I have it in Command from the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The object of this very short but important Bill is to enable a new Constitution to be established for Bermuda in a convenient and comprehensive form. The present Constitution is, frankly, archaic. It resembles, on the whole, those of the North American Colonies before the War of Independence. Indeed, some of its features date back to that period and before. They date back to the early part of the seventeenth century. The Bermuda Parliament is justifiably very proud of its position as the oldest Parliament in the Commonwealth outside the British Isles.
There have been changes over the years. Some of these have been achieved by Instruments issued under the Royal Prerogative, some by Acts of the local Legislature, and others by unwritten constitutional convention. As a result, Bermuda now has a very complicated Constitution. It is not contained in any single comprehensive document and it is one in which the written provisions may give a misleading impression of the real situation.
To give an example of this, under the present Constitution the Governor is assisted in the exercise of his executive functions by an Executive Council whose advice he need not follow, and Government Departments are controlled either directly by the Governor or by statutory boards. Members of the Executive Council and of the statutory boards are appointed by the Governor and are not responsible to the Legislature. Thus, in theory, the Government's executive powers are virtually unlimited and the elected House of the Legislature has no say in executive government. That is the Position as it would seem to be.
However, because the Legislature is supreme in the field of legislation, and because all expenditure needs the approval of the elected House of Assembly, effective government depends on co-operation between the Executive headed by the Governor and the Legislature In practice, members of the House of Assembly play a very prominent part both in Executive Council and in the Government boards. Therefore, in effect Bermuda enjoys, and has long enjoyed, a wide measure of internal self-government.
As regards the Legislature, the nine ancient parishes of Bermuda, ever since the early days of the settlement of the Islands, have each returned four members to the House of Assembly. Before 1963, the franchise was based entirely on property, and property owners could vote in every parish in which they owned land. In 1963, for the elections at which the present House was elected, the franchise was extended to all those over 25 and property owners were restricted to a single additional vote. Early in 1966—three years later—the additional vote was abolished and the voting age was reduced to 21. So, within three years, there was completed a transition in the electoral arrangements which, in the United Kingdom, took well over a century to achieve.
Since these changes in the franchise, there have been two developments which I should draw to the attention of the House. First, at the Constitutional Conference held in London last November, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster offered to send to Bermuda an expert who could look at and make recommendations for the improvement of their system of electoral representation. The Bermuda Government gladly accepted the offer and the visit was made last March. I believe that the Report which was submitted by the expert to the Government of Bermuda will be of immense value to them.
The second development follows the decision of the Constitutional Conference on the establishment of a Boundaries Commission. The conference decided that the Commission should be presided over by an eminent person from outside Bermuda with knowledge of, but no vested interest in, Bermuda. The second member of the Commission was to be a person who held, or had held, high judicial office in any part of the Commonwealth. The three other members were to be members of the Legislature, appointed by the Governor, two on the advice of the leaders of the largest party in the House of Assembly and one on the advice of the leader of the second largest party.
Sir Newnham Worley, formerly Chief Justice of Bermuda, accepted the Government of Bermuda's invitation to preside over the Commission, and I should like to take this opportunity of thanking Sir Newnham for so public-spiritedly coming out of his well earned retirement to carry out this important task. Sir Donald Jackson, formerly Judge of the Caribbean Court of Appeal, accepted the Government of Bermuda's invitation to be the other "outside" member, and our thanks are due to him also for the valuable services he rendered.
The Commission began its work in April and its Report has, I understand, keen adopted by the House of Assembly in Bermuda.
From this very brief account of the changes which have occurred over the last several years, the House will appreciate that, while the Constitution retains some ancient features, there has been no lack of progress, particularly in recent times. Nevertheless, and however well this ancient Constitution has worked in the past, the time has now come for the introduction of a new Constitution which provides clearly and unambiguously for the responsible Government which all bodies of opinion in Bermuda say they wish to have.
At the Constitutional Conference held last November, the form of such a Constitution was decided and at the same time it was agreed that the best course would be to embody its provisions in an Order in Council. Since Her Majesty's existing powers of legislating for Bermuda are very limited, the Bill now before the House is necessary to empower Her to make such an Order in Council. If and when the Bill is passed, a draft Order embodying a constitution on the lines decided at the conference will be submitted to Her Majesty in Council. It will follow the full outline given in Appendix A to the Conference Report, of which the House has had copies.
I need not trouble the House with a detailed description of the provisions to be included in the Order in Council, since they are set out in the Report, but, in brief, while the Governor will retain responsibility for external affairs, defence, internal security and the police, on all other matters he will normally be bound to act in accordance with the advice of the Executive Council—the old title is to be retained to describe what in effect will be the new Cabinet. That body will in future consist of members of the Legislature appointed on the advice of the member of the House of Assembly best able to command the confidence of a majority of his fellow members. Provision will also be made to safeguard fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual and to ensure the independence of the judiciary and the public service. In short, the new Constitution will provide for a modern form of Government with a Government leader and Executive Council responsible to the elected Legislature.
In fairness I should make it clear that, as is not unusual on such occasions, there were differences of view between various groups of delegates at the conference where all shades of opinion in the Bermuda Legislature were represented. Indeed, in addition to the majority report endorsing the proposed Constitution, the report of the conference contains two minority reports, one arguing that the constitutional decisions go too far and the other that they do not go far enough. This indicates the difficulties which were presented by the conference. In fact, the decisions eventually reached were in the form of a compromise and were accepted by a majority of delegates on this basis —that is, as the best compromise which could be reached and agreed.
A number of my colleagues on both sides of the House have visited Bermuda in comparatively recent times. They will agree with me, I am sure, when I say that my impression, when I visited it just before Easter this year, was of an island which is very small in area, which is very beautiful, and which is compara- tively prosperous in terms of Caribbean life. It has one of the highest standards of living in the world, and the prosperity extends throughout the community.
I should like to give the House some facts and figures. There are two television stations and four radio programmes —and this in a territory with a total population of under 50,000. Ninety-six per cent. of all households have a refrigerator, 82 per cent. have radio and 66 per cent. have television. It is, perhaps, not surprising that the people of Bermuda, possessing so many of the material things of the modern age, have been cautious in their approach to constitutional change.
During my visit I met many people. I met representatives, I think, of all the major political groupings in Bermuda. I was impressed by the attitude of all, whatever their political views, to the problem of colour. Indeed, whether they wanted to go more slowly or more rapidly, they were all concerned that Bermuda should not be dogged by colour prejudice, should not be haunted by the problems of colour that have arisen in so many other parts of the world.
I should also mention what I said in public in Bermuda about the Constitution —really as a comment on the disagreements that there had been about the pace of progress as represented by the constitutional proposals because, of course, members of one or two groups out there had represented to me that they wished that the Constitution would go further. What I said to them, and I quote now from the Royal Gazette of Saturday, 18th March of this year, was:
Any Constitution is an interim Constitution. I think that you must regard constitutional development as a steady process. Bermuda's new constitution is a very big advance on the previous one. It will be a good thing if people are interested enough to discuss how it will evolve further. If there is a demand for further change, then further change will no doubt occur.
Frankly, I do not think that one could put the position more fairly.
The Bill now before us will enable the new Constitution to be introduced. It gets rid of many of the archaic features of the old Constitution. It embodies a number of very important steps forward. But of course, even in our own society our though we do not have it by Order in Constitution is continually evolving—al- Council or by a Bill going through the House of Commons—and I think that it is quite clear that in the situation in Bermuda there will be people who will wish to put forward ideas for further evolution of the Constitution.
