HC Deb 21 December 1972 vol 848 cc467-70W
Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the Bahamas independence conference.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The Bahamas independence conference was successfully concluded yesterday at Marlborough House having been opened by myself on 12th December. The plenary sessions were under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. A White Paper containing the report of the conference will be laid before Parliament as soon as possible.

After full discussions in which all sides had opportunity to explain their views, the conference agreed on the substance of a constitution appropriate to the Commonwealth of the Bahamas as an independent sovereign state.

Throughout their deliberations the conference had in mind their responsibility for ensuring that decisions were taken in the best interests of all the people of the Bahamas, whatever their race, colour or creed. Particular attention was paid to the need to provide constitutional safeguards ensuring the rule of law, protection of the rights and freedoms of the individual, the independence of the judiciary, the impartiality of the public service and the maintenance of the constitution itself.

The Bahamas delegation to the conference expressed the wish that on independence the country should remain a monarchy and indicated that the Government of the Bahamas would apply for membership of the Commonwealth. Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom have undertaken to sponsor the Bahamas application for Commonwealth membership and to use their best endeavours to facilitate applications by the Bahamas for membership of the United Nations and other international bodies.

The Bahamas Government agreed that on independence diplomatic relations would be established between our two countries by the setting up of High Commissions in London and Nassau.

The present bicameral form of legislature will be retained.

The life of a Parliament will be limited to five years from the date of its first sitting after any dissolution.

The Prime Minister will preside over a Cabinet consisting of not less than eight other Ministers of whom one will be the Attorney-General. In his responsibility for public prosecutions the Attorney-General will act entirely on his own responsibility and not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority.

There will be a Supreme Court presided over by the Chief Justice and also a Court of Appeal. Provision will be made in the constitution for appeals to the Judicial Committee of Her Majesty's Privy Council, or to such other courts as may be prescribed by the Bahamas Parliament.

Responsibility for the public service, police and judicial service will lie with independent executive commissions as at present.

Provisions were also agreed to safeguard the position of past and present members of Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service in the Bahamas in respect of pensions and other matters.

Satisfactory arrangements were also agreed for safeguarding the constitution. The more important provisions of the constitution may be amended only if there have been affirmative votes carried by each House of the legislature by a three-quarters majority followed by approval of the amendments by simple majority in a referendum. Certain other provisions may be amended by a similar process, except that the majority required in the legislature will be two-thirds.

The Bahamas Government proposed, and it was agreed, that citizenship of the Bahamas should be automatically acquired at the time of independence by:

  1. (a) Every person who, having been born in the Bahamas, is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies.
  2. (b) Every person born outside the Bahamas who, on the day of independence, is a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, if his father, having been born in the Bahamas, becomes or would, but for his death, have become a citizen of the Bahamas; and that after independence citizenship should be automatically available to:
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  4. (c) Every person born in the Bahamas of a Bahamian parent.
  5. (d) Every person born outside the Bahamas after independence whose father was born in, and is a citizen of, the Bahamas.

Particular consideration was given to the position of persons who immediately before the independence of the Bahamas are citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies solely by reason of their connection with the Bahamas as compared with citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies who have qualifying ancestral connections with the United Kingdom or a remaining United Kingdom dependency at the time of Bahamas independence.

It was agreed that at the time of independence Bahamas citizenship would be extended automatically to all citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies who acquired that status by naturalisation or registration in the Bahamas, with the exception of:

  1. (a) persons who have duel nationality;
  2. (b) those registered persons who are not ordinarily resident in the Bahamas at the end of 1972;
  3. (c) persons registering after the end of 1972;
  4. (d) naturalised persons who indicate that they do not wish to accept Bahamas citizenship.

The Government of the Bahamas indicated that they would assume all treaty obligations and rights previously undertaken by Her Majesty's Government on their behalf, on the understanding that within a reasonable time the new State would review in detail such treaty obligations with a view to their continuation or termination.

Her Majesty's Government indicated that it would be prepared to recommend to Parliament the passage of the necessary legislation to provide for the independence of the Bahamas on the desired date of 10 July 1973. The British Government undertook that before that date they would be ready to discuss with the Bahamas Government future defence and financial arrangements.

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