ST. Kitts and Anguilla

Clause 2 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th July 1968.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Ernest G. Perry.]

Photo of Mr Neil Marten Mr Neil Marten , Banbury

On a point of order. It seems rather churlish that we should have agreed with all those Lords Amendments without thanking the Lords for doing a jolly good job on all those Bills.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I am sure that another place will be delighted to hear those warm words of encouragement.

Photo of Mr John Rodgers Mr John Rodgers , Sevenoaks

It is about a year since the House had the opportunity to debate the relationship between St. Kitts and Anguilla. During that time, there has been a debate which was initiated in another place by my noble Friend Lord Bessborough, and I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for making it possible to discuss this important subject tonight.

Since our last debate in this House, one must now make mention of the Parliamentary Commission, consisting of my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman), which both sides of the House welcomed and which undoubtedly at the time, a few months ago, was successful in lowering the temperature and gaining time in the hope that more mature counsels would prevail in this area. Unfortunately, however, there are already signs that this success may have been only temporary. Personally, I greatly hope that this will prove not to be the case and that at the end of the 12-month period of standstill a satisfactory solution will emerge.

However, I must confess to considerable doubts, and these doubts are largely due to the extraordinary behaviour of Mr. Bradshaw. The doubts have been shared by my colleagues from both sides of the House, the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) and my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) who recently visited St. Kitts. They were very concerned at the apparent inflexibility of Mr. Bradshaw, but they still hope that a democratic solution can and will be obtained.

The House will be aware that considerable doubt has also been expressed not only in this country but in Anguilla about the good faith of the St. Kitts Government. We in Britain are, after all, responsible for the external affairs and the defence of the islands of St. Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla. We have, it is true, no responsibility for internal affairs, though these can and do impinge on external affairs.

There can be little hope of a just settlement if Mr. Bradshaw takes the line that the Anguillans will return to the fold only when they have been beaten to their knees. This regime, which at the moment we are bound to defend, has been condemned by the International Commission of Jurists and by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Associated States. I should like to quote from the Interna- tional Commission of Jurists with reference to recent trials. It said: The indictment against the St. Kitts Government is a long one: it has repeatedly shown contempt for the Courts, has refused to accept their decisions, and has flagrantly attempted— by threats and misuse of the mass media—to use the Courts as an instrument of its policy. When the courts proved to be instruments of the rule of law, it resorted to government by emergency resolution and trial by "commission of inquiry".

Then, as the House may be aware, the West Indian Bar has condemned the St. Kitts Government for its disregard of the rule of law, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Associated States has criticised Mr. Bradshaw in almost unprecedented terms for indulging in "political trials" and initiating debates in that House of Parliament following immediately on verdicts of acquittal by the jury in the first two of the trials. Even more serious than this were some recent remarks by Mr. Bradshaw with reference to Mr. Stuart Roberts, the British representative for the Associated States, whose headquarters are in St. Lucia.

Whenever, either in debate or at Question Time, the subject of Anguilla and St. Kitts has been mentioned in this House, the Government repeatad nauseam that, while they are responsible for external affairs and defence, under the terms of Associated Statehood it is St. Kitts and St. Kitts alone that is responsible for internal affairs, though lip-service is paid to the rights of Nevis and Anguilla. In this the Government are technically correct, but all criticism of the Bradshaw regime cannot be brushed aside by this formula, for consider, Mr. Speaker, the position of Mr. Stuart Roberts the British representative in the area, who fulfils this function with regard to our obligations to retain foreign affairs and defence in our hands.

Mr. Roberts has been referred to by Mr. Bradshaw as a liar, and Mr. Roberts has had to resort to issuing a long statement rebutting these totally false allegations.

Here we have a situation equivalent in some ways to a Government publicly denouncing its own ambassador in the most abusive terms possible. Is it not high time for the lion to roar just a little tonight? How can this craven Government of ours possibly accept this sort of behaviour from Mr. Bradshaw?

I think that the House is entitled to know what representations our Government have made. Have they insisted on a public apology and withdrawal? If no public apology is forthcoming, should we not renounce the Associated States status, as we are perfectly entitled to do under the terms of the West Indies Act?

Many of us have grave doubts about the viability of this whole concept of Associated Statehood. It is being challenged not only in St. Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla, but in other West Indian islands, as the Secretary of State well knows.

