HC Deb 08 July 1981 vol 8 cc514-31 11.10 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Richard Luce)

I beg to move, That the draft Antigua Termination of Association Order 1981, which was laid before this House on 24th June, be approved. I apologise on behalf of my hon. Friend the Minister of State—the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley)—who has been handling this order, for his not being present this evening. He has gone to New York for urgent discussions about Belize. He explained that he would be doing that during the course of the Belize legislation last week.

This order, terminating the status of association between the United Kingdom and Antigua, will be made under section 10(2) of the West Indies Act 1967. Any order made under this section is required to be laid in draft before Parliament and to be approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.

It is proposed that the order should come into effect on 1 November 1981. Thereupon Antigua will become a fully independent sovereign State. I am happy to inform the House that the Antiguan Government have announced their intention to apply for membership of the Commonwealth.

Antigua and Barbuda—as the independent State is to be known—is the fifth of the Associated States in the Eastern Caribbean to move to full independence, following Grenada, in 1974, Dominica, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent.

In view of the importance of this occasion, both to us and to the people of Antigua and Barbuda, I should like briefly to comment on the history.

Christopher Columbus discovered and named Antigua during his second West Indies voyage in 1493. Although Spain in the sixteenth century and France early in the seventeenth century attempted to create settlements there, it fell to the British to do so successfully in 1632. The economy of Sir Thomas Warner's settlement at that time was based first on tobacco and then, by the end of the seventeenth century, on sugar. Apart from a short period of French occupation, Antigua remained in British hands and was ceded to Britain by the Treaty of Breda in 1667. From 1725 to 1854 English Harbour, Antigua, Britain's strongest fortress in the Caribbean at the time, was the location of the Royal naval dockyard for the British West Indies. Horatio Nelson himself spent some time based in Antigua. The territory has thus played an important role in upholding Royal naval traditions in the area. Britain therefore has a historic and prolonged connection with Antigua and Barbuda.

The West Indies Act 1967 created the concept of associated statehood. This enabled certain small territories in the Eastern Caribbean, which were not then ready to move to full independence, to be given full internal self-government. The United Kingdom retained responsibility only for defence and external affairs, although certain of the latter responsibilities were also delegated to the Associated States' Governments. As I have already indicated, there has been a steady movement on the part of these States, over the past seven years, towards full independence.

The West Indies Act 1967 made provisions for the termination by one of two main methods. Under section 10(1) of the Act, the State's legislature can pass a law for the purpose, provided that two-thirds of its elected members approve and provided also that, thereafter, two-thirds of the votes in a national referendum support the Bill. Under section 10(2) of the Act, the British Government can terminate the status of association by Order of Her Majesty in Council at the request of the State. This is the method employed by all the Associated States which have so far moved to full independence and it is the method chosen by the Antiguan Government now. It is a straightforward and practical measure.

The British Government's policy on the application of section 10(2) of the West Indies Act is the same as that followed by the previous Government. Provided that two particular criteria are met, we are prepared to move the necessary order. These criteria are, firstly, that it is demonstrated to our satisfaction that independence is the wish of the majority of the people in the State, and, secondly, that the independence constitution properly protects the fundamental rights and freedoms of those people.

Although the Antigua Labour Party Government first indicated to the British Government in 1978 that they wished to move forward to independence, they had not, in the previous general election in 1976, been elected with a mandate for independence. My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury, the Minister of State, visited Antigua in August 1979 and reminded the Antiguan Government that if they had changed their minds about independence they must demonstrate to us that this was what the people wanted. They must also set about drafting an independence constitution. The Antiguan Government had already set up an independence committee to consider all aspects of independency with a sub-committee charged with the preparation of a draft constitution. The more fundamental issue of determining the people's wishes for the State's future was settled by the general election which took place in April 1980. At this election, the ALP won 13 of the State's 17 seats to the Opposition Progressive Labour Movement's three. The remaining seat in the House of Representatives went to the independent member for Barbuda. I shall have more to say about Barbuda. The manifestos put out by the ALP, the PLM and the unsuccessful Antigua Caribbean Liberation Movement all included a commitment to independence.

I hope that the House will forgive me if I take a few moments to explain the background. This is an important occasion for the House and the people of Antigua and Barbuda. A debate on a draft constitution which the Antigua Government had then proposed opened in the Antiguan House of Representatives on 21 July 1980. The draft constitution before the House took account of views expressed to the independence committee and its constitutional sub-committee. In the light of the debate, the draft was further amended by a committee of both Government and Opposition members and subsequently published and widely circulated throughout the State.

On 12 August 1980, the Antiguan Parliament approved a resolution requesting the convening of a constitutional conference to consider Antigua's status of association with the United Kingdom being terminated under section 10(2) of the West Indies Act. My hon. Friend the Minister of State duly invited Government and Opposition representatives as well as the independent member for Barbuda and, exceptionally, the chairman of the Barbuda Council to London, and the Antigua constitutional conference took place from 4 to 16 December 1980. A report of that conference, at Lancaster House, is contained in Cmnd. 8142.

The Antiguan Government's published draft constitution provided the working document for the conference. Antigua's associated statehood constitution, drawn up in 1967 and on which the new draft was based, was designed, like those of all the Associated States, to be readily adaptable to the needs of an independent State. The British Government are satisfied that the revised draft constitution which emerged from the comprehensive Lancaster House discussions, chaired by my hon. Friend, will provide the independent State of Antigua and Barbuda with a framework for stable democratic government affording proper protection for fundamental human rights and freedoms. This constitution was debated in the Antigua Parliament in April and May 1981 and was approved with 13 votes for and none against but with the PLM and Barbuda members not present. A copy of the draft constitution is available in the Library of the House.

