HC Deb 11 May 1956 vol 552 cc1557-60

11.5 a.m.

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

With permission, Sir, I wish to make a statement about certain developments in the Gold Coast.

As the House knows, the present Gold Coast Constitution marked the last stage before the assumption by the Gold Coast of full responsibility for its own affairs. The grant of such responsibility is a matter for the United Kingdom Government and Parliament and it has always been the wish of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom that the Gold Coast should achieve its independence within the Commonwealth.

Since the present Constitution was introduced there has arisen a dispute within the Gold Coast about the form of Constitution which that country should have when it achieves independence within the Commonwealth. Efforts have been made to bring about a reconciliation between the major parties, but they have so far met with no success.

I have been in close touch with the Prime Minister of the Gold Coast on these matters. It is the considered view of his Government that the time has now come for the Gold Coast to assume full responsibility within the Commonwealth for its own affairs. I have made my view clear to him that because of the failure to resolve the constitutional dispute we can only achieve our common aim of the early independence of that country within the Commonwealth in one way and in one way alone; that is, to demonstrate to the world that the peoples of the Gold Coast have had a full and free opportunity to consider their Constitution and to express their views on it in a general election.

I have told Dr. Nkrumah that if a General Election is held Her Majesty's Government will be ready to accept a motion calling for independence within the Commonwealth passed by a reasonable majority in a newly elected Legislature and then to declare a firm date for this purpose.

Full membership of the Commonwealth is, of course, a different question and is a matter for consultation between all existing members of the Commonwealth.

Mr. Creech Jones

I should like to thank the Secretary of State for this very important announcement. I think all hon. Members will agree that the emergence of an independent Gold Coast State is of great significance in Africa, and perhaps in the world generally. There are, however, a number of things which I should like to ask the Secretary of State. Before doing so, I would say how much we appreciate the contribution which the Secretary of State and the Government of the Gold Coast have made in trying to find a solution to a problem which was causing great anxiety everywhere, and which was calculated to undermine the political development of the Gold Coast and also to hold up the degree of economic stability which is necessary if independence is to be real.

I would put these points to the Secretary of State because we regard them as of some importance. First, may I ask that where a General Election is held, the right hon. Gentleman is satisfied that the conditions still exist in the Gold Coast for a calm Election? Is he satisfied that there are sufficient forces of law and order to make a General Election a reality so that the decisions which are necessary if constitutional development is to go on can be reached?

Further, I should like to know whether there have been any signs of a reconciliation as between the Ashanti people and the Northern Territories, on the one hand, and the Nkrumah Government on the other; or whether any steps are being taken to bring the contending parties together so that undue conflict in the General Election may not arise? Thirdly, I hope that when the Secretary of State talks of "full membership of the Commonwealth", provided all goes well in the new Legislature to be elected as a result of the General Election, there will be no retreat at all from the British view that the Gold Coast ought to have its proper place inside the Commonwealth.

Finally, and on a matter of very considerable importance, I think that the question of the date of self-government is intimately tied to the question of the General Election and I should like to be assured that after the Election there will be no delay; and that in the Territory itself no hampering tactics will be tolerated which will cause the Secretary of State to delay the announcement of the date when responsible self-government will be established.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

First, may I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the kind words both about myself and the Governor of the Gold Coast? Secondly, on his question about the smooth conduct of an Election, I would say that this is, of course, for all the people of the Gold Coast themselves to ensure. I am certain that responsible leaders everywhere will realise their very real obligation in this matter.

The Governor tells me that he sees no reason why the Election should not be conducted smoothly and calmly. As to the forces to maintain law and order, I believe them to be quite adequate. On the question of the attitude of the people of Ashanti, I have not had a full report of the motion passed by the Asanteman Council but, from what I have seen of it, it seems to me to show hopeful indications. As to what the right hon. Gentleman said about full membership of the Commonwealth, I think that the views of Her Majesty's Government on this matter are well known. In a matter of this kind we must await the full consultation with our fellow members of the Commonwealth.

Finally, on the question as to when Her Majesty's Government would declare a firm date for the purpose as outlined in my statement, I do not think that I can add to the very carefully worded statement that I have already made.

Mr. Fort

Will my right hon. Friend accept from this side of the House, too, praise for his initiative in achieving progress in what was a very difficult situation? Can my right hon. Friend now tell us more about whether the General Election will be fought entirely under the present Constitution, or whether he expects that there will be at least constitutional discussion going on in the Gold Coast with the view to agreeing on a new Constitution either as a basis for the forthcoming General Election or to be taken into account in the debates which will go on in connection with the General Election?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. It is intended that this Election should be fought under the existing Constitution.

Mr. Braine

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we on this side of the House warmly welcome his statement and look forward to a continuation of the good will and friendly relations which have always existed between ourselves and the peoples of the Gold Coast? Is he also aware that we share the anxieties of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Creech Jones) that a state of independence might be reached before the inner conflict and crisis in the country have been resolved? Further, is he aware that we on this side of the House, at any rate, support the idea that a General Election should be held as soon as possible? In view of the assurances that my right hon. Friend has given this morning about conditions, can he say whether he has any idea at all when a General Election might be held?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I am certainly not in a position to say anything definite about that now, but I welcome the assurances from both sides of the House that it is the general view that the advice that I have given is right in the circumstances.

Mr. Smithers

As a member of the Parliamentary delegation which represented this House at the inauguration of the first Gold Coast Parliament, in 1951, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that since that time the Gold Coast politicians have successfully overcome some, though certainly by no means all, of the serious political problems which attend a bold, new political experiment; that this reflects to the credit both of the people of the Gold Coast and of the British officials; and that the good wishes of many friends of the Gold Coast in this country go with them in their future progress?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I fully endorse all that my hon. Friend has said.

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