HL Deb 11 February 1958 vol 207 cc617-23

5.49 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I feel that I owe you an apology. You are hearing me a great deal this afternoon, but it is just an accident of events that there happen to be two Bills on colonial matters to be dealt with to-day. This Bill, I think, is less difficult to understand, and again I hope that it will not he a controversial one. Its purpose is simple. It is to separate the Turks and Caicos Islands from Jamaica, and to make fresh provision for the government of these islands and for that of the Cayman Islands. I might explain to your Lordships that the Cayman Islands do not have to be formally separated from Jamaica for, by the Act of 1863, they are administered "as if they were part of" Jamaica. On the other hand, the Turks and Caicos Islands were, in the words of the Order in Council of 1873 "annexed to and formed part of" Jamaica.

Let me give your Lordships a word on the history of the islands. The Cayman Islands are a group about 200 miles north-west of Jamaica. They have been British for nearly 300 years. Their population is about 9,000, most of whom are of European origin. Many of them originally came to the island as shipwrecked pirates who decided to settle there, or as marooned mariners. Curiously enough, the sea has remained in their blood, so that to-day the main occupa tion of the islanders is to provide seamen for ships.


Not pirates!


Although the main revenue of the people is the seamen's remittances, there are two other sources of wealth—turtles and tourists, though these are not of great importance. The islands have always faced the danger of hurricanes. They are governed by a Commissioner appointed by the Governor of Jamaica, and the local Legislature consists of Justices and Vestrymen.

The Turks and Caicos Islands are about 450 miles north-east of Jamaica. They are a barren group of islands whose main industry—I can almost say their only industry—is salt. The salt-making industry has suffered over many years great ups and downs, but thanks to the technical advice of Imperial Chemical Industries it has now a better prospect. The population of the islands is about 6.600, and the method of administration is similar to that of the Cayman islands.

The Governor of Jamaica has been responsible for the administration of both these groups of islands and a Convention has been developed by which Jamaican legislation does not apply to them unless the islanders so wish. In practice, the administration and technical aid given by Jamaica has been of the greatest help, because these groups of islands cannot themselves provide the necessary staff, whether for roads or accounting, or what you will. I should like to say here how grateful we are for the services which Jamaica has so readily offered. I am glad, further, to say that the new arrangements proposed for administering the islands will not interfere with the continuance of this help from Jamaica. The islands will, in fact, be part of the Federation of the West Indies, but while no provision has been made for their representation in the Federal Legislature, generally it is not contemplated that the Federal laws will apply in the islands unless the Commissioners of the islands have been first consulted.

The arrangements outlined in this Bill are put forward with the approval of all concerned, and on the appointed day an Order in Council will be made. It will provide for increased local autonomy in Constitutions which have not yet been settled, but it will be in the usual form of having legislative bodies containing ex officio and nominated members, as well as members elected by universal adult suffrage; and there will be an Executive Council which the Commissioner will normally consult. In addition, and most important, the islands will remain administratively linked with Jamaica. It will be for the Federal Government to decide what proportion of the block grant-in-aid given by Her Majesty's Government to the Federation may be distributed to the Turks and the Caymans, although at present the Caymans have no grant-in-aid. The eligibility of both groups of islands for Commonwealth Development and Welfare funds will not be altered.

At this stage I do not propose to go into any detail on the clauses of the Bill. I have said that Clause 1 provides for the separation of the Turks and Caicos Islands from Jamaica. Clause 2 (1) enables Her Majesty's Government to make fresh provision for governing the Cayman Islands. The rest of Clause 2 lays down government by Order in Council on the appointed day as outlined. Clause 3 deals with the power to authorise the making of emergency laws. That may arise from many causes—from natural causes, such as a hurricane in that part of the world, or from wars or rumours of wars. Clause 4 is the Short Title. It seems to me that this Bill is typical of so much in our colonial history. It follows no exact constitutional pattern, but rather works out a system of rule for these islands which retains past advantages, particularly the link with Jamaica, and at the same time takes into account the wishes and circumstances of the people. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved. That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Perth.)

5.57 p.m.


My Lords, this Bill calls for little criticism and arouses no controversy of which I know. The noble Earl gave the House a sketch of the Islands and their condition. Politically, he assures us that the present arrangements have been arrived at after consultation and in agreement with all concerned. I suppose we must be content with that, although one might think that the setting up of the paraphernalia of Constitutions for these two groups of islands, whose populations amount together to about 12,000, might be rather top-heavy. One would have thought that something on the lines of local government as we know it here would have been adequate. But if the people of the islands and the Jamaican and Federal Governments are all in agreement, I think that we can accept it as a sound arrangement.

There is one point on the clause dealing with emergency powers which I feel was not quite satisfactorily cleared up when the matter was raised in another place. Under Clause 3 power can be conferred by Her Majesty, by Order in Council, upon "any authority" to make emergency laws. Presumably the authorities who may require to use such powers are those of the Jamaican Government or the Government of the Federation. But the words "any authority" are surely very wide: they might be applied, for instance, to the Flag Officer of the Royal Navy in these waters, or to any Service officer; or, indeed, to officers in the United States Services, who I understand have a small detachment there. If, in fact, powers are intended to be used only by the Governments constitutionally set up there, and there are only two or three of them, why should they not be specified in the Bill? I think we should hear a little more about that aspect.

