HL Deb 12 June 1973 vol 343 cc619-49

7.0 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ALPORT in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Fully responsible status of Bahamas]:

LORD BELHAVEN AND STENTON moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 5, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (3) of this section").

The noble Lord said: I hope your Lordships will be agreeable to taking Amendment No.1 with No.2, as the former is a paving Amendment and will make no sense unless it is taken with Amendment No.2. In fact, in a sense I should like to speak to all four Amendments together because they are all consequential upon one another; but for the sake of procedure I will now speak to Amendment No.1.

May I say at once that I deeply regret the necessity of having to move these Amendments. I regret it for reasons which I hope I shall be able to make clear. Let me make it quite clear at the start that I have no wish at all to encourage a minority opinion to bring disaffection in the Bahama Islands. My noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir suggested in strong terms last Thursday that I should not do this. I assure her and your Lordships that it is no part of my intention to do this.

To put this into perspective I should like to refer to the very informed speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, on Thursday last, and I hope the noble Lord will not mind if I quote him. At the end of his speech he said: The only other thing I would say to Her Majesty's Government is this. In the very unlikely circumstances of difficulties arising between Abaco and the Bahamas Government, perhaps the Government might consider whether it might not be desirable to ask Canada (whose inhabitants, after all, are similar to those of Abaco in being loyalists who did not fight with the U.S.A. for independence) and perhaps some representatives of West Indian countries to offer their services for a solution of the problem."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7/6/73, col.233.]

I think it is a matter of opinion as to whether the events which the noble Lord suggested might take place will or will not in fact take place, but I think it is a great deal more likely that they will take place than does the noble Lord. So in the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, I can find only one particular in which we are at all in disagreement in connection with this matter: I think these events are likely to take place, whereas the noble Lord does not think so. That is a matter of opinion. I am not asking for them to take place; I hope they do not. But this is essentially where we are in disagreement, and it was because of what I thought was the likelihood of events of this sort taking place that, as your Lordships know, over the last few weeks I have been pressing Her Majesty's Government to take action of some kind to investigate the real wishes of the people of Abaco.

I should also once more, and for the last time, like to say that I regret the way in which this Bill is going through the House. I shall not labour this point as I raised it last Thursday, but it seems to me that I might have obtained some concession from Her Majesty's Government to—day, and if I had done so I might have withdrawn the Amendment. In the present situation, the Bill is going through in one day. We discussed it on Thursday and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, was very fair. We agreed to it and I do not complain but, although I have been in your Lordships' House for quite a number of years this is the first time that I have moved an Amendment.

I have studied this over the week-end and I have come to a much more solid conclusion on it than I had on Thursday. I think it is a mistake to move three stages of a Bill in one day. I think one might have time to discuss it, to give the Government time to think. But here I am, and I may have to take a more extreme attitude than I should like to take. But what can I do? The Bill is going through to-day and the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, said that it is to be given the Royal Assent on Friday. I have no alternative, unless I obtain some concrete concessions from Her Majesty's Government, but to press my Amendment to a Division, no matter how many of your Lordships may or may not agree with me.

On this affair of the Island of Abaco, on which the Amendment is based, I should like to make a brief excursion into statistics. I am not sure that I believe in statistics and I am sure most of your Lordships do not, but we have had a great many statistics thrown around about this matter. It is not in dispute that in the last election in Abaco 62.5 per cent. of the electors voted for the Opposition. Independence was only one of the issues, and I have been assured by Mr. Watkins, who is one of the members for Abaco, that he himself, in his own constituency, fought the election on a solid anti-independence basis. How it was fought in other constituencies I do not know, but I do know that the Government Party fought it on a number of issues, among which independence was one.

As I have said, in Abaco 62.5 per cent. of the population voted for the Opposition, but in the island itself, owing to the way in which the constituency boundaries have been drawn—and I make no comment on that; it happens in this country as well—there is one member for the Government and one member for the Opposition. This could happen anywhere in this country. I do not know that I believe that the way in which we have our House of Commons elections is particularly democratic; it is the way in which we do it. So that 62.5 per cent. of the population of the island voted for the Opposition and, as I understand it, in doing so they voted against independence. One of the constituencies in fact fell to the Government Party. That could happen here, and it could happen in any of the islands we have round our coast.

As I said on Second Reading, Mr. Watkins has told me that in his view 80 per cent. of the electorate would support him in his desire to have Abaco as a Crown Colony. I certainly cannot tell your Lordships whether or not this is so. My noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir cannot say, either—none of us can say whether it is so, unless we ask the people. The only thing I can say is that a petition was recently organised. I myself asked Mr. Watkins to do it, because I thought it was possibly the best way in which he could get his case made clear in the other place and in your Lordships' House.


If I may interrupt the noble Lord, I thought he said that he asked a certain gentleman to organise this petition. Why did the noble Lord do that? Does he live there? Is he part of the people of Abaco? Why was he involved?


I am not involved in any way at all in Abaco. I am interested in the fact that here we have British subjects whose ancestors have been loyal to the Crown for 200 years, and, it seems to me, are going to be sold down the river. That is the only reason why I am intervening in this matter. I have not got 2p in Abaco, Nassau or the Bahamas. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that from me. I have declared my only interest. That Petition in two days received 1,200 signatures. I see the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, trying to work that out: 6,500 people and 1,200 signatures. It took two days. The weather was very bad. They had only two days because, as noble Lords know, Parliament was in rather a hurry. The Government of the Bahamas tried to organise a counter-Petition and to my knowledge they got 40 signatures. That is so far as I know.

May I get off that subject? I should not want to labour this business of Petitions toe much, because Petitions, I know, can be very difficult things. One gets all sorts of signatures on Petitions. One can get six of one's own children to sign them. That is well known to Her Majesty's Government, as it has been well known to every Government for the last 200 years. I should like to come on to the affair of the Greater Abaco Council because Her Majesty's Government have sought to make great play of the supposed fact that it changed its mind, and that having had its Petition dismissed last December it said that it would work for a united Bahamas. I put it to Her Majesty's Government that the facts are rather different, and I have taken some pains to obtain them. There were 20 members of the Greater Abaco Council; three of them changed their minds after December; one of them has since died; and 16 of them are still in favour of Abaco's becoming a Crown Colony. The Council was self-appointed and has not met since last December, but even with a self-appointed body it is surely a little odd that Her Majesty's Government should take the view that the opinion of three members who have changed their minds carries more weight than the opinion of 16 who did not. That ends my statistical excursion.

