HL Deb 18 November 1937 vol 107 cc175-80

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill he read a second time. You will find the whole purpose of this Bill in the first clause, which purports to remove Dominica from the Colony of the Leeward Islands and to make it into a separate Colony. The Leeward Islands, which at present consist of the five Presidencies of Antigua, St. Christopher and Nevis, Dominica, Montserrat and the Virgin Islands, were constituted into a Federation by the Leeward Islands Act of 1871. In consequence of that Act it is clear that Dominica cannot be removed from the Federation without an Act of Parliament. It is the intention, should this Bill become law and Dominica so be removed, that it should be governed in future as part of the Windward Islands. The Windward Islands are a group of Colonies under one Governor, but otherwise independent of each other, and, so far as the constitution of these islands is concerned, all that is necessary, in order to bring Dominica within the group, is a geographical extension of the Letters Patent by which the office of Governor is constituted. This Bill confers upon His Majesty in Council power, similar to that vested in him in the case of Grenada and St. Vincent by the St. Vincent, Tobago and Grenada Constitution Act, 1876, and in the case of St. Lucia under the Prerogative, to make provision for the future government of the island by Order in Council. If this Bill is passed into law the transfer of Dominica from the Leeward Islands to the Windward Islands will have to take place on a date subsequent to the Act; but naturally there are various detailed arrangements which will have to be made and some delay will take place before the transfer can actually be effected.

The Island of Dominica, which is about twice the size of the Isle of Wight, was ceded to Great Britain by France in 1763, and it was then grouped with certain islands under the title of "The Southern Caribee Islands." Your Lordships will notice that among those islands were Grenada and St. Vincent. Therefore, this Bill once again resumes the association of Dominica with two of the Colonies of the Windward group with which it was associated so very long ago. The practical reasons which led His Majesty's Government to consider that this Bill is desirable arise chiefly from the geographical position of Dominica and from its historical tradition. So far as its geographical position is concerned, it is the most southerly of the Presidencies of the Leeward Islands, and lies between the two French Islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. In view of that geographical position, and of the island's tropical climate, the economic interests of Dominica are entirely different from those of the other Presidencies of the Leeward Islands. The two principal exports of the Leeward Islands Colony as a whole are sugar and cotton, neither of which is produced in Dominica. On the other hand, Dominica produces the greater proportion of the tropical products which are included in the exports of the Leeward Islands, but which also form the major part of the products of the Windward Islands. So far as historical associations are concerned, the racial characteristics of the inhabitants, their language, which is a French patois, and their religion, which is predominantly Roman Catholic, are far more allied to the Colonies of the Windward than to the other Presidencies of the Leewards.

Therefore, I think it is fair to say that Dominica has many interests and problems in common with the Colonies of the Windward Islands, and that it is particularly necessary and desirable to secure a fuller consideration of those problems owing to the unfortunate and unsatisfactory state of the Presidency's finances at the present moment. It is perfectly true that the transfer of Dominica would result in the loss to the island of certain services which it at present shares with the other Presidencies of the Federation, but it is the considered opinion of the Governor that there will be little difficulty in making other arrangements for the continuation of these services without any great increase in expenditure.

This Bill is by no means the result of a sudden thought which has come to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies. There have been Royal Commissions in the past, notably in 1883 and 1897, both of which clearly stressed the fundamental difference that separates Dominica from the other Presidencies of the Leeward Islands. As Sir Robert Hamilton, the Commissioner of 1897, points out, the local measures suitable for Antigua and the other islands of the Leewards are almost necessarily unsuitable for Dominica, which is separated from them by 150 miles of sea and differs from them in physical configuration and in products, history, language, religion and sentiment. Furthermore, the wishes of the inhabitants to be removed from the Federation, which have been made abundantly clear for many years, culminated in 1934 when the majority, if not indeed all, of the leading citizens of the island addressed a petition to the Governor in which they asked that the Presidency should be withdrawn from the Leeward Islands Federation and united with the Windward Islands group. In the recent elections held in March, 1937, more than one candidate succeeded in obtaining his seat by advocating such a policy.

