179. Guyana Republic Bill (in House of Lords)

GUYANA REPUBLIC BILL

HL Deb 26 March 1970

11.32 a.m.

LORD SHEPHERD

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill is short and will, I think, be generally accepted as non-controversial. Guyana became a Republic within the Commonwealth on February 23, 1970. This change of status was anticipated during the preparations for Guyana’s Independence and, as your Lordships will know, provision was made in the Guyana Independence Act 1966, and the Guyana Independence Order 1966, made under it, to enable Guyana to become a Republic on the passing of a resolution by its National Assembly not earlier than April 1, 1969. The Guyana National Assembly passed such a resolution by an overwhelming majority in August, 1969.

As a matter of interest, the new Republic of Guyana is the ninth country among the present members of the Commonwealth to have become a Republic after a short period of having a monarch as Head of State. When the five countries which adopted republican status immediately upon independence are added, this makes Guyana the fourteenth State within the Commonwealth to have opted for republican status. One more will give the Republicans a majority within the Commonwealth. But I think one can say, from one’s experience of the Commonwealth, that being a Republic does not in any way reduce the affection which the people of those countries have towards Her Majesty The Queen, as Head of the Commonwealth.

This Bill is in fact a technical measure and substantively follows the lines of previous legislation in parallel cases. It provides that the operation of the law of the United Kingdom—and the law of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man—as it applies to Guyana will not be affected by the fact that Guyana is now a Republic. The Bill will not apply generally to the law of Dependent Territories of the United Kingdom but only to Acts of the British Parliament and Orders in Council applying such Acts which extend to such territories. This is the common-form provision in such cases.

In accordance with the accepted convention, Guyana sought the agreement of other Commonwealth Governments to her remaining in the Commonwealth, despite the change to a republican Constitution. As the Commonwealth Secretary-General announced on September 17, 1969, all the Heads of Government of the Commonwealth indicated that they would welcome Guyana’s continuing membership of the Commonwealth. On March 17, the Guyana National Assembly elected Mr. Arthur Chung as the first President of Guyana under its republican Constitution. I am sure that all noble Lords will join me in extending to Mr. Chung, representing the Government and people of Guyana, our sincere wishes for their future peace and prosperity. My Lords, I beg to move.

[Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time —(Lord Shepherd.)]

11.35 a.m.

THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of this Bill. From these Benches we also should like to extend our good wishes to the new President of the Republic of Guyana. There are just two points over which I should like the Minister to help me. Under Article 92 of the 1966 Constitution the people of Guyana had the right of appeal to the Privy Council. I should like to know whether this right of appeal will persist. Perhaps the Minister can give me an answer to that.

I think we were all pleased to note the way in which the economic strength of Guyana had steadily progressed since it became a member of the Caribbean Free Trade Area. We all know that the principal export of Guyana is sugar; they depend very largely on that crop. As a firm supporter of our entry into the Common Market, on the right terms, I should like to receive an assurance from the Minister that the interests of the Guyanese in their export of sugar will be kept well in the mind of Her Majesty’s Government when we are conducting negotiations to obtain admission to the European Economic Community.

I am sure all of us on this side of the House share the feelings of delight of Her Majesty’s Government at knowing that the Guyanese people, although they have become a Republic, are no less devoted to the person of Her Majesty the Queen. With those words, I should like to wish the Guyanese people and their President well.

11.37 a.m.

LORD BOOTHBY

My Lords, may I be allowed to say that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has surely confirmed what I have long believed: that never in human history has a great Empire been liquidated with such skill and grace. But I also think that as shortly we are likely to have a majority of Republics within the Commonwealth it follows that the Commonwealth, as I said last week, does not mean quite so much as it used to do, either in political or in economic terms.

11.38 a.m.

LORD SHEPHERD

My Lords, I am grateful for the support the two noble Lords have given to this Bill. I believe it is the intention of the Guyanese Government to withdraw from the ambit of the Privy Council; they will be taking the necessary action. In regard to sugar, I would agree with the noble Marquess. We ourselves attach great importance to the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, in which Guyana is a participant. I can assure the noble Marquess that we have very much in mind the position not only of the sugar producing countries but of all those other countries within the Commonwealth, and of course outside, which depend upon commodities such as sugar, and the effect on them of our entry into the Common Market. We can confirm our assurance that we will do all possible to get the best terms for them. The noble Marquess will also be aware that when discussions and negotiations take place those countries which are interested will be able to be represented to express their points of view.

I can only disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, on his speech last week. I personally believe that the Commonwealth still has much to offer, not only to ourselves but to the world. I think the world would be a much poorer place without this great community of nations, going right across the board in religion, politics, colour—”You name it, they’ve got it.” It would be a poorer world without them. But I also disagree with the noble Lord because he is slightly inaccurate. We have not exactly liquidated our colonial Empire. We still have quite a few—some 5 million— people to look after; and I hope we shall have the noble Lord’s support in looking after them.

[On Question, Bill read a second time; Committee negatived.]

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