We can throw around and juggle with these figures as long as we like, but the fact remains that there is a problem here, and if it is not dealt with, in my opinion—and it is not merely my opinion, as I know other people who share my opinion—it will probably get worse. Some of your Lordships may have read the article in The Times yesterday. I shall not go into detail on it, but it points out the dangers which exist both for Abaco and the Bahamas in the present situation. The article points out, and everything I have heard confirms what it points out, that the people in Abaco are deeply afraid for their future after Independence. It goes further, and I will quote from the article. I am quoting from The Times which your Lordships will not think is a very biased newspaper. It is the great newspaper of this country. Perhaps the writer may have been biased—I do not know—but this article has been printed in The Times. I tried to get a letter on this subject into The Times but they would not print it. However, they printed this article from one of their own correspondents, and this is what that correspondent said: It certainly does not seem that Mr. Pindling has sought to smother the suspicions of the white Abaconians with kindness. The full pettiness of party and racial vindictiveness has been deployed in much the way that an African Government often revenges itself on its tribal and party opponents. The Government ought to think hard and deeply before it throws people of proven loyalty and devotion to the British Crown to the wolves. It has been done before, but here we are not dealing with the same sort of situation which we dealt with in Kenya and which we have been dealing with in Rhodesia. Here we do not have a minority of white settlers who are loyal to the Crown, a minority perhaps of 1 per cent. That is not the situation in Abaco. We are dealing with the majority of the population of an island which has lived peacefully under the British Crown for 200 years and now fears that its time is up and that they, the people of the island, will be forced to pack their bags and leave their ancestral homes. That is the stark reality of the situation which faces us to-day. It is no use our ducking it or pretending otherwise. That is what these people think. So far as I can see, nothing that has been done by Her Majesty's Government or the Government of the Bahamas has done anything to quiet these fears. And they should have been quieted in a civilised country and in a civilised community. They may be wrong in thinking what they think, but that is what they think.

That fact was rather poignantly brought home to me yesterday when a gentleman from the Bahamas visited my home. He asked me—and your Lordships know the procedure of this House and of another place—whether the Government could not give the people in the Bahamas (and he was speaking of the Bahamas in general though he is a resident in Abaco) one year between the passage of this Bill through both Houses of Parliament and its implementation, so that the opponents, both black and white, of the present Government could have time to pack their bags, sell their belongings and leave. He is quite convinced that he will have to leave after Independence, and his family have been in residence for 200 years. I hope, and I am sure that all your Lordships hope, that his fears will not be realised, but these fears are real. They do exist; and it is no use pretending in your Lordships' House that they do not exist.

In all my interventions on this subject, and I may have bored your Lordships slightly on it, I have sought for only one thing, and that is that the real wishes of the people of Abaco should be ascertained. There is no doubt at all that the majority wish to remain British.

The only question which has ever come up for argument before your Lordships is the size of that majority. The trouble is that Independence is an irrevocable step. Whatever happens after July 10, Her Majesty's Government have no authority. We have finished with it. There is nothing whatever we can do. The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, suggested certain things which Her Majesty's Government might do should trouble break out after Independence between Abaco and the Government of the Bahamas. I think myself that his suggestions were absolutely right. I agree in essence with everything that he said. The only particular in which I disagree with the noble Lord is: would it not be far better if we did this before, rather than wait for trouble to break out. It seems to me, from what I know, quite certain that something will break out there, and I hope to God that nobody will be killed! Something is going to break out, and would it not be better if we made an inquiry into the situation now, rather than wait until British sovereignty is withdrawn, until we have no power over the situation at all except to make feeble pronouncements or protestations in the United Nations. Now we are the sovereign Power. We could do something now.

That is why, short of some suggestion from Her Majesty's Government which might modify the stand I am taking, I shall have to ask your Lordships to support me in the Lobbies in voting for Crown Colony status for Abaco. That would not preclude a subsequent investigation and it would not preclude eventual reunion with the rest of the Bahamas, but it would preclude the sort of trouble that has been suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. It would enable the people of Abaco to express their wishes in a proper, legal and democratic way, which is all I have ever asked for in your Lordships' House. So far as I know, that is all that they are asking for; and in asking your Lordships to support my Amendment I am asking only that the wishes of the people of this island should be taken into account before they are, as they feel they are going to be—although I do not know—thrown to the wolves.

I have had to move my Amendments in their present form as it seems to me to be the only way to contain the situation at this stage. What is suggested in my Amendments is certainly not the only possible solution. I suggest that even now Her Majesty's Government and the Bahamas Government could agree to an impartial investigation of the situation. There could be some sort of solution on the basis of an associated State or a status similar to that of the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands. It ought not to be impossible to find a happy solution, if only it can be grasped by Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the Bahamas that there is a problem here. I do not think it has been grasped. I would hope that my noble friend, Lady Tweedsmuir, might suggest something to-day. As I have said, I think it is deeply unfortunate that we are taking this Bill in the way in which we are taking it, because any suggestion of the Government will have to be fairly concrete if I am not to press my Amendment. If my Amendment were accepted by the Government or carried by your Lordships, it would at least give time for second thoughts and possibly wiser counsel.

All I would say in conclusion is that many loyal British subjects, simple people who are loyal to the Queen and to the British Crown and to this Parliament, are looking to your Lordships to-day—and do not let us have any doubts about it—for a sign that this country has not forgotten them and will not sell them down the river for the sake of bureaucratic tidiness. I beg to move.

7.22 p.m.


