HL Deb 04 July 1884 vol 290 cc4-11

, in rising to call attention to the Report of the Royal Commission on the islands of Grenada, St. Vincent, Tobago, and St. Lucia; and to ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Whether Her Majesty's Government intended to carry out any of the recommendations of the Commissioners in regard to the future government and internal administration of these islands? said, there was in the Report of the Commission ample justification for the course taken by the Government in appointing it. Those islands had been in the possession of the Crown of this country for a period of nearly 100 years. As their Lordships were aware, works were in progress for the construction of the Canal in the Isthmus of Panama, and this fact would show their Lordships that those islands were likely in the near future to become places of very much greater importance than they were at the present time. Those islands were distant from the Isthmus of Panama not more than 1,000, or, at the most, 1,200 miles. He thought there was also ample evidence in the Report to show that whatever the future intention of this country might be with respect to those islands we had not hitherto adequately discharged our obligations to the people who inhabited them. Considering the position of those islands, their fertility, and their natural resources, it was naturally to have been expected that something more would have been done for them, or, at least, that the people would have been encouraged to do something more for themselves, by the Colonial Office of this country, than seemed to have been the case. Nothing was more necessary for such countries, which depended largely upon the produce of the soil for their prosperity, than a good system of roads. He found from the Report of the Commission that the islands were very badly supplied with roads, and that their prosperity was greatly retarded in consequence of a want of complete arterial communication. In another place the Report, speaking more particularly of the Island of Grenada, pointed out that considerable sums of money had been spent on the roads that existed; that the expenditure had not been very judicious; and that, considering the large sums of money spent on these roads during the past five years, their present condition was very disappointing. The Report also brought out very clearly the defect in the present system of administration. The first question which he wished to put to the Government was to ask what were their intentions, if they had formed any, as to carrying out the recommendations of the Report, and as to the confederation of those islands into one Colony. The Report brought out clearly that the administration was at present unnecessarily costly, and, he thought, not very efficient. This circumstance, he believed, largely arose from the fact that the administration was separate. If the islands were confederated, even if economy was not the result, a very considerable increase in efficiency would almost certainly ensue. The population of the islands was 141,000, and the sum paid in salaries and allowances to officials amounted to £50,889. St. Lucia had a population of 39,000 persons, and it spent £13,800 on salaries and allowances to officials; St. Vincent had a population of 41,000, and spent £13,000; and Grenada, with a population of £43,000, spent £17,000. The Report went on to say that if the present system of administration was continued no further economy was possible. At present, in each island, many different offices were held by the same person. For example, the Inspector of Schools and the Road Surveyor were one and the same person, and magistrates were liable to be called upon to act as Revenue officials. Any hope of reform in this matter must lie in the direction of confederating the islands, and putting the administration of the different islands under one responsible head, with the seat of the Government either at St. George's, in Grenada, or some other place that might be chosen. The size of the islands and the distances between them offered no obstacle to this proposal. The advantages of such a system were obvious. There would be a considerable saving of expenditure and a great increase in the efficiency of the administration. More capable men would be got for the discharge of the duties, while the duties themselves would be rendered more important. There would then be a justification for the separation of those islands from the administration of the Island of Barbadoes, a separation which, as far as he could learn, was ardently desired, because the interests of the Island of Barbadoes were, in some respects, not the same as those of the other islands. This would enable the Government of the four islands and the administration of justice, police, and schools to be united. He did not think there would be any very serious opposition made to this proposal. The Report showed that on several occasions efforts to unite the islands had been made with more or less success. Since 1876 he believed public opinion had advanced in this direction, and that any opposition would be likely to die out if a comprehensive scheme were prepared by the central Government. He desired to know whether the Government could see their way to carry out any such scheme as that recommended in the Report; and, if so, whether they would adopt some plan whereby those living in the islands might be permitted to elect some gentlemen to represent them on the Legislative Council? They would not ask for a large representation; but it was strongly urged that such representation would lead to a closer watch being kept on the expenditure, and to the general advantage of the administration. He also desired to know whether it would not be possible for the Government to offer any encouragement or advice with regard to a plan whereby a loan for road-making, harbour accommodation, and water-supply might be carried out? A large part of the industry of these islands consisted in the growing of sugar, and a great deal of discussion had taken place on the subject of countervailing duties which, might diminish the evil effects of the system of bounties which existed in other countries. He did not wish to enter into that subject now; but he might say that he had never been able to understand what were the real objections to endeavouring to put some import duty upon an article like sugar, when it was made the subject of bounties in other countries which were competing with us and our dependencies. It was the object of these countries to crush out the sugar trade of this country, so as to get a monopoly. If the Colonial plantations were allowed to go out of cultivation, and the production of sugar were given up, it would take several years before the industry could revive, and people would hesitate to embark capital in an industry which had been destroyed by the action of other Governments, while our Government stood by without assisting it. So far as the islands mentioned in the Question were concerned, the mischief, he feared, had, except in the Island of St. Lucia, already been committed. In St. Lucia there was a considerable industry in the exportation of sugar, and he should be glad to hear that something would be done to prevent the sugar industry of that island being crushed out. He made no apology for bringing this matter forward. These islands were important possessions, and when the Isthmus of Panama was open they would become still more valuable. It would be a great pity if, through neglect on the part of the Home Government, and consequent disaffection on the part of the inhabitants, these islands were to pass into the hands of any other, and, perhaps, a hostile Power.