How can we ask the Anguillans to accept, in the future, jurisdiction over their affairs by a man of such unfortunate volatility as Mr. Bradshaw? Most of the people in the West Indies are fed up with Mr. Bradshaw and his strutting and posturings. They know that he is doing immeasurable harm to the tourist industry, which does not precisely differentiate between one island and another in the West Indies. It is a little ironic that at this time we should have sent a Parliamentary mission from this House to present Mr. Bradshaw with a set of books, including Erskine May. It does not seem to have done him much good.

I believe that firm action by the British Government would not be opposed by the other West Indian States. From the outset—and I am sorry to say this to the right hon. Gentleman, for whom I have great regard and admiration—I believe that the Government have been weak and flabby and disingenuous to the point of incredibility.

Tonight, I hope that the Secretary of State will indicate in unmistakable terms his opinion of Mr. Bradshaw's recent remarks and will tell us what concrete action he intends to take in this matter. I should like to ask what proposals the Government have to alleviate the misery and suffering of the people of Anguilla, brought about by Associated Statehood, and what steps Her Majesty's Government have taken to devise for Anguilla a new status under the British Crown, since it is obvious that under Mr. Bradshaw, who has been described as a "Mini-Papa-Doc", there is no likelihood of Anguilla ever voluntarily agreeing to an association with St. Kitts, an association not of equals and partners, but one imposed, if necessary, by force by one side on the other. If Mr. Bradshaw should ever revert to force in an attempt to force Anguilla back into the Associate State, then I would ask the Secretary of State for a categoric assurance that Her Majesty's Government will vigorously oppose this and will use all the weapons at their command, including the large sum spent on aid, to frustrate this diabolical move and defend the right of the Anguillans.

Some straight speaking this evening and some firm action would not be opposed by other West Indian States. Indeed, I believe that they would welcome it. Tonight, I hope that the Minister will indicate what aid Mr. Bradshaw has passed on to the Anguillans. Can we be assured by the Secretary of State that aid specifically designated for Anguilla actually gets to the island? Further, can we be assured that Anguilla gets its fair share of the general aid voted by this House?

Finally, will the Secretary of State tell the House tonight in unmistakable terms his opinion of Mr. Bradshaw's latest remarks about our representative there and what action Her Majesty's Government intend to take to rectify this very serious matter?

11.9 p.m.

Photo of Mr Neil Marten Mr Neil Marten , Banbury

I intervene briefly, because I was in the island of Anguilla last month. I pay tribute to Mr. Anthony Lee, the British representative out there. He is doing a good job under extremely difficult conditions, and doing it very diplomatically. This House should recognise what he is doing.

When I was there I met the Council, which Mr. Bradshaw would call the Revolutionary Council. I spent about three hours with the Council discussing the past, the present and the future. Members of the Council told me that the aid projects which come from the central aid in Barbados are coming through, but the budgetary aid, the grant aid, is not coming through from St. Kitts.

This is one of the things about which they are complaining. Having talked to the Council, I was left with the impression that it would never agree to go back to St. Kitts, whichever party took over from Mr. Bradshaw if and when he went. I think that this is a factor which we must realise. Whoever is in power in Anguilla they do not want to get tied up again with St. Kitts.

Next week, on 30th July, elections are to be held in Anguilla. They will elect, albeit not under the constitution, a council with which we could talk and realise that it is representing the people through a democratic election. Unfortunately they will not be elected under the constitution, and therefore there might be difficulty about it.

We created the difficulties in the Associated status of these three islands, and I therefore believe that it is up to us, constitutionally or not I do not know, to try to get these people out of the difficulty. Britain should come forward and act as an honest broker between the situationde facto and the situation as it exists in St. Kitts. In doing so we would have to offer somequid pro quo to St. Kitts for the loss of Anguilla, and it may be that Anguilla would offer a free trade area with St. Kitts so that she would get the benefit of the trade, which she does not have at the moment.

Once we have started these talks and brought them to a conclusion which accepts that Anguilla will split from St. Kitts, then comes the problem of what constitution Anguilla will be under. The Council was very firm about this and said, "We have got our independence now, and therefore we could not really be expected to go back to colonial status". I believe that the British Government have to work out a solution for islands such as these which split off because the original marriage has not worked very well. We must in some way give them all the benefits of colonial status, without the trappings and meaning of colonial status. It might be independent associated status under the Crown with some sort of administrator in charge, I do not know, but Anguilla is not the only island in this state. There are others, but perhaps it is better not to mention which ones.

We must now accept that Anguilla will not willingly go back to St. Kitts. We must therefore see what we can do, because unless we settle this matter there will be no economic progress and no investment in Anguilla and the island will just tick over, without any progress for the people, and it is really the people in whom I am most interested.

