§ The Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and for the Colonies (Mr. Nigel Fisher)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 8, at the end to insert:or provide for the variation or revocation ofSubsection (2) enables existing laws of the Bahamas Legislature to be brought into line with the provisions of the Constitution Order in Council. In accordance with the usual practice, it is intended to include in the draft Order in Council a provision authorising the Governor of the Bahama Islands to make any variation he may consider necessary in order to ensure that existing laws conform to the Order in Council. In its present form the subsection requires this to be done by the Order in Council itself.
The purpose of the Amendment is to enable the variation to be made either directly by the Order itself or by the Governor acting in his discretion or on the advice of the Cabinet. This is a perfectly normal provision, which in this case was inadvertently omitted, and the Amendment is put down simply in order to remedy the omission. There is nothing controversial about it, and I hope that the Committee will feel able to pass it.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Bill reported, with an Amendment; as amended, considered.
§ Mr. Fisher
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
In introducing the Third Reading, I should like to apologise to the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr, Bottomley) for the small misunderstanding which arose last Friday, when I did 234 not reply to the points he had raised on Second Reading, I should like to take the opportunity of doing so now.
I am glad to be able to tell him that I have had two meetings with the P.L.P. delegation which came to London last week, as a result of which the points it raised have been or are being dealt with, and I think that its anxieties have now been allayed. There is only one point outstanding, and it is the first point to which the right hon. Gentleman referred in his speech on Friday.
The P.L.P. wishes to provide that in conveyances of real property any covenant to restrict residence by reference to a person's race should be contrary to the human rights provisions of the Constitution. I sympathise with this in principle. The difficulty is that it may interfere with private rights of property. It is, I think, the same principle as is incorporated in the Bill frequently brought before this House by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway), which I remember signing myself on one occasion.
A proposal to give effect to this principle was brought forward at the last session of the Bahamas Conference, when people were checking the final report of the conference to make sure that there were no commas omitted, and because it was at the eleventh hour it was agreed by the conference not to accept this suggestion unless the parties could subsequently reach agreement and devise a formula. The parties have not discussed the matter together since then, and I therefore had to omit the point from the draft Constitution.
But it is still open to the P.L.P. to approach the other parties, and I understand that it has now done so, and that the legal advisers of the two parties have been meeting today in London to discuss the matter. If agreement can be reached there is no reason why it should not be embodied in the Constitution even at this late hour.
The right hon. Gentleman's second point concerned the division of seats between the Out Islands and New Providence. The position at present is that the Out Islands, with about 45,000 registered voters, return 21 members, and New Providence, with about 28,000 registered voters, returns 12 members. It is true that, on those figures, the Out 235 Islands are relatively somewhat over-represented. This fact favours, as the right hon. Gentleman said, the United Bahamian Party, because it is in the New Providence Islands that the Opposition derive their main support. The Conference agreed, therefore, that the number of constituencies should be altered in the new Constitution. For this purpose a Standing Constituencies Commission will be set up, and its first task will be to provide that the number of seats in New Providence be increased from 12 to 17, while the Out Islands remain the same, at 21, as at present, and that 38 seats will be the basis on which the next general election will be held.
But the Constituencies Commission will also be required to make further reviews of the constituencies from time to time—not less often, I think, than once every five years—and to so distribute the 38 seats that not less than 18 nor more than 22 members will represent Out Island constituencies and not less than 16 nor more than 20 members will represent New Providence. The idea of the bracket is to give a greater flexibility to allow for changes in population trends.
Even on this basis I quite agree that it can be contended that, numerically, the Out Islands will still be somewhat over-represented compared with New Providence, but there are good reasons for this, because they are very sparsely populated, they are very isolated, and there are very poor communications in between. Indeed, we have accepted the same principle here, in that the Orkneys and Shetlands, for instance, are relatively over-represented in comparison with urban and industrial areas.
The third point raised by the right hon. Gentleman was whether it was necessary for the majority of the Senate to be made up of appointees of the Government. The Conference decided that of the 15 Senators 8 should be appointed by the Governor in his discretion after consultation with the Premier and others, but not on their advice, and the remaining 7 would be appointed, 5 on the advice of the Premier and 2 on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition. The Upper House is at present wholly nominated by the Governor and the new arrange- 236 ment will give the elected representatives a larger say in its composition than they had before. But the majority of the Senate will not be appointees of the Government as the right hon. Gentleman said. They are to be at the discretion of the Governor and all the Parties agreed to this at the Conference. In fact, that was what they wanted.
Lastly, the right hon. Gentleman asked what is meant by a "Taxation Bill" in the Bahamas Constitution. I will try to explain this. It was agreed at the conference that, under the new Constitution, Money Bills would be of two types. The first type would be those Money Bills which contained provision for the imposition of Income Tax, a capital gains tax, a capital levy, or estate duty. These Bills would be known as "Taxation Bills". The second type would be all other Money Bills. The right hon. Gentleman was not quite correct in saying that the power of the Lower House to override the Upper House is limited to what he described as "spending" Bills. It was in fact agreed at the conference that Money Bills could be delayed by the Senate for two months but that Taxation Bills could be delayed by the Senate for the same period as ordinary Bills, namely, about fifteen months.
