HL Deb 29 July 1957 vol 205 cc225-30

3.15 p.m.


My Lords, the West Indies (Federation) Order in Council which is now before this House for approval has been laid in accordance with the provisions of the British Caribbean Federation Act of 1956. When that Bill came before the House about a year ago it was warmly welcomed for two main reasons: it was in accordance with the strong desire of the various Colonies of the West Indies to be joined together in federation; and, further, it represented an important step forward in the progress of the peoples of the area towards the goal of independence within the Commonwealth—which is their ultimate and loyal aim. That aim will not be achieved immediately, but the Federation now to be established will be a major move in that direction.

Your Lordships will not wish me to go over once again the provisions of the British Caribbean Federation Act, 1956, for that was fully debated and welcomed in your Lordships' House on July 23 of last year, The Order in Council provides for the establishment of the Federation in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution contained in the Annex to the Order. The Constitution itself follows the 1953 Plan for a British Caribbean Federation (Cmd. 8895) as modified by the decisions of the London Conference of 1956 (Cmd. 9733). It is also in accordance with the detailed consideration which has since been given to it by the Standing Federation Committee, the body established in the West Indies by the 1956 Conference for the purpose of completing the constitutional and administrative arrangements necessary for setting up the Federation. In a word, the Constitution has the full support and is agreed by all the West Indians concerned; and, indeed, its main provisions have been worked out by them.

It is an advanced form of Constitution on the Australian model, giving a very large measure of internal self-government in a form which they have worked out over the last twelve years. The Federal Constitution in the Annex to the Order in Council embodies the agreements which have been reached in those negotiations. I commend to your Lordships the Resolution, the approval of which is sought, and I know that all the House will welcome this important stage in the constitutional advance of the Caribbean federation. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft West Indies (Federation) Order in Council, 1957, reported from the Special Orders Committee on the 17th of July, be approved.—(The Earl of Perth.)

3.18 p.m.


My Lords, this is, in a way, a historic day in the history of the West Indies, and it represents the climax to a long period of negotiation and hard work by many people on both sides of the ocean. I should like to congratulate the Government, the West Indies Government, and the Standing Federation Committee on the Constitution which is an Annex to this Order in Council. The Order in Council, as the noble Earl, Lord Perth, said, provides for the setting up of a Federation, and the Annex contains its Constitution. I feel that the names of the Colonies which will form the federation have a sort of poetry in them: Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Christopher, Nevis and Anguilla, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, Trinidad and Tobago. Not only have the Colonies poetry in their names, but we in this country have had a long association with them. They include some of our oldest Colonies, and many of our greatest men have served in them or been concerned with them at some time or other. And not only ours: other people who have made a great mark in world history—Columbus. Nelson, Henry Morgan—have all left their mark on these Colonies and these islands. And even in fiction these islands have played their part. Those of us who are readers of Thackeray will remember Miss Swartz, the St. Kitts heiress, in Vanity Fair. In those days, the Sugar Islands provided not only great wealth, but desirable heiresses to aspiring young men in this country.

From these names there are two missing, British Guiana and British Honduras, one in Central America and the other in South America, the two remaining mainland Colonies which we have on the American continent. It had long been hoped that these two would form part of the Federation of the West Indies but, for various reasons, that has obviously been found impracticable at this stage. I am glad to see that in Section 5 of the Order in Council there is provision for the accession to the Federation of any further Colonies, and it is obviously possible for these two Colonies, or either of them, if they so desire, to become members of this Federation.

From the time when the Bill came before us last year, and became an Act, the name of the Federation seems to have changed. In the enabling Act it was called the British Caribbean Federation; it is now to be known as the West Indies Federation. No doubt there are good reasons for that change—quite possibly it is the wish of the people in the Federation. Perhaps the noble Earl would give us the reason, however, because, from a geographical point of view, "Caribbean" is in some ways, of course, a better description than "West Indies".

