HC Deb 02 August 1944 vol 402 cc1397-400W
Captain Gammans

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he has any statement to make on the Report of the Trinidad Franchise Committee.

31 and 32. Colonel Stanley

The Report of the Franchise Committee of the Colony of Trinidad and Tobago has been laid in the Library of the House to-day. The Executive Council in Trinidad has been consulted, and I have had the advantage of discussing the Report personally with Sir Bede Clifford in this country. The action proposed involves legislation in Trinidad as well as an Order-in-Council, and local legislation will be prepared and submitted to the Legislative Council in Trinidad in due course.

I will now indicate the main recommendations of the Committee with the action which it is now proposed, with my approval, to take upon them.

ParagraphQualifications for membership in the Legislative Council. The Committee unanimously recommended that women should be eligible for membership equally with men; that ministers of religion should be disqualified from membership; and that qualification for membership by residence or ownership of property within the electoral district for which the member proposed to stand should be removed. A large majority recommended that the property qualification for membership should be reduced from $12,000 to $5,000 in the case of owners of real estate and the income qualification from $1,920 to $96o. A minority of the Committee recommended that all persons qualified as voters should be ipso facto qualified for membership of the Legislative Council. I have accepted the recommendations of the Committee or of the majority thereof.

ParagraphQualifications for voters for the Legislative Council. The majority of the Committee recommended that the franchise be altered and extended by reducing the age qualification of women voters from 30 to 21 years; by reducing the period of residence in an electoral district required of the voter from 12 months to 6 months; and by the abolition of the property and income qualifications, and that the intending voter should be able to satisfy the registering officer that he, or she, can understand the English language when spoken. A minority of the Committee, while in agreement that universal adult suffrage should be the ultimate goal, considered that the existing basis on which the franchise is granted should be reduced now by 50 per cent. I have accepted the view of the majority save in respect of the requirement that voters shall be required to show that they can understand the English language when spoken. The proposal to be put before the Colonial Legislature will, therefore, be universal adult suffrage for both men and women, without a language qualification.

ParagraphMunicipal Councils. Voters' Qualifications. A majority of the Committee proposed retention of the existing franchise conditions, subject to the suffrage being extended to every tenant occupier and owner occupier of property, irrespective of its assessed rateable value, but a minority were of the opinion that the municipal franchise should be based on universal adult suffrage. I have accepted the view of the majority.

Paragraphs 18–20. Municipal Councils. Qualifications of Councillors. A minority of the members of the Committee thought that the qualifications should be the same as for a voter. The majority thought that in general the existing property qualifications should be reduced but proposed the abolition of the existing legal disqualification which bars ministers of religion from qualifying for election as Councillors. I have accepted the recommendations of the majority of the Committee.

ParagraphCounty Councils. Voters' Qualifications. A majority of the Committee recommended universal suffrage for all British subjects of the age of 21 and over, subject to residence of six months in an electoral district. A minority recommended that the qualifying period should be three months. I have accepted the recommendation of the majority.

ParagraphsandCounty Councils. Members' Qualifications. The majority of the Committee recommended that the property qualification should be ownership of immovable property to the value of $500, or receipt of a clear annual income of not less than $240, or tenancy of house and land of an annual rental of not less than $60. Certain of the members of the Committee were of the opinion that no property or income qualifications should be required and that any person otherwise qualified and also qualified to be a voter should ipso facto be qualified to be elected a member of the Council. I have accepted the view of the majority.

ParagraphConstitution of County Councils. The franchise Committee were asked to consider the question of establishing County Councils in the Colony on the basis of adult suffrage but without executive powers in the first instance. They have recommended that County Councils be established for four of the existing eight counties in Trinidad; that there should be two County Councils to represent the remaining four counties which are less densely populated and that there should also be a County Council for Tobago, making a total of seven County Councils for the Colony as a whole. This recommendation has, with my approval, been accepted and the Colonial Government will now put forward a scheme giving practical effect to it in the light of more detailed recommendations of the Committee under this heading, having regard in particular to the relationship of the proposed Councils with the present system of district administration under Wardens, who are Government officials, with existing Wardens' Councils, and with local Road Boards and Health Authorities.

ParagraphsFunctions of County Councils. The majority of the Committee recommended that the practicability of vesting these County Councils with certain executive func- tions, since experience showed it to be advisable, should be actively borne in mind. I share the Governor's sympathy with the views put forward that unless some executive powers are given to these Councils, their usefulness may be impaired. Accordingly, the local Government proposes that the County Councils, as soon as they are well established, should be invited to submit proposals as to the nature and extent of the executive functions which might usefully be entrusted to them. At this stage I can only state that when the time comes any reasonable suggestions to this end will be very carefully considered. The House will recognise that the decisions taken constitute a marked advance on a broad basis in the process of associating the people of the Colony with the management of their affairs. When sufficient experience has been gained of the results of the new franchise in operation (which will be studied with the closest interest and sympathy) consideration can be given to any further steps in the direction of self-government as may appear advisable. The Franchise Committee was selected so as to represent all sections of the community and the full measure in which it has been possible to accept their majority recommendations, viewed in relation to the exhaustive and thorough manner in which they carried out their inquiries, the many contentious problems they had to face, and the far-reaching character of the changes proposed, afford in my submission the best tribute that can be paid to the undoubted services which under the distinguished guidance of their chairman, Sir Lennox O'Reilly, they have rendered to the Colony.