HL Deb 28 October 1953 vol 183 cc1419-56

2.46 p.m.

LORD OGMORE rose to call attention to recent events in British Guiana; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am sure we should welcome the opportunity this afternoon of hearing from Her Majesty's Government something of the strange and sad circumstances and events that have been happening in British Guiana. As your Lordships know, British Guiana is a country slightly larger than England and Wales, with a population of only 375,800 people—I mention this fact, because I shall be alluding to it later on. The population is composed mainly of Africans and East Indians, who are concentrated on the coastal fringe. In the interior there are a few people, mainly the Amer-Indians, the original inhabitants of this part of the Continent of America. Economically the country depends largely on sugar, and the necessity to supply the sugar estates with labour was the cause of the Africans and East Indians being brought originally to this country. It is a country of tropical heat and tropical languor, as a rule, although, as in most tropical countries, languor can change quickly to extreme violence. It is a country of huge forests and swiftly flowing rivers, and almost no communications in the form of road or rail transport in the interior. It is really only the coastal belt which has been developed.

As to constitutional development, in April last, as your Lordships know, based on the Report of an independent Commission, a new Constitution was granted to British Guiana. It had several features which were an advance upon those in the Constitution previously enjoyed. In the first place, there was adult suffrage; secondly, there was a bicameral Legislature, with a lower House consisting of twenty-seven members, of whom twenty-four were elected; thirdly, there were six elected members of the lower House appointed as Ministers, giving them, in fact, a majority over the ex officio members on the Executive Council, which roughly corresponds to the Cabinet; and, save in exceptional circumstances, the Governor was obliged to consult the Council before making any decisions. At the General Election at the end of April the People's Progressive Party obtained 51 per cent. of the votes, and eighteen out of twenty-four seats, by some curious freak of the electoral register. I am not for a moment implying that there was anything wrong with the electoral register, but merely saying that the 51 per cent. of the votes enabled them to have eighteen out of twenty-four seats: we have these curious circumstances sometimes in our own country in the balance of Members returned to the House of Commons. As a result of the number of members who were returned, the People's Progressive Party (which for the sake of brevity your Lordships will perhaps allow me to refer to as P.P.P., although as a rule I dislike initials) filled all six ministerial posts in the Executive Council.

In September, only a few months after the Constitution was granted, it was decided by Her Majesty's Government, presumably on the advice of the Governor, and anyway, with his consent, to suspend the Constitution. Several reasons are given in the White Paper for this drastic step, and they are to be found in paragraph 4. It says, for example: The conduct of the Ministers showed no concern for the true welfare of the Colony and threatened its progress as an orderly state: it had seriously endangered the economic life of the country and had set it on the road to collapse. Then there are set out—there is no reason for me to repeat them—a number of examples of this conduct which has rightly induced the consideration and the concern of Her Majesty's Government. After an Order in Council had been made by Her Majesty, the Constitution was suspended: British troops were brought in and, in conjunction with the police, the troops raided the homes of about forty leaders of the P.P.P. I quote from a report: British troops drove up in a lorry to the home of Dr. Jagan shortly after 6 a.m. and threw a cordon with fixed bayonets round the modest two-storey house. Two policemen and Superintendent John Puttock arrived by car and helped in the search. Dr. Jagan"— who appears to keep uncommonly late hours— himself had been up all night writing. He was in slippers and pyjamas. They also raided the house of Mr. Sidney King, former Minister of Works, and Dr. Singh. They later arrested seven prominent persons in the P.P.P. on criminal charges, and to-day we find in reports appearing in the Press that they have interned five leaders. These leaders are to be detained indefinitely under the Emergency Regulations.

I would say, subject to correction from the many distinguished members of your Lordships' House who are here and who have had vast experience in Governorships and in high office in Commonwealth countries, that rarely in our history has a Constitution been suspended, and never in our history has it been suspended after less than six months' operation. Therefore it is obviously a matter with which your Lordships are concerned and about which we should like to hear an account from the Government. In fact, this whole matter came upon the public like a bolt out of the blue; and although we are now told that people in British Guiana were getting tired of the P.P.P. Ministry, there was no hint of it, so far as I know, in this country, either in Parliament or in the Press. In fact, the mine of information which is presented to Parliament every year, the Colonial Annual Report (Cmd. 8856) presented by the Secretary of State for the Colonies—which, by the way, has not even yet been debated in either House—has no hint of any trouble in British Guiana. That was presented to us only in May of this year.

I have read through it carefully, and there are many references to British Guiana, all extremely pleasant and encouraging. It states that the old Governor had retired; an official of the International Bank—who, as we all know, is often the harbinger of serious events, for some curious reason—had visited British Guiana; there had been a record sugar crop and a medical survey of the Amer-Indians had been carried out. Some of the Amer-Indian medical rangers had been supplied with motor-cycles, and they were all mobile—whether that means the Amer-Indians or the rangers is not quite clear—and British Guiana had an exceptionally good record in malaria eradication. There is no mention of Dr. Jagan: no mention even of Mrs. Jagan. And there is no mention of any of the other Ministers. According to the Report of the Secretary of State, everything in British Guiana is placid. The sun beats down on the vast tropical forests and on the streets of Georgetown. We are given no hint of the hot lava of violence and terrorism which we are told was bursting its way to the surface. Yet the Government must have known that this was so, because if we turn to paragraph 28 (i) of the White Paper on British Guiana (Cmd. 8980) which the Government has presented to Parliament this month, we find that it says: On 10th March this year Dr. Jagan"— he was the leader of the P.P.P., of course— said: 'In Kenya the Africans are not only killing white men who took away their land, but are killing their own people who turn stooges and that should be done to stooges (here) … who are fighting the cause of the Government and not the people.' This man apparently said that openly before the Constitution came into force, and before this Report was presented to Parliament. I have previously made comments upon this Annual Report, which is an excellent document in its way, but I must once again comment that in the Annual Report from the Secretary of State we want some of the less welcome features of the Colonies, as well as the features which we all like to read.

I suggest that we are entitled in this House to ask five questions of the Government: first, whether the Constitution should have been suspended: secondly, if I may use colloquial language, "Where do we go from here?" What are the Government's future intentions? British Guiana has now no Constitution, and presumably the Governor is ruling as an autocrat. Thirdly, what are to be the terms of reference for the Commission of Inquiry which is to be set up? Fourthly, whether the Government will pursue vigorously economic and social reforms and developments, and, fifthly, what are the details of the internment of the five leaders of the P.P.P.: how long is it proposed that they should be interned, and under what conditions?

May I briefly refer to each of those five questions, which, to my mind, are questions upon which we are entitled to an answer from the Government. First of all, as to the suspension of the Constitution. Could the Governor not have dismissed the Ministers and dissolved the Legislature, and then held new elections? The Governor could have provided—as, indeed, he has—full information as to the misdeeds of the Ministers, and no doubt the public would have corrected the situation. At all events, the public would have had the opportunity of correcting it without the violent purge which has now taken place in British Guiana. It will no doubt be said by the noble Earl who is to reply that this would have brought the Governor into politics. That is true. But I suggest that it would not have brought him any more into politics than he has been brought already. He is brought into politics, being the sole ruler under present conditions, so that is hardly an objection to the course which I suggest might have been a better one for the Government to follow than the drastic course that they have pursued.

