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Sierra Leone Republic Bill Lords

Volume 828: debated on Monday 13 December 1971

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Order for Second Reading read.

9.54 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Anthony Royle)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This is a short Bill and is similar to others introduced when Commonwealth countries have become republics within the Commonwealth. It is a technical Measure and cannot, I think, be regarded in any way as controversial. It has already been considered in another place.

Sierra Leone became a republic within the Commonwealth on 19th April, 1971, immediately after the required legislation had been passed by the Sierra Leone Parliament. The purpose of the Bill is to make adjustments in our law which such a constitutional change necessitates. It follows the earlier precedents, and provides that the law of the United Kingdom, the law of the Channel Islands and the law of the Isle of Man in so far as they relate to Sierra Leone will not be affected by the fact that Sierra Leone is now a republic. The Bill will only affect the Law of Dependent Territories of the United Kingdom so far as it affects Acts of the United Kingdom Parliament extending to them and Orders in Council applying such Acts.

The Bill also makes the necessary provision to enable Her Majesty in Council and thus the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to continue to exercise jurisdiction to hear any appeals which were pending immediately before Sierra Leone became a republic. It excludes all appeals from decisions given by a court or judge in Sierra Leone after that date.

In the past months, Sierra Leone has experienced some difficulties, but now seems to be settling down. I am glad that she has decided to stay in the Commonwealth. As President Stevens said in a special tribute to the United Kingdom at the time that the republic was proclaimed, Sierra Leone has had links with us for more than a century. The President has emphasised that his Government gladly acknowledge the Queen's unique position as head of the Commonwealth.

I am sure that lion. Members will join me in sending to the President, the Government and the people of Sierra Leone our best wishes for their future progress and prosperity.

9.55 p.m.

I endorse what the hon. Gentleman said. We on this side of the House are glad to support the Bill. It is narrow in its scope, legally and technically. Nevertheless it brings our legislation into line with that of Sierra Leone after its decision to become a republic.

As the Minister said, our links with Sierra Leone date back over 100 years. The university in the county in which I was born, Durham, has had links for nearly 110 years with Sierra Leone. In those very early days, next to Liberia, Sierra Leone was the place where slaves were first resettled. Over all these years the close links established between Britain and Sierra Leone show themselves in the countless numbers of people who have been trained in this country in terms of further education and for legal qualifications and scientific, agricultural and arts degrees. Equally there are countless people in this country who, and whose parents, gave great service in Sierra Leone in the colonial days as administrators or by working there and establishing business enterprises and helping to get the economy on its feet.

I am especially pleased to be associated with the Bill. The President of Sierra Leone is a personal friend of mine. He is one of those unique men who have emerged in African politics by serving their apprenticeship in the trade union movement, like so many hon. Members on this side of the House, my self included. It was the British Labour movement which gave him the opportunity to go to Ruskin College, where he spent two years improving him self and fitting himself for his rôle as future leader and President of his country.

It is a country which is part of the developing world. Therefore there are contradictions in terms of economic growth and social progress. There are pressures, tensions and considerable unemployment. Nevertheless, it is an independent nation. It has decided to stay in the Commonwealth while becoming a republic, and to accept the Queen as head of the Commonwealth.

We send the President and all the people of Sierra Leone our good wishes for their future.

9.55 p.m.

While in no way wishing to contradict the opening remarks of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who said that this was not a controversial Bill, I suggest that the subject of Sierra Leone is a controversial matter because in Commonwealth Africa there is probably no other regime outside Zanzibar which has a more cruel administration in recent times. In recording that it is the last ex-British African colony to retain the British monarch as Head of State, I also recall that under the Constitution this was the price paid for independence. Recently there have been detention of leading politicians, treason trials and executions, two governors-general have been sacked, eight coups have taken place since 1967, there have been two Presidents within two days—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Ordered,

That the Sierra Leone Republic Bill [Lords] and the Island of Rockall Bill [Lords] may be proceeded with at this day's Sitting, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Anthony Royle.]

Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

In the recent history of Sierra Leone which has resulted in Mr. Stevens bringing in Marxist revolutionaries—

On a point of order. Is it in order for an hon. Member to depart so far from the terms of reference of the Bill and to enter into the internal affairs of a friendly national in this way?

On the Second Reading of a Bill it is difficult for the Chair to be unduly restrictive. Nevertheless the Chair would hope that the discussion would be fairly limited.

I suggest that the introduction of alien Communist troops from Guinea into a Commonwealth country is hardly a friendly action. The result has been that none of the armed forces or the police of Sierra Leone is armed. The only people who have ammunition are the alien Guinean troops.

I do not know when the hon. Gentleman was last in Sierre Leone. I was there less than two months ago and I can assure him that both the police and the Army who I met—they were not Guinean troops—were armed.

Order. I would ask the hon. Member to be slightly careful about this. He indicated that he did not oppose the Second Reading of the Bill and he must not introduce rather extraneous affairs.

In supporting the Bill it is necessary to have a realisation of what is happening. I believe that if this were a white administration in Africa there would be a very different appreciation of the situation. The fact remains that large numbers of politicians who were loyal to the British Monarch were incarcerated by Mr. Stevens and the gaol became known as the "Queen's Hotel".

