HC Deb 08 March 1957 vol 566 cc115-7W
Mr. J. Johnson

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he will make a statement upon the talks he has had with the Mauritius Legislative Council delegation regarding the future constitutional status of that island.

6. Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Yes; the Conference agreed upon the following statement at its final meeting on the 1st March:

1. A series of meetings have been held between a delegation from Mauritius and Ministers and officials of the Colonial Office, the Governor, Sir Robert Scott, being present throughout. The Conference was held to discuss, on the basis of the Secretary of State's statement in the House of Commons on the 12th December, 1956, the remaining points of disagreement in regard to the new constitution to be introduced in Mauritius.

System of Voting

In his despatch of the 10th February, 1956, the Secretary of State had proposed the system of proportional representation with the single transferable vote to replace the present block vote system. As possible alternatives to the above mentioned systems the Conference examined:—

  1. (i) the Party List system of voting in multi-member constituencies; and
  2. (ii) single-member constituencies with majority voting.

It was common ground to all those taking part in the Conference that whatever system of voting was introduced should be on the basis of universal adult suffrage, and should provide an adequate opportunity for all the main sections of opinion in Mauritius to elect their representatives to the Legislative Council in numbers broadly corresponding to their own weight in the community. It was also common ground that the system of voting should be such as to facilitate the development of voting on grounds of political principle and party rather than on race or religion.

The Mauritius Labour Party suggested that it would be possible to meet these aims by dividing Mauritius into a number of single-member constituencies. The other sections of the Mauritius delegation did not consider that this could be done. On the facts available the Secretary of State took the view that it would not be possible to make a satisfactory division to meet the aims in view. He felt that to attempt to do so would produce boundaries so artificial as to bring the system into disrepute and, further, that these boundaries could not be durable. All agreed that such disadvantages would be unacceptable. Furthermore, the Secretary of State feared that as the demarcation of single-member constituencies would at this stage be bound to be based largely on communal considerations they would tend to harden and perpetuate communal divisions rather than lead away from them.

The representatives of the Parti Mauricien and the Nominated Members expressed the view that while they would prefer the system of proportional representation by the single transferable vote, they would be prepared to accept the Party List system in an effort to reach agreement. The Mauritius Labour Party did not feel that it had been shown that a system of single-member constituencies could not be devised to meet the ends which were agreed. Until this were done they did not feel able to accept the Party List system.

It was finally agreed that a Commission of three persons from outside Mauritius should be appointed by the Secretary of State with terms of reference covering the following principles:—

  1. (i) The Commission would examine whether it was possible to divide the Colony of Mauritius into a series of single-member constituencies up to a maximum of 40 of approximately equal voting strength but with a minimum electorate in any one constituency of 5,000 so that:—
    1. (a) each main section of the population in Mauritius shall have adequate opportunity to secure representation in the Legislative Council corresponding to its own number in the community as a whole;
    2. (b) each constituency shall have reasonable geographical boundaries;
    3. (c) the boundaries could be expected to endure for a reasonable number of years while yet remaining consistent with the primary objective at (a).
  2. (ii) The Commission would also be instructed that if they found it was not possible to demarcate single-member constituencies in accordance with these basic principles, they should then demarcate boundaries for 11 three-member constituencies, based as far as possible on present geographic divisions. These constituencies should be roughly equal in the number of voters.

The Conference agreed that if the Commission found that a satisfactory system of single-member constituencies could not be introduced in accordance with the above principles, elections should then be held on the Party List system in the three-member constituencies to be demarcated by the Commission. All the delegates from Mauritius pledged themselves to use their good offices, to co-operate, and to persuade the members of their parties to co-operate, in the acceptance and working of whichever of these two systems was introduced.

Nomination of Members to Legislative Council In accordance with the proposals in the Secretary of State's despatch of 10th February, 1956, the Governor would be enabled to appoint up to a maximum of 12 members to Legislative Council. The Governor's choice would be at his discretion after such consultation with members of Legislative Council as he might deem appropriate within the following conditions:—

  1. (a) nomination would not be used to frustrate the results of the elections;
  2. (b) it would be used where appropriate to ensure representation of special interests of those who had no chance of obtaining representation through election;
  3. (c) it might be used if desirable to assist in the working of Government. For the avoidance of misunderstanding, it should be clearly stated that "Government" in this context means a government largely composed of Ministers and associated through them and their adherents with the Legislative Council.

Composition of Executive Council It was agreed that the object would be for the 9 Unofficial seats in Executive Council to reflect the composition of the Legislative Council, i.e. any parties or elements in the Legislative Council which accepted an invitation to join the Government would be represented among the 9 Unofficial Members of Executive Council as nearly as possible in proportion to their strength in Legislative Council. Appointment to the Executive Council would be by the Governor in accordance with this principle and after consultation at his discretion with the members of Legislative Council.

Introduction of a Ministerial form of Government It was agreed that the Ministerial form of government should be introduced as soon as possible and before the next elections which were at present due to be held in August, 1958.

Date of Elections It was the general desire of the Conference that elections should be held when due in August, 1958. If, however, there was any considerable delay in the electoral commission producing its report, it was recognised that it might be necessary to defer elections—

  1. (i) To enable administrative preparations for elections under the new system to he completed and
  2. (ii) to give political parties such time as would be reasonable in the Secretary of State's opinion to rearrange their own organisations and prepare their electoral campaigns under the new constitution.