§ 2.49 p.m.
§ LORD MILVERTON rose to call attention to prospective constitutional developments in Nigeria; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it would, I think, be appropriate if, in rising to move the Motion which stands in my name, I tried to give at once the reasons which made me put this Motion on the Paper, and to say what I am trying to do in speaking to it. It seems to me that only too often decisions of the gravest moment in relation to our Colonies are reached and carried into effect with very little, and certainly inadequate, notice in Parliament. I appreciate that this is almost inevitable in the 1274 modern pressure of Parliamentary business, but, at the same time, it is obviously regrettable that more attention is sometimes not given at an early stage to important decisions.
§ Nigeria, as your Lordships know, is the largest territory in the Colonial Empire. It is the size of Great Britain, France and Belgium put together, and has a population of 31,000,000—the largest population of any State in Africa. It is of vital economic importance, and, therefore, its future, in this restless modern age, must be worthy of our close attention. The proposed constitutional changes in Nigeria cover a wide field and are complicated by tribal jealousies and fears and suspicions—to say nothing of evidence of the old fallacy that the interests of this or that section of a community to-day can be, as it were, frozen by safeguards throughout a future in which both the interest and the safeguards will be rendered obsolete in the mere passage of time. The only lasting basis on which Nigerian unity can be built is one of mutual good will and tolerance. That may sound an obvious and platitudinous remark, as indeed it is; but circumstances in Nigeria render it of peculiar importance. That tolerance must be one governing a real understanding of, and belief in, the supreme value of unity in the future happiness and prosperity of all the people of all the regions in Nigeria.
§ I do not speak to-day as a protagonist of the North or of the West or of the East, nor as a critic of the Secretary of State. I am only too well aware of the complexities which beset the path of authority when it is seeking to find an agreed and agreeable solution to difficulties which have sometimes been accentuated by emotion and prejudice. As I see it, one of the services which your Lordships' House can render is to provide a forum in which issues of such major importance can be debated without heat and without discoloration by dogmatic approach. I have the temerity, since there are no Party issues involved in this discussion, to hope that what I have to say may meet with support on all sides of this House.
§ There is no doubt that the Nigerian Conference of last August rendered invaluable service in releasing the deadlock which had occurred in Nigeria itself. If I may say so with respect, its success owed 1275 everything to the patient skill of the Chairman and the manifest sincerity with which he encouraged delegates to find an agreed solution to their own problems. But may I also, with respect, say that while I realise that the days of dogmatic imposition of decisions are over, it seems to me that to-day we have swung too far in the opposite direction, and that something more than a willingness to implement the wishes of people who rely upon us for guidance is not only necessary but is, in fact, expected. It is true that under the guidance of the Secretary of State the latent hostilities in that Conference faded into a more statesmanlike approach which was a credit to the leaders of all the regions of Nigeria. As your Lordships are aware, the decisions, or rather the recommendations, of this Conference were, many of them, decided upon by majority votes. In January, 1954, the Conference is to be reconvened in Nigeria to consider the report of the Fiscal Commissioner, who is to give expert advice on the financial implications of the Conference's decisions, and then any points on which the legal draftsmen find that additional guidance is needed in drafting amendments to the Constitution to carry out the recommendations of the London Conference, as well as any points which have been left over—and there were several points left over. Not later than three years from August 31, 1953, a new Conference is to be called for the purpose of reviewing—I would say again reviewing—the Constitution as now amended, and of examining the question of self-government.
§ May I now invite your Lordships' attention to the Conference's decisions. Obvious limitations of time make it necessary for me to pass lightly over many of them, and to stress only those which seem to me of major importance. Firstly, the Conference decided that specific functions should be assigned to the centre, and that all residual functions should be vested in the Regional Governments. A list was drawn up of central functions, together with a concurrent list of subjects in respect of which both the Central and Regional Governments would be competent, central legislation prevailing in case of conflict. All residual subjects were to go to the regions. No decisions were taken on financial questions 1276 pending the Report by the Financial Commissioner who was to be appointed to give expert advice. These arrangements seem almost to over-emphasise the importance of regional autonomy and to give the central organisation, the Central Government of the country, not much more than recognition of an incidental and not very welcome necessity. Regional legislation will no longer have to be submitted to the Central Executive.
§ The Central Executive, as your Lordships may remember, at the present moment consists of the Governor of Nigeria, as Chairman, six ex-officio members, of whom three are Lieutenant-Governors of the regions, and twelve ministers, being four from each region. The new proposal is that the Governor-General—as the Governor is to become—will be the Chairman, with three ex-officio members, not six. The Lieutenant-Governors who now become Governors will disappear from the Central Executive, and there will be nine Ministers six of whom are to hold portfolios. The Conference also decided finally on a unicameral Federal Legislature, thereby abandoning an original decision which they made in favour of the creation of an Upper House with limited delaying powers. The Central Legislature is to have a total of 184 elected members, or roughly one member per 170,000 inhabitants—92 for the North, 42 for the East, 42 for the West, 2 for Lagos and 6 for the Southern Cameroons. As the last census gave a population in round figures of about 31 million—16½ million in the North. 8 million in the East and 6¼ million in the West—this acceptance of a 50 per cent. membership represents a temporary concession by the North in the interests of smooth working until the next review of the Constitution; but it by no means obscures the fact that there in itself is a subject for future dispute.
§ Elections to the Federal Legislature are to be separated from the elections to the Regional Legislatures, and no member of a Regional House of Assembly may be also a member of the Federal Legislature. It was also agreed by a majority that electoral procedure might vary between regions. The National Independence Party, a minority party from the East, disagreed on fundamental principles with the structure of the Central Government and its relations with the 1277 Regional Governments. The Action Group of the West wanted a uniform electoral system based on adult suffrage. I do not agree with the idea of forcing adult suffrage prematurely upon a reluctant region like the North, and I think the protagonists of this proposal overlook the fact that adult suffrage in practice may just as easily be an instrument for the suppression of democratic principles as it is for their promotion, just as the success of our democratic system lies not in the Westminster model but in the principles which lie behind it and make it work. The question I always ask myself about constitutional problems is: Will they work, and, if so, how?
§ With reference to the proposed Upper House, I regret the decision which discarded what might have been a valuable stabilising influence, especially in an independent future. Surely in these formative years would have been the time to try out the system of an Upper Chamber. The structure of the Regional Governments is to remain fundamentally the same, the major change being that the leader of the majority group is to be styled the Premier, and Ministers, both in the Central and in the Regional Governments, are to have general direction and control over, and individual responsibility for, the departments within their portfolios. In the Regional Executive Council ex-officio members will disappear in the West and in the East, while the North wishes to retain three ex-officio members. In regard to police—a very important question—the Conference agreed that the police, other than local authority and native authority police, should be a central function, but control of police contingents stationed in the regions is to be vested in the regional commissioners of police, who will be responsible solely to the Governor of the region, who, in turn, will be responsible only to the Governor-General. I regard this as a very satisfactory decision, to avoid the danger of the police coming under the control of a political Party.
§ In regard to the public service, it was decided that both the centre and the regions should have their own public service for their several purposes, and various provisions were agreed upon (they are given in this document; I will not go into any detail) in order to protect the position of the public service. As 1278 arrangements are at present. I would regard them as providing adequate protection to the members of the public service, but whether it would be possible to continue that protection adequately in that early future, in 1956, when, according to these decisions, the British Government will undertake to give self-government in all regional matters which come within their function to such regions as desire it, is, to my mind, not quite so certain. The administration of justice I do not propose to deal with, because I notice that the Conference accepted the recommendations of the Committee, which was presided over by a distinguished ex-Colonial judge, making only one reservation in regard to certain appellate provisions, which is to be considered again in January.