As to the second question: "Where do we go from here?" What is the future intention of the Government, and how long is it expected that this country will exist without a Constitution at all? The White Paper says: As soon as the necessary legal steps can be taken the present Constitution will be suspended and an interim Government set up with which the Guianese will be fully associated. How are they to be associated with this Constitution? In what way? How far back do you go? I know that Colonial Constitutions are infinite in their variety, but they are usually organic, and they are usually progressive. It is difficult to think of an example of where we have had to go back, so to speak, several rungs down the ladder. I, for one, do not know exactly how you do go back, or where you stop on the ladder in your retrogression. It is very difficult. I believe, in military affairs, but can you, in constitutional affairs, take up a less advanced position after having held a very advanced one and after having been beaten back from it? In my amateur soldiering days I was always told that withdrawal was one of the most difficult military operations to perform, and I imagine that that is so. I imagine that an even more difficult operation is withdrawal in the constitutional sense. I think we ought to have from the Government, in precise terms, a declaration of their intentions.

Then as to the third question, we are told in paragraph 12 of Appendix B of the White Paper that The Commission of Inquiry will be set up in due course by the Secretary of State to inquire into the events in British Guiana which have led to this check in the political advance of the Colony. … So far, that is a fact-finding Commission. Then we are told that the Commission of Inquiry are also to make recommendations for a revised Constitution. I should like to ask the Government, on this particular point, what are to be the Commission's terms of reference, and will the Commission of Inquiry be entitled, if they so desire, to recommend as advanced a Constitution as the one which has now been suspended? In other words, is there to be any qualification or limit to the recommendations which they will be entitled to make if they so desire?

As to the fourth question, the economic and social advance, I referred in the first few sentences of my speech to the fact that this is a country a little larger than England and Scotland, though not quite so large as Great Britain, with under 400,000 people in it. I know from my own experience of dealing with this country when I was at the Colonial Office that this is by no means an easy problem to solve. There is this small population on the coastal fringe, itself largely reclaimed, or at least held back, from the sea. There is this vast hinterland, very sparsely populated by the primitive and original inhabitants of the Territory. In my experience, one of the main difficulties there—and certainly the Colonial Development Corporation found this—is the lack of communications, and the fact that an enormous amount of money will be needed to cut roads through this Territory, through the vast forests and other areas of the country. Moreover, the rivers are not navigable. Before anything very much can be done in the interior, therefore, an enormous amount of money will have to be spent on communications. I am not suggesting that this is an easy problem to solve. It is a very difficult one, and I do not expect any ready answer from the Government to-day about the economic progress that we hope the country will make. I would, however, ask the Government whether they will assure the House that the sad events of the last week or two will not in any way affect the determination of Her Majesty's Government to push on as hard as they can with economic and social advancement in British Guiana. As in most of these Territories, vast capital is needed, and, just as much, there is also need for technical assistance of a devoted kind.

As to the fifth question, I am sure we should all like some information from the Government as to their intentions with regard to the indefinite detention under emergency regulations of these five leaders. I am sure that both Houses of Parliament, and the country, never like arbitrary arrest, and they hate imprisonment without charge or trial. Although such action on the part of the Colonial Government may sometimes be necessary—we know that it is necessary on occasions—yet I think it is essential that where Her Majesty's Government or the Governor on the spot have recourse to this arbitrary action, then they should have the clearest possible case to put before Parliament and the people of this country. Unless they have the clearest possible case showing the absolute necessity of these arbitrary methods, then I do not think they should be entitled to exercise the powers they have exercised in this particular case in this way. This is a matter upon which we are by no means unreasonable, but we should like to have assurance and proof from Her Majesty's Government. This, as I think we shall all agree, is a most unhappy story. Only in April last we were pleased to learn that yet one more Colonial Territory was well on the way to self-government and to the handling of its affairs in its own way. Now, only a few months later, this Constitution has been suspended, and we are at a loss to know what is going to happen in that country. I feel, however, that we must all keep cool heads and must also ensure that any decisions taken are in the best interests not of one section or of one party, but of the whole of the people of this land of British Guiana. I beg to move for Papers.

3.6 p.m.


My Lords, the importance of the question which is before us this afternoon can hardly be overestimated, but I venture to doubt whether at this stage, after so much public discussion and references in the Press, we can usefully or constructively go very much further in the matter, despite the most interesting speech that we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore. If I may touch upon his speech without presuming to anticipate the speech of the noble Earl who will be replying for the Government, it seems to me that as a Commission of Inquiry has been set up, quite obviously in good faith and with the good wishes and hopes of us all, it is perhaps a little premature to ask what will be its terms of reference and for all the detail surrounding it. I suggest that we might have enough trust in the Government to let these things take their course—though it will not, I hope, be a slow course.

Opinion is divided in the country as to whether the action taken by Her Majesty's Government in toto was desirable or necessary. But, regarding the matter objectively, I feel that, as a result of debates in other places—I do not necessarily say in another place—and the general discussions on this matter, the divergence of judgment in the country about this point has been rather exaggerated. We can only be immediately concerned with approval or disapproval of the unusual and urgent action which Her Majesty's Government have had to take in a crisis. We on these Benches give full support to Her Majesty's Government, and believe that public opinion is in agreement with us.

I found one thing mentioned by Lord Ogmore a little sinister, and that is that a Party in this Territory which, as we know, is a poisonous Party (I do not think that word is too strong) has been able, due to poor conditions, and largely, per- haps, at this stage, to poor education, to mislead the electorate of that country to the extent that 50 per cent. cast their votes for the P.P.P., while the representation of that Party in the Assembly is no less than 75 per cent. It may be rather a King Charles's Head of these Benches to refer to this matter of parliamentary representation, but it seems to me that this reflects the same type of anomaly as exists in our electoral system in this country. I will not go into detail on that point, but perhaps I may commend that aspect to the consideration of the Commission when it comes to discuss these matters.

Apart from the question of timing, in the sense of doing the right thing at the right time, this Territory is an integral part of the British Commonwealth, and we cannot allow this pocket of poison to exist, as if this Colony were an oppressed country behind the Iron Curtain of some ruthless and savage parent State. We know that it is not; and the enlightened world, including informed opinion in Guiana itself, also knows that it is not. But, my Lords, if this thing can occur—as it has occurred—we must undertake a very searching analysis to find what is wrong and where it is wrong in the wider fields of both methods and timing. I wonder whether we are not too inclined to impose a miniature edition of our own ideas and Constitution on our overseas Territories. Are they really suitable for the conditions of to-day? In other words, is it not possible that we are trying to run 1953 affairs with 1853 ideas and methods? The tremendous acceleration in the rate of progress, invention and development to-day leaves us all breathless, and it is difficult to see how the next generation, or the one beyond that, is going to cope with these things. However, I suggest that in our planning we should look not to the immediate future but to the end of the twentieth century, and not merely to adapting the ideas of the early nineteenth century.

These generalities, of course, are not particularly constructive. It may well be asked: "How are we going to set about that?" I suggest that one way in which we can start is to see to it that those people to whom we owe so much for the responsibility they take, and the grave judgments they have to make, should not be so greatly overburdened as I believe in the upper ranges, in many cases, they are to-day. I think they should be relieved, both in circumstances and actual weight of responsibility, so that they may be encouraged to be broadminded, human and humanitarian, instead of being driven rather to the narrow view and even to physical ill-health as mere robots. In these few sentences I have strayed into rather wider fields than those of British Guiana itself, but I should like to assure Her Majesty's Government that the wider and more idealistically they cast their nets in their search for general remedies and general improvements, the more enthusiastic will be the support which they or any other Government will receive.

