§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Lord Skelmersdale rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 25th April be approved.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, nearly two years ago I had the honour of seeking your Lordships' approval of a draft Order in Council which made Antigua and Babuda a fully independent nation within the Commonwealth. She had previously been a West Indian Associated State under the West Indies Act 1967. Today it falls to me to ask your Lordships to approve another draft Order in Council confirming the same status on St. Kitts and Nevis, the sixth and last of the Associated States in the Eastern Caribbean to achieve this momentous step forward in the history of a people.358
§ It is proposed that this order, which will be made under Section 10(2) of the Act, should come into effect on 19th September this year. Thereupon the islands of Saint Christopher and Nevis will become a fully independent sovereign federal domocratic state which should be described as the Federation of Saint Christopher and Nevis (of St. Kitts and Nevis) or simply Saint Christopher and Nevis (or St. Kitts and Nevis). Her Majesty the Queen will be head of the independent state. Under normal circumstances I would have waxed lyrical and eulogised on the beauty of the two islands and the long historical association between these islands and the United Kingdom, but in the event I think that perhaps it is better if I restrain myself.
§ The West Indies Act 1967 created the concept of associated statehood. This enabled certain small territories in the Eastern Caribbean, which were not then ready to move to full independence, to be given full internal self-government. The United Kingdom retained responsibility only for defence and external affairs, although certain of the latter responsibilities were also delegated to the Associated States' Governments. There has been a steady movement on the part of these states, over the past nine years, towards full independence.
§ The House of Assembly of St. Christopher and Nevis has by way of resolution requested termination under Section 10(2) of the 1967 Act, and there is no reason not to accede to that request. This is the same method as has been followed in the transition to independence of the other five former Associated States.
§ British policy on the application of this section of the 1967 Act has been consistent under successive Governments. Provided that two particular criteria are met, we are prepared to move the necessary order. These criteria are: first, that it is demonstrated to our satisfaction that independence is the wish of the majority of the people in the state; and, secondly, that the independence constitution properly protects the rights and freedoms of these people. I am satisfied that both criteria have been met. A constitutional conference was held at Lancaster House in December under the chairmanship of my honourable friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. I was a regular attender at it. The coalition Government of St. Kitts and Nevis, led by Premier Dr. Simmonds, and an opposition delegation, led by Mr. Moore, participated.
§ The draft before the conference had been prepared by the state Government and embodied proposals which were published in July 1982, subsequently discussed fully in the Associated State and approved by the state's House of Assembly in October. My honourable friend visited the islands later in October to meet the political leaders and to familiarise himself with the issues. He was entirely satisfied that all the political parties there were agreed on the principle of independence and that this was the wish of the majority of the people.
§ The constitutional conference produced a report which was a thoroughly considered basis for a constitution. Regrettably the opposition delegation felt that the proposals they put before the conference were not adequately discussed, and they participated intermit- 359 tently, not taking part in the signing ceremony. I am satisfied, however, that their criticisms of the manner in which the conference was conducted were unjustified. When the St. Kitts and Nevis Government delegation were presented with reasoned, careful and constructive criticisms of the draft constitution they showed that they were prepared to go a considerable way towards meeting the opposition's point of view.
§ The opposition had full opportunity to present their own proposals as well as to comment in detail on the draft constitution before the conference. The final version of the constitution, which incorporated amendments made in the light of conference decisions, was debated over a period of three days in the St. Christopher and Nevis House of Assembly. The constitution was then approved by a resolution of St. Kitts and Nevis House of Assembly, a copy of which I have had placed in the Library of this House.
§ The proposed constitution is similar to those under which the other Associated States became independent. In the opening statements by the premier and the leader of the opposition it rapidly bcame apparent that the possible secession of Nevis was still, after many years, a bone of contention. This is why it contains a number of novel features in that it contains provisions for the automony of Nevis within the federation, and for secession of Nevis from the federation. The provisions for Nevis to secede would require the introduction and the passage of a Bill in the Nevis Assembly supported by a two-thirds majority of the elected members. This would subsequently need to be approved by a referendum in Nevis by not less than two-thirds of the votes cast by persons registered on the parliamentary electoral roll there.