It was decided to have this special category of Taxation Bills in the Bahamas because of the special position there. They do not have any things like Income Tax or Estate Duty. They think that the exemption of these matters is the basis of their whole success in attracting outside investors, tourists, and so on. It is true that the prosperity of the Bahamas, and indeed the livelihood of its people, rather depends on attracting this outside capital and on the tourists who go there. So it was argued, I think with some justice, that any measure to interfere with this miraculous state of affairs by introducing taxation measures of this kind would fall into the category of major policy decisions instead of into the category of Money Bills as we understand them here. AH the Parties agreed to this differentiation between Taxation Bills and other Money Bills, and so we naturally accepted it.
I am very grateful for the helpful comments the right hon. Gentleman 237 made in his speech on Second Reading. I hope that what I have now said will help to clear up the questions that he then raised.
It is proposed that the new Constitution should come into effect early in January of next year, and I have been invited to be present in Nassau at that time to mark this milestone in the history of the Bahamas. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will wish me to convey to the people of the Bahamas our congratulations on this new Constitution and our best wishes for their future.
§ 11.20 p.m.
§ Mr. F. M. Bennett (Torquay)
It had not been my intention to speak on this Bill tonight, partly because of what happened on Friday and partly because of our anxiety to get the three Measures we have been discussing tonight through their Second Readings as quickly as possible. However, since there has been some explanation of the Bill, I have thought it right that at least one back bencher should make his voice heard in support of what my hon. Friend has said.
As one who knows the Bahamas extremely well, and the Out Islands even better, I am pleased to know that the Out Islands are to have a greater say, greater in proportion to their population, although they are far removed from the sources of power and influence in Nassau. It is little known that until recently the only means of communication that existed between Nassau and the Out Islands was an irregular mail boat. In the last few years an air strip has been laid and for the first time some of the inhabitants there have seen Nassau, let alone the outside world.
It is right that the Out Islands should have a greater proportionate say than their numbers dictate. There is a misconception that the Out Islands comprise to a large extent people who might be said to run contrary to the general democratic trend in Nassau. This is untrue. In Abcos, for example, which is one of the largest Out Island groups, the white population is almost entirely composed of the descendants of Puritans who left Britain 250 years ago, who settled in the United States and who, when the United States became a Republic, sailed away and, trade winds being what they are, landed in the 238 Bahamas. The people there now are the descendants of those first white settlers from this country. It was only 10 or 15 years ago that the Colonial Office discovered them there; the Russells, Sawyers and Lowes, who left the United States about 200 years ago and settled there, having earlier come from this country.
For the sake of race relations, it should be pointed out that there is complete amity among these people, who share the same schools and chuches with the descendants of the escaped slaves from the American mainland. I regret having given the House this bit of geographical history, but in our discussion we: should not forget that the Bahamas is not just Nassau, the luxury centre, but an area covering between 1,000 to 1,500 ocean miles and containing people who owe loyalty much more to the British connection and Crown. It is, therefore, only right that we should see the interests of all the inhabitants properly represented.
Further to my hon. Friend's comments on the prosperity of the area and the economic Measures that have been introduced there, I do not wish to introduce a controversial note, but we must be careful not to forget that because of the prosperity of the Bahamas, this country enjoys the benefit of about one-tenth of the dollar earnings of the whole sterling area. This comes to us because of the policies which the Bahamas pursue.
I wish to express my real gratitude to the continued loyalty of all the races in the Bahamas, who make a substantial contribution to the prosperity of this country—a state of affairs which any Government in Britain should be glad to welcome as the years go by.
§ 11.25 p.m.
§ Mr. A. G. Bottomley (Middlesbrough, East)
I am grateful to the Minister for answering the questions I raised with him on Friday. I quite understood why it was not possible for him to do so then. I gather that the parties concerned have accepted all the suggestions that were made. I was particularly concerned with one aspect; discrimination which affects property. It is true that the two legal representatives are getting together, but this matter of 239 discrimination is linked with the division of seats, too. As I said earlier, the division of seats gives to the Out Islands an undue majority which is out of all relation to the population as a whole. I think Her Majesty's Government ought ultimately to be in the position of saying what they think should be done. I believe this would be the just way of deciding the matter, though I agree that it is better that the parties should come to an agreement themselves.
We shall shortly have passed three constitutional Bills. The countries concerned appear to be many miles apart. It is worth remembering that the islands in the Bahamas are 600 miles apart. But, in fact, there is not much difference between the populations of the three territories because of the 110,000 people in the Bahamas, two-thirds are of African descent and the other two Bills which we have already passed deal with that Continent.
I am sure the whole House wishes the people of the Bahamas a happy future and success under this new Constitution.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.