HC Deb 12 March 1941 vol 369 cc1263-6
17. Mr. Creech Jones

asked the Undersecretary of State for the Colonies whether, in view of the recent discussions with the Governor of Jamaica, he is now able to make a statement on the Constitution of Jamaica?

18. Mr. David Adams

asked the Undersecretary of State for the Colonies whether he is aware that considerable unrest exists in Jamaica owing to the fear that a new constitution is to be formulated for the island upon the model of the new Trinidad Constitution and that representative meetings of citizens have demanded a constitution which will gradually lead to, and automatically introduce at the end of a specified period, full self-government within the framework of the British Commonwealth and that no Constitution be granted without previous popular vote of the country; and whether steps are being taken upon these lines?

Mr. George Hall

I am now prepared to make a statement on the Constitution of Jamaica. As the statement is rather long, I will, with my hon. Friends' permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I am also placing in the Library of the House copies of my Noble Friend's despatch to the Governor of Jamaica setting out the proposals in full. The proposals will be placed before the Legislative Council for discussion.

Mr. Creech Jones

In view of the great importance of this constitutional development in our Colonial Empire, could the statement be read at the end of Questions?

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Hall

I am in the hands of Mr. Deputy-Speaker and the House. The statement is rather long, but if it is the desire of the House, I will read it.

Mr. Riley

Will the proposed Constitution be submitted to the House for consideration before it is put into operation?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

If the statement is to be read at the end of Questions, we had better have further Supplementary Questions then.

Mr. Wedgwood

In view of the great importance of this matter, cannot we have an opportunity of debating it?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That does not arise now, as the statement will be read at the end of Questions.

All the end of Questions—

Mr. George Hall

To meet the desire of the House, I will now read the answer to Questions 17 and 18 regarding constitutional changes in Jamaica. In recent years, there has been in Jamaica a demand for a reform of the Constitution to enable the people to take a greater part in the business of Government. The West India Royal Commission heard a good deal of evidence on constitutional questions, and recommended that the object of policy should be the introduction of universal adult suffrage in the West Indies, though they were not able to generalise as to the speed at which the change should be carried out. In Jamaica, there is a Legislative Council consisting of the Governor as President, five ex-officio members, nominated members not exceeding 10, and 14 elected members. Property qualifications are required both for membership of the Council and for the right to vote.

Proposals for reform based on the recommendations of the West India Royal Commission have been discussed with the Governor of Jamaica, who was recently in this country, and, as a result, the following changes are recommended:—

  1. (1) Universal adult suffrage.
  2. (2) An enlarged Legislative. Council to comprise approximately double the present number of elected members, with nominated members, and three(instead of five) ex-officio members, the total number to be not less than 40.
Two difficulties in carrying out these changes are the absence of trustworthy statistics of population and the standard of local government which has resulted in unsatisfactory social services. The Governor is, therefore, being requested to consider the carrying-out of a census as early as possible and to reorganise local government. Until this is done, and elections are held on the new franchise, the reconstitution of the Legislative Council proposed above cannot take place.

There are, however, changes that can be made forthwith:—Official representation in the Legislative Council to be confined to the Colonial Secretary, the Treasurer and the Attorney-General. Resulting vacancies to be filled by nominations, in which care is taken to ensure that all important sections and interests of the community receive adequate representation. Concurrently with the reduction of the official representation, the Governor's powers to be in some degree enlarged, but the special powers of veto at present held by the elected members to be retained. The Governor's overriding powers would be sufficient to carry any measure considered expedient in the interests of public order, public faith, or good government. If these changes are accepted by the Legislative Council of Jamaica, it is proposed that the Governor should withdraw from the Presidency of the Council and be replaced by a Speaker, who would be appointed by the Governor in the first instance and later be elected by the Council, subject to presentation to the Governor for approval. These proposals are being placed before the Legislative Council for discussion.

Mr. Creech Jones

May I congratulate my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State on this very big constitutional change, and express the hope that the confidence that the Government have placed in the people of Jamaica will be justified by events?

Mr. Sorensen

Will my hon. Friend make clear what is the basis of the franchise? Will it be literacy?

Mr. Hall

It will be adult universal suffrage.

Mr. Riley

Will the property qualification for members of the Council be retained?

Mr. Hall

It is intended that that should be abolished.

Mr. David Adams

May I say that this great change will give the greatest satisfaction in Jamaica and in the Colonial Empire generally?

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I do not think that this is an occasion for debating the statement that the hon. Gentleman has made.