§ Further provisions would ensure that adequate notification of the proposals for separation, including the proposals for its future constitution, would be given to enable proper discussion and explanation to take place. Arrangements would be made for independent and impartial observers appointed by an independent international body to observe the procedures involved in the referendum and to report publicly on the manner in which it had been carried out. The provisions for the Nevis legislature and administration, the financial provisions and the right of secession will be entrenched in the constitution. For this reason we are confident that the interests of the people of Nevis have been safeguarded.
§ St. Kitts and Nevis will be the first dependent territory to become independent after the entry into force of the British Nationality Act 1981 on 1st January 1983. Those who were formerly citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies by virtue of a connection with St. Kitts and Nevis become British dependent territories citizens under the 1981 Act. They will become citizens of Saint Christopher and Nevis on independence day, when they will lose their British dependent territories citizenship unless they qualify for retention of that citizenship by virtue of a connection with a remaining dependency. No one will lose British citizenship as a result of the independence of St. Kitts and Nevis.
§ As the wish of the majority of the people of St. Kitts and Nevis is for independence, it is encumbent upon us to respond now to that wish. With full indepen- 360 dence, the state of St. Kitts and Nevis will be able further to develop its co-operation with neighbouring states, notably within the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, in the activities of which an independent St. Kitts and Nevis will be able to play a full part. This will be an important contribution to the stability of the region.
§ Aid to St. Kitts and Nevis will continue after independence and we shall be discussing a suitable aid package with the St. Kitts-Nevis Government once this order is approved. We hope and expect that aid to St. Kitts and Nevis from other sources will increase as a result of independence.
§ Finally, I am happy to inform the House that the St. Kitts and Nevis Government have announced their intention to apply for membership of the Commonwealth. We look forward to continuing our links with them within the Commonwealth. I know that the good wishes of the House will go to the Government and people of St. Kitts and Nevis as they approach their independence, an important stage in their development. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 25th April be approved.—(Lord Skelmersdale.)
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, we are very grateful to the noble Lord for explaining the order to us. We are all concerned to ensure that the islands, which have been so closely associated with this country for so long, will enjoy a successful and prosperous future.
I read the report of the constitutional conference to which the noble Lord has referred with great interest. I noted that there were some acute disagreements in the discussions which took place in December. The experience is that each of these islands in the Caribbean (some of them very small) has its own identity and its own ethos and that its people are sensitive about amalgamation and about constitutions in general. Being an islander myself, and having represented an island in another place for nearly 30 years, I can fully understand this attitude. There were many times when I felt, in frustration, that Anglesey should declare UDI. I can therefore well understand that there could be disagreement between the various parties. There is no difference of opinion about independence. The arguments over the constitutional arrangements—and these are sincere and deeply held—are profound. It is clear that doubts still remain, notwithstanding what the noble Lord has said.
I have read the petition presented to Her Majesty the Queen by the St. Kitt's Labour Party, and I would refer to some of the points in it. They have of course argued for a federal form of government but not of the type which has now been agreed by Her Majesty's Government. What the St. Kitts Labour Party have been pressing for is a federal form with two subordinate legislatures. They say:The chief defect is simply this. No provision whatever has been made for any local Government or elected political institutions of any kind in the Island of St. Christopher, apart from the Federal Parliament".361 They argue that Nevis is being granted an assembly with wide autonomous powers (with a Lieutenant Governor and a Premier) out of all proportion to its population, Nevis being much smaller than St. Kitts. They make the point that:the proposed Constitution locks the people of St. Christopher, a sugar island, into a straitjacket, of which Nevis, with no interest in sugar, is given the key".They also say that representation in the single chamber legislature is unfairly weighted in favour of Nevis:an island with one fifth of the voters electing not less, but possibly more, than one third of the representatives".As the noble Lord is aware, they ask for independence to be withheld until the constitution is amended to provide for a sub-legislature for St. Kitts on the lines of Nevis. That is the nub of the case of the St. Kitts Labour Party.
The key question is whether there is adequate evidence that the electors of St. Kitts are in favour of the constitution. At what stage did it become clear to Her Majesty's Government that the majority of the population, or of the electors, of St. Christopher were in favour of this particular constitution? That is the requirement of Section 10(2) of the West Indies Act 1967, as the noble Lord is aware. I am informed—perhaps the noble Lord can confirm or deny this—that there remains substantial opposition to the constitution. I refer specifically to page 19 of the White Paper, which summarises the objections and gives details of the objectors. It seems to me that this is a formidable opposition and that it is incumbent on the noble Lord to explain to the House how the Government have been able to come to these present conclusions in the face of this opposition.