3.12 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to offer a few comments on the subject of this debate, I should like to begin by saying that I propose in some respects to follow the example of the last speaker and to make a few general reflections which I think may be of more value at the moment and with a view to the future than any intimate discussion of details. I do not propose to traverse the ground covered by the White Paper. To my mind, it is a grim and impressive statement of the reasons why the Constitution so recently inaugurated has so completely broken down. In my opinion, it is a complete answer to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, of why it was necessary so soon to suspend that Constitution. I have studied the Paper with great care and interest, and I cannot understand how anyone, after doing so, can quarrel with the decision to suspend the Constitution in the interests of public order, public faith and good government. There was no other course open to any Secretary of State, with the courage to do his duty in the task entrusted to him.

I have also studied the terms of the Constitution as published in the British Guiana (Constitution) Order in Council No. 586 of 1953, in order to see, or to refresh my memory, whether there was any substance at all in the contention that the Governor held reserve powers which would have been adequate, if fully used, to save the situation without suspending the Constitution. To my mind, there is no question that the powers given under Sections 10 and 77 of that Order in Council were never intended or devised to meet a situation of this nature, nor, if so used to the limit of possibility, could they have met the situation without, in effect, amounting to a suspension of the Constitution.

I have some personal knowledge of the use of a Governor's reserve powers, and I know that they can be used only rarely and sparingly. They certainly cannot ever be strained from their purpose by continuous use so as to amount to a suspension of the Constitution of which they form a part. I know of no precedent in Colonial history of a Government elected to work a certain Constitution devoting the whole of their energies to sabotaging the Constitution that they were elected to work. The six Ministers concerned were false to their Oath of Allegiance, they were false to their oath of office and they were false, above all, perhaps, to the electors who voted them into office to use the powers of government to promote the welfare and prosperity of the people of British Guiana.

So much for the action taken, so rightly in my view, by the Secretary of State. To have hesitated or to have delayed sending troops to aid the police, if necessary, and to emphasise the determination of the British Government to maintain order, or to have temporised in any way, might well have encouraged those who were working for chaos and disorder and so have led to a loss of life. In regard to the authorities on the spot, it is, I know only too well, easy to criticise a Governor for action or inaction in an emergency, and I have no wish to do so. The atmosphere in which he has to exercise his judgment and his powers and many of the facts of the situation are not and cannot be known fully in this country. No one can accuse this Governor of impatience. He seems to me to have strained patience to the limits of wisdom. Furthermore, I think the time lag in searching the houses of Ministers and their confederates was unfortunate. If it had been possible—and there may have been reasons why it was not possible—to make the search swiftly and unexpectedly some weeks earlier than it was made, perhaps documents which are alleged in Press reports to have been destroyed might have been seized and might have led to a restriction of the personal liberty now so fully enjoyed by the six ex-Ministers. Furthermore, I am not clear why so much latitude was permitted in the dissemination of Communist literature and why it was allowed to continue for so long. I am not very clear whether it has even now been restricted and stopped.

May I now turn to the problem which confronts us. What of the future? Of one thing we may be quite certain: if the six ex-Ministers whose nefarious, though brief, career has done so much damage to their country are at large, their energies and their influence are likely, apparently, to be used to embarrass the Government and to thwart any measures which may be taken to encourage overseas capital investment in British Guiana or to enlist the support of the people in the vital necessity to work for the improvement of their own economy. If the breakdown had been the result of honest incompetence and inexperience, or even foolhardy self-confidence, the remedy would have been relatively easy, and an early restoration of the suspended Constitution might even be envisaged. But, my Lords, that is not the case. There is here no basis of good faith. The breakdown has occurred, as we see indicated in the White Paper, through deliberate, dishonest and malicious misuse by Ministers of their powers, in the hope, apparently, of being able to traffic in chaos and misery, and in the name of liberty to create conditions in which they could destroy it and impose their own will upon the people whom they have duped and misled.

I do not know whether many of your Lordships have had occasion to study the Report of the British Guiana Constitutional Commission of two years ago. If I may say so, that was a very able and interesting Report. At this time, it merits close attention, and it should greatly facilitate the work of the Commission which is to be appointed, partly because of the background information, historical, social, economic and physical, which is so well set forth in the Report, and partly, and very importantly, because of its clear statement of the political risks of the recommendations which the earlier Commission were making and of the reasons why they thought these risks should be faced. The hopes which they expressed have been rudely shattered. but that does not necessarily invalidate their arguments, though it may cast some doubt on their sense of timing.

Time permits me to select, and briefly to emphasise, only two points which serve to illustrate the complexity of the physical and racial problems involved in this question. As we probably all know, the country is divided into three distinctive parts. First, there is the remote interior, the development of which can proceed only upon the basis of discovered fact, and no realistic assessment of its possibilities can be made until accurate information has been provided through scientific investigation. Secondly, there are the impenetrable and little-known tracts of jungle and mountain, and, thirdly, the rich, alluvial, low-lying coastal belt, where the great mass of the population has gathered, and whence the wealth of the country has largely been derived. Unfortunately, the coastal belt lies below sea level and is prone to inundation from the sea. On the other hand, since Guiana is part of the watershed system of the Orinoco and the Amazon rivers, it is continually threatened by the weight of water brought down its many rivers from the interior of South America.

In these conditions only large-scale producers can possibly sustain the heavy costs of drainage—that is one very important point to remember. In British Guiana, nature underlines the truth that only unremitting labour and vigilance can secure development. For instance, the Government of British Guiana have, with the help of the Colonial Development Corporation, been engaged in projects for developing the rice industry, but the difficulties of reclaiming and then maintaining cultivable land for this purpose are, as Professor Vincent Harlow tells us, formidable. To effect control of the flood water in this area would involve an estimated expenditure of 100 million dollars, spread over a period of twenty years, to say nothing of a probable consequential expenditure on land settlement of a similar sum. The potentialities of the country may be great, but to convert them into working realities outside capital must be attracted; and (this is the point which I am trying to emphasise) in order to attract outside capital, honest and reliable government must be there, or there will be no attraction to that capital to come in. My Lords, that is the measure of (to use almost kindly words) the wicked irresponsibility of the discredited ex-Ministers.

At this point, I feel justified in making a passing reference to recent remarks in the Press about our "shameful neglect" of British Guiana and of our responsibilities there. Surely there is no need for us to apologise or to make vicarious atonement for the sins which our forefathers never committed. We all know that with the passage of time, and the growth of what I may call an international conscience, the nations who represent Western civilisation, especially those with Colonial Dependencies, have increasingly acknowledged a moral duty to assist backward Territories to achieve by development a higher standard of living. But to talk of "shameful neglect" because the moral standards of to-day are in advance of those of twenty, thirty or forty years ago is, I suggest, a purely emotional approach which ends in distorting the truth to any audience not acquainted with the facts.

I should like to make one final reference to the racial difficulties in British Guiana, which are inseparable from political and economic problems and which must be considered with them. The Commission even wanted it to be made an electoral offence to refer in an election speech to the racial origin of any candidate. The population of British Guiana has been mentioned by the noble Lord who opened this debate. It consists of, roughly, 3,000 British, about 4,000 Chinese, 9,000 Portuguese, 16,000 Amer-Indians, and the balance, the bulk of the population, divided between those of East Indian and African origin, with a slight preponderance in favour of the Indians. The Africans are largely the descendants of emancipated slaves, and the East Indians are descendants of indentured labourers who had refused repatriation on the expiry of their contracts and elected to stay in British Guiana. In passing, I would say that I should have thought that was a comment of some weight. The natural deduction which I should draw from it is that, poor as the conditions may be, or may have been, in British Guiana, thousands of Indians concerned preferred to stay there, rather than return, with their passage paid, to their own country.