Aid to Antigua will continue for a number of years after independence and we are considering a suitable aid package. This will be discussed with the Antiguan Government once this order is approved. We hope and expect that aid flows to Antigua from other sources will increase as a result of independence.

I should like to say a few words about Barbuda. Members of the House will have noted from the report of the Antiguan constitutional conference that a great deal of time and attention was given there to the issue of Barbuda. I should explain that Barbuda, although an integral part of the colony of Antigua from 1860, is separated from the rest of the State by 25 miles of Caribbean Sea. Because of this, the people of the island have come to consider in recent years that this is a special position which should be appropriately recognised.

Since Antigua and Barbuda became an Associated State in 1967, the British Government have retained no constitutional power of intervention in, or responsibility for, the internal affairs of the State, including the local government of Barbuda. Responding to Barbudan wishes for a greater devolution of local responsibility, in 1976 the Antigua Government introduced the Barbuda Local Government Act under which the Barbuda Council was established. The council was given a substantial measure of administrative and financial responsibility, including wide-ranging powers to make byelaws for the island.

The Barbudans, however, expressed discontent, in subsequent years, with the working of those arrangements and with what they regarded as the inadequate economic and social development of the island. There is no doubt that, despite the devolution of administrative powers to the council, the relationship with the central Government was not satisfactory. Although the 62 square mile island has a population of only 1,200, with only about 400 of those being adults, when the Antigua Government began in 1978 to take steps in the direction of independence many Barbudans began to talk, albeit unrealistically, in terms of secession from Antigua.

With the Antigua Government's agreement, the British Government made various efforts to help bring about an improvement in Barbudan-Antiguan relations. Dissatisfaction nevertheless continued. The British Government accordingly decided, again with the Antigua Government's agreement, to invite a Barbudan delegation to put their case to the constitutional conference last December. In the event, as the conference report shows, nearly half the plenary sessions and a number of informal meetings were devoted to consideration of Barbudan grievances. The Barbuda delegation, I am glad to say, took the constructive approach of agreeing to participate in discussions which were to lead to the future independent State of Antigua and Barbuda. Although not all their demands, which were considerable, were met, they achieved some very substantial advantages for their island.

Despite that, the Barbuda delegation remained dissatisfied with the conference outcome and declined to sign the report of the proceedings. The Antigua Government, however, this year set about implementing the various proposals they had made at Lancaster House for devolving greater responsibility to the Barbuda Council. In April and May the Antigua Parliament approved additions and revisions to the 1976 Local Government Act which had the effect of devolving exclusive administrative powers to the council in a number of areas, including agriculture, medical services and public utilities.

At the Antigua Government's request, a British financial expert had been sent to the State in March; All his recommendations on how the financial arrangements between the central Government and the council might best accommodate the latter's newly devolved responsibilities were accepted by the Antigua Government and were reflected in the revised Act. Among other measures also agreed by the Antigua Government were a commitment to a minimum annual revenue of 300,000 Eastern Caribbean dollars for the council from stamps bearing Barbuda's name, and the establishment of two Barbudan ports of entry.

The Antigua Government have made every effort to enter into a constructive dialogue with the council over outstanding problems and remain ready for discussions at any time. They have reminded the council that these matters are entirely internal to the State of Antigua and Barbuda and that only those two parties can devise a lasting solution. It is the British Government's hope that the Barbudans will now respond positively.

Barbuda's special position has also been recognised, and its social and economic future has been safeguarded, by the entrenchment in the independence constitution of the special measures which have been introduced. We are satisfied that the Antigua Government have fulfilled their commitments towards the Barbudan people, who have achieved for themselves a unique degree of devolution of authority to conduct the affairs of their own community within the unitary State.

The Government have carefully considered various Barbudan requests for separation from the associated State of Antigua before Antigua becomes independent but are satisfied that separation would not be justified. Under the West Indies Act 1967, it could be effected only with the request and consent of the State Government, which is firmly opposed to separation, and the British Government would not think it right, in all the circumstances, to introduce in Parliament a Bill for a new Act to effect separation.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

What happened with Anguilla? Was that the arrangement arrived at when the complication arose with Anguilla and St. Kitts?

Mr. Luce

The circumstances of Anguilla, quite apart from the size of the population and so on, are considerably different. The St. Kitts-Nevis Government agreed to the separation of Anguilla under the 1967 Act introduced by the Labour Government. We are bound by that procedure. In the case of Antigua and Barbuda there is no consent of the Government. I am happy, if I have the House's approval, to respond later to questions.

The general election of April 1980 demonstrated overwhelmingly the Antiguan people's wish for independence. A constitution has been prepared which protects the basic rights and freedoms of the people of the independent State. It is, therefore, incumbent upon us to respond now to the people's wish, and we have concluded that the status of association with the United Kingdom should be terminated. We are not, of course, relinquishing our 350-year old links with Antigua; we are merely adapting their nature to the world of 1981.

