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Fiji

Volume 438: debated on Wednesday 4 June 1947

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Self-Government

39.

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he has considered representations from the European Electors' Association of Fiji requesting a greater measure of self-government for the Colony; and if he will make a statement.

43.

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he has had time to consider the letter which has been sent to him from the President of the European Electors' Association of Fiji; and if he will make a statement as to the policy of His Majesty's Government as to future political developments in Fiji.

37 and 38.

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies (1) why, in 1937, the constitution of the Legislative Council of the Colony of Fiji was altered so as to increase the number of official members and reduce the number of elected members; if he is aware that this change is contrary to the wish of the majority of the people of that Colony; if he will arrange for a plebiscite to ascertain the opinion of all the people, European, Fijian and Indian, on this subject and take such other steps as are practicable to increase democratic rule in that Colony;

(2) if he is aware that in 1945 a memorial was presented by the European Electors' Association of the Colony of Fiji to his Department, through Sir Cosmo Parkinson, advocating an alteration in the letters patent to provide for greater political control of their domestic affairs by the people of that Colony and to implement the long-avowed aim of British-colonial policy to advance the Colonies towards self-government; that in 1946 a further memorial to the same effect was presented to his Department; why neither of these memorials has been acceded to; and what is being done to implement the aim they sought.

The constitution of Fiji was amended in 1937 so as to increase Fijian and Indian representation and to give equal representation to the three communities while retaining an official majority of one. The overriding consideration must remain the obligation of His Majesty's Government to the Fijians. I cannot accept the suggestion that this change was or is contrary to the wishes of the majority of the people, particularly when much responsible European opinion and Fijian opinion is opposed now to any change in the constitution. I am aware that representations were made by the European Electors' Association in 1945 and again last year advocating measures for constitutional reform, including the creation of an unofficial majority in the Legislative Council, and the introduction of universal adult suffrage on a common roll, but these and other proposals were not accepted because neither my predecessor nor I considered that such changes would at present be of advantage to the community at large or would receive the general support of the Fijians. I have received a letter from the President of the Association reiterating their proposals and pressing for a plebiscite. I have invited the Acting Governor's comments on the letter. But in any case I must have regard to the special nature of Fijian society and the importance of securing political co-operation between the respective communities in Fiji. Local government changes are under consideration and the basis of qualification for representation in the respective communities will in due course receive attention. I am naturally anxious to promote the development of democratic institutions in Fiji and only recently made a number of changes which I announced to the House on 2nd April, but in existing conditions I do not think that a plebiscite would provide a satisfactory method of ascertaining popular opinion on constitutional changes.

Would my right hon. Friend care to give a brief outline of the special features of Fijian society?

In view of the fact that European residents in Fiji are deeply concerned about the future of that country, may we have an assurance that their representations, which the right hon. Gentleman said he had received, are receiving the really serious consideration of himself and Sir Cosmo Parkinson?

Most certainly. I have asked the Acting Governor for his views on the letter I have received. I would point out that the Association is not wholly representative of European opinion and that there is a considerable section of European opinion which is opposed to any constitutional change at present.

Parliamentary Delegation

42.

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will consider arranging for a parliamentary delegation to visit Fiji in the near future, in order to meet members of the legislative council and discuss the postwar situation in the island.

Yes, Sir. I am anxious to encourage facilities for Members of Parliament to visit British Colonies and will keep the suggestion in mind.