The principle of independence has not been opposed by members of the Opposition. They perhaps disagree about the timing and method, but they do not oppose the principle.

Of course, I have not got agreement. What I am trying to say, in response to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell), is that we have spent a great deal of time trying to allay fears. The fact that we have not got final and total agree- ment is regrettable, but that is not a reflection of the amount of effort and activity that have been put in to try to build up a consensus. It is perfectly sensible to try to create such a consensus.

As a result, in the course of the discussions this year, we were satisfied that the process of consultation with the St. Lucians had been thoroughly carried out, but because even at that stage, a few months ago, a number of organisations and individuals which had made representations to the Select Committee of the House of Assembly on the independence constitution had not specifically confirmed the desire for independence, although it was implied in almost all their submissions, it was agreed that the process of consultation should be further consolidated.

As part of this process, the Government of St. Lucia agreed to publish for public discussion a draft constitution for an independent St. Lucia. I said that, subject to the outcome of all this consultation, we would be prepared—two and a half years after the initial discussion—to hold a constitutional conference.

The St. Lucian Government published about 12,000 copies of a draft constitution and 14,000 copies of a layman's guide, and a wide range of organisations and individuals submitted their comments to the Select Committee, which then tabled a further report to the House of Assembly last July. All this showed evidence of a wide measure of support for independence and concentrated, understandably, on what type of constitution and what aspects of the constitution needed revision for an independence date.

On the basis of all this information, we decided to convene a constitutional conference in July this year. I know now that there is disagreement, but a considerable measure of agreement was reached at the conference on constitutional issues. Although, understandably, the St. Lucian Opposition continued to argue that there should be an election beforehand, and claimed that there was as yet insufficient evidence that the people of St. Lucia wanted independence—they reserved their position on whether St. Lucia should be a monarchy or a republic—there were many constructive changes, alterations and amendments at the conference.

I pay tribute to members of the St. Lucian Opposition as well as to the Government of St. Lucia for the constructive manner in which they approached the preparation of a constitution that could be used for independence. Some very significant changes were made to the constitution as a result of representations from the Opposition as well as from a large number of public organisations in St. Lucia.

We concentrated on the issue of an electoral commission, the establishment of a new constituency boundary commission, and the concept of the establishment of an Ombudsman. All these features reinforce individual civil rights as well as ensuring the democratic principles underpinned and underlined by the draft constitution that was prepared.

I felt, having gone through three years of consultation—very elaborate and detailed—trying to build up a consensus, and having had a constructive constitutional conference, that when the House of Assembly requested that we terminate the association, it would be wrong for us to reject that request. To have done so would not have been democratic. It would have been the opposite. It would have meant rejecting a request by a Government who had been democratically elected, headed by a Premier who has since 1964 been involved in the government of St. Lucia, and would have overruled the wishes of a majority of the Assembly and, I believe, of the majority of the people of St. Lucia.

Having gone through this process, having spent a great deal of time trying to build up a consensus, it seemed to us that we should not reject the decision of the House of Assembly. To have done so would, I think, have created considerable conflict within St. Lucia and with the St. Lucian Government. It would have caused considerable problems in the context of the Caribbean.

We have a lot of support for the concept of St. Lucian independence from Barbados and other independent Caribbean countries. I have had an important message from the Barbadian Foreign Minister, who has recently visited St. Lucia and is working out forms of cooperation in common services, overseas representation, fisheries policy, conserva- tion and legal services which will ensure that St. Lucia not only goes into independence but does so in co-operation with a neighbouring State, a democratic State, Barbados.

For all these reasons, I believe that it is right for us to accept the verdict which has been presented to us by the demoratically elected Government of St. Lucia. I regret that we have not been able to reach unanimity. We tried hard to do so. We must make a decision now. Has this Parliament the right to overrule the wishes of the majority of the people of St. Lucia? I do not think it has. That is why I seek the approval of the House for the draft order in council terminating the status of association.

3.5 a.m.

Mr. Richard Luce (Shoreham)

This is an important occasion for the people of St. Lucia. We have a long history of association with that country which began, I think I am right in saying, in 1814. The country got representative government in 1924 and full internal self-government in 1967. We are now faced with this order which is designed to terminate the asssociation status. It is a very healthy sign that, despite the lateness of the hour, there is such a large number of hon. Members on both sides present on this important occasion.

It is clearly our duty to decide whether it is right for the people of St. Lucia that the order should be approved. As the Minister of State said, this must be considered against the background of the West Indies Act 1967. It is not for us to decide now whether that Act was a good thing. It is legitimate for us to discuss which was the right section of the Act to invoke on this occasion—the section that involves a referendum or section 10(2) which entitles the United Kingdom Government to introduce an Order in Council.

There are two main questions to be asked. First, do all the political parties —in this case, the two main political parties on the island—accept the principle of independence? Secondly, has the process of consultation with all the parties and with the people of St. Lucia been as thorough as could be possible in the circumstances with a view to achieving a consensus with regard to the constitution following independence?

