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Clause 2—(Repeal, In Part, Of 3 & 4 Geo 6 C 40 S 1 (5))

Volume 480: debated on Wednesday 15 November 1950

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

6.30 p.m.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

The Committee ought to hesitate seriously before adding this Clause to the Bill, and for reasons which are of no small constitutional importance. This Clause removes the definition of a Colony for the purposes of these Acts, as being a Colony not in possession of responsible government. There is a considerable history to this Clause. The definition of a Colony for this purpose, which is now being cancelled, did not occur for the first time in the 1940 Act, but in the 1929 Colonial Development Act, from which it was taken verbally into the 1940 Act.

The meaning of "a responsible minister" is fairly clear and definite, namely, a Minister who is responsible for his actions to some sort of elected assembly. When we use the expression "responsible government," however, a whole variety of senses may be attached to the term, because more or fewer of the ministers composing a government may be responsible in the sense I have mentioned. When this Clause first appeared in 1929, the then Lord Privy Seal, Mr. J. H. Thomas, explained that the reason for it was to exclude Southern Rhodesia. In other words, it was to exclude a Colony which is a Colony merely in name, and which, in fact, possessed full self-government. I think I am right in saying there was no doubt that that was the intention of the wording until 1947.

In 1947, by the Malta (Reconstruction) Act, an element of doubt was introduced, because that Act provided that moneys might be applied out of colonial development and welfare funds to Malta
"notwithstanding its possession at any time of responsible government."
That Amendment opened up the question whether responsible government for the purposes of these Acts meant not merely full responsible self-government—in the sense in which Southern Rhodesia possessed and possesses it—but what we are accustomed to call dyarchy, because under the constitution of Malta since 1947, the subjects of defence and foreign affairs, and expenditure consequent upon these matters, remain the responsibility of the Secretary of State in this country, while in all other spheres of government the Government of Malta is autonomous.

If we look at the Colonies to which the colonial development and welfare funds have been applied up to the present, according to the list at the end of the Report, to which reference has been made so often, we find that there is no Colony, at whatever stage of development of self-government it may be, from which these funds have been withheld. In particular, grants have been made to those Colonies which the Colonial Office describe as possessing constitutions of "an advanced type." The question is, therefore, opened up as to how far it is right that grants out of the Exchequer should be made to Colonies not possessing full responsible government—because I take it the Government's intention is not to bring Southern Rhodesia within the sphere of the Colonial Development Welfare Acts—but Colonies possessing partial responsible government.

Is there any principle by which we should be guided in deciding the matter? I think there is a very clear and well known principle by which we ought to be guided—that the House of Commons is responsible not only for determining the purposes to which moneys provided out of taxes shall be applied, but also for making sure that they have, in fact, been so applied. It is not merely the destination of the proceeds of taxation but the manner in which that destination has been observed which is the responsibility of the House of Commons, and we have no right whatsoever to amend the law in a way which removes from the House of Commons its supervision over every penny which is spent out of tax-provided moneys—not merely its destination but the manner in which it is spent.

If that principle be accepted—and I scarcely think it can be challenged from any quarter of the Committee—I believe that this consequence follows, that we cannot grant moneys out of taxes under these Acts to any territory which possesses responsible government in such a sense that the Secretary of State cannot answer to this House for the way the money has been spent. He could so answer in two ways. It may be that there are spheres of government in which the Secretary of State is still directly responsible. There. I am sure, no question could arise that these grants ought to be payable.

Secondly, the condition could be fulfilled where the governor still has reserve powers in respect of internal affairs, because then, if the governor were satisfied that these sums were being mis-applied—that is, not used as was the intention of Parliament—acting on the instructions of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, he could intervene: though I must say that it seems to me very undesirable that we should be dependent upon the governors' reserve powers—which in their very nature ought to be used as little as possible and only in emergency—for our control over moneys provided out of taxation. At any rate, I think the conclusion must be drawn that the Secretary of State must be responsible under the constitution of the territory concerned for the manner in which the moneys have been spent and not merely for the manner in which it is intended that they should be spent.

Therefore, I disagree with the remarks of the Secretary of State on the Second Reading of the Bill that:
"…it would be a very great pity indeed if…a constitutional change should take place which would prevent us from giving any money out of this fund on the grounds that the country was now enjoying responsible Government."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1950; Vol. 480, c. 1247.]
On the contrary, I submit that if the country concerned is enjoying responsible government in such a way that the Secretary of State cannot answer to this House for the way in which the money has been spent, then we have no right to alter the law in such a way as to make that possible.