It is good to hear from the Minister that grants under Colonial Development and Welfare funds will not be changed, and that the grants-in-aid which have hitherto been paid to the Turks and Caicos Islands may still be paid by the Federal Government. But clearly the economic conditions in those islands are not prosperous, and we should like to know what provisions have been made, and are likely to be made, for improving conditions. We know that the Colonial Development Corporation lent £50,000 for the construction of the airport on Cayman Islands, but that was some years ago. I cannot find that any enterprise was set up to improve the salt industry on the other islands, which one has heard has considerable scope and promise for the export of salt to the United States. Then there is the underlying question of the scope of the Colonial Development Corporation. I see that there is an Overseas Resources Bill coming before us before long, and I hope the fact that the Federation of the West Indies has achieved independence will not mean that all help and investment by the Colonial Development Corporation will have to cease in those islands. Subject to those few questions, we on this side of the House support the Bill.

6.2 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, must apologise for detaining your Lordships for a second time this evening, but I can assure you that it will only be for a moment or two. My only excuse for intervening in this debate is that I know these islands probably better than any of your Lordships, as they were my responsibility for five years when I was Governor of Jamaica. I have no reason or wish to add anything to the excellent summary given of the islands, historically, economically and ethnically, by the noble Earl who moved the Second Reading, and I will not attempt to say anything about that.

It is obvious that this position has arisen from the approach of Jamaica to self-government and the birth of Federation of the West Indies. The question was, I suppose: were the Turks and Caicos Islands to be left as part of Jamaica, which they were, and were the Cayman Islands to be embodied in Jamaica and given representation, presumably, in the Jamaican Legislature, or were they to be given a separate existence? The present arrangement is a peculiar one, for which I suppose there is hardly any precedent; they will be part of the Federation, and yet will have no representation, and will have this (the noble Earl will excuse me for saying so) rather cumbrous arrangement of Executive Councils, Legislative Councils and the rest of it. One can only hope that they will make the best of it.

I can think of only one question which might arise, and it is this. Supposing that these untutored democrats, with this new and dubious gift of adult suffrage, do not use it properly; and supposing that the control gets into utterly wrong hands, as may easily happen, who then is going to intervene and who will be responsible for setting that situation right? Especially might that arise after the Federation of the West Indies has attained complete independence as a member of the Commonwealth. I know that in the Bill the right is reserved for emergency powers and so forth, but the exercise of that right in those hypothetical circumstances would surely be fraught with a great deal of difficulty. I only mention the point, and there is perhaps no reason to advance to that stage. But I can see all sorts of possible difficulties arising even at an early date. For instance, to the Cayman Islands is now coming a relative prosperity, because they have luxury hotels, and even a night-club. Now, with adult suffrage added to those other modern pleasures, all sorts of things might happen in a community like that. The tourist traffic, with all respect to it, does not generally improve the behaviour of people in that stage of development.

However, I wish this Bill every success, and I sincerely hope that the experiment, as indeed I regard it, will be successful. I personally, had I a voice in the matter, should have thought the easiest solution would have been to give them representation in Jamaica and to have made them part of Jamaica. But if it was the wish of the islanders themselves, as we are told it was, then this experiment has that justification of being according to the will of the people. I support the Bill.

6.8 p.m.


My Lords, both the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, and the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, have touched on the same point—namely, that it appears to be a rather heavy paraphernalia of government that has been outlined for these two small islands. I think I would agree that one should not take this too seriously. What I mean is that although you may give the people rather important-sounding names—and that is natural, I think, when they are going to govern themselves—in practice one will find that the machinery will be very much like that of a local government. There must be some form of election and of suffrage, and if, as a result of that, there is some form of a board which is going to govern or guide the island under the Commissioner, it warrants, since it has the main responsibility, the sort of set-up which has been outlined. But it does not need to be taken too seriously, in the sense that it will be top-heavy and have everybody consisting of civil servants. In practice, the islands will continue to rely, as now, administrative help from Jamaica.

The noble Earl, Lord Lucan, raised a question, which was also raised in another place, as to what is meant by "any authority". It was said in another place—and I would confirm it—that what we had in mind was British authorities. It is difficult to know just which ones it might be—federal, if it was a question affecting the whole of the Federation; local, in which case you might call only on Jamaica to act; or completely local, in which case you would give authority to the Commissioner to act. So it is necessary to use these words, and I can give the same assurance which was given in another place in regard to them.

The noble Earl, Lord Lucan, asked whether the Colonial Development Corporation would continue to operate there. Certainly, at the present time, if they so choose they may do so. What may happen once the Federation has achieved independence, which is some time off, remains to be seen, but if they have started a scheme then, as noble Lords know, they can carry on with it after independence is achieved. The other point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, was: Who can step in if something goes wrong? The answer, surely, is the Commissioner or the Governor of Jamaica, or the Federal Government, depending on the seriousness of the crisis.

This is a simple Bill. It achieves, I hope and believe, the purpose which is the wish of the Islanders, as agreed with the authorities of Jamaica.

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