HC Deb 15 December 1980 vol 996 cc82-100

Order for Second Reading read.

7.46 pm
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members who have studied the history of Anguilla will find the Bill acceptable. It was well put by Lord Northfield in another place on Second Reading, when he said that the question of Anguilla was best described as water under the bridge.

I merely emphasise that past events in Anguilla should create no precedent for similar events in other islands in our dependent territories. The Bill should create no precedent if similar situations should arise. In some ways events have been unique, and perhaps that is how we should regard them. Nevertheless, I believe that the House will agree that this is the right solution to the problem.

Hon. Members will recall that St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla is one of the associated States set up under the West Indies Act 1967. The three islands comprising the State are St. Kitts with a population of 34,000, Nevis with a population of 12,000 and Anguilla with a population of 6,500. Anguilla is approximately 70 miles from the main island of St. Kitts.

When the associated State was set up—I shall deal with the history only briefly, unless hon. Gentlemen wish me to go into greater detail later—the people of Anguilla were not prepared to accept a State with St. Kitts and Nevis. They ejected the St. Kitts police officers who were on the island. In due course, they resisted the restoration of law and order which was undertaken by the previous Government in 1967. Indeed. the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Whitlock) experienced the difficulties of trying to coerce Anguilla into remaining in the associated State.

The previous Government made many attempts at reconciliation. A delegation went from Parliament to try to persuade the Anguillans to adopt a different attitude and, failing that, to try to find a solution to the problem. All these attempts failed. In the end the Anguilla Act 1971 was passed, whereby the island was administered by a British commissioner, and it has been so administered ever since.

During the years that followed the 1971 Act, no political consensus emerged as to how to deal with the situation. The Government now propose a permanent solution: that the island of Anguilla should remain as a British dependency with a British governor and should be separated from the associated State of St. Kitts-Nevis. What may or may not happen to the future of St. Kitts-Nevis is no longer the concern of Anguilla.

With the passage of time, this is the only solution that appears to be possible. I believe that it is accepted on both sides of the House. It is certainly accepted in Anguilla and, I believe, within St. Kitts-Nevis.

The failure to resolve this problem over the years has led not only to political difficulties but to economic difficulties because people have not felt free to invest in Anguilla until the political future was determined. This has perhaps impacted upon the development of the island, particularly in relation to tourism. I hope that all that is now at an end.

For the benefit of the House, I will go over the recent history of Anguilla and relate why it has been found necessary to bring forward the Bill. The House will know that it would have been possible to have had a request from the St. Kitts-Nevis legislature to Her Majesty's Government to separate the island by Order in Council. That solution was negotiated with the Government of St. Kitts-Nevis in December last year, when Mr. Lee Moore was Premier. A package was brought forward consisting of progress towards independence for St. Kitts-Nevis and the separation of Anguilla. At the same time, special arrangements for determining the opinion of the inhabitants of Nevis about their future were made in the form of a referendum. Then Mr. Moore had a general election in February this year which he did not win, so the agreement with the Government of St. Kitts-Nevis fell. Instead, Dr. Kennedy Simmonds was elected Premier. He confirmed a coalition with representatives of both Nevis and St. Kitts, which hangs together firmly on the question of not raising anything about the future of the island of Nevis in relation to St. Kitts. That problem could lead to demands for secession by Nevis from St. Kitts-Nevis. It is not easy for the representatives of either Nevis or St. Kitts to request formally through the legislature that Her Majesty's Government should separate Anguilla.

Separation is a tricky matter in that part of the world. It has been left to us to propose the Bill as a means of doing it by statute rather than by Order in Council. I assure the House that the people of Nevis and St. Kitts are content that we should proceed in this way. Indeed, I believe that there is consent in all quarters to the Bill.

We made a commitment to the Anguillans that separation would be effected by the end of the year. If the House were to give the Bill a Second and Third Reading tonight, it would be the Government's intention to bring in the commencing date order almost immediately after the Royal Assent and to have the date of separation as 19 December.

Under clause 1(1) it is necessary to appoint a date by order, although, since the Bill is before the House tonight and is debatable, the order will require approval of the House, because the House can approve or disapprove 19 December in the debate tonight.

The Bill contains other provisions. The first is that we may make regulations for the constitutional advance of Anguilla. We may be able to give to Anguilla the right to control its own finance and to have its own Minister of Finance. We should like to see it make constitutional progress. However, it is not the intention of Her Majesty's Government that Anguilla should proceed to full internal self-government. We regard that status only as a paving status before corning to independence. I believe that it is difficult to grant full internal self-government for a State which wishes to remain a dependency, as Anguilla currently does.

Under clause 1(3)(b), we have the power to bring Anguilla to independence by order if it should so wish at any stage in future. Whatever constitutional changes, whether' towards independence or not, the Anguillans decide to seek in future, the Bill contains powers to give them that advance by order. Therefore, I believe that the Bill contains powers to deal with any eventuality that might arise.

Those are the main provisions of the Bill. I should add that any constitutional change, apart from the date of separation, would be debatable by the House on an affirmative order. The House would in no sense be deprived of any further opportunity to discuss the territory of Anguilla if a change were proposed.

I turn now to what we are doing to help the economy of Anguilla. In the current financial year, 1980–81, grant-in-aid to the island is expected to be about £350,000, development aid amounts to £540,000 and, in addition, we are spending about £200,000 on technical co-operation, making a total of £1.09 million, which, for an island as small as Anguilla, is not an insignificant sum. We recognise that we have a special responsibility through our aid programmes for these small islands which will remain dependencies. In particular, some Caribbean islands have perhaps been neglected in the past, not by this Government or by the Labour Government, but by our forefathers. It is right that we should seek to help them to develop the infrastructure and productive enterprises, be they tourism or anything else, which will give them a viable future.

