HL Deb 26 July 1955 vol 193 cc980-5

2.53 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in introducing this Bill, it is appropriate, I think, that I should say a few words about the historical background. The present federal constitution of the Leeward Islands under which the four Presidencies of Antigua, St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, Montserrat and the British Virgin Islands are grouped together to form the Colony of the Leeward Islands, dates from an Act of Parliament of 1871, the Leeward Islands Act. This Act established a Federal Executive Council and a General Legislature which has power to make laws for the Leeward Islands or any part thereof on certain subjects specified in the Act—for example, postal matters, currency, audit, mercantile and criminal law, the police force and immigration—and, as respects any Presidency, on any other subject that is declared by the Legislature of that Presidency to be within the competence of the General Legislative Council. Presidential Legislatures also have power to make laws on these matters, but a law of a Presidency Legislature is void if it is repugnant to a law of the General Legislature; and any law of a Presidency Legislature relating to any of the subjects mentioned above may be repealed or altered by a law of the General Legislature.

The Act of 1871 by no means represented the views then held by Her Majesty's Government about the desirable extent of federation. It was intended to be but a first step which would be followed by federation of the Windwards and then federation of the Windwards and Leewards. But this first step was never followed by a second and third owing to the strength of opposition in the Wind-wards; and the limitations of the federal authority set up—temporarily as it was then thought—in the Leewards in 1871 have prevented it from developing into a strong and economic form of government. In recent years the unpopularity of the Leewards Federation in the island has been steadily growing. Some time ago the General Legislative Council passed a unanimous resolution which asked the Government to ascertain what action is necessary and thereafter to take appropriate steps to bring an end to the Federation of the Leeward Islands. Meanwhile it has become clear that it would be easier for the Leeward Island,, to enter the projected West Indian Federation as separate units, which is the proposal in the West Indian Federation plan and that the existence of a Leeward; Federal Government would be an inconvenient anomaly.

In these circumstances, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced in a Written Parliamentary Answer on December 21, 1954, that he hoped to introduce legislation as soon as practicable to abolish the Leeward Islands Federation. Hence the present Bill. I should add that the financial consequences of the abolition of the Leeward Islands Federation will be negligible. The future Colonies (three of which—Antigua Montserrat and the British Virgin Islands—are grant-aided) will take over certain items of federal expenditure and will have to strengthen their administrations, hut the cost of this should correspond roughly to the reduction in expenditure on central services.

Let me turn now to the Bill itself. Clause 1 effects the main purpose of the Bill, namely, to abolish the Colony of the Leeward Islands—or in other words the Federation—which was established by the Leeward Islands Act, 1871, and to provide that the four Presidencies of that Colony, namely, Antigua, St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, Montserrat and the British Virgin Islands shall become four separate Colonies. They will remain under one Governor and the position will then be the same as that in the Windward Islands where there are also four separate Colonies under one Governor. Clause 2 contains some rather complicated legal provisions that are consequential upon the dissolution of the Colony of the Leeward Islands. Broadly speaking, the effect of subsection (1) is to restore the position as regards the law-making powers of each Presidency—or Colony as they will now become—which obtained before the passing of the Leeward Islands Act, 1871. Before 1871 the Presidency had constituent powers. The Act of 1871 changed its position for not only did it set up a general Legislature for the Colony of the Leeward Islands but also made provision for the enactment of laws by the individual Presidency Legislature. To this extent, therefore, the original constituent powers possessed by each Presidency were replaced or overlaid by the provisions of the Act of 1871.

This subsection therefore does two things. First, it provides that upon the repeal of the Act of 1871 the provisions of the Presidency Constitution Ordinances relating to law-making powers, which are at present of no effect, shall come to life, thus restoring the position which obtained before 1871. Secondly, the subsection goes on to provide that the remaining provisions of those Ordinances—for example, provisions relating to such matters as the composition of the Legislative Councils and the holding of elections—shall as from the appointed day have effect as if they had been enacted by virtue of the law-making powers which are contained in the Ordinances themselves. This will avoid any doubt as to whether the provisions in question can be amended by the exercise of these powers. The object of subsection (2) of this clause is, first, to enable Her Majesty by Order-in-Council to provide for the continuation and adaptation of existing Orders-in-Council and perhaps one or two local laws, and, secondly, to enable the Governor or the Legislature of each Presidency to provide for the continuation and adaptation of existing local laws other than the few that may be dealt with by the Order-in-Council.

