HC Deb 17 May 1946 vol 422 cc281-3W
Mr. Stanley

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he has any statement to make with regard to constitutional developments in Ceylon.

Mr. George Hall:

The House will recollect that following upon the report of the Soulbury Commission (Cmd. 6677), His Majesty's Government announced in October, 1945 (Cmd. 6690) that they were in sympathy with the desire of the people of Ceylon to advance towards Dominion status and were anxious to cooperate with them to that end. With this in mind His Majesty's Government had reached the conclusion that a Constitution on the general lines proposed by the Soulbury Commission would provide a workable basis for constitutional progress in Ceylon. His Majesty's Government's proposal was accepted by the State Council of Ceylon by a majority of 51 votes to 3.

An Order in Council embodying the new Constitution framed on the lines of Cmd. 6690 was made by His Majesty on 15th May and is being published today in the Ceylon Government Gazette. Copies are available in the Library of the House.

As this instrument is necessarily long and largely of a technical nature I may perhaps recapitulate here the main features of the new Constitution.

(a) The present State Council will be replaced by a Parliament consisting of His Majesty, represented by the Governor, and two Chambers to be known respectively as the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Ceylon Parliament will have full power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the island, but it may not make laws which discriminate against any community or religion, or interfere with freedom of worship, or with the constitutions of religious bodies without their concurrence.

(b) There will be a Cabinet of Ministers (one of whom will be Prime Minister) who will be charged with the general direction and control of the government of the Island and will be collectively responsible to the Ceylon Parliament.

(c) The Governor will be required to reserve for His Majesty's assent a few classes of Bills only. These include Bills relating to defence and external affairs and Bills which, in the Governor's opinion, have evoked serious opposition by any religious or racial community and are likely to involve oppression or serious injustice to any such community. Bills relating solely to certain specified subjects such as franchise and immigration are excluded from the classes of Bills to be reserved.

(d) His Majesty's Government retains the power to legislate by Order in Council for defence and external affairs and to amend or revoke the Constitution.

As was stated in October last, His Majesty's Government hope that this new Constitution will be accepted by the people of Ceylon with a determination so to work it that in a comparatively short space of time Dominion status will be evolved. This Constitution is therefore a most important and significant landmark in British Colonial history. I take this opportunity on behalf of His Majesty's Government and the people of this country to congratulate the people of Ceylon and their leaders on this great achievement which is a fitting recognition of their proved capacity for self-government and of their loyal co-operation in peace and in war with the peoples of the British Commonwealth of Nations. A special word of acknowledgment and gratitude is due to Lord Soulbury and the members of his Commission, and also to Mr. Senanayake, Leader of the State Council of Ceylon, who spent three months in this country last summer discussing these proposals. I look forward with great confidence to the future prosperity and well-being of Ceylon under her new Constitution.