HL Deb 03 July 1978 vol 394 cc801-29

10.40 p.m.

Lord VERNON rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a Statement on their plans for granting independence to Dominica. The noble Lord said: My Lords, we move now from the intractable problems of productivity in the United Kingdom to the future of a small West Indian island, with a population of under 100,000.

The subject of Dominica and its independence has been discussed in the last year on various occasions at Question Time in your Lordships' House, having been initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Segal, whom I am glad to see will be speaking later in this short debate. I have no personal interest in Dominica, nor indeed in any other part of the West Indies. I have visited that beautiful island on a single occasion, some years ago, and I cannot even claim to be well acquainted with it. I should like to make one point absolutely clear at the start of my speech; namely, in asking this Question I have no wish whatever to delay the independence of Dominica. If the people of Dominica themselves want independence now, then I personally think that they should have it. My sole concern is to ensure that that is in fact their wish.

It may be helpful if I set out a few facts relating to the present constitutional position, and if I am wrong on any of them, no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, will correct me. In 1967, following the earlier break-up of the British West Indies Federation, Dominica acquired associated status under the West Indies Act. This means that it is now fully self-governing, except as regards defence and foreign affairs, for which Britain remains responsible.

In 1975 there was a General Election in which the present governing Labour Party acquired 45.54 per cent. of the popular vote and 16 out of 21 seats in the Assembly. The principal Opposition party—the Freedom Party—with 29.95 per cent. of the vote, won only three seats in the Assembly. That was not perhaps a very democratic result in terms of seats, but who are we to criticise that when we have not ourselves a very democratic electoral system in this country? As I understand it, the Election was fought mainly on the issue of law and order, although there was a reference in the governing Party's manifesto—indeed in, I think, both Parties' manifestos—to a rather vague objective of securing unity with other countries in the Caribbean area. I should like to say in passing what an awful pity it is that these small islands are seeking independence on their own, instead of doing so in unity with their neighbours.

In 1976 the Prime Minister of Dominica announced that he would seek independence in 1977, and at the same time a draft Constitution was published. Last year a constitutional conference was held in London, and it concluded that the proposed Constitution should be discussed by the people of Dominica, and if broad agreement was reached, the British Government would approve a request to move to independence in 1978.

In the past year a number of Statements have been made by British Ministers suggesting that differences between the Parties regarding an independence Constitution have been narrowed. For example, on 19th January the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, in reply to my noble friend Lady Elles, stated, as reported at column 208 of Hansard: If we are satisfied that the desire for independence is widely supported by the people of Dominica, we shall recommend that they proceed to independence. The progress and the process of internal discussion is, I think, encouraging. It is a factual matter; radio discussions, public newspaper articles and public meetings are proceeding and are, I think, gathering momentum. It is apposite to say that, although both Government and Opposition have a number of constitutional points on which they are at variance, they nevertheless agree that Dominica should proceed to independence. I have an impression that the differences between Government and Opposition are narrowing practically day by day.

This view was echoed in another place as late as the 12th May by the Minister of State, Mr. Rowlands, when he also stated that a senior official of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was proceeding to Dominica to discuss the remaining issues. I hope that we shall shortly hear from the noble Lord further details about this visit and what was achieved by Mr. Posnett, who was, I understand, the official concerned. In the meanwhile, I must tell the noble Lord that what he said to the House on 19th January and what was reiterated by Mr. Rowlands is very difficult to reconcile with the information which I have received from Dominica. For example, since I put this Question down on the Order Paper I have received a letter from Miss Eugenia Charles, the leader of the Freedom Party in Dominica, saying that not only have the differences not been narrowed but, if anything, they are wider than they were before.

I turn now to the attitudes of the two main Parties concerned. There is no difference in principle. Both the Government Party and the Opposition Party are in favour of independence as an objective; the only difference is in timing. The Government Party claim that, having won the 1975 Election, albeit on a minority vote, they have a mandate to take the country into independence now. The Opposition, on the other hand, are doubtful whether Dominica is in a sufficiently strong economic position to afford the luxury of full independence at the present time. They maintain that the proposed independence Constitution lacks the necessary safeguards to ensure the continuation of a democratic form of Government, and they consider that a constitutional issue of such importance should be decided by referendum, which would enable the people as a whole to decide whether they want independence now or later.

The Opposition have also made allegations about serious electoral malpractices under the present Government, about the denial of a fair share of radio time, about the growing Cuban and Marxist influence in the island, and about other matters. My Lords, I am not in a position to say to what extent these allegations are true or untrue, but they have been made by responsible people and I would have thought that they required careful examination by Her Majesty's Government before any further step is taken. Moreover, if there have been malpractices, I hope we shall not be told that this is solely the concern of the Government of Dominica. Technically, no doubt, it is their concern, but it is bound to be one of the factors which must be taken into account by the British Government in reaching a decision on the independence issue.

Independence can come to Dominica in one of two ways. First, under Section 10(1) of the 1967 West Indies Act if two-thirds of the people in a national referendum vote in favour of it. In that event, the decision would rest wholly outside the control of the British Government. It would, of course, be the simplest and most direct way of finding out what the people themselves want. We have used it ourselves recently over a constitutional issue, and we are about to use it again in relation to the Scotland Bill. Secondly, independence can come under Section 10(2) by Order in Council without Parliament being consulted, as I understand it. But I venture to suggest that no British Government would wish to take the responsibility of advising Her Majesty to make such an order unless they were satisfied that they were reflecting the wishes of the majority of the people of Dominica, and they cannot possibly be so satisfied unless there is first some test of public opinion.

