HL Deb 17 December 1963 vol 254 cc208-14

7.20 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time; and I am happy to tell your Lordships that I think this is a considerably less controversial measure than the one we have just been debating. If I may, I should like to trace briefly the historical process which has led to the introduction of this Bill. The Federation of Nigeria became independent as a monarchy within the Commonwealth on October 1, 1960. On April 29 of this year the Prime Minister of Nigeria made a formal announcement that Nigeria would become a Republic within the Commonwealth on the third anniversary of independence; that was, on October 1 of this year. In conformity with this announcement the Premiers of the three regions and Sir Abubakar, the Federal Prime Minister met in June this year to consider the main features of the new Constitution, and at the end of July there was an all-party conference to discuss it. The proposals were then published in a Federal Sessional Paper and were debated and endorsed in the Federal and Regional Legislatures during the first part of August. The Constitution of the Federation Bill was published in September and passed on the 19th of that month by both Houses of the Federal Legislature.

The changes in the Nigerian Constitution are not great; and I do not believe your Lordships would wish me to go into them at any length. As in India, the President of Nigeria is not an executive President but a constitutional Head of State. The other main change is that appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council cease: although, apart from constitutional and chieftancy cases, those appeals which were pending on October 1 this year, when the new Constitution came into force, may continue to be heard and disposed of by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

As regards the Bill itself, it is, in effect, a technical measure to preserve the operation of certain of our Statutes and other Instruments as if Nigeria had not become a Republic, so that the expression "Her Majesty's dominions "in that legislation shall continue to be read as if they still included Nigeria. The Bill follows broadly the main provision of Acts passed when India and Pakistan, Ghana, Cyprus and Tanganyika became Republics. Clause 1(1) provides that as regards the places mentioned in Clause 1(2) all existing laws shall not be affected as a result of Nigeria's becoming a Republic. Subsection (3) relates to pending appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to which I have alluded. This subsection is new in form and represents a departure from the precedents of Ghana and Tanganyika.

The reason for this is that Nigeria herself has chosen to continue pending appeals in a way that is also new. Under her new Constitution Nigeria has provided that appeals in all but constitutional and chieftancy cases which were pending on October 1, 1963 should continue to be heard and disposed of by the Privy Council as they would if Nigeria had not become a Republic. This means that all pending appeals will be treated in Nigerian law as if they were still appeals to Her Majesty in Council under the old Constitution. Accordingly, in our law jurisdiction need not be con[...]erred on the Privy Council to hear rending appeals as a result of a special arrangement, as was done in the case of Ghana and Tanganyika; but jurisdiction conferred by the law previously in force can continue to be exercised as a result of the operation of Nigerian law. Clauses 1(1) and 1(3) of the Bill, when read in conjunction with the relevant sections of the new Nigerian Constitution, provide that the Judicial Committee continues to have jurisdiction to hear and dispose only of pending appeals. Clause 1(4) gives the whole of Clause 1 retrospective effect to October 1 this year.

In the normal course of events legislation would have been introduced here and passed last Session, but as I explained earlier, the Nigerians had not at that time finally decided on the form of their Republican Constitution. This Bill, therefore, has retrospective effect. Incidentally this retrospective procedure was followed with the Ireland Act, 1949. It is likely that individual rights have not been impaired in any material way during the period since October 1, since I am sure that those likely to be affected will have taken note of what my honourable friend the Secretary of State said in another place on August 1, when he gave notice that this legislation would have to be retrospective.

My Lords, it is not only right, but will be, I am sure, the heartfelt wish of this whole House to send to the Government and people of Nigeria on this occasion our good wishes for her future. The change to a Republic is the wish of the people of Nigeria, arrived at after due process and careful thought. Under the guidance of such wise and far-seeing statesmen as Sir Abubakar and his Regional Premiers and the new President Dr. Azikiwe, I am sure that the Federal Republic of Nigeria will continue to fulfil her mission as an independent sovereign State, within the Commonwealth, a mission which she took up some three years ago, and which she has since pursued with such zest and distinction.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a —(The Duke of Devonshire.)

7.29 p.m.


My Lords, we welcome this Bill, and I rise merely to associate my noble friends on these Benches with the good wishes expressed by the noble Duke to the Government and people of Nigeria for the success of their new Republican Constitution. There is, however, one comment I would make. From my experience of the change from a monarchical to a republican Constitution in Ghana I believe there is often misunderstanding in this country: people here imagine that a change from one type of Constitution to another means a change of attitude towards the Crown. This, I know from my personal experience, is certainly not true. There is just as much affection and respect for Her Majesty and the Members of the Royal Family in a Commonwealth country after it becomes a republic as there was before when it was still a monarchy. That is easily explained by the fact that people's emotions are not changed by enactments. This has been shown by the fact that Her Majesty has had just as splendid a welcome in Ghana, India and Pakistan and other republican countries she has visited as she has had in the old Commonwealth countries.

