HL Deb 20 June 1968 vol 293 cc1003-18

10.43 p.m.

THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a statement concerning recent Press reports of the imminent invasion of Anguilla by armed forces from St. Kitts. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I regret having to raise the affairs of these Islands again in your Lordships' House. We discussed them in some detail on another Un-starred Question which I put down last year and which we discussed also rather late one night in July. Our remarks then centred around the arbitrary and dictatorial way in which certain British subjects had been imprisoned, and I think there was general agreement on all sides of the House that the arrest and treatment of these British subjects, as well as the nature of the emergency regulations introduced in St. Kitts, gave your Lordships considerable cause for concern. Unfortunately, after a very careful study of what had happened up to that time, and in the light of replies given in another place, I had reluctantly to conclude that the Government in this country had repeatedly misjudged the likely course of events, had played down the situation with some complacency, and also that the course of events had been predictable and avoidable.

Dr. Herbert, the leader of the Opposition in these Islands, had already told the Government here what was going on in February last year, some 16 months ago. I hope this evening that the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, who replied on the previous occasion—and I am glad he is with us tonight—will be a little more appreciative of our concern on this side of the House and, I think, on the other side of the House, than he was on the last occasion, and that he will be able to give answers to the questions I am raising and of which I have given him notice.

The fact now is that since Anguilla voted to be independent and the success of the Fisher-Chapman mission, Press reports have appeared in The Times and the Daily Telegraph to the effect that an invasion of Anguilla by special armed forces from St. Kitts was imminent. It was reported in the West Indian paper the Democrat of May 25—I have given the noble Lord a copy of the cutting from this paper—that the Premier of these Islands, Mr. Bradshaw, had spoken as follows: Anguilla is temporarily in rebel hands. This will not be allowed to continue. When the time is ripe Anguilla will be brought back under the civil rule of this state. Then a few days later, in a speech which he delivered on May 29 in the Assembly, he spoke as follows as reported in the Democrat of June 1: I repeat in this House that if arms are taken up against law and order in this country the evidence will be put on the ground in blood, and let the jurors say Not Guilty. The evidence will be put on the ground washed in blood. I have never met Mr. Bradshaw so I find these remarks a little difficult to interpret, but I hardly find them reassuring.

Noble Lords will recall that in another place on January 30 this year—that is nearly four months before Mr. Bradshaw made these statements—the Secretary of State said (OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, col. 1074) that St. Kitts Government had agreed that the people of each Island would refrain from hostile actions against individuals or property of the other during the interim period and that efforts would be made in good faith to restore friendship and harmony. That was said nearly four months before Mr. Bradshaw made these more recent statements. I ask the Minister to say whether the Government have recently been in touch with Mr. Bradshaw to get confirmation that he still intends to respect this undertaking not to invade Anguilla which he evidently gave to the Government at the beginning of this year.

The people of Anguilla are, with some justification, very nervous about possible invasion. There have been reports of arms being shipped to St. Kitts and of a gunboat being prepared. I hope the noble Lord will be able to give me a positive assurance that Mr. Bradshaw either has been, or certainly will be, approached on this important matter. I should also like an assurance that our aid to St. Kitts, which I think comes to some £272,000 a year, is not used to purchase arms which might in turn be used to invade Anguilla. I hope also that the noble Lord may be able to refer in his Answer to the matter of Sergeant Ellis, who is said to be training St. Kitts special forces—and all this is to be paid for by the Ministry of Overseas Development.

Frankly, I am very worried indeed about the good faith of the St. Kitts Government, and I am not alone in this. The British Government are responsible for the external defence and external affairs of a territory about which the following has been said. First of all, the International Commission of Jurists, referring to the recent trials, stated: The indictment against the St. Kitts Government is a long one: it has repeatedly shown contempt for the courts, has refused to accept their decision and has flagrantly attempted—by threats and the misuse of the mass media—to use the courts as an instrument of its policy. When the courts proved to be instruments of the Rule of Law, it resorted to government by emergency resolution and trial by 'Commission of Inquiry'.