I have received representations myself. If I may, I will read a paragraph from one letter from a native of the island. He says:The chief defect of the proposed constitution is that there is no provision for any elected representative body for St. Kitts itself other than the Federal Assembly, while Nevis would have its own separate legislature.This inferior position in the new Federal State is not one from which St. Kitts can escape by secession, though secession is to be allowed to Nevis"—this is a point that the noble Lord made clearly in his speech. Thus the proposed constitution locks the people of St. Kitts, as I said before, into the straitjacket which I described. The letter goes on:At this late stage it may suffice to insert in the proposed constitution a provision that there should be an Assembly for St. Kitts, which should hold its first meeting within 12 months of the next elections".The proposal made by this correspondent would be supported by the St. Kitts Labour Party. As this is the final stage of debate on this matter in Parliament, I think it right that I should summarise the case made by the petitioners, and I invite the noble Lord to reply to it.
Before I conclude, may I say how much I welcome that section of the conference conclusions which deals with the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms. I refer particularly to paragraph 11(a) of the White Paper. I think that this is sufficiently important for me to quote it:Provision would be made on the lines of the existing constitution for the protection of individual human rights. Additions to the 362 existing constitutional provisions would include provision for the right of a person to belong to a political party or other political association and protection of the individual against discrimination on grounds of sex or birth out of wedlock, as well as race, place of origin, political opinions or affiliations, colour or creed".It is one of the tragedies of our time that these words and all that they imply are frequently flouted and disregarded. But they are fundamental and there can be no civilised existence without them. I hope that the current disagreements can be swiftly resolved. I was glad to hear the noble Lord say that the matter of aid is to be a subject of discussion very soon. I hope therefore that these two islands will have a successful and happy history.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Lord Pitt of Hampstead
My Lords, this will be a very historic moment for your Lordships' House. I hope that your Lordships realise it. Although much history has been seen here, with the independence of St. Kitts/Nevis we are seeing what is virtually the end of the British Empire. St. Kitts/Nevis has the distinction of having been the first British colony in the Caribbean, and, as your Lordships can see, it is almost the last. It is certainly the last of the Associated States.
Seven years ago the attempt began to bring the three islands, St. Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla, into independence. This was led by the late and much lamented premier Robert Bradshaw. After years of discussion, for better or for worse, Anguilla was in 1979 hived off. The process of attaining independence then continued for the two states of St. Kitts and Nevis. Then, of course, a perceptible change was made. Nevis did not wish to enter into independence with St. Kitts. I well remember the leading members of the Nevis Reform Party, who are now Ministers in the Government, coming here to try to persuade me to support them in their claim. They were interested either in separate independence or remaining a colony like Anguilla. To the credit of the British Government—I have to give them credit—they were never encouraged in this secession.
In the Caribbean democracy still prevails. At the last election the Labour Party in St. Kitts-Nevis was defeated. It is worth remembering—this is vital to what is going on and to what may happen in the future—that although the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party lost the election in St. Kitts-Nevis, it won the election in St. Kitts. The consequence was a coalition between the minority party in St. Kitts and the two elected members from Nevis who were committed to secession. They won the election on a programme of secession. That does not necessarily invalidate what has happened. It is very much to the credit of Her Majesty's Government that they were unwilling to allow this state to go to independence as a result of secession. They encouraged the two parties to come together and work together in the coalition to form a Government and to seek independence as one state.
The Nevis Reformation Party was not prepared to go into independence except with an assurance that if working together became imposible it could secede. The issues were therefore resolved by an agreement to draft a constitution that would give Nevis adequate representation in the central Parliament, a local assembly and the right to secede. Thus, all Nevis's worries were assuaged. The present Opposition did not 363 disagree on the matter of independence. In fact, they were proposing independence themselves. But they certainly disagreed with the method by which the state should go into independence. The Opposition affirmed that the present constitutional structure in which the country was going into independence was likely to make for fragmentation. Their solution, with which I would not agree, either, was to do the fragmenting now. They felt that since, in effect, Nevis was going to secede anyway, it might just as well secede now rather than have a few years in which it ruled St. Kitts and then secede.