The main base for the economic development of Antigua and Barbuda today is tourism. It is encouraging that, in the tourist context, English Harbour and Nelson's memory can continue to play an important role. With independence, the State of Antigua and Barbuda will be able further to develop its co-operation with neighbouring States—notably in the form of the new Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, in the activities of which an independent Antigua and Barbuda will be able to play a full part. This will be an important contribution to the stability of the region. I know that the good wishes of the House will go to the people of Antigua and Barbuda as they approach this important stage in the State's development. We look forward to continuing our links with them within the Commonwealth.

I now seek the House's approval of the draft Order in Council terminating the status of association with Britain from 1 November 1981.

11.26 pm
Mr. Giles Radice (Chester-le-Street)

We understand the reason for the Minister of State's absence. I regret it because I should have liked to ask him one or two questions. We wish him well in New York.

We warmly welcome the independence of Antigua. We fully accept the rights of the Antiguans to self-determination. We wish the island well in the difficult world in which it will exercise its sovereignty.

However, I cannot give Antiguan independence an unqualified welcome, because of the hostility of the overwhelming majority of inhabitants of the island of Barbuda to their association with Antigua. The hostility has expressed itself in a number of ways. In the April 1980 election, the member for Barbuda who campaigned on the basis of a separate future for the island was elected by a two-thirds majority. All six members of the Barbudan council are in favour of a separate Barbuda. The Barbudan delegation to the constitutional conference sought separation from the administrative control of Antigua. Half the time of the conference was devoted to Antigua.

The majority of Barbudan inhabitants have signed the Barbuda declaration which gives notice of their intention to establish a separate territory if and when Antigua becomes independent. Nobody has any excuse for saying that he did not understand or know about the Barbudans' feelings.

We should also note that the Barbudans are a peaceful, hardworking people who believe in using constitutional methods to register their protests. Just because they are peaceful does not mean that we should not listen to what they say. On the contrary, they are all the more entitled to a fair hearing from the Government and the House.

Rightly or wrongly, the Barbudans deeply distrust the Antiguans. They believe that they will be exploited and badly governed by an independent Antigua. They believe that the Antiguan Government do not and will not reflect their interests. They believe that they will not get their fair share of public spending. They fear that the police force, which is wholly Antiguan, will be biased against the Barbudans. They fear that their land will be bought up and exploited by Antiguans.

A letter sent to the Minister of State states: The bitter experience of our people has been hard earned in dealing with Antigua especially since 1951 and a continued but forced association can only breed long-term disruptions. I fully accept that substantial progress was made on the issues I have outlined at the December constitutional conference under the Minister's chairmanship. In particular, as John MacDonald said in his closing speech, the two sides moved very close together on land. However, on the administration of the island, on the power to raise revenue and on the policing of Barbuda there remains a large divide. The Barbudans want sufficient powers to raise money, and in particular they want control of the Barbudan stamps to be wholly within the hands of the Barbudan people. They also want complete control over their police force. They do not want the Antiguans sending Antiguan police to Barbuda.

At the end of the constitutional conference the Minister talked of a continuing negotiation. He clearly hoped that the problem would resolve itself. Will he say what negotiations there have been since December, and with what result? What progress has been made on the outstanding issues—on the administration of the island, on the power to raise revenues, and on the policing? He mentioned the financial expert who had been to Barbuda. What were the views of the Barbudan Council on the report of that financial expert?

I suspect that insufficient progress has been made on the outstanding issues and that, as a result, Antigua is going to independence without the support of the island of Barbuda. That surely must be a sad state of affairs. Anyone who studies the issue must accept, as I do, that we do not want a plethora of micro-States in the Caribbean. However, there is the unhappy experience of Anguilla to remind us of what can happen if an island is press-ganged into an association against its will. Whatever the Minister might say, there is an analogy there. I think that the United Kingdom Government have the duty and responsibility to ensure that they have done their utmost to get Barbudan support for the independence of Antigua.

I hope that the Minister can say enough tonight to dispel the fears and suspicions of the Barbudans. It would be a tragedy for all concerned if the independence of Antigua, which we must all support, were to be undermined by the long-term hostility of the Barbudans.

11.33 pm
Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stevenage)

This is a great occasion for both Britain and Antigua. We are moving into a new era from a period of nearly 400 years of history and relationships between Britain and this West Indian island, which has played a major role in the history both of Britain and the West Indies. I welcome this expression of desired independence for Antigua, as, I am sure, does the House. I congratulate the island and wish it well.

There are, however, major problems to confront Antigua in its new independent state. Let me give a quotation from the epilogue written by that distinguished West Indian, Sir Arthur Lewis, to the book by Sir John Mordecai on the West Indies federation. He said: Lastly, federation is needed to preserve political freedom. A small island falls easily under the domination of a boss who, crudely or subtly, intimidates the police, the newspapers, the magistrates and private employers. The road is thus open to persecution and corruption. If the island is part of a federation the aggrieved citizen can appeal to influences outside: to the Federal courts, to the Federal police, to the Federal auditors, the Federal civil service commission, the newspapers of other islands, and so on. If the government creates disorder, or is menaced by violence beyond its control, the Federal government will step in to uphold the law. That is the comment of a distinguished West Indian.

We are dealing now with a small island that is achieving independence. It has been preceded by several other islands that have evolved from the state of associated statehood to independence. We have to think in this context of Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Dominica. The last one will, perhaps, soon be St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla. This movement to independence has already started and cannot be stopped. It is for this reason that I welcome Antiguan independence, but only as a step in the direction of making certain that these small islands begin upon a new road to joint endeavour to preserve political freedom in those islands. The experiences of Grenada, and of Dominica in particular, are not encouraging in this respect. Grenada was the first of the independent States and I have no doubt that the Minister, in introducing the relevant Order in Council, made the same sort of remarks as my hon. Friend made tonight. It was an illegitimate independence at that time, just as this one is.