The Government will continue to aid Anguilla to the best of our ability, within the limitations of the totality of the aid programme.

I am sure that the House will feel that the Bill draws to an end an unhappy chapter in this part of the Caribbean and will wish to extend good wishes to Anguilla on its separation and best wishes for the future to St. Kitts-Nevis on the ending of the dispute.

I am sure that hon. Members will wish to ask questions, and I shall be happy to respond at the end of the debate. This simple little Bill will bring an end to a situation which all who have been involved in it will agree was difficult. I believe that the Bill is a solution which should find ready acceptance in all quarters.

8.1 pm

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

The Opposition are glad that the main purpose of the Bill enjoys the full support of the Anguillans and the Government of St. Kitts-Nevis. I know that it was the intention of the previous Government to try to resolve the outstanding constitutional issues affecting Anguilla by the end of the last year. As the Minister recalled, a working arrangement had been arrived at under the Anguilla Act 1971 and the Anguilla constitution of 1976 which provided for de facto dependent status for Anguilla, though it remained de jure part of the associated State.

In the light of the settled wish of the Anguillans not to be constitutionally linked with St. Kitts-Nevis, I have no doubt that the Government were right to continue to search for a solution that would meet the wishes of the people of Anguilla and be acceptable to the Government of St. Kitts-Nevis.

It has been a tortuous trail from 1967 to the point of agreement and I gladly express the Opposition's satisfaction that the new Government of St. Kitts-Nevis, under Dr. Kennedy Simmonds, should have agreed to the British Government taking the necessary steps to enable Anguilla to be separated from the associated State of which it forms a part.

The circumstances in which the Bill comes before the House are different from those that were envisaged at the time of the Government's discussions with the St. Kitts-Nevis Government in December last year. Agreement was reached with the St. Kitts-Nevis Government that they should move to early independence as a unitary State and that they would facilitate the separation of Anguilla. That agreement was in line with the position taken up by the British Government as early as 1971 that if St. Kitts-Nevis should proceed to full independence it would be necessary to provide for the separation of Anguilla.

However, the new Government of St. Kitts-Nevis, elected in February this year, have not indicated any intention to proceed to full independent status. Nevertheless, they have sensibly agreed that the time has come to seek to satisfy their Anguillan neighbours. It is particularly welcome to learn that the St. Kitts-Nevis Government, in the words of their premier, looks forward to continuing excellent relations between themselves and Anguilla. The Opposition accept that the time is right for a constitutional change in the relationship between Anguilla and St. Kitts-Nevis.

However, the Bill provides not only for the separation of Anguilla on an appointed day, to be determined by an Order in Council, but, in clause 1(2) and (3), for the future constitutional development of Anguilla and for the possible granting of full independent status to Anguilla.

The Minister can help the House on that matter. I understand that Mr. Ronald Webster, the Chief Minister of Anguilla, indicated after his election that it was his party's intention to seek full internal self-government for Anguilla. In those circumstances, it is clearly right that the Bill should contain provisions to enable such a development to take place.

The Minister has said that it is not the practice of the Government to grant full internal self-government prior to the granting of full independence except as a paving step in that direction. However, I am not aware that the premier of Anguilla has yet expressed an intention that Anguilla should move in that direction, though he has apparently expressed the desire for full internal self-government. Are there continuing discussions with Mr. Webster to resolve what appears to be a slight contradiction between the position of the British Government and that of Anguilla?

On the other hand, the Bill goes somewhat further. It provides that, by the affirmative procedure, the House would have the opportunity to consider granting full independence to Anguilla. Is it not premature for the Government to make legislative provision for that eventuality, particularly since I am not aware that constitutional discussions have taken place between the Government and Anguilla that would suggest that it is the wish of the Anguillans to attain such independence?

In another place, Lord Trefgarne stated that there had been no indication that Anguilla intended to seek independence at an early date and he affirmed that, in accordance with the policy of successive Governments, constitutional advance towards independence would take place only in the context of an agreed timetable. It is right to ask the Minister why he has thought it appropriate that Parliament should, at this stage, legislate for an eventuality which appears not to have been foreshadowed in any recent discussions with Anguilla.

I raise the question because the more normal final constitutional step from dependent status to complete independence has not been by way of subordinate legislation but by way of the passage of a Bill through Parliament. That was the method used in the case of Kiribati last year. Parliament passed an Act conferring independence, although I recognise that the case of Anguilla is not on all fours with that of Kiribati, because the Gilbert and Ellice Islands had not passed through associated status en route to final independence. However, independence Bills are the way in which successive Governments have sought to give independence to former colonies.

The second reason why I raise the issue is not a purely technical one. I recognise that under the terms of the Bill the Government retain responsibility for determining the pace and progress of Anguilla towards independence if Anguilla should seek it, but it is not inconceivable that circumstances might arise that would make a move to grant independence to Anguilla controversial. In those circumstances, Parliament might be dissatisfied not to be proceeding by the more normal constitutional route of a Bill that could be fully discussed in all its stages in the House.

The population of Anguilla is small—a mere 6,500. It is important to recognise the economic and political vulnerability of micro-States. Even such an island as Anguilla, with few indigenous natural resources, could, because of its location, attract outside interests which could be undesirable to the Anguillans. I believe that it is their hope that there will be some development of the tourist industry. In that may lie the best hope of greater economic self-sufficiency.

I was glad to hear the Minister speak of the present provisions for budgetary support and aid, which are generous. I hope that he will give further reassurance that that support and aid will continue to be available from the British Government after Anguilla's separation from St. Kitts-Nevis. The level of that aid must be affected to some extent by Anguilla's success in attracting inward investment. However, I am sure that the House will recognise that it has a continuing responsibility to provide economic support for the island until such time as it has established self-sufficiency on a basis that is welcome to the Anguillans and to all who have an interest in their prosperity, stability and security.