It is therefore important to note that while the claims of Nevis have been met in full, St. Kitts now feels cheated. That is the problem with which we are faced. I have received many representations, among them one from Brian King. It is funny that someone should ask who Brian King was, because he was a fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge. He has been a lecturer in jurisprudence at Cambridge for several years. He is a native of St. Kitts and only recently retired there. He was around here much of the time and attended most of the constitutional conferences relating to other Caribbean countries. I was therefore most amused when I was asked who Brian King was.
Brian King was most concerned about this issue. He made many representations to me. The suggestion mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, is in fact a solution that he believes can be applied now and can work; that is to say, there should be an assembly for St. Kitts and a proper Senate in which the two islands are equally represented. This would permit a proper federation rather than a country that can be described as a federation of St. Christopher-Nevis or St. Kitts-Nevis. Let it be a federation, and, if a federation, let it be a real federation in which there is a federal House with all the powers including states assemblies in St. Kitts and Nevis and in which there is a Senate that equally represents the two states. That is the solution. It is still possible to get that solution agreed between now and 19th September, which is the date on which independence is scheduled.
St. Kitts is the oldest of the British colonies in the West Indies. It was settled a year before Barbados. Like most of the states in the Caribbean, it has witnessed the vicissitudes of British naval history during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. It is interesting to recall not only that the most distinguished sailor in British naval history lived in the Caribbean but that Nelson also married in Nevis. The United States of America also is right to be grateful to Nevis because one of the founders of its constitution, Alexander Hamilton, was born in Nevis. If one goes to Nevis, one can find a plaque to his memory.
On reading the constitution, I wondered whether that was the reason why Nevis was being so well favoured by the constitution. It could well be felt that Nevis is famous enough to deserve it. I am afraid, however, that this would be a terrible gamble. I have already pointed out that, although the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party lost the last election in St. Kitts-Nevis, it won the election in St. Kitts. It won four of the seven seats. If, at the next election, it wins five of the seven seats, there is a change. I presume, however, that the next election will be fought on the constitution that will involve 11 seats of which eight will be in St. Kitts. 364 It is still possible for the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party to win six of the eight seats. There was a time when it used to win all the seven seats. The whole issue therefore is adumbrated on something that could crumble in 1985.
There has to be an election in 1985. It is because I personally regard it as so dangerous that I hope that Her Majesty's Government will pause at this moment, think again and perhaps confer with the present Government of St. Kitts-Nevis, and put forward the suggestions that have been made. I cannot see that either the Nevis Reform Party or the People's Action Movement could object to this arrangement. It is an arrangement under which there would be a proper federal state with an assembly in St. Kitts, an assembly in Nevis and a federal House of Assembly in which both parties would be adequately represented. But in addition there would be a Senate in which they would be equally represented so that all the worries of Nevis could well be met and the worries of St. Kitts could also be met, and we would have a proper, well-constituted state. Therefore, I sincerely hope that even at this stage—because between May and September there is plenty of time—we can get this change effected so that St. Kitts-Nevis can go into independence without the problems that I personally at the moment foresee.
I have spoken for a long time on this subject, but I wish to make two further comments. When considering independence there are two matters as regards the Caribbean about which Her Majesty's Government need to concern themselves. The first is the security of the region, and the second is economics. I hope that the Government have taken cognisance of what the Eastern Caribbean is trying to do for itself by way of security. The Governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding whereby these parties agree to prepare a contingency plan to assist each other on request in natural emergencies; smuggling; search and rescue; immigration control; fisheries protection; offshore installation; pollution control; natural and other disasters and threats to national security. It is the general hope and belief that St. Kitts-Nevis would play a part in this as soon as she becomes independent.
It is also the hope of all the Caribbean Governments that Her Majesty's Government would do everything possible to encourage this joint venture, not only by "words of wisdom", but in a very practical way by perhaps assistance in procuring, as I must acknowledge Her Majesty's Government have done in respect of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in helping to secure patrol boats to scour the rather long distances between one island and another. This is an area in which we ought to play, and need to be seen to play, a major role.
As regards national security, the states have no intention of protecting themselves against foreign powers. They cannot do so—it would be practically impossible for them to do so. But they certainly feel that they could handle threats from marauders who endanger their immediate economic well-being. For this reason I hope that the Minister will inform the House whether Her Majesty's Government are prepared to keep a weathered eye on the area by way 365 of supporting whatever these newly emergent states can do for themselves as a measure of security. This is something that we can do and it is something that we must do.