We have heard something about the economy of the country, the illicit diamond dealings, the nationalisation of the Sierra Leone Diamond Mining Company—and it must be remembered that 10 per cent. of the world's diamonds are produced there. Employment and the economy generally are running down and I suggest that this is largely due to this administration and to the fact that it is run by a dictator in consort with Guinea, which is contrary to the interests of this country and to the interests of the majority of the inhabitations of Sierra Leone. I for one do not regard it as a friendly country.

I also believe that when Mr. Stevens said that Sierra Leone and Guinea have become one, as he did, that that is further evidence of the political alienation of the country which has a precedent in the actions of Nkrumah in Ghana. It is my belief that the future will show that Sierra Leone and Guinea will be the bridgehead for an increasing and dangerous concert of Communist powers on the West Coast of Africa. The port of Freetown which was so vital during the last war could easily become vulnerable and that could produce a situation contrary to British interests. For those reasons I raise my voice, because these apprehensions should be voiced, and I cannot rejoice in the farce of welcoming a republic which has a connotation contrary to British interests, to British policy, and, above all, contrary to the interests of the average citizen.

10.5 p.m.

I heard most of the speech of the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Soref). I have no intention of indulging in controversy, but at Question Time a few days ago I characterised such stuff by the hon. Gentleman as "Fascist piffle". I think that is all it deserves.

I wish to add my good wishes and felicitations to this young developing State in West Africa. This is more than a pleasure; it gives me immense satisfaction as Member for Kingston upon Hull, West, where one of my predecessors was William Wilberforce. Although this is a legal and technical Bill, I should like to say a few words. They will be almost sentimental, because Wilberforce Museum, in Hull, is a place of pilgrimage for men of West Africa. Fourah Bay College is known as the Athens of West Africa to which went, as students and lecturers many years ago, people like Dr. Azikwe of Lagos, with whom I have long connections, going back to his trade union days, when Richard Acland and myself were involved in an effort to get piped water, in 1952, for the iron ore workers at Malimba.

No one, least of all myself, could have walked up the steps in Freetown Harbour without thinking of the countless slaves who had trodden them in chains in the past. We have, not a heritage, but a legacy in this matter. I thought how little we could do, Colonial Development Corporations or no, to make up for what happened in those days long gone.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Foley), I have known Siaka Stevens a long time. He has had his ups and downs. He is a Commonwealth man. So am I. I hope that we all are, despite what we have just heard from the hon. Member for Ormskirk. We welcome him to our family in the Commonwealth and wish him long life. As with many other African States, the military men and the officers stand on the political sideline. They are dangerous men. At first the officers did not allow him to become President, although he had been elected through the ballot box, but then the sergeant majors and N.C.O.s put him in power in a second coup. He was in London in exile. He never forgot us and we never forgot him. He came to the House. He was in touch with the Movement for Colonial Freedom and Lord Brockway.

Many wonderful men have been to Fourah Bay College. It has been linked with Durham University for over 100 years. The first man to receive a degree there was Nathanial Davis. There were eight licentiates in theology at the University of Durham in 1879. If I may strike a purely personal note, James McCarthy, the son of a storekeeper in Wilberforce Street, won a scholarship to the Inner Temple and graduated in 1869. Soon afterwards, he married, in a fashionable London church, Lilee Vivian, the daughter of a Hull councillor. He took her back to Freetown where, for 10 years, before she died, she graced Wilberforce Street in a most elegant house and raised the tone of West African society.

Having said that, I send, and many others will, too, best wishes to this young nation in the Commonwealth. I wish it good luck and prosperity and, more than that, peace in the years to come.

10.10 p.m.

With the permission and by leave of the House I would like to say how grateful I am for the support which has been expressed this evening in the speech by the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Foley), a speech of the usual high calibre which we expect from him and for which the Government are grateful.

I should also like to thank the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston upon Hull West (Mr. James Johnson) for his few words. Though I must confess I cannot give any further information or detail about the activities of Lily Vivian, I very much appreciated the comments he made.

I was sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Soref) perhaps introduced a certain note of controversy into the debate tonight. This is a moment when we should wish Sierra Leone well. My hon. Friend mentioned the influence of Guinea in Sierra Leone. I think we really must accept that Sierra Leone is a soverign independent State. The presence of Guinean troops in Sierra Leone at the request of the Sierra Leoneian Government is solely the responsibility of that Government. I understand, and my hon. Friend will be interested to know, that in fact a good many of the troops have now returned to Guinea. My hon. Friend mentioned also the treason trials and the defendants convicted at the trials which took place last year on charges arising out of the 1967 coup. All the defendants have now had their convictions and sentences set aside on appeal, and seven have been released. The remainder are still held in detention under emergency regulations at present in force.

I am sure my hon. Friend would wish to know that British interests in Sierra Leone have not been adversely affected by the country's constitutional change. I have no reason to believe that they will be affected in the foreseeable future.

Sierra Leone has now embarked on a new phase in her life as a sovereign independent State, and I should like to reaffirm our good wishes on behalf of this House to President Stevens and to his Government and to the people of Sierra Leone.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[ Mr. Clegg.]

Committee tomorrow.