In the minds of all who have considered this matter there is the precedent of Grenada. It is not a very happy precedent. They are independent now. The people were not properly consulted, and I am sure we would not want what happened in Grenada to happen in Dominica. Your Lordships will recollect that some years ago when a new independence Constitution was under discussion for Rhodesia it was thought appropriate to send a special commission under the noble and learned Lord, Lord Pearce, to determine whether the proposed Constitution was acceptable to the majority of the African population. After several weeks and taking very thorough evidence, they came to the conclusion that it was not; and the Constitution fell to the ground.

In the very different circumstances of Dominica, much simpler methods are available. If the Prime Minister of Dominica feels that the two-thirds majority necessary under Section 10(1) of the Act is too onerous, he could still hold a referendum in order to demonstrate to the British Government that independence commands reasonable majority support, albeit not the 66 per cent. required under the Act. He has, further, two other options. He can wait until 1980, when the next General Election is due, and put the issue to the people. Alternatively, if he feels that for economic or other reasons it is undesirable to wait as long as 1980, he can call an immediate General Election and if, after fairly-conducted elections, it was shown that a reasonable majority of the people wanted independence, then I feel sure that any British Government would be ready to meet their wishes.

I think that that is all I need to say except perhaps one thing. Now that we are no longer an imperial Power there is a natural tendency to wish to cut our few remaining colonial ties and to leave the emerging nations, some of them absurdly small, to fend for themselves. There are very real anxieties in Dominica that for reasons of expediency we may be ready to shed our responsibilities without taking the views of the islanders properly into account. They would, as it were, be cast into the deep when, for all we know, the majority of them might prefer to retain, at least temporarily, the lifeline to which they have been attached for the past 170 years or so. If that were to happen, it would not only be deplorable in itself, and a blot on our colonial record—which I for one think, looked at generally, will be considered by history to be a fine one; it could also have serious political repercussions within Dominica. If people think that they have been unfairly treated, it leads to extreme bitterness, and bitterness can itself have other more serious consequences.

So I hope that when the noble Lord comes to reply he will be able to allay some of the anxieties which I have mentioned, and will be able to give an assurance to the House and to the people of Dominica that no irrevocable step will be taken as regards independence until the people of Dominica have been afforded an opportunity to express their views. I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

10.57 p.m.


My Lords, we can all agree that the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, is not very lucky with his timing. I think that he is to be congratulated on sticking to his guns, and indeed all those who have waited for this debate have shown a most commendable patience. Owing to the late hour, we owe it to each other to be brief; but in view of the enormous importance of the subject that we are discussing, we owe it to the people of Dominica to be thorough. I do not think your Lordships will disagree if I say that I think the second obligation outweighs the first.

This is—is it not?—a question of timing. The question is not "if" or "whether", but "when?" We know that Her Majesty's Government will, sooner or later, make a Statement. We know that Dominica will sooner rather than later achieve complete independence. If we could be certain that a majority of the people in the island want this independence now, there would be no excuse for any further delay. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, has already said, the governing Party did not achieve a majority of votes. I had not realised the figure was quite as low as 45.54 per cent. I am grateful to him for that figure. They had 16 out of 21 seats on well under half the votes.

Your Lordships will realise that they must have a very peculiar electoral system to achieve this result, and of course they have: they have the one which we use ourselves. We have brought this embarrassment on ourselves by lending them this same distorting mirror which we are so superstitiously afraid of breaking and throwing away, and which prevents them, as it prevents us, from electing a House of Assembly which accurately reflects what they in reality want and hope for. In view of that, and in view of the very large vote which the Dominica Freedom Party obtained, it is not surprising that the Leader of the Opposition, Miss Eugenia Charles, has asked for either a referendum or a general election. She has asked for a better electoral system as well. She obtained three out of 21 seats, one-seventh. Translated into terms of our own House of Commons, that would be a block of 90 Members. So, numerically, they are anything but insignificant.

What is more, if any of your Lordships have read, as I hope you have, this pamphlet put about by the Freedom Party called Think it Over, I think you will agree that, as informative, educative propaganda for a people relatively inexperienced in self-government, this is work of the very highest quality. Therefore the requests which the Leader of the Opposition makes for delays or improvements in the draft Constitution surely must be heeded very seriously indeed by those responsible for the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

I am aware of the argument that Dominica is not the last of the Associated States to be granted independence and that it is therefore all the more important that we do not make any avoidable mistakes in this case for fear of creating unfortunate precedents. But there is one respect in which this island is unique. Dominica happens to number among her population the very last of the pre-Columbian population—the Carib Indians. There are about 1,200 living in a reservation on the East coast of the island.

I should like, as they say in a quite different place, to write into the record what the Prime Minister of Dominica had to say about these Carib Indians in his very solemn Newtown Statement. This may be described as a statement of the Government's policy after independence, and it is not so much a practical programme as a catalogue of aspirations and general attitudes. I am sure that if the Prime Minister achieves one-half of what he hopes to do in this declaration he will be a very great man indeed. This is what is said in this declaration about the Carib Indians: Comrades, we will promote an organic unity between the Carib Indians and other races in our society on the basis of an egalitarian society, free from any discrimination or privilege. To this end, the cultural heritage of the Caribs shall be maintained and protected. All aspects dealing with civil rights, social status, right of possession and ownership of Carib lands shall be ensured. The Caribs shall be treated equally, and all efforts will be made for Caribs and other races in Dominica to work together to build the bridges of Nationhood and to enhance a sense of personal dignity among all our people and to establish true social justice in our land. You may find that a trifle vague, but I think it would be ungenerous if we did not grant that it is unexceptionable and that the Prime Minister's intentions are humane and entirely honourable. I plead simply for no undue haste in settling this problem. You cannot rush these things. It may well be rather like our own Romany problem in this country—a matter of a generation or two. Educate the children properly and the difficulties of assimilation will be found largely to have disappeared. When a once proud and mighty race is taking its last reluctant steps into oblivion, a generation is surely not too long to be patient.