We are delighted that Dr. Azikiwe will continue in office as President of the Republic and that his great experience, success and ability as Governor-General will now be shown in the post of President of Nigeria. I think that Nigeria is fortunate to have Dr. Azikiwe, a man who is devoted to the values of our democratic way of life, and who has shown that he can fill the highest post in his country with the utmost dignity and success. We on this side of the House wish the people and Government of Nigeria the utmost prosperity under their new republican Constitution.


My Lords, I should like to express the good will of my Party to the Republic of Nigeria on this eventful day in its history. I would also express the feeling I have of the importance of Nigeria. In this country we are often concerned with matters which seem to us to be of more immediate moment and forget the importance of countries which are not just to hand a few miles across the Channel. Nigeria is at least the most important country in West Africa, and is certainly one of the most important in the whole of Africa. When I first visited Nigeria, what impressed me most was the virility of the people. When I saw them marching along through the narrow lanes to and from the market, I was impressed by their great energy, their intelligence and physical vigour. Although this was a long time before independence, and Nigeria was still a Colony, I could not help feeling that these people were destined for great things.

I should like to join with the noble Duke in expressing our congratulations to Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the former Governor-General, on becoming the first President of Nigeria. This is not only a great honour to Dr. Azikiwe; it is a very fortunate thing for Nigeria that they have Dr. Azikiwe. He is, I suppose, one of the most distinguished of Africans. There are many distinguished leaders in Africa, but I always think of him as first in the field among the new Africans. He is a most cultured man. I have had the privilege of visiting his house and of seeing his library on Africa and African topics, which must be one of the finest in Africa. Probably he has the finest private library in Africa, perhaps better than any public library, with the possible exception of the library at Makere.

The only regret I express, as I always do on such a Bill as this, is that the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is no longer to be the final court of appeal. This is a hardy annual so far as I am concerned. We had one of these Bills only a fortnight ago. No doubt I shall go on expressing these regrets so long as I can, until the last country becomes independent and the noble Duke, or his successor, will no longer have to reply to me. But I think that it is a great pity that we in this country have not shown the initiative and imagination that our Judges showed 600 or 700 years ago, when they rode round the country—in much worse conditions than we have now, when we can go in comfortable jets to the utmost parts of the Commonwealth—and, by so doing, creating the Common Law of England as we know it to-day.

What is happening in the Commonwealth, now that we no longer have a central body, is that judicial decisions are becoming more and more disparate and decisions on the same point are differing greatly from one country to another. I do not blame Nigeria; the fault lies here. If we had had the initiative and imagination to make the Judicial Committee peripatetic, and it moved around the Commonwealth, this valuable Commonwealth link would have been retained. After all, there are not so many links that we can sever even one with equanimity. The time may come when there are no more links to sever. That time has not yet come and I hope that it will never come, but I say again that it is very unfortunate to sever this important Commonwealth and legal link, as has been done in the case of so many countries.

I do not know whether the noble Duke can give me any indications of how many appeals are pending. It is not an important point, but it would be good to know that we should still have the pleasure of seeing some of our Nigerian friends over here when they came to the Privy Council. I should like to express our best wishes to the Republic of Nigeria and our great appreciation of the fact that they will remain within tie Commonwealth, which for many years, perhaps centuries, to come will be a free association of free peoples.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and to the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, for associating themselves in such felicitous terms with the Second Reading of this Bill. I find myself in complete agreement with all that the noble Earl had to say, especially in what he had to say about the regard and affection with which Her Majesty is held in countries that become republican. Two years ago I had the good fortune to visit both Ghana and India shortly after Her Majesty's visit, and I could not but be immensely struck by the enthusiasm that that visit had evoked and by the immense regard that the peoples held for the person of Her Majesty in her position as Head of the Commonwealth. I witnessed that at first-hand.

I should like to associate myself very much with what the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, said about the new President of Nigeria. I hope that it will be the good fortune of the noble Lord when he next visits Nigeria to go to Nsukka University, where the President's country house is, and see the picture that was painted of Dr. Azikiwe and presented to him by our High Commissioner and which now hangs at Nsukka. The President is arranging for it to be reproduced on stamps of Nigeria.

I have great sympathy with what the noble Lord said about the Privy Council and I agree with him indeed that we want to preserve the links with the Commonwealth and not sever them. But I am afraid that I can give him no great comfort. Perhaps he will remember that hope springs eternal. The noble Lord rather stunned me when he asked how many cases are pending. I have a note about this on my office desk, but since my return from Kenya I have been preoccupied with ether matters concern- ing Business in the House to-day. I forgot to obtain an answer to my query, but I will do so and let the noble Lord know shortly. I can only thank both noble Lords. The etiquette of the House does not permit me to refer to noble Lords opposite as my noble friends, but I look on them as my noble friends, and certainly, in so far as the welfare of the Commonwealth is concerned, I am sure that their hearts and mine are in the same place and it is a real pleasure to be associated with them this evening.

On Question, Bill read 2a: Committee negatived.

Then, Standing Order No. 41 having been suspended (pursuant to the Resolution of December 12), Bill read 3a, and passed.