HC Deb 09 July 1937 vol 326 cc737-42
1. Captain Peter Macdonald

asked the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, whether he has seen the announcement by General Hertzog regarding the High Commission territories in South Africa; and whether he has any statement to make on the matter?

The Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs (Mr. Malcolm MacDonald)

Yes, Sir. I have seen the Press Reports of General Hertzog's statement. Clearly, there has been some misunderstanding with regard to this matter. General Hertzog is reported as saying that when he raised the question of transfer of the Territories in 1926, he was told by the responsible Ministers here that the time was not then propitious inter alia because of the imminence of a General Election in this country. There is no record here to this effect. Indeed, no such reason could have been given, because no election was pending at that time, and none, in fact, took place until nearly three years later.

As regards General Hertzog's statement that in 1935 he was given a written assurance in which the prospect was set out that transfer would possibly occur after a few years at least so far as one or two of the Territories are concerned, this, of course, refers to the agreement which was reached between General Hertzog and my predecessor that year and which is embodied in the aide mémoire published as Cmd. 4948. The aide mémoire states that the policy of both Governments for the next few years should be directed to bringing about a situation in which if transfer were to become a matter of practical politics, it could be effected with the full aquiescence of the populations concerned. With this end in view it was proposed that the closest possible co-operation should be established between the Union Government and the Administration of the Territories. In July of last year General Hertzog concurred in my informing the House that there was no agreement or understanding that the transfer of the Territories, or any of them, should take place in any specified time, and that he agreed with the view of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom that it was essential to the success of the policy of co-operation that it should not be hurried, and that until the policy had had a fair trial any predictions as to the period within which it might be expected to succeed in bringing about the situation which the two Governments had in mind when the aidememoire was issued must necessarily be in the nature of conjecture.

I am sorry that General Hertzog should feel that there has been a failure on the part of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom to carry out an undertaking given in 1935 regarding the instructions to be sent to the officials in the Territories for implementing this policy. Here, also. there must be some misunderstanding, for, as was stated by my predecessor in the House at the time, the instructions to the High Commissioner in connection with the agreement of that year were shown to General Hertzog before they were sent, and he concurred in their terms.

I had two conversations with General Hertzog on this subject while he was in this country recently, at the second of which Mr. Havenga was also present. General Hertzog pressed the view that the process of transferring the Territories to the Union should begin in the near future. I explained that the situation described in the aide-memoire had not yet greatly altered. I made it clear that His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom adhered without any qualification to the terms of the agreement which had been reached between him and my predecessor, and I undertook to consider carefully what further steps were now practicable to implement that policy. At the conclusion of our talks General Hertzog and I agreed that after his return to South Africa we should communicate further with each other regarding this.

His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom are determined to carry out loyally the policy which was agreed two years ago, and I share the hope which General Hertzog has expressed that the question may be solved—in the best interests of all the peoples concerned—in friendly co-operation.

Mr. Arthur Henderson

Will not a very serious constitutional position arise if General Hertzog carries out his threat to take action in the South African Parliament, and, in view of the position under Section 151 of the 1909 Act, will not the Dominions Secretary immediately get into touch with General Hertzog in order to avoid future discord or trouble?

Mr. MacDonald

As I said at the end of the answer which I have just given, I am going to get into touch with General Hertzog. It was agreed that I should communicate with him further regarding this whole question. I must leave it at that.

Mr. Attlee

I take it that there is no question of handing over the Protectorates against the will of the people?

Mr. MacDonald

We shall, of course, adhere to the pledge that was given that the transfer will not take place until the local populations have been consulted.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

As statments have been made in the papers issued on different dates, and as a charge of unkept promises has been preferred, will my right hon. Friend consider the advisability of publishing in a White Paper all the relevant documents?

Mr. MacDonald

I will certainly consider that possibility. I am not sure that anything that has not been published before requires publication now. It might be convenient to bring all the documents together. All I can say is that I will consider it.

Captain Macdonald

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that these reports of the speech made by General Hertzog are authentic, and that the speech was made without his communicating, as he said he would, with the Dominions Office first?

Mr. MacDonald

General Hertzog did not give any undertaking that he would communicate to me any statements that he wished to make. I do not want to suggest that there has been any breach in that respect. The agreement merely was that I should first communicate with him regarding possible further practical steps for carrying out the policy. So far as the statement which General Hertzog is reported to have made is concerned, I can only say that I have seen only the newspaper reports so far.

Mr. Creech Jones

In view of the reflection on British administration in the Protectorates, would it not be well for a statement to be made giving up-to-date information as to the policy of His Majesty's Government with regard to the economic and social development of the Protectorates; and, further, would it not be well that the South African Government should understand clearly that neither the natives nor this House will consent to the transfer of these Protectorates as long as the principle operating in native legislation is non-equality as between black and white in their own territories?

Mr. MacDonald

With regard to the first part of the Question, there are annual reports published regarding our policy in the Territories. They are brought out as soon as they can possibly be framed by the authorities. There is additional information with regard to the expenditure on development works in the reports of the Colonial Development Fund Committee. I think that all the information that is required is really contained in those documents. Beyond that, I do not think I could add anything to the statement I have already made.

Mr. David Grenfell

In view of the Minister's statement that he was pressed by General Hertzog to expedite the negotiations, and in view of General Hertzog's statement in South Africa reporting the conversations that have taken place in this country, is it not necessary that the House should be placed in possession of all the relevant information before a situation arises which might be very difficult indeed for this country? Is it not now urgent that this matter should not only be made the subject of a White Paper, but of a possible discussion in the House?

Mr. MacDonald

I have promised to consider the question whether any further publication of documents is necessary. I hope that no situation which is very difficult is going to arise.

Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

Does the phrase "consultation with the people of the Protectorates " mean that their consent must be obtained before the transfer takes place, or is it meant to convey that they will be consulted, but that their wishes will not necessarily be accepted? Is it the case that the recent conversations which the right hon. Gentleman had with General Hertzog were put in writing and a. note of them sent to General Hertzog and agreed by him?

Mr. MacDonald

With regard to the first part of the question, His Majesty's Government's pledges in the matter have been set down in writing. They are well known, and I do not think I need add to them. We shall adhere to those pledges. With regard to the second part of the supplementary question, as my answer said, before the letter containing the instructions was sent to the High Commissioner, General Hertzog saw the letter.

Mr. Attlee

Will the right hon Gentleman answer the specific question as to the meaning of "consultation"? What does "consultation" mean?

Mr. MacDonald

"Consultation" means consultation. I do not think I can add to that.

Mr. Attlee

That is not really good enough. Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether these people are to be transferred against their consent, or whether their consent is to be obtained before transfer? It is a perfectly clear point.

Mr. MacDonald

I do not want to escape any point at all. I think the best answer I can give is that the matter rests in the hands of this House. There are the two pledges—first with regard to consultation with the local populations, and, second, that transfer cannot take place until Parliament has been given an opportunity of expressing its views. It will, therefore, be for Parliament to express its views as to what "consultation" means when the occasion arises.

Mr. Attlee

Will there be an opportunity before the House rises of having this matter discussed so that we can be clear what is happening?

Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I understand that the matter is to be discussed in the House.