So far from thinking that we ought to add this Clause to the Bill and lay the whole field open to the discretion of the Secretary of State, I would much rather see the original provision of the 1940 Act remain. It would then be open for the Secretary of State in a particular case to argue—and to argue to this House—that the territory to which he proposes to make grants does not possess responsible government within the meaning of the 1940 Act because he can answer to us for the way in which the moneys are spent. Unless we can be provided with that safeguard I do not think that we ought to add the Clause to the Bill.

The whole Committee must be indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), for raising this very important point. It would be ironical if a Bill of this nature were hurried through the House of Commons without matters of first principle in the Bill being considered. I would not say that I entirely agree with the interpretation which my hon. Friend has put upon the dangers that lie ahead, but that there are dangers I am convinced.

We are very anxious—I think this applies to everybody—not to withhold help from any British territory when it is shown to need it and when it is desirable to give it, but the Bill is not the only means by which we can give the necessary help, and it may well be that my hon. Friend is right in suggesting that other legislative means should be found of bringing help to Colonies in more advanced stages of development.

I believe that we are all also agreed that we certainly do not want the mere suggestion—least of all, the threat—of withholding help to be used as a bargaining factor in regard to constitutional advancement. None the less, we also feel that certain considerations must reign very importantly in the mind of the Secretary of State when he comes to consider the applications for help under these schemes. I believe that he realises that it does not give any Colony that sense of self-reliance, which is a necessary requisite for responsible government, if it can count upon an annual subvention from the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and we must all hope—as we all agreed at the time of the Malta (Reconstruction) Bill—that our policy will be successful in enabling British Colonial territories, by the development of their own resources, to manage their own financial affairs. I am sure that that consideration will always remain in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman.

An equally important consideration was mentioned by my hon. Friend. The Secretary of State must remain answerable in this House for the expenditure of money which this House has voted. I take it that the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman during the Second Reading debate on 9th November, in HANSARD, column 1248, means that we would be allowed to ask Parliamentary Questions as to what has happened to the money that this House has voted under the Colonial Development and Welfare Act. We must remember that the amount of money available is limited and that if we give to one territory, there is so much less to give to another. Therefore, it is important that we should retain the right to ask Parliamentary Questions about this.

When a scheme comes forward, as presumably these schemes always will, in the annual Blue Book of schemes submitted under the Colonial Development and Welfare Act, discussion should take place on every such scheme. The obvious time would be the annual Colonial Debate, which usually follows fairly quickly the publication of the Blue Book. We must be as free to discuss in equally great detail the affairs of any Colony to which grants have been made and the affairs of any other Colony. When the Secretary of State is considering and agreeing to applications from a Colony in an advanced state of colonial government, or approaching such a state, he should make it plain at the time that the grant is being made, that the House of Commons must retain its right to discuss the destination of the money and how it has been spent. If it is left until some objection is raised there is a chance that it might be regarded as an interference with the domestic affairs of a Colony with responsible government.

I wish the Clause had not been included, but I think that its exclusion at this stage would have more harmful consequences than its retention in the Bill. The decision must lie with the Secretary of State at the time, and I hope we can rely on the right hon. Gentleman, as I am sure we could on any successor from these benches, to apply sensible considerations and to see that Parliamentary control is maintained.

6.45 p.m.

I do not doubt that the Secretary of State will defend the Clause very adequately, but I think a word ought to come from behind him in answer to the case which has been made. I must apologise in advance to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), that if a visitor arrives at the hour that I expect, I may not be able to remain for the whole of this discussion.

Before objecting seriously to the Clause we ought to look at the powers which my right hon. Friend still has and the extent to which we in the House shall be able to call him to account if the Clause stands part. He will, of course, have to consider each project which is put forward, and it will be his responsibility to decide whether money, and, if so, how much, shall be devoted to it. If thereafter it appears to the House that he has allowed our money to be spent on what he could and should have seen to be an irresponsible kind of scheme—a kind in which the money was likely to be frittered away—we should be able to censure him after the event and call for his dismissal and in this way exercise control. Therefore, a very great degree of control remains in the hands of my right hon. Friend and his successors and of the House if the Clause is approved; and I hope it will be.

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, said that it is not enough that we should at the outset of a scheme decide whether it is the kind of scheme on which our money should be spent and that we must never commit our money to any scheme unless we are sure that, throughout the whole period of the operation of the scheme, we, and we only, will have the complete power of deciding how the scheme shall be carried through.