As regards economics, the prime economic factor in St. Kitts-Nevis is sugar. There is a secondary industry which is very much in its infancy in those islands—namely, tourism. The Government there intend to pay attention to this matter. However, at this stage it will be of interest to point out that the exchange rate of the pound sterling to the dollar so adversely affects the whole economy of St. Kitts-Nevis that for sugar alone I am informed that the Government of this new state will be losing in the coming year something in the vicinity of 12 million to 13 million East Caribbean dollars just because of the way in which the exchange rate is running at present. As regards tourism, St. Kitts-Nevis has begun a drive towards increasing the number of tourists arriving in the country. I wish to deal with another aspect of that matter later. However, first I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to another matter.
It is customary that Her Majesty's Government give to a newly independent country a golden handshake. From reports that I have been receiving from different territories in the Caribbean this gift has come to be regarded as neither golden nor a handshake. It is not golden, not because they are pressing for a greater amount—not that I would object if the amount was greater—but because it has suddenly dawned on these states, who thought that they were being given, in most cases, a grant and a loan together totalling £10 million for the economic improvement of their state, that there is nothing of the sort. So far as I have been able to gather, what in fact really happens is that after independence the Foreign and Commonwealth Office aid department seeks to set up a quasi-colonial relationship. It administers the golden handshake in a series of driblets, small portions of monies which are carefully checked and monitored as if the state were still a crown colony. The state is never really able to undertake any major projects which in its own view are of absolute necessity, but there is a system of patching up. The independent state is being kept ever on a lead. I do not think that that is the concept of a golden handshake.
I feel—and I know that the people of the Caribbean feel—that it is a mechanism to keep the state in economic colonial relationship with this country. That is exactly what the states would wish to get away from on becoming independent. I very much hope that Her Majesty's Government can make a firm commitment to giving the economic aid for the advancement of St. Kitts-Nevis in a way which, in the view of the new state, would better serve its economic interests. I have recently had some complaints from Antigua about the way in which it is now being treated. I hope that this will not be repeated in the case of St. Kitts.
It seems to me curious that although Her Majesty's Government are prepared to support the wider integration of the Caribbean islands, they have been prepared to deny the islands the use of British West Indian Airways as their regional carrier. One of the planks in this integration is air linkage because we are talking about a lot of little islands. Throughout it was 366 hoped—indeed, it was almost taken for granted—that the introduction of a regional carrier would enable these territories to advance the integration. It has been blocked time and time again through the British Government insisting on British Airways being the carrier rather than British West Indian Airways.
For some time now the Eastern Caribbean islands have thought it in their best interest to have a regional carrier and have turned to their own British West Indian Airways to be that carrier. I for one can see no reason why Her Majesty's Government should continue to stand in the way of the development of the area in this way in order to provide a few seats for British Airways.
These independent states have repeatedly approached Her Majesty's Government with, as I said before, the intention of assisting this progress of integration and the economy of these states, which to such a large extent depend on tourism. In fact, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will reconsider their attitude in this particular matter, because I know that St. Kitts-Nevis has had overtures made about British West Indian Airways being designated as its carrier. I hope it will not have the same experience as Antigua and St. Lucia have had when they have tried to same thing.
Finally, may I again suggest that the Government of St. Kitts-Nevis be approached with a suggestion that the constitution be amended in the way that has been suggested. I know that it will increase the cost of government. But I personally think that it would be more sensible to have better government at an increased cost; it would certainly be less dangerous. I am well aware of the fact that we cannot dictate to the St. Kitts Government, but I still think that between now and the time for independence we can use such influence as we have to suggest to them a way in which this present problem can be resolved.
It is rather ironic that, having been so critical of the organisation of the Caribbean, I should find myself unable to give the wholehearted support that I should have liked to give to this order. At least this order has not furthered the break-up of the area. But the reason I have to be as critical as I am is that I really think that we are laying the seeds for a further break-up. I hope that the Government will reconsider their position in this matter.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Lord Northfield
My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Pitt, with his very eloquent speech, and my noble friend Lord Cledwyn, I approach this order with mixed feelings. My own particular link with this Associated State dates from the 1960s, when, as I have mentioned to your Lordships' House before, I was sent with Sir Nigel Fisher—because of our joint knowledge of this area and of the people concerned—to try to prevent the secession of Anguilla from this Associated State of St. Kitts-Nevis and Anguilla. The process, during which we negotiated with mini-shuttle diplomacy on aeroplanes between Anguilla and St. Kitts, was one which I shall remember for the rest of my life.