§ In the matter of marketing boards and their future—and considering the enormous funds gathered by the marketing boards, I regard this as an important question—I notice that the general principles were agreed upon, but their working out is to be deferred until next January, when a committee for the purpose will go into the implementation of these principles. Roughly speaking, they are that a central marketing board shall continue to be responsible for the overseas marketing and export, and for the standards of quality of Nigerian produce. The regions will have to conform to these standards of quality. On the other hand, the regions are to establish their own marketing boards, which will be empowered to fix producer prices, carry out price support and stabilisation policies and control standards of quality and the grading of produce. Furthermore, the present shares and funds of the Nigerian Producers' Marketing Company held by the four marketing boards will be divided in proper proportions between the proposed new regional boards. That involves many millions of money, and is a very serious question, indeed, which time does not permit me to go into now. Furthermore, as the exact way in which these principles are to be carried out has not yet been decided, perhaps it would be better to defer criticism until the scheme is before us.
In regard to the Cameroons, it was agreed—and I understand that the chairman of the Conference, subject to certain conditions being fulfilled, agreed—that a separate status would be given to the
Southern Cameroons, if it was established in the early future, at the pending elections, that that was the position which the people wanted. Of course, the Southern Cameroons are dependent largely for their revenue on the Cameroons Development Corporation, and so long as that prospers, no doubt it may be possible for a separate region to function. The Northern Cameroons, it is understood, desire to remain part of the Northern Region. The discretionary powers and the reserve powers of the Governor General and Governors are to remain roughly as at present. The question of self-government by 1956 is dealt with on pages 10 and 11 of the Conference Report, where it says:
The Conference eventually accepted a declaration of policy that in 1956 Her Majesty's Government would grant to those Regions which desired it full self-government in respect of all matters within the competence of the Regional Governments, with the proviso that there should be safeguards to ensure that the Regional Governments did not act so as to impede or prejudice the exercise by the Federal Government of the functions assigned to it now, or as amended by agreement in the future, or in any way make the continuance of federation impossible.
My own view is that those words read quite decisively; but I find it difficult to visualise what provisions can be made different from those which prevail at the present moment to give what is called full self-government to the regions, if adequate provisions are also made to see that federation is not damaged, and that effect is given to all those other reservations.
§ I come now to the question of Lagos and its position in the Federal State. I wish to speak on this question with the greatest care and restraint, because it is one packed with emotion; and careless or tactless handling, or too great haste or too little regard for ingrained sentiment and belief, might well defeat the whole object of federation and damage the cause of unity in Nigeria. But the difficulty of settling its future status is not one of the matters that can be left to time and fate; it has to be faced now. You may well ask me, my Lords, as I feel inclined to ask myself: Was not this question settled three years ago, in 1950? It was, by a decision of the then Secretary of State. But since then the Northern representatives, who formerly supported the idea of 1280 Lagos being embodied in the Western Region, have seen fit to alter their position in the matter, and now, in conjunction with the Eastern Region, ask that that matter should be reconsidered and that decision reversed. If I may say so, with suitable humility, I should have thought that the answer to such a request was that a decision had been given three brief years ago, and that if it were desired that the Secretary of State should reverse or amend it, then some sort of agreement must be reached by the parties asking for that reversion or amendment. However, the Secretary of State was asked to make this decision now again, and the Conference agreed to abide by his decision.
§ Saddled with this invidious task, the Chairman—though clearly he would have preferred the decision to have been a Nigerian one, made by mutual agreement—decided that Lagos should remain the Federal capital of Nigeria, and that the municipal area of Lagos should become Federal territory and should be directly under the Federal Government. The Action Group delegates, representing, the majority group in the Western Region, immediately informed the Secretary of State that they could not accept this decision, as they had no authority from their people to do so, since they had been empowered only to agree to any arrangements which might be made to safeguard the interests of the Federal Government in Lagos, short of its complete severance from the Western Region. It certainly is most unfortunate that they had not publicly reserved this position when the Conference agreed to accept the Secretary of State's decision. But, equally, it is understandable that the possibility of such a complete reversal of the decision of 1950 had not entered their minds. They had apparently envisaged only three alternatives: the construction of a new Federal capital, on the analogy of Canberra, in Australia; acceptance of the present position, scheduling the port of Lagos, its central buildings and other facilities as matters for control by the Central Government; or the carving of a Federal enclave out of the existing city.
I should now like to turn to the statement of the Secretary of State (forming Annex V of the Conference Report, on pages 20 to 23) which seems to me to be
most relevant. He agrees that historically and ethnically Lagos is a Yoruba town, but he goes on to say:
The history of the past, however, does not seem of primary importance in the decision which has now to be taken; we now have to look at the interests of the Nigeria of the future, and these must be the determining factor in reaching a decision.
I agree with the last sentence, about the importance of the interests of the Nigeria of the future; but, respectfully, I do not think the history of the past can be quite so lightly brushed aside. The history of the past finds expression in a great deal of present emotion which demands sympathetic treatment. Further on, reference is made to the question of "loyalty and sentiment" which grows up around a capital city. My personal opinion is that "loyalty and sentiment" in regard to Lagos is largely confined to Lagos itself and the Western Region. I should very much doubt its existence in the North, or even in the East.
§ Furthermore, reference is made to the anxieties felt in the North about the inclusion of Lagos in the Western Region, because they see in it not only the Federal capital but their principal commercial lifeline to the outside world. I venture to suggest that ultimately the only reliable commercial lifeline of the North to the outside world is amicable understanding and cooperation with the West. You cannot argue with geography. The North has no access to the sea save through the Western Region to Lagos, or a longer and less suitable haul still through the Eastern Region to Port Harcourt. By road, rail or river it has to travel at least 200 miles through Western territory. It is unthinkable that it should ever be denied this natural access to the sea, and, indeed, the leader of the Action Group in the West has publicly stated that in no circumstances will the people of the Western Region make any attempt to deny to the Northern Region access to the sea. That then is the position.
§ Geographically, historically and ethnically, by custom, tradition and practice, Lagos belongs to the Western Region. Lagos, Sapele and Warri are the ports of the West, while Apapa (the modern part of Lagos), Warri, Burutu and Port Harcourt serve the North, and the East is served by Burutu, Port Harcourt and Calabar. What then is the way out of this impasse? It seems to me essentially 1282 a matter which could be settled at a meeting between the three leaders of the Regions, especially the two leaders of the North and the West, the Sardauna of Sokoto and Mr. Awolowo. The Sardauna has already given evidence of a calm and statesmanlike approach to the difficult problems involved in Constitution building in Nigeria, and I feel sure that Mr. Awolowo could satisfy him about the adequate safeguarding of Northern and Federal interests by scheduling certain Lagos buildings and facilities as Federal, even to the suggested length of making the ports of Apapa and the residential area known as Ikoyi Federal property. Doctor Azikwe, the Eastern leader, has never over the past seven or eight years varied his contention that the municipality of Lagos should become Federal territory. He has always been quite consistent in that view. But I think it is fair to say that his view is based mainly on political theory since the attitude of the East in this matter is not affected by economic interests or questions of prestige which affect the other two. It might reasonably be expected that he would sincerely accept, however reluctantly, any solution agreed upon by the North and the West, while not perhaps abandoning his own opinion.
§ It has been suggested to me that the West may, after all, accept the recent decision of the Secretary of State. In that case the matter would be settled. But it may not be amiss to point out the general objections which, in my opinion, make the decision of dubious wisdom, even if the West reluctantly agreed to it. Lagos will be a city with artificial boundaries, bursting with inevitable growth and overflowing into the former Colony rural areas which are to be included in the Western Region. The municipal area contained, according to the 1950 census, a population of 230,000—it is probably considerably more now—and a serious overcrowding problem already exists. The problem will be rendered more intractable if Lagos town is to be isolated from the rural areas with which she has been so closely associated and connected by every tie, administrative, social and economic. The behaviour of the hooligan clement in the Lagos mob which has caused such just resentment in the North will not be cured by making Lagos a 1283 separate Federal city. On the contrary, I should have thought that embodiment in the West would have had a sobering effect. Moreover, administratively, responsibility for its management would then, I suggest, be too closely associated with the Governor-General, which seems to be an undesirable development. In days gone by—if I may refer to them—the exaggerated political importance of Lagos in relation to the vast hinterland of Nigeria was one of the undesirable features which I tried to reduce. The arrangement in the 1947 Constitution, whereby Budget sessions were held alternately in the four capitals of the different regions, was meant to try and encourage mutual understanding and a knowledge of each other in their own territory. The system was abandoned because it was proved to be cumbrous.
