HC Deb 18 June 1952 vol 502 cc1200-6
The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Oliver Lyttelton)

The House will recall that in the course of a debate on 4th March it was explained that Her Majesty's Government were increasingly conscious of the need to prepare and place before the public as early as possible a definite draft scheme for the federation of Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. The absence of a detailed picture was responsible for many of the anxieties and suspicions that have found expression in some quarters, both in this country and in the three territories, about such a federation.

Her Majesty's Government had therefore decided that the Conference which adjourned at Victoria Falls last September should be invited to re-assemble in London in April, and that its principal task should be the drawing up of a draft constitutional scheme which would take account of the recommendations made in the officials' report in 1951 (Cmd. 8233) and of any modification therein which the Central African Governments might wish to propose.

The Conference duly met on 23rd April at Lancaster House and remained in session until 5th May. My colleague the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and I led the United Kingdom delegation. The Southern Rhodesian delegation included the Prime Minister and other Ministers as well as members of the Opposition Parties and two Africans. The Northern Rhodesian delegation consisted of the Governor and official and unofficial members of the Legislative Council. The Nyasaland delegation included the Governor, senior officials and leading unofficials.

It was a matter of great regret to the Conference and to Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom that African representatives of the African Representative Council of Northern Rhodesia and the African Protectorate Council of Nyasaland who had come to London declined an invitation to participate in the Conference or even to attend as observers. The Conference faced the many difficult issues involved with determination and good will, and a draft federal scheme was agreed upon which is being published today as a White Paper and is now available in the Vote Office.

The Conference also decided to set up three Commissions which during the summer would investigate the financial, administrative and judicial problems attending the establishment of a federation in Central Africa. It is the intention of Her Majesty's Government that, after these Commissions have reported, a further Conference shall be held in Africa later in the year to give final shape to the federal scheme. Her Majesty's Government and the Central African Governments would then decide whether, subject to ratification in the three territories, the scheme in its final shape shall be approved.

It is our earnest hope that meanwhile the public here and in Central Africa, and in particular the leaders of African opinion, will study very carefully the details of the Draft Federal Scheme now published, before they reach conclusions about it. For a summary of the Scheme, I would refer the House to the Preface to the White Paper. I wish to draw special attention to certain features in it.

Why at the outset do we aim at a federal form of government? Members will find on page 3 of the White Paper a statement of the reasons why Her Majesty's Government have rejected the alternative of amalgamation. We believe nevertheless that the closer political association of the three territories is urgently needed in the interests of all their inhabitants. A federal scheme will satisfy that need while at the same time reserving to the separate territorial Governments, which would retain their existing relationship to Her Majesty's Government, the handling of those matters affecting most closely the day-to-day life of the African. That is a fundamental feature of the scheme which should appeal to African opinion.

In order to ensure that a close and effective watch is kept on African interests in the federal sphere, we propose to set up a special instrument, the African Affairs Board. We could not accept the original recommendation of the officials' conference that the Chairman of the Board, appointed by the Governor-General with the approval of the Secretary of State, should have a seat in the Cabinet. This seemed to us constitutionally unsound.

But we give the Board statutory right of direct access to the Prime Minister and the Executive Council; we introduce qualifications for membership which will make the Board independent of the Legislatures and the Executive of both the Federation and the Territories; and we empower it not only to make representations in the interests of Africans on any matter within the competence of the Federation but also to ensure that any legislation which it regards as differentiating, in terms G in its application, between Europeans and Africans to the disadvantage of the latter shall be referred to Her Majesty's Government. The vital importance of this provision is unquestionable. We believe that the present proposal is both constitutionally more satisfactory and will prove more effective in protecting the interests of Africans.

Moreover, in the preparation of the draft scheme we have carried out our promise that certain rights of which the African is particularly jealous should be formally embodied in the Constitution. Land and land settlement questions are reserved to the territorial Governments; the Federal Government has no power to acquire land except for the necessary discharge of its proper functions, for example, for the extension of a railway line, and always in accordance with existing Orders in Council and relevant legislation. The continuance of the protectorate status of the two northern territories and the continued responsibility of the Territorial Governments for local and territorial political advancement are emphasised.

Lastly, very important provisions have been included in regard to future constitutional changes. All amendments of the Constitution will require to be passed by a two-thirds majority of the membership of the Federal Assembly and will be reserved for Her Majesty's pleasure. More than that, if objection is raised to any proposed amendment either by the African Affairs Board or by a Territorial Legislature, then the amendment can only be made by Order in Council, and the draft Order will be laid before Parliament here for 40 days before it is made.

The federal proposals published today take full and fair account of the interests of all the inhabitants of Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. They offer the framework of a new political organism which we believe will satisfy the needs of Central Africa and promote the welfare of the three territories and all their inhabitants. We earnestly hope that the Draft Federal Scheme will be very carefully studied, both here and in Central Africa, and that as a result of the discussions upon it the constitution of a federation on the basis proposed will eventually be approved.

Mr. J. Griffiths

The Secretary of State has made a long and important statement, and we shall desire to study it and the White Paper, and in due course it will be essential for us to have ample time to debate the subject. In the meantime, I should like to ask three questions further to elucidate the changes which are being made from the officials' report.

