HC Deb 26 May 1970 vol 801 cc1771-4

Order for Second Reading read.

5.21 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Maurice Foley)

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

This short Bill, a technical Measure, is similar to others introduced when Commonwealth countries have become republics within the Commonwealth. I do not think that it could be regarded as controversial in any way. It has already been considered in another place.

The Gambia became a republic within the Commonwealth on 24th April, 1970, after a referendum among the people of The Gambia had been held from 20th to 23rd April. This referendum resulted in the necessary majority in favour of a republic required under the previous constitution.

The purpose of this Bill is to provide adjustments in the laws of the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man as they apply to The Gambia so that they will not be affected by The Gambia's change in status. As is usual in these cases, the Bill will affect the law of dependent territories only in so far as it affects Acts of the British Parliament extending to them as part of their law and Orders in Council applying such Acts to them.

The Bill also enables the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to continue to exercise jurisdiction to hear any appeals that were pending immediately before Republic Day and also enables Orders in Council to be made providing for future appeals. The new republican Constitution makes provision in Gambian law for future appeals and an Order in Council will be made to give the Judicial Committee jurisdiction under United Kingdom law to hear such appeals.

The Commonwealth Secretary-General has sought and obtained the agreement of the other Commonwealth Governments to The Gambia retaining her membership of the Commonwealth under a republican Constitution.

Hon. Members will, I am sure, join me in sending to the first President, Sir Dawda Jawara, the Government and the people of The Gambia our very best wishes for the progress and prosperity of The Gambia in the future.

5.23 p.m.

Mr. Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

I am sure the House would want me to thank the Minister for explaining the Bill with his customary lucidity. We on our side would like to give the Bill our unqualified approval. Indeed, if I may say so, at a time when battle is about to be joined at the hustings and when there will be fierce disagreements between us on, I suppose, almost every aspect of policy though it is unusual it is very pleasant for the Opposition to be able to join with the Government in welcoming a Bill without any qualification whatsoever, and in sending our warmest best wishes to the new Republic of The Gambia.

It is a good many years since I first set foot in The Gambia. That was during the Second World War when I had a responsibility for training African troops and The Gambia was providing splendid soldiers for the West African Expeditionary Force to Burma. I still retain happy memories of my stay in Bathurst and of the fighting qualities and the great sense of humour of the men of The Gambia Regiment. In more recent years, through the medium of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I have had the pleasure of meeting some of the Gambian parliamentarians and have been struck by their moderate and sensible attitude not only to the problems of their own country but to those of the African continent.

So I was not surprised at the Government of The Gambia accepting the previous rejection of their proposal for republican status—this was absolutely in line with their respect for the democratic process—and that they went through the correct procedure according to their own constitution a second time. This augurs exceedingly well for what I suppose is one of the youngest democracies in Africa. It is, of course, absolutely right for The Gambia to become a republic if her people so wish. This does not diminish in any way the warm attachment between our two countries which has existed now over many centuries.

We also welcome very much indeed Gambia's desire to join the circle of the sovereign members of the Commonwealth.

There is only one point on which I would seek clarification. The hon. Gentleman made reference to the provision in Clause 2 about the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. As I understand it, the Privy Council will still hear appeals pending at the time of the declaration of the Republic. What is not clear to me is whether or not The Gambia will continue to allow the Privy Council to consider appeals in the future. As far as I can see, the Bill leaves the option open to The Gambia on this matter. There is, of course, no objection in principle to that procedure. Indeed, I am of the opinion that access to the Privy Council can be of considerable advantage to a country which wishes to avoid any accusation, however wild, of tampering with the judiciary. Clearly this is a matter for The Gambian Government alone to decide. But perhaps the Minister could say whether that Government have shown any wish that this most valuable link should be retained.

Having said that, it only remains for me to send on behalf of my hon. Friends on this side of the House our very best wishes to Sir Dawda Jawara, the former Prime Minister who, I believe, is to become the first President of the Republic, a most wise and distinguished son of his country, and to all the people of the new State for peace and prosperity in the future.

Mr. Foley

With permission, I would answer the question very briefly. It is quite correct to say that till Republic Day the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council continues to exercise jurisdiction and to hear appeals. The new republican constitution in The Gambia makes provision in Gambian law for future appeals, and an Order in Council will be made to give the Judicial Committee jurisdiction under United Kingdom law for such appeals.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House—[Mr. Concannon.]

Bill immediately considered in Committee; reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question,That the Bill be now read the Third time,put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 55 (Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.



That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Concannon.]

Adjourned accordingly at half-past Five o'clock.