In concluding these comments on Lagos, may I quote paragraph 12 of the Secretary of State's despatch of July 15, 1950, which said:
I recognise that there is much to be said in support of both views; but I have come to the conclusion that the view of the majority of the Select Committee of the Legislative Council, which clearly has the support of a substantial body of opinion but not of all opinion in Lagos itself, should be accepted. If it were not accepted, Lagos would have to be separated for legislative and administrative purposes from the rural districts of the Colony, which are unanimously recommended for inclusion in the Western Region; and I understand that there are felt by many to be strongties between Lagos and the rest of the Colony, which have been administered together for so long. Although I believe that Lagos should be included in the Western Region, I am sure that its position as capital city must be safeguarded, and I therefore welcome the proposals of the majority of the Select Committee that all central services in Lagos, including particularly the port and railway, should remain a central responsibility under the direction of the Central Government; that all expenses arising from the special needs of Lagos as the capital should be met by the allocation of funds from the Central Government. …
Then there were some provisions about the representation of Lagos. That is the working position to-day. I am in general agreement with those views which were expressed then and that decision of the Secretary of State of that day.
§ I will conclude, with your Lordships' permission, with one or two general reflections. Only seven or eight years ago, there was a prevailing apprehension in 1284 the North that a unified Nigeria carried with it a threat to their way of life by an invasion of Southerners, whose access to sources of Western education had been longer than their own. Steps were taken to reassure them, and to secure the future of their sons and daughters. Now, however, the picture has changed and apprehension has been expressed in the South that the solid mass of more than half the population of Nigeria—about 17 million—will give the North an undue prominence in the Councils of the Federation. To me, these apprehensions seem unreasonable, because the idea of a solid Northern bloc acting as a political steamroller is just a figment of the imagination. In the normal course of a healthy political growth, there will be—indeed, there are already symptoms of it to-day—varying opinions and different parties in the North, as elsewhere, and many voices will be heard. Furthermore, there is no substance in the attempt to estimate relative central expenditure in this region or that. The central expenditure is for the benefit of Nigeria as a whole. For instance, take the railway; 200 miles of it are in the West, 170 miles in the East, and 1,530 miles in the North. It has been estimated that at least 45 per cent. of the entire revenue of Nigeria derives from the Western Region. So that financial recriminations can be no possible basis for unity.
§ Imperceptibly, however, there has, over the past four years, been a complete reversal in attitude towards Nigerian unity. In 1947, one realised that one was engaged in a political experiment for which no precedents existed to guide one, the creation of a Federal Government by devolution. In the process of building up regional autonomy, one had to guard against endangering the unity of Nigeria and rendering the government of Nigeria as a whole weak and ineffective. There were two problems; first, to make the unity originally superimposed from outside into a living thing which might progress from varying stages of adolescence to adult nationhood; secondly, and simultaneously, to build up in the regions a system within which the diverse elements might progress at varying speeds, amicably and smoothly, towards a more closely integrated economic, social and political unity, without sacrificing the principles and ideals inherent in their divergent ways of life. In 1285 face of such a related complex of problems, it would ill become anyone to be too critical of occasional mistakes and failures. Undue acceleration seems to be inevitable in all such constitutional progress. The reversal of attitude, to which I have just referred is implicit in the approach of this Conference to the question of constitutional changes. It seems to have been tacitly assumed that all power rightly rests with the regions, save such as they decide to surrender to a Central Federal Government. This is a fiction which may serve, but in fact they never have been separate states. They are the creation—and the very recent and tentative creation—of the unitary Government which was in process of divesting itself of stated powers but which is now asked to define the powers that it will keep and to devolve the residue. Care is needed in this process not to emphasise unduly the regions and so lose some of the essence of unity itself. At least one can hope that each region can now see clearly the need for Federal unity and for free and voluntary support to it. It is the only sure basis, I say once more, for the future prosperity and happiness of all the people of all the regions.
One final word. I would say this to my friends in the Northern Region. A great responsibility rests upon them. It is not possible to make Lagos neutral by a stroke of the pen; nor is it wise to have the West as an unwilling partner smarting from a sense of injustice if Nigerian unity is an accepted ideal. Their own position in the North is now ensured, and their way of life is not now in any danger. By meeting the West halfway, in the manner offered by the leader of that region, they can now render a great service to all Nigeria and, incidentally, to themselves. The last paragraph, paragraph 16, of the Despatch of the Secretary of State's predecessor, dated 1950, expresses exactly what I should like to say in my concluding remarks. The Secretary of State wrote to the Governor in these words,
I have one final point to make. When the existing Constitution was introduced in 1947 it was stated that it would be subject to general review after a period of nine years, and that certain features of it would be subject to review after three and six years. Its operation was so successful that you decided, with my predecessor's approval, to propose a general revision in the third year of its operation; and this proposal, as I have already stated, was
accepted by the Legislative Council. The reforms which have been recommended as a result of that review are, I believe, both sound and necessary, and they certainly represent a logical development from the existing Constitution. I do not myself think it wise to fix definite timetables for constitutional advance, whether these take the form of laying down that a particular change will he made after a given period of years or of stating that no review will take place until a given period has elapsed. Constitutional advance must in my opinion"—
that is, of course, the opinion of Mr. Griffiths—
depend on the political development of the country concerned. At the same time, too, frequent constitutional changes are to be avoided; if changes are made too often they are bound to have an unsettling effect on the political and economic life of a country. For that reason, although I would not be in favour of fixing any stated period within which review will be ruled out, I would nevertheless urge that, when the new constitutional arrangements have been introduced, they should be allowed to operate for a reasonable period before further changes are considered.
I could not have expressed my own views better had I written those words myself. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.39 p.m.
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, we are very fortunate in having the advantage of listening to the contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Milverton. He speaks on this subject with immense authority, and he his given your Lordships a complete analysis of the Report of the Conference that was held in London. Noble Lords on this side of the House would agree with a great deal that he has said. I hope that the Government particularly noticed his comments on the various aspects of the Conference Report. This is a most important subject, one of the most important subjects that we could discuss at this juncture, because we are dealing with a country with over 30 million inhabitants, by far the largest population of any country in the Colonies, and with an area fair times the size of the United Kingdom. It is a country with an immense future, but a country which is just now at a very delicate stage in its history and in its constitutional development. Therefore it has been unfortunate in a way that, since the Conference, there has been this long Parliamentary Recess, and that this is the first opportunity that Parliament has had of discussing this most important Report.
1287 I do not propose to go in detail over the ground which has been so adequately covered by the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, but I propose, with your Lordships' consent, to deal merely with three points which I think merit our consideration. Two points have been touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Milverton. One has been dealt with in some detail but the other hardly at all. The third point, as I recollect, the noble Lord did not deal with. The three points which I propose to deal with are: first, the pattern of the new constitutional development; secondly, the position of the Supreme Court; and, thirdly, Lagos.
