HC Deb 18 November 1930 vol 245 cc393-402

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. T. Kennedy.]


I am sorry to have to trouble the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies so soon after his return from a serious illness, but the matter I wish to raise is, in my opinion, of considerable importance. I gave notice to the Member of the Government who was acting on the Under-Secretary's behalf during his illness. This matter is concerned in some degree with the issue of the Command Paper entitled, "Memorandum on Native Policy in East Africa." There is obviously not time to deal with that very important subject to-night. I can only say that this is the first time it has come up in the House of Commons, that the issue of that Paper has caused perturbation to the European population of every colony affected, that that perturbation has been shared by the people of Southern Rhodesia and by the people of the Union, and that unless the situation is handled more tactfully by the Colonial Office in the future than it has been in the past, it is likely to lead to an Imperial crisis of the first magnitude, as hon. Members who read the speech of General Hertzog, the Prime Minister of South Africa, will readily realise.

As far as the particular point, which, relates to Northern Rhodesia and Northern Rhodesia alone, is concerned, the situation is as follows: I ought perhaps at the outset to say that I have been for many years connected in many ways with Northern Rhodesia, and that I have been asked by the unofficial members of the Legislative Council there to submit their point of view to this House in view of the fact that they do not enjoy a semblance of responsible government. I consider that it is right that their point of view should he put. As a result of the issue of this Command Paper, the unofficial members of the Legislative Council met in conference the unofficial members of the Legislative Council of Southern Rhodesia, and the joint conference passed several resolutions strongly condemnatory of the views put forward in the Command Paper. At that conference there was a discussion upon the subject of the amalgamation of the two Rhodesia under the existing constitution of Southern Rhodesia but no actual resolution was passed. Following the conference the unofficial members 0r the Northern Rhodesia Legislative Council sent a telegram on the 30th September to the Secretary of State for the Colonies couched, I venture to think, in perfectly proper and respectful terms, asking the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether, if and when conditions approximating to those which prevailed in Southern Rhodesia at the time of the granting of self-government to that territory prevailed in Northern Rhodesia, His Majesty's Government would accept proposals for the amalgamation of the two Rhodesias emanating from the elective European representatives of the two countries.

On 3rd November I asked the hon. Gentleman who was representing the Under-Secretary a question in the House as to whether a reply had been sent to that telegram. The hon. Gentleman said that no reply had been sent. I further asked him if an acknowledgement had been sent, but I was unable under the necessary limitation imposed at question time to ascertain whether an acknowledgement had been sent or not. The first specific question I wish to ask the Under-Secretary is whether a reply was sent, when it was sent, and in what terms it was couched. If there was delay in sending, either a reply or an acknowledgement, I am bound to characterise the action of the Government as very discourteous to these elected non-official members. If the hon. Lady knew the feeling there is throughout these countries she would not see any cause for merriment.


lit was merriment due to the passing of judgment before you knew the facts.


I want to make this point clear, that, following on the information that this telegram had been sent, the Southern Rhodesian Government, through the Governor of Southern Rhodesia, sent a telegram to the Secretary of State for the Colonies asking whether His Majesty's Government, in the circumstances which had arisen, would agree to a conference in order to discuss this question of amalgamation. On that date, 3rd November, I was informed by the hon. Gentleman who answered for the Under-Secretary, that the Southern Rhodesian Government had been informed that the question could not be decided until the Imperial Conference, and that they would await the receipt of the State Memorandum, which would be sent home by mail by the Governor of Southern Rhodesia, before coming to any decision. That was quite a reasonable attitude to take up, although it seems in all the stronger relief to the curious action of the Government in not sending a detailed reply to the representations of the unofficial members of the Southern Rhodesian Legislative Assembly. My first question, therefore, is, What reply was sent and when was the reply sent?

