HC Deb 21 July 1969 vol 787 cc1228-9
28. Mr. Goodhew

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in what ways Her Majesty's Government seek to safeguard the people of colonial territories against future fundamental changes in their constitutions when negotiating independence terms.

Mr. M. Stewart

The method is to entrench the constitution or the more fundamental parts of it, such as those relating to elections to the Legislature, the independence of the judiciary, and the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual. The alteration of entrenched constitutional provisions cannot be effected by a simple Parliamentary majority.

Mr. Goodhew

But is the right hon. Gentleman aware that some two-thirds of the ex-colonial territories in Africa have now amended very fundamentally the Constitutions which they were given on independence? Why did he throw over the possibility of a negotiated settlement with Rhodesia on the demand for double safeguards, when he does not demand even single safeguards of other countries?

Mr. Stewart

We by no means threw away the possibility of a negotiated settlement with Rhodesia. We pursued the principles to which all parties in the House are committed.

Mr. Orme

Does this not prove that when a country gains independence, and thereby its freedom to rule itself, entrenched clauses or safeguards put in beforehand mean nothing and that this would have been the same with regard to Rhodesia?

Mr. Stewart

I do not think that one can always draw that conclusion. When a country proceeds from dependent status to independence, it may, if its history and nature require it, be desirable to entrench clauses. There is no way, of course, of preventing the violent and illegal overthrow of those entrenched clauses. Nevertheless, I repeat that it is desirable, if the history and nature of the country require it, to provide for such clauses. In some cases it is not necessary. The United Kingdom and New Zealand, for example, have managed very well without a written constitution.