Let me give some examples of what might happen between now and 1956. Let us imagine that it seems desirable to make a contribution to the cost of very substantial educational development on the Gold Coast. We should not have complete control of the way in which that money would be spent. If all goes well, education will be one of the, subjects within the power of a Gold Coast Minister of Education responsible to a Gold Coast Legislative Assembly, and, I think I am right in saying, without reserve powers in the hands of the Governor to interfere in the details. We might also imagine a substantial agricultural scheme in the Caribbean or some development in Honduras involving the movement of populations and so on. I understand that in the very near future a Minister of Agriculture for Jamaica will be responsible to the Jamaica Assembly, and, therefore, any project connected with Jamaica could not come under the detailed control of this House.

If in those circumstances, where we had the initial power to say whether the money should be spent on the scheme, we are unwilling to entrust the detailed control to ministers who are responsible to the appropriate legislative assemblies in our Colonial Territories which are growing from infancy through adolescence to independent manhood, it is an example of suspicion and lack of trust in our Colonial fellow citizens which seems to me to militate a great deal against their harmonious development into independent members of the British Commonwealth of Nations. I should very much regret if the Clause were omitted for the reasons advanced by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West.

I believe that the real difficulty arises out of the meaning of the word "responsible." If we look at the Preamble we see that the object of the Clause is fairly clear. I gather that because the term "responsible" has never been clearly defined, the Minister wants to protect himself against any possibility of finding himself having to spend money upon some Colony which has advanced to a stage where it has been called responsible but in present circumstances would not be entitled to such assistance. That would be one of the border-line cases which are bound to arise owing to the peculiar nature of our Colonial development. In one sense we could say that there can be no completely responsible government until a government is as independent as those of our Dominions, of India or Pakistan. It could be said that responsible government in the fullest sense of the word, does not exist so long as there is some kind of veto, direct or indirect and that such a government is only partly responsible.

There are all kinds of grades and shades of meaning to the word "responsible." There is the stage at the very beginning where there is no kind of responsibility or representation given to the indigenous inhabitants. The next stage is where there is some kind of representation of an official character which becomes more and more unofficial until it approaches the time when there is a majority in the local legislative and administrative bodies actually drawn from the locality. They may be elected, and we may leave the governor with the power of veto as in the case of Jamaica.

One quite appreciates the dilemma of the Secretary of State in this connection. Here are moneys which he wishes to spend on developing colonial areas. He knows full well that there may come a stage at which a particular Colony assumes a large measure of responsible government and that makes him very dubious whether that Colony should receive financial assistance. In order to cover himself and to meet the general wishes of the House of Commons he has included this Clause.

I hope that we shall not be slow about giving assistance to the Secretary of State in these matters. I entirely appreciate the motives and doubts in the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite and I admit that the present position is an anomaly, but I do not think that other legislation than this would remove it, because it involves the nature of our colonial development. These proposals are interim proposals because nobody really suggests that this country will transfer money indefinitely into the future to colonial areas. We do not do it in regard to our Dominions because they are self-governing, independent and autonomous. We do it only to those which are in some way subordinate to us.

Can we not conceive the proposals of the Bill as in the nature of interim financial proposals which are urgently required in order to encourage colonial development to the stage when the Colonies will have no need for further assistance from this country and can stand on their own feet?

I do not think that the hon. Member can brush aside an example such as we have had in Burma where after receiving self-government, they still received a considerable amount of financial assistance from this country.

I was not ignoring that example but I would say that nothing will prevent this country advancing money to a Colony that becomes completely independent if it decides to do so, just as money was advanced in the way that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. At the present time we are dealing with the development of areas and peoples still not independent and because that development is in various stages, I cannot see how we can possibly deal with the peculiar difficulties arising out of that fact unless we adopt this Clause. We must recognise that the term "responsible" means not merely full independence but some stage lower than that. Otherwise, whatever legislation we introduce we shall get into the same difficulty. I hope we shall extend recognition of that difficulty to the Minister, and will support the Clause.

I dislike the Clause as it stands but for somewhat different reasons from those advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). I assumed from the statements made by the Secretary of State during the Second Reading that the object of the Clause was to enable him to continue to support schemes which might have been inaugurated in a Colony before it got responsible government. It presumably does not apply to a Colony which already has responsible government, such as Southern Rhodesia, nor to a Colony which, as in the case of Newfoundland, has reverted from Dominion to dependent status. Their problems would be dealt with not through the Colonial Welfare and Development Fund but in quite a different manner. It seems injudicious to insist that we should be able to criticise and apply the same degree of supervision to money spent by a Colony immediately after reaching responsible government as we did before that stage was reached.