Then, as your Lordships may know, the whole West Indian Bar has condemned the St. Kitts Government for its disregard of the rule of law, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Associated States, Mr. Allan Montgomery Lewis, has criticised Mr. Bradshaw's Government in what I think must be quite unprecedented terms. The statement which he made is rather long, and I cannot quote it all, but I am sure that the full text must be available to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick. The following is the text of two short paragraphs, paragraphs 3 and 4: The Court cannot but take note of the fact that these trials are in a real sense political trials, a leading member of the Opposition Party being the central figure, and that the introduction of the resolution and the debate in the House follow immediately upon verdicts of acquittal by the jury in the first two of the trials. The Court deprecates the fact that in these circumstances the debate was used by Ministers of Government for the purpose of criticising the conduct of the two trials by the trial judge and of impeaching his integrity, no other reason being stated but that of Government's dissatisfaction with certain rulings made by the trial judge … and comments by him in the course of his summings-up.

Lastly, the Premier of these Islands was reported in the Democrat of May 25 as accusing Mr. Stuart Roberts, the British representative for the Associated States, of lying and of allowing arms to be smuggled into Anguilla. Such was the serious nature of this allegation that Mr. Roberts had to issue a statement repudiating these charges.

It may well be that the noble Lord, in his Answer, will say that under the terms of associated status internal problems in these Islands are the responsibility of the Government on the Island. But the fact remains that we in Britain are responsible for external affairs and defence. How can we present to the world the views of a Government which has been condemned by its own Judiciary as well as by a body of international lawyers, as interfering with fundamental human rights; a Government, furthermore, which has accused our British representative of lying? Is it not high lime that Britain looked again at this associated status; looked again at the aid which we are giving this territory; and, above all, looked again at the possibility of an invasion of Anguilla—a territory which, according to its Rector, Canon Carleton, who is respected by everyone, in a very recent letter to The Times, is managing to live perfectly well without any assistance from St. Kitts?

The Government ignored our warnings on the last occasion I spoke, and I sincerely hope that they will take heed this time. I am of course aware that representatives of Anguilla have recently put forward certain proposals. I should like to receive an assurance from the Government that those proposals are being seriously studied. I find that certain proposals were contained in a telegram which was sent to London from Anguilla, and it was reported in another West Indian paper, the Beacon, which is independent Anguillan. The telegram which was apparently sent to the Government here reads as follows: In view of the announcement made … in the House of Assembly in St. Kitts that a State of Emergency shall be continued in Anguilla for the next seven months"— of course, the State of Emergency no longer holds in the other two Islands— and that every effort would be made to bring Anguilla back to the State before the end of that period, we, the Anguillan Council, hereby request Her Majesty's Government to send to Anguilla without delay Messrs. Nigel Fisher and Donald Chapman, or other fit person or persons with full authority to bring to an end the Interim Period, and to make further proposals whereby Anguilla's independence from St. Kitts may be recognised, and to devise for her a new status under the British Crown".

My Lords, it is that new status which I hope the Government will think about. What can be done? The present associated status has brought only misery and suffering to people, and is certainly unsatisfactory. It makes us wonder what steps the Government here will take, because I do not think the present highly unsatisfactory state of affairs can continue.

10.57 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support every word that the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, has spoken this evening. Anybody who has been to these marvellous and beautiful Islands must feel unutterably depressed by the events that are occurring there at this moment. So far as I was concerned, when I saw these Islands I was quite content to settle there and regard them as paradise—or at least they would do until paradise came along! Somebody once said to me that these Islands had been touched by the finger of God, they were so beautiful, and I believe there is a great deal in that.