These we shall be ready for, and shall be glad to listen to representations when there has been experience of this constitution and if and when new proposals are put to us.
I was very glad that the Minister of State mentioned, as is the fact, that of all the territories within the Commonwealth, Bermuda has been visited as much as any by very substantial numbers of hon. Members on both sides of the House, not only in their personal capacities but in attending the very many international conferences that have been held there.
If I can claim nothing else, I can perhaps claim an even closer association with Bermuda than anyone else here, because I bought a cottage there about 15 years ago and have been a very frequent visitor. In fact, I am one of the casualties along the road of democratic advance, in that I have lost a vote which I used to possess because of my ownership of the cottage, although in view of what has just been said I must add that I never exercised that vote.
Speaking on another personal note, I was on one occasion asked to stand as a Member of Parliament for a constituency out there. When I add proudly that it included one of the most racially integrated elements, that in St. David's Island, and does not consist only of one race, hon. Members will understand that it was with great reluctance that I felt bound to refuse in that my electors in Torbay might well not greatly appreciate my taking such a step, of divided loyalties.
It is no part of the Opposition today to accept responsibility—nor would we be asked to—for the detailed results of the conference, but studying the results of that conference I think that, on the whole, one can say that this Bill is a very logical, natural and creditable step forward along the road to self-government for this very small territory.
I add, because this has been a difficult matter to deal with and one should pay tribute to all for having achieved this compromise, that in some other territories larger in population and area the process has been simpler because the normal advances in self-government have been much more of a reality than we know in our hearts is necessary or feasible in Bermuda, with its small area and a total population of under 50,000. Those facts have made the task much more difficult than has been the case in the steady advance we have been able to make towards self-government, and eventual complete independence, elsewhere in the Commonwealth.
The hon. Lady spoke of Bermuda's economic conditions representing very much a special case. To a large extent this reflects very seriously on the sort of political future which the island has. I did not think that she was quite generous enough when she said that Bermuda had a very excellent standard of living in comparison with the Caribbean generally, although she added, as I do, that the standard of living compared favourably even with that of the island's giant United States and Canadian partners, and with our own.
One has only to go to Bermuda and then travel to the southerly Caribbean territories—with the exception of the Bahamas, which even so is not so economically advanced as Bermuda—to appreciate that Bermuda is much better off than those southern areas; that in Bermuda, cutting across all questions of race, there is exceptional economic prosperity. We in this House would be very foolish if we were to encourage any steps that would damage such a notable achievement—
I have not said that there is no poverty at all. I have never said that there is no poverty in this country, or in the United States. I have said, endorsing the Minister's remarks, that the standard of prosperity compares favourably with that in this country, in Canada or in the United States of America and is a great deal better than it is anywhere else in the Caribbean area.
What we have to consider is the basis of this widely spread prosperity. It is based on two features, and two alone, because Bermuda as a result of her size and for other reasons has virtually no natural resources. The first feature that sustains the island's prosperity is the chance historic one of the presence of an American base and the enormous spending power that that has engendered throughout the island. That has enabled Bermuda to develop an almost North American standard of living. But in thinking of this American base, and what it means in terms of highly-paid employment for all races at the base, and in work associated with it, we have to remember world strategic and military conditions alter, and although there is no sign yet of the U.S.A. cancelling or wishing to give up its base facilities in Bermuda, those facilities have been reduced.
As we in this House know when we have discussed parts of the Commonwealth with a view to reducing our military commitments, such changes can lead to economic disturbances such as have taken place in Malta. It is altogether wrong to encourage Bermuda to believe that she may always have the opportunity to rest a large part of her prosperity on the continuance of the American base.
We have, therefore, to turn to the other source of income and capital growth for Bermuda, which is tourism. I am sure that I carry the House with me when I say that, in the world today, quite apart from the climate with which Bermuda is blessed, there is one feature above all which encourages tourism, that is, political, social and racial tranquillity. Without that, the tourists simply do not come, and, to put it bluntly, if they do not come to Bermuda, she will suffer a steep decline in her standard of life, which could be quite horrifying.
Having known Bermuda for many years, I must say that there have, in recent years, been regrettable signs of a slight entry of racial tension, signs which hitherto were, fortunately, notable for their absence. I have tried to determine what the causes of this development are. As the hon. Lady said, they are not to be found in the realm of holding back political or economic advance, because progress in both these directions has been marked. We have seen, for example, how the old-fashioned property vote developed within a short time into an overall franchise.
In my view, certain aspects of what has been happening in Bermuda are a reflection of the race troubles in the United States. American newspapers are distributed much more frequently than English ones in Bermuda, and, naturally, descriptions of race rioting and so on in the United States have had an unhappy impact upon an island so closely associated in both geography and tourism with the United States.
Apart from that—I do not want to spend too much time on the point—there have been certain other external rather mischievous elements entering the Bermuda political arena, elements which in the past have not been closely associated with the development of true democracy elsewhere in the Commonwealth. Unfortunately, they have reared their heads in Bermuda.
I have referred to external forces of the sort I have described, and I shall content myself with that observation. The House can form its own conclusion.
The Minister very fairly pointed out that, although the outcome of the conference had substantial majority support, there were strong minority opinions expressed, particularly by members of the Progressive Labour Party. It is only fair to say a word about their objections now. Some of them, I think, have lost some of the force which was felt at the time when the Report of the conference was issued.
In paragraph 3 of the P.L.P. minority Report, strong objection is expressed to the Constitution as a whole because it was felt that it compared very closely with the Bahamas Constitution and, at the time when the findings of the conference were prepared, the P.L.P. members felt that Bermuda would be unlikely to be able to secure the sort of political advance which they wanted within a Bahamas-type Constitution. I think that that is a fair interpretation of their view. In fact, the Bahamas has since then, under a Constitution not greatly dissimilar, seen a remarkable political change in Parliament and Government, so that it cannot now be said that the Constitution proposed for Bermuda will stand in the way of any one party achieving power in Bermuda any more than it has in the Bahamas.
There was strong criticism on the question of taxation. On this point, one must always bear in mind that, in dealing with the economy of a country which has no natural resources but which depends almost entirely on tourism and what is allied with tourism—it being an international tax haven—one cannot apply the rules of taxation which are relevant in a modem industrial society with its own resources. One must be very careful not to damage, for the sake of a political theory, a structure which is of great value to the island. It would be very hard to recover from such damage because there are so many other places in the sun which are all too ready nowadays to take over Bermuda's position in this respect.
There has been criticism also of the three years' residence rule which will allow non-Bermudans to vote in future. Again, I regard this as shortsighted. If the island is to continue to prosper, more people must go to it, taking their ability to develop its potential and to help in local employment, apart from seasonal tourism. It would be selfish to think that in Bermuda—we do not do it vis-à-vis our other Commonwealth partners—we should prevent non-Bermudans having a vote if they decide to live in the country under its laws.
Another question in that context is raised by the objection to the retention of boards. I hope that I carry the hon. Lady with me when I say that, although we in this country have tended, naturally and strongly, because of our traditions, to favour the departure of such boards and to feel that ordinary Government Ministries should take over their rôle—sometimes, nowadays, we do not seem to be following this precept in Britain as we should—when there is a population of only 50,000, including men, women and children, to be taken into account, there is, inevitably, a limit to the number of people of skill in govern- ment who can devote their whole time to the work of government.
