§ The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:
§ Mr. N. PANNELL
To ask the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and the Colonies what progress has been 1797 made at the Gambia Constitutional Confersnce; and if he will make a statement.
§ The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and for the Colonies (Mr. Duncan Sandys)
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to answer Question No. 90.
I should like to inform the House that the Gambia Independence Conference, which was presided over by my noble Friend Lord Lansdowne, completed its work this morning. 18th February has been fixed as the date for independence.
The Conference Report containing the full conclusions will be printed as a White Paper.
§ Mr. Pannell
While expressing pleasure at the successful conclusion of these negotiations, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether, in view of the fact that Gambia is a very small territory entirely surrounded by Senegal, what the relations are likely to be between these two territories—whether a merger has been discussed?
§ Mr. Sandys
There are no plans for a merger. However, the Gambia has initialled draft agreements with Senegal for co-operation in defence and foreign affairs.
§ Mr. Bottomley
While welcoming independence for a Colony, may I ask the Secretary of State whether the decision to go forward with independence was unanimous on the part of all parties attending the conference? Further, would he give an assurance that any association of Senegal with the Gambia or vice versa will be left to the Gambia to decide?
§ Mr. Sandys
Yes, of course, there can be no question of the British Government deciding any merger between the Gambia and Senegal. That will be a matter for the Gambia to decide on its own, as it thinks best.
On the first question raised by the right hon. Gentleman, I think that I can say that there is general agreement that the country wants independence. On the other hand, there was one point of disagreement in this connection, namely, 1798 that the opposition, which is not always unusual in these circumstances, asked for new elections before independence. But we did not think that there were any special circumstances which justified departing from the normal practice.
§ Mr. Sandys
We have undertaken to assist the Gambia in carrying out its development programme over the next three years. We shall also help them with their recurrent budget over the same period.