The Africans to-day see the Indians multiplying more rapidly, and, with their new-found passion for education, competing with them in every walk of life, especially for what are known as "white collar jobs" which have formerly been almost the monopoly of the Africans. It was estimated in 1951—and the figures are very striking indeed—that 44 per cent. of the East Indian population was illiterate, as against 2.7 per cent. of the Africans and 3.2 per cent. of the mixed coloured people. It was also estimated in 1951 that 30 per cent. of the revenue was absorbed by social services, of which 13 per cent. was spent on education and was still found to be inadequate. Incidentally, these figures and these percentages compare favourably with those in England for corresponding services. I believe the relative figures in England are 27 per cent. and 9.7 per cent.

Furthermore—and this is an important point—the incidence of malaria had for generations kept the population of British Guiana almost stationary, but a few years ago the scientific experiment was tried of spraying D.D.T. over the plains from the air. It was surprisingly successful, and with the consequent elimination of malaria the population began to rise steeply. In 1951, no less than 37.7 per cent. of the population was under fifteen years of age. It is easy to see the employment problem that lies in the early future if that rate of increase of population continues or rises still further, as it probably will. And also it gives some indication of the problems which will arise with an adolescent population amounting to about one-third of the total population of the country having to face one of our newest and most advanced types of Constitution. Once more, the need to attract capital so that development may provide employment will be vital.

May I conclude with a story which was told by Professor Vincent Harlow to a Royal Empire Society audience about two years ago? It is very relative, I think, to the state of affairs electorally in British Guiana. While the Commission were travelling in a country district in British Guiana, they met a group of illiterates whose leader was asked this question: "Supposing two men came to you for your vote and one said: 'Vote for me and I will guarantee to double the price you will get for your bag of rice' and the other man said: 'I cannot promise that, but if you will vote for me I will promise to do everything I can to improve your lot,' which of them would you vote for?" The Professor said that the man looked at him and replied: "The second, sir." The Professor asked him why, and he said: "Because the first man would be a liar." Professor Harlow must have been very fortunate in his voter, whose simple wisdom is hardly matched in countries far more civilised and far nearer home. It appears that the six ex-Ministers whose misdeeds have occasioned the circumstances which have led to this debate to-day made the wildest election promises to give away to every elector a motor car, a house and plenty of land. Apparently, the millennium is now postponed for a little time until all Europeans have left altogether. Your Lordships will appreciate that the Commission to be appointed will, in view of this background of facts, face a most: difficult task.

In matters of agricultural development, it is now agreed, after some disastrous failures, that big and ambitious projects should be preceded by a pilot scheme. In this instance, there would seem to be emphasised the need for similar prudence in political experiments. The British Guiana Constitution was a gamble with unknown human factors, and the Commission's estimate of the sagacity of the British Guiana voter and of the reaction to responsibility which it would be reasonable to expect from those whom those voters chose was so optimistic that we realise to-day it was utterly wrong. The immediate thing, and the only thing which can matter immediately, is to restore confidence in the British Government and to profit by the lesson of the last six months. That in brief is the problem as I see it. I am not going to attempt to say how the Commission should set about their work, because I have no doubt that they will be selected with a view to their being the best authorities available for that purpose.

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, I think that most of us who have followed recent unhappy events in British Guiana—certainly the three noble Lords who have just spoken—would agree about two essential propositions. The first is that the People's Progressive Party in British Guiana has shown itself by its actions to be totalitarian in aim and method. Like similar Parties in Germany and Italy before the war and in Eastern Europe since the war, this Party was using political power to establish a one-Party State. For my part, I am not in the least surprised that a Party of this type has emerged in British Guiana. Geographically and historically, British Guiana is part of South America, with which it has closer ties than with the British Territories in the rest of the Caribbean area. Those of your Lordships who have been to British Guiana will have heard people there talking about "the continental destiny" of their country. There is, indeed, a considerable section of public opinion which for that reason objects to the idea of federation with the island Territories of the British Caribbean. Their eyes are turned towards Latin America. Of course, the great majority of those people are good democrats, but there are some, as we have just seen, who have fallen under the influence of the authoritarian tendencies which are current in the political Parties of Southern America. It is, I believe, this influence which accounts for the difference in ideology between the P.P.P. in British Guiana and the Socialist and Labour Parties in the rest of the British Caribbean. The most powerful of these, the Socialist and Labour Parties in Jamaica and Barbados, have both deplored publicly the irresponsible leadership of their corresponding number in British Guiana.

The other factor in the rise of the People's Progressive Party, which explains its power rather than its ideas, is the poverty of the population, particularly the conditions under which most of the workers in the coastal belt, in the paddy fields and on the sugar plantations, are living. These are the circumstances which in combination have caused the sudden rise to power of an authoritarian Party in this Colony. Similar circumstances are also to be found in British Honduras, the only other Colony on the American mainland, and I feel we shall have to watch very carefully the political development of this territory now it also has adult franchise.

The second proposition with which I believe we should all agree is that no British Government can possibly allow a Party dictatorship in any territory for which we are responsible, whether the dictatorship emanates, like this one, from the Left, or, as it might be, from the Right. But if we can agree with the Government about both these propositions, it does not follow from this that to revoke the Constitution was the right or only possible way to stop the progress of the P.P.P. to political power. I think we should all take the view that every alternative to this loss of political freedom in British Guiana should have been examined and tried out, and it is for the Government to satisfy Parliament not only that no such alternative existed, but that everything that could have been done within the Constitution to check misgovernment had in fact been done. For my part, I am not convinced by what the Ministers have already said that every possible method of action within the Constitution was considered and applied before this final and most drastic step was taken. I am not saying that it might not have been necessary in the last resort to suspend the Constitution, but I do maintain that every resource of statesmanship and every safeguard provided by the Constitution should have been tried out and proved of no avail before the Constitution itself was suspended.

There are three things which I think might have been done but which, so far as one knows from the evidence, were not in fact done. The first is that the Secretary of State might have asked the leaders of the P.P.P. to London or he might have gone to British Guiana himself or asked another Minister to go there on his behalf. I am delighted that the Minister of State has been there so recently, and I am sure his visit has done good, apart from its usefulness to us here in Parliament, but it is a great pity that he was unable to go there before the crisis occurred. A solemn warning might have checked Ministers in their irresponsible course. Equally, of course, it might have been ignored, but I think it should have been given, and it should have come from a Minister of the Crown. That is the first thing which might have been done and which was not done.

The second thing is this—and I think this is a good deal more debatable: the Governor might have been authorised to use his reserve powers. Before I touch on this matter, may I say how delighted I was to note the recognition by speakers of all Parties in another place of the liberal spirit and rare ability of the Governor, Sir Alfred Savage. I had the privilege of meeting him at the Governor's Conference in Barbados in 1949, where he was already beginning the good work in improving race relations that he did there while Governor of that Colony. I should like now to revert to this most important and crucial question of all—namely, the use of the Governor's reserve powers. These are provided for under the terms of the Constitution which were quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Milverton. The Secretary of State has said that these powers were not intended for a situation of this kind, where a majority Party are failing to carry out their responsibilities, and this view was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, whose opinion naturally would carry very great weight with your Lordships. But I think this is a view that is at least open to doubt. The reason why these special powers are included in most Colonial Constitutions is to stop the kind of thing that was happening in British Guiana—namely, maladministration and misgovernment resulting from political immaturity. With political maturity and self-government, a Governor becomes a constitutional monarch and his special powers disappear.