I want to make clear the methods of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in this respect and ask it to question them. In my view, the method of using article 10(2) of the West Indies Act 1967 gets round the whole idea, which was encompassed in that Act, of making certain that the independence that was moved to was desired by the nations concerned.

For Antigua to achieve independence by its own request it had to have a two-thirds majority of the legislature. It had to hold a referendum in which two-thirds voted for independence before it could request the British Government to move to independence for the nation. What we have done—we did it with Grenada—is to take the British method of severing that relationship. That method is simply, as we are doing tonight, to introduce an Order in Council to sever the relationship.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and successive Ministers have said that they wished to be convinced that the entire island was consulted and wished to move to independence and that freedoms were preserved. That was said in the case of Grenada. Independence was handed to a well-known dictator—and I use that word quite deliberately. He can only be described as that. I refer to Mr. Gairy, who, I am afraid, was later honoured by Her Majesty the Queen and raised to Sir Eric Gairy.

After independence there followed a coup, as a result of which we now have installed in office in Grenada a dictatorship of the Left wing, of a Communist nature, which is denying freedom, which is imprisoning the people of Grenada and which is employing Cuban and Russian expertise to build airports and other facilities in the island that are not simply for the use of the people of Grenada but are to be used for the disruption and destabilisation of the entire area.

Dominica provides another example. The most terrible corruption is occurring in the republic. A former Prime Minister is rightly locked up in gaol for high treason. The island was brought to its knees, but it was saved by the present Prime Minister, Miss Eugenia Charles, insisting at the independence conference on making certain that the electoral machinery was made as far as possible independent of the elected Government.

In this country we leave it to the Secretary of State for the Home Department and the Boundary Commission to make certain that our elections are conducted properly. We have been careless with the constitutions that we have given to the islands of the West Indies. I have not seen the details of the Antiguan constitution, and I understand that we are not expected to examine them. We simply have the Command Paper reporting on the constitutional conference.

I am very worried because we have not made certain that the electoral machinery is independent of the political party in control. If it is not, the boundaries will be changed, as they have been in other islands of the West Indies, within three weeks of the election. People gerrymander. This kind of thing has been permitted to go on under the slipshod constitution that has been introduced into the islands.

I beg my hon. Friend the Minister to consider this very important matter and make certain of the electoral machinery, in respect both of boundaries and the conduct of the elections. We have only to look further south to Guyana to find another constitution under which a Government have been kept in power by the manipulation of the electoral machinery.

I pass quickly over the question of Barbuda, which was ably outlined by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Radice).

It is a sad occasion in relation to the whole concept of associated statehood that the Anguillan precedent was made, because it denied the fundamental idea underlying associated statehood, which the New Zealanders have carried out in letter and spirit in the Cook Islands but which our Foreign and Commonwealth Office seems to have been unable to apply with equal diligence and generosity to the islands of the West Indies. The result has been that we have kept a legalistic approach to the matter of associated statehood. We have not permitted the Associated States to engage in foreign affairs and foreign relations in the way in which the Cook Islands have been able to do. The Associated States have been restricted. They have not been able to attract aid from countries other than Britain, because of their dependence on the associated statehood constitution and the way in which it has been administered by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Moreover, the Anguilla example showed that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was not prepared to respect the independence and statehood of the Associated States. Therefore, Anguilla was severed from St. Kitts by means of what can undoubtedly be described as going totally against the West Indies Act 1967, because it was not done with the consent of the State of St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla at the time. I agree that subsequently the St. Kitts Government, accepting the inevitable after the Anguilla Act 1971, agreed to their eventual severance. That example will return to haunt the House and Antigua.

Let me finish on a positive note of hope. I hope that this Order in Council will lead to the independence of Antigua, to be followed by St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla. I hope that it will lead, when they are all independent, to their joining together, securing political freedom and ensuring that human rights are respected within their islands so that their peoples may go about their business without fear of being locked up without trial, which they cannot do in Grenada. What will happen on the other islands we know not. However, with the subversion that is taking place we can fear what might happen.

I hope that the true destiny of the West Indian nations has begun tonight. I hope that we shall see the growth of West Indian nationhood, which was stultified by the failure of the federation. I hope that we shall see the West Indians coming into their own in great pride to give what they have to the world, which is a rich heritage of intelligent and active people who have a great deal to give to the world in example and in abilities. I look forward to the flowering of the West Indian nation tonight.

11.46 pm
Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

On this valedictory occasion there is perhaps some appropriateness in a contribution being made by a Member representing a seat in Northern Ireland. The last stages of the dissolution of the British Empire are littered with ironies, and one of the ironies is that at these last stages there come back to haunt us, albeit in microscopic form, the great tormenting political dilemmas that have accompanied the process hitherto elsewhere on a larger scale. Here they are exemplified again tonight in what is called the State of Antigua and Barbuda.

The State of Antigua and Barbuda comprehends those two territories because the imperial Power so decided about 130 years ago. There is nothing else which joins together in holy matrimony Antigua and Barbuda. How, then, do we proceed when the moment comes for independence? One is even allowed to use a word forbidden to ourselves, the United Kingdom, in this context—"sovereignty". It is sovereignty which is to be conferred upon this former possession or Associated State. What is the departing imperial Power to do at that last moment? To deny the State which it created itself? Is it to apply the majority requirement of aspiration to independence separately or is it to apply it to the State which itself has fashioned and which alone hitherto is known?

