HL Deb 21 May 1957 vol 203 cc1054-67

5.45 p.m.

THE EARL OF LISTOWEL rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether political leaders in the West Indies were consulted before the decision to recommend the appointment of the Governor-General designate of the West Indies Federation. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I should like to explain briefly my reasons for asking this Question. The appointment of the Governor-General designate of the West Indies Federation has occasioned, as I am sure your Lordships will agree, both in the Press and in another place, much more criticism than is usual in the making of similar appointments. I am therefore anxious to give the Government an opportunity, of which I am sure the noble Earl opposite will take advantage, to answer these criticisms, and to allay the anxiety that is felt by many people, both here and in the British West Indies, about this particular appointment, and the manner in which it has been made. This, I think, could hardly be done without a considerably fuller statement than the Prime Minister was able to make last week in another place in reply to a number of questions.

I should like first to deal with the constitutional issue raised by the procedure followed by the Government in this case. I realise that we are breaking relatively new ground in Commonwealth constitutional procedure. We are dealing with appointments of Crown representatives to territories which are half way, or more than half way, between colonial status and independence. There are few precedents. That makes it all the more important that decisions taken now should set firm and reliable precedents for the future.

The constitutional issue here is the nature and extent of consultation with political leaders before an appointment is made. In my view—I should like to support this view by citing a precedent in a moment—there should always be prior consultation with local leaders about the persons as well as the desirable qualifications for the post. It seems to me that the fullest possible consultation is essential, both for a satisfactory relationship between this country and the dependent territory in question, whatever it may be, and also for mutual confidence between the Governor or Governor-General, after appointment, and the Ministers with whom he is going to work. I have no access, of course, to the sort of information that reaches the Government, and the knowledge of the public as to the procedure followed in this particular case is limited to what the Prime Minister said last week in another place. I hope that on this occasion the noble Earl who is to reply will be able to give us rather more information, because only in that way will it be possible to form a satisfactory judgment.

What the Prime Minister has already indicated in his remarks was that some of the West Indian political leaders were consulted about the "type of qualifications" (I am using the actual words of the Prime Minister) required by a Governor-General for the area, but not about the "individual" (again, that is the word used by the Prime Minister) proposed for this post. This reply, apart from its omissions, is, I think, somewhat unsatisfactory in two respects. In the first place, whatever informal consultations took place in the West Indies, they should surely have included the political leaders or representatives of all the five territorial units. Perhaps the noble Earl could say which of the West Indian leaders were, in fact, consulted—for instance, were any of the leaders of the Windward and Leeward Islands included in these consultations? If they were not included, perhaps we could be told the reason. That is a comparatively minor point, although I think it is a reasonable point.

The second and far more important objection to this procedure is that it is surely impossible to separate the individual from his qualifications—what he is supposed to do and the particular qualifications he requires in order to do a particular job. After all, the suitability of a proposed appointment obviously depends on a candidate's having the required qualifications, whether he is an engine driver or a Governor-General; and it is impossible to judge of that unless you know the person proposed for the post. A genuine and full consultation must, therefore, involve consideration of an individual as well as discussion of the qualifications required in regard to what he is expected to do.

It may be argued by the Government—I do not know whether the noble Earl will take this line—that the obligation to consult in this full sense does not arise in the West Indies, because the Federation, when it comes into being, will not be an independent Commonwealth country. Alternatively (this is another line of argument) it may be said that full consultation was impracticable because no Federal Government is in being at the present time, and, therefore, there was no one to consult

There is, however, a very close parallel between this case and the circumstances under which the first Governor-General of the Central African Federation was appointed. The Central African Federation is not, of course, an independent Commonwealth country. That characteristic it shares with what will be the new West African Federation. Moreover at the time of the appointment of the late Lord Llewellin, there was no Federal Government in existence. I believe (perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, will correct me if I am wrong) that Lord Llewellin was appointed on August 2, 1953, and that the Central Government was not set up until the beginning of September—about six weeks later. But the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, who was at the Commonwealth Relations Office at that time, was, I believe, visiting the Territory shortly before the appointment was made; and I have no doubt that he had talks with Sir Godfrey Huggins (the noble Viscount, Lord Malvern, as he now is) and other political leaders who were given an opportunity of expressing their views about the Governor-General's general qualifications and, I have little doubt, about the person whom Her Majesty's Government then had in mind. As I think everyone will agree, the result was a choice entirely acceptable to everyone concerned, one which was a brilliant and conspicuous success and brought both great honour to the occupant of the post and great benefit to the Central African Federation.