One of the problems which the new Federation will have to face at once is the difficult question of the seat of the Federal Government. Only last week, in another place, the Secretary of State gave the latest news of this question of the Federal Capital. He was, in fact, quoting from the Report, and he said [OFFICIAL. REPORT, Commons. Vol. 574 (No. 150). col. 838]: Representatives of Trinidad and Tobago, the British West Indies, the United Kingdom and the United States have agreed to the establishment of a joint commission composed of representative technical experts to investigate all aspects of the British West Indies request to make Chaeuaramas available, taking into full account military and economic considerations. The joint commission shall be set up and shall report to the parties concerned as early as possible. It will be remembered, of course, that this base was one of the bases leased to the United States in the early part of the war, when neutrality was not looked upon with quite such disfavour as it afterwards became.

The point now is that, according to the representatives of the West Indies, this particular base is the most desirable place for a Federal Capital. I feel quite certain that the United States will want to deal generously with the young Federation established near their boundary fence. I wonder whether they would be prepared at this stage to re-lease to the Federation this particular base and, as a handsome gesture, to do so without requiring a large sum in compensation for improvement. The question of the Capital is not merely a matter of selecting one site from a number of sites. It is a difficult question where so many Colonies are concerned. The fact that they have all agreed upon this particular site is satisfactory, and such accord might not be obtained if this base were not available. So we look to the generous heart of the United States Government and people, and hope that they will be able to help the West Indies Federation to solve its difficulties.

Another point concerns the status of the new Federation. Will the United Kingdom Prime Minister suggest to his colleagues that the Prime Minister of this Federation should be invited to attend the Prime Ministers' Conference? It is true that the new Federation will not have quite the status of Canada. Australia and so on; nor quite the status of a Colony. It will, in fact, have very nearly the same status as that of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Your Lordships will recall that the Prime Minister of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland is a member (if that is the right way to describe it) of the Prime Ministers' Conference here. At all events, he receives an invitation, and he attends. I should have thought that there would be no disadvantage, and in fact everything to be gained, if a similar invitation were to be extended to the Prime Minister of the new Federation. I realise that this is not a matter on which either we or the British Government can lay down the law: it is a matter for negotiation between all the Prime Ministers concerned. But if the Prime Minister would advance this suggestion to his colleagues, I feel certain that it would Rive great pleasure in the Federation of the West Indies.

There is one final question that I should like to put. I gather from the terms of the Annex that assistance from both the Colonial Development and Welfare Fund and the Colonial Development Corporation will continue to be available to the new Federation after it starts on its career. We welcome that, and we welcome the fact that these props have not been withdrawn from the new Federation, as they have been withdrawn from one or two other Federations of which we can think, one of which we are to discuss this afternoon. We on this side should like to express our good wishes to the Federation, to bid them Godspeed and every success in the days ahead.

3.27 p.m.


My Lords, I should like first to thank the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, for the kind words he said. I know that I speak not only for Her Majesty's Government but also for the Governments of the West Indies in acknowledging his congratulations on this document; and this is, of course, a most happy occasion.

The noble Lord raised one or two specific points, and I think it might be useful to your Lordships if I tried to answer those questions. He spoke of the position of British Guiana and British Honduras, which, of course, are not at this time members of the Federation. The position is that they can accede if they at some time so request, and if the Federation at that time give their approval. So one has to wait and see what time may bring.

The noble Lord noted, quite rightly, that the name has been changed from that of the Caribbean Federation to that of the West Indies Federation. The answer is that that change was made at the specific request of the West Indians themselves. The suggestion which the noble Lord made as to the new Federal Capital will, I am sure, be considered; but the fact is that a tripartite Commission has been set up to look into various technical and other questions, and I feel that we can leave it to them to weigh up all the various points which arise. The question of status, again, is not an immediate issue. The noble Lord made an interesting suggestion, and I am sure it will be given consideration at the right time. Lastly, the noble Lord spoke about the position of Colonial Development and Welfare funds and the operations of the Colonial Development Corporation. The answer is that the funds can be used for the purposes of the Federation, and the Corporation can operate there. The reason for that, of course, is that this Order in Council does not make the Federation an independent self-governing body, but rather represents one stage in its constitutional progress. It only remains for me once again to commend the Resolution to your Lordships.

On Question, Motion agreed to.