In passing, I should refer to a report in The Guardianon 30 May this year, which said that before the election of Mr. Webster as Chief Minister of Anguilla there had been some discussions with the United States about the possibility of its investing in Anguilla in return for the lease of Dog Island, which lies just off Anguilla, to be used as a United States naval weapons testing range. The report alleged that the proposal had caused some anguish in the area.

I do not know what substance there was in that report. Perhaps the Minister can say. Certainly, it would appear to lie within the British Government's responsibility, then and after the passage of the Bill, if any such arrangement were made, because it would clearly affect the external relations of Anguilla.

That illustrates the considerable sensitivity of the region to developments of such islands as Anguilla and the need for the British Government to act in the full consciousness that whatever they do will be subject to close scrutiny throughout the region. It is important that in the development of the Anguillan constitution the British Government should be aware that what they do will not be viewed in isolation. The Minister wisely said in opening that the Bill should in no sense be seen as a precedent. I am sure that that is right. It is also right that, in each case where the Government retain some responsibility for the constitutional development of the countries in the Caribbean, proposals should be viewed separately and on their merits.

Considerable concern has been expressed in the past that island archipelagos in the Caribbean that are historically and geographically linked will undergo a process of political fragmentation. That danger has perhaps receded somewhat. However, following the Under-Secretary's discussions in London a year ago with the representatives of the then St. Kitts-Nevis Government, he told the House, in answer to a question, of a decision that a referendum should be held, 18 months after St Kitts-Nevis moved to independence as a unitary State, to decide whether Nevis should remain part of the State. I very much hope that that proposal also is water under the bridge.

I realise that since then there has been a change of Government in St. Kitts-Nevis and that the coalition is not moving in the direction of independence, at least as a priority. None the less, it would seem very much against the interests of the associated State that the two islands, which are only two miles apart, should be separated. I hope that that proposal has been dropped for good. Perhaps the Minister can give us some assurance on that matter.

I conclude by expressing the Opposition's satisfaction that the agreements have been reached which allow for the Bill, providing for the separation of Anguilla from St. Kitts-Nevis, to be brought forward. After the chequered history of the past 13 years, this seems like a sensible outcome. The Minister has already indicated when he expects the provisions separating Anguilla from St. Kitts-Nevis to take effect. He said that the House would have an opportunity to approve the date—I think, 19 December—which was in the Government's mind. That date does not appear on the face of the Bill. We are grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving us that indication.

On behalf of the Opposition, I offer good wishes to the people of Anguilla and hope that their new constitutional status, when it comes, will usher in a period of satisfying and stable prosperity.

8.16 pm
Sir Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)

I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this short debate, because I was very much involved in the earlier stages of the long and not very happy St. Kitts-Anguilla saga, which it is to be hoped the Bill brings to an end. It all began in 1967, with the rebellion of the Anguillans against the Government of St. Kitts. Efforts by Commonwealth Office Ministers to mediate between the two islands were unsuccessful, and the then Minister of State, Lord Shepherd, decided towards the end of that year upon an unusual—I think unique—course of action. As far as I know, it had never been attempted before and has not been attempted since.

Instead of going to the Caribbean himself, or arranging for another Minister to go, Lord Shepherd decided to send out a Back-Bench mission with authority to negotiate a settlement on behalf of the then Labour Government and to install a British official on Anguilla to administer the island. As a Minister in the old Colonial Office under the previous Conservative Government, I had been responsible for the Caribbean area. I knew the West Indies very well and—which was really the significant aspect—I was a friend of Mr. Robert Bradshaw, the then Chief Minister of St. Kitts.

Lord Shepherd asked me to go and to suggest the name of a Labour colleague to accompany me. Lord Northfield, then a Member of this House, really picked himself for the job, because he was already a close friend of mine and I knew that we should work well together, and he had a very good knowledge of West Indian politics and of how to deal with West Indian politicians, which is sometimes difficult.

Although we were not Ministers, we were given what amounted to temporary ministerial powers. We took sophisticated communications equipment with us and our own radio operator to give us constant contact with the Commonwealth Office in London. We also took a secretary or two and the overseas civil servant whom we hoped to leave on Anguilla as its administrator, if we succeeded in negotiating an interim solution to the problem.

When we arrived at the airstrip, we were met by a large crowd of armed and rather angry Anguillans, who thought that we had come to impose a settlement that they might not like. I succeeded in defusing this potentially dangerous situation by telling them at once, on the airstrip, that we had come simply to look, listen and learn, and not to try to force a solution on them. That relaxed the atmosphere a good deal, but our task was not easy, because the Anguillan leader, Mr. Webster, would not see or speak to Mr. Bradshaw in St. Kitts, and vice versa. They would have no contact with each other whatever, so Lord Northfield and I had to keep flying back and forth between St. Kitts and Anguilla in a little aeroplane that was put at our disposal for the purpose.

We had to devise proposals in Anguilla, then fly to St. Kitts to discuss them with Mr. Bradshaw, and then fly back to Anguilla with Mr. Bradshaw's amendments and counter-proposals, of which there were always several.

It was a difficult and very time-taking procedure, not made any easier by the fact that Mr. Webster was being advised by a very able American constitutional lawyer, by chance a namesake of mine, called Professor Fisher, from Harvard or Yale university, who was on Anguilla in order to secure the best terms he could for the island.