In my view, it would be likely to harm development if we excluded entirely those who can help in governing the island only on a part-time basis. In saying that, I have very much in mind what we do in this country when dealing with a population of only 50,000 or so. We do not insist on a form of ministerial government in such circumstances, precluding everyone who can help only on a part-time basis.
Now, the question of constituencies. When one looks at them carefully, one sees that the objections apply only to the large constituency of Pembroke, which will in future have double the number of members of the other parishes. On a strict proportional basis. obviously it should have rather more, but I do not believe that it is worth upsetting a Constitution because of a question which would, after all is said and done, give two more members for one parish if the P.L.P. had its way and a strictly mathematical basis were adopted.
I took the average of all the other parishes and I found that, apart from Pembroke, they will have about 530 constituents on average per member, and Pembroke will have about 1,100, a little over double. That may be unjustifiable in strict mathematical terms, but one must recognise that there are quite wide electoral discrepancies of population in other parts of the world, and even in this country. I believe that my own constituency of Torquay has nearly double the number of constituents of Montgomery, yet I have not so far decided to go to the stake in order to make quite sure that there is a fair proportion as between one constituency and the other.
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the anomalies which occur in the British electoral system (a) are in time put right, and (b) tend to cancel one another out as between the parties, whereas in Bermuda neither of these factors seems to operate?
I think that the hon. Lady gave the answer to that question in advance by saying that no constitutions are entirely static. They are in the process of being put right. They have already been put right 50 per cent. of the way at the conference she attended, as compared with the situation before, when the number of members for Pembroke was doubled. Therefore, the constitution is on the way to being remedied.
I do not think that we do any service by stressing racial differences in Bermuda. If we do, we shall perhaps get a certain amount of self-satisfaction, but we shall do a great deal of damage to the economic structure in Bermuda which is dependent for a large degree of success on the lack of racial tension.
Finally, I wish to say a word about independence, which people in Bermuda did not mention much at the Conference. But it was mentioned in a letter written to The Times afterwards by the leader of the P.L.P. Any territory must, in due course, decide which way it shall go, but there seems to be a practical limit to what can form an independent sovereign country in this day and age as regards the numbers involved. I do not accept for a moment that our granting independence to Bermuda, with its total dependence on outside resources concerning tourism, and so on, and the presence of the American base, would make independence in any way a reality when we talk in terms of sovereign countries elsewhere with substantial populations.
The hon. Lady concluded by saying that this was not the end of the road. We on this side of the House agree with that, but we think that it is a marked step forward. From now on all our efforts should be concentrated on making the constitution work. Such tensions and suspicions as have arisen within Bermuda can best be overcome and disproved, as has been shown elsewhere in the Commonwealth, by the two races working even more closely together in the future than they have in the past.
It is worth mentioning that, unlike parties in other parts of the Commonwealth, the U.B.P. in Bermuda has a substantial number of people of races other than Europeans in its membership. I believe that if they were here today they would endorse every word I have said, in that the path forward in Bermuda is not by making comparisons on strictly racial lines, but by trying to get the races working together. The ratio of numbers between the races is not even two to one, leaving out the tourists and the base personnel. There is no other part of the Commonwealth where the discrepancy between the two races is so small, and it is essential that they work together and not apart because Bermuda, if they are working apart, is nothing at all.
Therefore, I have no hesitation—and I believe that I can also say this on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends —in endorsing the Bill and the Order in Council which is to flow from it, and I wish the people of Bermuda well and hope that they will work in amity.
All of us in the House have a high regard for all the people of Bermuda, whatever their racial background. Some of us wish that they all had equal rights. The hon. Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett) appears not to wish that, judging from what he says. He says that we should not stress any racial inequalities. But it is impossible not to draw attention to them when they are felt as keenly as they are by the coloured people of Bermuda who, after all, despite what has been said about the very small difference in numbers, are a majority who succeed in obtaining only a minority of seats in the House of Assembly because of the way in which the constituency boundaries have been managed.
I do not know in this connection what the hon. Gentleman meant when he said that we should not take any step which could damage the economy of Bermuda —I am trying to paraphrase him fairly, presumably by keeping away either tourists or the base personnel, or something like that. But surely he is not suggesting that American tourists would refrain from going to a beautiful island for their holidays if it had a coloured Government, or anything like that?
The hon. Gentleman misquoted me once at the beginning of his speech and I decided to let it go. But I must emphasise that I did not say that. I said that American and other tourists would not go if there were a state of non-tranquillity in political and racial terms on the island. That is, in effect, what has happened disastrously for other economies in the world.
I entirely accept that. I said that I was paraphrasing the hon. Gentleman. He says "non-tranquillity". Presumably he means riots and disturbances, but who is going to start them? Presumably if this Constitution went a bit further and gave real justice—what the hon. Gentleman called, perhaps ironically, "true democracy"—to the people of Bermuda, he means that the dominant white oligarchy would resort to violence to prevent the coloured people from getting their rights and a just constitution. Is that what he means? If so, it does not say much for their sense of true democracy.
I think that the hon. Gentleman is right, and HANSARD will show tomorrow exactly what he said. But I wanted to draw out some of the implications of what he said, because they seem to me to be a little dangerous.
In introducing the Bill my hon. Friend explained that the Bill says practically nothing, as is evident to the House. There is nothing of substance in it about the Constitution. I should like to ask her whether the Order in Council embodying the Constitution will be debatable when we see it. Although she assured us, I am certain in good faith, that the summary of the provisions of the proposed Constitution represents roughly what will be in the Order in Council, there may be second thoughts. Changes may be made, and we should like to see the actual terms of the Constitution before we decide to support it. If she replies by leave of the House, perhaps she will answer that point.
I am not quite sure that I accept the way in which both my hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman seemed to equate the two minority Reports. My hon. Friend said that there was one minority Report which said that the Constitution goes too far and another from the Progressive Labour Party which says that it does not go far enough. Of course, I suppose that the first minority Report, the one which says that it goes too far, must come from a relatively small minority of the dominant race, whereas the other comes from the P.L.P., which represents a much larger proportion of the population of Bermuda. It is not altogether fair to seem to equate those two minority Reports. The conference was dominated by people from the majority party elected on the old unjust boundaries.
There are three important aspects of the report. First, there is the question of the registration of electors. My hon. Friend has referred to that. A promise was made to send an expert. The P.L.P hoped that something on the lines of the custom in this country of registering electors would be adopted. It was promised that an expert on such matters would be sent, and an expert was sent. I am sure that he did his best and gave the best advice that he could.
But the expert who was sent was an expert from the Colonial Office accustomed to advising the peoples of—perhaps through no fault of their own— semi-literate developing countries on constitutions and so on. Surely an expert should have been sent from the Registrar-General's Office, since it was desired that the system adopted there should be something like our system here. I gather that he has reported but his report is not as yet available. I believe that it has not been published in Bermuda either. If I am wrong, perhaps my hon. Friend will correct me.
The second most important aspect of the Report is the promise of consultations to widen the basis of candidature. At present—and this is a most extraordinary aspect of the undemocratic system in Bermuda—all public servants are debarred from standing for the House of Assembly. This is extremely unfair because it means that some of the most educated and articulate people are debarred from standing—school teachers, for instance—because so many people are public servants in Bermuda, as the hon. Gentleman no doubt knows.