There are certain variations in which this tormenting dilemma has presented itself. In the past century it became apparent that the island of Ireland could not successfully be governed as part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The island of Ireland was only a political unity because of the association with the British Crown. It had never been a political unit at any time in its history or pre-history. There was a part of it which did not consider that it belonged with the rest, which considered that it belonged with the rest of the United Kingdom. In those circumstances, there was available a solution which was wholly satisfactory. Perhaps characteristically, that was the solution against which the House decided. That was that the part which did not associate itself with the remainder of the island should continue to be a part of the United Kingdom, which was what its inhabitants desired. It is not so easy in the microcosmic case of Antigua and Barbuda. For as Burke observed in the first of his propositions on conciliation with the American colonies, the people of Barbuda cannot send knights and burgesses to this House.

What is to happen? We cannot treat those people as individuals as we did after the success of the American rebellion, where the individuals who refused to associate themselves with the new State were allowed to retain their status and found a new home elsewhere in the remaining dominions of the Crown. What are we to do? It is said that one cannot create a midget State and that it would be an absurdity to recognise the separate identity of Barbuda. But we are in the midst of absurdities. We are creating independence on a scale and endowing sovereignty in circumstances foreign to the natural meaning of those concepts. Why do we baulk at this final step in the process of—

Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)


Mr. Powell

The hon. Member will make a speech and the House is looking forward to it, so perhaps he will allow me to continue my poor effort for only a little longer.

Why is it that we baulk at this last stage at saying "Here is an island and its inhabitants. There are only 400 adults but we have done more absurd things before—and they have worked—than to recognise that it can sail off into the world of nations as the tiniest, most microscopic nation of them all"? It might even be admitted as a member of the Commonwealth. I am sure that there is room on the pages of the statute book for that ever lengthening list to accommodate another item. But, no, pedantically we say, unrealistically we say and on the scale of comedy tragically we say "That is it. The State is Antigua and Barbuda. So be it, and upon that we will vest the mantle of independence and sovereignty."

I believe that the hon. Members who have taken part in the debate already and who have expressed their anxieties for the future have been right and have been proved right. It is a pity that at this almost ultimate stage we could not recognise the realities, even those realities which may be almost imperceptible to the political eye. I am sorry; I think that we are making a mistake.

11.53 pm
Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)

I agree with the final words of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). I, too, think that we are making a mistake.

I would like to welcome the order, but I do not think that I can. It is not sufficient for the Minister to say, in dealing with a collection of islands, that we are doing what the people want. I have lived on an island—which is more that the Minister has—and I assure him that the sort of affection which people have for islands—[HON. MEMBERS: "We all do."] I live on a rather smaller island. The affection which people have for islands is unique, not to be treated lightly. I do not deny that the Antiguan majority seeks independence, but, as the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Radice) said, all evidence shows that the people of the island of Barbuda completely reject that solution. I say "completely reject" advisedly.

I find the Government's attitude towards the small groups of people round the world who still look to us, and to whom the right hon. Member for Down, South referred, very difficult to understand. It seems to be the same, whether we are talking about Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands or bits and pieces here and there: the view of the Foreign Office is that it is all a bit of a nuisance. It is difficult, awkward and untidy. I do not like that at all.

The Minister said that he hoped that the Barbudans would respond positively. That really means "I hope they agree with what we are doing, but we do not care terribly if they do not." It is as bald, bleak and straightforward as that. There are only about 1,200 to 1,500 of them altogether, and they cannot exist as an independent entity, but does that mean that we have to force them into a unity that they do not want?

I should like briefly to make eight points. First, the majority of the population of Barbuda reject the proposal. The Member of Parliament rejects it; the nine members of the Barbudan Council reject it. Surely that means something.

Second, the Antiguan Opposition, the PLM, supported the Barbudans. That fact has to be registered as well. It is not just the Barbudans themselves; the former Government of Antigua supported the Barbudan case.

Third, the 1,200 people of Barbuda supported themselves virtually unassisted throughout the last war, and have probably done so for a large part of the last 200 years. They have a village community, with fishing, agriculture and so on, and they do not want to be told what to do by the neighbouring island, 25 miles away.

Fourth, the Antiguan Government have not kept the promises they have made to the Barbudans. They have not allowed the council to exercise the powers that were given to it under the 1976 and 1981 local government ordinances. That fact should be recognised.

Fifth, the Barbudans have not been given the money that was voted to them. That fact should be registered, because it was admitted by the Antiguan Prime Minister at the Lancaster House conference. But nothing has been done about it since then. The Barbudans have had no money since 1 June 1980, and during 1980 they had only $90,000 out of the $400,000 promised for that year. If the Antiguans are keen on being reasonable and fair, they ought to do what they undertook to do.

Sixth, there is no United Kingdom interest in compelling the Barbudans to become part of Antigua. The only result will be that the Barbudans, having tried every lawful means to prevent it, may turn to other means, and people may be hurt, as happened in Anguilla.

Seventh, the Antiguans do not need Barbuda for anything. There are no resources there that they need. There is no oil, as far as we know; nothing like that. We are concerned only with the pride of the Antiguans. As the right hon. Member for Down, South said, the relationship was created artificially by the imperial Power, which said "It seems convenient to fit these two islands together." So, when they get independence, they will be one. even though they had no particular relationship before or, indeed, at any particular time.