The position is that there is one justification for the secession of Anguilla which certainly does not exist in the case of Nevis. I want to state that from the 367 beginning. The Anguillans are some scores of miles away across the Caribbean ocean. Their forefathers were mainly pirates who landed in the area and intermarried with the black people whom we had brought there from Africa. They did not have many links in a very real sense with the island of St. Kitts, which is a sugar island and, as my noble friend Lord Pitt has indicated, a one crop economy. It was almost an accident of history—a grouping by former British Governments of the three islands together—that made it into one state—St. Kitts, Nevis, Anguilla.
Despite our efforts—Sir Nigel Fisher's, mine and those of successive Ministers—in the end we have had to accept the secession of Anguilla. But a constitution which, as my noble friend says, sows seeds for this to happen to Nevis is only regrettable. In contrast with Anguilla, Nevis is just across the road from St. Kitts. It is almost physically linked to St. Kitts. There is there a community of interest which did not exist in Anguilla. It is sad that the precedent of Anguilla is, in a sense, being seized on by the people of Nevis when the comparison is illegitimate. That is the first point I want to make and, therefore, I join with my noble friends Lord Cledwyn and Lord Pitt in saying that there is a great deal to worry about in the provisions for the possible secession of Nevis.
The tragedy is that in a way this would not have happened if it had all come to fruition a few years ago. At that time the giants of St. Kitts' history were still alive. One was Robert Bradshaw, who had a long history in the Caribbean, not just as Premier of St. Kitts but also as the Finance Minister in the defunct Federation of the West Indies in the 1960s. He towered above all his contemporaries. Sadly, he was to die two or three years ago, and one of the saddest days of my life was to represent Her Majesty's Government at his funeral. I felt that the end of an era was all around me.
Then very quickly afterwards the man who had joined with him to do so much for St. Kitts—Paul Southwell—also died. He was not originally a Kittician, but an adopted Kittician, as my noble friend confirms. I thought that he would carry the day and see the island through to independence with proper safeguards for the future, but sadly, he too died very shortly afterwards. With great respect to the Ministers and people who are in power today, they are not the giants that were Robert Bradshaw and Paul Southwell. If those two had been alive, we would not have had an independence conference of this kind with so much disagreement and with the seeds of danger so clearly sown. They would have towered above it, and I am sure would have rallied the people of both islands to a much more satisfactory continuation of the link between them.
So I approach this with mixed feelings. I shall not repeat the arguments that my noble friend Lord Cledwyn has put from the Opposition Front Bench as to the dangers of the detail in that constitution. But there is one other thing that needs to be said on this day when we are bidding goodbye to most of our former colonies of the Caribbean. It is that our record in the area is not all that good. It is not something I go around the world praising and taking credit for. In the first place, by our act, we scuttled out of the Caribbean much too soon. We allowed fragmentation to occur. 368 We encouraged unnecessarily the idea of early independence for states which are now too small to make strong headway in the currents of world economics. I would have said to hell with the Committee of the United Nations and hung on to our role a good deal longer. We had a job to do there which was to encourage these islands to work more closely together in a federation after the first one failed, and to unite their economies in a way that we had never successfully done when their links were always with us and never with each other as colonies.
Secondly, we never did it right in terms of economics either, as my noble friend has hinted. In the 1960s we managed to get the Canadian and American Governments to join with the British Government in sponsoring a study by Dr. Carleen O'Loughlin of the University of the West Indies on the cost of bringing these islands to real economic take-off point. My Lords, it was peanuts. A few million pounds at that time would have taken these islands forward to a real springboard for independence. Instead, all the initiative was left. The British Government said, "Oh, it's not our responsibility. We're just going to get out. We've had enough". The result was that we never tried to get the Canadian and American Governments to join with us in executing the recommendation of Dr. Carleen O'Loughlin's study, which would have started these states off on a basis of real economic viability. It is to our shame—one I shall live with for the rest of my life—that we got it wrong in the Caribbean, and we should not be going around at all proud of our record.
