Power dynamics in the age of universal adult suffrage.
Memorandum by the Secretary of State for the Colonies
The People's United Party (P. U. P.) have gained an overwhelming victory in the elections held on 28th April, and won 8 out of the 9 seats. There was a very high poll, averaging over 70 per cent of the electorate, and the P. U. P. won 64 per cent of the votes cast. The P. U. P. thus have a majority of one in the Legislative Assembly, which will consist of a nominated Speaker (who has neither an original nor a casting vote), 3 officials, 3 nominated unofficials and 9 elected members.
2. We have now to consider whether to go on with the second stage of the constitutional plan. This involves the reconstitution of the Governor's Executive Council, so that it will consist of 3 ex-officio members and 6 members elected by the Legislative Assembly - 4 from among the elected and 2 from among the nominated members. (This means that 4 P. U. P. members will be elected to the Executive Council.) The Executive Council will become the principal instrument of policy and the Governor will be required, except in an emergency, to act in accordance with its advice. The elected members, however, will not be designated Ministers or be given administrative charge of Government Departments.
3. The Governor proposes to appoint as nominated members of the Legislative Assembly 3 substantial citizens who can be relied upon to oppose any extreme measures sponsored by the P. U. P. Of these, 2 will have to be elected to the Executive Council and these members may be expected to vote with the 3 officials on any crucial issue. This will place the P. U. P. in a minority of one, and even if through illness or some other cause the voting was even the Governor as Chairman still retains a casting vote. It should thus be possible to carry on day-to-day administration without yielding to P. U. P. pressure and without recourse to the use of the Governor's reserve powers in the Executive Council.
4. I consider that the P. U. P. members can do relatively little harm in the Executive Council. Their presence there gives some chance, though it does not guarantee, that Government measures will be accepted by the Legislative Assembly without the constant use of the Governor's reserve powers. I do not think that we can very well deny the promised reconstitution of the Executive Council. To do so would precipitate an immediate crisis and we should be open to criticism for not having given the P. U. P. a chance to co-operate. The Governor strongly argues that we should go ahead as planned, and I agree. I consider, however, that:-
(a) The P. U. P. leaders must first give definite and satisfactory assurances that they are prepared to co-operate in working the constitution. The Governor is confident that these assurances will be forthcoming.
(b) Representatives of the unofficial members of the Executive Council (not exclusively of the P. U. P. members) should be invited to visit London soon, accompanied by the Governor if he thinks this desirable for talks on the future progress and development of the Colony. This would give an opportunity of testing the willingness of the P. U. P. to co-operate and of reinforcing the Governor's efforts to win them over to a responsible attitude.
5. It is possible, perhaps even probable, that sooner or later the P. U. P. leaders will prove intransigent and that the constitution will break down. If that is so, and it becomes necessary to take action to substitute some other form of constitutional machinery, we shall be on strong ground to face criticism, having given the P. U. P. a fair chance to co-operate.
6. British Honduras is a country the size of Wales with a population of only 70,000. The real problem of the Colony is its economic development. I feel that the political situation has been unduly played up in the Press, and we should try to put it in its true perspective.
7. I recommend that subject to receiving the assurances referred to in paragraph 4(a) I should announce in the House of Commons that the planned second stage of the constitution will go ahead.
Colonial Office, S. W. I.
15th May, 1954.