Lastly, there is an alternative, and it is wrong for the Minister not to indicate that there is an alternative. Barbuda is in almost the same position as Anguilla in 1969, as has been said. They were parts of an Associated State. Anguilla was taken out of association by the Anguilla Act 1971, although that was opposed by the then Government of St. Kitts—Nevis. Exactly the same could be done for Barbuda. As the hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage (Mr. Wells) said, the Anguillan story had a happy ending. The present St. Kitts—Nevis Government have accepted that the change was reasonable and they are not making any difficulties. The same should apply to Barbuda.

I have had correspondence about this for some time with the Minister of State, who, as the Under-Secretary of State has said, is now in New York. The Under-Secretary referred to the visit of a financial expert. The Minister responsible has consistently refused to send a representative from the Government to live on Barbuda for a period of weeks to get to know and understand the people. Had he done that, he would have found that their anxieties were real and their views concerted.

It has been said by the hon. Member for Hertford and Stevenage that a small island may easily fall under a "boss" if it becomes independent—I accept that entirely—but surely not if it remains under our protectorship.

I sought to intervene when the right hon. Member for Down, South was speaking to say briefly, because there is no time to develop the argument, that France, in dealing with its small dependencies, has set us a splendid example. It has made them part of metropolitan France, given them the opportunity of representation in some way, and recognised that they wish to remain associated. If people wish to remain associated with us, I do not understand why we should turn them away.

It does not speak well of this failing imperial Power that very late at night we try to rush through an arrangement to include people who do not wish to be included. For that reason, I oppose the measure.

12.2 am

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

I am not renowned for intervening in debates of this nature, but something about the principle being put to the House deeply disturbs me as I am sure that it disturbs the hon. Members who have spoken on this matter today and, indeed, the unusually large number of hon. Members who have sat up to attend this debate.

I sense that many thousands of miles away across the world there is a very small island whose 1,500 people are perhaps wondering what is happening in Westminster tonight. It is sad that the order has come before the House at this late stage in the day's proceedings, because if all hon. Members had known—and many are not aware of what is happening—of this terrible grievance of a small people and the great injustice that we are doing, I believe that the Government would not be pushing this order through the House.

If the Government seek to press the case for the order and it gets through by default, it will be for the people of that country to know that on the night of its passage there were hon. Members who objected to the way in which it was put through the House and the inadequate way in which is was debated. From the replies given on behalf of the Department, it is clear that the case is not understood and is inadequately appreciated by the Foreign Office.

The House should put on record its thanks to Mr. David Lowenthal and Mr. Colin Clarke for the information that they brought to the attention of some hon. Members and which they have set out to bring to the notice of many people in the United Kingdom. The information has been produced in a dispassionate way whereby one is led to see the truth. I believe that if everyone were aware of that information, everyone would object strongly.

I wish to comment on a parallel to which I believe the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) was in part referring, namely, the parallel with Ireland and particularly with Ulster. As I understand it, while there may be some argument in the Labour Party at this time, it has until now been the view of successive Governments that the future of Ulster would be determined by the people of Ulster. If they were to decide that they wished to sever their connections with the rest of the United Kingdom, they would be given the opportunity to do so and would be able to seek their link with Eire. To date, they have not sought to do so, and on that basis the British Government have been able to retain their commitment to the guarantee given to the Ulster people.

It is not for me to express a view about what I think about Ulster, because we are not debating that issue now. I draw a parallel here only because the Government are party to the principle of a guarantee. But if it is good enough for Ulster to determine whether it should retain its link with the United Kingdom, surely it is good enough for these people. It is incumbent on the Minister to say why it is not good enough for the 1,500 people on that island on the other side of the world. If the hon. Gentleman says that they do not have equal rights with the people of Ulster, he undermines the worth of each of those people as individuals. As I understand it, once we have ceased our function as a colonial Power, we have always endeavoured to ensure that people had constitutional and democratic rights in whatever arrangements we left behind.

It seems that much of the information and conversation that took place during the Lancaster House discussions has never been drawn to the attention of hon. Members. Indeed, I am told that, although applications for certain documents have been made, they have not been made available to hon. Members. However, that conference was a barometer of the antagonism that exists between the people of Antigua and Barbuda.

I understand that a number of diverging views surfaced about the local government arrangements, the allocation of finance between Antigua and this small island and the organisation of law and order and policing of the island. We are told that an argument took place about the ownership and distribution of land and how it would be administered. There was also an argument on fishing rights. We in Britain know how fishing rights can become pestilent in terms of the argument that it can create between two authorities which believe that they should have access to the same fishing grounds.

Are the Government seeking to divest themselves of total responsibility, as against the part responsibility that would apply were we to retain our links with Barbuda, because they are fearful of the minute public expenditure implications of retaining that link? If that is the case, the whole argument about Barbudan independence is debased in terms of the amount of money the British Government would wish not to spend to support the democratic rights of a small number of people. It cannot be a large sum. Perhaps the Minister will say how much money would have been involved had we retained a link in the form that the Barbudan people wished and that they expressed at the Lancaster House conference.