Secondly, I want to ask the UnderSecretary—and I hope he will give the undertaking—to assure the House that as soon as the Government—and this must be obviously the Cabinet—have had an opportunity of considering the representations sent by the Southern Rhodesian Government, they will make an announcement to the House and the country of what their decision is in the matter. The matter is obviously of great Imperial importance, and I hope that the Government will publish the despatch in a White Paper, with all the relevant information concerning it.

These are the only two questions which I wish to ask, but I would quote words which were used by the Prime Minister of South Africa in connection with the matter, and I would suggest to both sides of the House that the views of the Prime Minister of South Africa in this connection are well worthy of consideration, because they represent the point of view of 1,200,000 Europeans under the British flag in South, Central and East Africa. This is what he said: The first point that I wish to emphasise is: South Africa is our fatherland. If justice is to be done to the South African and to the South African native policy, this should never be forgotten. South Africa is, to us, our fatherland. The Europeans in South Africa are no mere temporary sojourners in a strange land—adventurers out to exploit what is not theirs. Our hearts and our hearths are equally abidingly wrapped up in the bosom of South Africa as our fatherland. The second point is that we in South Africa own as valid and honourable a title to our fatherland as any nation in any country. Does anyone deny that? [Interruption.] Then you deny that the people of the Union of South Africa have any title to their own country.


What about the Africans?


I am not concerned with the Africans at the moment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I have asked a question and I would like to have a reply not from hon. Members on the back benches opposite but from a responsible person on the Socialist benches. Do you deny the claim of General Hertzog? General Hertzog went on to say: I do not think therefore, that we can be blamed if we insist upon our country and our civilisation being secured unto us. Those are the views, not only of General Hertzog, but of his opponents, and everybody under the British flag in the Union of South Africa and in Africa. Despite what is said in this country, the settlers who are affected by this Memorandum have no hostility towards the African races. On the contrary, they know that they must live in amity side by side with them. It is only certain people in this country who suggest that conflict of interest arises. I can only say in conclusion that I think it is a deplorable thing that at a time when it is of the utmost importance, for economic if for no other reasons, that we should be on good terms with Britons in every part of the Empire, the Government should have taken the line which they have taken of publishing a Memorandum which is not couched in language that was very tactful or very proper to use at that particular moment.

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Dr. Drummond Shiels)

I have, in the first place, to thank the Noble Earl for his considerate words at the beginning of his speech. They were characteristic of the generosity of the House of Commons. The Noble Earl has raised some very important issues, and it is very regrettable that the time is so short in which to attempt to do justice to them. He referred first to the question of the Native Policy Memorandum. I would pont out that that is only the application to particular cases of the principles laid down in the 1923 White Paper issued by the Conservative Government of that day. That White Paper, like the Memorandum, was in line with the traditional British policy, which I hope will never be departed from. This policy has been consistently carried out by the Noble Earl's own Government since Northern Rhodesia was taken over in 1924 from the British South Africa Company, and I do not think that any alteration is necessarily involved by the announcement of the present Government's policy. I can understand the Noble Earl in his anxiety to put up as good a case as possible for the views on native policy of the unofficial members of the Northern Rhodesian Legislative Council, but let me just give one or two points from the recent Memorandum submitted to the Secretary of State on this subject, which I think will show that it will be very difficult for the Noble Earl to support that for which they stand. They say, for example: The British Empire is primarily concerned with the furtherance of the interests of (1) British subjects of British race; and only thereafter with (2) other British subjects, (3) protected races, and (4) the nationals of other countries, in that order. Another point they make is this: The assumption of trusteeship by the Imperial Government is uncalled for and undesirable. Another point is that the British settlers of Northern Rhodesia do not accept the White Paper of 1923, the one which was issued by the Conservative Government, and they call for a withdrawal or modification of the Native Policy Memorandum, and ask for a conference. I have not time to read the reply, but needless to say no encouragement was given to any suggestion that the policy laid down in our Native Policy Memorandum could be departed from.


