HC Deb 13 April 1937 vol 322 cc772-3
25. Major Milner

asked the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs whether his attention has been called to the Native Law and Courts Bill to be introduced into the legislature of Southern Rhodesia, and which deprives natives of the benefit of the statute law of the Colony relating to the age of majority, the status of women, the effect of marriage on the property of the spouses, the guardianship of children, and the administration of deceased estates; and, seeing that this provision will be likely to cause hardship to civilised natives who prefer European law to native custom, whether the proposed legislation has the approval of the Government?

Mr. MacDonald

I think that the hon. Member is under a misapprehension in supposing that the Bill deprives natives in the Colony of existing benefits. The Bill does not do more than clarify the present position which is that, in civil cases between natives, courts in general apply native law so far as this is not repugnant to natural justice or morality. I understand that the great majority of natives prefer to have their civil cases dealt with under the provisions of native law. The position of educated natives is specifically safeguarded by the provision (which is new) in Section 13 of the Bill which enables the chief native commissioner to exempt individual natives, at their request, from the application of native law.

Major Milner

Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that the position of educated natives will in no way be worsened by this Bill?

Mr. MacDonald

I think the answer which I have given conveys that assurance.

Lieut.-Colonel Moore

Will my right hon. Friend tell us exactly what he understands by the term "deceased estates"?

Mr. Paling

Does the hon. Member think it is in accord with British justice that natives should not be allowed to move about freely in their own country without getting a permit to do it?