HC Deb 05 May 1960 vol 622 cc1265-9
The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Iain Macleod)

With permission, I wish to make a statement on the Sierra Leone Constitutional Conference.

Constitutional talks were held with an all-party delegation from Sierra Leone and ended yesterday.

On behalf of Her Majesty's Government, I agreed that Sierra Leone would become independent on 27th April, 1961.

Before independence, certain interim changes will be introduced. Most of these will be made within the next few weeks. Among the most important of them are that the Governor will hand over the Presidency of the Executive Council to the Premier, who will become Prime Minister.

Executive Public and Judicial Commissions will be set up and Ministers will be associated with the handling of defence, police and external affairs. Among other matters, the Conference agreed to the inclusion of fundamental human rights in the Constitution on independence and to the procedure for amending the Constitution and entrenching the basic constitutional provisions.

While the Conference was on we held talks about defence and finance. It was agreed that the two Governments will negotiate an agreement for mutual defence co-operation to be signed after independence.

On finance, Her Majesty's Government recognised that the initial burdens of independence including defence and compensation for overseas officers would present some difficulty at a time when normal colonial-type assistance would cease. Her Majesty's Government therefore offered assistance totalling £7½ million, of which £3½ million will be Commonwealth assistance loans and the remainder grants and technical assistance. The compensation scheme will be designed to encourage officers to stay.

I am happy to say that the Conference was marked by great cordiality and friendship. At the end of our discussions the Conference reaffirmed the long tradition of friendship between Sierra Leone and the United Kingdom and the representatives of both made it clear that it was their intention that their co-operation and friendship should continue.

The Report of the Conference will be published as a White Paper as soon as possible.

Mr. Gaitskell

May I say, on behalf of the Opposition, how warmly we welcome the statement of the Colonial Secretary, in particular the agreement on the reference to fundamental human rights in the Constitution, on independence, and also the wise decision to defer negotiations on a defence agreement until after independence? May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether there are any outstanding points which remain, or can we now take it that the Conference has concluded and that he does not foresee any further difficulties before independence?

Mr. Macleod

It is always dangerous to say that one does not foresee any further difficulties, but I can see none on the horizon at present. On the question of defence, we agreed in the ordinary way, on the heads of agreement, to leave the fuller document to be drawn up and ratified on independence.

Mr. Tilney

While welcoming the fact that our old and very loyal friend Sierra Leone is to obtain independence next year, will my right hon. Friend say whether, in considering the defence parts of the agreement, the importance of Freetown will be considered?

Mr. Macleod

Yes, Sir. Both sides were very conscious of the importance of Freetown, and that point has been covered.

Mr. Wade

While welcoming the decision to grant independence to Sierra Leone, and, in particular, the atmosphere of mutual good will which was shown, may I ask whether, at the Conference, there was any discussion of any possible need for technical and administrative officers after the granting of independence, and whether proposals were put forward for helping to provide such officers apart from financial assistance?

Mr. Macleod

We spent a great deal of time safeguarding the position of the public servants, which is a matter to which I attach great importance, and I think an admirable public officers' agreement has been drawn up. The details of that will be published in the White Paper which the House will have in about eight or nine days' time. On the question of tehnical and other assistance, it was agreed that we would do what we could in that way to try to help the country.

Mr. N. Pannell

While congratulating my right hon. Friend and the Sierra Leone delegates on the smoothness and cordiality of this Conference, may I ask why the results of the discussions were first issued to the Press instead of to this House?

Mr. Macleod

That was because the conclusions of the Conference—and in all conferences in which I have taken part this has been normal—were announced to the Conference yesterday afternoon. They were, unfortunately, announced at 3.30 and, therefore, it was too late for me to be able to make a statement that day. I have taken the earliest opportunity of making a statement to the House.

Mr. Hale

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind, while accepting my humble congratulations, in particular in relation to the declaration of human rights in the Constitution of the new Sierra Leone, that, so long as Her Majesty's Government's ratification of the European Declaration of Human Rights in relation to African territories is limited to complaints made by a a Government and not by an individual, or by a sufferer, there is no effective way of implementing this constitutional declaration other than by an agreement subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court on Human Rights, or the setting up of a Commonwealth court of human rights, which would be the biggest single contribution which could now be made to the future welfare of Africa?

Mr. Macleod

I think that that is a much wider question. Even so, it does not detract in my view from the great importance of the fundamental principles of human rights which are being written into this Constitution.

Sir G. Nicholson

May I ask the Colonial Secretary two questions? First, in regard to expatriate officers, may we take it that the scheme will be rather more simplified than in the case of Nigeria, where it was really complicated and involved? Is that the kind of agreement which may be applied to other territories in these matters? Secondly, am I right in assuming that colonial development and welfare aid will now cease and that there will be nothing of an ad hoc nature put in its place?

Mr. Macleod

We learn by experience. The Nigerian scheme was by no means a success for a variety of reasons. The Sierra Leone scheme is based on a different approach. It has been worked out in such a way as to try to make sure that as many people as possible stay on, and there is an instalment element which I think will help towards it. My hon. Friend will see that in the White Paper which is to be issued.

On the other point, it is normal that colonial-type assistance ceases when a country becomes independent and aid is then given on a Government-to-Government basis. The main channel of aid is usually Commonwealth assistance loans.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Is this not another example showing that the Government ought seriously to consider the decision already made that the Colonial Development Corporation shall be prohibited from working in these countries once they become independent? They all need technical assistance and "know-how" and they have built up experience which ought to be made available to them. We all send our good wishes to Sierra Leone and to the responsible Ministers, to whom we wish good luck. Will not Che right hon. Gentleman not reconsider the whole question of the rôle of C.D.C., which we think should be continued in countries when they become independent?

Mr. Macleod

This is a difficult question, because many countries, understandably, are reluctant to go on being associated with a form of assistance which is particularly geared to the Colonies. It is not quite right to say that the Corporation is prohibited from doing anything in the territory. Schemes which have been started can be completed. Apart from that, it is possible for them to help with managerial and technical "know-how", which is a great asset. I think that after independence probably the best way of arranging these matters is on a Government-to-Government basis. That is why we had these talks.

Taking into account the development needs of Sierra Leone over the next two years, I believe that what we have done is adequate, but the Premier, Sir Milton Margai, said yesterday, "If we get into difficulties, we know who our friends are and where they are". We should be very glad to consult them again.

Mr. Marquand

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is particularly satisfying that the announcement of the accession of a new self-governing territory in Africa to the Commonwealth has been made this week? May I be permitted to add the personal congratulations of all who have met and talked to him to Sir Milton Margai on his elevation to the post of Prime Minister?

Mr. Macleod

It was largely due to Sir Milton's delightful personality and, incidentally, to the hold that he had upon the entire delegation from Sierra Leone, that the Conference went so well. He played a splendid part.