It would seem that St. Kitts and Anguilla set a precedent. If so, does the hon. Gentleman rule out the possibility that the same thing could happen in the case of Barbuda and Antigua? Is it possible that in a year or two we shall once again be asked, late at night, to pass another Bill, just as we accepted—although I was not a Member of Parliament at the time—the Anguilla Bill? Will we be asked to pass a new Bill that provides for the rights that both Conservative and Opposition Members have argued for? If so, the hon. Gentleman will have debased Parliament by not accepting our arguments. He will give way only when paratroopers have been sent to that small island after the people, in frustration, have turned to the route used by the people of Anguilla when they sought independence.

If, despite hon. Members' arguments, the people have to pursue that route, the hon. Gentleman will, in many ways, have debased the role of the House. He will have added weight to the arguments of those who say that people can achieve their ends not by arguing, debating or going through the democratic processes but by resorting to the processes that all hon. Members take great exception to.

12.11 am
Mr. Luce

I sought to make a full and extensive speech at the beginning of the debate because the Secretary of State, the Minister and I do not underestimate the importance of the order. The order is important, not only from our point of view but from the point of view of those who live in Antigua and Barbuda. As this issue is of profound importance to those who live on those two islands—about 75,000 people live in Antigua and about 1,200 people live in Barbuda—I thought it right and proper that we should take time to consider deeply the Government's proposal to terminate the association and to proceed to complete independence.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Radice), to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stevenage (Mr. Wells) and to other hon. Members for the fact that they have wished the people of Antigua and Barbuda well. However, some hon. Members had doubts about the basis of our proposals. I am sure that all hon. Members wish the people of Antigua and Barbuda well and would like them to exist in circumstances that meet with their consent. Therefore, it is my duty to try to answer the anxieties expressed by hon. Members.

I listened carefully to the speech made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). He said that Governments had done more absurd things before. He implied that to fragment Antigua and Barbuda was absurd but that we should accept it as such and go ahead. Perhaps I have misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman. I do not deny that successive Governments of different persuasions have done many absurd things. However, I should not have thought that our first priority was to set out deliberately to do such things. The Government believe that what we propose is right for the people of Antigua and Barbuda. We do not approach it on the basis of the criterion that more absurd things have been done before. That is not necessarily the sensible way in which to approach it.

There are one or two things to add to what I said in my speech and in so doing I hope that I shall answer the questions raised by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stevenage and others in the debate.

When an election was held in April 1980, 98 per cent. of the popular vote was in support of the parties the manifestos of which said clearly that they were in favour of proceeding to independence on the basis of the State comprising the two islands of Antigua and Barbuda. To put into perspective what the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) said—I appreciate the points that he raised and the anxieties he expressed on behalf of the people of Barbuda—although it is not a majority, about 32 per cent. in that election voted in favour of the Antigua Labour Party, the manifesto of which supported the concept of proceeding to independence on the basis of the integrity of the two islands.

Mr. Russell Johnston

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Luce

Perhaps I should try to expand further to answer some of the points that the hon. Gentleman and others have made.

Mr. Russell Johnston

It is not fair for the Minister to make that point. The current position of the Antiguan Labour Party is to accept the Barbudan claim.

Mr. Luce

The hon. Gentleman implied that every person in Barbuda was against proceeding along the basis that we are proposing. I am seeking to suggest to the hon. Gentleman that that is not entirely true. I am trying to minimise the amount of exaggeration that there has been.

I remind the House that under the West Indies Act 1967 separation of one component of a State from another can be entertained only at the consent of and with the request of the elected Government of that country. It is our duty to take that fully into account when considering this matter.

However, other hon. Gentlemen raised problems. I should stress the importance of the constitutional safeguards that have been provided for Barbuda and the extent of the devolution that the present elected Government in Antigua have provided for the Barbudans. It is on a scale that is almost unprecedented in our experience. There are two main constitutional safeguards. First, no Bill to alter section 123 of the independence constitution which relates to the Barbuda Council—which I explained fully in my earlier speech—can receive assent without approval of both Houses of Parliament and of a two-thirds majority referendum. Secondly, no Bill relating to the Barbudan local government Act, which defines the council's powers, can be regarded as being passed by the House of Representatives until it receives the consent of the Barbuda Council. Re-amendment by the Senate must similarly receive the council's consent before enactment.

We should not underestimate the extent of the devolution that has taken place. It goes much further now than the 1976 Act that I described earlier. It is on a massive scale. There is no other word that I can use to describe that.

I thought that the hon. Member for Inverness was in favour of devolution, but it goes across the board with such things as administration of agriculture, regulation of electricity, road construction, maintenance, revenue raising, responsibility for improvement of public buildings, promotion of hotels, tourist development and a range of powers on byelaws which give an astonishing range of devolution.

I am not a great advocate of devolution in all cases, but, in the context of the debate and taking into account the important views expressed by hon. Gentlemen and my hon. Friends, we should take into account the extent of the devolution and of the constitutional safeguards that we have provided.

The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street asked specifically about the financial situation. I reiterate that we sent out a financial adviser at the request of the Antiguan Government and with the support of the Barbudans. He has made suggestions about financial arrangements which make sense and are designed to be as fair as possible to the Barbuda Council. I have no reason to dispute the information from the Antigua Government which indicates that expenditure per capita on Barbuda has been the same as that throughout Antigua. They have undertaken that the expenditure they propose in the future should increase, and they have indicated that it may end up by being at a higher level per capita in Barbuda than it will be in the rest of Antigua.

Mr. Radice

Does the report of the financial expert have the backing of the Barbuda Council? That was my specific question.