The pattern of the constitutional development is dealt with in paragraphs 7 to 9 of the Conference Report. After some considerable discussion, the Conference agreed that the pattern should be that of Australia rather than that of Canada—in a way, that of the United States. In other words, they agreed that the residual power should be in the States and not in the Central Government—what I call, if I may, the Australian pattern. I do not know whether your Lordships think that that is a particularly good pattern to follow. I should have thought, from the experience which we have had in various parts of the world in these fast-moving and ever-changing times, it would be better, on balance, to have a reserve of power, in the Central Government. However, the Conference agreed to that, and I presume that it will command general agreement, wise or unwise as it may be, in Nigeria. I mention it because it has immense repercussions on all the other agreements at which they have arrived. In fact, it is possible that if they had not arrived at this agreement they would not have arrived at any other, because the people who were there were naturally largely representatives of the regions and were anxious that regional powers should be preserved to the fullest extent possible. It is important that we should understand, however, that that is their decision. It may not, in fact, be the wisest decision so far as the future of Nigeria is concerned; it may be a practical rather than a very wise one, but that is the decision, and I bring it to your Lordships' attention.
The second point I want to bring to your Lordships' notice is the position of the 1288 Supreme Court. So far as I can tell from the published documents, this matter was not considered by the Conference as a whole. A small committee, presided over by Sir Sidney Abrahams, and a group, no doubt, of legal pundits, went into a room and produced a number of judicial recommendations, one of which dealt with the functions of the Supreme Court. I make no comment at all upon the legal sub-committee who, I am sure, were in every way qualified to consider and make recommendations upon legal matters, but, in my view, they have gone far beyond legal matters. Really, they have proposed to set up in Nigeria something which is even more powerful than the Supreme Court in the United States. They have made this body the supreme arbiter between the regions and the central authority. I would say that this is quite unusual, indeed quite unknown, in British constitutional development. I do not pretend to be a constitutional expert but I do not know of a similar case elsewhere.
We have always, in our development—I stand to be corrected if I am wrong—made political decisions the responsibility of political personages. This is the sort of problem upon which I would welcome the opinion of the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack, as the most important lawyer and the head of the Judiciary of this country. This matter is so important that the House ought to welcome—and I am sure it would—and ask for a decision, a ruling or an opinion by the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack and whose opinion in these matters we all greatly appreciate. I should not feel at all satisfied at leaving a matter of this importance to be decided by a group of lawyers, if they were lawyers, the name of only one of whom we know; we do not even know who the others were or whether they were lawyers. I do not think that a matter of this importance should be left in that state.
I will read to your Lordships very briefly the powers which they want the Supreme Court to have:The Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction—(i) in all inter-Regional disputes"—there is no mention of their being only legal disputes; it says "all inter-Regional disputes"—(ii) in all disputes between the Central Government and a Regional Government;1289(iii) on questions of the validity of a Central law;(iv) in all matters arising under any Treaty, affecting Consuls or other representatives of other countries, and in which a writ of Mandamus or prohibition or art injunction is sought against an Officer of the Central Government.As I say, I do not pretend to be a constitutional authority, but in my opinion that, in effect, puts the proposed Supreme Court of Nigeria in a position in which it has the final say in any important political matter on which there is dispute in any part of Nigeria. As this is, I suggest, a new feature in our constitutional development, whether in the Colonies or otherwise, I think it merits the consideration and the advice of the highest judicial authority in this country.
The third point I want to bring to your Lordships' attention is the position of Lagos. I do not wish to go in any detail into this matter because it has been adequately, properly and filly covered by the noble Lord. Lord Milverton, and I agree with everything he has said on the subject. He has, in fact, levied strong criticism against the present Secretary of State, and he has fully supported the former Secretary of State whose views are in diametrical opposition to those of the present Minister. With the noble Lord, I believe that the Action Group did, lightheartedly almost, give this pledge or agree to the Secretary of State's decision being final because they naturally assumed that a great Government Department would not change their mind on a matter of this kind in so short a space of time. Whether they were wise, as he says, not to have made some reservations is not for me to say, but I think it was rather unfortunate that they did not give some indication of their point of view when they agreed to ask for the Secretary of State's decision.
As the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, says, Lagos is predominantly a Yoruba town. It is historically, ethnically, economically and administratively in the Western Region. It is rather as if we proposed to make a Federal system for England, Scotland and Wales, and it was also proposed that Edinburgh should be the capital of the new Federation; and then it was decided by an outside authority altogether—by that I mean no one who would be a member of any of the local Parliaments—that Edinburgh 1290 should not be in Scotland for the purpose of regional government, but should have separate representation in the Federal Parliament. That is the exact analogy, and I am quite certain that none of the Scottish Peers who are listening to me would agree with that for one moment. I am sure they would have the strongest objection to cutting Edinburgh out of Scotland, placing it directly under the Federal Government (from this point of view, in Edinburgh), and leaving it with nothing to do with Scottish government.
That is what the Secretary of State is in fact asking the Western Region people to do. In effect, he says that historically it is true that Lagos has been a Western Region town, that it has been a Yoruba town; but we must ignore history and look only to the future and at the benefit Nigeria would derive if Lagos were not part of the Western Region but were only part of, and with separate representation in, the Central Government. We all know what our Scottish colleagues would say to that if it were proposed as regards Edinburgh. Why then should we expect the Western people, the Yorubas, who have had a far longer association with us than the people in the other regions—because Lagos was the first link, as it were, between this country and Nigeria—to agree to a matter of this kind? I suggest that the position of the other regions is, as the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, has said, amply covered by the fact that ports, railways, trade, and so on, are all Federal subjects and not Regional subjects. If these matters of trade, commerce and transport are coming under the Federal Minister, then obviously the position of the other regions would be amply safeguarded, even though one, and only one, of the ports in Nigeria happens to be Lagos.
To-day one of the great gateways to a country is the airport, and the great airport of Nigeria is Kano. As your Lordships know, Kano is an international airport. I happened to be there two or three years ago, and I was told that I should be able to get The Times or the Daily Telegraph there on the day it was printed. Kano is at the southern edge of the Sahara. That shows what close connection there is between Kano and London in these days. I cannot always get a London paper in some of the western parts of this country on the day it is printed; yet on the edge of the Sahara it 1291 is possible to do so. Therefore, if we are going to make Lagos a Federal enclave there seem to be equally good reasons for making Kano one also.
Finally, I would say that in my view this difficulty that we are having, months after the Report was published, when to some extent such public interest in the matter as there was has evaporated, does show the need for what I have long suggested to your Lordships—namely, the necessity for some better organisation of our affairs in the Commonwealth. I have suggested a Council of Empire to consider these great and important matters. As yet that idea has not found favour with the Government, nor have they produced any alternative scheme. But I do think it is unsatisfactory to allow a great country like this and its affairs to dwindle away, as it were, in our consideration and in our interest; and I consider that we should make every effort to ensure that these problems have far more prompt and urgent attention than they are now getting in our public and Parliamentary life.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, I think we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, equally for giving us this chance to debate this supremely important question and for what I sincerely believe to be the most interesting and constructive contribution which he personally has made to our debates. This is a personal opinion, but I hope it is shared. I have tried to hear every speech the noble Lord has made—I do not say I have succeeded, but I have certainly heard most of them. The noble Lord speaks with greater authority on this subject than does any other member of either House of Parliament, and of course he is one who has played a distinguished part in the history of Nigeria. I think we shall all agree, also, about the very statesmanlike attitude of the Nigerian political leaders who attended the Conference at Lancaster House in August. They showed a reasonable and conciliatory spirit, without which the wide measure of agreement shown in the White Paper would have been quite impossible. As the noble Lord, Lord Milverton said, what matters now, and what will matter in the future, more than anything, in Nigeria, is that there shall be good will and tolerance between the personalities of the different political parties.
1292 I should like to start by asking the noble Earl opposite a very important question, and one of which I have given him notice—namely, are the proposed constitutional changes indicated in the White Paper intended as a basis for discussion, both here and in Nigeria, or are they final decisions by Her Majesty's Government above a revised Constitution? Both noble Lords who have just spoken did so on the assumption that this agreement was not provisional but final. I hope they were wrong, although I rather fear that they were right. I am sure the noble Earl will listen to my reasons for asking the Government to reconsider their decision, if this White Paper does represent something absolutely final as to the future Constitution of Nigeria.