It would be asking for trouble, to use the words of the Lord President of the Council, if, amid all the enthusiasm at the arrival of a Colony at the stage of self-government, we were to continue to try to exercise the same surveillance over the details of a welfare and development scheme which was in the process of being worked out. The point on which I am not clear is how far the Secretary of State intends that money should be applied to new schemes inaugurated in Colonies which have not responsible government but which may get it very soon. I should have thought that the Colonial Welfare and Development Fund would not be affected and that the necessity to aid a Colony which has already received responsible government, would be met in quite a different manner. Therefore I should think the Clause is not necessary.

There is one last reason. I have said that I do not think we should try to continue to survey the details of the administration of moneys allocated to a Colony after it has got responsible government when, presumably, it will have reached a state of political development which will enable it to carry through schemes and to employ in a responsible manner the money that we have voted. We should be prepared to give them the benefit of any help they may need, when a scheme has to be carried over from the period of representative government to the period of responsible government, and when the management of the money provided by us for that scheme should be left entirely in the hands of the colonial government concerned.

7.0 p.m.

We had a discussion upon this Clause on the Second Reading. I want to repeat what I said then, that there is no question here of extending the scope of the Act and bringing into its ambit territories which would have been excluded. We have the position that these Colonies are developing stage by stage towards responsible government. I would not attempt to define what "responsible government" means, but in 1947 when me Malta Bill was brought forward the view was taken that Malta might be held, because of its constitution, to have responsible government within the C.D.W. Act.

I thought, therefore, that it was desirable to include the Clause and to do what it does in the Bill, so that where a territory reaches the stage at some time in the future between now and 1956, which is the period covered, at which it might be held to have responsible government, I should not at that moment have to take away money which was part of money which had been allocated to a scheme which was developing. We would all agree that to do that at that stage would certainly be undesirable. At the same time, let me assure hon. Members that if the Clause is accepted the accountability of the Secretary of State to Parliament remains unaltered in every way.

Do I take it, therefore, that Jamaica is held to have responsible self-government? If so, are we still able to ask questions in the House regarding the expenditure of moneys in Jamaica that have been advanced through the Colonial Development and Welfare Fund?

I am speaking of the accountability of the Secretary of State under the Act for these funds, and not in any wider sense. The way in which the Act operates helps in that the Secretary of State does not have to say that he will give x millions to a Colonial territory, but has a scheme put before him for a specific object; he has to approve that scheme and that object, and to give a grant of money to see that that object is attained. It would, therefore, be the duty and the responsibility of the Secretary of State in making new grants, if he does so at one of the intermediate stages, to continue to ensure that the money which is voted by Parliament for this purpose is allocated to a particular scheme of which he approves, and also to see that the money is spent on that scheme. To that extent, the Secretary of State would be accountable to Parliament.

Therefore, in deciding that the Secretary of State must have before him from the outset a specific object for his approval, it is quite clear that he is able to satisfy Parliament, to whom he is accountable, that money which has been voted for a specific purpose has, in fact, been spent on that purpose.

Would the right hon. Gentleman explain how he can be accountable to Parliament for the way in which a sum has been spent under the jurisdiction of a responsible Minister in a Colony?

Because the Secretary of State has to approve the scheme, has to approve a grant for a specific purpose, and must satisfy himself that that purpose is carried out. This is a matter which can be dealt with, with some flexibility, on a basis of understanding between the Secretary of State and the Colonial Office and the Colonial territories; I am sure that that can be done. That is better than the Secretary of State having to come here and say, "I am now advised that Colony A has reached the stage where it might be held to have responsible Government, and I must either stop this grant or come to the House and get a Bill, as was done in the case of Malta in 1947." I am sure that all hon. Members would appreciate that that would be the worst way of handling this situation.

The way which we propose in Clause 2, whilst it retains the responsibility and accountability of the Secretary of State to Parliament and certainly provides all the other Parliamentary safeguards for which the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), asked, is, I am certain, the best one. That is why we decided, after full consultation, to embody the Clause in the Bill, and I hope that this explanation satisfies hon. Members opposite on its intention and purpose.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported without Amendment; to be read the Third time Tomorrow.