I wish that this excellent precedent had been followed in the case of the West Indies Federation. Surely there was no reason why informal soundings of this kind could not have been taken in advance with all the political leaders there. As I have said, the establishment of some accepted procedure of consultation with overseas territories that are almost, but not completely, sovereign is particularly important for the future. This method of making an appointment to territories at this stage of constitutional development is bound to set a precedent for the many small Colonies which in the nature of things cannot become independent Commonwealth countries.

May I give your Lordships one example, because it is topical? When Singapore becomes a State within the Commonwealth with its own Head—and that is the proposal in the new Constitution—the Head of State will be appointed on behalf of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom; and of course Singapore will no longer be a Colony. It will have an entirely new status in the Commonwealth. I cannot imagine anything more unfortunate for our relations with Singapore than failure to consult the Government of Singapore about the appointment of the first Governor-General. I am afraid that Her Majesty's Government have set a bad precedent for this type of dependency by their inadequate consultation before making this appointment to the West Indies Federation.

Another major criticism directed against this appointment is that the person chosen lacks some of the qualifications required for the post, qualifications which, it is said, others possess. This view was expressed in a leader in The Times of May 10. I cannot remember any other case in which The Times has published a leader condemning the appointment of a Governor-General. It would be interesting to be told by Her Majesty's Government what qualifications they regard as essential for this post. We do not know. The type of qualification to which the Prime Minister referred last week has never been explained. Perhaps in his reply the noble Earl will be able to throw more light on this matter.

I believe that we should all agree that the responsibilities of the first Governor-General of the West Indies Federation will be most exacting and that their successful discharge is vital to a smooth and rapid transition of the Territory to full membership of the Commonwealth. The extensive powers of the Governor-General under the new Constitution will demand a relationship of special intimacy and confidence between him and his Ministers. He will be much more than a constitutional figurehead, and I am sure we all hope that this relationship will be formed. The Prime Minister has said—and again I think we shall all agree—that a task of this nature will require political as well as administrative competence. A third qualification, which the Prime Minister did not mention—I do not know whether or not it has been in his mind—is one which I should have thought no less desirable; that is, some knowledge of the British West Indies or, if not of that Territory, at least of the penultimate stages of constitutional development elsewhere in the Colonies. It is unfortunate that the Governor-General designate has had no experience, ministerial or otherwise, of the problems of constitutional advance in the West Indies or elsewhere. He does not even appear to have shown any special interest in the Colonies during his long Parliamentary career.

The West Indian leaders have asked for his arrival to be deferred from September of this year until January, 1958. I hope that this request is due only to difficulty about accommodation. That may be the explanation. Of course. I do not know the views of West Indian leaders about this appointment. I have no idea at all of the view they take, and I am perfectly certain that they will co-operate in the right spirit with whomever Her Majesty's Government may decide to appoint. But it has been reported, again in the Press, that they would have preferred someone with experience of the West Indies; and from what I know of them, though I have not discussed this particular matter with any of them, and have not seen them for some time, I do not think this is unlikely.

I cannot believe that Her Majesty's Government could not have found someone with all three of the qualifications I have mentioned, political, administrative and colonial, if more careful consideration had been given before this appointment was made. I cannot help wondering whether they have overlooked the Colonial Service. It is a fallacy—and one which I hope Her Majesty's Government do not entertain—to suppose that there are no officials who understand politics as well as administration. A successful Governor of any Colony nearing self-government must be a politician as well as an administrator. It was a very successful appointment to send, as Governor-General in Nigeria, someone who had been in the Sudan. I do not think that officials should be ruled out; because in my experience, which has been mainly of colonial government, any colonial Governor who has to deal with a functioning Parliament must have the personal touch that enables him to get things done by consent and without authority; and he must be able to grasp the Cabinet and Party system and all the workings of parliamentary government.

