HC Deb 31 May 1951 vol 488 cc405-10 The following Question stood upon the Order Paper: 94. Mr. THOMAS REID,—To ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he has any statement to make on Kenya's Constitution, in the light of his discussions during his recent visit to East Africa.
The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. James Griffiths)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House. I will answer Question No. 94.

During my visit to Kenya I had the great advantage of full discussion on the subject of the constitution with all the unofficial Members of the Legislative Council, representing, as they do, all sections of the public. These discussions revealed disagreement between the groups, but I found a general anxiety on the part of all the Members, which I warmly welcomed, to secure an agreed solution, and, at the request of the leaders of the Unofficial groups, I propose that within 12 months of the beginning of the life of the next Legislative Council in May, 1952, a body should be set up representative of all groups in the Council, under an independent Chairman from outside Kenya, to consider what constitutional changes should be made.

I have agreed with the leaders of the Unofficial groups that, pending the setting up of this body, there should be no major change in the constitution, although I propose to make certain interim adjustments early in 1952. In view of the importance of the whole question, I am circulating a fuller statement in the OFFICIAL REPORT which gives details of the interim adjustments in view.

Mr. Reid

Does my right hon. Friend realise the soundness of his policy of putting responsibility for their own welfare so far as possible on local people of all races in the community?

Mr. Griffiths

Yes, Sir. I was very anxious, and, indeed, used whatever influence I had, and all my efforts, to endeavour to secure that this and other problems are studied, and I hope settled, on a basis of racial community co-operation.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

In view of the very great importance of the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman, I know he will understand if we make no great contribution today to what he has said but await the fuller report. Meanwhile, are we to assume, when the right hon. Gentleman says that there will be no major constitutional changes in 1952, that this means that during that period parity will be preserved? Second, would it not be a very good thing meanwhile, and while this body is sitting, if all parties, both here and in Kenya, regard this matter as sub judice, and that nothing is said, either here or in Kenya, which will endanger an agreed solution, because an imposed solution will only exacerbate racial relations?

Mr. Griffiths

There will be no changes in parity during the interim period when this body will be having discussions. It is definitely understood that I, speaking for the Government, do not accept parity as essential, any more than I accept any of the other proposals put before me. What this provides is an opportunity for all communities to come together and work out an agreed programme as to proposed future constitutional changes. There has been for some time an undertone of racial tension in Kenya and it is my very earnest hope that we shall do everything we possibly can to promote co-operation between races there, because only by co-operation can they build successfully for the future.

Colonel Ropner

Is this question being considered alone or at the same time as the question of federation with Tanganyika and Uganda is being considered? Is it not quite impossible to consider alone the constitution of Kenya if the question of federation has not been decided?

Mr. Griffiths

I made a very full statement last December on the policy of the Government in regard to East Africa. I then said that for the time being we must consider all these changes separately in each of the countries.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

In view of their possible importance, will not the right hon. Gentleman indicate now at least the chief of the interim adjustments which he proposes to make next year?

Mr. Griffiths

I would rather hon. Members studied the full statement. There are quite a number of interim adjustments which are being made and I would not like to take up one of them and emphasise that as being the most important. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will wait and read the fuller report.

Mr. Alport

In view of the fact that the High Commission comes up for revision at the end of this year, would the right hon. Gentleman say whether, during his discussions with unofficial Members in East Africa, he received any views about the future of the High Commission, and when he will be able to make a statement on that?

Mr. Griffiths

Perhaps the hon. Member will put down a Question on that subject. The statement which I have made today deals entirely with the possible constitutional changes in Kenya itself.

Following is the statement:

As I made clear in my statement of policy on East Africa in the House of Commons on 13th December, 1950, future policy must be worked out in full consultation with those who belong to the territories. In recent years His Majesty's Government has aimed, whenever possible, at associating representatives of the people of colonial territories in the working out of constitutional changes. I am convinced that that is the right course in Kenya. His Majesty's Government, which bears the ultimate responsibility, must make the final decisions. But I am certain that those decisions will rest on firmer foundations if, when changes fall to be made, they are based on agreement to be worked out by representatives of the people of Kenya.

Notwithstanding that agreement had not been reached in earlier talks with the Governor, I found a general anxiety on the part of all the representatives to secure an agreed solution. I have warmly welcomed this and, at the request of the leaders of the Unofficial groups in the Legislative Council, whom I met all together immediately before leaving Kenya. I propose that the following steps should be taken. Within 12 months of the beginning of the life of the next Legislative Council, i.e., within 12 months of May, 1952, a body should be set up representative of all groups in the Council, under an independent Chairman from outside Kenya, to consider what constitutional changes should be made.