I shall take first the principle of independence. It is well established that the United Workers Party—the Government party—led by Mr. Compton, who is a friend of this country, as indeed the St. Lucia Labour Party is a friend of this country, included in its manifesto for the election in 1974 a desire for independence. That was made plain to the people of St. Lucia. I have had a number of discussions with leaders of the Labour Patty. I have had meetings in London and considerable correspondence with Mr. Louisy and some of his distinguished colleagues. I understand that they are not opposed to the principle of independence. Therefore, the two political parties on the island do not object to independence—in fact, they want it. The only disagreement is on the question of the constitution and how the island should proceed to independence. We have the precedents of Granada and Dominica. That is the first consideration.

The second consideration is the constitution, which is important. It is the duty of this House to allay the anxieties of the Labour Party about the constitution. I have no doubt, like the Minister of State, that the party's members wish to play a highly constructive role in the affairs of their country. All the evidence suggests that this is what they have been endeavouring to do. It should be acknowledged.

Three factors need to be noted about these anxieties. The first is that a number of the constructive proposals for the constitution—the Minister of State referred to this matter—have been accepted by the Government of St. Lucia and subsequently by the British Government. I refer, for example, to the question of the Parliamentary Commissioner, the electoral commission, and the powers of the governor-general to appoint the chairman of the Public Service Commission, on which concessions have been made following proposals of the Opposition.

The second consideration is the anxiety of the Labour Party in St. Lucia over the considerable number of amendments to the constitution since the constitutional talks in London in July. I have been given a figure of 87 amendments made to the constitution since that date.

The Labour Party claims that it is not clear from where these amendments emanate. Do they emanate from the British Government? Do they emanate from Mr. Compton's Government? It seems strange to the Labour Party that, after thorough constitutional talks in July, it should have been necessary to move so many further amendments to the constitution. I would be grateful if the Minister would explain why he felt it was necessary to make so many changes. I refer to such issues as the understanding about the state of emergency and how that should be handled, the dissolution of Parliament, and so on.

The third aspect, which is again important, relates to the outstanding constitutional issues on which the Labour Party in St. Lucia does not agree with the Government. I select two out of a number. The first is the question of whether St. Lucia should be a republic or a monarchy with a governor-general, on which the party feels there should be further discussion. Certainly the party has not reconciled its views with those of the Government.

Secondly, the Labour Party feels that it would prefer an elected second chamber, a senate, rather than a nominated one. There are other outstanding issues, but those were the more significant concerning the constitution. I should like an assurance from the Minister, if he has the leave of the House to reply, on these matters. We have to weigh these important anxieties against the clear evidence—I am trying to be as fair as possible to the Minister of State and to Mr. Compton as well as to the Labour Party—that there have been extensive consultations which began in 1975 with a request from Mr. Compton for the termination of association.

In 1976, a Select Committee was established to examine this matter and to collect evidence from the people. In 1977, there were tripartite talks and a Green Paper, and evidence was given to the Select Committee. In November that year, the Select Committee report was approved by the Assembly of the Saint Lucia Parliament and this year tripartite talks have taken place in London. The draft constitution has been published. There were constitutional talks in July after which, in October, it appeared from the evidence that the Assembly, or the majority of the Assembly, approved the constitution.

It is right to say that those discussions have been extensive and have lasted over three years. In fairness to the Minister of State, I believe that they have been very thorough.

In following the proceedings of the last few months I have made representations to the Government to delay introducing an order so as to give further time to discussing whether these differences can be reconciled. The Government responded and I know that Mr. Compton was anxious to have independence on 13th December, which is this week. I and others urged the Government not to introduce an order, to see whether reconciliation of these differences was possible. We now have the order. This is a late hour—in two senses. It is in the middle of the night, and it is also close to independence if the order goes through—with two months to go.

We are entitled to an assurance that the Minister will in the remaining period make a sustained effort to achieve a reconciliation between the two main parties. Mr. Posnett, a well-known trouble-shooter, was dispatched to Dominica to see whether he could over- come similar difficulties. Could the Minister consider something along those lines to try to overcome these final obstacles?

On the assumption that a reconciliation can be achieved—I hope that it can, for the sake of the people of St. Lucia—if they go ahead with independence on 22nd February, I hope that they can have a considerable future, particularly bearing in mind the view, which has been expressed to me as well as to the Minister by the Foreign Minister of Barbados, that they wish to undertake greater functional co-operation with the neighbouring Caribbean countries. That is an important development for that area. If there is to be growing co-operation, it has to stem from the grass roots rather than be imposed from above. Also, Britain should retain a close link with that country and the EEC, as part of the Lomé agreement, should do its best to assist.

If the Minister can give that assurance, I hope that there will be a successful conclusion, to the satisfaction of both the main parties on those islands. With that in mind, I am sure that we will wish the people of St. Lucia a happy future.

3.18 a.m.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

As one who believes that, on balance, it would be preferable if the House were not passing this order, I should like to acknowledge the work of the Minister of State and the intensive efforts which have been made to reach the consensus he mentioned. I am the first to recognise that this is not a black and white case, and that there is a strong case on each side of the argument.