I can think of at least one Colonial Governor with all the qualifications needed for this post. I can think also of a person in the same class outside the Colonial Service but with a distinguished career in public service overseas, which has included the West Indies. I am not mentioning a single name in the course of my remarks, because we are not discussing personalities: we are discussing qualifications and procedure for making appointments of immense importance to the Commonwealth. Names are invidious and quite unnecessary when we are trying to establish accepted principles on which this and future similar appointments will be made. It seems to me—and I hope the noble Earl can convince me that I am wrong—that on this occasion two essential principles have been overlooked. The first is the principle of full consultation and the second the principle of maximum efficiency. In the first place, there should have been the fullest possible prior consultation with leaders in the West Indies. I am not satisfied that that was done. In the second place, the person chosen should, and could, have had the wide range of qualifications needed for the enormous responsibility of guiding a British Dependency through the last stage of its journey to independence within the Commonwealth. I should like your Lordships to consider those few words as an explanation for the Question which I have put down this afternoon, and which I now beg to ask.

6.0 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl has put this Question down and I believe it is very desirable that if there is any question in any quarter about an appointment of this importance it should be discussed where all the questions can be fully ventilated. No-one could complain of the tone, method and manner in which the noble Earl has raised this question. The noble Earl referred in his speech to myself, and cited my action over the Central African Federation as a precedent which he was good enough to say he thought it would be wise always to follow.

It is quite true that, with my noble friend the Marquess of Salisbury, I was—following on negotiations started by our predecessors—responsible for the later stages of the negotiations over the establishment of the Federation. And I was responsible for recommending Lord Llewellin as the first Governor-General. It is also quite true that before I made that recommendation I took the opportunity of discussing the matter with Lord Malvern. I think it is common ground that consultation is always desirable, though the noble Earl has rather stressed consultation on the personality as well as on the qualifications. Everyone would agree that it is essential to get the right man for the job; that is what matters. The position is really not quite parallel between the Central African Federation and the West Indies Federation. Lord Malvern had been Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia for twenty years. Everyone knew Lord Malvern was going to be the first Prime Minister of the Federation. I do not know and I do not suppose anyone knows to-day (the Government, of course, may recently have had confidential information on the subject) who is going to be the actual Prime Minister of the Caribbean Federation when it comes into being.

Consultation to try to get the best man for the job, I agree, is right. But let me make this perfectly plain: constitutionally, whether in the case of the Central African Federation or this new Federation which is to come into being, there is no doubt at all that the responsibility is the responsibility of the Secretary of State and Her Majesty's Government in this country. As I have said, the really important thing, it seems to me (and I do not at all underrate the part the first Governor-General of the new Federation has to play; I think it is a tremendously important part) is to get the right man. I have as keen sympathy and hope for the future of this new Federation as I had for the one I devoted so much time to bringing into being. But the important thing is to get the right man, and I would agree that if there is any doubt or criticism the matter should be debated. I do not think we need hesitate to mention names—in fact, the debate is unreal unless we do.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has said that The Times had not hesitated (it is not the first time I have seen silly leaders in that great organ) to criticise this appointment. If the matter is to be debated, I think it is no reflection on another place to say that there is at least as much Colonial and Commonwealth administrative experience in this House as there is elsewhere, and, possibly, we regard and discuss these matters more impartially, though I sincerely hope that in both Houses Commonwealth affairs and Commonwealth relations will always transcend Pary politics. It is in that spirit that I approach this whole question.

In that spirit I should like, an a word or two, to say why I think this is a wise and sound appointment. In selecting a Governor-General there is no sealed pattern—I am sure the noble Earl would agree with that. What is important is to get the best man for the particular job in the particular circumstances with which he has to deal. When you come to this Caribbean Federation, the chief problem for the new Prime Minister of the Federation, whoever he may be, and his Cabinet or Council of Ministers, will be to make a Government and a Parliament drawn from all those constituent territories which have not always been in complete agreement; to make that Parliament and those Ministers work as a homogeneous team.

In these circumstances, when that is the most important and the most difficult thing, I would respectfully suggest that long Parliamentary experience is even more important than long administrative experience—although do not let us forget that the Governor-General designate, Lord Hailes, is not devoid of administrative experience; he was for some years Minister of Works, and the Ministry of Works to-day covers a lot of ground; it is not just what it used to be when I was a young Minister—an agreeable Department looking after a Palace or two and the public parks. It now does a tremendous amount of practical business, and it is concerned with labour relations and all sorts of things. The Governor-General has certain functions but he has not got to administer these territories. Indeed, that is the job of the Federal Government in their sphere and the local Governments in their spheres, and nothing could be a greater mistake than for the Governor-General to try to do the administrative job for the Federal or Territorial Governments, though, of course, his administrative knowledge and experience, which is not inconsiderable, will be at the disposal of his Ministers.