In the first place I suggest that these changes are of such importance to the political future of Nigeria that they should not be finalised until Parliament here, in the United Kingdom, and the Legislatures in Nigeria have had an opportunity of discussing them; or at least it should be the duty of Her Majesty's Government to provide us with very strong reasons for going against the normal constitutional procedure. There are four Legislatures in Nigeria, and surely the normal thing would be to allow them to debate and discuss these proposals. Your Lordships will remember that when the new Constitution was being drafted for Central Africa, the three Territories in Central Africa which were to belong to the new Federation, and which were drafting the new Constitution, were all given a chance, before any final decision was reached, to discuss the proposed Constitution in their Legislatures. After all, the ultimate responsibility rests here in Parliament, with every one of your Lordships in his capacity as a Member of this Chamber, with every Member in another place; and it is surely our right to claim the chance of expressing our views about fundamental matters of this kind, unless there is some very strong reason to the contrary which we have not heard, before they are decided by Her Majesty's Government.
Another reason, though not one of such importance, is this. It seems to me that these matters were decided in too hasty a fashion. This Conference sat for only three weeks. There does not seem to have been any preparation at the official level for the discussions which took place at 1293 the Conference; that is to say the subjects which the delegates did discuss had not been examined by officials before discussion took place. That examination is the normal procedure in connection with important conferences of this kind. I cannot help feeling, for example, that an inquiry into the effect of these constitutional changes on the Civil Service in Nigeria would have been desirable before the delegates took decisions making fundamental changes in the administration of the country. But so it was; these decisions were made. I cannot help feeling that the delegates were not aware of all the implications of their own views, because there had been insufficient preparation in advance for dealing with these important matters.
There is yet another reason, besides the two I have already mentioned, for treating these matters at this particular moment as being only tentative or provisional, rather than final. If these proposed changes were acceptable to opinion here and in Nigeria, there would, of course, be a case for going ahead with the least possible delay. Both the noble Lords who have spoken to-day have criticised very sharply some of the proposals in the White Paper, and I think we can assume safely, although there has been no discussion in another place, that these proposals are not by any means accepted on all sides in this country. The position in Nigeria is far more important. There already, acute controversy has arisen. The Nigerian political leaders who will have to work this new Constitution surely cannot possibly be expected to work satisfactorily unless there is agreement on fundamentals between all the main Parties in Nigeria. Grave doubts and misgivings have been expressed in Nigeria, as noble Lords know. What I would urge upon the Government, if they will reconsider this matter, is that they should give weight to the arguments which have been used here, and to the arguments that have been and will be used in Nigeria, about the merits of these proposals before they accept their ultimate responsibility of deciding what form this new Constitution should take.
May I express one or two of my own doubts? I wish I had not these doubts about some of these proposals, but they are obviously shared by both noble Lords who have spoken. I am doubtful about the wisdom of setting up a Federal Centre 1294 with a minimum of powers. Apart from a short concurrent list, to which Lord Milverton referred, everything else, all residual powers, are to go to the regions. Nigeria has been a united country for filly years, and so far there has been no serious threat to this unity; but I cannot help feeling that if too much authority goes too quickly to the regions, there is a danger that, sooner or later, the country will break up into separate racial groups. This danger is increased by the promise, contained in the White Paper, of regional self-government by 1956. I am not saying that it was not desirable to go a very long way towards satisfying Nigeria's desire for self-government at the earliest possible moment, but will this promise of regional self-government be the best way of satisfying the political aspirations of Nigeria? What exactly does this promise mean? I hope that it does not mean that Federal authority in the regions will be less than it would he under this Constitution, that it will be diminished and that regional autonomy will be increased at the expense of the Federation. I wonder whether it means that the reserve powers of the Regional Governors will be removed. That is not stated in the White Paper. Is that the intention? Above all, it is important that people, both here and in Nigeria, should know—immense importance is attached to this in Nigeria—what regional self-government in 1956 really means. If there is misunderstanding, when the time comes. Nigerians—probably quite wrongly—may feel that they have been grossly cheated; and in that event the situation would be very difficult indeed. Looking at the matter broadly, one cannot help feeling some regret that the emphasis in this distribution of powers was not placed upon a common Government which would be the focus of loyalty and respect for all races and religions in Nigeria. Emphasis, on the contrary, has been placed on separate Governments of the three regions.
Another matter which causes me considerable concern is the future of the Civil Service in Nigeria. This topic was touched upon by Lord Milverton, but I do not think he dealt with points which I should like to mention. What will happen, it appears, is that the present unified service will be broken up into four 1295 separate public services—a Federal service and three Regional services. To this a fifth may be added, if the Southern Cameroons becomes a unit in the Federation I gather that that is probable. Will the Southern Cameroons have its own separate Government service? That would be another piece into which the unity of the Civil Service is going to be broken. What alarms me about this decision is not only that the efficiency of a unified public service has had to be sacrificed to local patriotism—that is, perhaps, inevitable—but, still more, that a step of such importance as the fragmentation of the existing unified service should be taken without any expert inquiry into the practical and administrative consequences of the change.
May I give your Lordships a roughly parallel case—it is impossible to find an exact parallel. When federation was contemplated in the West Indies, as your Lordships will remember, a Commission of experts, the Holmes Commission, was appointed to advise the British Government about the future of the public service. In spite of the fact that, as your Lordships know, each territory in the West Indies now has a separate public service, the Commission recommended in favour of a unified public service for the whole of the British Caribbean. I am not saying that there would have been a similar recommendation if a similar body had been appointed to deal with Nigeria. All I am saying is that it is clearly not incompatible with regional autonomy for a unified Civil Service to be maintained. At least, I should have thought the possibility of maintaining the unity and efficiency of the Civil Service, as well as all the probable consequences of the alternative which has now been adopted, would have been examined in advance before these political decisions were taken.
I should like now, my Lords, to ask the noble Earl who is to reply one or two questions about the position of the Civil Service. I have given him notice of these questions, but naturally I wish to put them in the course of the debate. When these three Regional Administrations are set up, they will have their separate administrative, technical and judicial services and personnel, of course. Will the personnel in these services be 1296 transferable, whether they are expatriate officers or locally recruited officers, from one region to another? I think that matter is extremely important, because obviously efficiency will be much less if each region has to depend on its own people for recruiting the whole personnel for its Civil Service. But even if the personnel is to be transferable as between regions, is there not a real danger that the public service in each region will develop on racial lines—that is to say, you will find Yorubas in the West and Ebus in the East, and in the North they will want to keep out both Yorubas and Ebus? Is there not a danger that we shall see the Civil Service growing up in this way?
Another matter that causes me a good deal of concern (it was dealt with at some length by the noble Lord, Lord Milverton) is the decision to limit the new Federal Legislature to a single Chamber. I think it would be true to say that almost every Federal Constitution in the world has a Central Legislature with two Chambers. That may not be a convincing argument in a particular case, but it is a fact as a general statement of the position. Incidentally, this is one of the few things that the United States and the Soviet Union have in common: it is rather interesting to note that they have anything in common nowadays. Surely there is a particularly strong case for a Second Chamber in a Federation, as compared with a homogeneous country such as our own. If the Lower Chamber is elected on a population basis, as proposed here, the Federal units with the largest populations will greatly outnumber the other units. This general argument applies with exceptional force to Nigeria, because it is proposed that the Lower House shall have 184 elected members—92 from the Northern Region and the balance from the other regions, Lagos and the Southern Cameroons. It will be seen that the representatives of the Northern Region equal in number the whole of the rest of the elected membership. I hope it will work, as the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, thinks it will, and that there will not be a political "steamroller" operating on the representatives of other regions, as he expressed it. But the mere figures fill one with doubt. After all, if the North keep together, they can never lose a vote, and with a single ally 1297 their policy can never be challenged by any of the other regions. Yet this preponderance in the Lower Chamber could be largely corrected by an Upper House, or Senate, with limited powers, but with equal representation of all the regions. As the noble Lord pointed out, this was actually favoured by the Conference, but its opinion altered later on, after one of the most important delegations had withdrawn. One cannot help feeling that there is a particularly strong argument for reopening the question of the composition and structure of the Federal Legislature.