If one looks at paragraph 15 in the Report of the conference, one sees that
The Conference agreed that the present law by which all persons paid from public funds are disqualified from membership of the Legislature should be reconsidered. The United Bermuda Party representatives"—
that is, even the dominant white minority—
said that their Party would consult with the Progressive Labour Party and the Independents in the House of Assembly on this matter with a view to the alteration of the law.
I draw my hon. Friend's particular attention to the words,
… with a view to the alteration of the law.
I understand that an all-party committee was set up, consulted—of course, it was naturally dominated, as one would expect, by the U.B.P.—and, I gather, has recommended that there should be no change in the law. This is utterly false to the promise given to the Constitutional Conference and I would like to hear what my hon. Friend has to say about that and whether anything can be put into the constitution embodied in the Order in Council so as to ensure that all adults otherwise qualified shall be able to stand for election, whether or not they are in receipt of public funds. It is fantastic that, for instance, school teachers should be so debarred.
The third most important issue—and this is the one which I think the Report itself somewhere says is the most important issue—is the question of the division of constituencies. Incidentally, it is extremely inconvenient that we in this House have not got available in the Vote Office the Report of the Boundaries Commission. There are two copies of it in the Library which we are not allowed to remove and bring into the Chamber. This is most inconvenient and my hon. Friends' Department should have made sure that copies were available in the Vote Office.
At any rate, there is no doubt that, although the hon. Member for Torquay brushed aside the distinction between constituencies, between electors and the numerical size of electorates, this is the crux of the inequalities that undoubtedly exist in Bermuda and will continue to exist, although in a somewhat modified form. The constituency boundaries will continue in many cases to be rigged. Originally, the rigging cannot properly have been so described. It was a byproduct of historical circumstances probably. But the deliberate perpetuation of it is, of course, rigging or gerrymandering in the interests of the oligarchy. This is almost as bad in some respects as the rigging of the boundaries in Northern Ireland.
Whereas in the past it would be correct to say that, at any rate in some parts of the island, if one was a coloured man one's vote was worth one-ninth of the vote of a white man, now it would be worth one-third. It is not a case of one man one vote but of one third of a man one vote—which, of course is a sensational advance.
No doubt because she wanted to speak briefly and get the Bill through quickly, my hon. Friend did not say much about the debate which took place in the Assembly on the Report of the Boundaries Commission. She said that it had been agreed by the Assembly. She did not say that it was very strongly opposed and that there was a vote on it which had a quite substantial minority against it. The vote was 21 to 11. I understand that this is so, but perhaps my hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong.
Apart from the Pembroke constituency referred to, Devonshire, South is one of the most important constituencies. It is practically all white and happens to be the constituency of the Speaker of the Assembly. Unlike the totally impartial occupant of our Chair, he behaves rather like our Lord Chancellor in another place and descends from the Chair to take part in partisan battles on the Floor of the House—only rather more so than the Lord Chancellor.
The Speaker of the Assembly itself, I understand, was one of those who voted for the adoption of the Report of the Boundaries Commission, which guaranteed him his safe white seat in Devonshire, South constituency. In this House, even if we had the same system as they have in another place, with the Lord Chancellor taking part in the debate in a partisan sense, I think that our Speaker would think it unwise or improper that he should vote for the perpetuation of his own comfortable majority.
Incidentally, this is, of course, another answer, apart from the one that my hon. Friend gave, to the hon. Member for Torquay's point about constituencies in this country not being altogether equal. The constituencies in Bermuda are unequal on a racial basis. That is how the boundaries are rigged and will continue to be rigged to a considerable extent.
I wonder why the Labour Government have paid so little regard to the views of the highly responsible Progressive Labour Party of Bermuda. It is a party whose ideological outlook is rather similar to that of the British Labour Party, perhaps rather more moderate even, perhaps rather more to the centre than to the left. It has applied for membership of the Socialist International and I believe that its application may be considered favourably but I am not sure about that.
The Socialist International has as its member parties the British Labour Party, the S.P.D., the Scandinavian parties and a number of other parties of unimpeachable respectability. I wish that a little more attention could have been paid by a Labour Government here to the views and aspirations of our comrades in Bermuda who are, at this moment and will continue to be, discriminated against, even if they are discriminated against a little less extremely than in the past. I do not believe that it would have been impossible to take a further step and do the whole thing in one instead of just cautiously step by step.
I understand—and I am sure the hon. Member for Torquay would confirm—that the oligarchy in Bermuda are relatively civilised, gentle people. They are not savages like the Rhodesia Front extremists. They would not have started shooting, rioting, and so on, if we had given the coloured population equal electoral rights. I certainly hope not. It would speak very badly for them if anybody thinks they would. Anything which enhances racial tension is bad. I maintain that this Constitution, retaining these gerrymandered elements of racial privilege, will tend to enhance racial tension. The P.L.P. is not a racialist party, but if, on the one hand, there are these privileges and, on the other hand, people are debarred from equality, inevitably feelings will get worked up and people will vote according to colour, which is a very deplorable thing.
Fifty-nine hon. Members of this House signed a Motion, which said:
That this House will decline to enact any legislation enabling additional powers to be granted to the Legislature of the Colony of Bermuda until such time as that Legislature has provided by law that the House of Assembly of the Island shall be composed of members elected from constituencies of approximately equal population delimited without regard to colour or social status.
The Report says that no regard is to be paid to racial considerations. On the face of it, that looks very fine, but as the
whole basis of the electorate, at any rate in some of the parishes, is racial, some regard should have been had for racial considerations in an effort to carve up the parishes, the constituencies, more equitably between the races so that people would not be tempted to vote according to colour but according to party.
I hope, therefore, that even at this moment, my hon. Friend the Minister of State will consult her colleagues and decide to take the Bill back and have another go at giving true equality and true democracy to the people of Bermuda.
The new Constitution for Bermuda has been criticised, not on this ground by the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg), but by the Progressive Labour Party in Bermuda, partly because it follows the same lines of the Bahamas Constitution. This is not unusual, as these two Colonies have always tended to move in step constitutionally, with the Bahamas perhaps a few years in advance of Bermuda. But as I presided over the Bahamas Constitutional Conference and was responsible for its decisions, I feel bound to say a few words in defence of the Bermuda Constitution on this occasion.
The main Bermuda Opposition objection to the Constitution is—just as the main Bahamas Opposition to their Constitution was—simply and solely—and I hope that hon. Members will not think I am being too critical about this—a party political objection. I do not criticise that: we are all politicians. But the objection, in essence, is that the smaller constituencies are over represented and that the larger constituencies are under-represented and that this favours the ruling party in each of these Colonies. It was almost inevitable in the Bahamas, because of the number of out-islands which wanted to return their own member or members as compared with the main island of New Providence.
The same general considerations apply in Bermuda where the parish tradition, as the hon. Lady pointed out, is still very strong. Indeed, they apply in Britain, too. The scale is different in Britain, but, strangly enough, the discrepancy is not. In Bermuda, 28,000 voters return 40 Members of Parliament—an average of one Member for every 700 votes. I rather envy any Member of Parliament anywhere who has an electorate of only 700.
Under the new Constitution, I understand that 400 electors will return a member in Hamilton, which is the smallest parish, while in Pembroke, the largest parish, 1,100 electors will return one member. That is less than a three to one difference between the two extremes.
