HC Deb 09 November 1953 vol 520 cc603-6
Sir Richard Acland

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he has any statement to make arising from the resignation of the three elected unofficial members of the Executive Council of Northern Rhodesia.

The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Oliver Lyttelton)

Yes, Sir. The Governor informs me that on 6th November Mr. G. B. Beckett and Lieut.-Colonel E. M. Wilson tendered their resignations from the Executive Council. Sir Roy Welensky, as he was required to do under the Federal constitution, had already resigned his seat last September on accepting ministerial office in the interim Federal Government.

I understand that the elected members have said that they took this step "in protest against my decision not to visit Northern Rhodesia before the introduction of constitutional changes of which they did not approve."

These changes were the subject of my statement to the House on 21st October. Their main feature was an increase of two European elected members from 10 to 12, two African elected members from two to four (in addition to the two members representing African interests) and a reduction of officials from nine to eight.

I have also seen reports to the effect that the elected members of the Legislative Council intend to resign from all Government Committees. No such notification, however, has reached the Governor.

I much regret that the elected members should have seen fit to take this drastic action. When I was framing my award I had reason to believe that the elected members would have been satisfied if only one African had been appointed to the Legislative Council and another had been nominated to replace one of the two European nominated unofficials representing African interests.

I felt at the time, however, and I still feel, that nothing less than the additional two Africans to match the two additional elected members would be either fair in itself or in accordance with that spirit of partnership in which the Federation proposals were conceived.

Sir R. Acland

What is the Minister going to do now? In view of the fact that these men have resigned, how is the Government of Northern Rhodesia now to be carried on?

Mr. Lyttelton

The two portfolios which have become vacant by the resignations will be handled by officials.

Mr. Griffiths

Will the Secretary of State bear in mind that many of us thought that in these last discussions he could have gone further and given more representation to the Africans in view of the fact that, by the coming into operation of Federation, what is left of the territorial Governments affects the Africans more immediately than it does the Europeans? May I ask him, also, whether he is keeping a watch upon some of the propaganda and upon some of the racial policies that are being urged and advocated in the course of the forthcoming Federal elections?

Mr. Lyttelton

Answering the second part of that supplementary question, I am, of course, aware of some of the propaganda, or some of the programmes, in connection with the forthcoming elections. With regard to the first matter, the question which I now have to deal with is that the European elected members think I have gone too far and the right hon. Gentleman thinks that I have not gone far enough.

Mr. Powell

Would my right hon. Friend say why it was not possible for him to have deferred his decision to make the constitutional changes?

Mr. Lyttelton

Speaking from memory, this was the third conference that we had had on the subject, and both sides—both Europeans and Africans—had for some time past been urging upon me the need to introduce changes without further delay; and it was made clear to me during the talks that that was still their view. If, however, both sides, on reflection, think that continuation of the present position is preferable, then, naturally, I should have to consider it. But that is not the state of affairs at the moment.

Sir R. Acland

Does not the Minister feel that action of this kind, taken in this mood, casts grave doubts on all the hopes that were expressed on his side of the House and as he almost certainly has much more influence with white people in the Rhodesias than some people on this side of the House have, cannot he say something, in a stern mood, to show that this kind of thing cannot go on if Federation is to succeed?

Mr. Lyttelton

I am not prepared to say more than I have said today. I shall have to await further advices from the Governor and to shape my course in accordance with those advices. I should deprecate anything which made these negotiations more difficult.

Mr. Paget

May the right hon. Gentleman's colonial policy be summarised in this way: that he obtains equity by offending everybody sufficiently?

Mr. Lyttelton

I do not think that that is a helpful supplementary question. When one tries to be fair, it is often the case that both sides are displeased.

Mr. J. Johnson

Will the Minister at least say that there is a dangerous tendency for white settlers to tend to neglect their duties in their territories over native affairs, and to concentrate more of their time upon the federal side of the work to be done in connection with the new Federation?

Mr. Lyttelton

None of those considerations arises out of the present situation.