Among the consequential matters for which provision will have to be made by Order in Council is the transfer to the four new Colonies of the assets and liabilities of the Government of the Colony of the Leeward Islands. In this connection it is obviously important that provision for the continuation and. adaptation of existing laws should, where possible, be made in advance so as to take effect upon the appointed day. Subsection (3) makes it clear that such a. course is possible.

I turn now to Clause 3. This clause empowers Her Majesty by Order in Council to make, or to authorise the making of, emergency laws for the four new Colonies. The possible emergencies which one has to take into account are not only riot and civil disturbance but also such things as hurricanes and earthquakes, which are not infrequent in the West Indies. A period of emergency is defined by subsection (4) and an emergency law may be made only during a period of emergency and expires at the end of the period of emergency unless the Legislature of the Colony concerned continues it in force. In general I need only say that this clause provides in respect of these new Colonies powers which already exist in respect of most other Colonies.

I turn finally to Clause 4, which empowers Her Majesty by Order in Council to make provision for the establishment of courts for the four new Colonies, and makes such amendments to the Leeward Islands and Windward Islands (Courts) Order in Council, 1939, as are consequential upon the creation of the four new Colonies. There are complicated legal reasons for the inclusion of this clause. Briefly, the point is that at the moment the authority for the Leeward Islands and Windward Islands (Courts) Order in Council, 1939, which sets up the Supreme Court of the Wind-wards and the Leewards and the Wind-wards and Leewards Court of Appeal is, so far as the Leewards are concerned, an Act of the General Legislature of the Colony of the Leeward Islands. This has not in fact given rise to difficulties so far, but we do not feel that after the "appointed day" it will be satisfactory to have these courts ultimately dependent for their existence upon four different Legislatures.

There is no reason to suppose that this clause will provoke any controversy in the Leeward Islands. Indeed, there is no present intention of making an Order under it since the present Supreme Court, with which all concerned in the Leewards are perfectly content, will continue in existence. This provision merely enables another Order in Council to be substituted for the present one should that ever become necessary. My Lords, I hope that I have explained this Bill adequately to the House. It is, as I have already said, a measure which is desired by the Leeward Islands themselves and which is. in my view, a desirable prerequisite to the wider Federation in the Caribbean which we all hope will now be not long delayed. I therefore commend it to your Lordships, and hope that you will give it a speedy passage. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Lloyd.)

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, all Members of your Lordships' House who know the Leewards will welcome this Bill. As the noble Lord opposite said, the federal structure has been unpopular for a long time, and, indeed. it does not correspond to any sort of collective loyalty. The loyalty in the Lee-wards is to the individual islands, and not to any sort of collective entity; they are so far separated that it is impossible to conceive of any genuine communal or collective will or spirit. The first reason, therefore, why the Bill should be welcomed is that it does away with this anomalous, top-heavy, federal structure and will, therefore, increase the efficiency and the popularity of the administration of the Leeward Islands. The second reason, as the noble Lord rightly pointed out, is that it will facilitate the accession of the Leeward Islands, as separate Colonies, like their neighbours, the Windward Islands, to the West Indian Federation, when it is set up.

There is one question that I should like to ask the noble Lord in relation to this matter. As he is well aware, the only island territory in the Caribbean which has expressed desire not to federate is the Virgin Islands, and they are afraid that this will prejudice their relationship with the American Virgins. Under this Bill the Virgins will become a separate Colony. What is the intention of the Government in relation to the accession of the Virgin Islands to a Caribbean Federation? Have they given consideration to this matter from the point of view of public opinion in the Virgins? As the noble Lord is well aware, the principle adopted in the case of the other territories has been that federation has depended on the desire of the local inhabitants to join in the wider political set-up. I should like to know whether the noble Lord has addressed his mind (I realise that my question may be a little early because the setting up of this Federation is some way ahead) to this particular problem, which I think arises out of the Bill.


My Lords, I must admit that I perhaps have not addressed my mind as much as I should to this particular problem. I know there is a feeling in the Virgin Islands that they do not want to federate. Whether that feeling will continue indefinitely, I think neither the noble Earl nor I would be rash enough to say. Clearly, if they do not cone into the Federation, some new system of dealing with the continuity of the Colony will have to be devised. Quite frankly, while we have considered the point, I am not in a position to give the noble Earl a considered opinion on it this afternoon, except to say that it has not entirely eluded us. But we feel, despite that difficulty, that this de-federation must take place; we must jump that fence when we come to it. That is really the position at the moment.

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