This, of course, again, is an internal matter. It is the responsibility of the Dominican Government. But while we still have something that they want, I think they will listen to us, particularly when we remind them that the whole world, in which they will shortly be taking their own independent place, will be watching them and will be influenced not a little in its opinion of Dominica, by the way in which they look after these last remnants of the original inhabitants of their very beautiful island.

11.5 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join the noble Lord, Lord McNair, in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, for raising this debate tonight, and to say how glad I am that my noble friend is to reply on behalf of the Government. His zeal on behalf of human rights is unequalled by any Member of this House, and I am sure that he would be the last to minimise the importance of this debate.

May I say at the outset that I have absolutely no interest to declare. My sole reason for intervening in this debate applies to everyone who has been fortunate enough to visit the island of Dominica. I was privileged to lead a Parliamentary delegation of both Houses to the Caribbean some two years ago, and of all the islands we visited Dominica was by far the most beautiful and, unfortunately, also the most impoverished. Of course, every island enjoying associated status with Britain is fully entitled to opt for independence, and we as a nation are bound to concede that right. But our responsibitily cannot cease after independence has been granted, and control of defence and foreign affairs has been transferred to the local Government.

We cannot be indifferent to the welfare of the inhabitants, and we readily accept our obligations to render them aid, if need be on an even greater scale after independence than before. That is our obligation and we must abide by it. But if, after independence, the mass of the people are subjected to a denial of human liberties, to excessively harsh measures by their own countrymen, to one-Party rule, to the crushing of all opposition and to occupation by Cuban troops, then the plight of the people of Dominica will lie heavily on our conscience and leave a scar that may have painful results.

That is precisely the danger that faces Dominica today, and we cannot pass by on the other side. The people of Dominica have a right to decide their own future, if need be in a general election, and we must not deny them that right. It must be a fair election, fought on an up-to-date register of voters, carefully scrutinised by impartial observers to avoid the rigged election lists that occurred in the Guyana election, and with all the polling stations organised on neutral ground instead of in some of the houses of the Government supporters, such as occurred in the last Dominican elections, and free of any suggestion of threats, bribes or intimidation.

The voters must have a clear idea of what independence entails—foreign representation, responsibility for their own defence and increased Government expenditure. They need to have faith in their leaders, who must have a clear record of government and who can command the confidence of the poorest and most oppressed sections of the population. After all, these should be the aims of any good Government, especially of a Labour Government such as Dominica at present enjoys. We still have to learn the lessons of the granting of independence to Grenada, the results of the complicated situation that arose in Anguilla, when British troops had to be sent out to cope with an outbreak of violence, as happened also in Guyana, and the repudiation by Antigua, in a general election, of a Government that opted for independence and yet was overthrown, because the majority of the people of Antigua did not trust their leaders.

Today in Dominica, independence is not the issue. Independence we can take for granted. The important issue is this. Are the people of Dominica to confer still greater powers on their rulers than they at present enjoy? Have these rulers justified by their past record over the last two years a further vote of confidence by the people of Dominica? Can the present rulers claim that they were given power as the result of a fair and impartial election; that they have ruled wisely and justly in the interests of the inhabitants of Dominica and not enriched themselves unfairly at the expense of the islanders; that they have tried to stamp out corruption and maintain an impartial judiciary? It is not for us in this country to judge. We must leave the decision to the people of Dominica to put to the vote, not for or against the principle of independence, but whether or not to give a renewed mandate with increased powers to its present rulers.

That is why I would urge Her Majesty's Government to allow the people of Dominica an opportunity to decide, by means of a free and fair General Election, who is to lead them through these shoals and eddies that they must negotiate safely after independence is achieved. For we in Britain cannot be absolved from the consequences that may follow on independence. If we are fully alive to the problems—and no one is more so than my noble friend—which have followed in the wake of Cuban troops in Angola and the Horn of Africa (troops thousands of miles away from their home bases), what are likely to be the consequences for poor little Dominica, situated as it is almost on the doorstep of Cuba, certainly a mere stone's throw away in terms of logistics? Who will come to Dominica's defence once our own defence of the island is withdrawn? I would ask my noble friend with the utmost seriousness to answer that question and to devote himself now to the serious consequences that could follow. Will Dominica alone be threatened? What of St. Lucia and St. Vincent and all the other Caribbean islands now in the pipeline for independence? Can we merely stand aside as we have done in Angola, Zaire and Ethiopia and watch them one by one come under Castro's influence? It is in our interests, as well as in the interests of the whole of the free world, to pause before we plunge. We must allow these proud peoples of the Caribbean islands the right to judge their own future, to realise fully what is at stake and to justify for themselves, by the exercise of their own free will, the benefits and the responsibilities which only true independence can confer.

I would appeal to Her Majesty's Government in their benevolence and their wisdom to defer the granting of independence just a little while longer, preferably until 1980, when the people of Dominica will have had the opportunity to exercise their democratic right by means of a general election and of passing judgment, as we are so thankful to be able to do in this country, on their present rulers.

11.13 p.m.


My Lords, first of all I should like to join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, on raising this important issue on which he is so knowledgeable and perceptive. I would not have presumed to intervene in this debate were it not for the fact that I think I am one of the relatively few Members of your Lordships' House who have had the privilege of visiting Dominica, that hauntingly beautiful yet sadly impoverished island. I hasten to add that I have no interest whatsoever in the country. The poverty of which I spoke a moment ago is consequent upon the beauty, in that the exceptionally high rainfall which is responsible for the lushness of the landscape at the same time washes away the roads and makes communications extremely difficult; as do the 365 rivers—one for each day of the year—of which the islanders are so proud, and rightly so. Furthermore, the rugged terrain, dramatic though it is, makes cultivation extremely difficult. Indeed, only 22 per cent, of the land area is under cultivation.

