Colonial Affairs.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 4th August 1942.

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Photo of Mr Benjamin Riley Mr Benjamin Riley , Dewsbury

This House sanctions the constitution under which the franchise has hitherto been exercised. Be that as it may, I want to refer to the proposals which have so far emanated from the Colonial Office to meet the demand arising in Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados and British Guiana for greater participation in responsible government in those Colonies. In March, 1940, Lord Moyne, then Colonial Secretary, issued a scheme to the Jamaican Legislature in which he made two proposals. The first—an excellent proposal, which is now going on—was that there should be a revision of the franchise in Jamaica and that it should be placed on the basis of universal suffrage. Along with that proposal he included a plan by which the, Legislative Council in Jamaica, which had 30 members, only 14 of whom were elected—the rest consisting either of the Governor and his officials and nominated members—would be increased to 40 members, 28 of whom should be elected. The rest were to be nominated by the Governor. But in that proposal, which was submitted first in March, 1940, there was no suggestion that the Legislative Council in Jamaica should have any control whatever over the Executive Council of that Colony. That proposal was submitted and was turned down by the elected members of the Jamaica Legislative Council. Then in January of this year a second proposal was sent out which is still hanging fire there. The second proposal was that the Legislative Council of 40, with 28 elected on a popular franchise, should have the right to elect a certain number to the Executive Council in an advisory capacity, but that the Government should retain the right of veto and of certification of any legislation on which they thought it necessary to exercise that right.

The issue which is facing the Jamaicans, as it is facing other Colonies in the West Indies, and in regard to which it is important that this Imperial Parliament should make its position quite clear, is whether the real essence of responsible Government is to be conceded, Whether the constitution is to be so amended that not only will there be a majority of elected members on the Council, but also that it will have the right to exercise responsibility in connection with administration. I am not suggesting that in all cases there could be completely responsible Government. I am not suggesting now that, even in Jamaica, the Governor, in certain circumstances, should not have the right of veto if he thought it advisable. What I am suggesting is that you will never satisfy the developing public opinion in Jamaica, which demands some share of responsible government instead of dependence upon the official elements composing the Governor's Council, until they are given the right of carrying through proposals from an elected council to an executive council, with responsibility to see that they are made effective. It might be that, in the last resort, if some measure of responsible government were conceded, the Government veto might be retained, with the right of appeal by the elected Legislative Council to the Secretary of State in case of dispute.