We should all remember that there is something undesirable about making a country independent at three o'clock in the morning and with fewer people in the House than there are in the 17-man Assembly of St. Lucia. There is something at least cautionary about passing an order to make a country independent when the British Government and some hon. Members have received messages from the official Opposition in St. Lucia, which holds seven of the 17 seats and which at the last election gained 45 per cent. of the votes, which asked us to require that the provisions of section 10(1) of the 1967 Act should be used, which would require a referendum to be held on the island, or that, if section 10(2) is used, not requiring a referendum, it should be used following a referendum, conducted, although not under the provisions of the Act, on the island. We have a firm request from the Opposition not to pass the order in this form tonight. That ought to be taken seriously.

There is something odd about making a country independent by order rather than by Act of Parliament. That is something which follows from the special status of association invented by the West Indies Act 1967. It has sometimes been said that that Act provided two possible ways of altering the relationship between an associated State and Britain. I prefer to say that it provides three ways. I do not take them in the order in which they appear in the Act. One was to be an action by the Government of the associated State confirmed by referendum in which the "Yes" vote had a two-thirds majority.

Mr. Bidwell

Forty per cent.

Mr. Cunningham

We shall not go back to other tests in referenda, but it is interesting to note that the occasion of the 40 per cent. test is not the only time anyone has ever thought that there had to be a special condition in a referendum.

The second method set out in the Act was to be by the method we are using tonight, that is by Order in Council passed by the House, not necessarily at the request of the associated State. The third way was by an Order in Council necessarily at the request, and with the consent, of the associated State. That third method was to be used only if the associated State or part of its was being combined with other countries in the area.

The question before us is: which is the method that ought to be used for an associated State to become independent? It is my submission that the intention at the time of the 1967 Act and in the discussions leading up to that Act was that an associated State in all normal circumstances, if it were to become independent, should become independent by the first of those methods—under section 10(1) of the Act—by its own action, not by British action, and for that action to be confirmed by referendum in which the "Yes" vote got a two-thirds majority.

It is not surprising that it should be said that that was to be the normal method, because the whole point about association was not just that the associated State should have control of its internal affairs absolutely exclusively, and that Britain's role, even in external affairs, should be devolvable, as it has been devolved, but that the last link with Britain should be cuttable by the associated State itself and not by any action of ours. That was the whole point of the lengthy discussions leading up to the 1967 Act. If we look back at the discussions on that Act, we find that that is borne out.

If we look at paragraphs 3 and 13 of the White Paper recording the results of the preparatory discussions, we see that it seems clearly to be reflected there that the intention is for that method to be used as the normal way. I refer also to remarks by Lord Shepherd when we were dealing with the Grenada precedent. Lord Shepherd said: It is quite clear, and I am fully satisfied, that all the Associated States accept the view that subsection (2) was the way out—the escape —for Her Majesty's Government and the British Parliament if they themselves wished to break the association. Section 10(1) and Schedule 2 were the provisions that were put in the West Indies Act when an Associated State itself wished to achieve full independence ". Later in that same debate there was what one must call a more authoritative remark by Lord Greenwood. I say "more authoritative" because Lord Greenwood was the father of associated status. It was he, as Colonial Secretary, who chaired all the discussions and the like. He said: The object of the Government at that time "— that is, in 1967— and the object of the White Paper, was to enable colonies to go into independence if they really wished and if they could show that their public and Parliament genuinely wanted that independence. To this end safeguards…"— were introduced. That is the referendum and the other procedure. Then he said: I am very sad…that Her Majesty's Government, in their unseemly anxiety to disencumber themselves of their imperial legacy, have not honoured the spirit and the intention of the White Paper and of the Act ". —[Official Report, House of Lords, 17th December 1973; Vol. 348, c. 36–44.] Lord Greenwood was saying that about precisely the same choice as the Government have made in this St. Lucia case. That is the choice, to use a shorthand method rather than the referendum method. When that is said by the father of the arrangements, I think that it is a serious matter. Similar thoughts were expressed by the present Lord Chancellor when the Labour Party was in Opposition with regard to the method being used in the Grenada case.

Another consideration is that under the present constitution—the non-independent constitution—of St. Lucia if the St. Lucian Government want to alter that situation but not to proceed to independence, they have to have a referendum. If they want to alter the most important features of the constitution they must hold a referendum and get a two-thirds majority. And if they want to alter those same most important features of the independence constitution they will have to hold a referendum. There will be no alternative then, no running to the British Government and saying "Let us out of this difficulty in having a referendum ". They will have to have a referendum or bust the constitution.

So here we have a situation in which, to make changes in the constitution—some of which could be greatly less important than independence—before independence they have to have a referendum. After independence they have to have a referendum, but to make the transition to independence itself, which, despite what the Minister of State said, is the key transition, they come running to us and the Government agree that they will use the shorthand method at half-past three in the morning, with about 15 people in the House. I do not think that one can argue that that decision can be regarded as anything but very serious indeed.

I accept that the Opposition in St. Lucia—consisting of the St. Lucia Labour Party—are not opposed to the principle of independence. However, I do not see that that is a case for not requiring the St. Lucian Government to use the intended method. If the governing party and the Opposition party are both in favour of independence, it would seem likely that in any referendum on the subject there would be a two-thirds majority for independence. So what is the problem? It would fail only if, to everyone's surprise, no doubt, a significant number of people of St. Lucia decided to vote against it. It seems that no one expects that to happen, so why should we absolve the Government of St. Lucia from the obligation to hold a referendum?