I want to emphasise that I have come to this debate entirely impartially. I do not know what consultations have taken place. I had not the least idea who was going to be appointed Governor-General. I am looking at the matter purely objectively, as a late Secretary of State for both Commonwealth Relations and Colonial Relations. The problems that are new to the Federation as a Federation will be essentially political. In those circumstances I suggest most strongly to the House that it would be difficult to find a better guide, counsellor and friend than a man with a generation of Parliamentary experience who, as a Chief Whip, has enjoyed the full confidence of more than one Prime Minister. A successful Chief Whip knows more than any Minister, and certainly much more than any civil servant, how Members of Parliament feel, how they react, and how to manage Parliamentary business. In fact, he develops a sort of sixth sense which is invaluable alike to Members of Parliament and to Ministers. And when a Chief Whip is the intimate adviser of a Prime Minister and his colleagues he acquires an experience which is perhaps unique. The noble Lord, Lord Margesson, inappropriately sitting on the Bishops' Bench, knows how true that is, and we know how much we owed to him.

Anyone who has served with the noble Lord, Lord Hailes, or who has sat in Parliament with him, knows that he has just those qualities, and the same is true of my noble friend Lord Margesson. What is more, the noble Lord never knew it all; he had the great quality of going on learning all the time. I am sure that these qualities will be invaluable to a new Prime Minister and that the Federal Prime Minister, whoever he may be, will find in Lord Hailes, as other Prime Ministers have found here, a counsellor and friend whose experience is equalled by his discretion. I am sure that as this interesting constitutional experiment develops, a very happy partnership will ensue between the Prime Minister and the Governor-General.

What I have said in no way detracts from the admirable work which Sir Hugh Foot has done in Jamaica. I have known Sir Hugh as long as I have known the noble Lord, Lord Hailes. When I first knew Sir Hugh Foot he was a young district officer in Palestine in charge of a particularly troublesome district, Tul-Karram, between the hills and the sea, where Jews and Arabs were always at loggerheads—and not only at loggerheads; they shot at one another and both of them shot at poor Mr. Foot. I am glad to say that his critics were pretty poor shots and he came through unscathed. In Palestine I saw this man's work at first hand and formed as high an opinion of his courage as of his competence, and I marked him down for rapid promotion. He got it, I am glad to say. He was Chief Secretary in a number of places, acting Governor, then Governor. He has gone from strength to strength. Nobody has a higher regard for His Excellency than I have. Both men have deserved well of the State. Both, I doubt not, in whatever lies before them will put us still deeper in their debt.

My Lords, I ventured to think, particularly as the noble Earl had referred to me, that I might intervene to put my experience at the disposal of the House and to say sincerely why I think this is a sound appointment which I believe will be of great benefit to the West Indies.

6.14 p.m.


My Lords, your Lordships are aware, of course, that another similar Question was asked in another place last week. The reply then given was that naturally we had been in touch with certain West Indian leaders regarding the qualifications desirable in the first holder of this important appointment. I think that this reply is suitable as a formal Answer to the Question tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel.

In his interesting speech, of which he very courteously gave me warning, he has raised a number of wider and important questions, and I will try to deal with most of them. I agree very much with the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, about the importance of raising an issue like this and the value of a debate at such a time. In particular, Lord Listowel appeared to wish to establish a set of principles on which this and similar appointments of vital importance to the Commonwealth should in future be made. Let me say at once that we agree wholeheartedly that consultation with local leaders regarding the filling of such posts is most important, but let it also be remembered that when making an appointment of Governor-General to a territory which is not yet independent, it is, as noble Lords will realise, the constitutional duty of United Kingdom Ministers to advise Her Majesty The Queen on who should fill the post. To them and to them alone falls this responsibility, as the noble Earl, Lord Swinton has emphasised.