Further complications were the strong views and sometimes volatile personality of Mr. Bradshaw, the hatred—there was no other word for it—in which he was held by all Anguillans and the risk, which was very real, of telephoned leaks, from one island to the other while we were flying to and fro, of the latest compromise proposal that we were bringing to discuss with the leader in the other island.

I had, however, one advantage. I had worked for Lord Duncan-Sandys for some time when he was Colonial Secretary, and I had learnt a great deal from him about this sort of negotiation. He had also taught me the meaning of hard work and how to manage with very little sleep. We worked all day and most of every night for a fortnight and eventually succeeded in getting an interim settlement, which included the installation of the British administrator and which gave the British Government a whole year in which to negotiate a final solution. So we achieved all that we had been asked to do. I hope that all that does not sound too egotistical—I am afraid that it does—but it is quite an interesting story, which, as far as I know, has not been told before.

Unfortunately, the year that we gained was really completely wasted. Our initiatives were not followed up and at the end of the year no permanent arrangement had been made. Nothing was done to unify the two islands on a loose federal basis—which would not at that time have been impossible—and at the end of the year friction flared up again. A ministerial mission was sent out, which failed to achieve anything, and the situation remained unresolved.

It was not until the sad death of Robert Bradshaw, a year ago, that any real progress was possible. Now the Bill comes before the House, agreed by both the Anguillans and by the new St. Kitts-Nevis Government, and that is a major advance. Even now, in my view, it is not an ideal solution, because it involves an undesirable fragmentation of the Caribbean and could be said to encourage yet further fragmentation, such as in the case—which I hope very much will not happenof Antigua and Barbuda, and even between St. Kitts and Nevis, which would be absurd, as has been rightly said, when these islands are only two miles apart. I hope that no British Government would agree to that. There might even be a demand by the people of Carricou to break away from Grenada. The fragmentation of the Caribbean could become almost endless.

I acknowledge that there is and always has been more justification for the separation of St. Kitts and Anguilla than in the other cases that I have mentioned, and not only because of the difference in distance between them. They are quite different in other ways. The economy of St. Kitts is based on sugar, with a population descended from the slaves who were brought from Africa to work the sugar plantations.

The people of Anguilla, on the other hand, are descended mostly from pirates and seafaring people, and there is very little good agricultural land on that island. The Anguillan economy has been sustained in the past by remittances from overseas and by the sale of postage stamps. As has been mentioned, there is a possibility of developing tourism to some extent. I confirm that there is also a danger—Lord Northfield and I were well aware of it when we were there—of undesirable elements from the United States promising large-scale investment but importing gambling and guns and other undesirable activities, which the Anguillans must always guard against. A small community such as Anguilla is open to that sort of thing. It is not large enough to be independent, in my view, and might look in the future towards a federal relationship with the nearby French or Dutch colonies.

I prefer to think that there is still the possibility of an eventual federation of the British West Indies, which many of us tried so hard to build in the late 1950s and early 1960s but which collapsed partly, I think, because we tried, with the best of intentions, to impose it from the top— from Britain—whereas in order to succeed it would have to grow gradually from the grass roots in the West Indies.

At present there is no alternative to the Bill, so I cannot oppose it. I hope that we shall give it a Second Reading and pass all its stages tonight.

8.26 pm
Mr. William Whitlock (Nottingham, North)

I quote: Whitlock is the head of Mafia and he organised armed toughs to throw him off the island in order to justify British armed intervention. That was one of the things said in New York by Mr. Webster and Mr. Jeremiah Gumbs after I had been flown off the island at gunpoint in March 1969. It was one of the many things they said as an excuse for offering violence to a Minister of Her Majesty's Government.

That particular story—although all the others were beamed via Telstar around the world and printed in newspapers in this country—was apparently too apocryphal even for the media here to broadcast, although I am quite sure, such was the attitude of some people in the House—including some members of the Cabinet—that, had that been broadcast, they would have believed it.

The temptation to go down Memory Lane on the subject of Anguilla is very strong, but I shall resist it as far as I can because I have a strong feeling for the Anguillans. I believe that they have been the victims of 300 years of colonialism and neglect. The great difficulty in recent times is that they have been the victims of a handful of people wishing to exploit them. I have the feeling that had not some of them, including Mr. Webster, perhaps involuntarily, listened to those people, we would have reached long ago the situation which we have tonight.

For some time, there has been on the part of a small number of people on Anguilla a history of violence, intimidation, incendiarism and shootings. It does not need very much of that on a small island of 6,000 people to influence the people of the island greatly.

The Wooding commission which reported upon the situation in Anguilla in 1970 gave the details of those events. It reported also that in June 1967 there was an attack upon Government buildings in Basseterre on St. Kitts, which the commission felt was most definitely an attack upon the Government of the associated State, with weapons assembled on Anguilla.

In July 1967, when there was the conference in Barbados, Mr. Peter Adams, the Anguillan representative at the conference, said that there were arms on the island in the hands of undesirable characters and that he and three other members of the Anguillan council had been threatened with death. Mr. Adams, of course, was the man who attended the constitutional conference when the associated State was set up, and he did not disagree with the continued association of those three islands in the associated State.

The hon. Member for Surbiton (Sir N. Fisher) mentioned the placing of Her Majesty's commissioner, Mr. Tony Lee, on the island and the fact that he was not supported in what he was trying to do. But he had an impossible task. He was seen by the Government of the State of St. Kitts-Nevis and Anguilla as someone who would bring the Anguillans to heel. However, he was seen by the Anguillans as a great prize who would so help them with their administration that they would be able to break away for ever from St. Kitts-Nevis. So Mr. Lee had an impossible task. Furthermore, when I became involved, I found that his reports back to Whitehall of intimidation and of his difficulties were ignored by the Foreign arid Commonwealth Office.