The Governor of the Leewards has very carefully examined the position with regard to the transfer of Dominica. He has taken into consideration all the unofficial information that he could obtain, and as a result of that examination, and having taken counsel of the Governor of the Windwards and being assured by him that he sees no difficulty in the transfer, he has come to the conclusion that Dominica should be transferred and that both groups will benefit by the transfer, in so far as we shall create a larger but homogeneous Windward Islands group and at the same time a smaller but equally homogeneous Leeward Islands group. The Governor of the Leewards is also of the opinion that the transfer will do no harm but will probably do good to the other Presidencies of the Federation. Therefore, after a very careful consideration of all aspects of the matter, and taking into full account the Governor's strong recommendation and the clear indication of local public opinion, His Majesty's Government have reached the firm conclusion that the transfer of Dominica should be carried out in its own interests. They accept the view that such a transfer will not do any harm to the Presidencies of the Leeward Islands, and they hope, on the contrary, that this Bill will do good to both groups of islands. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Marquess of Dufferin and Ava.)


My Lords, I venture to intervene in this debate for a few minutes, having had the honour to administer two of His Majesty's Colonies in the Windward Islands before and during a part of the War, and therefore having some cognisance of this question and of this Bill which the noble Marquess has brought before your Lordships' House today in such felicitous language. I feel that this Bill is the happy culmination of a very difficult controversy which has been going on for many years. I remember that, when I was in the West Indies, Dominica was almost the shuttlecock of a difficult situation in the Leeward Islands. She was constantly resisting her association with the Leeward Islands, principally for the reasons which the noble Marquess has stated in his speech: differences in production of commodities, differences of language, differences of religion and customs.

During that time, because of these differences, the then Administrator succeeded in inducing the Secretary of State for the Colonies to arrange for Dominica to communicate direct with the Colonial Office instead of through the Leeward Islands Governor. However, circumstances alter cases. That same Administrator became Governor of the Leeward Islands and very shortly afterwards undid what he had done as Administrator of Dominica. He induced the Colonial Office to reverse their decision and once more to incorporate Dominica as part of the Leeward Islands in every degree, even to the extent of communicating through the Leeward Islands Governor. This Bill will alter that state of affairs entirely. It will bring Dominica within the sphere of her own conditions by linking her up with the other Windward Islands Colonies. It will also change her constitution in so far as, instead of being a Presidency, she will become one of His Majesty's Colonies. I feel sure, from all that I have heard and from the assurances which have been let fall by the noble Marquess this afternoon, that there is no one in Dominica who will not welcome this step and the Bill which is before your Lordships' House.

But perhaps I may be allowed one moment of reminiscence, to bring up another matter. In 1920, when I was a member of another place, I was fortunately able to induce the then Government to send out a Commission to the West Indies to examine into many problems which required investigation at that time. Our noble Leader, Viscount Halifax, who is now engaged on another very delicate and important mission and therefore is not in his place here to-day, went out to the West Indies as the head of that Commission and was accompanied by Mr. Ormsby-Gore, the present Secretary of State for the Colonies. Before the noble Viscount went to the West Indies I gave him a memorandum which he kindly consented to take with him. In that memorandum I set out certain views with regard to the confederation of certain portions of the West Indies, and these were Trinidad, the Windward Islands and the Leeward Islands. That Commission went and it came back. It recommended that the Windward Islands and Trinidad should be amalgamated or federated in certain respects, subject to the consent of those Colonies, but it left out what in my opinion was a very important part of the proposal, and that was that the Leeward Islands should be included. That proposal of the Commission was not accepted by the Colonies concerned, and I was not surprised that that was their decision; but I venture to hope that now we have got this step forward so far as Dominica is concerned possibly in the future that subject may arise once more, and it may become a practicable object that there should be a confederation for common purposes—not for local purposes but common purposes—between Trinidad, the Windward Islands and the Leeward Islands.

I believe that one of the reasons why the Leeward Islands were not incorporated in the suggestion at that time was that the Governor of the Leeward Islands was very much opposed to the proposal. That Governor was a very forceful man, and he would have lost his job if those proposals had been carried out. Indeed if they had been carried out there would have been two fewer offices in the West Indies—namely, the governorships of the Leeward Islands and of the Windward Islands. If the time does come when such proposals can be considered, the effect on two offices should not be allowed to stand in the way of the much bigger and more important project which I have outlined. With these few words I wish again to welcome this Bill and to congratulate the Government upon having brought it before this House.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

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