My Lords, I do not wish to interrupt the noble Earl, but in case it should be taken that I accept that last statement, that the reserve powers of a Colonial Governor are inserted in Constitutions specially for this purpose, I should like to say I could not possibly agree with it. I think they are inserted for quite different reasons, in order to enable specific actions to be taken or stopped.


So far as I am aware, I did not say that these reserve powers were inserted for the purpose of carrying on the day-to-day administration of a Colony in difficult circumstances. What I am maintaining is that the general principle of their insertion in Colonial Constitutions is to prevent misgovernment and maladministration. May I now con- tinue the argument about the desirability or otherwise of their use in British Guiana. It is true, of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, has pointed Out, that these reserve, powers have never been used in any British Colony to conduct the day-to-day business of the Government; but that similar powers can be used for that purpose is shown by our administration of India. Your Lordships will remember that when ministerial government failed in a Province of British India, we placed it under the direct rule of the Governor of the Province. We used to call this "going into Section 93,"because the Secretary of State had this power under Section 93 of the Government of India Act. The noble Earl, Lord Munster, was at the India Office during the war and he will remember occasions on which this procedure had to be used. Therefore, we know from experience that, for a time at least, it is possible to administer by direct rule a British Dependency without revoking the Constitution, by putting the Constitution, so to speak, into cold storage until the circumstances arise which will enable constitutional government to be restored. I do not think the noble Earl, Lord Munster, would deny that the positive and negative powers of the Governor were wide enough to enable the government of the Colony to be carried on in spite of the opposition of a majority Party in the Executive and the Legislature.

It is interesting to note that the most dangerous proposals mentioned in the White Paper as the intentions of the P.P.P.—the abolition of the Public Service Commission, the setting up of a people's police, the enforcement of recognition of political trade unions—if they had been embodied in legislation, could have been nullified by the use of the Governor's veto. Obviously, we should all recognise that a deadlock between the Governor and his Ministers could not have lasted indefinitely, but surely the very fact of a deadlock would have shown public opinion both here and in British Guiana that the British Government were doing everything possible to save the country from disaster, short of interfering with its democratic Constitution. Even a deadlock of this kind could have been broken without revoking the Constitution. This was a matter to which my noble friend Lord Ogmore referred in the course of his remarks. The Governor could have been authorised to dissolve the House of Assembly and force the majority Party to renew their mandate. I think there was a specially strong case for this course, because the P.P.P. had not been given a mandate for any drastic constitutional changes. They had won the previous election, as the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, indicated, on a programme of bread and circuses: higher wages, better housing, and so on—indeed, far wilder offers to the electorate even than those. They had kept none of their election promises; in fact, they were plunging the country into economic chaos by fomenting strikes in the sugar industry and scaring away capital investment. On the face of it, few Parties have presented their opponents with such a record after only five months in office.

It should be remembered—and I think this was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Rea—that at the previous election this Party had only 51 per cent. of the votes cast, although they won eighteen out of the twenty-four seats in the Lower Chamber. One wonders how many of those who voted for this Party last time would do so again. It is all the harder to understand why the people of British Guiana have not been given any opportunity to pronounce their verdict on the record of the majority Party. What one fears now, after all that has happened, is that this Party may get a new lease of life; for they will surely pose as the champion of the people's democratic rights and the innocent victims of British Imperialism.

But whether or not mistakes have been made in the past, the past is irrevocable, and recrimination will not improve the lot of the people of British Guiana. That is what we all want to-day, irrespective of Party. I believe this constitutional crisis will have done some good if it has focused public attention in this country on the social conditions which have put these extremists in power. It may bring home to us our responsibility as the Mother Country for long years of neglect. I do not attribute that to any one Party—it may be attributable to public opinion—but there has been neglect. I hope that a consideration of these conditions will make us more willing to provide the funds which are so desperately needed for improved social services and economic development.

I do not think we can be proud of the fact that during the thirty years prior to 1946 only £3 million were spent in grants in aid. During the last seven years, thanks to the money that has been made available for colonial development and welfare, this sum has already been exceeded; and, of course, the Colonial Development Corporation have entered the field and are providing capital for forestry and mining. But there is still far too little public and private investment to solve the basic problems of low wages, bad housing and under-employment. The crying need is for more capital investment, and I am sure we all agree with the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, in emphasising that point. Your Lordships will remember that the Evans Commission estimated that an investment of something like £15 million was required over a ten-year period if the resources of the country were to be adequately explored and developed. The decision of the Governor to set up a Credit Corporation to provide loans for agriculture, industry and rural and urban housing is a step in the right direction.

The recent report on industrial development in the West Indies recommends that several types of industry, including brewing and the building materials industry, are suitable for British Guiana. I hope that special encouragement will be given to such undertakings which will help to give more employment and reduce the cost of living. Moreover, British Guiana is still dangerously dependent on its main crop, sugar. I am particularly glad that cheap credit will be available for public housing schemes. Housing conditions on some of the sugar estates are still deplorable. Obsolete ranges or barrack lines in which the cane cutters are herded with their families have withstood the adverse comments of the Venn Commission. I remember the admirable new houses on the Blairmont Estate, where separate homes have replaced the old barrack lines. If one estate can afford to rehouse its workers in this way, it is hard to see why others cannot do likewise.

But small injections of capital by private enterprise, supplemented by the Government and the Colonial Development Corporation, will not go far towards opening tip the latent reserves of the interior and hinterland of this almost virgin country. Roads are still practically non-existent outside the narrow coastal belt. Travel inland is only possible by air and river. A road programme to link the interior and the Savannahs with the coast is an essential prerequisite for the development of their potential wealth in minerals, crops and livestock. The other requirement, to which I think the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, referred, is comprehensive geological, mineral and soil surveys of the whole central region. But road building and surveys on this scale will never be undertaken by private enterprise. It is essential, if this vast area is to be opened up, that Her Majesty's Government should be willing to advance a substantial long-term loan, or give a large grant in addition to the normal Colonial Development and Welfare allocation to the Colony.

To turn to the political side, I fear we must all recognise that unrest will continue to hamper economic development so long as the Government of the country is divorced from the people. We must therefore convince the Guianese that we mean to restore their Constitution with the least possible delay. I trust that the Commission of Inquiry will be appointed forthwith and asked to report as quickly as possible; and I hope that the noble Earl who is going to reply will be able to respond to my noble friend's request that we be told the terms of reference of this Commission of Inquiry. In these matters, I feel it is impossible to overestimate the importance of the time factor. Above all, let us not forget that recent unhappy events have not altered the fine qualities of the people of British Guiana. They are still our loyal fellow citizens, proud of their British connection and looking to us for guidance in their advance towards self-government. This was brought home to me again and again during my tour of the country in 1949. In the remotest spot I visited, a village school in an Amer-Indian village near the frontier with Brazil, there were photographs of the Royal Family on the walls. When I was at Potaro, the employees of the Consolidated Goldfields Company were out on strike. Having heard the manager explain the Company's point of view, I went to a packed protest meeting organised by the workers. The hall where the meeting took place was gaily decorated with enormous Union Jacks, and the proceedings were opened by a lusty rendering of the first verse of the National Anthem.

