HC Deb 15 December 1949 vol 470 cc2884-8
1. Mr. Lennox-Boyd

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations whether he has any statement to make about the discussions which he recently had with visiting Southern Rhodesian Ministers about the possibility of some closer form of political association of the Central African Territories, of Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasa-land.

The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker)

As the answer is long, I propose to make a statement at the end of Questions.


Mr. P. Noel-Baker

As the House is, no doubt, aware, a meeting was held at Victoria Falls in February last, as a result of initiatives taken locally, to discuss the possibility of political federation between Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. It was attended by the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia, together with members of the European Communities from that territory and from Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

No formal report of the proceedings has been published, but there were Press reports that the meeting had agreed on the principle of Federation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies took the opportunity of his visit to Central Africa in April, 1949, to discuss the subject; and he and I have recently had informal exploratory talks about it with the Hon. T. M. W. Beadle, the Southern Rhodesian Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs, during his recent visit to this country.

In the course of a full and frank exchange of views with Mr. Beadle, my right hon. Friend and I have made it clear that His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom believe that there is a wide field of Government activity in which closer co-operation between the three Territories is required. It was with this purpose that the Central African Council was set up in 1945, and His Majesty's Government consider that valuable practical results have been obtained, at modest cost, by the Council. They believe that the field of co-operation can with advantage be further extended. The Government of Southern Rhodesia, are understood to hold the view that the Central African Council's work is disappointing in relation to its cost, and that further progress cannot be made without some form of closer political association.

My right hon. Friend and I have pointed out that His Majesty's Government are bound to take into account the difficulties inherent in political federation between these three territories, in particular, the obligations of the United Kingdom Government to the Africans in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, the differing constitutional status of the three territories, and the present objection of the Africans in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland to political integration. I may add that these are matters on which we shall wish to obtain the views of the Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland Governments, and we shall also wish to consider the report of the recent debate in the Northern Rhodesian Legislative Council.

We have suggested to Mr. Beadle that the Government of Southern Rhodesia should re-examine the situation in the light of the difficulties to which I have referred in regard to political federation; should also consider further the methods available for closer economic co-operation, either by means of the Central African Council or otherwise, and should let us have a further statement of their views. We shall, of course, be ready to discuss the matter further with them, and with representatives of the Governments and Legislative Councils of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, whenever they desire.

I should add that Mr. Beadle has seen the terms of this reply, and he agrees that it represents the results of our recent talks.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman two questions. First, I assume that the Government do not dissent from the view expressed in 1939 by the Bledisloe Commission that the identity of interest of these three territories will lead sooner or later to political union. Secondly, is it agreed that the Central African Council, which is a very important step on this road to unity, should be encouraged in every way, as well as any other practicable extension of the field of co-operation?

Mr. Noel-Baker

As to the Bledisloe Report, I do not want to forecast the far future. I am now concerned with the steps which ought to be taken at present. With regard to the Central African Council, we certainly would desire to promote its efficiency if it can give good results, as we hope and believe it can.

Mr. Driberg

In so far as this would be a step towards self-government, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that there will be no constitutional change while there is still a risk that the status of the African peoples in these territories would be, under self-government, permanently inferior?

Mr. Noel-Baker

I think the answer which I have given shows that His Majesty's Government must regard it as one of their primary duties to take account of their obligations to the African population and to the wishes of the Africans.

Mr. Wilson Harris

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what are the respective numbers of the white and native populations in the non-self-governing territories of Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia?

Mr. Noel-Baker

In round figures there are 29,000 Europeans and 1,700,000 Africans in Northern Rhodesia. In Nyasaland there are 2,500 Europeans and 2,300,000 Africans.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

In- view of the speech made by Sir Godfrey Huggins, the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia, reported in "The Times" about a week ago, can we be assured first that, in fact, His Majesty's Government have not snubbed the Government of Southern Rhodesia, and secondly, that the views of the Government of Southern Rhodesia upon this native problem have indeed been understood as well as examined by His Majesty's Government?

Mr. Noel-Baker

I hope we have understood their views. In any case, we have asked them for a fuller statement of their views, and for their views on the difficulties which I enumerated this afternoon. Mr, Beadle has assured me that they will be ready to give us that further statement.

Mr. Bramall

Would my right hon. Friend assure the House that there is no truth in the statement that Sir Godfrey Huggins made that there were differences in the United Kingdom Government on the subject? Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that His Majesty's Government are united behind the view that the interests of the African peoples must be paramount?

Mr. Noel-Baker

I think the statement I have made this afternoon shows that His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom are united. I do not want to make any comment on what was said by Sir Godfrey Huggins.

Sir Ian Fraser

While desiring as much as any the advancement of the indigenous native peoples, may I ask will the right hon. Gentleman have in mind that if we must wait until the Africans are competent to take a full share in modern Government, then the great conception of a Dominion in the centre of Africa will be very long delayed?

Mr. Noel-Baker

I think I have made it plain that we think there is a large field of governmental activity in which co-operation could be advanced without political union, but we have promised to consider what is further said by the Government of Southern Rhodesia about political union.

Mr. H. D. Hughes

Could my right hon. Friend give any further details of the cost of the Central African Council and the result of its work so far?

Mr. Noel-Baker

We think that the Central African Council has produced practical results in a large number of fields—broadcasting, meteorology, the tourist industry, African education, currency board, agriculture, forestry, veterinary science, civil aviation and other things. The cost is about £35,000 a year of which Southern Rhodesia pays half.

Sir Wavell Wakefield

Can the right hon. Gentleman state in what directions it is envisaged that there will be closer co-operation and further development of the work of this Central African Council?

Mr. Noel-Baker

In general economic policy, in scientific research, in co-operation for production and so on.