HC Deb 17 October 1945 vol 414 cc1143-5
18. Colonel Stanley

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he has any statement to make on the future arrangements for consultation and co-ordination between the West African Government consequent on the discontinuance of the post of Minister Resident.

Mr. George Hall

Yes, Sir. It has been decided to establish a West African Council of which the Secretary of State for the Colonies will be Chairman and the Governors members. A senior civil servant from the United Kingdom will be appointed as Chief Secretary of the Council, the headquarters of which will be in the Gold Coast. I hope that the first meeting of the Council will take place in January next. I am circulating a fuller statement in the Official Report. Report.

Colonel Stanley

While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for that reply, may I ask him to tell me whether, roughly, the plan is that which was proposed by the late Government?

Mr. Hall

Yes, Sir, roughly the plan is that which was agreed upon by the Coalition Government.

Mr. Sorensen

How often will the prospective Council be likely to meet during the year?

Mr. Hall

I think twice or three times a year.

Following is the statement:

The important work which lies ahead of the West African Governments in many fields, particularly in those of social and economic development and research, makes it necessary to ensure that adequate means exist for co-ordination and consultation on all matters of common interest and mutual concern, and careful consideration has been given to the best means of securing this object.

During the last few years the necessary co-ordination in dealing with wartime problems has been achieved under the Minister Resident in West Africa. That appointment was created in 1942, at a time when new and urgent demands were continuously being made on the West African Colonies in respect of manpower for the Forces, Service works, and the production of many essential commodities. Circumstances then demanded that there should be on the spot a Minister of Cabinet rank, not connected with any one Department, who could give immediate decisions on priorities in relation to the competing demands of Service and Supply Departments in the United Kingdom.

The position has now materially changed and co-ordination, while still essential, is required not primarily between the demands of United Kingdom Departments on the resources of the West African Colonies but between the policies and activities of the Colonial Governments themselves. Decisions in these matters fall wholly within the sphere of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and in these circumstances it has been decided that the appointment of Minister Resident in West Africa should be discontinued.

Shortly before the war, the West African Governors' Conference had been constituted, and meetings of this body were held at which matters of common interest were discussed. It was intended that the Conference should meet from time to time in one or other of the several Colonies, and that the Governor in whose territory the Conference met should preside. A permanent secretariat was not provided.

It is felt that the reconstitution of this Conference, which was replaced by the Minister Resident, would not altogether meet existing needs, and in considering the form of the future peacetime machinery it is regarded as essential that the Secretary of State for the Colonies should himself be directly associated with it, so as to enable immediate decisions to be taken and differences to be resolved without delay.

It is proposed, therefore, to establish a West African Council, of which the Secretary of State will himself be Chairman and the Governors members. With the development of air communications it is hoped that the Secretary of State will be able to preside in person over meetings of the Council from time to time, but normally his place would be taken by a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. The Council will be provided with a permanent secretariat, and the chief secretary will be a senior civil servant from the United Kingdom. The Council's headquarters will be in or near Accra in the Gold Coast.

It is not contemplated that the senior representatives of the three Fighting Services in West Africa should be formally appointed members of the West African Council, but they would be invited to attend meetings at which matters were to be discussed which were of interest to them or on which their advice was desired. It is intended that, apart from his duties in connection with meetings of the Council and the conduct of correspondence both with the Colonial Office and with the Colonial Governments on matters arising there from, the Chief Secretary should be charged with the general supervision, on behalf of the Council, of the administration of such central services or institutions, e.g. the West African Cocoa Research Institute in the Gold Coast, as it may be decided to establish. It is proposed that the cost of the West African Council should be met from United Kingdom funds, and Parliament will be invited in due course to approve the necessary provision for this service.