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Gold Coast (New Constitution)

Volume 526: debated on Wednesday 28 April 1954

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With permission, I wish to make a statement on the future constitution of the Gold Coast.

I am glad to inform the House that the exchanges on constitutional reform with the Gold Coast Government to which my right hon. Friend referred on the 21st October have been successfully concluded. The drafts of new constitutional instruments will shortly be submitted to the Privy Council and despatches are being published. These draft instruments will provide for an enlarged Legislative Assembly, chosen by direct election, and for a Cabinet of Representative Ministers drawn from the Assembly, with the Prime Minister normally presiding.

Subject to the continuing reserved powers of the Governor and his responsibilities for external affairs, Togoland, defence and in certain matters concerning the police, they provide that the Cabinet, as the principal instrument of policy, is to be responsible for the internal self-government of the country. The intention is that the Governor will be assisted in the discharge of his responsibilities by a Deputy Governor and advised by a Committee of which the Prime Minister and other Representative Ministers will be members.

The Gold Coast Government have been equally concerned with Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom that suitable arrangements should be made in the Constitution to preserve the independence of the Judiciary and the Public Service. It has now been agreed that a Judicial Service Commission should be set up to advise on, and later to be responsible for, judicial appointments, other than that of the Chief Justice.

It has also been agreed that for the present the Governor should continue to be responsible for the Public Service but that at a later stage the Public Service Commission, which has already gained valuable experience as an advisory body, should itself become responsible for Public Service appointments. In recognition of these successive changes in the conditions of service of the Public Service the draft constitutional instruments provide for an agreed scheme of compensation in two stages on the lines proposed in Dr. Nkrumah's statement of the 8th July, 1953, which was welcomed in this House.

As one of the measures decided on to preserve the confidence of overseas investors, the Gold Coast Government have proposed that, although they have no plans for nationalising industry, provision should be made in the constitution guaranteeing fair compensation should a successor Government ever consider an act of nationalisation essential. Her Majesty's Government have welcomed this proposal. There was not time to insert the necessary clause in the draft instruments, but it will be included in an amending Order which will be submitted to Her Majesty in due course.

With the passing of the present Gold Coast Constitution I should like to pay a warm tribute to the part played in this important development of self-government in the Gold Coast by the Governor, the ex-officio Ministers who will now vacate their posts and the officers both overseas and African of the Gold Coast Public Service as a whole.

The discussions which have led to the satisfactory settlement now reached have been cordial and constructive. It is proposed that a General Election should be held under the new Constitution in June. I am confident that when there is an All-African Government it will prove as friendly, co-operative and responsible as the present one.

Under these changes, the powers retained by Her Majesty's Government are the minimum which they must retain so long as they have any responsibility for the Gold Coast. These changes must therefore be regarded as the last stage before the Gold Coast assumes full responsibility for its own affairs. The grant of such responsibility within the Commonwealth is a matter for the United Kingdom Government and Parliament and I can say that at the appropriate time Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom will be prepared to take such steps as may be necessary for that purpose.

Full membership of the Commonwealth, is, of course, a different question which as was made clear by the then Commonwealth Secretary on 7th June, 1951, and by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 16th June, 1952, would be a matter for consultation between all existing members of the Commonwealth.

May I ask the Minister to convey our thanks to the Secretary of State and to everyone in the Gold Coast responsible for this very successful outcome of the discussions? As one who had the privilege of conducting the final stages—which were begun by my friend Mr. Creech Jones—by inaugurating the Hussey Constitution in 1951, may I join in expressing our deep debt of gratitude to the Governor and to everyone concerned in the Gold Coast, including the African Ministers, on the responsible way in which they undertook their tasks, quite clearly indicating their competence to undertake the responsibilities for operating democratic Government.

I have two questions. First, do I understand that under the new Constitution, after the elections the responsibility for the Gold Coast will continue to be that of the Colonial Secretary and the Colonial Office? Secondly, while I appreciate that the next stage will be the final stage towards what is usually called Dominion status, and that admission into the Commonwealth is a matter for Commonwealth countries generally, at the same time I hope that the Government and the House as a whole will say that they look forward to the day when the first all-African State will become a full member of the British Commonwealth.

In reply to the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, I confirm that under the new Constitution the Gold Coast affairs will still remain under the Colonial Office. As to the second part of the right hon. Gentle man's question, of course it is primarily a matter for my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations. But, as I said in reply to an earlier Question, it is a matter for consultation among all members of the Commonwealth, as the right hon. Gentleman himself has said on several occasions in this House.

May I also be allowed to congratulate, as I do most warmly, not only the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but all in Africa and in his Department concerned in bringing about this reform? May I ask if he is aware that this constitutional reform will not only be noted but is bound to have an effect far beyond the boundaries of the territory of the Gold Coast and, indeed, throughout Africa?

Yes, Sir, I will certainly convey the congratulations and the message of the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) and of the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) to all the persons concerned.

Will my right hon. Friend convey to the Secretary of State the hearty congratulations of all of us on the fortunate outcome of this long and still rapidly developing story? May I also ask him to convey to the Government of the Gold Coast the fact that our confidence in their competence has been increased and not diminished by the vigorous investigation which took place there into the charges of corruption and the vigorous steps which they have taken to deal with the matter?

As during this last stage but one towards full independence, certain powers concerning foreign affairs and defence are properly reserved to the Governor and Deputy Governor, may we understand that nevertheless some opportunity for training and experience in these branches of government will be given to members of the Gold Coast service so that they may be ready to take over full responsibility when the time comes?

As I mentioned in the statement, there will be a special committee set up to advise the Governor in these matters, and this committee will comprise the Prime Minister and other Ministers as well as the Deputy Governor and others, so that at the highest level they will have an opportunity of taking part in these affairs.

As regards the question of a Gold Coast foreign service, of course that will come along in due course, but with the appointment of an African from the Gold Coast as Commissioner here in London, that will at least be a beginning.

While congratulating everybody, may I ask when we are going to have a proper debate on this subject?

Order. That is not a matter for the Minister. There is no Question now before the House.

Ballot For Notices Of Motions

Telephone Service

I beg to give notice that on Friday, 14th May, I shall call attention to the need to improve the telephone service, and move a Resolution.

Derelict Common Land

I beg to give notice that on Friday, 14th May, I shall call attention to the need for taking steps to see that all common land which is at present derelict shall be brought into cultivation for the benefit of commoners and the national economy, and move a Resolution.

Colonies (Deportation)

I beg to give notice that on Friday, 14th May, I shall call attention to the practice of deportation in the Colonies, and move a Resolution.

Business Of The House

Proceedings on Government Business exempted, at this day's Sitting, from the provisions of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House).—[ Mr. Crookshank.]