I recognise, although he did not make anything of this, that the Minister has a problem because of the precedent of Grenada and Dominica. The fact is that in the case of those two associated States we have used precisely the method that is being used tonight. I can see the difficulty for the Minister if he has to say to the St. Lucians "We used it for Grenada, we used it for Dominica, but we are not going to use it for you ". Three wrongs do not make a right, of course.

This was not a consideration in the case of the other two islands, but if it were the case on St. Lucia that because of current circumstances, or whatever, the governing party was asking its supporters to vote for independence and it turned out to be the case that the Opposition party was going to urge its supporters to vote against it, judging by the figures in the last election there would not be a two-thirds majority for independence. That must give us cause to flap. I am not suggesting—

Mr. Douglas-Mann

It is not only a question whether there would be a two-thirds majority. At the time of the constitutional conference the Hon. Allan Louisy made a statement, in which he said: The Opposition wishes to state categorically that the process of consultation has not been completed. In areas where consultation has taken place the majority of the people are hostile to independence ". This is the assertion of the leader of the Labour Party. It is by no means certain, in the light of what he was saying at that time, that there is indeed a majority in favour of it.

Mr. Cunningham

That only strengthens the case for testing the opinion of the people in the referendum, as was always thought to be necessary. I am not saying that the use of this method is illegal. I do not think that any of us is saying that at all. What we are saying is that it is undesirable and that it flies in the face of what was intended to happen in the case of an associated State. For those reasons, I do not think that we ought to pass the order tonight. My preference would be, frankly, that the Government should at least have been persuaded to withdraw the order tonight and to bring it back after the Christmas Recess, when there could have been further clarificatory consultations.

I would have been prepared to divide the House in order to achieve that objective but my understanding, from consultations, is that the Opposition are not prepared to vote against the passage of the order tonight. In those circumstances, dividing the House could only be a gesture, because there are the votes of the Government and there are the votes of the official Opposition, which will enable the order to be passed. There is no point in wasting time in a mere gesture, but I regret that it has not been possible to get enough votes to force the Government at least to put the matter off until after Christmas. As Lord Greenwood said on the occasion to which I have referred, we seem to be in indecent haste, pushing a country to independence when there is some doubt whether the requisite majority of its people wish it.

There is no question of our saying that we are unwilling for St. Lucia to be independent. That does not arise at all. The only question is the method by which the country becomes independent. That ought to be absolutely clear to anyone who reads this debate.

3.33 a.m.

Mr. Anthony Nelson (Chichester)

I listened to the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) with considerable interest. His measured comments on the order will have contributed a great deal to the discussion on this important matter. His conclusion is a most responsible one. I am sure that he would agree that we have an important responsibility to seek as broad a consensus in all parts of the House as is possible when dealing with matters of this kind. If we decide to oppose in total or to approve in total an order that grants independence to a country, it is important that the greatest degree of support that can be shown, or not shown—as the case may be—within this Parliament for such an order should be shown. I think that that was recognised in the concluding remarks of the hon. Gentleman's speech. I am sure that the Minister will wish to deal in detail with some of the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

I give a broad welcome to the order. I had the honour of visiting St. Lucia last year with a number of hon. Members of this House, as part of a delegation from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. It is one of the values of such delegations and visits that it gives one a personal and closer understanding of the people, problems and aspirations of these countries, and enables one to contribute to important debates such as this with a little more knowledge. I certainly wish to do so on this occasion.

I do not think that anyone—certainly none of us who visited the island last year—could fail to be impressed by the character of the St. Lucian people and, indeed, with their resilience and in particular their ability to adjust to changes. The many changes that they have experi- enced over the last two centuries have reflected their ability to adjust to changes, and the latest major change which will come with the passage of an independence order is one with which they are certainly able to cope. I for one would certainly wish them well.

As to independence, the policy that I would support is that we should not hinder the wish of associated States in the Caribbean to achieve full independence. I believe that is right both from their point of view and from ours. However, even where there is a degree of mutual acceptance of the need to terminate the status of an associated State, it is proper that any British Government should have an important responsibility to ensure that there is full discussion and negotiation of the constitutional, judicial and economic consequences of such a move, as well as an assurance that the appropriate defence and aid arrangements follow with the passage of such an order.

Secondly, I believe that there is a wider reponsibility to ensure in such negotiations that there is international, or at least to some extent pan-Caribbean, good will and responsibility for a new nation State.

Since my visit, I together with a number of hon. Members have taken a close interest in the discussion of the draft constitution and the negotiations which have taken place in London and St. Lucia. I can testify from my personal knowledge that these negotiations have been extensive. Indeed, I believe that they have been exhaustive. They have taken place in order to achieve the necessary degree of consensus.

I congratulate the Minister and the Foreign Office on the detailed work that they have put into these negotiations. It is right that we should pay this tribute. Much detailed work goes on behind the scenes—work that is often regarded as rather thankless. It is important, on this occasion, to pay tribute to that. I know the amount of work and delicate discussion that have gone on to enable this order to be brought before the House with the conviction that there has been due negotiation and discussion of this important constitutional change, and I welcome the effort that the Minister and Government have put in.