The mover has just made a powerful and nostalgic speech, which I am sure will have made a great impression on the Committee. Indeed, he did this also at Second Reading. Unfortunately, I myself was unable to be in the House that day, but of course I have read the proceedings carefully, as indeed I have read the proceedings in another place, where also there were most moving speeches. But, further, the mover has, I am sure, in the opinion of the Committee, shown evidence of great knowledge of the subject which he has dealt with. In our House the debate was notable in that it contained a speech from the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, which was more equitable and less emotive than we are habituated to hearing from him, much as we always enjoy the undoubted sincerity with which he advances his views.

But now history generates romanticism and at times this can justify secession. In this case the mover has amply told us the historical and constitutional facts which must have concrete bearing on this subject. He has told us of the original settlement. Many of us, I am sure, were unaware of the circumstances; that originally it was loyalists from Canada who settled on what was until then an uninhabited island. There can be no argument, as there often is in the case of South Africa, because it is forgotten that the white man came in where there was no non-white population. Here we have been given a picture different from what is usual.

Of course, the Government's Bill will get an easy passage, as it did on Second Reading, for the remaining stages, but that is largely because, historically, it has been the Opposition's policy to support dismemberment. Through the last two decades the British Empire or Commonwealth has been progressively dismembered, until to-day, it is looked on in the world as a whole with a respect and regard very different from 50 years ago. Fragmentation, naturally, is disliked. The whole policy of self-government involves fragmentation. We often hear in discussion about the African continent of nations. What nonsense! They are not nations. Many of the now independent countries are peoples; they are not nations. They are a conglomeration of different tribes, as different as the continental countries.

I and many others think the Bahamas would have been much wiser to remain a colony and have the advantage of the protection of the Crown. Inevitably there has been a flight of capital; there is fear of corruption, intimidation. But, of course, it does give jobs for the boys. To justify my intervention, I must explain to the Committee that from the early 'twenties I have had a good deal of familiarity with the Colony. I have been there very often, visited many of the islands, and at least have some knowledge of the situation. I remember well all the stories of the Bay Street bandits, which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, with his familiarity with this subject in his responsibility of Government, will know.

LORD SHEPHERD: Not the bandits.


Anyhow, I must ask the indulgence of the Committee if I give a personal experience. I remember being there in 1940, I think, when Sir Harry Oakes was making his first airport. I came back so impressed with the possibilities for the national effort that I wrote to the Air Minister of the day and said I thought there was reason to make good use of the airfield being established there. I remember getting back a letter, under the official heading from the Minister, saying that he thanked me very much for the offer and reminder, but it was definitely unlikely that it would serve any purpose during the present conflict. As every Member of the House knows, it became a most important staging post in the support of aircraft for the continuance of the war. I go further: I remember going to Eleuthera with Austin Levy. Until that time the colony had been dependent, even for its milk, eggs and elementary supplies, on the mainland and Florida. He started that ranch on the island of Eleuthera which gave tremendous benefit to the populations of the Islands.

I must say that I get perplexed about the denials of independence. I never realised why the defection of Katanga was so resisted. That would have been a perfectly viable country, and yet it was resisted. It might be claimed that Biafra was never viable independently, but I understand that the populations of Nigeria are as different as are the Finns and the Turks, although I do not know Nigeria well only having been there occasionally. All this argument makes one think, and my mind goes back to the analogy of the Danzig corridor, which was discussed for so long. All that passed away in 20 years. Again there was all the trouble of the plebiscite in Teschen. That has all passed away now.

I turn now to the speech of the Minister on Second Reading. It was reassuring that there is not likely to be any increase in citizenship difficulties as a result of this Bill; but the speech did turn to the possibility of financial aid, and that raises some alarm. If independence is needed, are we to have a repetition of all this absurdity in other parts where there has been independence? If independence is wanted, let there be independence. But in the last two decades we have paid out over £350 million in subventions to all these countries that wanted to break away from the Government that they then had. They probably were jolly good Governments because they were under the Crown. In that connection the Opposition so often suggests that there has been cause for atonement for some past offences of Britain against the populations who claim independence. Atonement for what? Under our rule they have had all the benefits that Britain gave to them, in education, health services, and all the other benefits that science could offer to them. I personally have never believed in the idea that there is any ground for atonement, because there has been nothing to atone for.

At least an inquiry is to take place. The noble Lord who moved this Amendment is anxious as to whether proper consideration will be given. I was interested to hear that Colonel Mitchell, who is well known in the other place, is proceeding there to make a personal inquiry. There are other small dependencies in the world, and surely it is not impossible that this one should be viable. Why should we renounce all historical responsibility?

The Motion failed in the Commons, and I can hardly believe that it will succeed here; but it merits a protest both on the grounds of the mechanics as regards the procedure through the House, to which the mover has drawn attention, and also on the proposed imposition of compulsion and the suggestion of the noble Lord of possible discrimination and reprisals. All that is disquieting. After all, these are human beings and should attract sympathy and compassion. I support the Amendment.

7.35 p.m.


I propose to speak with the utmost brevity in this debate. I had no intention of speaking at all. I listened carefully to the Second Reading debate and I have listened very carefully this afternoon, and my reason for determining to abstain from speaking in the debate was that I have no personal practical knowledge of the Bahamas—one of the few places in the formerly world-wide colonial empire about which I cannot claim to have a wide experience. However, since I gather that I share that deficiency with the noble Lord who opened this debate—and that brings us back to basic principles—perhaps I may say that I have listened to what has been said this afternoon and I am deeply unimpressed with the reasons given for asking the Government to change their policy.

I listened with great care to what the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, said at the end of the Second Reading debate, and in my personal opinion it would he a great pity if she altered that. I do not think that she will, because, if I may say so without any undue arrogance to anybody with a wide personal knowledge of these affairs, what she said was fundamentally impressively true.


I rise to support these Amendments. First of all, I should like to apologise to the Committee and to the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, for unfortunately having missed his opening words. I hope that I shall not be repetitious in any way. What impels me to support these Amendments is chiefly a most dramatic statement made by a highly respected Bahamian elder statesman a few months ago. It is pertinent to note that the gentleman in question is of mixed blood. What he in effect said, after spending all his life in the Bahamas like his father and grandfather before him, is that he now intended to emigrate for good and live in the United States. His reasons for doing so were that he had not spent most of his life fighting white racialism only to be confronted now with black racialism. For such a distinguished public figure to take such a drastic step must surely make one stop and think.