In Britain, the two smallest constituencies numerically are the Western Isles and the Ladywood Division of Birmingham, with less than 23,000 electors each. Merioneth and the Exchange Division of Manchester are not much larger with about 25,000 electors each. The largest constituencies are Billericay, with 103,000 electors, and the Langstone Division of Portsmouth, with over 97,000 electors. So, in Britain, there is more than a four-to-one difference between the two extremes as compared with less than a three-to-one difference in Bermuda.
If hon. Members opposite are basing their objections on numbers—as the P.L.P. leader, Mr. Robinson, did in Bermuda—then 1 suggest that the United Kingdom figures are, to say the least, not particularly helpful to their argument.
The hon. Gentleman always makes his points with admirable clarity, but it is not particularly helpful, in the context of Bermuda, to keep underlining the colour aspect.
I cannot remember what the exact discrepancy is between the largest and smallest constituencies in the Bahamas; but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett) pointed out. with the same sort of Constitution and the same Opposition objections to it, the P.L.P., led by Mr. Pindling, defeated the U.B.P., led by Sir Roland Symonette, in the recent General Election, so there is, on the face of it, no reason why the Opposition in Bermuda should not achieve power under their new Constitution.
I thank my hon. Friend very much. I should have remembered that myself.
The truth is that the Bermuda Constitution, like the Bahamas Constitution, was, as the hon. Lady said, a compromise, and rightly so. The hon. Member for Barking criticised the hon. Lady for not taking sides with the P.L.P.; but, with great respect—the hon. Members knows that I have a great respect and indeed, if I may say so, affection for him—I think that shows a misconception of the British Government's rôle at these conferences. Ministers here are not supposed to take sides according to party affiliations. They are in the middle; they are umpires between the two different parties.
Constitutional conferences always depend on a willingness to compromise and make concessions on both sides. Anyone who has had experience in the old Colonial Office, or, more recently, in the Commonwealth Office, knows that perfectly well.
I thank the hon. Lady very much. She brings out the point I am trying to make about either imposing a settlement by an arbitrary decision taken in Whitehall, or trying to bring the parties together and acting as a mediator between them. The United Kingdom Government—of any party—is always in the position of an umpire between different political parties in the Colony concerned, and the British Minister in charge of the conference has to act as a mediator between them.
I realise that. I should have remembered that the conference was held before the recent amalgamation. I think that the former Secretary of State for the Colonies was in charge. I am sure that his experience was the same as mine. When I dealt with these things, I never expected to get agreement at the conference table at Lancaster House. I used to try to identify the main points of difference and then bring the two parties together to resolve them. I used to invite first the leaders of one political party and then the leaders of the other political party round to my house.
I would say to Party A, "If you will move a little closer towards the centre on this issue, I will try to get the leaders of Party B to move a little nearer to the centre from their point of view." I tried in that way to bring about a compromise, calling for a sacrifice from both parties of some of the tenets they held very dearly.
Sometimes I succeeded in securing agreement. Sometimes I did not. But neither side should ever be encouraged to win 100 per cent. of its case, because that would mean total humiliation for the other side. It seemed to me that the job of the British Minister in charge was to devise a package deal which was reasonably fair to both sides but about which neither side was very enthusiastic.
I have no doubt that the same technique was employed by Her Majesty's Ministers at the Bermuda Constitutional Conference. Indeed, the very fact, as the hon. Lady said, that some delegates at the conference thought that the Constitution went too far and others thought that it did not go far enough is some evidence that the compromise between these different views was probably roughly right, although I must point out to the hon. Member for Barking that neither the hon. Lady the Minister of State nor my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay equated the two minority Reports. Although I was no longer in any way responsible, I remember urging the U.B.P. leaders when the conference started to accept a compromise which went further than they had wanted to go, because, as I told them at that time, the then Colonial Secretary could not possibly propose any settlement which was not a compromise, and that is how it worked out.
I do not want to say anything contentious or controversial from a party point of view, because that is not the atmosphere of this debate, but I venture to suggest that the compromise proposed by the Secretary of State at the conference might well have been accepted by both sides but for the extreme and very uncompromising advice given to the Bermuda Opposition by their own constitutional adviser. As the hon. Lady said earlier, one must move gradually in matters of this kind. It is always a process of evolution.
I know that my hon. Friends particularly will agree, but I also believe that the whole House will agree, that, fortunately, we have in Bermuda a very middle-of-the-road Governor, a former colleague of ours here who understands all the politics of the matter very well indeed, who himself, as I think will be universally accepted in the House, has no vestige of colour prejudice, whose whole career has been devoted to the Commonwealth, and whose tact and good sense has been, and I think will be, a sheet anchor of stability combined with progress in Bermuda.
Under his guidance, I am sure that Bermuda will have a happy and a prosperous future; and we all wish her people well in the years ahead.
I have listened with some fascination to the two opening speeches. Clause 1(4) of the Bill seems quite straightforward in its provision that Orders in Council will be laid before Parliament so that we shall be able to have another look at some of these settlements later. However, the speeches of my hon. Friend the Minister of State and of the hon. Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett) caused me some moments of alarm, as they did my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg). Not the least cause for concern was the exchange between my hon. Friend the Minister of State and one of her predecessors at the Colonial Office, the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher). I almost began to think that they were forming a union of past and present Colonial Ministers.
It is not my custom to speak in a colonial debate on an island or colony which I have not visited. Apparently, I am one of the few Members present this morning who has not been to the beautiful island of Bermuda. However, I had the pleasure of meeting many of the delegates at the conference at Lancaster House. Even more important, I listened for a long time to the members of the Opposition, people such as one lady who, I think, was a former Lady Mayoress of Bradford, and a very charming and distinguished coloured lady barrister whose name was Mrs. Lois Browne-Evans. I was impressed by the calibre of the delegates and by the content of their conversations with me. I have checked up on some of the facts they mentioned.
At the time of the November conference some of us asked Questions about the settlement or the Constitution. Last November, we tabled the Motion to which my hon. Friend the Member for Barking has referred. In reply to our Questions, we were told that this Constitution was the best Bermuda ever had. I accept that, because there has been no alteration to Bermuda's Constitution since about 1620. We therefore expect a move forward but we really expected a longer step forward than this.
We appreciate that my hon. Friend the Minister of State must defend this Constitution, or at least accept it and explain it, but she is the legatee of those decisions who have gone before. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Barking, having met the delegates to the conference, that we could have done much more than we have done to help the Opposition. I say to the hon. Member for Surbiton that this is not a matter of party. This is a matter of helping the Bermuda have-nots. As I understand colonial society, they are the have-nots, and, on whichever side of this House we sit, we should be concerned with helping those living in this distant island who need our help. This is how I approach this question, not according to whether the Opposition in Mauritius, in Hong Kong or, as in this case, in Bermuda, is sympathetic to my party or to somebody else's party. These people need help.
I want to refer to the objection that this Constitution is based upon the Bahamas Constitution. I am told that the only coloured member of the United Bermuda Party, Mr. Rattray, following the conference in London, has left the United Bermuda Party on the ground that he does not like this Constitution because it is modelled on the Bahamas one.
If I understand my hon. Friend correctly, he is saying that Mr. Rattray is the only coloured member of the U.B.P. and has left the party. If that is his statement I am sure that he is wrong. He has overlooked the existence of the Hon. E. T. Richards.