I comment briefly on the occasion when I went to the island. It must be remembered that I went to Anguilla with the agreement of the Government of St. Kitts-Nevis and Anguilla and with the agreement of Mr. Webster.

On the night before going to Anguilla, the supreme naval officer, West Indies, approached me on the island of Antigua and said that a wireless report had come out of the island to the effect that three crates of machine guns had been landed on the island and that he had to tell me that his instructions from Whitehall were that, if I got into difficulty, he must not risk the life of a single marine to help me since he had no landing craft to take marines to the island. So I went to the island the following morning on a small plane, and I received a terrific reception from the Anguillans. I believe that there was the largest meeting on the airport that had ever occurred there.

I got off the plane and, immediately, those people who were alleged not long before to have voted for a republic of Anguilla sang "God Save the Queen" in all its verses, and I stood to attention by the plane feeling deeply moved, and then afterwards shook hands with Mr. Webster and was invited to accompany him to the airport building and make a speech.

In his speech, Mr. Webster asked the people of Anguilla to do all that they possibly could to preserve my safety and security, which was rather a peculiar statement from a man who was alleged to be totally in charge of all that went on there.

My own speech was punctuated by cheers. A recording of what happened at the airport was taken by my private secretary, who had dictating and recording equipment with him and was able to record all that was said. All that I said was interrupted by cheers as I went along, and my words were printed in a leaflet which was made available to the Anguillans.

In the course of my speech, I said: Our wish is to ensure that you should be administered in a way acceptable to you. The proposal which I am authorised to make to you is that Her Majesty's Government should establish in Anguilla a commissioner appointed by Her Majesty the Queen on the advice of the right hon. Michael Stewart, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The man we have in mind is Mr. Tony Lee whom you already know well and who understands your problems and aspirations. It would be our intention that Her Majesty's Commissioner should deal direct with the people of Anguilla and remain on the island so long as the present difficult situation continues. We realise this may be some years. He would consult with you about the appointment of an Advisory Committee to assist him in his capacity as Her Majesty's Commissioner … We know how much the people of Anguilla wish to see development taking place in the island for the benefit of the whole population. The British Government would see that plans were made for development projects, and the Commissioner would consult you fully about these. Therefore, I went with proposals for the development of 'the island which had already been made in 1967 but of which Mr. Webster apparently was unaware.

Those words were greeted at the airport with cheers from the assembled Anguillans. Mr. Webster had described Mr. Jeremiah Gumbs the year before as an evil man. He said that he would not allow him to have any further part in running affairs in Anguilla. What we did not know was that Jeremiah Gumbs had tried to stop the little aeroplane that brought me to Anguilla from leaving. This was happening while the meeting was in progress. He said to the pilot of the aircraft "Don't leave. Whitlock is not being allowed to stay and you will fly him out." However, the pilot went away and two small aircraft which fly between Anguilla and St. Martin were held on the airfield until eventually I was brought back, having been surrounded in the house where I had a meal by 100 men armed with rifles, revolvers and machine guns. I had resisted a number of ultimata until finally Mr. Emile Gumbs—no relation to Jeremiah Gumbs—who was then a member of the Anguillan council, said after some gunfire "Minister, you must go. If you stay here until nightfall, this house will be burnt down in the good old Anguillan custom and we shall all die." I was conducted to the airport by those jeering characters, pushed on to a little plane and shot off to St. Martin.

After that, something happened about which I feel bitter. The great party of law and order which is represented in Government today acted as if it did not matter that people in the Caribbean were being intimidated by guns. They acted as if it did not matter that violence had been offered to a British Minister because, after all, he was a Labour Minister. The Conservative press behaved in a similar way.

Mr. Webster and Mr. Gumbs went to New York and said that there were no arms on the island. They said that what I said had happened was lies. After the British Cabinet had put policemen and soldiers on the island, almost no arms were found. No arms were found precisely because no search was made. In order not to upset the innocent as well as the guilty, nobody really searched for arms.

However, a report appeared in The Daily Telegraph five years later. A reporter went to see Mr. Webster, who told him: I gave up a few of the weapons we had acquired.… The day before we knew the British were coming, we buried what we had in various places. I hid some of the things—the anti-tank guns, for instance, in conspicuous places, where Scotland Yard would be bound to find them, but the rest of the weapons are still on this island in places where no one could find them. Can the Minister assure us that those weapons, which have been the cause of so much trouble in the past, are no longer there?

Behind Mr. Webster in that period were some very nasty characters, one of them Jeremiah Gumbs and another Mr. Holcombe, a white American, who wrote the so-called constitution of the Anguillan Republic. Holcombe was thought by the FBI to have associations with the Mafia. In that written constitution, the members of the supreme court of Anguilla needed to have no legal qualifications. Under that constitution, the development of the island was to be left in the hands of a few people. Holcombe was to be the sole franchisee for a large range of business activities on the island. He was granted complete exemption from the payment of all and every customs duty. He and his associates were granted exemption from tax. They were given the right to employ non-citizens of Anguilla, who were also to be exempt from tax.

Are those kind of people still around? Are they ready when Anguilla becomes independent, if it does, to take over where they left off in 1969? I think that this is a strong possibility. Like the hon. Member for Surbiton, I have long believed that the answer to the problems of the Caribbean is a federal one. It makes complete sense that all these small islands and the bigger ones should be administered as a federation. It is unfortunate that while some politicians in the Caribbean pay lip service to this idea, they do not do much to bring it about. To the man on a particular island, the man on the next island is a foreigner.

I feel strongly for the Anguillans. I hope very much that this latest stage of their development, which I am sure the House will enact, will bring them the happiness and the kind of development that they wish and deserve.