said, he wished to call the attention of Her Majesty's Government to a kindred question—the state of the islands in respect to the administration of justice. It was at once cumbrous and costly, and constructed upon the lines of the old Courts at Westminster Hall, and out of all proportion to the amount of business they had to transact. The smallness of the White population showed that the mass of business must be more suited to County Court procedure or to that of the Civil Bill Courts in Ireland. Many of the islands were inferior in population to the Isle of Wight. He hoped something might be done to diminish the burden of those Courts, and to render the administration of justice more ready and expeditious.


said, his noble Friend who had just sat down had gone into the general question of the judicial establishment of the West Indies, which he had said was unnecessarily cumbrous and expensive. That, however, was not covered by the Question on the Paper, and as he had not looked into the matter of late he was not then prepared to express any definite opinion upon it. As to the general tenour of the noble Earl's remarks, it was always found, whatever might be done or attempted in the way of economy, that the administration of justice was more expensive, taking it per head of population, in a population which was divided into a number of small and scattered communities than in a population which was composed of a single community. For instance, though one Judge with £5,000 a-year might be able to satisfy the requirements of 1,000,000 of people living within a limited area, if the same population were divided into 20 or 30 small communities at a distance from one another they could not be adequately served at the same rate of expenditure. Moreover, wherever a judicial establishment was suppressed there would be a considerable amount of local prejudice and local jealousy; and if it happened by any chance that there were delays in the administration of justice, there would be a great outcry against the system, and a great demand that the community so dealt with should again have a separate judicial establishment for itself. With regard to the more specific Question raised by the noble Lord who put the Notice on the Paper, he agreed in the general tenour of his remarks as to the importance of this group of islands, though he did not go with him when he said that in consequence of the opening of the Panama Canal they would probably become of more vital importance than they were now. The difficulty which necessarily occurred in such cases as this was that they could not undertake small local works out of the Imperial funds, and that they could not put on any heavy local taxation. It might, no doubt, be said that the money required to carry out the recommendations of the noble Lord might be borrowed; but he did not think that it would be safe to go into a very large expense with borrowed money. In dealing with communities of this class it was necessary to be very cautious in the matter of loans. Their resources did not increase like those of Canada or Australia; and it was not for him to state how far the Government were prepared to go upon the Report of the Commissioners. It would be remembered that there was the group of four islands called the Windward Islands, and also a larger Island called Barbadoes; and, taken in importance as judged by population and revenue, Barbadoes was pretty nearly equal to the other four put together. The recommendation of the Commissioners was that the four smaller islands should be separated from Barbadoes and united in themselves. On receiving that Report he thought it desirable at once to consult the Legislature of Barbadoes. They took up the idea very warmly, and they had undertaken, if this policy should be adopted, to provide an adequate salary for a separate Governor. That arrangement would, he hoped, effect considerable saving. In principle, the Government had decided upon accepting the policy of separation of the four small islands from Barbadoes; but the question of bringing the former into closer union with one another was a work more of detail, and not of so simple a character. He expected soon to have an opportunity of consulting with Sir William Robinson, and he did not think it desirable to go into a question of detail of that kind without having an opportunity of consulting with him and hearing his views upon the subject. Therefore, as far as that part of the Report was concerned, he should prefer to suspend his judgment. He had no hesitation in saying that the general policy sketched out in the Report was one which the Government considered worthy of adoption, and which they desired to carry into effect. It would undoubtedly lead to efficiency and economy. He was ready now to say that the Government were prepared to act upon the recommendations of the Commissioners if there were no insuperable local difficulty; but they could not act in such a matter without taking the opinions of the various local Legislatures concerned, and giving the people interested in the matter an opportunity of considering it.