I would never claim to be an expert on the West Indies, but I have visited a good many of the islands in the Caribbean and to the North of the Caribbean—English, French and Spanish speaking—and I know one or two of them quite well. As a schoolboy just over 30 years ago I lived in one of them for about 18 months, and I remember well that anybody, irrespective of sex, age or colour, could walk anywhere at any time of day or night in personal safety—well, perhaps not on Saturday nights when the rum tended to flow rather freely, but at least at any other time. Furthermore, people scarcely bothered to lock their doors at night. Now things have changed, and I think that they have change particularly in the last ten years.

Perhaps one is reading too much into this. Perhaps some of it can be attributed to the general spread of violence among younger people which is a phenomenon all over the world. Some of it, I suggest, is due to the alien importation into these Islands of the phenomenon known as Black Power. I say "the alien importation" because I do not believe that it is in any way indigenous. It comes in from the United States, and is diffused partly by the cinema but chiefly by television, both directly by showing manifestations of Black Power—riots and so on—to young people, so perhaps putting ideas into their heads, and also to some extent indirectly inasmuch as hitherto rather unworldly people are brought face to face with a more exciting and more affluent lifestyle on the screen. When they find that it is not possible for them to participate in this lifestyle straight away, there is a natural tendency to resent this and their resentment tends to be directed against minorities on the Islands such as white, brown or yellow people (to make a generalisation). As I think is well known, the people of Abaco are mainly white or brown rather than black and they therefore—or so it appears—feel themselves in the firing line and subject, if not to out and out black power discrimination, then discrimination in matters of jobs, licences and so on.

There is also, of course, the loyalty aspect to which the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, referred on Second Reading—and very fairly if I may say so—and I do not think one can dismiss this lightly. These people have been loyal to Britain and felt themselves quasi-British anyway for over 200 years, and until very recently they must have expected that this state would continue in perpetuity. It is, after all, I suppose, not more than 15 years ago that if one had suggested that a group of islands or a territory with a population of under a million or, at the very least half a million should become independent it would have been thought that one was talking through one's hat—except perhaps for Iceland. which is one of the oldest and most literate civilisations; but generally speaking this was the consensus of opinion.

This brings me to the objections advanced by those who opposed these Amendments and the sentiments which lie behind them. First, there is the question of size. Consider a situation which we now have and which could not have been foreseen 20 or even 15 years ago—independent countries of 170,000 or so people. We have also heard advocated independence for Bermuda—contrary, if I may say so, to the wishes of the Bermudans. Bermuda has a population of only 54,000. I do not think that one can advocate independence for Bermuda with all the trappings of independence—State visits, a seat in the United Nations with the same voting power in the General Assembly as Britain which has 1,000 times the population and so on—and in the same breath say that the wishes and aspirations of the people of Abaco, with a population of only 6,500, are of no account.

There is the fragmentation aspect. An archipelago which is comparable to the Bahamas is the archipelago in which the Windward and Leeward Islands are found—and a more variegated group of islands it would be impossible to find, politically and linguistically. In the South there is Grenada and the Grenadines, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Martinique, Dominica, Guadeloupe, St. Kitts, Montserrat, Anguilla, and so forth. The majority are British speaking, with varying degrees of independence from or affiliation to Britain. Two are French-speaking and technically speaking, are part of Metropolitan France. Indeed, one in the North is half Dutch and half French: St. Martin, with an area of 37 square miles: 20 miles belonging to France, the other 17 to Holland. This fragmentation does not seem to have worked against the prosperity of these islands or to have been any impediment to trade, communication or indeed friendship between them.

It has been said that Abaco is an integral part of the Bahamas. The Turks and Caicos Islands were also an integral part of the Bahamas for almost half a century. They are no longer. I do not think that that is a very powerful consideration. What has not been mentioned so far is the actual interests of an independent Bahamas. The exclusion of Abaco from an independent Bahamas seems to me hardly injurious to its interests either economically or from the point of view of defence or communications—under the benevolent guiding hand of a British administrator. On the contrary, if—and we do not know for certain—an overwhelming majority of people in Abaco are violently hostile to joining the Bahamas in independence, it would only be to the benefit of the Bahamas if this weak link in the chain, this thorn in the side, were removed and the Bahamas started off on a happy and unanimously supported footing.

To sum up, I suppose that most of us in this House are talking in a vacuum. We are only speculating. Both sides think that they know the feelings of the people of Abaco and advance their views with sincerity, but in the last resort it is only those who live on the Islands or whose families live on the Islands 365 days of the year who can really know what is happening and what their feelings are. Whatever statements might be made by people in power at any given moment, promises made and guarantees given, the people of Abaco are the ones who can read between the lines, assess tendencies, trends and so on. It seems to me, therefore, that the only fair and correct course is to support these Amendments, to give time for a referendum to be held to ascertain what the sentiments and wishes of the people of Abaco really are. For myself, I would reluctantly concede as the lesser of two evils, that if only a small majority in the Islands are in favour of Crown Colony status (say between 51 and 55 per cent.) perhaps existing plans ought to go ahead; but if, as the Member for Marsh Harbour claims, 80 per cent. or even 75 per cent. are further in favour of continued British protection, then I feel sure that your Lordships will agree that it would be quite immoral to deny this to them. I therefore support these Amendments and urge your Lordships to do the same.


As some reference has been made to me, perhaps I may say a few words. I was a little surprised, and perhaps in small part embarrassed, by the tributes paid to my speech by the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, and particularly, if I may say so, by the noble Lord, Lord Barnby—not in their references to myself, because I enjoy their friendship, but in their references to the argument which I put forward during the Second Reading debate. As I said then, I tried to approach this subject in an objective way. I did so from a certain principle, because I believe deeply in the right of self-determination and because I am often sympathetic at local level where there are strong feelings against centralised authority. It was from that point of view I approached a study of the problem of Abaco, and I did so even though I had no political sympathy with the attitude of the majority of the white population on the island of Abaco.

