§ Mr. Hopkinson
With your permission and the permission of the House, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the administration of the Bamangwato Reserve. I am making it on behalf of my hon. and learned Friend the Undersecretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, who is at present attending the Council of Europe at Strasbourg. I should add that a similar statement has been made by my right hon. and noble Friend in another place.
At their resumed meeting last week, the Bamangwato again failed to reach agreement about the designation of a new Chief. The appointment of a new Chief acceptable both to the tribe and to the Government remains Her Majesty's Government's aim, but the Government do not intend to impose anyone on the tribe as Chief.
1251 For three years now, in accordance with the policy initiated by the previous Government, the tribe has been administered directly by European District Officers. This system of administration, which was necessary in the circumstances, has had certain drawbacks and limitations. There are many matters coming within the purview of the Native Authority which for their effective discharge require the machinery and the personnel of the Native Authority to be African.
The Government have now decided that the time has come when the conduct of the tribe's affairs can and should be restored to African hands. My right hon. and noble Friend has accordingly authorised the High Commissioner to make an order transferring the functions of the Native Authority from the District Commissioner to an African, Rasebolai Kgamane.
Under Bechuanaland law the office of Native Authority and the office of Chief are not the same. The Chieftainship is the traditional institution endowed with rights and privileges from the past. The Native Authority is the capacity in which the Chief or other person authorised by Government shoulders the functions and responsibilities of day-to-day local administration under the general guidance of the High Commissioner and his officers. Ordinarily the Chief is also the Native Authority, but in the absence of a Chief another person can be appointed to this office, and in that capacity exercise Chiefly powers.
Rasebolai is the senior member of the tribe available for the office, and my right hon. and noble Friend is satisfied that on his, Rasebolai's, war record and on his experience as an administrator he is fully qualified to discharge these duties. He is not being appointed as Chief, but his appointment as Native Authority, which is in accordance with the law of the territory including the Bamangwato Succession Order-in-Council, will enable many activities of native administration contributing to the well-being of the tribe to be revived, for example, the customary daily meetings in kgotla and the native courts. It will also enable development schemes to be pressed forward, with that 1252 full discussion of local African interests which is so important and conducive to smooth working.
Announcements of Her Majesty's Government's decision and of the appointment of Rasebolai as Native Authority are being made today at Serowe and in other centres throughout the Bamangwato Reserve. In these announcements it is being made clear that the Chieftainship remains vacant.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman two questions? First, are the reports in the Press correct that the person now appointed to this rather unprecedented post of Native Authority was rejected by the Bamangwato when his name was suggested as Chief and that therefore it would appear that the Bamangwato are being asked to accept in a new post—if not legally new, then new in practice—a man whom they rejected as Chief? Secondly, I gathered from what the right hon. Gentleman said at the end of his statement that the Chieftainship was being kept open. Does that mean that Her Majesty's Government will be prepared to reconsider the decision to exclude Seretse Khama permanently?
§ Mr. Hopkinson
The position is that Rasebolai was one of the candidates at the recent kgotla and the only one among those canvassed who enjoyed appreciable support. On merit as an administrator, and on his war record which the right hon. Gentleman probably knows very well, he is highly qualified to discharge the duties of the post. He is third in line of succession after Seretse and Tshekedi. He has the Government's full confidence and, we believe, he has the respect of his opponents. We hope that this appointment will help to restore tribal unity as well as help the development of the Territory.
