HC Deb 22 October 1952 vol 505 cc1014-7
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Anthony Eden)

By your leave, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement on the Sudan.

Last May the Governor-General of the Sudan submitted to Her Majesty's Government and to the Egyptian Government a draft Statute designed to bring about internal self-government. The Statute had been drawn up in the light of discussions in the Constitutional Amendment Commission, composed of Sudanese with a British chairman, and was later discussed and approved in the Sudanese Legislative Assembly.

Her Majesty's Government have today informed the Acting Governor-General that they give their consent to his making the Proclamation necessary to bring the Self-Government Statute into force. Her Majesty's Government's approval is given on the understanding that:

  1. (i) the provisions of the draft concern only the relations between the Governor-General and the other organs of government set up under the Statute—that is to say, the Council of Ministers and the Parliament. This state of affairs will continue until, as a result of self-determination, or at some earlier date by agreement between the two Governments, alternative provisions are made for the exercise of these powers;
  2. (ii) except in regard to technical and administrative matters, responsibility for the external affairs of the Sudan belongs as before to the two Governments.
There is an Article in the Statute laying down that no disability shall be attached to Sudanese by reason of sex, and that all persons shall enjoy freedom of conscience and the right freely to confess their religion. With respect to the second of these principles, Her Majesty's Government have expressed the hope that as liberal an interpretation as possible may be given to the freedom of all persons to profess their religion.

The Acting Governor-General's attention has also been drawn to the views recently expressed to me by representatives of various parties in the Sudan on the desirability of increasing the number of direct elections to be held under the new constitution.

The views of the Egyptian Government on the draft Statute have not yet been received. I hope that they may be in time for consideration by Her Majesty's Government and the Sudan Government before the Statute is brought into effect.

I should like to take this opportunity to express Her Majesty's Government's pleasure in congratulating the people of the Sudan upon what we hops will be a momentous step forward in the history of their country. The House, will, I am sure, want to join me in this. The Sudanese are now proceeding to self-government, that is to say, government by an all-Sudanese Cabinet, responsible through an all-Sudanese Parliament to the Sudanese people. This is a prelude and a preparation for the exercise by them of self-determination. Her Majesty's Government look forward to the Sudanese exercising self-determination at an early date. In my view, however, this is a matter for the Sudanese Parliament, elected under the provisions of this Statute, to discuss and to decide.

Mr. H. Morrison

Naturally, hon. Members wish to study the important statement made by the Foreign Secretary, but I think I can say for the House generally that we would wish to congratulate the Foreign Secretary and the people of the Sudan on this development and hope for every success in the implementation of this important new development. It is the result of a good many years of discussion, in which both sides of the House at some time or another have been involved. I think it is a welcome development, and we all wish the new régime in the Sudan every success in its work.

Mr. E. Wakefield

Can my right hon. Friend tell the House what is the latest date within which it is open to the Egyptian Government as co-dominus to express its approval or disapproval of the new statute for self-government for the Sudan?

Mr. Eden

I should not like to say definitely the actual date offhand, but my recollection is that it is early in November. We have informed the Egyptian Government that we were making this statement today. I thought that only fair and reasonable, because we have never admitted the abrogation of the Condominium, and so we have acted in this way.

Mr. McNeil

The right hon. Gentleman's statement means, I take it, that the Sudanese Government now proceed to preparations for elections, and have elections under the existing Government in Khartoum. There is no change in that situation?

Mr. Eden

No, Sir, that is as it was before; and officially the Condominium also remains. That is the official position.

Mrs. White

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that part of his statement which showed that Her Majesty's Government said there should be no discrimination on the grounds of sex or religion will give great satisfaction to many people in this country, and that we shall also be pleased that there will be more constituencies for which there is direct representation?

Mr. Eden

The hon. Lady will be aware, as to the first part of her question, that whatever we may feel—and we have expressed what we feel—it is in the final resort a matter for the Sudanese Parliament to decide. As to direct representation, I have looked into it carefully. Naturally, it is attractive, particularly to people like ourselves who are used to a particular form of democracy. At the same time, there are many parts of the Sudan in which direct election will be quite unworkable. I know that we had the same experience in relation to elections in Cyrenaica some while ago. So although in principle we should like it, in practice we have to recognise what the limitations are.

Sir R. Acland

While wishing to join in the good wishes to the Sudanese people on the great step that is being taken, may I ask whether the clauses which deal with religious liberty do, in the right hon. Gentleman's view, come fully up to the level of the Declaration on Human Rights to which we have subscribed?

Mr. Eden

Yes, Sir, and they are far above those that exist in some countries which are constantly criticising Her Majesty's Government for not doing better.

Mr. Fenner Brockway

In expressing appreciation of the right hon. Gentleman's announcement, may I ask whether, whilst it would be difficult to apply direct election in southern Sudan, he will consider an absolute agreement between all Sudanese parties as to its extension to all parts of northern Sudan?

Mr. Eden

I have looked into that very point carefully, and there are difficulties in certain parts of northern Sudan, too. This is really a matter upon which I must be largely guided by the Sudanese Government with their close experience of this, and I do beg the House not, in an excess of zeal to get exactly a reproduction of what is going on here, to spoil what, I think, is a well-carried-out enterprise.

Dr. King

Does the Foreign Secretary's excellent reply on the broad principle of no discrimination in sex and religion mean that the clauses in the draft constitution which did create sex discrimination as far as the franchise is concerned still stand, or have they gone?

Mr. Eden

We have expressed the wish that there should be no sex discrimination in respect of the franchise, but that is a matter which the Sudanese Parliament itself will have to decide when it is elected.

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