Now I come to the future. The Government have at least some chance of making up for some of this in the golden handshake that my noble friend mentioned. First, we have to try to help diversify the economy of the main island of St. Kitts. If we can do so and get it off sugar, it will be for the good of those people there. Secondly, when it comes to tourism, St. Kitts has one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean in the southern part of the island. It desperately needs funds to launch it as a major tourist resort now that the airport has been upgraded to take really big jets. The possibilities are great. We should see that some of the money is used to give that island a second chance of economic viability.
Finally, in that list of possible shopping for a golden handshake why not see that there is a physical link of some kind with the island of Nevis, just across the road? That would be one way of stopping the talk in Nevis of secession. It would be one way of making them realise that the British Government strongly feel that this would be a mistake. How big a mistake? It is a few thousand people wanting to become an independent nation in the world. Frankly, it is ridiculous. Although we can fly the flag of self-determination we still have a role in the world of offering advice.
The advice that ought to go out from this House today is that we do not believe that it would be right for Nevis to fragment even further the Caribbean with all the dangers that that can hold, with all the continual strife it will make in the future between these two virtually linked islands—virtually physically linked as they are—and we ought to be saying to them that part of the golden handshake that we hope to be able to offer will strengthen and not weaken those links which are for the good of both the islands and both the 369 peoples. It is not a happy day for those of us who are interested in the Caribbean and know and love all of its peoples. We have to wish an Associated State luck, good fortune on independence, but on this occasion it is with mixed feelings that we do so.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, I am grateful, and I am sure that the Government and people of St. Kitts-Nevis will be, that three noble Lords have felt sufficiently moved by this order to speak on it in your Lordships' House today. I must, however, begin my reply with a general observation. St. Kitts and Nevis have had internal self-government since 1967. That is, for over 15 years. In this time Governments of two political persuasions have ruled both conscientiously and well. That is not supposed to sound patronising. It is something that I feel.
It has been consistent Government policy over many years to bring people to full independence in accordance with the United Nations Charter when both they and their Governments request it. Much of this debate this evening has centred upon Nevis secession—not surprisingly. It was brought out by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, and his noble friend Lord Pitt. Since 1975, attempts to bring St. Kitts-Nevis to independence have foundered because Nevis distrusted the St. Kitts Labour Government, which, as we have heard, was in power for 30 years up to 1980 and wanted a separate status. Talks in 1979 broke down when Nevis rejected this Government's proposals for independence to be followed after 18 months by a binding referendum on secession.
Relations between the two islands have, I am glad to say, improved greatly since 1980. Agreement has been reached—and the House should not underestimate this—for a secesssion clause in the constitution which requires, as I said in my opening speech, a two-thirds majority in the Nevis Assembly, referendum approved by not less than two-thirds of the electorate, and independent international monitoring of it. The time is now opportune to bring St. Kitts-Nevis to independence as a unitary state.
In essence I think that the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, who referred to himself as an islander—recently I have been considering other sorts of islanders, those made by Britten Norman, but we will let that pass—asked why St. Kitts had not got its own secession arrangements. It is really a question of where the pressure has come from over the years. It has always been Nevis that has sought autonomy from St. Kitts and not the other way round. There has been no adverse reaction from the people of St. Kitts to the present proposals. Perhaps most importantly of all, and finally, it is for the Government and people of St. Kitts-Nevis to work out constitutional arrangements that suit them. We are satisfied that this is what they have done, and that they have had ample opportunity to do it.
The noble Lord, Lord Pitt, asked whether we are satisfied with the security arrangements in the Eastern Caribbean generally. As the noble Lord well knows, associated statehood was conceived as a stepping stone to full independence. All the political parties of St. Kitts are in favour of independence. This new 370 status will enable St. Kitts-Nevis to obtain aid and technical assistance from a wider range of international sources.
In passing, I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, that this aid package—or what he rather unfortunately, I thought, referred to as a golden handshake; it is not intended to be that at all, for to my mind at least that has totally different connotations—is of course still a matter for discussion. This discussion will go on between this Government and the St. Kitts-Nevis Government for some considerable time to come, but of course there is no point in pursuing that unless the House passes this order this evening.
This new status will enable St. Kitts-Nevis to obtain aid and technical assistance from a wider range of international sources. It will permit an even wider participation in regional fora, such as the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States. Contrary to the impression that the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, may have left the House with, Her Majesty's Government greatly welcome recent efforts of Easten Caribbean States to co-operate in mutual security arrangements, and look forward to assisting with training and equipment and in whatever way would appear to be appropriate at the time.