It seems a tragedy that these hardworking, kind and charming people should be subject to these trials and these anguishes, and I urge the British Government to think about this as seriously and as cogently as they do about Rhodesia. Because Anguilla is a small Island many thousands of miles away—"a distant place of which we know nothing" is a phrase which may find an echo, perhaps, among some of my friends—it does not mean that it is any the less important than the big issues which we fought over for a couple of days in this House on Monday and Tuesday. It seems to me that there is here a fundamental issue of freedom, and I believe that the Government ought to take as strong a stand here as they believe, quite rightly, they should take on the other issues I have mentioned.

Here we have a situation in which, for quite artificial reasons, Anguilla was associated with St. Kitts some years ago. It is an Island which is 60 miles away from St. Kitts. It has really no natural links, but because it is rather small it was considered in somebody's mind that it was a good, tidy idea to lump the two together. That is as may be, but the fact is that the Anguillan people have decided now that they want nothing to do with St. Kitts at the moment—and for good reasons. Because there has come to power in St. Kitts a black Napoleon called Bradshaw, who has cast himself in the role of a mini Papa Doc and has introduced a rule of terror and contempt for law. What is more, he is using British aid, the British grant, which is going there in relatively considerable quantities, to arm police and other people and to train them for an invasion of this tiny Island 60 miles away in order, as he says, to restore the rule of law and order, which is the equivalent of a butcher saying that he wants to suppress the killing of animals. I submit that we ought to stop shadow-boxing about this matter and do something really very serious to protect a small people who may be overwhelmed and certainly may be the subject of terrible bloodshed. It is as important as Biafra or Rhodesia. The principle is the same.

My Lords, it seems to me that we have some trump cards in our hands. First of all, we are giving this rather large sum in aid. In relatively normal circumstances it may not be considered large, but we are giving something like a quarter of a million pounds in aid to Anguilla. First, I think we must make noises about that to Mr. Bradshaw, and make them immediaitely and strongly. Secondly, we should indicate what other measures, we could take by sending a delegate on a very high level to these Islands to intervene and to see what can be done. Thirdly, I do not think it out of place for the British Government to make an announcement and give an assurance that, however the problem between St. Kitts and Anguilla is solved, we will not allow it to be solved by force and that we shall intervene to prevent it being solved by force. That may be outside the agreement or treaty that we have just signed; but nevertheless here are a people who are appealing to us for help, and I think this is an avenue we should explore.

Certainly I think that we should take any steps necessary to prevent any invasion of Anguilla with the bloodshed that might follow pending some kind of settlement; and a settlement that seems to be to be a reasonable one. We should agree to the Anguillan people's request that they should enjoy independence and get their share of the grant; because it is as true now as it was in the past that the path to true association is not in the artificial putting-together of States but in giving them true independence and true national freedom that they find their own way eventually to association on the basis of true equality. It is quite clear that in the West Indies, in these scattered Islands, it is impossible for countries to be truly economically independent and that some association must come; but it must be an association between equals and not one that is imposed through force by one side or the other. I urge the Government to take the words of the noble Earl very seriously and to act as swiftly and surely in this matter as they would if these were big troubles nearer home.

11.4 p.m.


My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, for raising this question and showing the concern that I think we very properly feel in regard to an Island, however distant it may be, with which we have been concerned, one way or another, for some 300 years and whose course of life we have necessarily affected considerably. It has just set out on a new course and we cannot ignore that what is happening is of very considerable importance. We have tried once to set up a Federation in the Caribbean; and that failed. We have now tried a new experiment, the experiment of Associated States. I believe that it is of very great importance that this should succeed, with all the combination that that means—whether it be in education, currency, justice or communications.

If what is now happening to these Islands brings a bad reputation to the Caribbean it will have an adverse effect on the whole area. I think that that is an aspect that we should on no account leave out of consideration. We have an officer in the area and his duty is to help administer and find a long-term solution and to make recommendations both to the United Kingdom Government and to the Government of St. Kitts. In that sense we have a locus to see what is happening. It seems very difficult to know exactly what is happening, and I hope that the Government will be able to tell us something of it. The general picture that one has is that very odd trials are taking place, to which my noble friend has referred, and as I think we still have an appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, this may not be a matter wholly without concern to ourselves.