In the meantime, there would be no major change in the constitution in 1952, although I propose to make certain interim adjustments which I will detail later in this statement. Representatives of the Government of Kenya will be included on the body to which I have referred and a representative of the Colonial Office will be associated with it. If desired, I would be prepared to obtain the services of a constitutional expert to advise the body on technical questions.

This body will consider the whole constitutional field including, of course, the composition of the Legislative Council. I have found general agreement in Kenya that, in accordance with my statement of policy of 13th December, 1950, in the House of Commons, the ultimate responsibility of His Majesty's Government for the administration of Kenya must be maintained at the present time; I would not, therefore, expect this responsibility to be discussed by the body to which I have referred. But all other matters relating to the constitution will come within its terms of reference.

The conclusions of the consultative body will be laid before the Governor and, with his observations, before the Secretary of State, and the ultimate decisions will then lie with His Majesty's Government. Since nothing more than adjustments will be made in 1952, it must be understood that, should it not be possible for agreement to be reached through this process of consultation, His Majesty's Government will be free to take its own decisions. It is my earnest hope, however, that agreement will be reached, in which case the agreed conclusions could be brought into force either in 1956, at the end of the life of the next Council, or, if there were agreement to do so, at an earlier date.

To give time for consultations on the lines which I have indicated and on the understanding that those consultations will take place, I propose that the interim adjustments to be made should involve no disturbance of the present proportions of representation on the Unofficial side of the Legislative Council in the Council which will be elected in 1952. I have made it clear to the leaders of the various groups in Kenya that in saying this I must not be taken as accepting the view that the maintenance of parity between the European Members and the other Members on the Unofficial side of the Legislative Council is essential, any more than I am accepting, during this interim phase, the other views and proposals which were put before me. What I am proposing is an interim arrangement which will give time for consultation and discussion among the various groups in the hope that agreement will be reached in this way.

I now come to the interim adjustments to be made in 1952, which will, or course, be subject to review by the consultative body. In the first place I accept the view of the Governor that the time has now come for the seat on the Executive Council which is designated as being in the African interest to be held by an African on the next occurrence of a vacancy. In the second place I have been impressed by the practical arguments put before me by the African Members in asking for some immediate increase in African representation on the Unofficial side of the Legislative Council and I propose that, for the interim period and pending examination by the consultative body, African membership should be increased from four to six.

Thirdly, and for practical reasons connected with the appropriate representation of the different sections of the Indian community, I propose that the Indian representation should be increased by one, from five to six. While I realise that arrangements must be made to ensure that the Muslim section of that community secures sufficient representation, by which I mean a minimum of two seats, I earnestly hope that means may be found of achieving that object without creating separate electorates within the Indian community, who will, I trust, make a genuine and sincere effort to find an agreed solution of this problem. Fourthly, I have given most careful and sympathetic consideration to the representations of the Arab community, being most anxious to do all in my power to encourage inter-racial co-operation. I feel that their reasonable aspirations can be met within the membership of the Official side of the Council.

Fifthly, since it is part of the arrangement I have described that there should be no dis- turbance in 1952 of the present balance of the Unofficial side of the Council, and entirely without prejudice to the full examination of this matter by the consultative body, I propose that the increases in African and Indian representation on the Unofficial side of the Council should be balanced by an increase of three Europeans from 11 to 14. The effect of these adjustments will be that the Unofficial side of the Council will, for the interim period beginning in May next year, number 28 seats.

I now turn to the Official side of the Council. I have found general agreement in Kenya that the present disparity in numbers between Official and Unofficial Members is excessive; with the addition of six seats on the Unofficial side this disparity becomes so excessive that it must be corrected. I therefore propose to increase the Official membership from 16 to 26, that is to say (not counting the Speaker) two fewer than the Unofficial side. I propose that the constitutional instruments should be amended so as to enable the Governor, with the approval of the Secretary of State, to nominate these additional Members from within or without the public service, so that he may be able to invite persons of appropriate standing and qualifications to accept membership of the Legislative Council and thus make a substantial contribution, as Sir Charles Mortimer is now doing, to the work of the Council. Such nominated Members will, of course, be required to support the Government when called upon to do so on a motion of confidence. The Governor will make his nominations on grounds of merit and ability and not on a basis of representation of the different communities; but I have no doubt that he will, in fact, make his selections from the widest field, that is including all communities; and as I have already indicated, one at least of these Members will be an Arab.