Mr. Luce

As I understand it, the financial proposals that are being put forward are not a source of great dispute. I am subject to correction about that. I must acknowledge that if many of the people of Barbuda would like to proceed to separation, clearly any arrangement would not be satisfactory. Broadly, however, I think that they are still anxious about some matters, including matters to do with land and the control of the police. It is only fair to say that these are some of the outstanding matters.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State, who has been dealing with this matter, has been most diligent in trying to help, as an honest broker between these two Governments, to reconcile their anxieties and differences, because in the long term we think that this is in their interest.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stevenage was rightly concerned about instability in the Caribbean. Naturally, that also concerns the British Government. Any sign of instability is a source of concern for us. I believe that greater fragmentation of States is not in itself something that is likely to be conducive to leading to greater stability. That is not the view of just the British Government. Perhaps more importantly, it tends to be the view of the majority of the countries in the Caribbean. My hon. Friend knows the area very well. Our friends there feel very strongly about this matter. They are anxious about stability there. They feel that if there is a great degree of fragmentation, there is a greater danger of instability. In considering the order, that is a factor that we ought to take very carefully into account.

Mr. Russell Johnston

How on earth can it be said that if Barbuda—1,500 people in an agrarian community—has a separate arrangement, it could create instability in the region? It is a ridiculous argument.

Mr. Luce

If the hon. Gentleman says that it is a ridiculous argument, he is going against the views of the vast majority of the Governments of the Caribbean. Those who have been our friends, those who are members of the Commonwealth in the Caribbean, feel very strongly about this matter, and we ought to respect their views. It is very important that we take them into account in considering this problem. They should not be dismissed in the way in which the hon. Gentleman has dismissed them.

Very important points were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stevenage about the constitution. The provisions in the constitution, which again were the subject of full discussions last December, are along the lines of other constitutions. If my hon. Friend examines the draft constitution—he may have already done so—he will see that in the kind of areas that he has mentioned, such as electoral arrangements, there are strong safeguards. That is the purpose of discussing in detail and providing in detail constitutions that are designed to make sure that the arangements, for example, for the holding of elections are as fair as possible.

I have tried in my initial speech and in answering more specifically some of the anxieties that I understand—

Mr. Campbell-Savours

In response to an intervention earlier in the debate, the Minister undertook to reply to all the points that were made. I drew attention to the parallel with Ulster. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman will seek to reply, as he promised.

Mr. Luce

I have tried to reply to the main points concerned with the order. I do not think that I would seek to draw a parallel with Ulster. I am concerned about the position of the present Associated State of Antigua and Barbuda and what I, my hon. Friend and my right hon. and noble friend think is right for its people and in their interests. I have tried to put across my belief that what we propose is right and is in their interests.

We, as the Government, will do our utmost to help and provide our good offices in the time between now and 1 November to assist the Government of Antigua and the Barbudan Council to see whether it is not possible for them to reconcile oustanding differences about their future. I am not without hope on this matter. The Member of Parliament has expressed the view that they are a peaceful people and that they would like to proceed in a peaceful manner. They have already been constructive. They have participated in the constitutional conference. They have looked at the details of the arrangements that might be made. Without signing the agreement, they have made a lot of progress in terms of persuading the Antiguan Government to provide all these safeguards and this devolution.

I believe strongly that this is the right way to proceed for the people of Antigua and of Barbuda. I hope that I am reflecting the view of the majority of hon. Members in wishing all those people well. I recommend the order to the House.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 75, Noes 7.

Division No. 260] [12.25 am
Alexander, Richard Benyon, Thomas (A'don)
Ancram, Michael Best, Keith
Atkinson, David (B'm'th,E) Bevan, David Gilroy
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Biggs-Davison, John
Banks, Robert Blackburn, John
Boscawen, Hon Robert Morris, M. (N'hampton S)
Brinton, Tim Murphy, Christopher
Brooke, Hon Peter Neale, Gerrard
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Needham, Richard
Cope, John Neubert, Michael
Cranborne, Viscount Osbom, John
Dover, Denshore Patten, John (Oxford)
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Porter, Barry
Eggar, Tim Proctor, K. Harvey
Faith, Mrs Sheila Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Goodlad, Alastair Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Gower, Sir Raymond Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Gummer, John Selwyn Sims, Roger
Hawksley, Warren Speller, Tony
Henderson, Barry Sproat, Iain
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Stainton, Keith
Holland, Philip (Carlton) Stanbrook, Ivor
Kitson, Sir Timothy Stewart, A. (E Renfrewshire)
Knight, Mrs Jill Stradling Thomas, J.
Le Marchant, Spencer Tebbit, Norman
Lester, Jim (Beeston) Thompson, Donald
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Luce, Richard Wakeham, John
Lyell, Nicholas Ward, John
MacGregor, John Wells, Bowen
MacKay, John (Argyll) Wheeler, John
Major, John Wilkinson, John
Mather, Carol Williams, D. (Montgomery)
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Wolfson, Mark
Mayhew, Patrick
Mellor, David Tellers for the Ayes:
Meyer, Sir Anthony Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
Mills, Iain (Meriden) and Mr. Tony Newton.
Moate, Roger
Campbell-Savours, Dale Steel, Rt Hon David
Cryer, Bob
Howells, Geraint Tellers for the Noes:
Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Mr. A. J. Beith and
Penhaligon, David Mr. Nigel Spearing.
Powell, Rt Hon J.E. (S Down)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Antigua Termination of Association Order 1981, which was laid before this House on 24th June, be approved.