My Lords, I understand that no mails are getting through to Anguilla, and that medical supplies are not getting through. These are difficult concerns, and what is perhaps even more important is that one of the fundamental points of association between these two Islands was the appointment of local Councils in Anguilla, St. Kitts and Nevis. At least, so far as Anguilla is concerned, that has never happened, though it was a fundamental point in the agreement. I do not want to underestimate the difficulties in which Her Majesty's Government find themselves. The Act of Parliament under which the Associated States were set up tried to make clear that internal affairs was a matter for those on the spot and not for Her Majesty's Government, and I realise that. From a legalistic point of view we could probably repudiate any form of responsibility. But I think that would be an extremely dangerous course to take because of the wider repercussions which might well follow.

It is open to us, to take certain drastic action—though I hope it will not be necessary—but it would be wrong lo say that there is no course of that character which we could pursue. We could, of course, withdraw association. We are free to do that on our own initiative, according to the Act of Parliament, when we wish to. We could cut aid, and the point of the recognition of the independence of Anguilla is another matter. I hope it will not be necessary to adopt any of these courses, but to avoid having to do so, I am sure that Her Majesty's Government must take some action. Otherwise they may well be forced to adopt one or other of these highly undesirable courses.

My Lords, I am sure Her Majesty's Government are watching the situation—at least I hope they are—and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, will indicate how fully informed are the Government about what is happening there, because it is difficult for us to be informed. I would suggest the possibility of calling a Caribbean conference of the territories in the area who might be willing to form a judgment on what would be the most peaceful and stable way in which the evolution of these islands could take place.

I recall that we had a year, extending to the end of this year—which leaves not much more than six months—during which the two territories have agreed not to interfere with each other. If we take longer we may be unable to see how we can help. Six months of the year has elapsed. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, will be able to tell us that real progress has been made towards reaching a settlement to which we can look forward and which will bring stability to the area.

11.8 p.m.


My Lords, I seem to be the only occupant of these Benches but I will keep your Lordships for only one minute. I should be very sorry to allow these questions to be asked without comment. I think they are important questions and I shall be very interested in the answer. I wish I knew more about Anguilla. The few things I know include the fact that it has a mountainous range of volcanic origin—or St. Kitts has, I believe—and that there is an island called Sombrero, which I associate with a hat but not a hat big enough to keep a question of this importance under. I believe that this is a question which should be ventilated, and if there were anyone on these Benches who knew more about it I am sure that that is what he would say. I should like to take personal responsibility for saying it on my own behalf, and nobody else's.

11.10 p.m.


My Lords, I personally should have preferred that this matter had been raised at a somewhat later date, and there are good reasons why I should have wished that. For one thing, I would prefer that my noble friend Lord Shepherd who now has a closer responsibility for these matters, had been in this country and able to answer himself.

The noble Earl was good enough to refer to remarks which I made when we had a discussion about the events in St. Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla in July [...] last year, at which time I was attached to the Commonwealth Office. I do not intend to analyse the accuracy of what he or I said on that occasion, but I recognised then, as I do now, both the genuine anxiety and the sincerity with which the noble Earl, my noble friend Lord Willis and the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, concern themselves with developments in that part of the world.

There is another reason why I would wish that discussion were delayed, because of those proposals from Anguilla to which the noble Earl referred. I assure the noble Earl they are being studied with care and attention. But it is not possible for me this evening either to discuss their nature nor, of course, what action will be taken upon them. Without going into details, I can say that we are now working out the best way to take further steps without delay towards a peaceful solution in that area.