As to whether there is a mandate for independence, there seem to be three considerations. First, both the Government of St. Lucia—the United Workers' Party—and the Opposition—the St. Lucian Labour Party—are, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) indicated, in principle in favour of independence. They were in favour of it in principle when the last General Election in St. Lucia took place.

The difference lies in the process by which independence should be brought about and the process of consultation beforehand. As I understand it—it is important to emphasise this—this formed part of the General Election manifestos of both parties.

Although I am only an individual, and perhaps did not meet a representative sample, I met a large number of people, and most of them were in favour in principle of moving towards independence. There may have been difficulties and differences about the question of consultation and procedure, but the objective was broadly accepted by nearly all the people whom I met. I do not think that any of my colleagues and hon. Members who were with me would disagree with that conclusion.

Thirdly, the draft constitution was, I understand, approved on Second Reading by a majority of 10 to 6, and after Committee by a majority of nine to seven in the House of Assembly of St. Lucia. This again indicates a degree of broad acceptance within the Assembly. But, of course, this was split across party lines.

I turn to the procedure that one should adopt under the 1967 Act. Here I relate directly to the points raised by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury. This perhaps also relates to the intention behind the 1967 Act, which may not have been fully understood at the time of its passing; I do not know. If the major Opposition party of an associated State and a clear body of opinion in the country concerned opposed independence, there might be a case for adopting the procedure set out in section 10 providing for a full referendum requiring a two-thirds majority, but that is not the case in St. Lucia. Both major parties are convinced of the need to move to full independence.

The main thrust of my argument—and I suggest to all hon. Members that they should take this seriously—lis that we must resist the temptation to use the provisions of the 1967 Act to bring about a domestic political change in St. Lucia and must remain entirely objective about the question of independence. It is important that we must be seen not to be trying politically to engineer a result in the question of who should be governing St. Lucia. That is a matter for the people of St. Lucia, who must have an election within the next nine or 10 months in any case.

If we adopt section 10(1) as opposed to section 10(2), or vice versa, we risk the danger of being accused of trying to engineer a political result in the government of St. Lucia. We should resist that temptation and that is why I resist the thrust of the argument of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury.

Mr. Bidwell

One gets impressions rather than absolute determinations on a short visit to a country, and my mission was concerned with race relations and immigration. We opted out of looking too deeply into political difficulties on the island, but was the possibility of a referendum raised with the hon. Gentleman when he was in St. Lucia?

Mr. Nelson

We certainly discussed the possibility fully with members of the Opposition and the Government, and at joint meetings. As far as possible, we also discussed it with the members of the public whom we met. There was no overwhelming pressure put on me to insist on a referendum. Indeed, the Opposition party did not appear to be pressing for it at that stage.

Let us be frank. If the party balance were reversed, it is quite likely that the present situation would still apply because any political party wishes to bring its country to independence itself. We must look at the matter in isolation and not make a judgment about which party we should like to bring a country to independence. That is a matter for the country concerned. We must judge only whether the preconditions have been met and whether the time is right to grant independence.

Partly because of the precedent of using the Order in Council and partly because of the factors I have mentioned, my judgment is that the order will not imperil the prospects or the success of St. Lucia, post-independence, and will not hinder the prospects of any political parties.

I give a broad welcome to the order and I should like to pay tribute to the integrity, prospects, activity and vitality of all politicians in St. Lucia. I was impressed by Premier Compton and the work that he has done over 14 years in developing the country. Though there is clearly a great deal of work to be done and many deficiencies to be remedied, he has achieved a great deal.

Similarly, I was very impressed by the vitality and determination of many members of the St. Lucia Labour Party. In the future, clearly, they are bound, and are determined, to play a very formative role in the development of their country as an independent State. I wish them well. As for my own party, certainly I should like to feel that we Conservatives will always listen and learn and try to work with them and be sympathetic to their aspirations.

I do not believe that by passing this order tonight we shall in any way inhibit the prospects of the Opposition party or, indeed, the governing party when the election comes or when ensuing elections occur.

Because I base my arguments on objective reasons about the acceptance, as I judge it, of the need at this time for independence in the country, and the importance of not trying to engage in any political engineering as to the result—which might be the result of insisting upon the referendum provisions of the 1967 Act —I believe that it is important that we pass the order. I certainly welcome it. I think that we have a responsibility and an obligation to ensure, as far as possible, that there is a broad consensus on both sides of the House, so that the people of St. Lucia and the world at large are persuaded that we have conviction in passing such an order.

3.46 a.m.

Miss Betty Boothroyd (West Bromwich, West)

The hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) was quite right in saying that the Premier and Government of St. Lucia wished this order to be passed on 13th November. I think that that was the original intention. It would have been very pleasant if that could have occurred because, as the House knows, it is St. Lucia's national day, and the people of St. Lucia were looking for a call from this House in passing the order.

However late the hour, it is only right, on an occasion such as this, that those of us who have had the good fortune to become acquainted with the island of St. Lucia and with its people, many of whom have been involved in these constitutional talks, should speak on behalf of the island and wish its people well in the future.