I suppose that the Under-Secretary, as he has quoted from this document, will follow the ordinary procedure of the House, and lay it upon the Table? I must raise that as a point of Order.


My time is short. The Noble Earl has referred also to the opinion expressed by General Hertzog in regard to several of these matters. This is not the time or the place to deal with the large issues which that raises. I think, however, that the Noble Earl will agree that if South Africa is to take an interest in our native policy there would be grounds for our taking a corresponding interest in their native policy. I say no more than that. In regard to the next point, the question of the future of Northern Rhodesia, I would remind the House that the Legislative Council of Northern Rhodesia consists of 17 members. Of these 10 are officials of the Government and the remaining seven are unofficial European members. Following the reply of the Secretary of State to that Memorandum to which I have referred, some of these unofficial members, I think the number was five, intimated their desire for immediate amalgamation of Northern with Southern Rhodesia. On the 30th September they sent a message through the Governor to the Secretary of State asking that amalgamation should be considered and whether representations would be considered from a joint body of unofficial members. I regret that this message was not, for some reason, acknowledged at once. The Governor had to be consulted before a reply could be sent, but a preliminary acknowledgment should have been sent. I regret this oversight very much. A reply was sent on 14th November to the effect that the reply had been delayed pending the receipt of the Governor's observations, and that these; had now been received. They were also informed that a communication from the Government of Southern Rhodesia to His Majesty's Government had been received and was under consideration. It was pointed out to them, with regard to the views of any joint body, that we could only receive representations through the Governor of Northern Rhodesia from persons residing in the Protectorate. In regard to Southern Rhodesia, the proposal of the Governor—


What does the hon. Gentleman mean exactly by "persons representing the Protectorate'? Does he mean representing constituencies, or elected by the Assembly?


The idea was that we should receive representations from a joint body consisting of unofficial members from Northern Rhodesia with unofficial members from Southern Rhodesia. The proposal of the Government of Southern Rhodesia to His Majesty's Government was received on the 2nd October. It was suggested that the Conference should discuss the possibility of the amalgamation of Northern with Southern Rhodesia. The Colonial Government was informed by the Secretary of State far Dominion Affairs on 17th October that their proposal would be considered as soon as possible. As the Noble Lord has said, the Imperial Conference has taken up a. great deal of the time of the Dominions Office, and it has not been possible to deal with the matter. Besides, I would remind him that probably, after the Dominions Office has considered it, joint consultations with other Departments will be necessary, and probably higher authority later on will have to be consulted.

I think it is obvious that it would not be fair to convene a conference unless His Majesty's Government felt that they could take part in. such a conference with some prospect of agreement. If a conference were held doubtless it would be a conference of Governments who would decide their own representation. I can assure the Noble Lord that no avoidable delay will take place in giving full con- sideration to the representations which have been made, but I cannot say that there is any very great urgency in the matter. There are very large and important questions with many ramifications involving consideration both political and economic, and we must proceed with caution and care. I am sure the Noble Earl will agree that that is so. I would have been very glad to have dealt more fully with these matters, but it has not been possible. I must say, however, that if the elected members of Northern Rhodesia persist in their opposition to this White Paper and maintain their policy, an example of which I have given, I certainly will do all I can to make their efforts of no avail, and I should hope and expect to receive the Noble Earl's assistance.

Brigadier - General Sir HENRY CROFT

In the minute remaining before the House adjourns, may t call attention to the statement of the hon. Gentleman when he mentioned the question of the native policy and the White Paper, with regard to the question described as paramountcy? He suggested that in future it might be necessary to interfere with labour policy in the Union of South Africa and. I wish to enter a caveat.


I must point out that I never said that.


I am very glad to hear it. Certainly I and those around me thought that that was his statement. I want to say that we can make no greater blunder in this 'House than to fail to realise that you cannot alter the position in regard to the natives in the eastern territories of Africa without taking into consultation the people of the Union of South Africa.

It being half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.