The noble Earl, I know, recognises the limitations upon our responsibility in this matter, and of course anything that is done or said concerns not only ourselves and Anguilla but the Federal Government of that Associated State of St. Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla. It is not possible for us to take unilateral action in these matters.

The noble Earl has however referred to reports about an imminent invasion, and I hope that I can dispel some of the anxieties which he feels in this connection. The reports which we have received show that the rumours are exaggerated, if not unfounded. For example, the Anguillan leaders in April stated: Last month St. Kitts acquired a gunboat from Britain which is reportedly modified to permit installation of three 0.50 calibre guns". This story turned out to be based on the fact that some time ago the St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla Government quite legitimately acquired a police launch, but it has in no way been modified to mount guns of any calibre. Nevertheless, if we were to believe certain opposition Press reports, from which the noble Earl quoted, this is to be the capital ship of the invasion fleet. We were also told that St. Kitts has been renting and conducting military exercises with a helicopter. The truth is, I understand, that this machine has been lying abandoned in a shed without maintenance or a pilot for some months. It is also suggested that the State Government is withholding funds supplied by the British Government for development purposes in Anguilla, and using them improperly for the acquisition of arms.

The facts are that it has been agreed, sensibly, that development projects should continue in Anguilla under the direct administration of the Senior British Official and funds are channelled directly to him through the British Development Division in the Caribbean for this purpose. So far as budgetary aid is concerned, it is certainly our expectation that the St. Kitts Government will make provision for resuming such payments as salaries of teachers and other recurrent costs of Government on Anguilla out of the State revenue as supported by budgetary aid from Her Majesty's Government. One obstacle to this is claimed to be the lack of any properly elected Council in the Island. This, I hope, will be an obstacle which can be removed.

The noble Earl asked about the acquisition of arms, with funds provided by us. Any such expenditure on weapons other than small arms for police purposes would be contrary to our policy. I understand that Premier Bradshaw is reported as denying in Trinidad last week that his Government is using British aid fund to buy guns and, so far as we know, what he said is borne out by the facts.

With regard to allegations that Her Majesty's Government paid the salary of an officer to train special forces in St. Kitts, the facts are as follows: Mr. G. S. H. Ellis was employed under technical assistance terms to advise the State Government on the training of their police force, from July, 1967, to January, 1968, when he resigned from that appointment and was transferred to advise in a similar capacity other Governments in the area. He was at no time engaged on the training of special forces in St. Kitts.

We have tried to help in the difficulties which have arisen since Associated Statehood because we are responsible for the external affairs and defence of the States, and there are points where internal affairs impinge on the external. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, rather suggested that we had taken no action in these matters, and my noble friend Lord Willis was asking that further action should be taken. But solutions lie in discussions across the table, and when the noble Lord suggests that there should be a conference with representatives of neighbouring countries, this has been done. My noble friend Lord Shepherd, together with Ministers of independent Commonwealth Caribbean Governments, sat down with the State Premier and with Anguillan representatives in July last year to work out an acceptable agreement. When this Barbados Agreement, as it came to be known, later proved incapable of being put into effect we sought other ways of creating a climate in which constructive discussion could be resumed.

That is why we complied with the request of the Premier of St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla last autumn to send a Parliamentary delegation to Anguilla, and why we are keen to give the interim solution, which that delegation achieved, a fair trial. The interim settlement was originally intended to run for about a year. So far, on the credit side, its achievements have been that tension between the two Islands has been reduced; mails, despite what the noble Earl said, are running and development aid from Britain to Anguilla has been actively resumed. On the debit side, there has been virtually no progress towards a return to constitutional government in Anguilla, and there is in Anguilla itself a feeling that foreign investment in tourism is being deterred by uncertainty as to the future of the island. These are unsatisfactory elements in the situation, but, in Her Majesty's Government's view, they do not justify scrapping the interim settlement before we have something adequate to replace it. It was agreed in the interim settlement that Her Majesty's Government must receive and consider the recommendations of the Senior British Official, the man on the spot, and then they must call a conference or ascertain by other means the views of the State Government on the one hand, and of representatives fully empowered to speak for the people of Anguilla on the other.