In January of this year, I came back from St. Lucia, after spending a few weeks there, with a very strong impression that I have never experienced before. It was an impression of the ordinary man and woman in the street and on the banana plantations, and of their real desire for independence. Wherever I talked to them, in Castries, in the supermarket and on the banana plantations of the central plain, I found that all of them wished for independence. That included, too, the professional people. Many expatriates who have been there for many years saw the need for St. Lucia to gain its independence.

My first visit there was about 15 years ago. Before I became a Member of this House, I was fortunate enough to be able to live on the island for two or three months at a time. Life in this place does not allow that any longer. However, over the last 15 years, at any rate, I have, with one exception, visited the island very regularly each year.

I feel that I have seen some of its developments. Many of the developments have taken place slowly but surely. In one respect, I am very sorry that this debate is taking place at this hour, because I think that the developments in St. Lucia should have been mentioned. But I am sure that I should not take up the time of the House in the early hours of the morning in so doing, not only because the hour is late but, more importantly, because the domestic economy and the way that St. Lucia organises its society are not the responsibility of the British Government or of this Parliament.

The phrase "internal self-government" means what it says. St. Lucia has had self-government since 1967, so I think that I should turn to the constitutional issues which are involved. The two ways in which St. Lucia can gain its independence have been spelled out. I understand that section 10(1) of the Act has never been used by any British Government in terminating an association relationship. I understand that it is section 10(2) which is now in question. This is the mechanism which successive British Governments have used in order to grant independence.

Along with that, of course, is the need to satisfy ourselves that discussions and debates have taken place, that organisations and individuals there have been consulted, and that, after extensive consultations, termination reflects the wishes of the majority of its people. I want to try to show how, to the best of my knowledge, discussions and consultations which satisfy the conditions of the West India Act have been carried out.

The present Government have been in office since 1964, continuously for 14 years. In 1967, the present Opposition opposed association statehood for St. Lucia, just as they now oppose the method by which St. Lucia is gaining its independence. But, from the inception of statehood in 1967 and yearly since then, the speech from the Throne, which of course is the Government's programme, has contained a declaration of their intention to seek independence.

In the General Election of 1969, the Government's party's manifesto declared the party's intention to take St. Lucia into independence, preferably with one or more of the Windward or Leeward Islands group. That manifesto in 1969 was endorsed by the electorate, and the Government party was returned to office on that manifesto.

In 1970, when it became apparent that attaining independence with a federated State was not feasible, the Government, again in a speech from the Throne, declared their intention of gaining independence alone because no partners were forthcoming, and that is a pledge which is renewed annually.

At the last General Election, in 1974, the Government party again declared its intention to seek independence and that it would do so alone. In its manifesto, it said: During our next term of office, we shall strive to reach an understanding with one or more of the Associated States so that we may together enter the portals of Independence and make our contribution…to the Councils of the World. If our endeavours at political unity meet with no success we shall consider going it alone if this should appear to be in the best interests of our people. In that election, the Government party was returned with 53.22 per cent. of the total electoral vote. The Opposition polled 43.42 per cent.

So twice in General Election manifestos, in 1969 and again in 1974, the issue of independence has been a plank of Government policy. Annually since 1967 it has been the declared policy of the Government, and it has been stated yearly in the speech from the Throne outlining Government policy. There are members of the Labour Party in this country who are very concerned to see that manifesto commitments are carried out, and here is a party in St. Lucia ready and willing to carry out its manifesto commitments over many years.

Shortly after the 1974 election, there was a good deal of coverage on radio and television and through the newspapers informing the electorate about what independence really meant. This was carried out not by the Government alone but by the Opposition, who also wanted independence but made it quite clear that they did not want independence under the present Government.

In 1976, the question was put to the St. Lucia House of Assembly. The purpose of initiating that debate in Parliament was to attempt to secure the approval of the parliamentary Opposition. Although the Opposition took part in the debate and made no objection to independence in principle, at the end of the debate they refused to vote against independence, and they refused to vote in favour of independence. They simply walked out of the Chamber.

A Select Committee was established to prepare a draft constitution so that a constitutional conference with the British Government could take place. The Select Committee had as its chairman the Speaker of the St. Lucia Assembly and the leader of the Opposition was appointed to it, as was one other member of the Opposition.

The usual notices and all the paraphernalia were sent out, and it was at that time that the Government and Opposition were first invited by the British Government—both accepted the invitation —for talks on the constitutional future. So the Opposition were represented at the initial talks and at those that have been held in the last three years.

On returning to St. Lucia, and on the advice of the British Government, the St. Lucia Government issued their Green Paper in the form of a consultative document setting out the advantages and the possible modifications of the existing constitution which, no doubt, hon. Members have seen. The Select Committee in St. Lucia did not sit until late November 1977 so as to give further opportunities for the consultative document to be considered.

Evidence was examined and witnesses were heard, but at no time did an Opposition Member attend a meeting of that Committee. They came to talks in London, but they boycotted the Committee.

In November 1977, when independence was a hotly debated issue, local elections were held in the capital of Castries. The Government party won all nine seats. Since 1969 the issue of independence has been spelled out to the people of St. Lucia. They know what they want, and in re-electing their Government in 1969 and again in 1974 the people of St. Lucia showed that they were aware of the meaning of independence. They have responded positively to that policy and have shown that they want it by this means.