8·43 pm
Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)

The House has listened with fascination to the hon. Members for Surbiton (Sir. N. Fisher) and Nottingham, North (Mr. Whitlock). I remember, as a Member of the House at the time, the excitement caused by the events in Anguilla. I had not heard before the full details of the experiences of the hon. Member for Surbiton, who clearly, as a resolver of differences between the descendants of pirates and slaves, has few equals in the House. The hon. Gentleman was probably modest in suggesting that all his labours, if that is the right way of describing how he had to travel back and forth by air between one place and another, were wasted. One would suspect that the work done at that time has had a lasting effect upon the success of the Bill before the House.

The hon. Member for Nottingham, North had what must have been an extremely alarming experience. The hon. Gentleman asked some pertinent questions about whether the people who were responsible for the events at that time remain about the place. The hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that his secretary had recorded the exchanges at the airport. I thought for a moment, as he turned and bent down towards the Bench, that the House was to be treated to a live tape recording. I wondered whether this would be in order. So far as I can recall, no one has ever tried it. I have never been on these islands, though I was brought up on an island and I have a certain understanding of the independence of mind that that creates. Islanders have the feeling that they are perhaps different from those elsewhere.

I welcome the Bill. In introducing it, the Government have recognised the wishes of the people of Anguilla. That, in simple terms, is good. I hope that the Government will not stop there.

I wish to raise only one substantial issue, if "substantial" is the right word. Lord Trefgarne, who introduced the Bill in another place, said that after the passage of the Bill the Government and people of Anguilla would have to choose between what was virtually the status quo, which, as he said, had obtained for the past decade, and independence. Of course, independence was not ruled out.

The Minister of State used the expression "a permanent solution". That puzzled me, especially as I do not believe that there is ever any such thing as a permanent solution. I gather that he meant that, whatever choice the people of Anguilla might opt for, it will be covered within the proposed legislation. I well take the points made by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) in questioning this as a procedure for enabling independence to take place if, indeed, that happens.

I suggest that the Government at some early stage should face evolving a policy for the small dependencies that we still have dotted around the globe. Most of them are islands like Anguilla, such as the Falkland Islands, with which the Minister is well acquaint, to use a Scottish expression. Reference has been made to Baruda, which is making a case. Alternatively, there are the enclaves such as Gibraltar and Hong Kong. Such a policy should not necessarily represent making a simple choice between the status quo and independence, which appears to be what the Government have in mind, although the Minister was less specific about that than Lord Trefgarne in another place.

Such a policy should reflect the combined need for self-government in these places and for them to have some voice in this Parliament in some way if they are to have a permanent—that is, for as far ahead as one can see—relationship with the United Kingdom. If they are given that voice, there must develop an argument about how they should have a voice in our Parliament, whether that be by some special arrangement of this House or by special arrangements in another place. That is a matter for discussion.

In the long run, we could well take a leaf out of the French book. The French have approached the same problem in a very different way. Should we not also he thinking of some form of British Union on the lines of the French Union? If a small dependency indicates the desire to continue to be associated with the United Kingdom, it is inadequate to think merely in terms of a continuing paternal relationship. We need to seek new constructive relationships between the small dependencies and our Parliament. We need to do that fairly quickly as most of them have reached a stage where they will remain as they are or develop resentments that may lead them to opt for independence, which they are too small to sustain economically. I would appreciate it if the Minister could say whether there is any thinking in the Foreign Office on that. It applies especially to Anguilla but it is a general issue.

I shall not pursue the question raised by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland about the possibility of a future independence Bill He made that point clearly, but, in any event, I doubt whether that represents a viable solution for an island of 6,500 people.

Otherwise, I am very glad that the Government have reached agrement with St. Kitts and Nevis and that the dispute has been resolved amicably. I also welcome the Minister's commitment regarding the continuing maintenance of financial aid to the island from this country.

8.50 pm
Mr. Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)

I was intrigued by the thought of the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) that Members should play back tape recordings in the House. I once asked Mr. Speaker whether I could use a blackboard in the Chamber to explain some points in a Bill that was being put forward. That request received such a frosty answer that I think that it will be a long time before any visual or aural aids are permitted here.

I do not intend to oppose the Bill. It has been obvious for a long time that the grouping of St. Kitts-Nevis and Anguilla in one associated State was not satisfactory. Frankly, however, talk of independence for an island of fewer than 7,000 people can present considerable difficulties for its Government and considerable dangers for its people.

It is some time since I visited the island of Anguilla. My visit was shortly after that of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Whitlock). It was not so exciting. The Royal Air Force and the Royal Engineers were there. They were building a school—causing the people of other Caribbean islands to wonder whether, if they created enough fuss, they would get schools built, too.

I must support what the Minister has said about the neglect of this and other Caribbean islands by this country when we were a colonial Power and the need for us to make up for that by helping Anguilla and the other islands in the present difficult times. I welcome what he said about grants and general support.

When talking to Mr. Webster when I was there, I felt that he had underestimated the difficulties of independence. For instance, he talked of having a teacher training college. At that time there was one Anguillan student in the college in Antigua, which covered the whole of that group of islands. He talked of training his own police force.

There was a danger then, I think—perhaps there is a danger now—of domination by American financial interests, and not necessarily of the most respectable kind.

I am glad that the Minister has said that he does not see independence as an eventual solution. As hon. Members have said, we ought to be looking at other alternatives for not only Anguilla but all islands with this problem, particularly in the Caribbean.

For the present, I take it that the island will be a British dependency. I want to ask the Minister about the administration of justice during this period. What are the arrangements for policing the island? What will they be under the Bill? What kind of court will deal with offenders? What arrangements will exist for appeals?