The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, West (Mr. J. Johnson) may have ignored the fact that at least 12 non-European candidates will be among those adopted by the U.B.P. in the forthcoming elections.
I will defer to those of my colleagues who know the facts better than I. This was my information. I retract my statement if I am assured that it is wrong, and of course, the information was second-hand. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Surbiton said that it was possible for the Opposition to gain power. Nothing is impossible, and much depends upon the composition of the constituencies, but it does appear that unless there is an enormous shift in public opinion, the dice is loaded against the Opposition party ever winning.
Paragraph 7 of the last Government Report, with which the Opposition were in complete disagreement instances the most populous parishes of Pembroke, Devonshire and Sandys. They contain about 23,672 persons out of a total of 42,640 and they return 16 Members to the Assembly. Six other parishes, containing a minority of the population 18,968, send back 24 Members. I listened to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Surbiton comparing Welsh and Irish constituencies, but figures like this are much more than merely marginal.
We have to have a policy which will allow the Progressive Labour Party to have a better chance of gaining power, as, I am told, the former Opposition have gained power in the Bahamas. In Devonshire parish, I understand that the parish should have been equally divided on the basis of the local population, coloured or otherwise. Instead, to suit the convenience of the majority United Bermudan Party, the division is along the highway, giving an almost entirely white constituency south of the highway which has returned Mr. Speaker. Is it a fact that the Boundary Commission's findings have been debated in the Bermuda Assembly and have been passed?
I have nothing against Speakers, young or old. My concern is about the Constitution which allows a procedure so alien to the customs of this House. I hope that the position where Mr. Speaker can actively affect the decision at the end of a long debate will be ended. It is quite out of order, and against our Anglo-Saxon traditions.
I am also told that teachers, bus drivers and conductors, and other manual workers in public employment will not be allowed to stand as candidates in the election. This will bar hundreds of able, capable artisans, mechanics, shop stewards and the leaders of unions, whose views ought to be heard on the Floor of the Assembly. Instead, the Assembly is to be dominated by a white, monied, landed element. This is an element which our reading of history shows us, is not helpful to mechanics, busmen, conductors or teachers. Can the Minister say in what other Colony this state of affairs prevails?
I would like to protest against the debarring of large sections of the working population, who would make fine members of the Assembly. Government employees should be allowed to stand as candidates. We have also been told that in colonial constitutional discussions it is unusual to make large changes in the constitution against the will of the majority party in power. I suggest that in this case we should pay a little more attention to the minority, and a little less to the past oligarchy, which has been in power for so long. I sincerely hope that we shall have a second look at these matters, and will be able to debate in this House some of the proposed changes.
Having had the good fortune to be in Bermuda on three occasions during the past 12 months, I have found the greatest difficulty in recognising any reflection of the happy island which I visited in the speeches which we have just heard from the hon. Members for Barking (Mr. Driberg) and Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson).
I have found it particularly difficult to reconcile my recollection of some of the functions which I attended in Bermuda with the observations which have just been made. One happy occasion which I remember vividly was the presentation of the cups at the end of last year's football competition. It seemed to me that the atmosphere prevailing then was in no way reflected in the speeches of the two hon. Gentlemen.
My hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) spoke of the position in our own constituency of Billericay, referring to the number of people there who have to cast their votes in order to send a Member to this House and comparing those numbers with the numbers in other constituencies in the United Kingdom. That was all brushed on one side. It did not seem to matter to hon. Members opposite if there was such a situation in Billericay because the faces of the people there are white.
Apparently, it is a matter of no great importance that so many people in Billericay are entitled to a vote for only one Member of Parliament. In Bermuda, on the other hand, where a similar, though relatively much smaller, situation can arise, a large number of people whose faces happen to be of a different colour having to vote for their Member in one constituency, it is said that a vital principle is involved.
It seems to me that a wrong emphasis is being put on that comparison. In my view, the principle should be the same, whether the electorate is in Billericay or in Bermuda. That is the first point I make. I have, as I say, found it difficult to reconcile the views just expressed with the Bermuda which I have had the good fortune to visit on a few occasions recently.
It seems to me that the White Paper giving the Report of the Bermuda Constitutional Conference contains the answers to most of the points which the two hon. Gentlemen made. For example, in paragraph 6 it is said:
There was general agreement, the Progressive Labour Party representatives dissenting, that all shades of political opinion in Bermuda were represented at the Conference.
Hon. Members have been making a case on behalf of the P.L.P. in Bermuda, but it is clear that there was general agreement at the conference that all shades of political opinion were represented.
Next, at the end of paragraph 10, with reference to the proposed terms of reference for a Boundaries Commission, it was said that,
subject to the foregoing, the Commission should ensure that the constituencies contain as near as may be equal numbers of adult persons, as determined by the immediately preceding census".
It seems, therefore, that, whatever point was being made by either of the two hon. Gentlemen who have just spoken, the answer is given in paragraph 10.
Again, in the middle of paragraph 19 we read:
It was pointed out on behalf of the United Kingdom Government that the form of the new constitution could be made an election issue and that if a majority of members were elected to the House of Assembly who were opposed to some or all of its features the new Government would then have a mandate from the electorate to seek further changes which the United Kingdom Government would, of course, consider.
Thus, we have the view of representatives from Bermuda that all shades of political opinion were represented at the conference. It is stated that the Boundaries Commission would ensure that the constituencies contained as near as may be equal numbers. Finally, it is stated that if, in due course, as a result of the democratic processes of election, a new Constitution were desired, this would be considered by Her Majesty's Government.
Yes, but what I am pointing out is that, on an objective view of what is stated in the Report, even the three representatives who dissented have legitimate democratic methods available to them of dealing with the problems which they emphasised. I do not agree that there is any reason why we should complain about the Report in the House today.
On another and happier note, I endorse what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton about our former colleague. I had the good fortune to hear Lord Martineau make a speech at the Royal Commonwealth Society just after the Constitutional Conference had taken place. I felt then that, if that speech had been read by Members of this House and by people in the Commonwealth, not only would it do a great deal of good to those who read it, but its influence would be very beneficial in all parts of the Commonwealth. I did not want to let this opportunity pass without saying how highly I regarded that speech and how much appreciation I found in Bermuda, in all parts of the island, for the work which he is doing.
I add my good wishes to the people of Bermuda in their next step forward, expressing the hope that they will have a very happy future under this new Constitution.
Unlike the hon. Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett), I have neither the pleasure of owning a cottage in Bermuda nor the agony of having to decide in which House to sit, the Bermuda House or this House of Commons; but I think that I am the last person in the Chamber to have been in Bermuda, and I wish to contribute to the debate on that basis.
As everyone who has been to Bermuda recognises, the island has many unique features. It receives no aid from this country and, therefore, feels more able to look us in the eye in determining its own future. It is not a poor Colony by any standards. The colour bar, so far as it exists at all, is being chipped away gradually but remorselessly by the Governor and those who serve with him and under him. What is, perhaps, the most significant feature of all has not yet been mentioned. Bermuda has, so far as I know, proportionately the largest white minority—38 per cent. of the population—of any country in the world, certainly of any country in the British Commonwealth. This fact raises certain considerations which I wish to put to the House.