We have not heard much about the Opposition's case. It is set out in a document called "The Red Book ". No doubt my hon. Friends will have read it. It can be summarised. The argument is of a purely internal political nature. One of the points made is that the history of the government of St. Lucia since the attainment of associated statehood and full internal self-government has been one of gross neglect of the fundamental needs and problems of the people.

These were the sorts of issues that the Opposition put to the electorate as a basis for opposing independence at that time. But the Opposition have never argued against independence for St. Lucia. That is the sort of argument that any Opposition worth their salt are interested in putting to an electorate during an election campaign. It may be good material for the next election. It is the material that party politics are made of. But I submit that it bears no relation to the question whether the people of St. Lucia want independence.

One of the most distinguished people in St. Lucia, its Governor. Sir Allen Lewis, made an interesting comment in a speech last year to the youth of the island. Speaking of the move towards nationhood, he said that since 1967 they had had full control over all their internal affairs. He continued: The march to nationhood has been slowed while adults quarrel and complain about leadership and other domestic affairs. I think that is right.

The argument of the Opposition refers entirely to and rests entirely on complaint about domestic affairs. It is part of a sort of ding-dong party battle which this House should not be involved in. Many of the issues raised are domestic issues for the people of St. Lucia to resolve. They already have the constitutional machinery to do so, and they have had that right since 1967. ft is not an argument which is relevant to termination of associated status.

I believe that what St. Lucia seeks tonight is the right to make its own treaties and to raise finance on the open markets of the world so as further to develop its economy and provide a better standard and quality of life for its people and an extension of its social structure.

I warmly welcome the order, and in so doing I pay tribute to the leaders of the St. Lucia Workers' Party and the St. Lucia Labour Party. I believe that all of them are dedicated to parliamentary democracy. Their involvement in the talks with the Foreign Office and in negotiations here in London have reached some area of agreement.

With all my heart, I wish all the people of St. Lucia the best in the years to come. I know that they will make the most of it.

4.1 a.m.

Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Mitcham and Morden)

In the few minutes left, I shall be brief. I remind my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd) that manifesto promises should be kept, but they should be kept constitutionally. The course being taken tonight, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) reminded us when quoting from Lord Greenwood in the House of Lords, goes in direct contradiction to the purpose and spirit of the 1967 Act.

There is a procedure for a country to prepare itself for independence. We have had impressions given to the House as to the views of the people of St. Lucia by hon. Members who have been there. I have not had that privilege. But I have heard my Scottish friends telling me for certain how Scotland will vote in the referendum. They have been telling me both ways—that Scotland is certain to vote for the Assembly and equally that the Assembly will be rejected. We cannot know until we have held the referendum.

By analogy with the situation in Wales and Scotland —

Miss Boothroyd rose—

Mr. Douglas-Mann

I am sorry, but I cannot give way. My hon. Friend spoke for a long time. It is principally by analogy with the arrangements for Scotland and Wales that I feel that, in all circumstances of this kind, where there is opportunity for a referendum it should be taken.

That argument is strengthened tonight by the fact that the Opposition Labour Party in St. Lucia has addressed a telegram to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury appealing to him—and to the House—in these terms: St. Lucia Opposition strongly urges you to move Parliament to close the door to use of section 10(2) of West Indies Act and require provisions of section 10(1) to be used…". I knew nothing about St. Lucia until very recently, when I received a letter from a member of the St. Lucia Labour Party suggesting that there were a number of sinister motives behind the reasons for the move by Mr. Compton to independence in this way at this time. I shall not repeat those allegations. I have no idea whether they are true or false. But they have been made to a number of hon. Members of this House. I cannot judge whether they are true. The House cannot judge. We can judge that only by putting the issues to the referendum in the manner required by the constitution.

I, too, shall not oppose the order tonight, but I make a request regarding the use of a similar procedure in any circumstances in the future. When it is proposed to make a fundamental constitutional change—and this is a fundamental constitutional change—a referendum should be held wherever there is the machinery to do so. I hope that my hon Friend the Minister will be able to say that at least in future cases that will be done.

4.4 a.m.

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

I was a member of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation which went to St. Lucia and other islands in the Caribbean last year. I do not wish to take very long, and I shall not repeat anything that has been said by other hon. Members on both sides, but I must say that my impression was that the whole issue of independence had been well discussed. I do not recollect that we had any representations about the holding of a referendum made to us, but we heard a great deal from the Government party about the section 10(2) possibility of achieving independence.

However, in company with many other hon. Members, I have had representations from the Opposition party. Mr. Louisy has made the following statement: My Party and I cannot accept that the request of the House of Assembly is equivalent to an expression of the wishes of the people, especially when the question of independence was never an issue at the 1974 general election. In view of what my hon. Friend the Minister has said, I find it strange that Mr. Louisy should say that. I cannot imagine that the issue of independence arose only after 1974. I am sure that it was well discussed for many years before.

