HL Deb 19 May 1871 vol 206 cc1022-7

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that the measure related to the practical federation of an interesting group of West India Islands. The Government which now existed was established in this way—By letters patent issued in 1689 separate Legislatures were established in each island of the group, together with one General Legislature for the whole of the Islands: but the latter met only six times, the last being in 1798. In 1816 they were divided into two Governments; in 1836 they were again united, with the addition of Dominica; and in 1837 Sir William Colebrooke, who was then Governor of the Leeward Islands, tried to restore the General Legislature, but failed in the attempt, owing to the agitation then prevalent consequent on the abolition of slavery. The question was revived in 1866 by Sir Benjamin Pine, the Governor-in-Chief, in consequence of certain reforms which were proposed to be introduced in the administration of justice, and the then Colonial Secretary (the Duke of Buckingham) sanctioned a scheme for the general administration of the Islands, which, however, did not include a General Legislature. The change of Ministry prevented the success of this scheme; but the subject was taken up by his noble Friend (Earl Granville), who had succeeded as Colonial Secretary, and the present Bill, owing to Sir Benjamin Pine's energy and ability, was the result. Prior to 1866 each island had two Legislative Houses on the British pattern—one nominated and the other elected; but this arrangement was a very cumbrous one for small communities, and all the Islands had adopted a single Assembly each, which had led to great administrative improvements. The entire population of the Islands was 110,000. The several Legislative Bodies of the Islands had by Resolutions signified their desire for the union of the whole under one Government, in the manner that was proposed in this Bill. The Legislatures of Antigua, Montserrat, Dominica, and the Virgin Islands were unanimous in desiring the federation proposed; but in St. Kitts it had encountered considerable opposition, six out of eight elected Members of the Legislature opposing it: but at the election which had since occurred four of the six Members lost their seats—a proof that their vote had not been in accordance with public opinion. In Nevis there had also been much opposition, and an Address had been sent home deprecating the scheme. It was, however, a very small island, and the largest landed proprietor was a strong supporter of the project. In the whole group 44 ex-officio and nominated Members, and 16 elected Members, voted in favour of federation; while only 11 elected Members voted against it. The scheme of federation proposed by the Bill was this—The Islands were to form one colony under the title of the "Colony of the Leeward Islands." There would be an Executive Council, composed of persons nominated by the Queen. There would be a Legislative Body to be styled "The General Legislative Council," to consist of 10 elective and 10 non-elective Members—the elective Members were to be elected by the elective Members of the Island Councils from which they were sent; the non-elective would be appointed by the Queen, and were to consist of a President, three official Members, and six unofficial Members. Each island would have one nominated Member, while the 10 elected Members would be apportioned according to wealth and population. The Legislature would deal with the law of real and personal property, wills, &c., mercantile law, the law relating to husband and wife, parent and child, marriage and divorce, the criminal law, civil and criminal judicature, the police, post office currency, weights and measures—and other subjects. The last clause was one of considerable importance. It gave power to the Queen in Council, on Address from the Legislative Body of any of the West Indian Islands not included in this Bill, to bring such Island under the operation of this Act, under such terms and conditions as the Addresses may express and Her Majesty approve. The federation was expected to prove very advantageous in point of economy and administration, as also with regard to the police and defensive force; and it was likely to attract the services of a higher class of men, as higher salaries would be given than under the present system. Difficulty of communication—the only objection which once prevailed to the movement now going on all over the world for the concentration of small communities — no longer existed, and there was a clause in the Bill empowering the Crown to add the Windward Islands to the federation if they should desire to join it. It was satisfactory to find that the West India Islands were at length reviving from their long mercantile depression. Jamaica, under the able administration of Sir J. Peter Grant, and under a constitution adapted to its wants, was fast resuming the position to which its fertility and resources entitled it, and a deficit had during the last two years been turned into a surplus. Antigua was considerably improving, St. Kitts was prospering, Nevis was beginning to revive, and he hoped that the change would soon extend to Dominica.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Earl of Kimberley.)