The most worrying of all these proposals, in my view, is the proposal about the future of Lagos. My noble friend Lord Ogmore and the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, dealt with this question at great length, and I would add nothing much to what they have said. Of course, it is a fact that the removal of Lagos from the Western Region, which is proposed in the White Paper, threatens to divide Nigeria. As your Lordships are aware, the leader of the Action Group, the largest Party in the Western Region, Mr. Awolowo, has said (I am quoting his words) thatUnless this decision is modified, the unity of Nigeria which the Secretary of State intended to preserve would be seriously imperilled.That is a very serious statement, coming from the leader of the largest Party in the Western Region, and whatever the merits of this decision may be, and however strongly the parties to it may feel, I hope that the Secretary of State may be willing to reconsider it, in the light of the very strong feeling which has since been expressed in the Western Region of Nigeria. Mr. Awolowo has proposed various alternatives, and the noble Earl opposite, with his usual constructive spirit, has also proposed an alternative. What we should like to ask the Government to do is to consider these alternatives and to reconsider the position in the light of public opinion in Nigeria, with a view to finding a solution to this question which will command the maximum possible agreement in Nigeria. I am certain that we all wish the political leaders in Nigeria the utmost success with this great task of revising the Constitution. We all hope that it will help them forward towards self-government within the British Commonwealth at the earliest possible moment, and that whatever they 1298 decide, with the assistance of Her Majesty's Government, may be in the best interests of the peoples of the greatest territory amongst the dependencies of the British Commonwealth.
§ 4.16 p.m.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD SIMONDS)
My Lords, before the noble Earl replies, may I intervene to say a few words? The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, was good enough to ask for my opinion upon a certain point in such generous terms that it would be discourteous for me to say nothing. Although I cannot answer him as fully as I would have done had I had more ample opportunity for study, I think I can satisfy him upon the point on which he feels some difficulty. It is surely an integral feature of any Federal system that there should be some body to determine whether or not the Federal power, on the one hand, and the provincial and state powers, on the other, have exceeded the authority given to them by the Constitution. Always you will find—for instance, in the Australian Constitution and in the British North America Act—that wherever there is a Federal system, there is a list of legislative items in regard to which power is given to the Federal Centre, and a list of legislative items in regard to which authority is given to the states, provinces or regions, as the case may be.
It is often found in experience to be difficult to determine exactly where the line of demarcation lies, and it has always been found necessary to vest in a judicial body—the High Court of Australia, the Supreme Court of Canada (the Supreme Court of the United States, in the case of the original North America Act)—the power to determine whether or not, on the one hand, the Federal Centre or, on the other hand, a provincial or state body have exceeded their respective powers. For that reason, so far as Nigeria is concerned, the final power has here beers given to the Supreme Court which is to be set up, having regard to the fact that legislative powers are given respectively to the centre and to the regions. That is why, not as a new thing but in accordance with precedents, such a power is given in this case to the Supreme Court which is to be set up.
I have answered the noble Lord extempore. Although I might have found more instances of just this, not only 1299 within the British Commonwealth but everywhere that there is a Federal system, I hope that I have been able, in a brief time, to satisfy the noble Lord. I think that I have only anticipated what my noble friend Lord Munster was going to say about it.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, I had given notice to the noble Earl that I intended raising this point, but, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to say that I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, for giving his opinion on this matter. Obviously, it had never been brought to his attention before, and that is why I brought it forward. I do not think it is enough merely to take the opinion of a Committee of undisclosed persons on an important point like this. I knew that there was a similar provision in other Constitutions, but I was not sure that it went so far as in this case. Previously, there has been a right to appeal to the Privy Council on these matters. I do not know whether or not that right will be present here; that is another point which I think we ought to consider. But I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (THE EARL OF MUNSTER)
My Lords, it is hardly surprising that, on the return of Parliament from the Summer Recess, my noble friend Lord Milverton should have put down a Motion dealing with the constitutional developments in Nigeria. As the House will remember, my noble friend was one of the very distinguished Governors of that Colony, and during his period of office he brought into operation the Constitution of 1946—in point of fact, I think he was the main author of that Constitution. That Constitution functioned and operated until 1952. It maintained the unitary administration which had existed for many years, and established a Legislative Council for Nigeria as a whole, while at the same time it made some important concessions to the regions by the creation of Regional Houses of Assembly—and, indeed, a House of Chiefs in the Northern Region—one of whose main functions was to 1300 appoint the regional members of the Central Legislative Council. These bodies also advised the Governor on any questions which he referred to them; they made recommendations on regional estimates and considered all Bills before they were introduced into the Central Legislative Council. I have deliberately only briefly outlined that Constitution. which noble Lords will remember came to be called the Richards Constitution, What I would draw your Lordships' attention to is that it introduced a process of regionalisation, through the creation of the Regional Houses of Assembly, and that very fact had a most important part to play in the next Constitution which came into being in 1952. Listening to my noble friend behind me, I thought that he expressed some fear about this process of regionalisation; but I feel sure he will remember that, in point of fact, he was the first one who brought in any system of regionalisation at all.
What happened afterwards? In 1951–52 a new Constitution came into operation, based on the results of a long process of public discussion throughout the whole of Nigeria. I must, at the risk of wearying the House, briefly remind your Lordships of its contents, for it was this Constitution which broke down at a later date, necessitating the Conference which was held in London in July and August of this year. This new Constitution came to be known as the Macpherson Constitution, and that carried a great deal further the process of regionalisation begun under my noble friend Lord Milverton. It set up indirectly elected Legislatures in the regions with power to legislate on specified subjects and over their own budgets. It further gave Regional Governments executive authority over those matters within regional competence, and decentralised to the regions a number of Government Departments, although it retained a unitary public service. At the same time, the centre retained very important powers, for it can legislate on all subjects, including regional subjects: and in the event of differences central legislation prevails. In addition, all regional legislation has to be approved by the Governor in Council, and all residual subjects—that is to say, those not specifically delegated to regions—remain within central competence. Finally, the greater proportion of regional revenue is made up by per capita grants given to 1301 the regions by the Centre. I wanted briefly to remind your Lordships of those two Constitutions, because, as I say, one has played an important part on the other, and it was, of course, the second which broke down.
These powers in the Macpherson Constitution proved a source of friction, especially between the Western Region and the Centre. But this was not the only cause of trouble in what I feel sure the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, knows is a most complicated and difficult story. There were other causes of friction. Let me remind your Lordships of some of them. For instance, the members of the Central House of Representatives from each region are appointed by the Regional Legislatures from among their members, but at the same time those individuals retain their membership of the Regional Legislatures. The Governor has power to appoint four Nigerian Central Ministers from each region, but his nominees have to be approved by the Regional Legislatures as well. In Nigeria, as we all know, there are virtually no nation-wide political parties as we understand them in this country. There are, broadly, three main parties, who draw their support, either mainly or wholly, from one or other of the regions. There is the Action Group in the Western Region, the Northern People's Congress in the Northern Region and the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons in the Eastern Region. But in the Central Legislature they are all represented by a solid bloc of supporters of the majority party in each region. That clearly and at once results in a rigid alignment of parties at the Centre, and again emphasises the regional differences, to, I think, the detriment of Nigeria as a whole. There is another source of friction, and an important one, in view of what I am going to say later in my remarks. I feel that all three noble Lords who have spoken in this debate forget that another source of friction was that Lagos Colony ceased to be administered as a separate entity, and was in fact merged into the Western Region—as noble Lords will remember, it was only two years ago that Lagos was merged within the Western Region. However, as I say, I will come back to that at a later stage, because it is perhaps one of the most important matters raised in the course of the debate to-day.