This poverty is all the more glaring when Dominica is contrasted not with formerly British West Indian territories or countries but with its immediate neighbours, Guadeloupe to the north and Martinique to the south. This is partly because their topography and micro-climate (if that is the right word) are more favourable from the economic angle, if not from the aesthetic point of view, than those of Dominica, but mainly because these two islands are legally Départements of France and as such are heavily subsidised by the metropolitan Power. The option of integration was never open to the Dominicans, though as the island changed hands between the British and the French no fewer than five times between 1759 and 1805, it is ironical to think that this option might have been available if the island had changed hands just one more time.

But that is all in the past. The important thing is the future. Given Dominica's geographical and, to a lesser extent, historical disadvantages, it is surely up to us, particularly those of us who have developed a fascination and indeed an affection for the land and its people, to do the best we can, given the limitations imposed upon us by Dominica's internal self-governing status, to see that the island's future economic and political development is on the most beneficial lines possible.

As various noble Lords have said, the people of the country have a right to independence: provided they know what it entails, provided that individual rights are safeguarded (so far as Britain is able to ensure that), and provided that the majority of the people are demonstrably and unequivocally in favour of independence. But how many Dominicans are aware of the true costs of full independence? How many realise that the cost to Barbados, a country not far to the south, of maintaining a Diplomatic Service works out at 6 million dollars per annum? That equals approximately 24 dollars per head of the population. However, the cost of the Diplomatic Service remains much the same, whatever the population of a given territory. So in Dominica's case it would work out at approximately 76 dollars a head—rather a lot for a small, poorish country, I suggest.

How many realise that upon full independence the Privy Council would no longer be the final court of appeal? How many realise that if individual rights are not safeguarded the technical, professional and managerial classes may well emigrate, as indeed they have done from elsewhere in the Caribbean, to the very great detriment of the countries concerned? In that case who is likely to step in to fill the gap? It could be New York or Miami gambling interests, who are wont to scour the Caribbean in search of soft havens where they can set up a base for their somewhat sordid activities, and who may or may not have Mafia connections. More likely it will be those of a certain Caribbean island which has been in the habit recently of sending its personnel to various parts of the world; indeed to Africa and the Arabian peninsula as well as closer to home—whether invited or uninvited.

Then with regard to the question of safeguards: so far as the draft Constitution is concerned is not the Opposition Party reasonable in demanding that the President of an independent Dominica should not be an appointee of the Prime Minister, and in demanding, for example, that the offices of Attorney General and Director of Public Prosecutions be kept separate? Is there not something to be said for proportional representation? I am not myself an enthusiast for proportional representation so far as the United Kingdom is concerned; I do not think it is necessary. But the situation in the Caribbean is somewhat different. The noble Lord, Lord Vernon, and I think the noble Lord, Lord McNair, drew attention to the curious results in Dominica which were produced by a first-past-the-post system. One can think of a larger country in the Caribbean which has recently had an election, where the majority Party got 80 per cent. of the seats, albeit with only just over 50 per cent. of the popular vote. This had nothing to do with gerrymandering; it just so happened that the results were remarkably consistent over the constituencies and the majority Party got a small majority in almost every constituency. None the less, the end result was that the composition of Parliament did not reflect the general will of the electorate.

Finally, as to whether there is an unequivocal demand for full independence, this has not been demonstrated. It was not an issue at the last General Election, and therefore I submit that the present Assembly is not morally competent to take such a decision. I contend that the issue should be decided after the next General Election, which after all must take place some time within the next twenty-one months, or better still, as other noble Lords have suggested, after a referendum.

11.20 p.m.


My Lords, I have a special interest in this issue as I was the author of the Labour Party pamphlet, Policy for the Association of Smaller Territories, with the invaluable assistance of the late Mr. Justice Ungoed-Thomas and of the noble Lord, Lord Gordon-Walker. It was from that committee work and the publication of the pamphlet that the West Indies Act, 1967 arose. Neither in the policy document nor in that Act was there ever any question whatever but that the people of an associated territory had an absolute right to demand and receive their independence at their will. The only purpose of modifying independence temporarily was to allow the smaller territories not to have to bear the brunt of defence and foreign affairs for a very short time. That right has not been challenged tonight. What has been challenged is the method by which that right should be established, and probably without full knowledge a great deal of what has been heard tonight has arisen out of the political situation and the political propaganda of Dominica itself.

So far as my information goes, the negotiations between the Dominica Government and Her Majesty's Government have been conducted with the utmost propriety; a constitutional conference has been held at which both Parties in Dominica agreed to independence; a draft Constitution has been drawn up and fully discussed throughout Dominica, by individuals and by associations; compromise has been made by the present Dominica Government to the Opposition in matters like the republican constitution, the unicameral arrangement; and a further conference has been held with Her Majesty's Government.

I am sure that noble Lords will not expect the Minister or Her Majesty's Government to give a clear and definitive answer on their timing of independence for Dominica, for it is unfortunate that we are debating this matter just two weeks before the Dominica House of Assembly itself is due to debate it. What I would therefore suggest is that, having aired these various views tonight, we ask Her Majesty's Government if it would not be proper now to leave this matter until it has been fully debated in the Dominica House of Assembly by the elected representatives of the Dominica people, elected on a Manifesto which included the claim of independence.