There are other features, also, such as that it cannot be federated with any neighbour. There have been several references to the Caribbean, but it is quite improper even to mention Bermuda in the Caribbean context. It is nowhere near the Caribbean. It is on its own. Partly on that account, Bermuda can never, in my view, look forward to total sovereign independence. I do not believe that an island of 50,000 people, by itself and where it is, can look forward to that prospect. Those are all considerations to be borne in mind in the context of this debate.
Like other hon. Members who have visited the island, I have been struck by two features which must occur to anyone with reasonably progressive tendencies. First, Bermuda needs a revision of its tax policies. A situation in which revenue is raised, basically, by a tax on imported goods, which bears more heavily on the poorer sections of the community, and in which no tax is raised from income or from inheritance is one which cannot be tolerated in the modern world, although it has an incidental advantage in making the foreign tourists, who buy goods in the shops, contribute to the revenue. I am certain that some revision of tax policy is required. The second feature which strikes a visitor is the disparity in voting strength between the various parishes. It is a fair assumption that revision of voting patterns will gradually lead to a revision of the tax structure.
I found particularly noteworthy the caution and, in some quarters, the apprehension of the white "Establishment", if one may use that term, a caution not entirely without foundation. They realise that Bermuda's very prosperous economy is based on three potentially fragile elements: on tourism, mainly from North America; on being a centre of international investment, for tax reasons which I do not pretend to understand—this was recently high-lighted by the existence of the Barracuda Tanking Corporation in Bermuda, which owns the "Torrey Canyon"; and, third, on the existence of the United States bases.
All three of these ingredients in their prosperity could be affected if there was violent change and I think that because of this the white "Establishment" fears the emergence of party politics based on colour, whether it is their colour or the colour of the coloured community. Because of this fear some do not want any party politics at all, though I believe that they are spitting in the wind in that hope.
I must report what I thought was a slightly disturbing event while I was in Bermuda. It was advertised in the local Press that a meeting was to be held by the Opposition party and to be addressed by a "black power" representative from the United States. Had I known about the meeting I would have attended it as an interested politician but I am glad that I did not because I understand that no white people were admitted and that, in fact, a white journalist was asked to leave.
Those are factors which we have to take into account. I believe that the more sensible and far-sighted members of the white community realise that true democracy, to use a phrase which has been used already, is coming, and they are anxious to have multi-racial parties and some tax reform. It may be that they are making a virtue of necessity, but whatever the spur they are trying to be virtuous. This is not a South African situation where there is a large white minority of about 32 to 33 per cent. of the population arresting the development of the coloured majority.
No one would pretend that it can be equated with that situation. On the other hand, it is not a Kenyan situation where the white minority was so small—and, of course, it was even smaller elsewhere—that its interest could be rolled over by the British Government of the day. It is in neither of those categories and I think that this determines the speed at which the British Government are deciding to go.
By Bermudan historical standards, I think that the white "Establishment" has accepted quite rapid change already. Only four years ago there was only the property vote. Now there is universal suffrage for everybody over 21, with no property vote. I think that only four years ago the idea of there being any move towards justice in the number of seats being granted would have been thrown out of court. Some move has been made in the case of Pembroke. For a country which has had a restricted franchise for the previous 343 years and with the Legislature the size of which has been fixed for the previous 267 years, this is quite fast progress in four years.
I am not trying to advance the doctrine of "unripe time", that time is never right for any change. What I am suggesting is that so long as some movement is assured one can accept a policy of one step at a time.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) has said, the boundaries were not rigged in the sense that people sat down and decided consciously to rig them. They are the by-product of the history of the parish system, but hon. Gentlemen opposite who may share many of the views which I have expressed do not serve their argument by trying to defend the present disparities in electoral sizes by referring to this country. I think that the only reason why they remain defensible is that change overnight would mean a pace of change which would give rise to some apprehensions in some quarters in Bermuda. This is the only reason for going slowly and not by trying to show that it is no worse than Ladywood and Billericay. With respect, I think that this is a dangerous argument to use.
I have some reservations even about the Bill as proposed. It seems to me that in conjunction with the Bermudians we are landing them with a somewhat large superstructure of government, with a non-elected Legislative Council of 11 members and an elected Executive Council of seven or more members. There will be two chambers, the lower one consisting of 40 elected members. I cannot help but reflect that as more people voted for me in Meriden than voted in the whole of Bermuda at the last election, and that if I add my opposition vote there were more votes than the whole population of Bermuda, 40 members is probably rather high.
The last point of my intervention is really to ask my hon. Friend to reiterate
in unequivocal terms something which she probably thinks she has done. I would like an assurance that there will be further movement. Paragraph 17 of the White Paper says:
An assurance was given that the Secretary of State would not advise the making of any Order in Council to revoke or amend the new Constitution, without consulting the Bermuda Government…".
The implication of that is that a revoking or amending may take place even if the Bermuda Government do not like it, because the consultation does not imply that agreement is necessary.
I hope that that is roughly the situation, but paragraph 19 says:
It was pointed out on behalf of the United Kingdom Government that the form of the new Constitution could be made an election issue and that if a majority of members were elected to the House of Assembly who were opposed to some or all of its features the new Government would then have a mandate from the electorate to seek further changes which the United Kingdom Government would, of course, consider.
I think that that gives the impression that if the majority of elected members do not want change there may be none. What hon. Members on this side of the House are trying to get clear is that if the party representing the majority of the popular vote, which may have only a minority of members in the new Legislature, want change the British Government will consider it even if the majority of members are still reluctant to go any further forward.
I support the cautious advance which the British Government are making. I think that this is almost a unique Colony, certainly unique in its racial balance. I think that this is a good reason for going carefully, but I give my support to the Bill in the belief and hope that we are in no way qualifying our determination to go ahead eventually to the true democracy in which I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the House believe.
I was one of the Members who had the privilege of being in Bermuda earlier this year. I would not claim that a six-and-a-half or seven-day visit gives me any kind of authority to speak for Bermuda, but I think that one's interest in a place is increased considerably if one has been there and talked to people about the problems of the new Constitution with which many of them were concerned at the beginning of March.
I am slightly horrified at what my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Rowland) said about a "black power" meeting from which all white people were excluded. I hope that this is not a general trend in the island. I think that we should be careful when we talk about politics in Bermuda becoming a matter of colour, because it has been very much a matter of colour up to now. The only difference is that it has been absolute white control. We sometimes take the view that white is not a colour, but I think that this is a matter about which we must be very careful.
I agree with what my hon. Friend said about this being rather an elaborate Constitution for an island of fewer than 50,000 people. This is a point which the P.L.P. raised in its minority Report. It also questioned the power of the governor to appoint a chief justice, and I think that this matter should be looked at again. Its suggestion that the Privy Council should appoint the Chief Justice may remove some difficulties which possibly have a legitimate basis.
I want to deal for a few moments with the Report of the Lancaster House conference and with the P.L.P. minority Report. As been mentioned by some of my hon. Friends, we are all aware that the conference comprised a group of people who were apparently representative of the parties in Bermuda, as they were elected. But the P.L.P. claims to speak for the majority of the people of Burmuda, though only a free franchise would prove it; vet it had a very small representation. Had democracy as we are trying to frame it now been in vogue in Bermuda, the representation at that conference would have been very different, and another Constitution might have emerged creating different conditions for the advancement of Bermuda.
