HC Deb 13 June 1951 vol 488 cc2315-21
The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. James Griffiths)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to make a statement. I apologise for its length.

The need for bringing about a closer association between Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland has been discussed for many years; but the problem has hitherto proved difficult of solution. In 1945 there was established, in the Central African Council, machinery designed to promote contact and co-ordination of policy between the Governments of the three Territories in matters of common interest to them. The Council is purely advisory and the arrangement has proved inadequate to its purpose. There is an increasing need for some form of closer association between the three territories in the interests of their economic development, and of the prosperity and well-being of their inhabitants.

As I announced in my statement of 8th November, 1950, it was agreed between His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and the three Central African Governments, that senior officials from all four Governments should meet together to undertake a fresh examination of the problem in all its aspects, and to see whether it was possible to formulate proposals which they could recommend to their respective Governments. I made it clear that adequate opportunity would be afforded for public discussion of any proposals that might be put forward, and that full account would be taken of African opinion in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland before any change affecting African interests could be considered.

The officials met accordingly in conference during March, 1951. Their Report, which is published today as Cmd. 8233, and which is being simultaneously issued by the other Governments concerned, is unanimous on all points. Its main recommendation is that closer association between the three Territories ought to be brought about and that the need for this is urgent.

It recommends further that this should be done not by amalgamation of the Territories, but on a federal basis; and puts forward in some detail a scheme framed to take account of the special features of the Central African situation, including the self-governing status of Southern Rhodesia, and designed in particular to provide substantial safeguards for the interests of Africans.

Moreover, those matters most closely affecting the life of Africans would, under the proposals in the Report, come within the territorial and not within the federal sphere; and within the territorial sphere the Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland Governments would remain responsible as at present, to His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom.

Simultaneously with the Report there are also being published an up-to-date comparative survey of native policy in the three Central African territories (Cmd. 8235) and a geographical, historical and economic survey (Cmd. 8234).

Neither His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom nor the other Governments concerned are at this stage committing themselves to acceptance of any of the particular proposals in the Report, which is published as a basis for consideration and discussion. His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, however, wish to say now that the proposals appear to them to embody a constructive approach to the problem which deserves the careful consideration of all the peoples and Governments concerned.

When there has been time for this consideration, I hope to visit the Central African Territories with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations. In Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland I should of course discuss the matter fully with representatives of the European and African inhabitants and other communities. The Government of Southern Rhodesia would by that time have received indications of the attitude of the inhabitants of that territory and this information would be available for the purpose of discussions which my right hon. Friend would have with Southern Rhodesian Ministers.

Finally, in the light of these discussions, we should both attend a conference with Southern Rhodesian Ministers and representatives of the Governments and European and African communities of the two northern Territories. These deliberations would be of material help to the several Governments and Legislatures concerned, before whom the matter would in due course come for consideration.

In issuing this Report for public consideration and discussion I wish on behalf of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom to make it clear that, in relation to our responsibilities in Central Africa, we adhere fully to the policy which has been repeatedly stated with the assent of all parties. Our ultimate objective is self-government within the Commonwealth, but self-government must include proper provision for both Europeans and Africans.

We have set Africans on the path of political, social and economic progress and it is our task to help them forward in that development so that they may take their full part with the rest of the community in the political and economic life of the territories. The Report records the strong and unanimous belief of all members of the Conference that economic and political partnership between Europeans and Africans is the only policy which can succeed in the conditions of Central Africa. His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom have been glad to note that the Conference have given expression to this very important principle as forming the basis for their proposals.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I think the whole House would agree that the right hon. Gentleman has made a statement today which may well have historic consequences. While obviously neither the Government nor the Opposition can commit themselves at this stage to the details of the proposals which have been made, I think we all alike agree that the recommendations are unanimous, which is an altogether remarkable and significant fact.

We welcome the view expressed by the Government, with which we agree, that this represents a constructive approach. The only question I should like to ask is whether the use of the words "constructive approach" means that we can assume that, given the understanding and support of the people in the Territories concerned, His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom will be glad to see action taken in accordance with the principles recommended in this Report?

