HL Deb 22 April 1970 vol 309 cc732-4

3.34 p.m.


My Lords, I was asked earlier to make a Statement on the safety of British persons and property in Trinidad and Tobago. The Statement is as follows:

"Our High Commission is in touch with the United Kingdom community. No reports have been received of incidents involving injury to the lives and property of United Kingdom nationals."


My Lords, we must be most grateful to the noble Lord for having given us that information. We must all hope that it proves to be correct. I was awoken by a long interview on the news this morning between the BBC. and the Chief of Police in Trinidad, and I gathered that the situation is now calm. I hope that the noble Lord can confirm that. Further, am I right in saying that Black Power representatives were recently in Montreal, gave a great deal of trouble there and were put in in prison? I do not know whether it is the same group who have been causing trouble in their own home country. Am I also right in saying that one of the main problems is the very high rate of unemployment among the sugar workers in the country? Perhaps Mr. Williams, having been in power for some 14 years, is having some discontent and no doubt he is right in taking a strong line with these troublemakers. Would the noble Lord tell me this—and this is very important: what does he think might be the effect on the rest of the Caribbean if Black Power were to seize control in Trinidad? I realise that Trinidad is no longer a United Kingdom responsibility but, none the less, we must be concerned about the situation in the Caribbean as a whole.


My Lords, I have noted what the noble Lord has said, and I expect him to keep us informed on any further developments which may occur.


My Lords, I wish I could inform the House that the situation is calm in Trinidad. There is still disorder, and there are some soldiers who have mutinied and who are now being dealt with by the loyal forces of the Trinidad and Tobago Government. So far as Black Power and their representatives in Montreal are concerned, I know that there have been disturbances in other parts of the Caribbean, apart from Trinidad, as a consequence of the trials in Montreal arising from disturbances in the University in Montreal. It is true that there is severe unemployment in Trinidad, and this may have been something which the Black Power people have exploited. So far as the Caribbean as a whole is concerned, we know that there has been a growth of Black Power. I expect that the Governments of the Caribbean will pay more attention to this particular influence as a result of what has occurred in Trinidad.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend, while appreciating the assurance that he has given us, whether it would be possible, in view of the fact that there is this unhappy conflict—or tension, as I prefer to call it— between Indian and African populations in many of the West Indian islands, and extending to beyond them, for Her Majesty's Government to suggest to those Governments that there might be a Caribbean conference to deal with this problem—racial tension and unemployment—which largely gives rise to these events?


My Lords, I do not think that the disturbances in Trinidad can be laid at the door of what is called racial tension between those of Negro extraction and Indians. So far as my noble friend's suggestion of a conference is concerned, this is entirely a matter for the Governments in the Caribbean. I should have thought in a realistic sense that it was the responsibility of the Government, Parliament and people in each territory to put their own situation right, and not to look to some discussion group, as a conference could well become, to do this. I think the responsibility must lie in the country itself.


My Lords, while I know that the leaders of this disturbance in Trinidad call themselves Black Power, would not my noble friend agree that it is a very misleading name for them? Because it suggests, as my noble friend Lord Brockway has pointed out, that the dispute in Trinidad is primarily one of a racial character, whereas it has nothing whatsoever to do with race but is solely of a social nature?


My Lords, even we who have been watching the reports in the past few weeks must have some doubt as to the real causes of the present conflict in Trinidad. One thing is perfectly clear: the steps and actions that have been taken by the militants, and those who have been organising disturbances there, cannot solve the economic and social problems in Trinidad.