As I said on Second Reading, I think that the British Government have some duty of sympathy, and even of generosity, towards them, because they are the descendants of British troops and of British loyalists left on the coast of the United States of America during the War of Independence, even though I personally would not have sympathised with their forefathers—I should have been all in favour of the American claim to independence. But even though one differs with people, one must recognise their human rights and I tried to face this problem from the point of view of that recognition. I tried to be objective, although I do not think there is any doubt that the attitude of the majority of the white population on Abaco is anti-black, and that there is colour prejudice. There has been reference to the mixed race. May I apologise to one of the Abaco representatives elected to the Legislature, for describing him as half English and half African? I understand that he is, in fact, half Irish and half African. But, as I said earlier, in territories such as Abaco people of mixed race are very often more English and more European than the blacks in those territories.

I do not think there is very much doubt that most of the white population there are now bitterly opposed to the independence of the Bahamas and to being part of it, because of their racial attitude towards a black Government in the Bahamas. I also have this concern: there is an association between them and extremist Americans, only a few miles distant in Florida, who were previously associated with the Bay of Pigs attack upon Cuba, and who represent a fear in America that there should be a black Government in the Bahamas so near to their coast. Therefore, if I have sought to think in terms of the right of peoples, it has been with some discipline of myself, because I cannot imagine any group of people with whose political attitude I have less sympathy than the white population of Abaco.

We must get this problem into correct perspective. The noble Lord who has just spoken referred to suggestions that Bermuda might become independent when it had a population of only 54,000. I recognise at once that this problem of small nations, particularly when recognised by the United Nations, is a serious problem to which we must all give our minds. But Abaco has a population of only 6,500. Admittedly, it is one of the larger of the 700 islands in the archipelago of the Bahamas, but it is sparsely populated. If the estimate is correct that 60 per cent. of the population of Abaco take the view that they should not join independent Bahamas, then the total number about whom we are speaking this evening is between 4.000 and 5,000, while the total population of the Bahamas is 170,000. I should like the Minister to clear up one point when she replies, because I may have been misled about it. I had understood that the Greater Abaco Council, in its negotiations with the Government, had finally agreed that it would work within the independence framework, but now some suggestion is being made that that did not represent the view of the Council as a whole.


If the noble Lord, who is a very assiduous listener to speeches in this House, will give way to me for a moment, I explained the situation with regard to the Greater Abaco Council. Three of them changed their minds, 16 still want Abaco to have Crown Colony status, and one of them died. If Her Majesty's Government choose to think that three out of the original 20 are still the Greater Abaco Council, then that is their business.


I listened to the speech of the noble Lord and heard him say that. I just wanted to know from the Minister what is her version of that matter, because I understood from Ministerial Statements that the Greater Abaco Council have now agreed to work within the framework of independence.

References have been made to a proposal which I put on Second Reading, but it has been taken out of context to a considerable extent. What I said was that if a situation arose in the Bahamas—which I thought very unlikely indeed—where there was violence between the residents of Abaco and the central Government, then in those circumstances the British Government should give support to the central Government. I also drew attention to the fact that the only defence forces which the Bahamas have are 900 half—trained policemen and four small boats. Therefore, my appeal to the Government was that if an ugly situation did arise in the Bahamas assistance should be given to the Bahamas Government. But I added this—and I believe it very sincerely indeed: I do not want in the Bahamas another Anguilla situation—Anguilla withdrawing from the Associated States of St. Kitts and Nevis, and British forces having to be there although, incidentally, doing very good civilian work while they are there. I do not want that situation to arise in the Bahamas.

Let me say to the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, that I think he is a little unrealistic in urging that this matter should be considered before independence is accorded. The Bill has gone through another place, and the point of view which he has put forward was strongly argued there. It was also put forward during the Second Reading debate here. Arrangements for the independence celebrations have been made, and a member of the Royal Family is to attend. If the art of politics is the possible, I am suggesting that the noble Lord is not being political and that the proposal that independence should be postponed in order that this matter of 4,000 people should be considered is quite unrealistic.

But I want to say, not only to him but to the white and European population on Abaco Island, and to Mr. Pindling, the Prime Minister, whom I have known for so many years, that if there is this conflict on the part of the whites on the Island of Abaco, they should seek to find a settlement which does not bring about a violent situation there. I believe that such a settlement could be reached. Mr. Pindling's Government, despite assertions which have been made about it, is not a racialist or an extreme Government. There might be others much more extreme if a dangerous situation arises in the Bahamas.

During my Second Reading speech I made the suggestion that, if conflict does occur, then it might be well to approach both Canada, near at hand, and other West Indian independent Governments to seek a solution and settlement of the problem. That was the proposal I made; it was not a proposal for the withdrawal of independence, or for its postponement. I hope that the friends of the noble Lord in Abaco and Mr. Pindling's Government will both respond to the appeal that, with the coming of independence, they will seek together to reach a solution of this problem and so enable the Bahamas—despite the difficulties—to realise the great opportunities offered.


I do not wish to stand for long between the Committee and my noble friend the Minister of State, but I have one or two observations to make on this very difficult problem. Like my noble friend Lord Milverton, I am not fully versed upon it, but, unlike him, I have not been impressed either by the Government defence on Second Reading or by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, moderate and persuasive as it was. I have been greatly impressed, if they will allow me to say so, by the speeches of my noble friend Lord Belhaven and Stenton and the noble Lord, Lord Monson, which were, in my judgment, convincing, moderate and based on deep conviction.

Now to a layman like myself the problem, it seems, is not a quantitative one. I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, used these words, but I think he asked: how can you speak in terms of injustice to a population of 4,000, 5,000 or 6,000 when you set it against a popu lation of 100,000, 160,000 or whatever the figure is? But injustice cannot he measured quantitatively or statistically. Injustice to one man is just as great as injustice to a million, and if we are doing injustice to the people of Abaco then that is injustice, however much we try to juggle with figures. The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, said that the population of Abaco—he used the words "white population", but I think he intended the greater part of the population, which I understand is multi-coloured—was racialist, and he argued that a population of mixed blood is far more loyalist than the king, so to speak, and for reasons of prestige, snobbery or whatever you like is very anxious to draw a line between itself and its black compatriots. I do not think that is so in this case. From what I have read of the problem and the extent to which I have studied it, it is not that the population of Abaco is racialist and anti—black: it is that Mr. Pindling's Government, as the noble Lord, Lord Monson, said, is the representative of Black Power, a political movement; and it is to that, as I understand it, that the population of Abaco is opposed.