With regard to the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, the position is that under Bechuanaland law there is a clear distinction between the Chief and the Native Authority. The appointment that has been made is without prejudice to the eventual designation of a Chief and it is open at any time for the tribe to return to that. When they do so, their choice will not be limited in any way, except in regard to Seretse. Any person, with all the necessary qualifications, 1253 whom they might designate would no doubt receive the approval of the High Commissioner and my noble friend. As regards Seretse himself, it is quite clear, that the reasons given time and time again in this House on behalf of the previous Government and by the present Government for his exclusion still hold good. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] I do not think that it is necessary for us to enter into the details today.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that under the previous Administration, of which I was a member, we decided that the exclusion should be for the period of five years, but the present Government made that exclusion permanent? Is it not clear—we judge by reports in the Press—that it is unlikely that any person will be accepted as Chief in future except Seretse? May I ask the Minister to consider the matter again? Perhaps after the lapse of time it might be reconsidered in the light of the experience now gained.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
I think that the position of Her Majesty's present advisers was made perfectly clear in a statement on 27th March in this House. At that time attention was drawn to the fact that the situation, as left for a period of five years, was causing difficulties and was liable to protract the dispute. It was therefore decided to make permanent the previous Government's decision to withhold recognition, and we believe that the reasons for doing so still hold good today. The fact is that at the recent kgotla opinion was very divided. It is probably true to say that the majority of those present were against any designation at all. Some of them were in favour of Seretse. But the names of Rasebolai, Apele, and Seretse's half-sister, Oratile, were also canvassed. It was because no decision could be reached about any of these that the District Commissioner closed the kgotla and this decision was taken which we believe will be in the interests of the Africans themselves and will eventually settle this dispute.
§ Mr. C. Davies
Is it not correct that Her Majesty's Government made every effort to try to persuade the tribe to adopt Rasebolai as Chief and in spite of that effort they refused to adopt him? May I 1254 ask, therefore, whether the decision to appoint him to this position is not likely to cause more trouble and disintegration amongst this tribe? Thirdly, has not the time obviously come when the tribe should make their choice freely without any pressure upon them?
§ Mr. Hopkinson
I would not accept that pressure has been exerted. I do not think that this appointment will prejudice the issue. Certainly it is not intended to do so. The issue is left clear so that the tribe can make their own choice of Chief, and if he has the right qualifications he will be approved by Her Majesty's Government.
§ Mr. Dodds-Parker
Is my right hon. Friend aware that this decision is in line with similar instances in the past 50 years and that it will give an opportunity for all well-wishers of the Bamangwato to pull the tribe together administratively and get on with the practical administration for their benefit?
§ Mr. Fenner Brockway
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his statement that Rasebolai had considerable support at the recent kgotla will be received with surprise by those who followed the proceedings? Is he aware that "The Times" reported that the one conclusive evidence from the kgotla was that there was very little support for him? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware also that if Rasebolai is appointed to this position the attitude of non-co-operation among the tribe is only likely to be intensified and the position made more serious?
§ Mr. Hopkinson
The expression that I used was "appreciable support" and for that I am relying on reports which I have had from our officials, and I think that we must go by those. I do not think that the appointment of a man, held in great respect even by his opponents out there, to a post which is an administrative appointment and will not prejudice the chieftainship at all, will lead to lack of co-operation.
§ Mr. Fenner Brockway
On a point of order. I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing 1255 Order No. 9 on a definite matter of urgent public importance, namelythe appointment by Her Majesty's Government as Native Authority in the Bamangwato Reserve, with important duties normally carried out by the Chief, of Mr. Rasebolai whose nomination for the Chieftainship of the Bamangwato was decisively not accepted by the kgotla a week ago.I urge that this is a matter of definite, urgent, public importance. The tribal representatives have met, they have rejected his nomination as Chief, and now the Government have appointed him to be the Native Authority over the tribe. This is likely to meet with resistance from the members of the tribe, and I submit that this House ought to have the opportunity to discuss it.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 on a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely,the appointment by Her Majesty's Government as Native Authority in the Bamangwato Reserve with important duties normally carried out by the Chief, of Mr. Rasebolai whose nomination for the Chieftainship of the Bamangwato was decisively not accepted by the kgotla a week ago.I regret that I cannot find that that is within the terms of the Standing Order. 1256 It is only a step within a long story. I see nothing which would entitle me to accept this Motion under Standing Order No. 9.
Further to that point of order. I have just heard the statement of my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) for the first time. I have had no previous information of this episode, but if I followed correctly what my hon. Friend has said a step has been taken which may have the most serious repercussions. At a point of time like this may not we, as Members of the House of Commons, have an opportunity of expressing our attitude to this decision?
§ Mr. Speaker
Not by invoking Standing Order No. 9. There are other methods by which this matter may be discussed.