said, that this matter was one of very great importance to our West Indian Colonies. He agreed very much with what had been said as to the present position of the Islands:—owing to the dispersion of authority over the several islands good administration was almost impossible. He quite agreed that the opposition of St. Kitts and Nevis would not have justified the abandonment of the scheme; they were both small places, and there could be no doubt that the general opinion of the Islands was in favour of federation. He had no doubt that the change would lead to economy and to improved administration; but he attached much more importance to the principle of extension which the Bill contained. The great difficulty in many Colonies was in obtaining a supply of proper men for public duties—it was indeed one of the difficulties in the way of representative government—and this difficulty was felt more particularly in these small West India Islands, and therefore the consolidation of the government of those Islands would be a very great advantage to them. He therefore trusted that the present was the germ of a still larger federation, and that the principle would be extended as the circumstances of the time should render necessary. No doubt there had been a very great improvement in the condition of these Islands within the last two years, and particularly in those whose institutions were more directly under the influence of the Crown. Nowhere had that result been more manifest than in Jamaica, the political and commercial difficulties of which had long rendered this Colony a thorn in the side of Colonial Secretaries, but all those difficulties had been got rid of—a result which was mainly due to the efficient administration of Sir Peter Grant. During the four or five years that he had been there he had not only brought about a good system of law, order, and administration, but he had converted the deficit into a surplus equal to, if not exceeding, the deficit of former years. The establishment of an intercolonial steamer was essential to the present measure, and in the Correspondence between the Colonial Office and the Treasury, the publication of which he regretted, he had been sorry to observe that the latter at first gave an almost point blank refusal to the proposal that the saving accruing to the Imperial Government from federation should be applied to this object. The Colonial Office was obliged to threaten the abandonment of the scheme before the Treasury would give way. No doubt the Government was bound to watch over the expenditure of public money; but the principle might be carried to an extent prejudicial to the public interests. As to the propriety of the scheme of concentrating powers in the central Government, much must depend upon the proper distribution of local and central powers; and he observed that the list of subjects within the jurisdiction of the general Legislature did not include the regulation of trade and commerce, navigation, or banking, and he thought it might be wiser to follow the Canadian precedent and insert also a list of subjects left to the local assemblies. The central Legislature appeared also to have no taxing powers, though in the United States, Canada, and Switzerland certain departments of revenue were reserved to the central power, and he was at a loss to know whence the fund was to be derived for defraying the expenses of the federal Government. He thought the Bill would be very beneficial. The subject was often in his mind during his short tenure of the Seals of the Colonial Office, and he supported the measure as one of great immediate utility, and as the germ, he trusted, of a still larger federation.


said, he quite agreed in the desirability of getting rid of those petty jealousies which prevented anything being done in these small Colonies which would be for the advantage of the whole body, and he was glad to find that a colonial question of long standing was at length to be brought to a settlement. To his own knowledge this matter had been before the Colonial Office for 30 years, he himself being in that Department with the noble Earl at the Table (Earl Russell) when Sir William Colebrooke, one of the best Governors we ever had, endeavoured to unite these communities. The failure of that attempt was not owing, as stated by the noble Earl (the Earl of Kimberley), to the slavery question, but to the quarrels and jealousies of the Islands; and but for the energy and ability of Sir Benjamin Pine the same causes would have defeated the present scheme. He should like to see a still larger federation, and was glad that powers had been taken for that purpose. With regard to the intercolonial steamer, he agreed with the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Carnarvon) that the published Correspondence between the Colonial Office and the Treasury was not of a creditable character, and was likely to create ill-blood in the Colonies. He congratulated the Colonial Office on being able to bring the scheme to a successful issue.


said, he did not rise to defend the Treasury, but he would point out that the two Departments had viewed the question from a different point of view. Sir Benjamin Pine had shown great ability, and had rendered an eminent public service in bringing this scheme to a conclusion.


explained that the steamer would be provided for five years at the Imperial expense—that was to say, as far as the saving in the expenses of lieutenant governors would allow, and that was likely to cover the whole expense. As to the Treasury, it might sometimes appear to offer needless opposition; but the public interests would in the long run seriously suffer were not all schemes involving expenditure carefully considered. A common treasury was originally included in the scheme, but to this it was impossible to obtain the consent of the local Legislalatures. He agreed that it would be advantageous if the scheme could be extended further; but it would be wise for them now to accept what they could get, and thus lay the foundation for improvement hereafter. He might remark that the consent of the local Legislatures to the present Bill had not been obtained without the greatest difficulty; and he could not hold out the hope that there would be any material extension of it. He hoped that Parliament would take the measure upon trust, for were it materially altered its success would be defeated or jeoparded.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.