As the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, has pointed out, there are two methods by which Dominica can attain independence. One is through the passage of a Bill by two-thirds majority in the House, followed by a referendum—that is Section 10(1) of the West Indies Act, 1967; or by Order in Council of Her Majesty's Government—that is subsection (2) of Section 10. I suggest very strongly to Her Majesty's Government and to this House that Section 10(2) is by far the more appropriate and the more constructive in the present situation in Dominica, and for the following reason: We have heard a great deal of political propaganda concerning the internal affairs of Dominica auring the debate tonight. However, we are not responsible for the internal affairs of Dominica and we have not been since the Act of 1967.

I say to my noble friend Lord Segal that it is not our responsibility as to whether the Dominican people invite Cubans or any other people to their island. I have spent a great deal of time in the past few years in Jamaica and can tell my noble friend that if the Dominicans receive the assistance from Cuban doctors, Cuban engineers and Cuban dam builders that the Jamaicans have received, they will be very fortunate. What possible military value could Dominica have to the Castro régime in Cuba?


My Lords, I hope that my noble friend will forgive me for interrupting him, but will he explain to the House what possible value Angola and Ethiopia may have to Castro?


My Lords, certainly. As regards Angola, it is now established that the Angolan MPLA asked for the assistance of Cubans after interference by the CIA from Washington and after the invasion by South African troops. However, I shall not be led any further in that direction in this debate. It is not for us to use patronising tones and to tell the Dominicans who they should invite to their island. Dominica, like all the other associated territories, is completely independent, with the exception of those reserved sections which at present largely consist of defence and foreign affairs. What happens within Dominica is the responsibility, and has been the responsibility for 11 years, of the Dominicans.

I strongly suggest that Section 10(2) is appropriate in this instance, because if a referendum were to be held in Dominica or if a General Election were to be held on this issue, two things would follow. First, the divisive effect of politics within Dominica itself would be deepened and there might well be an outbreak of violence during either a referendum or a General Election. Secondly—and this should concern this House in particular—a referendum of that character would almost certainly become an anti-British referendum: it would be a referendum for or against Britain, which I am certain is the last thing that any noble Lord in this House would wish.

Therefore, I suggest to my noble friend the Minister that, when he and his colleagues come to discuss this matter within the Foreign Office once it is established that the draft Constitution has been approved by the House in Dominica itself, the Order in Council should be used—which I believe will be brought to this House and to another place for further debate—rather than the divisive methods of either a referendum or another election on the issue of independence. The issue of independence has been settled; now it is up to the Dominicans themselves to decide what form that independence should take.

11.30 p.m.


My Lords, I do not propose to enter into the fundamental discussion which has taken place. It is enough for me that Associated States have the right to choose independence. It is enough for me to know that both the Government Party and the Opposition Party in Dominica have declared for independence. I do not believe there is any doubt that if a referendum took place on the issue of independence there would be an overwhelming majority in its favour.

What has been behind some of the speeches tonight—and I do not refer to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Vernon—is the internal policy within Dominica itself. That is a matter for the Dominican people. It is not a matter for our delaying the independence. But in the brief time that I shall speak, I want to raise with Her Majesty's Government one incidental issue. It is the issue of dual nationality. Surely that should be a matter for negotiation between Her Majesty's Government and the Dominican Government. At present dual nationality is denied; that is to say, the 15,000 Dominicans who are in this country would have to choose either to become a citizen of this country or to become a citizen of Dominica.

Many of them have been here for 20 years. They have paid taxation to this country. If they decided to become citizens of Dominica and dual nationality was not allowed, they would lose many of the rights which citizens have in this country. They would lose, for example, the right, which one has in the European Community, of travel and taking work abroad. On the other hand, if they decided to become British citizens and not Dominican citizens, they would lose their rights in their homeland; they would be aliens in their own land. I am asking Her Majesty's Government to negotiate with the Government of Dominica so that dual nationality, of both this country and of Dominica, may be allowed.

There are many precedents for that. The United States of America and Canada have allowed it after five years' residence in their territory; many of the Caribbean countries—for example, Trinidad, as well as Guyana—admit this. Although I am all in favour of the Order in Council giving independence to Dominica, I am asking Her Majesty's Government to negotiate with the Dominican Government so that the Dominicans in this country may have that dual membership which is so frequently allowed and which I believe would mean liberty for the 15,000 Dominicans who are in this land.

11.35 p.m.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, the debate which we have had so far this evening is the kind of debate that can really best be held in your Lordships' House. All those who have spoken have done so with great knowledge, experience and feeling on a matter which is not only of vital importance to Her Majesty's Government and to Her Majesty's Opposition, but more particularly to the 75,000 or 80,000 subjects of Dominica who are looking forward to independence. I should particularly like to thank my noble friend Lord Vernon, who I am sure everybody will agree has presented a case most fairly and given an excellent backcloth to the subject that we are speaking about this evening.

We have to remember that the bold words of independence no longer mean release from the yoke of a colonialist or imperialist Power, but a struggle in a cold, interdependent, economic world where no one, whether it be the United Kingdom or Dominica, can survive economically without the possibility of commercial or trade relations and external financial support. This is now a universal condition that all of us have to face, and it will have to be faced by Dominica just as it is faced by this country.

On independence Dominica will hopefully become a member of the Lomé Convention, and will get support from the European Community. I should be happy if the noble Lord the Minister of State could confirm that this opportunity will be available to Dominica. Secondly, it will also have the possibility, if it has the financial resources and support, to become a Member of the United Nations in due course. It will be one more voice added to the more than 150 sovereign States already in that organisation.

To the people of Dominica the political benefits of independence may be quite great, but subject always to the possibility of the citizens being able to retain their freedom of action under a beneficial Constitution, and to receive the kind of economic assistance which will enable them to develop economically and socially in accordance with their own potential, and at the same time retain a measure of freedom and control over their own destiny.

