HC Deb 10 February 1954 vol 523 cc1181-4

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will make a statement regarding the conclusions reached on the future constitutions of Northern Rhodesia and Nigeria during his visits to those territories.


To ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he will make a statement on the recent conference held in Nigeria.

At the end of Questions

The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Oliver Lyttelton)

With permission I will now reply to Questions Nos. 90 and 99.

I hope to make a statement tomorrow in reply to the first part of Question No. 90 which concerns my visit to Northern Rhodesia.

The Lagos Conference continued and completed the work of the conference held in London last summer. I am glad to be able to inform the House that it was an unqualified success. All the conclusions which we reached at Lagos were arrived at by general agreement. The fears, which had been expressed in some quarters, that my decision at the London Conference to make Lagos Federal territory would make this impossible, have proved unfounded. I welcome this opportunity of paying tribute to the spirit of good will in which all the delegations approached the task. All the delegations showed a remarkable insight into the niceties of constitutional checks and balances and displayed a willingness to sink sectional interests for the common good.

The report of the Lagos conference is being published today as a White Paper. Revised constitutional instruments will now be prepared, in accordance with the conclusions reached at both conferences, for submission to Her Majesty. The work involved is massive but I hope they will be ready in about six months'time. The revised constitution will be reviewed again at a further conference of similar composition to be held not later than August, 1956, when any question relating to the constitution will be open for discussion.

It is my view that the constitutional arrangements agreed upon at the London and Lagos conferences are based upon the realities of the political situation in Nigeria at the present time and offer the form of governmental structure most likely to prove generally acceptable and workable for the time being.

The considerable differences which still exist between the Regions are recognised by giving increased functions to the Regional Governments and making those Governments more independent of the Central Government in carrying them out. At the same time the Central Government not only retains the functions essential to preserving the unity of Nigeria but also, through the introduction of separate elections to the Federal Legislature, gains strength and independence within its sphere.

The new arrangement under which the Southern Cameroons will cease to be part of the Eastern Region but will continue to be administered as part of Nigeria, as quasi-federal territory, was worked out in agreement with the representatives of the Southern Cameroons. It is welcome to them and was endorsed by the other Nigerian delegations.

The insulation from politics of the judiciary, the police and the public service has been secured with general approval. Arrangements have been agreed for the public service which, whilst being in my view fair to those who wish to retire, should encourage the majority to stay on; furthermore the leaders of the Nigerian delegations have made a most helpful statement about their attitude towards the future employment of overseas staff.

The decisions taken in London and confirmed at Lagos to regionalise the public service and the judiciary have been criticised on grounds of expense and administrative inconvenience. I would, however, remind the House that even the smallest of the three Regions in Nigeria, with a population of 6,360,000, is—with the exception of Tanganyika—bigger than any other British Colonial territory anywhere else in the world.

I cannot repeat too often that Her Majesty's Government firmly believe that it is in the interests of the peoples of Nigeria that the unity of the country should be preserved. It is my hope, indeed my constant hope, that the work we did in London and Lagos will serve to maintain and foster that unity and to promote the progress and happiness of all the people of Nigeria.

Mr. Brockway

While I reserve any comment until I can read the White Paper, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that many of us have the unusual response of congratulating him upon the general results of this conference?

Mr. Williams

Will my right hon. Friend take it from me that many of us on all sides of the House have been profoundly impressed with the sense of responsibility of the politicians taking part in this conference in Nigeria?

Mr. J. Griffiths

While I agree at once that this has been a very successful conference, may I ask the Secretary of State two questions? First, is the settlement of the vexed Lagos question—and I know how vexed it is—a permanent one or is it to come up again; and, secondly, will the White Paper, which I gather is to be available this afternoon, set out so that we may clearly see them the changes made in the constitution by this new agreement?

Mr. Lyttelton

On the first question, the decision to make Lagos a federal area stands. Any question relating to the Constitution can be raised in 1956. I should not like to answer the right hon. Gentleman specifically on the second question. The White Paper is in the Vote Office now.

Mr. J. Johnson

On the question of Lagos, would the Minister confirm that the Action Group are adamant about its status but that they deliberately left it open until 1956 so that it would not inhibit the success—and undoubtedly it has been a success—of this conference in 1954?

Mr. Lyttelton

I can add nothing to what I have said. Any matter concerning the Constitution is open for discussion in 1956. The hon. Member should also remember that the decision about Lagos has an overwhelming majority of Nigerians in its favour.