Mr. Griffiths

When I made the statement last November, that we proposed to set up this Conference of officials, and that we should submit their Report, I made it clear then—and I stand by that pledge now—that before His Majesty's Government come to consider and decide on this matter, we must have full consultation with all those who are concerned. What I have said is that we are publishing the Report today. We ask everyone to consider it on its merits, and before any decisions are taken I propose, with my colleagues, to consult the people in the Territories.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I do not want to press the right hon. Gentleman unduly, but I asked whether, given the understanding and support of the people in the Territories, we could take it that His Majesty's Government would like to see action taken on these lines?

Mr. Griffiths

I think I had better leave it where it is. I have carried out fully the pledge I gave last November.

Mr. Aneurin Bevan

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that public opinion in this country is at present extremely sensitive on all matters relating to racial discrimination in South Africa? Will he give an assurance that, before the Government's policy is intimated to any of the parties concerned, an opportunity will be given in the House to have a full debate?

Mr. Griffiths

The question whether the House will or will not debate it is, as my right hon. Friend knows, a matter for the Leader of the House. All I would say is that if a debate takes place, I can see that there may be advantages in it, but I should like to point out that we propose in the not-too-distant future—we think in September—to visit the Territories. We have given an indication that before His Majesty's Government make decisions there shall be consultation. If a debate is held, I hope that it will be on the understanding that we shall not be able to announce the policy of His Majesty's Government on the matter.

Mr. Clement Davies

I think the right hon. Gentleman has made it quite clear, but so that it may be beyond all doubt, may I ask whether it is not the position that the Government are not making any decision today whatever, and are reserving the matter until an opportunity has been given to the right hon. Gentleman and his colleague to go out to Africa and consult, on the spot? Then, does it merely amount to this, that the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman is merely an introduction to the document which has been published today?

Mr. Griffiths

The document which is being published today is one on which we have expressed the view that it is a constructive approach to the problem, and one worthy of the consideration of everybody. The Government are not committed to any of the proposals.

Mr. Eden

With respect, is it not rather more than that? Is it not really a very remarkable and a very encouraging thing that there should have been this measure of agreement in the matter in this way? While the House must, of course, reserve its right, we must also be careful not to suggest that nothing at all has happened, as otherwise we may lose the gain that we have made.

Mr. Griffiths

I used the words of the Report that it was a constructive approach because I think it is significant that the Report is a unanimous Report of all the officials.

Mr. John Hynd

May I reinforce what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) and tell the Minister that a tremendous development of this kind should not be entered into without the House having a full opportunity of debate? With regard to consulting African opinion, my right hon. Friend is aware, I think, that there is widespread misapprehension among the Africans in these Territories, however ill-founded, about this development, and when my right hon. Friend says that African opinion has been consulted, will he assure us that not only official representatives on the Legislative Councils and the chiefs have been consulted, but that the popular African organisations, such as the Nyasaland African Congress, have been consulted and will be consulted in these matters? Will he also bear in mind that there will be considerable misgivings at the fact that the Africans in Nyasaland are not represented at all?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is debating the document at length. Surely, we might read it first and see what is in it, and then debate it later.

Mr. Griffiths

I did not say that we had consulted African opinion. What I said was that we propose before considering the Report in detail to consult African opinion, and, of course, I shall be very glad of the privilege and opportunity of meeting all African representatives and individual Africans for that purpose.

Sir Ian Fraser

In view of the supreme importance of friendly understanding in the Commonwealth, can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that discussions will take place between His Majesty's Government and the Government of the Union of South Africa?

Hon. Members


Mr. Griffiths

I think that the discussions which will take place in regard to the statement I have made today will be with the Governments of Southern Rhodesia, Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia, and with no other Governments.

Earl Winterton

As one who has for many years represented the opinions of the white settlers in Northern Rhodesia, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that we have always been in favour of the fullest consultation, and that, therefore, we are in complete agreement with what he said. So far as I know, no one in Northern Rhodesia wants consultation with the Union on this matter.

Mr. Driberg

Whatever decision His Majesty's Government eventually arrive at, will my right hon. Friend take particularly painstaking care about this matter of consulting African opinion, bearing in mind that it may obviously not be altogether easy, in the local circumstances, for him to arrive at what that opinion really is?

Mr. Griffiths

I certainly will. I have just returned from Kenya and Uganda, and I think that if my hon. Friend will make inquiries he will find that I took special pains to consult African opinion in the fullest possible way, and I will do so similarly in this case.