11.13 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

It is almost exactly a year since the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers), on an Adjournment debate, raised the question of the situation in Anguilla and its relationship with St. Kitts. The hon. Gentleman appears to be establishing an end-of-Session tradition in raising the problems of the community in Anguilla. It will indeed be a sad day when small communities, in many parts of the world, cannot look to the House of Commons to express their grievances and their fears. I have taken careful note of what both the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), who has recently had the advantage of being in Anguilla, have said. I congratulate them both on saying so much in such brief speeches, and I shall try to emulate them.

My first comment is that it would be a pity if the perfectly legitimate and understandable anxieties which the hon. Gentlemen and many hon. Members have about the situation in that part of the Caribbean were at this stage to cast doubt on the concept of Associated status itself. It is important in discussing the problem of Anguilla to maintain a sense of perspective about the general problems of Associated status. This new concept of Associated Statehood has existed only since February of last year, and St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, where difficulties have arisen, is only one of five Associated States. In some of the other Associated States, such as Antigua, the relationship of Association has also passed through a degree of testing, but appears to have stood the test successfully.

As so often happens, when things go well nobody pays any attention but when troubles come they attract attention. I hope the inference is not drawn from the problems of the Anguillans and St. Kitts and Nevis that the concept of Associated Statehood and the experiment of it has failed. It is an important experiment and we must wait some time to see how it works out.

Photo of Mr Neil Marten Mr Neil Marten , Banbury

I should like to agree very much with the right hon. Gentleman on that point.

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

I now turn to the particular situation which has been raised in St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla. The Government's responsibility in the Associated States is limited to defence and external affairs. The hon. Member for Sevenoaks said we declared thisad nauseam. I can only say in answer that he, as someone raising this debate in the House, is perfectly entitled to make the comments he does about the internal affairs of St. Kilts but I as a Minister of the British Government am not entitled in any way to comment upon them.

Our involvement in this problem of Anguilla's relations with St. Kitts arises because of the appeal from the State Governments to us and other Governments in the Caribbean area last year to restore the situation arising from the attempted secession of Anguilla. The hon. Member for Sevenoaks asked for an assurance about the question of the use of force. I should like to tell him as plainly as I can that Her Majesty's Government felt then at the beginning of the problem as we feel now. This is a problem not susceptible to a military solution. It can be solved only by political means. That is certainly our constant endeavour. That is why my noble Friend Lord Shepherd went out to Barbados a year ago and played a leading part in the negotiations in which Ministers from the four independent Caribbean Commonwealth countries participated as well as the Premier of St. Kitts and representatives of the Anguillans.

When that initiative failed we were called on to accede to a request from St. Kitts to send a Parliamentary delegation to seek an alternative solution. The solution recommended by that Parliamentary delegation, to which I paid tribute in the House at the time, was embodied in an exchange of letters between the Minister of State, Lord Shepherd, and the Premier of St. Kitts on the one hand, and between Lord Shepherd and the Anguillan representative, Mr. Webster, on the other. Under the terms of this interim settlement the Government agreed to make available the services of a senior civil servant to assist with the administration of Anguilla for 12 months. I appreciate the tribute the hon. Member for Banbury paid from first-hand knowledge to the work Mr. Lee is doing in very difficult circumstances there.

It was agreed this period of 12 months could be lengthened or shortened by mutual agreement and we reserved the right to withdraw Mr. Lee if circumstances made it necessary. But, in default of any other arrangement we would expect Mr. Lee, whose appointment dates from January this year, to serve out his appointed year of office. In the exchange of letters it stated that before the conclusion of his appointment he should submit recommendations on the future status of Anguilla which we should hope would enable all concerned to continue in peace and harmony. He is having a difficult task, but he is half way through it, and our view is that we should give him every possible encouragement to complete his task.

I should make it clear that this interim settlement was never intended by us to be more than a holding operation. In this sense it is already proving its worth. It has contributed to a lessening of tension in the area, despite some upsets, and it has enabled a British adviser's presence to be introduced, and permitted the resumption of development aid to Anguilla under British direction on a relatively important scale.

The hon. Member for Sevenoaks asked about aid and I want to give him the facts as I know them. I am grateful to him for giving me notice that he would raise this subject. A sum of nearly £40,000 has been spent on development aid to Anguilla from the beginning of the 1967–68 financial year to the present time. Of this sum, £30,000 has been spent on essential social and economic projects, such as schools and medical equipment, and the airstrip in Anguilla. I want to make it clear that this aid has been made direct to Anguilla through the Crown Agents and is disbursed under the supervision of the British official in Anguilla. I am satisfied therefore that the aid destined for Anguilla against approved projects is being applied for the benefit of the island, and to this extent the interim settlement has been useful.

