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Ceylon (Constitutional Development)

Volume 438: debated on Wednesday 18 June 1947

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The following Question stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Mr. DUMPLETON:

68. To ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies, whether he will make a statement in regard to constitutional development in Ceylon.

I would like, Sir, with your permission, to reply to Question No. 68 in regard to constitutional developments in Ceylon.

In 1945 His Majesty's Government affirmed their willingness to co-operate with the people of Ceylon in their advance to Dominion status and expressed the hope that within a comparatively short space of time such a status would be evolved. His Majesty's Government recognise that the people of Ceylon are anxious to see this aim realised as quickly as possible and are eager to know how soon they may expect this to come about.

Elections are now being arranged under the Constitution granted to Ceylon in 1946, and a new Parliament will assemble in October. Clearly no further constitutional change can take place before a new Ceylon Government is in office and fully functioning. Agreements will then have to be negotiated on a number of subjects. When such agreements have been concluded on terms satisfactory to His Majesty's Government and the Ceylon Government, immediate steps will be taken to amend the Constitution so as to confer upon Ceylon fully responsible status within the British Commonwealth of Nations. To avoid delay in opening negotiations with the future Ceylon Government, His Majesty's Government have directed that preparatory work should be put in hand for drawing up the heads of the necessary agreements.

Could I ask the right hon. Gentleman what changes are contemplated in a Constitution which was granted only last year and which has not yet come into force?

The constitutional changes now being brought into being were conceived in 1945, but in that part of the world obviously a great deal has happened since then. It is now suggested that Ceylon, as soon as the fully constituted Government is established under the new Constitution, should proceed to full member status inside the Commonwealth, but that means that agreements will have to be made that are satisfactory to the Ceylon Government, to ourselves and the Commonwealth, and those agreements will relate to the subjects reserved under the new Constitution.

May I ask the Minister this question? In view of the importance of Ceylon from the point of view of strategy, especially with regard to the defence of Australia, New Zealand and Malaya, will the Minister promise that, before any change in the Ceylon Constitution takes place which would in any way divest us of the responsibility for defence, he will consult the other countries in the Commonwealth which would be affected by such a change.

Yes, there would be consultation obviously with the other Dominion Governments, and this further stage could not be reached until agreements were made between His Majesty's Government and the Ceylon Government, after consultation with the Dominion governments.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether there is any difference between full member status of the British Commonwealth and what we know as Dominion status?

Leaving definitions on one side, because the definition of Dominion status is one of very considerable difficulty, I think that for all intents and purposes under the status thus achieved Ceylon will enjoy that full degree of self-government within the British Commonwealth of Nations which the term "Dominion status" is generally understood to imply.

Do the proposed changes result from a new and recently expressed desire on the part of the Singalese, or is it an idea of His Majesty's Government to bring the Constitution of Ceylon into relation with the Dominions?

It must be appreciated that there are strong political forces in Ceylon which demand some further stage beyond the stage reached in the exsiting Constitution, and the representations have come from Ceylon with the full endorsement of the Governor.

—for granting the Singalese something which they have desired for a long time, and also upon the new innovation in our Imperial history, may I ask him whether it is intended to include what are now reserved subjects in a Treaty?

As I said, the subjects that are reserved under the new Constitution must be the basis of agreement between the Ceylon Government and ourselves.

In view of the Imperial changes which the Minister has just announced, and other Imperial changes, can he tell us plainly whether another Imperial Conference is contemplated?

May I ask my right hon. Friend, in view of that important statement, when the House will have an opportunity of discussing it?

There will be a Supply Day, I hope, in regard to Colonial problems and this matter could be raised on that occasion.

On that point, will the Minister give an undertaking that this House will have an opportunity of debating the new situation before it is committed to some new final change?

Representations in regard to that must be made to the Leader of the House.