This high and long-standing regard for the Mother Country and its democratic institutions has given the Guianese a thoroughly sound grounding in politics. They may have been misled temporarily by doctrinaires, but they are far from ignorant about modern methods of government. Local government, I think we all agree, is the best school for democracy. They have an efficient and up-to-date system of elected councils in the villages and the rural parts of British Guiana, which (I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, would agree) I rather think would put the island territories to shame. There is, therefore, no reason to suppose that the Waddington Constitution is unworkable because the Guianese lack the capacity to work it. On the contrary, their proved capacity in local politics, and their long period of Parliamentary government at the centre, entitles them to a Constitution as advanced as most of their neighbours in the British Caribbean. They have made a mistake, but, as we all know, experience is the best of all teachers. I should like to address two requests to Her Majesty's Government. The first is that they will seriously consider the possibility of some generous financial arrangement for British Guiana. The other is that every possible effort will be made to expedite the work of the Commission of Inquiry and the restoration of a Constitution in this Colony.

House adjourned during pleasure and resumed by the Lord Chancellor.

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, some private Members on our side of the House would not like this debate to go by default without private Members having an opportunity of expressing their confidence in the actions of Her Majesty's Government. The main issue, as to whether or not Her Majesty's Government were justified in suspending this Constitution, has been questioned definitely by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and some doubt, almost to the point of questioning, has been thrown upon that action by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, who expressed his doubts in the form of a question: Could not the Governor have dismissed his Ministers and called for new elections? It is not my purpose to argue or re-argue that case. It seems to me that the evidence is clear in this White Paper: that Her Majesty's Government had no option but to take the drastic and positive action which they did take. The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, warned us that we must have cool heads. I agree. But let me remind him that we must also avoid having cold feet. In an emergency, it is the man on the spot, backed up by the Minister responsible in Whitehall, who must have the courage of his convictions and carry out the necessary action. The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, put five questions which no doubt the Minister will answer. He asked: How do we go back? He said that our Colonial Constitutions are organic and progressive—those were the words he used. That is true, but I do not think we need be afraid of going back if we have made a mistake.

I was particularly impressed by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Rea, who took a wide view as to Colonial progress at all costs, which has been the driving motive of progressive thought in this country in the last few years. It may well be that the spreading, in the name of progress, of what I call "Westminster model" Constitutions across the Colonial Empire is not the solution for the well-being of the people. It may be that we have been over-stressing this idea of copying Westminster, of giving them a Westminster Constitution, rather than concentrating upon economic development, houses, schools and medical care. Our trust is to the people of these Colonial Territories; it is not to a clique of politicians. Our trust is to the ordinary person, the illiterate, the uneducated, the sick and the old, and as long as we have a policy which aims at fulfilling that trust, I do not think we need be afraid of the yappings, the barkings or the growls of a clique of extreme politicians.

4.4 p.m.


My Lords, the debate which has been initiated this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, is, as he rightly said, one of major importance. In my remarks I hope to follow the example which was set by the noble Lord and other noble Lords who have spoken, by speaking with complete candour, but, I trust, still in a calm atmosphere. This discussion is somewhat different from that which took place in another place when finally, for lack of any further complaint, the cry was for the resignation of my right honourable friend the Colonial Secretary and, I take it, also for the resignation of the Minister of State and myself. Therefore, I trust that I shall be allowed to defend my right honourable friend's actions as if they were my own. It is obvious and natural that, whenever a Constitution is suspended and that grave decision is made, Parliament should be supplied with the fullest possible information and should be able to discuss the matter perfectly freely. To that end, and in order to assist the general discussion which we knew would take place, a White Paper was published. That Paper, to which I shall refer briefly, as did the noble Lord, has had wide circulation, both here and in the Colonial Territories.

It has been said on many occasions—and I should like to repeat it again this afternoon—that the grave decision reached by my right honourable friend and Her Majesty's Government, to suspend this Constitution, was taken only after careful consideration of all the relevant factors which had emerged since the inauguration of the Constitution some five months ago. I should like, in passing, to recall to the House briefly that the Constitution for British Guiana was, as has been said in the course of our discussion, founded on the Report of a Commission which was appointed by the former Government in 1950. That, I think, came to be called the Waddington Commission's Report. The advice which that Commission tendered was, in general, accepted by the former Colonial Secretary, and in due course it was brought into operation by my right honourable friend. For the first time in British Guiana, universal adult suffrage was conferred on the people and, also for the first time, elected members were given Ministerial powers and departmental responsibilities. They also had a majority upon the Executive Council, which became the principal instrument of policy. Save in exceptional circumstances, the Governor had to consult and take the advice of this Council.

We were all aware that there were risks and dangers which would become obvious in a new and advanced Constitution such as was proposed and implemented for this country. But I feel strongly that unless risks are taken we shall get nowhere in implementing the policy which has the backing of all political Parties in this country—namely, that we should continue to direct all our efforts to giving Colonial peoples an ever-increasing responsibility for their own affairs. The dangers inherent in universal adult suffrage were stressed by the Commission in their Report, and they seemed to me so utterly different from the views which were expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that I should like to quote it briefly. The Commission thought it likely that the accession of a large number of illiterate persons on to the register might well place a premium upon demagogy, and that elections on this basis might encourage the return to the Legislature of a number of members who would not be qualified to exercise legislative functions.

Your Lordships can form your own opinion and your own judgment as to whether or not the Commission's Report was correct. The present Government and, I think, the former Colonial Secretary acquiesced in thinking that, in spite of all the risks, the political advancement of the peoples of British Guiana would continue the economic and social improvement which was, and still is, so much needed in that Territory. Indeed, even after the election had taken place, we still had hopes that the P.P.P., who won the election—and won it very easily—would work within the spirit and terns of the new Constitution. Our hopes were, unfortunately, shattered, and, through no fault of our own whatsoever, the Constitution which was drawn up with such meticulous care has been wholly and absolutely sabotaged.

Immediately after that election had taken place, the Governor, Sir Alfred Savage, who has been referred to by noble Lords in the course of this discussion and who is, I think, generally accepted on all sides as a liberal-minded and kindly man—and who certainly has the full and complete confidence of Her Majesty's Government—has done everything in his power to assist and guide these new Ministers in the fulfilment of their administrative duties. What does he himself say? He says that he has endeavoured to induce them, by good will, by tact, by patience, and by tolerance—but, alas! all to no avail. Indeed, any noble Lord who has read the Governor's speech, which is printed as an Appendix to the White Paper, must realise that he and his officials were intervening constantly to help Ministers fulfil and carry out the obligations which Parliament in this country had placed upon their shoulders. But it became only too clear that Ministers were not prepared to live up to their responsibilities, nor to accept the guidance and advice which the Governor was only too ready to give them.

It seems pretty clear to me, having read the White Paper and the reports of what had occurred, that from the first day that Ministers took office they proceeded to the greatest possible extent to undermine the whole structure and basis of the Constitution, according to a set pattern which, I believe, is much more familiar in Eastern Europe than it is in the Western Hemisphere. Besides neglecting their administrative duties—which as anyone who has been a Minister will know are so necessary for efficient government—these Ministers of the Crown indulged in numerous activities which were not only highly improper in themselves but which were also substantial evidence of a philosophy of government which is and always has been alien to our conceptions It will be remembered that Ministers were combining Government office with trade union responsibilities; and there is no doubt that they definitely started strikes, which they attempted, still as Ministers of the Crown, to turn into a general strike towards the end of last month. Now surely, my Lords, if Ministers in this or in any other Government should direct their activities to stirring up disputes in industrial enterprises, the whole foundation and function of orderly government must and would be completely jeopardised.

After this strike had failed and collapsed, the Ministers announced their intention of introducing special legislation to secure the recognition of their own trade unions. Indeed, when the Bill was presented to the House of Assembly, the Minister of Works, Mr. King, deliberately whipped up the most unruly and un- seemly mob to try to coerce the House. When the Speaker of the Assembly refused to allow the measure to be taken through all its stages in the course of one day, all the Ministers of the Crown, together with other members of the Party, left the Chamber. The situation was almost completely out of hand. At any rate, on leaving the building the Leader of the Opposition had to be given police protection. I should hate such a thing to happen to the noble and learned Earl who leads the Opposition in this House.