I hope that that, as far as it goes, will be reassuring to the hon. Members, but I do not want to pretend that any substantial progress has been made in resolving the fundamental issue, namely, whether or not Anguilla will return to the constitutional fold at the conclusion of Mr. Lee's appointment—as is the expectation of the State Government—or whether the separation of Anguilla from St. Kitts will be given legality, as is the desire of the Anguillans, as I understand it. I shall not say more about the various proposals put forward by the Anguillans concerning their own future at the moment, except to point out that this is a small community of about 6,000 people, without substantial economic resources to sustain a separate existence. All of us concerned with the problem are extremely conscious of the dangers of fragmentation in the Caribbean.

The hon. Member for Banbury raised the question of elections. He saw something of the preparations for these during his visit to Anguilla. I am aware that the Anguillans have announced their intention of holding further elections next week, on 30th July. I say straight away that for some time I have thought that there would be much advantage in the Anguillans holding proper elections. After all, one of the important aspects of this matter is to ensure that those with whom we deal in Anguilla have authority to speak as genuine representatives of majority opinion on the island. We naturally want to make sure that those who claim that authority will have the confidence and standing to negotiate and subsequently to defend any agreements that they may reach before their own public opinion.

It was against that background that I recently asked Mr. Webster, as an essential and urgent step, to co-operate in holding elections for the island council, in accordance with the relevant legislation and in the presence of impartial observers. I thought that observers from outside would be a decided advantage and would allay anxieties which might be felt about the way in which the Anguillans conducted their own affairs. I offered, with the agreement of the State Government if my proposal was acceptable to Mr. Webster, to approach the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth to see whether he would be willing to provide observers. But Mr. Webster rejected my request and is going ahead with these elections next week, which are not in accordance with the State law, which is the only law that Her Majesty's Government can re- cognise as having any authority on the island.

Having said that, I add that we shall benefit this time—which we did not last time—from a report from Mr. Lee on the general conduct of the elections, but I must also add that this does not cancel out the disadvantage of the fact that the elections are not taking place under a law that we recognise.

The hon. Member for Sevenoaks referred to certain allegations which the Premier of St. Kitts made against Her Majesty's Government and the British Government representative in the Associated States, Mr. Roberts, in May this year. The facts as I know them are that a report appeared in the Opposition paper in St. Kitts in which Mr. Bradshaw was said to have accused Her Majesty's Government of complicity in the Anguillan attempt to secede and it was also reported that Mr. Bradshaw had accused Mr. Roberts of lying to him.

Mr. Roberts—this is the answer to the hon. Member's question about what we have done—was instructed to ask the St. Kitts Government to issue a denial that those statements had been made. This denial has not been forthcoming. When it was not forthcoming, Mr. Roberts was authorised to state that the allegations made were wholly incorrect. I object strongly to any of Her Majesty's representatives being called a liar, and I am, therefore, grateful for the opportunity that the hon. Member gives me to repudiate, in the plainest terms I can use, that sort of allegation.

The problem that is created by that kind of allegation is, of course, that it does not help—indeed, it actively hinders —our search for some sort of constructive progress designed to resolve the difficult problems between Anguilla and St. Kitts.

I wish to add for the information of hon. Members that since this incident we have had the advantage of a useful exchange of views in London with Mr. Southwell, the Deputy Prime Minister of St. Kitts. My hon. Friend the Undersecretary of State, whose illness prevents his being in the House tonight, took the opportunity of that meeting to tell Mr. Southwell plainly what an unfortunate impression those quite unfounded allegations had had on opinion here. I very much hope that in the months to come we will be able to work closely with the St. Kitts Government and with all concerned in this problem towards a solution of the dispute.

Both hon. Members who have spoken in the debate have a deep concern and interest in the Caribbean, and I recognise this. All of us who have followed Caribbean affairs over the last decade or so are conscious that it is an immensely slow and painful task, which has had many setbacks over recent years, to try to encourage co-operation and unity between the small island communities in the Caribbean. I still think that it is immensely worthwhile patiently to persist in trying to achieve that co-operation and unity. As I have said, we are midway in the efforts that have followed the very successful and helpful visit of the Parliamentary Commission which went out there. I hope that we will not yet despair of these efforts to promote reconciliation between St. Kitts and Nevis, on the one side, and Anguilla, on the other side.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-eight minutes past Eleven o'clock.