I gather that the Conference has rejected the proposal in the officials' report that a Minister for African interests should be appointed, not by the Federal Prime Minister, but by the Governor-General after consultation with Her Majesty's Government and the Secretary of State, that Minister also only to be dismissed after consultation with Her Majesty's Government.

Does this not only depart from the proposals in the officials' report but also establish a precedent in the whole of our relationships with all the Colonies for which we are responsible? In all the Colonial Legislatures which I know, there is on the Executive Council, the equivalent of the Cabinet, either a member of the indigenous people or a representative of those people. Do I gather that there will now not be a single member of the Cabinet of the Federal Government directly responsible for the safeguarding of African interests?

Under the former proposals the Minister was to be the Chairman of the African Affairs Board with direct access to the Governor-General and, through the Governor-General, to Her Majesty's Government. Do I gather that the Chairman of the Board will not have direct access to either the Governor-General or Her Majesty's Government? Does not that also mean a fundamental departure from the scheme earlier proposed? Will the scheme provide that it is obligatory on the Government to submit all intended legislation to the African Affairs Board before it is submitted to the Federal Legislature, with power to hold it up until it has been considered by Her Majesty's Government?

On the subject of procedure, I gathered that the Secretary of State said that it is proposed to hold a further Conference. What steps are being taken in the meantime to consult African opinion and other opinion in Central Africa and to report views to this House? Have we not a special duty to consult African opinion because of our responsibilities as the protecting nation? Do the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations propose to adopt the method my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) and I adopted and to visit Central Africa during the intervening months and fully consult all opinion, including African opinion?

Mr. Lyttelton

I will try to answer the right hon. Gentleman's questions seriatim. It is true that the Conference has rejected the idea of an unelected Minister as a member of the Cabinet without responsibility to his colleagues. We considered that to be constitutionally unsound. That has no relation to the matter of African interests in other Colonial Legislatures.

The Chairman of the African Affairs Board and, consequently, the Board have direct access by Statute to the Prime Minister and the right and the power to certify, if that is the correct term, that any legislation is discriminatory, in which case, through the Governor-General, it has to come home to the Secretary of State for the signification of Her Majesty's pleasure.

Mr, Griffiths

Has the Chairman of the African Affairs Board himself direct access to the Governor-General and to Her Majesty's Government, or is he subordinate to the Prime Minister?

Mr. Lyttelton

If the African Affairs Board considers that any legislation is discriminatory against Africans, it sets in operation machinery which will prevent that legislation from becoming law until it has been referred to Her Majesty's pleasure. Now that the scheme is definite, we shall take all the steps in our power to consult African opinion, and it is hoped to hold the next Conference in the last quarter of the year.

Mr. Griffiths

The Secretary of State has not answered the last of my questions. I asked whether he and the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations propose themselves to consult opinion in Central Africa, including African opinion.

Mr. Lyttelton

We propose that some Minister, the Minister of State or myself, shall go out before the Conference to consult African opinion.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Can the right hon. Gentleman be rather more precise about when the second Conference is likely to be held, because there may be a question of whether or not this House will be in session? Also, can he at this stage say whether legislation in this House will be necessary before the scheme is carried through, so that we shall have equivalent rights of ratification, so to speak, with the territorial Legislatures?

Mr. Lyttelton

I cannot be precise in my answer to the right hon. Gentleman's first question, but it is hoped to hold the Conference in the last quarter of this year and probably in October, and that is as far as I. can go. In reply to the second question, as far as I can see, legislation in this House will be necessary.

Sir D. Savory

Is my right hon. Friend aware how very much the proposal for a two-thirds majority for constitutional changes will be approved on this side of the House?

Mr. Fenner Brockway

Only on that side.

Sir D. Savory

If only we had had such a provision in the House of Commons, university representation would never have been abolished.

Mr. Fenner Brockway

The right hon. Gentleman said nothing about African representation in the Federal Assembly; can he confirm that in an Assembly of 35 there are to be only six Africans, of which only four are to be elected? Does not his proposal mean that there can be no change in that insignificant representation except with the consent of one of the territorial Governments, which include the Government of Southern Rhodesia?

Mr. Lyttelton

No, Sir; those statements are not correct. I think I had better not go into the details of the White Paper which, on the matter of representation, will, I think, give the hon. Member some comfort. They are wider than those provided by the officials' report. [An HON. MEMBER: "What are they?"] The hon. Member will realise that I am in some difficulty—hon. Members have not yet got the White Paper—and it would not be appropriate to go into details on the entire 37 pages of the White Paper. In reply to the other point, of course there is nothing to prevent some of the elected members from being Africans as well.

Sir Herbert Williams

Would it be in order to move that this debate, which has no basis, be no longer continued?

Mr. Speaker

There is no Question before the House and, therefore, no debate. I think the general sense of the House is that, as the White Paper is available, we might postpone discussion of the matter until hon. Members have had a chance of seeing it.

Mrs. Eirene White

There are one or two points in the statement of the right hon. Gentleman——

Mr. Speaker

I think it is the general sense of the House that we should await the White Paper.