Will capital punishment apply to those found guilty of murder? From what my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North said, it looks as though there will be a possibility of that, to say the least, in the future. Concerning capital punishment, it seems that the present system in the dependencies is totally out of date. In July I attended, as an observer on behalf of the House, a conference of the Caribbean countries which are members of the Commonwealth. I learnt that capital punishment applies in many of those islands and countries which are still British dependencies and that people were awaiting trial at that time.

On my return, I heard from the Minister of State—the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr.Blaker)—in his reply to a question, that the death penalty was still in force in Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Hong Kong, Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands. He pointed out that at that time in Belize three men had been sentenced to death for murder and a fourth had been similarly sentenced on a retrial, and that three men in the British Virgin Islands and one in the Turks and Caicos Islands were held for trial on capital charges. I had asked about the exercise of the Crown's prerogative of mercy, and the Minister's answer was that it was delegated to governors, although Her Majesty had a residual power on the advice of the Government to exercise it.

This method of dealing with capital punishment appears to date back to the statement made in 1947 by the then Secretary of State for the Colonies, Mr. Arthur Creech Jones, who said that the normal practice of the Secretary of State for the Colonies was not to intervene in individual cases and not to advise His Majesty to intervene. That was a long time ago. The colonial empire is not now what it was then, and the attitude of this Parliament to capital punishment is certainly not now what it was then.

The current dependent territories have opted to remain colonies and have not chosen independence. The Minister of State said that the exercise of the Crown's prerogative of mercy was delegated to governors, and that is a dreadful responsibility to place on Her Majesty's representatives in these circumstances. When I tried to table parliamentary questions on individual cases, they were rejected on the ground that, when we had capital punishment here, it was felt that to allow questions added too much to the strain on the Home Secretary, who was faced with the awesome decision between reprieve and death.

Imagine the even greater stress there must be on the governors of these small islands and groups of islands. In the main, the territories have populations of only a few thousand. I except Hong Kong, of course. The governors are known to most of the people. They probably often know the families of the victims and of those found guilty of murder. That is too great a responsibility to place on any one man or woman.

My early-day motion No. 53, signed by 64 hon. Members with more to come, calls on the Government to advise Her Majesty to exercise the prerogative of mercy in all cases in these dependent territories. I hope that the Minister will make a statement on this position so far as it applies to Anguilla and, by implication, to the other dependencies. I hope that the Secretary of State will review the whole question of the administration of justice in these territories which choose to be dependent territories.

I support what has been said about the need for a new review, certainly of the administration of justice in Anguilla and in the other islands, but with a view possibly to looking once more at a federation. By that I do not necessarily mean one to include Jamaica and the other large islands, but to include the small islands that are meeting, as Anguilla will, considerable difficulties.

8.58 pm
Mr. Ridley'

The debate has been constructive and fascinating, in that we have had present, luckily, two of the participants in the dramas of Anguilla. Truly fascinating were the accounts both of my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Sir N. Fisher) and the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Whitlock) of the parts that they played in those events 13 years ago. I do not intend to comment upon those fascinating accounts, because perhaps the best contribution that I can make is to draw a veil over the events and concentrate more on the future.

My first happy task is to congratulate the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) on his appointment to deal with foreign affairs from the Opposition Front Bench—what I might call his separation from prices and consumer protection, which will make him as happy as Anguilla will be to be separated from St. Kitts and Nevis.

The hon. Member asked me a number of questions, and I shall try to answer them all, because they deserve answers. I can reassure him on the question of future aid. We will do all possible within our budget to keep up a decent level of assistance to Anguilla and other dependencies. It is our hope that we can concentrate on the dependencies, even if cuts take place, where there is difficulty in getting other donors to help. That we have done, and that we do.

I understand that the United States Government have at present no plans to rent Dog Island, which will probably mean that our aid programme is even more important than it might otherwise have been. I can confirm that 19 December is the day that we intend to appoint by order for the separation if the House gives the Bill a Third Reading tonight.

Mr. Maclennan

The Minister said that the United States Government do not wish to rent Dog Island. Does that imply that if the United States Government wished to rent it the British Government would be happy that it should be leased?

Mr. Ridley

That is hypothetical, but it would be a matter upon which the Anguillans should express a view. As it is not a proposal, we cannot assess the financial consequences of saying "Yes" or "No". Therefore, it is difficult to answer that hypothesis.

Mr. Maclennan

I accept that what I said was hypothetical, and I do not want to press the Minister on that, but it is fair to press him on the constitutional responsibility that the Government would have in the matter if such a request were forthcoming. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is not in a position tonight to give the Government's attitude to such a request, but it would seem to touch directly on matters of external relations and defence, which, as I understand the Bill, would remain with the Government. Although the opinion of the Anguillans would be crucial, surely the decision would be one for the Government.

Mr. Ridley

I confirm the constitutional point made by the hon. Gentleman. I said that obviously the Government would be extremely influenced by the views of the Anguillans.

That brings me conveniently to the hon. Gentleman's first point, relating to the future status of the constitution of Anguilla. The question is tied up with independence, which was raised by other hon. Members. I merely included a provision for independence in the Bill because at some stage—one cannot tell what the circumstances would be—it might be agreed that Anguilla should proceed to independence. A provision in the Bill facilitates that.

The associated States under the West Indies Acts may proceed to independence simply through an Order in Council. In my opinion, it would be wrong if St. Kitts-Nevis were able to proceed to independence simply through an affirmative order of this House whereas Anguilla needed a separate Bill to achieve the same result. Therefore, in order to restore to Anguilla the constitution of an associated State, which it loses when the Bill becomes law by being separated from St. Kitts-Nevis, it seems right that we should put it in the same position and give it the same opportunity for parliamentary control in regard to independence.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the possibility of internal self-government as a half-way house between the present position and independence. That brings me back to Dog Island. The only powers that are retained in full internal self-government by the British Government are the powers of defence, foreign affairs and external security generally. In cases where those responsibilities remain, we have found that it is extremely difficult to draw the line between what properly falls in those portfolios and what is internal. Dog Island is a perfect example of the overlap between the two.