I would amplify what the White Paper has to say about this particular legislation. It provides that if a union has a certain percentage of those who vote at a ballot it should be recognised as the only union for that particular industry. These unions, which were, as I have pointed out, supported by the P.P.P., were being continually referred to throughout the whole country as Government unions. When political pressure and intimidation are being used to encourage people to join this union, and when it is a reasonable assumption—as I maintain—that the same process will be used in relation to the ballot, it is clear that the Bill which these Ministers proposed to introduce could hardly be described as honest, and certainly not as imitating an American model. I turn now to deal with the attempts which were being made to undermine the loyalty of the police. The speeches of these Ministers seem to me to be quite sufficient to indicate their objective. Their intention was to set up a people's police from amongst their own supporters; and that, I maintain, is one of the most serious and damaging charges that could be made against any Government. I do not want to go into the White Paper more than I have done because I think—and apparently Lord Ogmore agrees—that that document speaks pretty well for itself. But if I were asked for a comment on any of the principles that the Ministers followed, I should say that personal liberty and individual freedom were being threatened, and that intimidation was becoming widespread and rampant. Both these doctrines are utterly alien to British political life and thought, but they were being spread throughout the country in a clandestine manner.

This is a terrible catalogue of disastrous items, and naturally they had economic consequences which, if they had been allowed to continue unhalted, might well have caused irreparable damage to the whole life of the community. Not only was confidence being destroyed, but the prospects which were so bright in the development of the country had for five months or more been utterly neglected, and no progress whatever had been made in considering the recommendations of the Report of the International Bank Mission which was available in mid-July. I should have thought, and I believe that all your Lordships, on whichever side you sit, would naturally have assumed that Ministers elected for the first time would use all their energies to improve the economy of the land and, therefore, the lot of the people. I should have thought it was a legitimate assumption in the hearts of all men that to labour for the alleviation of poverty and distress which, as we all know (it has been mentioned this afternoon), is widespread in British Guiana, was a praiseworthy thing. But it was not to be. It is abundantly clear, from the evidence produced in the White Paper, that the sole object of these Ministers was to infiltrate into all sections of the community the aims and ideas of a Communist-controlled movement, with the ultimate object of smashing the Constitution and finally taking over. Let me give an assurance here to the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, that the Governor is now actively engaged in discussions which will, I hope, remove some of the difficulties which have occurred during the past five months, but which anyhow will take into consideration the economic and social reform of the country which, as the noble Lord has said, is urgently in need of some assistance.

I have tried to indicate to the House the unhappy spectacle which confronted my right honourable friend. I have endeavoured to place before noble Lords a plain statement of all the facts, free, I trust, from any extravagant or unnecessary language. But in the light of all the circumstances a decision had to be made. What were the alternatives? They were either to suspend the Constitution or to find some other method short of suspension. As those matters have been dealt with this afternoon, I shall return to them in more detail in a moment and discuss what other course was open to my right honourable friend and to Her Majesty's Government. I believe that the decision which we reached was absolutely inevitable; that there was no other course that we could possibly have adopted. Accordingly, the decision to suspend the Constitution was made, and troops were despatched to British Guiana. The arrival of those troops to assist in the maintenance of law and order caused widespread relief throughout the country, and in view of the threats of violence, which again are outlined in the White Paper, I believe the decision was wholly justified.

My right honourable friend has received many messages from British Guiana and other West Indian Territories welcoming the timely action which he and Her Majesty's Government took. I do not intend to read these messages to the House, but they were all couched in similar terms. There is, however, one message which I desire to read. It was a telegram sent by Mr. Grantley Adams, not to Her Majesty's Government but to Mr. Greenidge, Secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society in London, who is himself a West Indian and who was formerly employed in the Civil Service. This is what Mr. Grantley Adams says—and, when all is said and done, he is a Socialist: Strongly urge you warn Attlee, Griffiths, other Labour speakers against backing wrong horse. We here know Jagan's crowd and sympathisers elsewhere to be positive menace to West Indian Socialist progress. You may quote this cable. How I wish that members of the Opposition had followed Mr. Grantley Adams's good advice.


Would the noble Earl explain in what way we have not followed it? All we have done is to invite the Minister to answer five questions, pertinent questions which I am sure all noble Lords in this House, irrespective of Party, would wish to be answered We have not supported Dr. Jagan at all.


No doubt, as the noble Lord says, they did not wish to support Dr. Jagan, but they wished to make the matter just as difficult for Her Majesty's Government as they possibly could. That is why they divided in another place.


I must protest against this. We are dealing with this debate to-day, and if the noble Earl is referring to "the Opposition," he is re- ferring to the noble Lords in this House. We have not in any way tried to make Her Majesty's Government's position difficult. They have taken very serious action, and we want them to answer the five questions that we have put to them, questions which are agitating the country. Surely that is not making things difficult; it is simply carrying out Parliamentary duties.


I am certainly coming to answer the five questions which the noble Lord addressed to me. I am glad that we are not going to have a Division in this House similar to that in another place.

Let me turn to examine what other methods, short of suspension of the Constitution, my right honourable friend could have adopted. I have already explained to the House the main principles of the new Constitution, and the question is, could my right honourable friend have found any other method, perhaps less drastic, which after its implementation could have safeguarded the Constitution and ensured that the Ministers would methodically work it, rather than systematically destroy it? I see five alternatives, and I think each one of them covers the points which were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, and by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel.

The first is this. Could the Governor dismiss individual Ministers in the Executive Council and appoint others in their place? Under the terms of the Constitution, the Governor could not dismiss any Minister without the agreement of the majority in the Executive Council, and since the P.P.P. held a majority of two in that Council, it would have been impossible to secure their approval. Secondly, could the Governor dismiss all the Ministers in the Executive Council? The Governor had no powers under the Constitution, as was established by the original Order in Council, to dismiss Ministers en bloc in the Excutive Council. I have been advised, on this and all the other points to which I am coming, by the highest legal authority, that the Governor could not have used his reserve powers to secure their dismissal. Indeed, even if a way of doing so had been found, new Ministers had to be elected by the House of Assembly in which, let us remember, the P.P.P. held an overwhelming majority; and it is obvious that the dismissed Ministers would undoubtedly have been re-elected by the House of Assembly. Thirdly, could the Governor remove the Ministers' portfolios? The Governor could remove the portfolio of any of the Ministers without the approval of the Executive Council, but observe at once what would have happened. The Governor could not exclude any of them from taking part in meetings of the Executive Council, of which they were elected members.

Fourthly, could the Governor dismiss the Legislature and order new elections? This was a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, and also by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. This is a suggestion which has been made here to-day and pressed from a number of quarters. At first sight I am bound to admit it looks an attractive proposition. No doubt, that is why the two noble Lords opposite chose it. But, when its implications are scrutinised, and when we scratch below the surface, it is obvious that it becomes at once merely an evasion of the whole issue. Of course, the Governor has power to dissolve the Legislature and order new elections, but, as the Ministers would not themselves have advised the Governor to have a dissolution, the Governor would, in fact, have to override their advice and give reasons publicly for his action. The only reason which the Governor could publicly and truthfully state was that he found it no longer possible to work with the present Ministers and indeed with the P.P.P.; in order words, before elections for the new Legislature were held, the Governor would have to declare in advance that there was one Party in the State which was totally unacceptable to him. I am prepared to admit that this Governor—indeed, any Governor—has constantly to handle political situations of all kinds, but to put him in such a position as I have described would, I maintain, bring the Governor into Party politics with a vengeance.