There have been certain remarks made this evening which I would question. There has been a certain accusation that we are to some extent interfering in the internal affairs of Dominica. But the kind of Constitution that Dominica will have is our concern. We are handing over, after all, freedom of government to a country for which we have been responsible for many decades. We have been responsible for its defence and its foreign relations, which are major matters for any country, however big or however small. It is essential that if a country is to survive in this world it must have a Constitution which is not only worthy of its people but will enable it to carry on in a democratic tradition. So I would not say that the concern which has been shown tonight over the type of Constitution that Dominica is to have is interfering in its internal affairs.

There are some questions I should like to put to the Minister of State. If he cannot answer them now, I would await a written reply. But knowing the preparation that the Minister always makes for these debates, I am certain that he will be able to give us an answer this evening. The first point is that if an Order in Council is to be brought before both Houses, as I understand it is the intention of the Government to do in the future, it must clearly be shown beyond a shadow of doubt that Dominica wants independence at this present time. I should therefore like to know from the Government by what means they will be able to show to both Houses that this is so.

One question that I had put to the Minister of State earlier in the year has already been referred to by my noble friend Lord Vernon, but I should refer to another which was put down by the noble Lord, Lord Segal, on the 29th November last year. The noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, said: We have engaged in seeking reports on the state of opinion in that country. When we receive the two reports to which I have referred, Her Majesty's Government will be in a position to decide, among other things, whether we follow one or other of the suggestions already made in this House ".—(Official Report, 29/11/77, col. 1087.) I should therefore like to know whether those two reports are available or will be made available to Parliament. Presumably they are reports from the Government representative and a civil servant who went there quite recently to find out the feeling of the people of Dominica, and I am sure the House would be grateful for information on the views contained in those reports.

Thirdly, I should like information in regard to the draft Constitution. Several noble Lords have tonight referred to Miss Charles, the Leader of the Opposition, who has obviously taken a keen interest and shown great initiative and energy in trying to get a draft Constitution which at any rate she and her Party believe would be to the benefit of the people of Dominica. There seem to be three sticking points: first, in regard to the election of the President; secondly, in regard to the composition of the electoral committee; and thirdly, a public service commission. I should like to know what prospects there are of arriving at some sort of compromise with the Opposition on those three sticking points, which might well be a major contribution to the settling of a dispute between the Parties and reaching a satisfactory and concerted demand for independence at a comparatively early stage.

Fourthly, are the Government certain that by a vote in the House of Assembly in Dominica there would be evidence which would show that the majority of the people want independence on the conditions which would be put to the House of Assembly? The noble Lord, Lord McNair, and others have referred not only to the electoral system but to the result of the elections and, from the figures I have, it is clear that the five seats which were won, three by the Freedom Party and two by Independents, together represent the majority of the votes. I understand that the Labour Party had 46 per cent. to 47 per cent., the Freedom Party 30 per cent. and the Independents 17 per cent. That was of the votes cast; that is, 47 per cent. of the five seats and 46 per cent. representing the 16 seats. So by whatever means the votes are taken in the House of Assembly, unless there is a unanimous vote, or the Independents vote with the Labour Party, there is clear evidence that the electorate itself, in so far as it is represented in that House, is not in favour.

Further, if one takes the figures of the lists of all registered voters, the difference is even more striking, because I understand—I may be wrong and I am subject to correction; I am referring to the last General Election, in 1975—that 36 per cent. voted for the Labour Party, 24 per cent. for the Freedom Party and 13 per cent. for the Independents. That makes 37 per cent. as against 36 per cent. So whichever way one takes it—and I am of course juggling with the figures—the voters have shown a preference for the five as opposed to the 16, and it would take a lot of convincing if the votes in the House of Assembly in regard to the Constitution were to go 16 to five.

People in this country concerned with this matter and the people of Dominica would want to be convinced more strongly that independence is wanted now and on the terms which the British Government are offering. Therefore, the only other consideration will be this. If and when Dominica should gain independence, what will be the economic conditions under which she will have to work? I do not know whether the Minister can give us some indication of the kind of economic assistance that will come from this country, and say whether it would not be better to come through the European Development Fund rather than in direct grants from here. I have been given to understand that sums received from the European Development Fund have already been used with great benefit in Dominica. That might possibly be a better way of ensuring some economic support for the country. I should be grateful for some information on that subject.

Defence, a major issue, was raised. I should be grateful if the Minister could touch on that subject and say whether any discussions have been undertaken with the United States or possibly with the French Government—Dominica is, after all, a neighbour of Guadeloupe and Martinique—as to what kind of defence system they imagine will he afforded to Dominica, because it is presumably fairly certain that Dominica will not he able to afford a defence contribution.

I refer to The Times of October last year, when there was a strike among the Civil Service. When the Government were asked about the pay for the Civil Service, and why the pay had not been handed over to the civil servants, the reply was that the Government did not contest the basic claim but simply did not have the money. If we are handing over independence to a country in this economic plight it is surely for us to see that it will be able to meet its obligations to its own citizens in both economic terms and defence terms as well as in political terms. I should like to add my voice to that of my noble friend Lord Vernon in putting the Question to the Minister.

11.48 p.m.


My Lords, this has been an interesting and extremely useful debate. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Vernon, for making this discussion possible, and also to my noble friend Lord Hatch of Lusby for warning the House that I should not be in a position to pronounce on Government policy this evening. Nevertheless, the considerable interest in this Question which has arisen in this House and in the other place has already convinced the Government that they should take the somewhat exceptional step of publishing, indeed, on Wednesday next, 5th July, the report of the senior official from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who recently specially visited Dominica in order to ascertain so far as possible what the state of opinion was—is—in that island, and to make recommendations to Her Majesty's Government. I believe that that report. prepared by Mr. Posnett, a distinguished member of the Diplomatic Service and a barrister of considerable experience and power, will shed a great deal of light on some of the matters which noble Lords, and indeed the noble Baroness, have raised this evening. I do not propose to go into them in much detail at this stage.

