HC Deb 12 April 1967 vol 744 cc206-8W
Mr. Chapman

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the refusal of the Chief Minister of St. Vincent to provide a quorum for a debate on a no confidence motion in the legislature; and whether, in view of the confused situation, he will postpone the date on which the new associated territory status is planned to come into effect on the island.

Mr. Fisher

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about the political situation in St. Vincent.

Mrs. Hart

The present difficulties in St. Vincent arose when an elected Minister crossed the Floor on 16th March. The Government Party previously held a 5–4 majority of the elected members. As the situation developed, it appeared that the correct first step in resolving the situation was that the elected members should be asked to show whether or not they retained confidence in the Government. It appeared from an exchange of messages with the Chief Minister that the business of the Legislature was unlikely to be arranged so that a motion of no confidence would be given priority. An Order in Council was made on 5th April empowering the Administrator to summon a meeting of the Legislature for the purpose of hearing such a motion. On the same day a message was received from the Chief Minister advising the immediate dissolution of the Legislature to be followed as soon as possible by fresh elections on the existing nine-constituency basis. I agreed that this was the right solution and the Legislature was dissolved on 7th April. I considered it right, however, that in the circumstances there should be complete political impartiality in the administration of the territory during the election period. An Order in Council has been made today dissolving the Executive Council and conferring sole responsibility for the administration of St. Vincent on the Administrator. He will retain these powers until a new Government is formed immediately after the election, which is expected to be held on 16th May, but will consult with the leaders of both parties represented in the last Legislature on all significant matters within the responsibilities hitherto allocated to Ministers.

In the Agreement signed with the Chief Minister and Leader of the Opposition of St. Vincent on 1st February, published as a White Paper (Cmnd. 3219), it was envisaged that Associated Statehood would be conferred on St. Vincent not later than 1st June this year, and provisional arrangements had in fact been made for Statehood Day on 29th May. While it remains our objective that St. Vincent should become an Associated State as soon as circumstances permit, it is now clear that it will not be practicable to keep to this date.