1302 I hope that I have said sufficient for your Lordships to see that, on paper, at any rate, the Centre had far wider responsibilities and exercised far greater powers than the amended Constitution which is now being recommended as a result of the London Conference. None the less, it had certain inherent weaknesses. In dealing with a number of important matters the Centre was dependent in many instances upon the regions, and the regions were able to exercise a considerable control over the members of the Central House of Representatives and, indeed, also, over the composition of the Council of Ministers at the Centre. It is true, as has been said in the course of the debate this afternoon, that in the Western Region the Action Group came into power with a strong appeal to Yoruba nationalism, and the very fact that its principal leader chose to take office in the region rather than at the Centre possibly encouraged a tendency on its part to look at Nigerian questions entirely from a Western Region point of view. There has been considerable Southern immigration into the Northern Region, and particularly into the public service in that region. This, I think, coupled with the realisation in the North of their own backwardness, has created a fear of domination by the South. The political parties in the two southern regions, as well as being strongly nationalist, claim that they want self-government at the earliest possible date, and certainly not later than 1956, while the N.P.C., that is, the Northern Party—which, let it not be forgotten, also aims ultimately at self-government—is not willing to fix any date so long as the Northern Region is backward vis-à-vis the Southern Region.
I have tried to outline to the House the present Constitution and the difficulties which have been experienced in getting it to work. I have also endeavoured, I hope successfully, though with a certain degree of brevity, to explain to the House some of the other factors and fears which have endangered the smooth working of government. It is important to remember that it was not, perhaps, so much that the Constitution was unworkable but rather that human frailty made it so—fears, suspicions and impatience, all of which were very prevalent indeed.
1303 For a short time that Constitution worked reasonably well, but symptoms of friction began to appear. Then early this year events occurred in the Eastern Region which made it utterly impossible to carry on Parliamentary government there, and deprived the Eastern Ministers at the centre of the support of their own Party in the East. Shortly afterwards, an Action Group member moved a resolution in the Central Legislature calling for self-government in 1956 as a primary political objective. But when a motion for the adjournment of the debate was moved on behalf of the N.P.C., the Action Group and the N.C.N.C.—that is to say, the Eastern Group—walked out, and the Action Group Ministers at the Centre resigned. In the course of subsequent public statements explaining why they had resigned, two of the former members, it will be remembered, revealed details of discussions which had taken place in the Council of Ministers about the Action Group Motion, and thereby broke their oath of secrecy.
This behaviour of the Action Group and the N.C.N.C. members, together with the violent abuse of the North by the southern political Press, and the organised outbreaks of hooliganism against the Northern members of the House of Representatives, inflamed Northern opinion and gave rise to a determination in the North to have as little as possible to do with the South in future and to seek the maximum delegation of power to the regions. Indeed, it was only last May that the North was urging that there should be no political organisations at the Centre at all. Therefore, I hope my noble friend will forgive me if I remind him that he said it was the North who should not alienate the West. In point of fact, it is the Action Group which has alienated the North. It is a complicated story, but I think that, from what I have said, the noble Lord will see that in point of fact the Action Group did very little to comfort or assist the North in the fears which they had
All these unhappy events completely undermined the will to work the Constitution. When my right honourable friend the Minister of State was in Nigeria, he discussed the position with all the leading members of the Nigerian political parties. It was obvious to him that their differences of opinion went very deep, 1304 and accordingly on May 21 of this year my right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced with much regret that the present Constitution would have to be amended, with a view to providing greater regional autonomy, while at the same time preserving the unity of the whole. The Governor was asked on his behalf to invite Nigerian leaders to a Conference in London. Here, let me say, in reply to an observation made by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about the grave misgivings which existed amongst political leaders in Nigeria, that I am not sure there are those grave misgivings. All the important political leaders were invited over to London for the Conference, and they all participated in the proposals.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
I am afraid that I did not make myself quite clear. When I spoke about misgivings which had been expressed, I meant misgivings since the Conference, and not before or during the Conference.
§ THE EARL, OF MUNSTER
I quite understand that, but I still have no reason to believe—and I do not doubt the noble Earl's word for one moment—that there are these grave misgivings by all political leaders in Nigeria, which I think were the words the noble Earl used.
The Conference opened on July 30, and it was a great success. Unhappily, it was marred by the decision of the National Independence Party to withdraw halfway through, and by the Action Group's temporary withdrawal towards the end. Some of the decisions to which the N I.P. were unable to agree were subsequently altered, and I myself should like to think that, had they remained in the Conference, they might well have had different views from those which they had expressed upon its outcome. But it is, I think, a noteworthy achievement that, subject to some Action Group reservations, the Conference was able to agree to recommendations on almost every single point except one—namely, the position of Lagos, which was left to Her Majesty's Government to decide.
I believe—and here I am in wholehearted agreement with my noble friend behind me—that the greatest credit is due to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the admirable manner in which he conducted these delicate and difficult negotiations. I am glad 1305 to know that these views which I have mentioned were shared by the many representatives from Nigeria who attended the Conference, including Dr. Azikiwe, who said that the Conservative Party had done yeoman service in the cause of Nigerian unity. And, let me remind noble Lords opposite, he followed that up with a tribute to my right honourable friend himself, for his readiness to seek arid make concessions to meet Nigerian national aspirations. Finally, what did this great Nigerian say? He contrasted his reception on this occasion with a previous visit he had paid to the Colonial Office in the days of the Socialist Government. That does say something for the way in which my right honourable friend went through this difficult time.
In spite of the success of this Conference, there are still some important matters which have yet to be decided— namely, the allocation of revenue between the Centre and the regions; the question of the administration of justice, and the future of the Cameroons which, as the House knows, are under a United Kingdom trusteeship.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
The noble Earl seems to be passing on to a new subject. Could he answer my first question, as to whether the constitutional proposals are provisional or the final decision of Her Majesty's Government?
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
I am coming to those points in a very few moments. It is hoped that this Conference will meet again in Nigeria in the New Year, when those questions to which I have referred will come up for further discussion.
As I have endeavoured to point out, the principal political parties in Nigeria are regional, rather than national, in their outlook, and it has not been possible for the three regions to work together effectively in a Federation which is so closely knit as that provided under the existing Constitution. Therefore, one of the main tasks, indeed, the principal task, of the Conference was to reduce the possibility of friction by a re-division, if I may so put it, of subjects between the Centre and the regions. That agreed division is set out in the White Paper to which reference has been made to-day. We think that by making the Centre and the re- 1306 gions more independent of each other, and so reducing the chances of friction and disagreement between them, the prospects for co-operation should be much improved. I foresee a considerable advantage in separate elections to the Centre, which will not only make the Centre independent of the Regional Legislatures but will, I believe, reflect far more accurately in the future the state of opinion in the country on matters of, if I may so describe them, Nigerian-wide importance. I think, too—and indeed sincerely hope, as we all do—that they will assist in the building up of these nation-wide political Parties, as distinct from the regional Parties which exist at the present time.
These proposals were among the major achievements of the London Conference. It is perfectly true, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, that the Centre will have fewer subjects to deal with and that its influence over regional legislation will be more circumscribed. Similarly, the regions will have more responsibility and autonomy. But under the amended Constitution the Centre, in point of fact, should become stronger and not weaker in dealing with those matters which are now to be within its responsibility and not within the responsibility of both. The possibilities of friction between the Centre and the regions, which, as the noble Lord pointed out, have hitherto been a constant source of weakness, will, I believe, be very much reduced. However ill-founded the suspicions which exist between the regions may be, no one can deny that they do exist and that their existence weakens the whole of the unity of Nigeria. I hope that by giving the regions greater autonomy—and therefore, I think, a larger sense of security—suspicion may be overcome as time goes on, and ultimately better relations established. Anyhow, the proposed new arrangements will, I think, be more effective in promoting the unity of Nigeria, which we all have at heart, by providing a basis for this closer co-operation.