This, I should have thought, was in line with what the noble Earl said should be done. But it has been done, and we are now waiting for this report from the man on the spot. Unilateral agreement between the Anguillans and ourselves would not be practicable because under the West Indies Act 1967, Her Majesty's Government may not split up or join together Associated States except at the request and with the consent of the States concerned. That is the position, and we really must abide by legislation which we passed in this House so recently. There is another party to any settlement, as well as the Anguillans and ourselves; that is the St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla Government. We hope that the Anguillans will understand that the legal position of the State Government cannot simply be ignored. Equally I agree with the noble Earl that we must persuade the State Government that a realistic view demands that they come to some accommodation with the Anguillans in order to put an end to a situation which is impeding the progress towards prosperity of St. Kitts and Nevis, as well as that of Anguilla.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one question? I understand that it was fundamental to the agreement that a local council would be set up in Anguilla. This was never done. In that sense it might be open to us to say that the agreement was not fulfilled on the side of the Associated Caribbean States.


But the interim settlement was designed to create an atmosphere in which, among other things, a local council would be elected. I quite agree that that council has not been elected. Part of the report which we expect from the man on the spot will, I hope, carry us some distance further towards the election of such a council. It has not been achieved, as yet, but that does not mean to say that before the twelve months is up we should despair that it will be achieved. There are difficulties on both sides. We must consider these sympathetically and try to find a way of overcoming them.

On the State Government's side there is the fact that under the West Indies Act 1967 Anguilla is constitutionally a part of the Associated State and cannot be split off, and it is doubtless the consciousness of this constitutional position which has led Mr. Bradshaw to make public statements such as those mentioned by the noble Lord opposite. But, so far as I can, I have checked some of these statements and I must say that it really depends upon how they are presented and the context in which they are placed, as to the impression that they create. For example, when Mr. Bradshaw used those words which were quoted about writing a solution in blood, they followed on his speculation about the possibility of another attempted invasion from Anguilla. It was only then that he spoke about bloodshed. We hope, of course, that there would be no question of another attempted invasion from the small Anguilla towards the seat of the Federal Government.


My Lords, I think that this is extremely important. Can the noble Lord therefore give an assurance that the Government are satisfied that the undertaking which I mentioned, and which was quoted by the Secretary of State in another place on January 30, still holds good, despite the quite extraordinary remarks made on more than one occasion towards the end of May this year by Mr. Bradshaw?


Yes, my Lords; I am going to mention that. I have only another one or two sentences to say, and I shall mention that. What I was going on to say is that an essential prerequisite to a solution is an atmosphere of calm, in which no grounds are given for, and no credence is given to, the sort of rumours about invasion and counter-invasion that we have had in the Press.

The noble Lord asked me about the undertakings given by the Secretary of State on January 30 of this year. Those undertakings still hold good; we still expect that the undertakings given by the St. Kitts Government and the Anguillans to refrain from hostile action against each other also stand. And I am sure that noble Lords will all agree that to act on any other assumption would be quite impossible. We cannot accept that the Government, on the one hand, and the people of Anguilla, on the other will conduct themselves, or their relations, other than within the undertakings that they have given. And, so far as we are concerned, if they do not abide by their undertakings, for our part we shall abide by ours; namely, those that were given on January 30 by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

The noble Lord has voiced, understandably, some anxieties, and I hope I have gone some way to dispose of them. I know that he, like Her Majesty's Government, would wish to help restore the friendship and the harmony that were the agreed aim of all the parties to the interim settlement. I should not like to say anything this evening that would in any way hinder the creation of that atmosphere; and out of that interim settlement we still hope that a permanent solution will come.

House adjourned at twenty-four minutes past eleven o'clock.