HC Deb 20 November 1964 vol 702 cc781-3

Considered in Committee; reported, without Amendment.

11.40 a m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mrs. Eirene White)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

As the House will have recognised, the rapid passage of the Bill through Committee shows that it contains no matter of great controversy. We had a brief, but I thought very interesting, Second Reading debate during the week, and all that now remains to be said is that the Bill goes forward with the good wishes of the House and that we all very much hope that The Gambia, whose independence is due to come into force on 18th February, will be able to proceed to an independent political State with the good will of its great neighbour, Senegal, and with continuing assistance from Her Majesty's Government in this country, to which we are pledged at least up to the middle of 1967. Some of us recognised on Second Reading that assistance in some shape or form may have to continue beyond that.

It is only right to remark that The Gambia is not the first territory to achieve political independence without, quite frankly, having attained economic viability. There have been others, some of them happy and some, frankly, not so happy. Malta is one, Zanzibar is another and Malawi is the third. The Gambia is the fourth.

The House would be lacking in a sense of responsibility if it did not recognise that there are very peculiar difficulties for any territory, no matter what the circumstances, if, although politically independent, it cannot stand on its own feet economically. I will not at this stage pursue the matter, for it would be inappropriate, but possibly some reconsideration of national policy is needed. At least, to The Gambia we are already committed. We have made the position quite clear to the House.

We recognise that in each of these territories, whatever the general principles may be, there are special considerations which should be taken into account. Sometimes they may lead us to the point of deciding that the time has come for independence and in other cases in the future it may be that we may hesitate a little longer. But The Gambia has peculiar circumstances in that it is not only in direct proximity to, but is almost encircled by, its great neighbour, of Senegal.

We all know that the present Government of The Gambia have indicated that the moment independence has been achieved they will enter into treaties with Senegal, particularly on questions of foreign policy and defence. In the circumstances, it seems to us that this is probably the best future for this small territory.

It is a territory with which Great Britain has a very long association. It is the first territory on the West Coast of Africa in which we had any permanent settlement. This gives a special flavour to the relationship between the United Kingdom and The Gambia. I hope that we shall maintain the friendliest possible relations and that we shall be able to give all the assistance in our power to see that the granting of political independence is made truly successful and makes for the happiness of the people in this small country.

11.43 a.m.

Mr. Julian Amery (Preston, North)

I shall not seek this morning to go over the ground which we covered fairly fully on Second Reading the other evening. I think that it emerged clearly from the debate the other night that those hon. Members who have had the good fortune to visit The Gambia, even if their visits have been very short, have formed quite a strong attachment to the country and its peoples and have very happy memories of their brief visits.

There is a keen hope on both sides of the House, both among those who have visited The Gambia and those who know about it only on paper, that the links between this country and The Gambia will remain strong. I very much welcome the decision to provide The Gambia with continuing economic assistance, at any rate in the years immediately ahead.

I will not follow the hon. Lady into the very interesting field which she opened of how far economic viability and political independence should or should not be interconnected. I think that I agree with her that this is not a matter on which one can generalise. Circumstances differ according to cases.

I will not seek to prolong the debate, but simply conclude by extending the good wishes of this side of the House to the people of The Gambia in the great adventure in which they are embarked. We wholeheartedly support the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.