I want to raise the question of the electoral registration which is crucial, whether for the forthcoming election or a referendum. Members of the Opposition party put to us that many people who were entitled to vote at the last election were not enabled to do so. The following figures have been supplied to me: there are 120,000 people living on the island; in the 1969 election 44,868 people voted and in the 1974 election only 39,815 voted. Clearly, there is a great deal to be done to provide universal adult suffrage. What has been done since the discussions began on the constitution and independence to make sure that all those on the island who are of an age to vote are enabled to do so? This is a burning issue with the Opposition. Unless apparent injustices of that kind are eliminated, they are likely to affect the whole independence issue.

St. Lucia is a beautiful island, but it has many serious economic problems. The standard of living of the working people is very poor. The average wage is about £6 a week and living conditions are appalling. Most of the people live in wooden shacks on the plantations. Whatever happens, we have a responsibility to see, through Loméer methods, that the standard of living is dramatically raised.

The Prime Minister of St. Lucia is asking for industrialisation of the island after independence. That needs to be carefully considered, because it could destroy many of the island's marvellous attributes and reduce the possibility of future development on the lines that should be followed for the sake of the people.

I hope that independence will come about. I also hope that my hon. Friend will be able to deal with some of the points that I have raised, particularly with regard to the suffrage question.

4.8. a.m.

Mr. Rowlands

This has been an interesting and important debate. I hope that nothing that I said initially encouraged the view that the matter that we are discussing is not important. It is, as hon. Members on both sides of the House have said.

I wish to pay a big tribute to the Government and Opposition of St. Lucia, to people such as John Compton, Allan Louisy, George Odium and Peter Josie, and others with whom I seem to have lived for the past three years. I have had rows with both sides. I have caused irritation, and they have irritated me. We have had tremendous arguments, but the whole process has been an endeavour to work out the maximum degree of constructive support for a constitution to take St. Lucia to independence.

The hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) asked whether I could give an assurance that we would still try to work for reconciliation on outstanding constitutional issues. The answer is "Yes ". The constitution is not final. Many amendments are still under discussion. This order does not terminate that discussion and the possibility of certain changes that could be made to the constitution.

Substantively, we believe that, even though we have established the areas of major disagreement, there are still probably some issues that can be resolved and that there are changes of a technical nature that can be made to the constitution almost up to the day of independence. I recall that in the case of Dominica we were changing the draft constitution up to within a week or so of independence. This order does not terminate that process.

I do not see any substantive changes being made to the constitution or any new substantive initiative on our part to try to resolve the argument whether the constitution should be monarchical or republican. We considered that issue in great detail. The Opposition themselves could not make up their minds whether they supported one or other of those concepts; they merely raised it as a question, and every other test of opinion that we took demonstrated that there was not any support to change the monarchical nature of the draft constitution.

We shall continue through the existing diplomatic contacts and channels to try to resolve a number of still outstanding issues in relation to the draft constitution, especially those of a technical nature, and where we can get agreement between the two sides we shall work for it in the remaining weeks. That process will not be terminated by this order.

I turn to the remarks by my hon. Friends the Members for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) and Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) which centred around the use of this procedure. I appreciated the manner in which they raised it. My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden felt that there was a balance of argument. He reverted to the question of the origins of the provisions in the West Indies Act 1967. But even the quotations that he made do not invalidate the use of this order in this case. As Lord Greenwood said, we are not talking about disencumbering ourselves, as if the British Government want to shed themselves of the responsibility. Nor are we talking about foisting on St. Lucia a decision made here.

The two provisions made in the 1967 Act were, first, for each party, if the other side was refusing to do something, to force a change upon that other party; secondly, we could terminate the association if we wished to, and there was also the right of the local Government to terminate the association.

If one has agreement, if both sides say" We are not opposed to the termination of association and mutually agree it ", it is perfectly reasonable and orderly to use this procedure. I cannot give an assurance otherwise. We have to look at each case as it comes along. It is not nonsense to use an order of this kind where, after a long period of time, one tries to devise a measure of consensus. Even if one fails ultimately, it is perfectly proper to use such an order to achieve independence. The idea of the provisions for referendum or an order was for when either of the two parties wished to terminate association against the wishes of the other. I think that that was at the heart of the provisions of the 1967 Act.

I do not think that we have done this in indecent haste or that we are doing it in any disorderly or underhand manner. We have spent a great deal of time trying to build up a consensus and agreements. I cannot give the assurance that we will never again produce an order such as this. There may well be a request from one of the remaining associated States to proceed in this manner, and we must judge the case and have the argument out as we have done in this case.

I turn briefly to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short). It has not been within the British Government's power since 1967 to change the system of registration. The system of registration has been the subject of local legislation. There is a major registration process under way at present. A house-to-house enumeration is taking place, based upon identity cards. It is still in process. It is being conducted by the St. Lucia Government.

We wish the St. Lucia Government and people well. We halve devised a new aid package. We will provide £10 million as development aid for the implementation of priority projects agreed by the British Government and the Government of St. Lucia. The first £5 million will be on grant terms and the remainder will be interest-free loan. Thus, in a very practical, demonstrative way, we shall be wishing St. Lucia—the Government, the Opposition, and the people—well as they embark upon the road to independence. As I said in opening, I do not see independence—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of Proceedings on the motion, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted Business).

Question agreed to.


That the draft Saint Lucia Termination of Association Order 1978, which was laid before this House on 5th December, be approved.

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