I agree with the criticism about the elaborateness of the Constitution. In a country the size of Bermuda, it is impossible to think in terms of full-time members, and an Assembly of 40 Members on a part-time basis is probably a good idea. Such part-time members have an intimacy with the people, and they meet about once a fortnight, very much like a local authority in this country.
Mention has been made of the disparity between electors in this country when making a comparison between our Constitution and that proposed for Bermuda. I think that it is completely false, not least because Bermuda happens to be an island where there are colour differences. That is something which, to an extent, affects how people vote. It may be reprehensible that decisions should be made on that basis, but perhaps some people will do so, just as people in Britain make decisions on a basis which is not completely rational or political. However, in Britain, where there is a disparity between electors, apart from colour—and I exclude Northern Ireland, which is completely beyond my understanding—surely it is because we are a fairly large nation needing to rebuild and change the face of the country, with huge masses of people moving from one part of the country to another.
The process of bringing the electoral register and constituencies up to date is a continuous one. In addition, for reasons of geography, we have to make special arrangements for places like the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland and certain Welsh areas. From the electoral point of view, none of us who have small neat city constituencies envy people like my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) who has to take a plane, boat or car to address a single meeting. There are physical difficulties involved in the disparity between constituencies in Britain, so it is unfair to make a quick and facile comparison such as that which was made in the minority Report by the U.B.P.
There is a case for looking closely at the minority Report of the Progressive Labour Party when it refers to the multiplicity of boards in Bermuda. It occurs to me that some method might be evolved whereby a neater and more manageable Civil Service was established to obviate the necessity for so many of these boards.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg), I am concerned to know who went out to show the people of Bermuda the method which is used in this county to bring our electoral register up to date. When I was there, I was told that there is comparatively little illiteracy and that perhaps, on a pro rata basis, it is very close to our own rate. It would appear to me that someone from this country representing the Registrar-General who had served on some of Mr. Speaker's Panels would be better than someone who had been at the Colonial Office, where, no matter how impartial one may be, certain attitudes are built up, and who would be inclined to take with him attitudes from some other part of the world which are not necessarily applicable to Bermuda.
There has been some discussion about the qualifications of candidates. Even local authorities in this country will need to waive a great many of the old restrictions which were introduced for good reasons but which have now become ridiculous whereby people who are extremely well qualified are prohibited from election to local government. In an island the size of Bermuda, it seems to be even more ludicrous that even minor public servants are not allowed—
Since it seems unlikely that we shall finish the debate this morning, perhaps I might correct one false impression voiced by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) and repeated by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Woodside (Mr. Carmichael). It was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking that the Select Committee which was looking into the qualifications of members of the public service to be candidates in elections had reported against making any changes. However, according to our latest information received from the Governor last night, that is not the case. The Select Committee is still looking into it and has not yet reported.
That is something which we all welcome, bearing in mind particularly what I have been trying to say in relation to our own local government.
There are many of these old-established conditions which are not suitable for life in modern Britain, and I hope that that can be said of Bermuda as well. For example, obviously there are considerable objections to the division of constituencies, and I will not weary the House by going through the arguments again.
I hope that what has been said in the debate this morning will be accepted in Bermuda in the spirit which most of us intend. We are looking for the best Constitution which will allow the people of Bermuda to continue to enjoy their present high level of prosperity, at the same time ensuring for the future that the divisions which exist there are given proper political expression and that nothing is done by this House which will cause that political expression to create anything disturbing to the tranquillity and prosperity of the island.
I should not like my hon. Friend to be under that impression. I, and, probably, the hon. Member for Torquay (Sir F. Bennett), will need a considerable time—perhaps a quarter of an hour or 20 minutes—to reply, which means that we could not possibly finish this morning and would be bound to resume another time.
I thank my hon. Friend for that information.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Woodside (Mr. Carmichael), I had the privilege of attending the Anglo-American Annual Conference in Bermuda in March, when we toured the island and met the people in the political movements. I would confirm that it appears to be a friendly and happy island, with a high standard of living. When many of my colleagues went golfing in the afternoon, I would wander around the island—not being as energetic as they—and visit parts which I do not think they saw, like the rear suburbs of some of the main towns, talking to people and watching the school children at play.
I saw no poor housing like that in my industrial constituency and which is a feature of all our old industrial areas. It has an impressive standard of living for all sections of the population. I recognise that the basis for this could disappear, if events discourage tourism or—the island will eventually have to face this—if the Americans withdraw from their base in the north.
We were entertained by representatives of the old white oligarchy, but it was also possible at receptions and on other occasions to meet a broader representation of the population. The comfortable Victorian existence of the old white rich families in the past is slowly changing. I recognise that, as an old Colony, they have a form of Constitution which has only recently been brought more into line with our thinking and I suppose that many representatives of the old order do not welcome this. I appreciate that. At one reception, I was buttonholed by a number of these people who said that they were disgusted not only with us, but presumably with hon. Members opposite who began the wind of change in Africa under a previous Prime Minister. This was not to this group's liking.
From my contacts and discussions, I formed the impression that there is a liberal wing of progressive people in the United Bermuda Party who recognise that changes are inevitable in their interests and those of the island, and are engaged in a constant struggle with the more conservative elements in the party. It appears to be a multi-racial party. Although it is still dominated by the old order, changes are being made in the right direction. It these are gradual and acceptable to the majority, the liberal wing has good prospects, but if events go too fast, this will only strengthen the more reactionary elements and lead to difficulties.
My first contact with the representatives of the P.L.P. was at a meeting in this House, to hear their report on the situation after the Constitutional Conference earlier this year. I was staggered at their choice of constitutional adviser, which was most unfortunate, to say the least. My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) referred to the P.L.P. as having similar ideas to ours. This is true, possibly, for most of the representatives that I met, but not, I believe, of their constitutional adviser—
That may be so, but his rôle in Africa, from which he did not dissociate himself—he was thrown out after the changes in Ghana—makes him very suspect. I wish that the P.L.P. had chosen better, which might have led to a better result from the conference—
My hon. Friend has made a very serious attack on a former colleague of ours in the House, who gave a very good service here, and who is still, as far as I know, a member of the Labour Party. Would my hon. Friend at least not suspend judgment until this gentleman's book comes out shortly, when he will give a full account of his experiences in Africa and can then be judged?
I will be interested to read this book, but the events in Ghana and the development of Nkrumah's dictatorship—that is not in dispute, although the role this man played is open to various interpretations, I agree—still leads me to believe that the P.L.P.'s choice of adviser was most unfortunate and did not help the conference. I told them so when I met them in Bermuda in March and gave my reasons. This is now part of history, but I felt that I ought to say it.
There have been splits in the P.L.P. since the Constitutional Conference, I understand, perhaps because some members of the party are wedded to the ideas of democratic Socialism and others are far removed from them. In discussing this sort of political change in this House calmly and dispassionately, we must remember that this is not always the atmosphere of some developing countries—although Bermuda is not in that category—where political development is not always at our level. This must be considered.
I support the Bill. I have the reservations of my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Rowland) and we should be happy to have answers to these questions from my hon. Friend. We look forward to her reply. Her intervention in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Woodside is encouraging and seems to contradict information given to hon. Members—
Someone may have miscalculated, because the debate is continuing.
Bermuda is a multi-racial society with inherent problems, but I am confident that its general prosperity—because of the accidents of geography and development over the last 20 years—offers the prospect of progress if the changes are evolutionary and roughly in line with those advocated—