HC Deb 02 November 1954 vol 532 cc212-4

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

70. Mr. BRAINE

To ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will make a statement on the Report of the British Guiana Constitutional Commission.

The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)

With permission, I will now reply to Question No. 70.

The Report of the British Guiana Constitutional Commission has been published today as a Command Paper. My right hon. Friend, the Minister of State, has discussed it with the Governor during his recent visit to British Guiana and Her Majesty's Government accept the conclusions of the Report. Hon. Members will wish to study it and I will not, therefore, go into details now.

Briefly their conclusions amply justify the action taken by Her Majesty's Government last October. They state that the breakdown was not due to defects in the Constitution, but to the activities of those in control of the People's Progressive Party. They recommend that there is at present no alternative to a period of marking time in constitutional matters. They do not recommend a specific period, nor do Her Majesty's Government wish to be tied to one.

Her Majesty's Government, however, consider it desirable to set some maximum term to the personal appointment of the present Members of the Legislative Council without prejudice to when it may be possible to hold elections again. The present appointments will, therefore, run for four years from 1st January, 1954. During the period of this interim Government, it is our firm intention to do everything possible to fit the Colony for a return to representative government. In particular there will be a thorough reform and extension of local government institutions.

Members will no doubt wish to question me when they have studied the Report. I should like to express the warm thanks of Her Majesty's Government to Sir James Robertson, formerly Civil Secretary of the Sudan, who was Chairman of the Commission, and to the other two members, Sir Donald Jackson, Chief Justice of the Windward and Leeward Islands, and Mr. Woodcock, Assistant General Secretary of the T.U.C.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Do I gather that the Report justifies the action of the Government? Is that a specific finding of the Commission or is that the Secretary of State's inference from it? Last week we had a very important statement on colonial policy in another Colony and now we have one on British Guiana. May I ask whether the Government do not feel that they are now under an obligation to the House to provide an opportunity to discuss the statements, because none of us wants to take time from other debates at the end of Question time?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The second part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, of course, is not a matter for me. As to the first part, if the right hon. Gentleman reads the Report, he will find my words amply justified.

Mr. Griffiths

May I ask the Leader of the House whether, in view of the fact that in two successive weeks we have had two important statements on colonial problems, he will consider providing Government time for their discussion?

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Harry Crookshank)

I cannot make any pronouncements on business today.

Mr. Griffiths

Will the right hon. Gentleman give the matter consideration?

Sir R. Robinson

Were the findings of the Commission unanimous?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Fenner Brockway

Whilst reserving questions on the Report until we have had the opportunity to read it, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman would not seek to obtain a better atmosphere in British Guiana immediately by releasing those who are now in prison and removing restrictions on free movement?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I cannot see that a better atmosphere would be created by condoning breaches of the law.

Mr. Braine

During the interim period which is envisaged by the Report, what will happen to economic development in the Colony?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Meanwhile a development programme, and in particular housing and land settlement, will be pushed forward, I hope with the greatest vigour.