Section 10(1) of the West Indies Act was designed to support the movement in the Eastern Caribbean towards some form of regional association. However, as we know, progress towards a form of regional association has not been as rapid as once we hoped. In the meantime, States of comparable size, or indeed of smaller size and resources, have achieved independence and have been admitted to the United Nations. The desire to continue to work towards regional association is of course still strong in the Eastern Caribbean, and it will certainly continue to be the policy of the British Government to foster that trend in every way possible.

However, most of the Governments of the Associated States now consider that their progress to independence should not be delayed further, and hold the view—as my noble friend Lord Brockway made clear in an impactive contribution—that it would be unreasonable if the existence of Section 10(1) of the Act were to be allowed to become an obstacle to separate independence. They are supported in this view by the Governments of the Caribbean Community. The British Government accept these views, and indeed believe that separate independence for the Associated States could provide a greater stimulus to regional co-operation than the existing Constitutional Arrangements; that is, continued association with the United Kingdom.

The principal aim of the West Indies Act was to create a new relationship of a voluntary nature which, unlike the colonial relationship, could be terminated by either side acting unilaterally; but there was certainly no intention to prevent the termination of the association by mutual agreement. It is therefore entirely proper, as the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, pointed out, that the British Government should use Section 10(2) of the Act to terminate association at the request of an Associated State Government when there is reason to believe that such a step is not opposed by the majority of the population, and where proper Constitutional provision has been agreed with the Government of the State, after full consultation with the official Opposition, and other interested groups.

I turn now to a number of specific points made by noble Lords during the debate. At this late hour I cannot hope to address myself to every one of them, but there are one or two points I should mention. There has been an allegation of incompetence, and even worse, on the part of the Government of Dominica. I think that noble Lords will be able to form a clearer judgment of such allegations when they have read Mr. Posnett's report. However, I should remind the House that domestic political questions in Dominica are not the responsibility of the British Government; nor the responsibility of this House or the other place. Internal self-government is internal self-government, and we must be very careful that we do not, as it were, reach out for some semblance of our past monitoring function in regard to some of these territories. Dominica has enjoyed full internal self-government for a considerable time, and indeed has had delegated to it essential control over its external relations—

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, may I intervene for just a minute? Of course I accept what the noble Lord says about the responsibilities regarding the internal affairs of Dominica being with the Dominicans. However, would not the noble Lord agree that where there is any doubt about, or possible accusation of, any infringement of rights of an individual, which, as I understood it, was being put forward, that is no longer an internal affair, but is of universal interest?


Yes, my Lords, I entirely agree: if there were such an infringement in any country in the world, including our own, it would have its international implication and connotation. I shall come to the draft Constitution in a moment—a draft which, as the noble Baroness knows, includes a very powerful section about basic freedoms. I will not go into any detail as to the correspondence which has ensued between my honourable friend the Joint Minister of State and the leader of the Dominica Opposition, Miss Charles. I believe Miss Charles's letter, which sets out her case in detail, has been copied fairly widely among Members of Parliament and elsewhere, and it may well be that public currency might be considered for the reply of my honourable friend the Minister to the points she has raised. I will consider that aspect of the matter. I can certainly assure the House that the case of the Opposition on the Constitution has been very carefully and very fully considered. The noble Baroness asked me a number of questions, and I hope to be able to satisfy her on that aspect of the matter, with the others, before I finish my remarks.

My noble friend Lord Segal suggested that, in some way, Cuba poses a threat to Dominica. I can only say that Her Majesty's Government are aware of no evidence to support this claim; and, as has been said in this debate, relations between Dominica and Cuba after independence are, of course, a matter for the Government of Dominica to consider. I have no doubt at all that the long and close friendship between Dominica and the United Kingdom will continue after independence; and so will the more practical forms of encouragement and friendship we have hitherto extended to that country continue after independence. This brings me to a number of points raised by the noble Baroness, in particular the very important point she raised about the economic prospects of Dominica when it proceeds to independence. As she said, it will accede to the Lomé Convention. The position of Dominica at the moment as an associatee, of course, is substantially the same, by way of what will accrue to her, as it will be under the Lomé Convention. Nevertheless, the noble Baroness is quite right: she will accede to the Lomé arrangements, and that will be a reassurance to the new country. I entirely agree that there may well be opportunities of aid flowing from the Community through the European Development Fund: through her membership of the United Nations, if she chooses to apply for such membership; through (who knows?) her membership of the Commonwealth—and I have no doubt she will apply for such membership—and possibly from international organisations such as the IMF. The noble Baroness and I know of examples where newly-independent States of this kind have been helped—indeed, are now being helped—in a practical way by the IMF and similar organisations.

I was also asked from the Front Bench opposite whether, if an Order in Council is laid in both Houses, it would clearly be shown that Dominica really wants independence. This brings me squarely to the question, how to assess public opinion in this country, indeed in any country. We have very sparingly used in the United Kingdom the technique of the referendum. We have largely depended upon the evidence of General Elections, and General Elections held on the first-past-the-post system, as they do in Dominica. There have been suggestions about the reform of the Dominican method of election and, indeed, the Government there have proposed that four out of the five nominated Members should accrue to the Opposition—which is rather more than any Opposition could hope to achieve by PR.


The noble Lord says, "four out of five". Does he not mean "four out of nine "?