I am quite satisfied that enough time was available for public discussion and debate on this proposed termination order. The question of independence for St. Kitts-Nevis is far from new. Moves were first made to organise a constitutional conference in 1979 by the Labour Party Government led by Mr. Leigh Moore. Informal talks were held, but they stumbled over the issue of Nevis, whose representatives were insisting on a referendum being held before independence. That was overridden and it was agreed that St. Kitts and Nevis should move towards independence as a unitary state as early as possible in 1980. The proposal finally came to grief when Mr. Moore's party lost the general election held in February 1980 and he went into opposition. His subsequent objection to proposals for independence to go ahead under the Government of Dr. Kennedy Simmons seemed, therefore, to be based on somewhat political reasons. The independence debate has been in progress for several years and all the points at issue have been aired many times.
The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, asked me when were the Government in this country saitsfied that there was political agreement on the subject of independence in St. Kitts and Nevis.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, I asked when the Government were satisfied that there was ample evidence that the people of St. Kitts were in favour of this constitution.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
I am grateful to the noble Lord for that clarification, my Lords. When the constitutional conference was held the fact that both parties were there represented was an indication of this. However, in my book, the real acceptance, or perception of the acceptance, came in the debate in the legislative assembly in March this year, when both parties spoke and there was a vote at the end.
The noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, asked why was the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis not asked to hold an election or referendum.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
I apologise, my Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Pitt, gave me the impression that he had asked, but since he has now confirmed that he did not, I shall not answer.
The one thing that the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, did ask about was the exchange rate. It is a factor that because the Eastern Caribbean dollar is a currency on its own and is not, as I understand it, linked to any other national currency, it will suffer the vagaries of the exchange rate, particularly in relation to the pound, which has been doing some rather strange things lately for no apparent reason, at least to me, though I am sure that many noble Lords will know exactly why. It is a matter for the Eastern Caribbean states to decide whether this should continue or whether the Eastern Caribbean dollar should be linked to the United States dollar, to the pound, to the Japanese yen, or to anything else that they may like to discuss.
The noble Lord, Lord Pitt, also commented about the local airline, BWIA, British West Indian Airways. The question of this airline's rights are a matter for discussion between the St. Kitts and Nevis Government and Her Majesty's Government after independence. I should point out that BWIA is the Trinidad national carrier and is not, as yet, a regional carrier, because it has no regional ownership.
§ Lord Pitt of Hampstead
My Lords, this is the whole point that has angered me. British West Indian Airways is owned by the Trinidad Government, but every West Indian Government except Jamaica has so far asked that British West Indian Airways should be made the regional carrier and on each occasion the British Government—because British Airways objected—has obstructed that. It is no use any British Minister saying that it is a matter for discussion between this Government or that Government. In effect, when the Government come to make a decision they obstruct. That is what has been happening with British West Indian Airways.
I wish to go further, if your Lordships will permit me, to say that British West Indian Airways was once a subsidiary of British Overseas Airways Corporation. When the federation broke up, Trinidad was the only country that had money and it bought British West Indian Airways. It was always intended to be the carrier for the whole area and the only reason it is not the carrier for the whole area is because the British Government have always backed British Airways in obstructing it.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, that is a matter of opinion which I do not particularly want to get drawn into at this moment.
The arrangements for the independence settlement will be discussed very soon and no doubt the St. Kitts and Nevis Government will put forward arguments advanced by the noble Lord. We must not forget that British aid is British money and must be properly accounted for, subject, of course, to the annual parliamentary appropriations.
The noble Lord, Lord Northfield, asked me, and talked in quite a piece of his speech, about the history 372 of our relationship with the Caribbean as a geographical area. I assure him that we recognise our continuing responsibility for assisting the economic development of the Commonwealth Caribbean. We have not neglected and are not neglecting our responsibilities. British aid to the Caribbean is currently running at £25 million a year, which is a substantial sum by any standards.
In conclusion, this debate is about something which is basically simple, and that is whether the democratically expressed human rights of a group of islanders should be denied expression by the will of this Parliament, to which, quite evidently, the answer must be, No. It is no for perhaps a slightly different reason. In his opening speech to the constitutional conference in London, Mr. Leigh Moore, the Leader of the Opposition, stated:I wish to affirm that the people are not against independence".I hope that your Lordships' House will not be either.
On Question, Motion agreed to.