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Ceylon (Constitution)

Volume 415: debated on Wednesday 31 October 1945

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Mr. Speaker, with your permission and the permission of the House, I ask to be allowed to make a short statement on the proposed constitutional changes in Ceylon. I am presenting to the House this afternoon a White Paper embodying a statement of policy by His Majesty's Government on Constitutional Reform in Ceylon, which indicates the conclusions which His Majesty's Government have reached on the recommendations made in the Report of the Commission which visited Ceylon under the chairmanship of Lord Soulbury. The main decisions reached by His Majesty's Government are stated in paragraph 10 of the White Paper, copies of which Members will be able to obtain at the Vote Office at five o'clock. This paragraph reads as follows:

"His Majesty's Government are in sympathy with the desire of the people of Ceylon to advance towards Dominion status and they are anxious to cooperate with them to that end. With this in mind His Majesty's Government have reached the conclusion that a Constitution on the general lines proposed by the Soulbury Commission (which also conforms in broad outline, save as regards the Second Chamber, with the constitutional scheme put forward by the Ceylon Ministers themselves) will provide a workable basis for constitutional progress in Ceylon.
Experience of the working of Parliamentary institutions in the British Commonwealth has shown that advance to Dominion status has been effected by modification of existing Constitutions and by the establishment of conventions which have grown up in actual practice.
Legislation such as the Statute of Westminster has been the recognition of constitutional advances already achieved rather than the instrument by which they were secured. It is, therefore, the hope of His Majesty's Government that the 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 such Dominion status will be evolved. The actual length of time occupied by this evolutionary process must depend upon the experience gained under the new Constitution by the people of Ceylon."
As I have indicated, His Majesty's Government have decided to offer the people of Ceylon a Constitution on the general lines proposed by the Soulbury Commission, with some modifications which are indicated in the White Paper, and are anxious that Ceylon should continue to advance towards Dominion status. His Majesty's Government propose, therefore, to press forward to the achievement of that objective guided by the practical experience which the Constitution now offered will afford.

The right hon. Gentleman has just made a very important statement. I have only two comments to make. The first is that I assume that this House will be given an opportunity of discussing this very large constitutional change before it is put into effect. I think, too, that if the right hon. Gentleman will inquire from the Colonial Office, he will find that a definite pledge upon that subject was given by a predecessor of mine to this House, and I am sure that not only would he desire to honour that pledge, but he would agree that, when we have a great constitutional development affecting millions of our fellow subjects in the Colonies, this House should have an opportunity of discussing it. My second point is that I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman most sincerely on being converted to the merits of the bicameral form of Government.

With regard to the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's Question, if after he has read the contents of the White Paper he and others with him still think that a Debate is required, then, if they will get into touch with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, possibly the matter can be discussed.

:It is not in this case a matter of reading the details of the White Paper. It is not whether we agree or disagree with the right hon. Gentleman's proposals. Frankly, I, personally, agree with them, but it is really a matter of such importance that it ought to be discussed by this House.

That is a matter, of course, which must be discussed through the usual channels or with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

:Can my right hon. Friend say anything about the prospect of any early General Election in Ceylon? Would it not be appropriate that the new Constitution should come into force when there was a new State Council, instead of the present very aged one?

:I am willing to consider fairly any points that are raised on this matter through the usual channels, but I am really not going to commit myself to the doctrine that because the Government announce a policy, even if there is general agreement in the House about it, there is to be a Debate. We have a lot of things to do and there is plenty of disagreement about much that has to be done, but I am willing to consider fairly any requests that are made.

Is it the policy of the Government that this House should become a rubber stamp as regards major changes of constitution within the British Commonwealth?