The new proposals for regional constitutional advance should also go far to meet the aspirations of the Southern Regions. Coupled with them—and this is most important—are certain safeguards for the public service, on which so much depends. This was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, this afternoon. 1307 If I understand the noble Earl correctly, he asked whether the Southern Cameroons under United Kingdom trusteeship would have a separate public service if it became a separate regional unit. I understand that the answer is, possibly yes; but this is one of the details which have still to be worked out. I should like in passing to refer the noble Earl to the last paragraph but one of the Secretary of State's statement on this particular subject, which is included in Annex VI to the White Paper. The noble Earl also asked about transfers between the public services of the regions and of the Centre. These also are matters which are under consultation at the present time with the Government.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
May I ask the noble Earl whether any report will be published and be available here and in Nigeria about the reorganisation of the Civil Service?
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
Undoubtedly something will have to be said in order that noble Lords in all parts of the House, and indeed other people, may have a clear indication of what the new set-up will be.
I should like now to deal with the major controversial issue of the London Conference of which mention has been made this afternoon—the future status of Lagos. As Lord Milverton has said, this is a question which is packed with emotion and one which has roused a great deal of interest in your Lordships' House to-day. I would remind your Lordships of exactly what happened. During the Conference the Nigerian delegates had been unable to agree about the future of Lagos themselves; and accordingly they unanimously asked that Her Majesty's Government should make the decision for them. My right honourable friend accepted this task because he was unanimously asked to do it and because the delegates present undertook to abide by his decision, whatever that decision might be. Nevertheless, when he did announce a decision the Action Group declined to accept it and later deliberately repudiated it altogether. I think it is regrettable that the Action Group should have gone back on their word and should have threatened the secession of the Western Region unless the whole of this question were re-opened.
1308 They have now attempted to justify their attitude by publishing an interesting pamphlet which has, I understand, been circulated to Members of both Houses of Parliament. I need refer to only two of their arguments. The first, which was also mentioned by Lord Milverton, was that Lagos is naturally part of the Western Region. That is wholly and absolutely incorrect. From the time that British rule was established in Nigeria until two years ago Lagos had always been a separate Colony under its own administration, and had had a long tradition of separate administration. In fact it had its own Legislative Council some years before what is now called the Western Region came under British protection at all. Lord Ogmore will forgive me if I say that his description of what might happen to Edinburgh in similar circumstances is a false analogy. Edinburgh has been part of Scotland for many generations, not for a mere period of two years. It is the property of Scotland; it has been part of Scotland ever since the first brick of the city was laid.
I come now to the second argument, which seems to me to imply that the Action Group delegation agreed to accept arbitration only on the distinct understanding that a number of conditions were previously observed. If that was their intention it was certainly never made clear at the time. That is a very important point to remember. However, there have been this afternoon, in the three speeches to which we have listened, suggestions that we should look at this matter again. I think I can say categorically that my right honourable friend will see no reason whatsoever to alter the decision which was taken at the unanimous request of the Conference, in the overall interest, I think, of Nigeria. Her Majesty's Government believe that the decisions which they reached on this point were right. But, of course, if, in what appears to be a very unlikely event, the majority parties freely agree among themselves on some alternative solution, my right honourable friend will naturally feel it right to consider it on its merits and in the interests of Nigeria.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
That is the most important statement which the noble Earl has made in the course of his speech. When he refers to the "majority parties," does he mean the majority parties in each 1309 of the three regions, and that if they came together then these proposals could be altered, but not otherwise?
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
In the unlikely event of their coming together on that particular subject. There can be little doubt that the main proposals which were agreed to in the Conference in London are likely to offer the only form of governmental structure which can be generally acceptable to the people of Nigeria at the present time and, what is more, can be workable as well. The proposal to make the Centre and the regions more independent of one another while preserving the unity of the country, which is all important, will go a long way to bring into being a nation-wide Party or Parties and ultimately to create a Nigerian outlook as opposed to the purely regional outlook which exists at the present time.
The noble Earl asked me whether the constitutional changes which are now outlined in the White Paper are proposed as a basis for further discussion or whether in fact they are the final decision of Her Majesty's Government. My right honourable friend has at all times drawn a distinction between those questions on which agreement was reached at the London Conference and those which the Conference agreed would require further consideration and examination when the Conference re-convened in Nigeria at the beginning of next year. As regards the recommendations which were reached at the Conference by all the delegates present at the time, the decisions which were taken represent the decisions which the Secretary of State has agreed for his part to recommend for submission to Her Majesty in Council. The noble Earl went on to ask me about regional self-government. Here I would refer him to paragraph 27 of the White Paper, which sets out what will happen: that a conference will be called to consider the whole question. But I think, broadly speaking, the position is that, subject to the important safeguards which are included in paragraphs 28 and 29, Her Majesty's Government as such would carry no further responsibility for all matters which at that time would be within the competence of Regional Governments.
The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, asked about the Supreme Court, on which sub- 1310 ject the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has replied. But I should like to add this on that matter. The decision was reached at the conclusion of the London Conference, that this question, as the noble Lord will find recorded in paragraph 22 (iii) of the Command Paper, is to come up for further consideration when the Conference opens again in Nigeria next year. I pass from that subject to a point which was made by my noble friend behind me and by the noble Earl opposite—namely, that an earlier decision to have two Houses at the Centre was dropped and it was finally agreed that there should be only one Chamber. It will be remembered that the Action Group walked out of the London Conference when they were not given immediate satisfaction on the question of the reappointment of the Western Ministers to the Centre. The majority parties from the North and East agreed not to proceed with an earlier proposal for an Upper Chamber in view of the North's acceptance during the next period—that is, the next period of constitutional reform—of only 50 per cent. of the membership of the Central Legislature which, as the noble Earl will remember, is considerably less than the number to which they are entitled on a population basis.
I have already delayed your Lordships too long in trying to unravel this most complicated question. I apologise. I think I need only say this at the end. My right honourable friend was anxious to build a strong and stable Government which would tolerate the views of others and safeguard the opinions of minorities. I think he has gone a very long way towards achieving that objective. I can only hope and trust that the next Conference which opens in Nigeria in the New Year will be as successful as the last, and that the decisions which will be reached there may be of permanent and lasting benefit not only to the regions of Nigeria but to the whole of Nigeria, and to the future of that vast country.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ LORD MILVERTON
My Lords, I do not wish to detain the House at this hour, other than to make one or two remarks. I should like first to thank the noble Earl, Lord Munster, most sincerely for the courtesy and the completeness of his reply to the various points which have been raised in this debate, and also to thank those other noble Lords who took 1311 part. I cannot say that I am completely convinced by the noble Earl on some points, but I do not wish to restate my view. I realise what strongly held views there are on some of these questions, and how easy it is to make a good case for either side. As the noble Earl seemed to think that I was disowning regionalisation, and as he pointed out that I was the author of it, I should like to say that that is very true and I am not at all ashamed of the baby. But I am most anxious that it should grow up to a disciplined future, and should not get out of proportion in relation to the parent body.
In dealing with Nigeria, one has to realise how recent and new everything is. It was only in 1914 that the Northern Provinces became a part of the Protectorate; it was only in 1939 that the Southern Provinces were split, for the first time, into the East and the West—the Eastern Provinces and the Western Provinces; and it was only in the Constitution for which I was responsible in 1946, which came into effect in 1947, that the Northern Provinces for the first time took any part whatever in the Legislature in Lagos. Before that, the Nigerian Legislative Council did not legislate for the North. Any legislation which it was desired to extend to the North was extended over the signature of the Governor, within whose power it lay to legislate for the North. One has to realise how recent all these changes are, and the appalling pace at which constitutional changes in Nigeria have followed one after the other. One has to realise, therefore, that one should not necessarily accept as final requests from the people who are struggling amidst all these changes. Such requests should be examined with care in this House by those who have had long experience of political and constitutional changes all over the world. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.