When this was debated in another place, Mr. Ronald Bell, in moving an Amendment similar in purport to that of my noble friend, gave instances, not of fears of victimisation on the part of the people of Abaco, but of victimisation that had already taken place since the election. I think I am right in saying that the Minister in charge of the Bill was unable to deny these facts. I think I am right in saying that already there have been cases of victimisation. What is likely to happen when these people are delivered, bond, to the people of the island 50 miles away?

There is one particular argument that I would put to the Committee and to my noble friend. It is this. If my noble friend the Minister of State accepts she Amendment of my noble friend or, at any rate, accepts the general arguments on which it is based; and if she will say that she will see what can be done to improve the situation before the Bill becomes law, nothing is lost. If she makes a mistake, if my noble friend is wrong, if the argument is altogether the other way, nothing is lost because the situation can very easily be altered. But if Her Majesty's Government take the other decision, that decision is irrevocable. Nothing they can do can undo the injustice, if it proves to be an injustice, or undo the harm if it proves to be harm.

There is another point that I should like to touch on. It is this. Abaco is a reasonably prosperous community. It has in it great possibilities of development. It is generally accepted, I think, that when the Bahamas on July 10 get their independence there will be a flight of capital—and in that will be included Abaco. But if Abaco is there as a colony under the Crown that capital which would flee from the Bahamas would transfer itself there, and there will be the possibility of a genuine development in those islands far transcending the potential development of an independent Bahamas. We are told that there are only 5,000 or 6,000 people, whatever may be the figure, there to-day; but Abaco has the resources, if capital were applied, to support a far bigger population than that—perhaps 50,000, perhaps 100,000. Nobody knows. But it has these resources.

Can we not give them the chance to use those resources to develop their island? If they do not make use of the chance nothing is lost, the position can be rectified. If the Government stick to their policy and if that policy is found to be wrong, and tragically wrong, all that they can do is to sit back and watch the tragedy developing. It seems to me that it is not a very far-fetched analogy to compare the island of Abaco and the rest of the Bahamas with the Republic of Eire and Northern Ireland. Could we not give to the people of Abaco the same privilege that we have given to the people of Northern Ireland—namely, the chance of deciding their own future by a referendum? It is really no use my noble friend saying that they took that chance in the recent elections. The elections were not fought on independence. Like any other elections they were fought over a wide range of issues. I cannot remember what the attitude of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd is, on the Common Market. I rather fancy that he is opposed to it; but if he is, I think he would not accept that the last General Election gave Her Majesty's Government's present advisers an absolute mandate to enter the Common Market. In the same way the Elections in the Bahamas, it seems to me, did not give Mr. Pindling an absolute mandate to embrace the people of Abaco in his independent Bahamas. I appeal to my noble friend to reconsider the matter.


I intervene only because I have in a way some responsibility for the issue that is before us this afternoon. I was Minister of State at the Commonwealth Office and I chaired the Constitutional Conference in 1968. Previously I had made a special visit to the Bahamas to ascertain from the political Parties, the leaders, the Members of Parliament and, where I could, the grass roots political thought what their attitude was to constitutional change and to eventual independence. As I said on Second Reading, I found all the political Parties unanimous for independence as the ultimate goal, and all three Parties shared the same view—that the time was not yet ripe but that given time they would wish to go independent. I will not be led into the question of the Common Market. I agree, however, with the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, and funnily enough with Mr. John Davies, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who said that Her Majesty's Government did not have a mandate arising from the General Election to take Britain into the Common Market.

In terms of the Bahamas, I believe that the Government of Mr. Pindling had a clear mandate. Independence has always been the goal, as I have said, of all the political Parties. It has been discussed ever since 1968. I can tell the Committee that I sought to use what influence I had with Mr. Pindling to proceed to independence earlier than he has done, for the sole reason that the Constitution that had been granted in 1968 was so advanced. It was a Constitution which one would have been granted only within a few weeks of independence because it devolved so much power to local government and left little effective power for the Government except in the end, perhaps, the suspension of the Constitution. It is not foreseeable in these days, I suggest, that a Governor, or a Government of Britain, should suspend a Constitution of an advanced colony like the Bahamas with its long history of government and of self-administration.

Throughout my time and in my connections, I have not heard of any question of secession by any island or any people; but what I did hear—and anyone who knows anything about the Caribbean knows this—is that all politics (and politics is the absolute spice of life; it is really more important than making money) is conducted at a key much higher than we could either tolerate or sustain.


Key, or level?


Key or level. But they enjoy their politics, and those who do not know the Caribbean often do not understand that they are conducting their politics in the normal key. I well remember a Leader of the Opposition in St. Vincent saying at the end of the Constitutional Conference when I had to make certain rulings: "The blood will flow through the streets of the capital." But it was one of the most happy of celebrations. Now the country has a different Prime Minister from the one who was in office when it attained independence. So I should not wish to think, because harsh words are said and deep passions roused, that there is any great fear to be found there.

One must judge whether the Government have done all they can to ascertain what are the wishes of the people of the Bahamas as a whole, because that is important. Is it not a fact that last year there was a general election in which independence was the major issue? Is it not a fact that Mr. Pindling's Government got a big majority? I am not defending Mr. Pindling to-night, although he is a personal friend. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton; I think he may prove a little better than the "Bay Street boys" that he succeeded. There was this general election and Mr. Pindling got a big majority. Then as a consequence of the general election and the mandate we had a Constitutional Conference in London. I hope that the noble Baroness will confirm that at that Conference the two major political Parties unanimously signed the report, and also that she will confirm that on not one occasion was it necessary for the Government to impose a solution regarding the Constitution. In other words though the political Parties may be in disagreement over the actual timing, they were able to come to an agreement as to what should be the working Constitution. If that is the case, in my view the British Government have done all they possibly can do to ascertain the wishes of the Colony as a whole prior to going to independence.