said, he was of opinion that what the noble Earl proposed to do was very reasonable and right. He could not lose that opportunity of bearing testimony to the successful result of the labours of the Commissioners, who had performed their task with singular care and accuracy, and had produced a very valuable Report. Their Report was valuable from the good temper and caution which they had displayed and the sound common sense which had characterized their recommendations. He wished to refer briefly to three points of very great importance —namely, the reconstitution of the Civil Service, the question of taxation upon food, and the burning question of immigration. With regard to the Civil Service generally, he thought it essential that a reduction of expenditure should be made; but he should be sorry to see reduction made in connection with the Medical Service or the Constabulary. We owed a certain duty to the large Negro population and the other ignorant and helpless inhabitants of the islands in question. It was our duty to see that they were provided with medical assistance. Then, with regard to the Constabulary, it should be borne in mind that we had withdrawn our troops from the islands, and that the Constabulary had since then performed their duties efficiently. He could not impress too strongly upon his noble Friend opposite the duty of paying attention to the prisons of the West Indies. In many cases their condition was not satisfactory, and the Report recommended the establishment of one central prison for all the islands. That recommendation seemed to him to be extremely wise. As to the question of taxing food, of course it was generally undesirable to levy taxes of that kind. But the amount of tax which the Commissioners proposed was very moderate, and would press very lightly upon the labouring classes. It must be remembered that if a tax was not levied upon food, the whole of that class would be absolutely free from taxation. Looking at all the circumstances, he agreed with the fairness of the proposal of the Commissioners upon this subject. He came next to the question of immigration. The islands, so fertile by nature, were in many parts uncultivated. The planter threw the blame for this upon the Negro, and the Negro threw the blame upon the planter. The Negro was certainly very indisposed to work if he could possibly avoid doing so. It had been said that a Negro who occupied an acre of land in the West Indies could, in one single month, provide sufficient food for himself and his family for a whole year, besides making a certain amount of money. Eleven months of the year were, consequently, given up to idleness. The Negro population was also said to be diminishing. In these circumstances, the planters were extremely anxious to obtain labour, and were ready to submit to considerable sacrifices in order to obtain it. There could be no doubt that immigration had been successful in British Guiana, Trinidad, and Mauritius. The desirability of further immigration was proved, and the only question to be settled was the very difficult question who should bear the expense, and in what proportion. The recommendation of the Commissioners on this point appeared to him to be a very fair one. He was of opinion that in some matters consolidation would be very much to the advantage of all the West Indian Colonies. It had been said in this country that the Crown Colony form of Government had been expensive, on the ground that the Civil Service Estimates had, during the last 10 or 15 years, nearly doubled their original amount. In reality, no blame for this increased expenditure attached to the form of Government under which it had arisen, because the Crown Colony form of Government had been the means of introducing numberless reforms, which would not have been introduced if that form of Government had not been established. If, for example, the state of the prisons and of the Constabulary was 50 per cent better than it was 10 or 15 years ago, the improvement was due to the existence of the Crown Colony form of Government. He was, therefore, anxious to refute the current fallacy that that form of Government had in these and similar matters been productive of unnecessary expenditure.


said, that he did not recommend the expenditure of money from Imperial taxation, nor the expenditure of loans upon works which would be unproductive. He hoped, however, that the noble Earl opposite would not overlook the fact that the Commissioners had said that expenditure was fully justified to improve the harbours, the water supply, and the roads, and that the resources of the islands were sufficient to authorize a loan of £75,000 to be expended for that purpose, which, besides being a benefit to the islands, would be in itself reproductive.