Let us face this matter a little further and see what would have happened at those elections. The issue would inevitably have been fought out not on the record of the P.P.P. when in power but on the action of the Governor in dissolving the Legislature. I am at a loss to understand why the noble Earl should think that to fight this election the P.P.P. would be in a very bad position because they had not fulfilled any of their election promises. In this event, here would have been a golden opportunity for the people to be able to forget that the promises were broken and to go into battle upon the issue whether the Governor had the right to dissolve the Legislature when he did and without taking the advice of his Ministers. The P.P.P. would have been presented with a glorious rallying cry which would have excused every one of their shortcomings throughout the whole five months that they have been in office. If this policy had found sympathy with the electorate, who are still inexperienced, I was going to say, in almost every form of democracy, what would have been the result if the P.P.P. had been returned to power? It is, I think, universally agreed between all Parties in this country that the P.P.P. could not have been allowed to remain in office; and if any noble Lord thinks that elections should have been held in those circumstances he must face up to the final issue of what the result would have been.

Now I turn to the fifth question: Should the Governor have used his reserve powers continuously? Of course, like many other Governors, the Governor can certainly use his reserve powers, which are limited; but, in any event, no reserve powers were designed or indeed have ever been designed under any Colonial constitution to operate every day of the week. In fact, if the Governor had exercised his powers continuously this would have been a matter of continuous conflict between himself and his Ministers, and that would make it obvious, if any further proof were required, that the Constitution had completely broken down. I know of no other method to which the Governor could have recourse. Certainly no other method was mentioned in the course of the debate we have had to-day. I think that the action which we took was the only practical and feasible action in all the circumstances.

Naturally enough, the House would like to know the present position. For some time there will have to be direct rule by officials together with Guianese individuals who will advise the Governor, but on whose advice the Governor is not bound to act. An Order in Council will be laid in draft in a few days' time and will provide for an interim Constitution which will last until a decision has been reached on the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry which it is proposed to set up. At the present time—and here I reply to Lord Ogmore—I am not able to give the names of the individuals who are to serve on that Commission; nor, indeed, can I tell the noble Lord what the Commission's terms of reference will be. I think it is obvious, however, that the Commission will be able to report on any matter so long as the subject comes within the terms of reference. I have no doubt that when a decision is made I shall be in a position to give the House the information that they require.


I do not think that leads us much further. I imagine that the Commission will be able to comment and make proposals on anything within their terms of reference. What I really wanted to know was what those terms of reference would be, and whether the terms of reference would enable the Commission, if they so desired, to suggest a Constitution not less advanced than the one already enjoyed.


I think we must wait and see what the terms of reference are. Now I come to another question which was raised this afternoon—namely, that concerning the recent arrests which have been made, and also the fact that when the Governor announced the decision to suspend the Constitution the People's Progressive Party called for a general strike. The leaders of the P.P.P. followed up the call by turning to the sugar estates and trying to get more of the workers to strike. Intimidation and threats have been used by the Party against workers unwilling to strike. There are specific cases of workers having their rice farms destroyed and their homes stoned by P.P.P. members, and of their being assaulted and their lives threatened by P.P.P. members. The Deputy Commissioner of Labour in a recent report says: For some long time I could not believe a few persons could create such intimidation as to make a much larger number of people act contrary to their views. I have, however, changed that view and can say for certain that at the moment a very large number of workers would return to work but for the fear of harm being done either to their persons or to their property. On October 24, seven Ministers of the Party including one ex-Minister, Mr. King, were detained for questioning by the local police on reports that they had held illegal meetings on or near a sugar estate. Two members were later released. The Governor has announced that owing to widespread intimidation and fear of victimisation grave difficulty has been experienced in obtaining the evidence of eye-witnesses of the illegal meetings which those members are alleged to have conducted. Some eye-witnesses have given statements on the understanding that they would not be required as witnesses in court. The Governor decided that five of the seven, including the ex-Minister, should be detained under an Emergency Order on the ground that their activities constituted a threat to public safety and order, and that their detention was necessary to prevent them from acting in a manner prejudicial to public safety and order. The Governor has, at the same time, appointed under the Emergency Order an advisory committee, with the Chief Justice as chairman, to hear objections by persons against whom detention orders have been made, and to make recommendations to the Governor in respect of such objections. The detention of these persons under the Emergency Order in no way precludes proceedings against them for offences that can be tried in the open courts.


I am very glad to hear that last sentence, but I hope the noble Earl will not mind my pointing out that I think public opinion here is rather disturbed at this internment without a charge—it is a suspension of habeas corpus. Although I quite agree that circumstances may arise in which this is justifiable, yet we must never get to the stage of thinking that we may do these things out of convenience or anything of that sort. It is a most drastic step under the British Crown for such a thing to be done, and I very much hope that if these people have been guilty of any offence it will not be thought that just because you have this method of interning them you will not prosecute them for the offence. Obviously the right thing to do is to prosecute. Frankly, I am unhappy about accusing people of committing offences (because the White Paper did accuse them very definitely) and then not charging them in proceedings, but interning them. That seems to be a very undesirable state of affairs, and I hope the noble Earl will press that point of view upon his colleagues.


My Lords, I would not dispute for one moment what the noble and learned Earl has said, but he will appreciate my right honourable friend's difficulty and, indeed, the difficulty which the Governor has to face—that, through fear or intimidation, none of the witnesses would dare to come and give evidence on a particular charge. But I agree wholeheartedly that if this can be avoided, if charges can be brought against these individual Ministers, if evidence is forthcoming from these witnesses of activities of these particular persons, then, of course, the noble and learned Earl is perfectly correct—it is far better to proceed against them than merely to go in for complete detention.

I feel certain that your Lordships, to whatever political Party you may belong, will agree that these events in British Guiana have caused a setback to self-government in that country, but this will not—indeed it must not—cause any of us to reverse the policy which we have followed throughout the last two years, during which there has been a greater development in political advancement in Colonial territories than ever before in a similar period of time. In the Gold Coast, for example, in Sierra Leone, in the Gambia, in Tanganyika, in Uganda, indeed, in the West Indies and in the Far East, remarkable constitutional advances have been made during the last two years, advances of which naturally, and, I think, justly and rightly, my right honourable friend is proud. May I answer one other question which was addressed to me by my noble friend Lord Milverton. He asked whether the Governor had taken steps to stop the importation of Communist literature. The answer is that the Governor has already taken steps to stop all forms of Communist literature entering the country. I trust that I have answered all the questions which have been addressed to me. In conclusion, I would add only this. We on these Benches are just as disappointed as noble Lords opposite that this Constitution, which promised so much to the people of this Colony, has had to be suspended. Much as we all regret the decision which was reached, in my own mind I am perfectly certain that there was no other course open to my right honourable friend and Her Majesty's Government which could properly have been taken.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken to-day, and also to the noble Earl who has attempted to answer questions which I put to him. I do not propose—it would not be right for me to do so—to attempt to deal with any of the answers which he gave. We on this side of the House, and the country as a whole, will consider those answers very carefully. In the meantime, all we can say is that we all hope there will be a speedy resolution of the difficulties in British Guiana, and that economically, socially, and politically that country may once more proceed along the road on which we all hope it will travel, without let or hindrance from anyone. I ask your Lordships' leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.