I am quite sure that the question of the secession of an island is a factor which is deeply written into the hearts of all officials at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It is deeply written into mine. Not only was I involved in the tragic events between Nigeria and Biafra but also Anguilla is very much in my heart. On the day after I became Minister of State for Commonwealth Affairs I found myself in an aircraft flying out there with Mrs. Judith Hart to help to conduct the conference in Barbados. There are lessons to be learnt; but the situation in Anguilla was quite different from the situation in the Bahamas. Anguilla was a separate island. Abaco has been part of one unitary State for some 200 years. Until now there has been no difficulty, no sign of movement outside, whereas in the case of Anguilla there was permanent hostility with St. Kitts; whether it involved white settlers or black, there was continuous hostility. So the situation is not the same. I have no doubt that the Government have looked at all these matters with the greatest possible care and have gone through all the functions and procedures open to them to ascertain what are the wishes of the people of the Bahamas as a whole. As I said on Second Reading, they have not rushed into independence. They have been rather slow, and because they have been slow perhaps they have been more sure.

I want to say only one last word about loyalty, as that expression has come in. The fact that people come to independence means perhaps that loyalty comes slightly differently, because a person's loyalty clearly should be to the new State. When noble Lords talk about loyalty, my thoughts go very much to the island of Fiji. When that island attained its independence it was explained on the ceremonial night that the Union Jack was to he lowered at midnight and the new flag would be raised in its place. Government and Opposition, Fijian and Indian said, "No, this we will not have. We will leave the Union Jack flying at midnight and we will go home; and with the dawn we will raise the new flag. We will not lower the Union Jack in such a way". Loyalty is a factor, and I can understand that in the Caribbean there is the sense of feeling towards Britain. That is why we have so many Jamaicans, Trinidadians and the like in this country, because what they have in terms of law, education and system of government is what we have given to them. So I am not terribly worried about this. I hope that the Committee will feel that the Government have done all they can in this matter. They have had their Constitutional Conference, the Constitution has been worked out and agreed upon by the two political Parties, and independence is not very far away. I have not the slightest doubt that politics will still be conducted in a—I will not use the word "violent", but rather loud way. But it will still be conducted in a good spirit; and the people of Abaco and the rest of the Bahamas will remain together in unanimity.


The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, is so courteous that I wonder whether he will allow me to put this question to him. In a matter of this kind we are, in fact, living under a coalition Government and it is rather difficult for the people who do not share the views of the Establishment on the other side to make their case. But would not the noble Lord agree with this proposition that I put to my noble friend? If the Government have second thoughts and test the feelings of Abaco they may be mistaken, but the mistake can be rectified. When you are faced with the choice of making a mistake which is irrevocable and one which can be rectified, is it not better to choose the latter rather than the former?


I would have a good deal more sympathy with the reference of the noble Lord to a referendum if he would be willing to have an internationally conducted referendum in Rhodesia. But I think it would be impracticable. I do not know how many inhabited islands there are in the Bahamas where a referendum could take place. In practice this is probably what would occur, because if you granted a referendum for one island you would need to grant a referendum for them all. Then I think you would have an impossible situ ation. At the end of the day people live together, whatever Government there may be, and I have no doubt that, given time, the people of these islands will live together and will benefit by their common cause.


I do not want to prolong the proceedings and I had not intended to intervene. I made my personal position clear on Second Reading. But having heard the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, refer to his considered judgment in the perspective of his immensely long and varied colonial experience, and having listened also to the highly emotive speeches that have been made this evening, I think I ought to say that I retain without qualification the view that I expressed before; namely, that having been considerably involved in Bahamian affairs in recent years, I do not regard the proposal that is before the Committee now as coming within the realm of constitutional and political realities. Let me make just two points of detail. The people of the islands of Abaco have, in my judgment, always regarded themselves first and foremost as Bahamians. If I had circulated in those islands and suggested that their people did not regard themselves first and foremost as Bahamians, I think I should have got into serious trouble. This is a comparatively recent political manifestation, the essence of which is lack of confidence in the government of a particular political Party. That is not, I think, a reason for setting everything in motion backwards, after what has taken place constitutionally in recent years.

Secondly, analogies have been drawn between Abaco and the rest of the Bahamas on the one hand, and other places such as the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, the Turks and Caicos Islands and elsewhere. I am firmly of the view that it is most misleading to consider the Abaco and Bahamas problem in terms of analogies with anywhere. None of the analogies that has been quoted (I will not prolong the proceedings by giving reasons) holds up to examination. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will support the Government and not agree to the Amendment.

8.32 p.m.


I think the Committee will agree that we have had a very fascinating debate. I should like to say to my noble friend Lord Belhaven and Stenton that I admire the vigour and the sincerity with which he put his case. As one who comes from Scotland, a nation which has been trying to secede from England for about 200 years, I quite understand the feelings he is trying to express to the Committee, in which he was supported by my noble friend Lord Barnby, the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and my noble friend Lord Coleraine. But I was glad to see that I had what I felt was powerful support indeed from my noble friend Lord Milverton. There are few people in your Lordships' House who have given so long and distinguished service to this country overseas, and, if I may say so, I think his judgment in this case needs very much to be taken into account. Then we had the support given by the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, who was a distinguished Governor of the Bahamas, and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, who after all, had the responsibility of the first Constitutional Conference.

I do not wish to repeat, if I can help it, the various facts which I ventured to give to your Lordships when we were discussing this question on Second Reading, but I feel that I must ask your Lordships not to accept these Amendments. We know that as long ago as 1971 some Abaconians organised a Petition to Her Majesty the Queen asking that their islands should be allowed to secede at independence and to remain a Colony under the Crown. It was claimed at the time that the Petition had the signatures of 75 per cent. of the electorate of Abaco. However, according to the Government of the Bahamas, some 320 signatures were residents of Nassau only, with Abaco connections, some 314 were made by persons other than those named, some signed their children's names and some were not even Bahamians. Certainly if 75 per cent. of the electorate supported the Petition in 1971, one would have expected the same kind of support for the Opposition candidates in the 1972 General Election; but, as your Lordships are aware, this did not happen. Of the two Abaco constituencies, one went to the Government P.L.P. and the other to the Opposition F.N.M., and the popular vote was split 40 per cent. for the P.L.P. and 60 per cent. for the Opposition F.N.M., which is a great deal short of the 75 per cent. support claimed in the Petition.