Many of the things done under the powers of full internal self-government can have far-reaching consequences for foreign policy. I shall not elaborate, but I am sure that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland can think of two or three examples in the West Indies where internal activities have caused foreign policy complications. In general, it is not a solution to give internal self-government other than for a brief period in order to provide experience prior to full independence. That is not our policy for a State, such as Anguilla, that does not wish to proceed to independence.

The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) felt that we should find a new policy for dependencies that fell in a certain category. Such dependencies do not want to proceed to independence, yet they want the greatest possible amount of internal self-government. We try to find the greatest possible measure of internal self-government that is consistent with the constraint on the British Government to secure their defence and to conduct their foreign policies.

I wonder whether the hon. Member for Inverness was serious when he suggested that such dependencies should be represented in this House, just as the French dependencies are represented in France. The Hong Kong party would greatly outnumber the Liberal Party if it had a franchise in Parliament. Given Hong Kong's large population, it would act as a major determinant in British politics. One could exclude Hong Kong, but I cannot think of a logical argument to the effect that some islands should be included and others should not. Therefore, the French alternative is not viable.

Mr. Russell Johnston

The Minister is being slightly less fair than is his wont. One could exclude Hong Kong on the ground that as it has a certain population it can take care of itself. I was thinking of the tiny places that exist all over the globe, such as Anguilla, Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands, which probably cannot look after themselves but which wish to retain a relationship. Why should we not consider what the French have done?

Mr. Ridley

Such territories have their own elected councils or Parliaments and their own systems of democracy. The relationship is maintained through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, by visits, contacts, and so on. However, one cannot pick some territories because they are small and fit the hon. Gentleman's book, and leave out others. Although we search for a new relationship, it is never clear what that relationship should be.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) raised the subject of the death penalty. The police, the legal system and the administration of the courts are for the dependency to arrange. They are internal matters. The penalties available, including capital punishment, are also internal matters for all these dependencies. In the associated States, of which Anguilla is at present one, capital punishment remains on the statute book. The hon. Gentleman did not get that answer to his question, because he asked about dependencies and not about associated States.

The Government will not depart from past practice, whereby the penalties under the law are a matter for the dependency. With one Opposition Member pressing me further to give a greater degree of autonomy to dependencies, I cannot at the same time agree that it would be right for the Government to take away the power of deciding which penalties are appropriate in the circumstances of that dependency.

Mr. Marks

Does the Minister agree that there is considerable strain on the governors concerned? The British Government have retained their powers to advise the Queen to use the prerogative. It is, therefore, not entirely a matter for the dependencies. All I am asking is that the Government should use the power that they have retained to avoid the difficulty of a governor on a small island being faced with the same situation as the Home Secretary has been faced with in the past.

Mr. Ridley

I was coming to that point. It is possible for the House to lay down everything about how a dependency should be run, but in the generally agreed move towards giving greater local autonomy it seems to me right that the dependency should make up its mind whether it wishes to have the death penalty. Indeed, dependencies feel extremely strongly about the matter, particularly in the West Indies, and they nearly all retain the death penalty. If that is what they want, in the circumstances of their islands, I question very much whether it is for this House to take away from them the right to administer the death penalty. The hon. Gentleman must remember that we are talking about the circumstances not in this island but in the Caribbean island where that may arise. To try to influence the decision in that delicate matter has great implications for allowing dependencies to decide what is right for them in their own circumstances and seeking to leave it to them to judge. That is the policy of the Government.

The last point that I must seek to answer is the most fundamental one running through many speeches. The hon. Members for Nottingham, North and for Inverness and my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton regretted but understood the reason for the passing of the federation and wondered whether the greatest evil that the Caribbean could suffer would be greater fragmentation in the future. I agree with that general view. Everyone in the Caribbean does who knows about it. It is a peculiarly perverse trait of the Caribbean that everyone wants closer co-operation and more federation, but the closer one is to another island the more one dislikes the people who live there. It is that problem with which we have grappled in relation to Anguilla, St. Kitts and Nevis.

The difficulty that I had in trying to persuade St. Kitts and Nevis to accept common statehood was so great that I had to concede that some device must be built in to allow the people of Nevis to determine their future, although that, as the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland says, has fallen with the fall of the Lee Moore Government. One has to go about it the other way.

First, it is highly counter-productive for us, with our past association and our attempt to impose the federaion before, to propose solutions on behalf of other people at this time. Secondly, it is only through independence that the real nature of the economy, defence and security problems become apparent. As they become apparent, so the obvious advantages of a closer relationship, leading perhaps to some form of federation or confederation, become more obvious.

I am encouraged by the recent talks and signs of progress among the Caribbean islands that they should like to draw closer together. The argument in favour of encouraging independence—not pushing people—in the Caribbean amongst the remaining islands, a number of which are still as dependencies, is that the experience of being independent brings out more clearly the obvious advantages of seeking a closer relationship. It may be that the federation that failed can best be replaced by pressing on with our solutions to the various constitutional problems and encouraging those who wish to become independent, so that out of that new situation will come closer economic co-operation for the future.

Those are the points on which I have been asked to comment. I am grateful to all hon. Members who have welcomed the Bill, particularly those who gave their best wishes to the people of Anguilla now that this long saga is finally coming to an end, happily and prosperously, we hope for the Anguillans.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a committee of the whole House.—[Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.]

Bill immediately considered in Committee; reported, without amendment.

Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, without amendment.

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