HC Deb 25 April 1956 vol 551 cc1778-80
36. Mr. Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies when he will permit a general election in British Guiana.

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

Following my recent discussions with the Governor of British Guiana about the present political situation in the Colony, Her Majesty's Government have decided that the time has come when some progress can safely be made in the direction of a return to democratic institutions. It is intended, therefore, to take steps to introduce an elected element into the legislature and the executive. Details of the proposals are being circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Allaun

Whilst thanking the Minister for that reply, may I ask whether he would not agree that an early announcement of the restoration of elections would encourage democratic politics inside British Guiana?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I think it would be better if the House read the statement which is being circulated. We have to go carefully in this matter. We have no intention of seeing any possibility arise of the establishment of a Communist Colony. However, I believe it is now safe to make some progress in this field of democratic development, and details will be circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Fenner Brockway

In view of the great importance of the announcement made by the right hon. Gentleman, may I ask whether it would not be more desirable to make a statement of that character to this House instead of merely circulating it in HANSARD? This is a fundamental change in the situation, and surely the House should be made directly aware of it.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I have deliberately answered the Question today because one week from today the Colonial Office Questions will be at the top of the list, and there will be every opportunity for hon. Members to ask me any questions they like.

Miss Lee

Shall we have some further information about this before next week's Questions? The Minister will appreciate that it is very important that public opinion both here and in British Guiana should feel that the terms which he proposes are just. At the moment, we are still in the dark.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

If the hon. Lady had heard my answer, she would realise that the details of the proposals are being circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Following are the details of the proposals:

Briefly, there will be a Legislative Council of twelve elected members, four officials, and not more than eight nominated members. The Executive Council under the Governor will normally consist of four officials, one nominated and five elected members of the Legislative Council.

Preparations will be put in hand forthwith for the necessary amendments to the Constitution and for setting up the election machinery. The Governor will settle a suitable date for the elections. This will probably be some time next year but may have to be even later.

Her Majesty's Government hope that this substantial step forward will encourage healthy political development and enable experience to be gained upon which further progress can be based. Until more of the people understand the dangers of Communist leadership which could only bring a second collapse like that of 1953, we cannot run the risk of restoring the type of constitution which was suspended.

Meanwhile, the development programme will be pushed ahead, and whatever is necessary will be done to prevent or counter activities promoted by a handful of Communist-trained agents, who are causing interruption of constitutional progress.