HL Deb 19 June 1961 vol 232 cc409-12

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, I think I might usefully give your Lordships the statement which my right honourable friend is making in another place at this time (and I will use his words) in regard to the West Indian Constitutional Conference, which concluded at Lancaster House on Friday, June 16:

"Its conclusions, setting out the principal features of the Constitution under which the West Indies may move to independence will be published as a White Paper and will be presented to the House as soon as it is possible to arrange for its simultaneous publication in the West Indies.

"There will be a further Conference in London opening on the 8th January, 1962, which will deal with defence, financial, economic, international relations and other matters which concern the independence of the Federation. Her Majesty's Government will discuss with the West Indies at this Conference the form and scale of the economic assistance that the United Kingdom will accord the Federation after independence.

"In deference, however, to representations made during the Conference on behalf of the smaller territories concerning the urgency of their need for development, Her Majesty's Government have stated their readiness to send a small official Mission to the West Indies as soon as this can be mounted with the object of considering, in consultation with the Unit Governments of the Windward and Leeward Islands and the Federal Government, any particular short-term projects which are of special urgency or importance to the smaller islands but which, for one reason or another, have not found a place within the existing approved development programmes. The United States Government have agreed to be associated with this Mission, and Her Majesty's Government and the United States authorities would respectively consider the provision of finance for such projects as the Mission might recommend. In the case of the United Kingdom contribution this finance will be additional to the existing Colonial Development and Welfare allocations. These arrangements represent a special approach to a specific problem and do not in any way prejudge or prejudice the total amount of assistance which Her Majesty's Government may be able to accord the West Indies in the light of the discussions of the Conference of 8th January.

"With so many delegations present it was inevitable that certain of them should record dissent on particular items. It was made clear that, in accepting the scheme as a whole for the purpose of presentation to their legislatures, delegates would be fully entitled to explain the stand which they had taken on particular matters. Nevertheless, all delegations were satisfied that the agreed scheme was one which would give the West Indies its opportunity to achieve independence, to play an effective and constructive role in international affairs, and to provide more adequately than hitherto certain common services.

"Against this background the Conference agreed to request Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom to take the necessary measures to revise the Federal and Unit Constitutions. The Conference agreed that it would not be necessary to hold elections in the Unit Territories specifically in relation to independence but that a Federal General Election should be held, on the basis of the new Constitution, not later than six weeks after Independence Day. Her Majesty's Government have therefore agreed that, provided this scheme is accepted by the legislatures and peoples concerned, it will introduce legislation to grant the West Indies independence on the 31st May, 1962.

"The Conference also expressed the desire of the West Indies to become on independence a Member of the Commonwealth. Her Majesty's Government warmly welcome this proposal and at the appropriate time will consult the other Commonwealth Governments with a view to securing their concurrence."


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Earl for giving us this information which has been announced in another place to-day. Generally speaking, I think we welcome the progress which has been made. We have been rather anxious in the last few months as to whether there was going to be quite the measure of agreement which to-day's statement seems to indicate has been arrived at, although I gather that there are still some outstanding problems to be settled. I myself should much prefer—I do not know what your Lordships think—to look at the White Paper, as soon as it has been possible to arrange with the representatives of the West Indies a date when it can be published, and study it from that point of view before making any further comment.


My Lords, I should like to welcome from the Liberal Benches what the noble Earl has just told us. In view of the ground covered, it would seem that the whole matter is really more worthy of a debate in this House than remarks at this juncture. I should like to endorse what the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, has said: the general atmosphere appears to be a happy and improving one. I should also like to say how glad we are to see that the United States are coming in, and particularly to welcome the desire of this new Federation to remain a member of the Commonwealth.


My Lords, I am very glad to hear what the noble Viscount and the noble Lord have said in welcoming the announcement. I am in entire agreement that it is better to consider it in more detail after the White Paper has been published. I should hope that that would be within the next ten days, and we can then consider when it would be appropriate to discuss the matter further.