HC Deb 29 March 1938 vol 333 cc1807-12
5. Mr. Ammon

asked the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs whether he is yet in a position to make any statement as regards the discussions with the Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa relating to the High Commission Territories in South Africa?

6. Mr. Creech Jones

asked the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs whether he can now make a statement on the subject of recent discussions with the Government of the Union of South Africa on the High Commission Territories?

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

Yes, Sir. As a result of these discussions the (2) the number of tons of coal cut by coal-cutting machines in Durham County during the years 1935, 1936, and 1937, respectively?

Captain Crookshank

As these questions involve a number of figures, I will, with the hon. Member's permission, answer them together by circulating a statement in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Following is the information:

Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa and I have agreed upon a joint statement, which I propose to make, with the Speaker's permission, at the end of Questions.

At the end of Questions:

Mr. MacDonald

General Hertzog and I took the opportunity of his visit to England in May and June last to discuss the situation in regard to the transfer to the Union of the Government of the High Commission Territories and have since continued our communications on the subject. As regards the principles involved, His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom entirely accept the view expressed by General Hertzog in a speech in London in May, 1935, that Section 151 of the South Africa Act (which deals with the transfer of the Government of the High Commission Territories to the Union) has a meaning and intention. His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom fully recognise the significance of the Section and do not seek to minimise it. At the same time the position of the United Kingdom Government is also governed by the pledges which were given during the passage of the South Africa Bill through the United Kingdom Parliament in 1909, namely, that transfer should not take place until the wishes of the natives of the Territories had been most carefully considered, and that before such transfer the United Kingdom Parliament should be given the fullest opportunity of expressing its views.

Bearing these fundamental conditions in mind, General Hertzog and I have been jointly studying what is the best and most practical course to pursue. We have especially had under consideration the progress made with the policy of cooperation adopted three years ago, the aim of which as set out in the Aide Mémoire of 1935 was to demonstrate to the peoples of the territories that "the Union Government are working in concert with the local administrations with a real and generous desire to develop and improve conditions in the territories." It seems to us that, putting aside for the moment large financial schemes, there is room for a closer co-operation on lines which have not yet been fully explored. We have therefore agreed to constitute a standing joint advisory conference consisting of the Secretary for Native Affairs and two other officers of the Union Government together with the Resident Commissioners of the three High Commission Territories, whose function it will be to study openings for co-operation between the Union Government and the administrations in matters affecting the development of the territories and to consider any matters of joint concern to the Union and the territories such as prevention and control of animal diseases, marketing of produce, prevention of bubonic plague, etc. The establishment of this Advisory Conference would not, of course, affect the present responsibility of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom for the government of the territories.

It has also seemed to us desirable that the peoples of the territories should have before them a clear picture of the terms on which the transfer of the Government would take place, if decided upon. Such terms would naturally follow closely the provisions of the Schedule to the South Africa Act of 1909, but it seems to us important that His Majesty's Government in the Union should set them out in a more convenient and more complete form, so that the peoples of the territories may appreciate the conditions under which the territories would be governed, the position in regard to the maintenance of the tribal institutions of the natives, the economic advantages which the Union Government anticipate would accrue to the peoples of the territories and any other relevant matters. It has accordingly been arranged that memoranda should be prepared by the Union Government setting forth the terms which they would propose and that these memoranda should be made available for the information of the native and European inhabitants of the territories. We feel that this step will be very helpful in clarifying the whole question.

Mr. Ammon

Can the right hon. Gentleman give any idea when he proposes to appoint the advisory committee; and will he receive their report before any further action is taken and see that it is brought before the House?

Mr. MacDonald

The advisory conference is simply concerned with the details of technical questions outlined in my statement. That conference will be appointed at the earliest possible date, and naturally before taking decisions on matters which come within the purview of that conference, I should like to consider any report or any comment that they wish to make on the matter.

Mr. Lunn

Will it be possible for Members of the House to have copies of the memoranda which are to be made for the guidance of the advisory conference?

Mr. MacDonald

The memoranda are not for the guidance of the advisory conference but for the information of the inhabitants, native and European, within the Territories. They are being prepared by the Union Government, and I do not anticipate that they will be published at a very early date, but certainly, as soon as they are available, I will propose that they should be published in a form which made them easily available to Members of the House.

Mr. Riley

Will there be representatives of the native populations on the advisory conference?

Mr. MacDonald

My statement says that the advisory conference will consist of three officials from the Union Government and the three resident commissioners of the Territories. Naturally the three resident commissioners, who are responsible for government in the Territories and for looking after the interests of the natives, will be well aware of those interests and what they may require.

Mr. Riley

That was not the point I was putting. It was whether on the advisory conference there will be an actual representative of the natives?

Mr. MacDonald

There will be no representation of the natives as such, but that does not mean that the natives' interests will go unrepresented.

Sir Percy Harris

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider publishing a White Paper giving all the relevant points of the history of this matter?

Mr. MacDonald

I will certainly consider that, but it might be more convenient if it were postponed until the memoranda are ready.

Mr. H. G. Williams

May I ask whether the decision to advise natives what will happen when the Territories have been transferred implies a decision that the responsibility for the Territories should be transferred of the Government of the Union, and, if not, why are these memoranda being published?

Mr. MacDonald

The statement says that we recognise the significance of Section 151 of the South Africa Act in which the question of transfer is referred to. There is no further commitment in anything which has happened since beyond the commitment in that section.

Mr. Williams

May I press my right hon. Friend? Why tell the natives what is going to happen unless a decision has already been made that it should happen?

Mr. MacDonald

I think I can describe the situation in this way. There is a good deal of uncertainty as to what would happen to the Territories in a case of transfer. There is even uncertainty as to whether the Union Government would propose to abide by all the provisions of the Schedule to the Act. I think that the memoranda which are being prepared will serve an extremely useful purpose in removing any uncertainty on that question.

Mr. Wedgwood Benn

Do the Government contemplate sooner or later the extension to these native Protectorates of the present native policy of the Union Government?

Mr. MacDonald

I think that all those considerations must wait until we see what is contained in these memoranda which are being prepared.

Mr. Ellis Smith

During the consultations which the right hon. Gentleman had, was consideration given to the large amount of anti-British propaganda which is being carried out, and, if not, will consideration be given to the need for counteracting it?

Mr. MacDonald

I am not aware to what anti-British propaganda the hon. Member refers. These communications were concerned solely with the situation in the High Commission Territories. I am not aware that anti-British propaganda is going on.

Mr. Paling

Can we know why there is no African on this Advisory Conference?

Mr. MacDonald

If the hon. Member will study the reply he will see that the advisory conference is concerned with a good many subjects which can best be considered by experts. I think the composition of the conference is such as will best facilitate an examination of the problems which it will have before it.

Mr. Attlee

Is not a native an expert on the way in which natives live?

Mr. MacDonald

There are all sorts of experts, but they will not all sit on this conference. We have tried to constitute a body which is sufficiently small but sufficiently expert to do the work of the conference expeditiously and thoroughly.

Mr. Paling

Is not the decision to be taken by this conference one which will affect vitally the lives and the welfare of all the natives in those Protectorates, and may it not ultimately mean that they will be taken under the control of the South African Government, with all that that will mean in view of that Government's native policy? Seing that it is so vital to the natives, why cannot they have direct representation there?

Mr. MacDonald

I fully appreciate what hon. Members have in mind, but I do think that the resident commissioners and the other members of the conference are adequately equipped to look after the interests of the natives. If we were to accept the principle that one interest should receive special representation as such, we should be bound to accept the contention that other interests should also have representation.