I am sorry. It is my imperfect Celtic diction, especially when I address myself to Caribbean affairs. I was making the point that while no country can lecture another on the best way to organise its electoral system, we can learn from each other, undoubtedly. The Dominican Government have proposed that four out of the nine nominated Members should accrue to the Opposition. I think that I have it right. I was making the point that under the single transferable vote, which is the purest form of proportional representation, an Opposition could not get more than four out of nine. In any case, the General Election of 1975—the last available example of the popular act of voting in Dominica—resulted, as we have seen, in a very large majority in the House of Assembly for the Government Party, the Labour Party, and, indeed, a very large majority, I would say, of the votes cast—unless you are going to count every one of the 17 per cent. who voted Independent squarely within the court of the largest Opposition Party, which is really rather a risky assumption to make when you are dealing with Independents and, may I, with due deference, say, "Liberals ".

So 46 per cent. or 47 per cent. should really be matched against 29 per cent. or 30 per cent. The probable direction of the other 17 per cent., if they are truly Independents, is, to say the least, problematical. They would have to show a remarkable un-independent degree of unanimity to be counted wholly with the main Opposition Party.

Baroness ELLES

The noble Lord will forgive my interruption. The fact is that the two Members who were voted by the 17 per cent. did vote with the Freedom Party, and make up five votes as against the 16. Obviously, one cannot say how the 17 per cent. would vote on any particular issue as they were Independent. Nevertheless, two representatives voted with the Freedom Party. I am sure the noble Lord will accept that.


Indeed they did. There were five votes out of 21 cast against the Government. I was addressing myself to the argument, repeatedly made by more than one speaker, that whatever happened in the House of Assembly we should count the votes in the country. I was counting them, at least as credibly as did the noble Baroness, by giving the two Independents their proper degree of independence.

The other point to take note of is that the Election was fought on a manifesto presented by the Government Party which included a clear commitment to the ending of association. We must therefore assume that because the others taking part in the election did not mention it, at least they had no very great objection to it. The manifesto, by making it a prominent part of the programme, obviously looked to an early implementation of independence or the end of association.

So all in all, we must reasonably accept that the people of Dominica have spoken fairly clearly in favour of independence and, I would say, as soon as possible. Indeed, both Miss Charles and the Premier have agreed that they are in favour of independence. If the question is one of timing, then I would suggest that we should pay appropriate regard for the views of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean States generally, who have indicated quite clearly that they wish to see the movement to independence proceed as quickly as possible.

The noble Baroness and others raised the question of the draft Constitution. I should like to pay tribute to Miss Charles's creditable efforts to obtain a satisfactory Constitution, and her contribution to the discussion and the arguments. It is unfortunately true that while the differences between the two Parties have gradually narrowed, I see no prospect of their further narrowing. This must be said. I hope very much that further thought and discussion between them will lead to an even greater consensus.

As to citizenship—an extremely important point raised by my noble friend Lord Brockway—there are no differences between Her Majesty's Government and the Dominica Government or between the Dominica Government and the Opposition over the proposed citizenship provisions. I am tempted to quote from the summary of proposals for an independent Constitution for Dominica on this point. I will content myself by referring the noble Lord, and indeed your Lordships generally because of the importance of this point, to paragraphs 27 and 28 of the summary of proposals. My noble friend and the entire House will find that the proper concern so clearly expressed by my noble friend is fully met in those two paragraphs.

The noble Lord, Lord Vernon, in what I would describe, without presumption, as an excellent opening speech, queried whether the Opposition have had or are having a fair share of radio time. Here again, I am afraid that we must insist that an internally self-governing country must be assumed to he regulating its own internal affairs. The allocation of radio time, and the organisation of balanced opportunities for public opinion, is clearly part of that internal functioning. It is worth pointing out that the whole of the House of Assembly debate on the question of the termination of association was broadcast live. That is something that we have not done in this country yet. It is possibly a proposal which a great many people might approach with qualified enthusiasm.

I have referred to the questions relating to electoral reform which the noble Lords, Lord Monson and Lord McNair, and others, referred to. I think there was some suggestion of electoral malpractices. Here again, I think one will await the publication of Mr. Posnett's report because when it appears in a day or two it will have something to say on this subject—


My Lords, would the noble Lord permit me to interrupt him for a moment? He has mentioned several times the report of Mr. Posnett. Could he tell the House how long Mr. Posnett spent in Dominica, and whether he toured the whole island or remained in the capital of Roseau?


I think the best person to answer that question is Mr. Posnett himself. I do not think the noble Lord or anyone else will have more than a day or two to wait before he can consult the book rather than the crystal—literally so. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, asked whether on independence the Privy Council will or will not be the final court of appeal. The Judicial Committee will continue to be the final court of appeal. I think it was also the noble Lord who asked whether the President would be an appointee of the Premier. That is not what is proposed. The President will either be appointed by mutual agreement or by secret vote in the House of Assembly.

I end this rather long reply to a debate which covered many more points than I had anticipated, with this assurance. It is our policy, of course, to advance Associated States to full independence as swiftly as possible. They are not in the same position as what we call "independent Territories". They are Associated States who are voluntarily in association with us, and in many cases essentially in a position of quasi-independence already. We wish to advance them to full formal independence as soon as possible. That is their wish and the wish of their neighbours. We shall need to take a decision very soon. We are in a position to do so. We have the reports—by the way, the other report is that of the diplomatic representative and normally would not be published, as the noble Baroness knows. The report of the other representative, as I have said, will be published. We are in a position to decide. We may be in a position to decide very quickly indeed: I hope so.

In conclusion, I will say simply this. If Her Majesty's Government were to decide to terminate association— and I believe they will do so—the required procedure would be to present a draft order to both Houses for debate on an Affirmative Resolution. So there is nothing at the moment which is irrevocable. It is perfectly possible to debate this matter fully on the required order being presented to this House, as to the other place.