I should like to ask your Lordships to imagine the case put the other way round. If one said, "Despite the fact that at the last Constitutional Conference in December of last year both Opposition and Government in the Bahamas asked for independence, nevertheless, we will grant to"—shall I say, being generous—" two—thirds or at any rate a good part of the residents of Abaco the right to secede, to be a Colony on their own", that would involve, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said, perhaps about 4,500 people. We do not, as a Government, feel that we should be exercising either our judgment or our duty to this House or to the Bahamas in the right way if we were to deny independence and to fragment in this difficult part of the world these particular islands.

I think it is worth remembering that neither of the Opposition F.N.M. candidates stood on a platform (or, as the Americans call it, "a ticket") demanding secession for Abaco if the Bahamas went to independence under Mr. Pindling's Government. They had the chance, but they did not do so. Independence was the subject of a Green Paper issued by the Bahamas Government in March, 1972, and it was part of the declared policy of the successful progressive Liberal Party in the September, 1972, election. That was the time when the Opposition—and the Abaco Opposition candidate, in particular—should have come out into the open. That was the moment for them to say that there could be no independence without secession for Abaco. But nothing like that took place, and the outcome of the election is well known. Mr. Pindling and his Party, campaigning on a platform of early independence, won 29 of the 38 seats and gained 60 per cent. overall of the votes cast.

I put it to your Lordships that there really can be no doubt in our minds that early independence has the support of the people of the Bahamas, and a very large number of adherents even in Abaco. Both the Government and the Opposition have always regarded Abaco as an integral part of the Bahamas, and the islands have always been treated and administered as an integral part of the whole. This was as much the case in the days when the United Bahamas Party (which was the forerunner of the present Opposition) was in power as it is today when Mr. Pindling heads the Government. I would only say this. Of course independence is a very difficult thing. True independence means what it says. You cannot guarantee that everything is always going to be all right. How can you do that? Independence means genuine independence, where the people who have responsibility and power and who are elected to power must take the responsibility and must govern the commonwealth of the Bahamas as a whole.

One can understand if some people have fears of independence. It is a very difficult thing to manage—that is, to manage one's own life, and not least to manage 700 islands, of which only 22 are inhabited. Therefore it will not be easy for any political Party in the Bahamas to manage their independence well, but so far as Her Majesty's Government are concerned we are convinced by the fact that both Government and Opposition have asked us for independence that we can do no other than to grant it and to wish them well.


I shall not detain your Lordships for very long. This debate has gone on possibly quite long enough. I must say I was surprised to hear my noble friend say that there was a petition in Abaco several years ago which was signed by 75 per cent. of the electorate. I know what we can do with petitions. I have heard it said in another place by my learned friend Ronald Bell that nobody outside Parliament should bother with petitions because they are always cut up and are said to be signed by 20,000 6-year-old children, 6,000 lunatics and 500 adults. Nevertheless, I think it is rather impressive that several years ago there was a petition signed by some 75 per cent. of the inhabitants of Abaco,

Barnby, L. [Teller.] Greenway, L. Rowallan, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. [Teller.] Lytton, E. Somers, L.
Monson, L. Templemore, L.
Coleraine, L. Orr-Ewing, L. Wise, L.

even if only 25 per cent. of the signatures were genuine.

I have never asked Her Majesty's Government to do anything but have an inquiry into this matter. In fact, as I said earlier, I deeply regret having to move my Amendment. I did so because it seemed to me that we were not proceeding properly on this Bill. I have complained about this before. I have asked a Question about this and I have spoken in a Commonwealth debate, but at no point in the proceedings have Her Majesty's Government given me any indication at all that they intend to make any sort of inquiry of the inhabitants of Abaco. That, so far as I can see, is the situation. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said there might have been appeals of objections from every other island in the Bahamas, but in fact there have not been. The only island in the Bahamas from which there has come an appeal is Abaco. If every island in the Bahamas had objected to being independent, I could have seen the force of the noble Lord's remarks. We cannot have referenda everywhere. One might say the same for this country: we have nearly a hundred counties and we might have a referendum in each county. Naturally that would not be reasonable, but in the Bahamas there is only this one small area which has objected.

As I say, I shall not keep your Lordships very long, but I should like to thank all noble Lords who have spoken in my support. In addition, I feel I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, once again, if he will permit me, that I did not bring race into this. I am not interested in race. I am not a racialist: I do not mind whether a man is black, white, purple or green. My interest is in what he expresses and what he wants, and I am afraid I cannot withdraw this Amendment.

8.44 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, l l; Not-Contents, 51.

Aberdare, L. Elliot of Harwood, B. Mowbray and Stourton. L. [Teller.]
Amory, V. Emmet of Amberley, B.
Balfour, E. Falmouth, V. Rochdale, V.
Berkeley, B. Ferrers, E. [Teller.] Sandford, L.
Blyton, L. Gainford, L. Segal, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Gowrie, E. Shepherd, L.
Brockway, L. Gridley, L. Soper, L.
Brooke of Cumnor, L. Hanworth, V. Strang, L.
Brooke of Ystradfellte, B. Hood, V. Strathclyde, L.
Champion, L. Hylton-Foster, B. Teviot, L.
Collison, L. Kennet, L. Thurlow, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Kinloss, Ly. Tenby, V.
Courtown, E. Lothian, M. Trefgarne, L.
Craigavon. V. Loudoun, C. Trevelyan, L.
Daventry, V. Macleod of Borve, B. Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, B.
Drumalbyn, L. Maelor, L. Wakefield of Kendal, L.
Dundonald, E. Milverton, L. Wynne-Jones, L.
Eccles, V. Young, B.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Remaining clauses and Schedules agreed to.

House resumed; Bill reported, without amendment. Report received.

Then, Standing Order No. 44 having been suspended (pursuant to Resolution of June 8), Bill read 3a; and passed.