In practice, this advice is given after full consultation with local leaders on the qualifications needed for the post in question, and such consultations ordinarily would and should extend beyond the qualifications of experience for the post to the question of the type of personality which an occupant of the post should possess. But I cannot go along with the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in his wish to lay down a definite constitutional rule that in all these cases the names of actual individuals should be revealed to local leaders and be the subject of consultation with them. I fear that such a rigid method of working would be harmful and impracticable. I think that any Government faced with a request of this sort must reject it. It seems to me that the exact nature of the consultation should be allowed to depend upon the circumstances prevailing in each given case.

Let me take the present instance of the appointment of the Governor-General designate of the West Indies Federation. I cannot agree that the consultation was inadequate and therefore that it was a bad precedent. First of all, Her Majesty's Government took note of a resolution of the Standing Federation Committee. This resolution asked the Premier of Barbados (Mr. Grantley Adams) and the Chief Ministers of Jamaica (Mr. Manley) and Trinidad (Mr. Williams) to act on their behalf for the purpose of consultation with Her Majesty's Government on the appointment. This, I hope, will make clear to the noble Earl why representatives of the Leeward and Windward Islands were not specifically consulted. Accordingly, Her Majesty's Government did consult these three West Indian leaders, and most careful consideration was given to their views. But this illustrates the difficulties that arise and why circumstances must dictate procedure to be followed in any one case. While my right honourable friend had the opportunity personally to meet one of the three leaders, the other opinions had to be sought individually by telegram, all being kept informed. It was not even possible for the three of them, despite the resolution of the Standing Federation Committee, to get together.

The noble Earl has referred to what happened in Central Africa before the appointment of Lord Llewellin. In my view, this is just one more example of how exact circumstances of consultation must depend on the conditions ruling at the time. Incidentally, the noble Earl refers to West Indian leaders having asked for the deferment of the arrival of the noble Lord, Lord Hailes, to September, 1958. I think that there is a misunderstanding here.


My Lords, I think the noble Earl will agree that I said that this was a report in the Press and asked him to correct me if the report was not accurate.


My Lords, that is quite right and that is why I was saying that there is a misunderstanding here. The reasons for deferment—and I wish to stress this—are strictly practical ones; and while no date has yet been made public, it will not be for nearly so long as September of next year.


My Lords, I think that the date mentioned was January of next year. The noble Earl said September: did he mean to say that?


I am sorry; I thought that the noble Earl said September of next year. While it will be deferred, it will not be deferred for very long. May I leave it at that? In the later part of his remarks the noble Earl discussed the qualifications of the noble Lord, Lord Hailes, as opposed to others mentioned for the post. We all may have our favourite candidates and I feel that this is just one more illustration of how difficult it is to satisfy everybody and how great is the ultimate responsibility of the United Kingdom Minister who is making the choice. I do not think noble Lords would expect me to enlarge on this subject. We have all heard the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, with all his great experience in such questions. I would only remark that Her Majesty's Government, in making this appointment, have expressed in the clearest possible way, and after consultation, their belief and confidence that Lord Hailes is the right man, and that he has the right qualities, including political experience, which is so important at this time in Caribbean history. A Trinidad newspaper remarked: The common sense thing to do is to wait until we see the man, until we see how he tackles his job. Surely, that is right. I feel confident that I am echoing the sentiments of noble Lords on all sides of the House when I say that we all wish Lord Hailes success and good fortune in the tackling of it.

6.21 p.m.


My Lords, this has been a rather unusual debate, which the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has initiated, and I thought I would only add a postcript by saying that I am glad that it has taken the form it has and that we have examined the processes which precede the appointment of a Governor-General and the qualities with which a post of such distinction should be filled. My noble friend Lord Swinton has said, quite rightly, from the point of view of Commonwealth relations, that what we need to do is to try to get the right man in the right place. That is the important thing. I add a postcript to what my noble friend Lord Perth said only because I think that, now that the air has been cleared by this debate, the Government should say, clearly and firmly, that they have complete confidence in Lord Hailes. We feel that he will fill this post with great distinction and with that sympathy and understanding Which is so necessary in the West Indies during their political transition before they obtain full independence within the Commonwealth. We believe that when Lord Hailes has taken up his post in the West Indies the people will immediately recognise his qualities. Therefore, I only echo what my noble friend has said. I am sure that, now that the air has been cleared after this debate, we shall all wish him and Lady Hailes the best of good fortune and hope that their time there will be very happy.