HC Deb 19 March 1957 vol 567 cc210-2
46. Mr. Hynd

asked the Prime Minister whether he will recognise the progress towards self-government in the Commonwealth by amalgamating the remaining functions of the Colonial Office with those of the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations.

The Prime Minister

What the hon. Member describes as "the remaining functions" of the Colonial Office are still so onerous that it would be impracticable for a single Minister to discharge them efficiently in combination with another office.

Mr. Hynd

Have not those responsibilities very greatly diminished in recent years, much to the delight of everybody, and would it not be not only administratively convenient but a great encouragement to further progress towards self-government if we could make this change?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that the work which is done by the Colonial Secretary is by any means too small. In fact, it has rather worried me that he has had such very onerous work in recent months. Even with these changes, I am not persuaded that it would be wise to amalgamate with the office which deals with Commonwealth relations the care of dependent territories. There would be a good deal to be thought about in both directions before that decision was made.

Mr. Shinwell

While the right hon. Gentleman may not be prepared to go as far as my hon. Friend has asked, can he say whether on constitutional matters which affect new Commonwealth countries, such as Ghana, and in relation to any projected plans of that sort, the older Commonwealth countries are brought into consultation in order to ascertain their views?

The Prime Minister

I should be very sorry to see any distinction made between different members and different groups of the Commonwealth. Although there may be, and, I have no doubt, will be, in course of time opportunity for some reorganisation of functions, I do not think that the time is yet, and I think there are a good many pitfalls into which we ought to be careful not to fall in any further developments.

Mr. Patrick Maitland

Will not my right hon. Friend agree that, inasmuch as all the Colonial Territories are of interest to the entire Commonwealth, there is a certain intermingling of consultation which could go on and which is desirable all over the Commonwealth, and that it would be a great forward move if some machinery could be devised which would enable these things to take place?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I think there are great opportunities for further consultation and joint efforts by the countries of the Commonwealth. However, as I have said, I should certainly hesitate before putting the administrative responsibility for these territories, which for one reason or another must still be dependent, under the same Minister who dealt in the ordinary course of business with the Commonwealth countries.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is one change, not confined to a Ministerial office but in another respect, which would meet with general approval? I refer to a change in legislation to enable us to continue giving aid to such territories when they become independent, self-governing members of the Commonwealth. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider that?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, but that is a different matter from that raised in the Question. On the broad question of the Commonwealth as a whole assisting in various directions the dependent territories, I think we can enlist the help and advice of the Commonwealth countries as a whole.

Mr. P. Williams

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with the status accorded to the office of the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations? Would he not agree that many people look on that office as the poor relation of the Foreign Office?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I do not think that is so at all. The office has been filled in successive Governments by very distinguished Ministers, and I think that on the whole it has worked very well. It depends, of course, upon personalities. I think it is a very good system, although I agree that there will be developments in the future as there have been in the past.

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