§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
I desire to draw the attention of the House to the case of Seretse Khama, and in the course of what I will have to say, I will put before the House some proposals which my colleagues and I have already put privately to Her Majesty's Government and which we shall once more urge the Government to adopt and act upon in the case of Seretse Khama.
In order that what I shall propose shall be seen in its proper setting and context, it is essential that I should begin, I hope without wearying the House, by a short recital of the history of this case. I think I shall do that best if I set out very briefly, but I hope accurately, the decisions taken by the Labour Government in 1950 and by the Conservative Government in 1952. In 1950, arising out of the situation that developed in the Bamangwato Reserve and among the people of the tribe following the marriage of Seretse Khama, the Labour Government decided to take certain action.
1485 That action consisted, first, of a decision to withhold recognition of Seretse Khama as chief of the Bamangwato Tribe of Bechuanaland; and, secondly, to exclude Seretse and his uncle Tshekedi Khama, who was the Regent, from responsibility in the Reserve. Following upon that, it was decided to vest for the time being the functions of the Native Authority in the District Commissioner, and it was also decided, particularly in view of what had happened, to seek to establish in Bechuanaland, and particularly in the Bamangwato Reserve, a system of councils which would progressively assume responsibility for the administration of the tribe. These were the decisions taken and acted upon by the Labour Government in 1950, and announced in the House in March that year.
When my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker)—who, if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, will intervene in the debate later—made that announcement for the Labour Government, he added that, having made these decisions and having put them into effect, he, speaking for the Government, gave a pledge to the House that the whole position would be reviewed at the end of five years from that date—March, 1950. That was where the position rested until March, 1952, when the Conservative Administration, through the then Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, the hon. and learned Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster), made a statement to the House intimating that Her Majesty's Government had reconsidered the decision and had reviewed the decisions made and announced in 1950, and had come to certain conclusions and had decided to vary those decisions.
I want to be absolutely accurate when giving very briefly the reasons which that Government gave for their decision, which altered in some important respects the decisions of the Labour Government. They said that they felt it had become essential to end the uncertainty arising from the limited duration of the decision of 1950—that is, the limit of five years, at the end of which the situation would be reviewed. They had also come to the view that it was desirable—indeed. I believe they said that it was essential—to terminate as soon as possible the temporary expedient of direct rule by the 1486 European officers, which was the consequence of vesting the native authority in the District Commissioner. For those reasons, they had decided to make certain important changes in the policy of 1950.
I will set them out very briefly, but quite accurately, as they were stated by the Under-Secretary in his statement in March, 1952. He said that Her Majesty's Government had decided that the decision to withhold recognition of Seretse Khama as chief was to be permanent and final. They had also decided that the tribe should be invited to put forward in due course a candidate for the chieftainship other than Seretse or Tshekedi.
They had also made up their minds and announced their decision that Seretse should be excluded from the Protectorate—that is, the whole of Bechuanaland. within which lies the Bamangwato Reserve—until the alternative chief had been securely established, with his own native administration. They also told us that they had, in consequence of the decision to refuse Seretse the right permanently to return until another chief had been established, offered him an appointment in the Colonial Service, in fact, in Jamaica.
About the same time, the Government made another decision which was not irrelevant to the situation, and it was that Tshekedi should be allowed to return to live in the Reserve as a private individual and under certain conditions. I believe that I have set out the history of the matter, as I thought it was fair to set it out, briefly and accurately, and I see that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations nods to indicate that he agrees that I have done so fairly.
When that decision was announced in 1952 by the Under-Secretary of State, we made it clear from these Benches that we were opposed to it. We were not only opposed to it, but we complained, and I think with full justification, of the timing of that decision, for it became known to us before the day upon which this decision was announced that it was known to the Government that a deputation from the Bamangwato Tribe was on its way to London to make representations to the Secretary of State and the Government to reopen the matter and reconsider the return of Seretse. We believed that both the decision itself and 1487 the timing of it were not justified. We opposed it at the time, and we made it perfectly clear, speaking for the Opposition, that we should not regard ourselves as being bound by those decisions, and we divided the House.
I have given the history to 1955. That was the end of the period at which, when we were the Government, we had pledged ourselves to review the whole situation. Although at the end of that period we were in opposition, we felt, having given our pledge, not only to this House but to the people of Bechuanaland and the people of this country, that we were under an obligation to review the matter ourselves. It was a difficult task for an Opposition to undertake, because it has not the facilities or opportunities which are open to a Government for reviewing the situation is a territory several thousand miles away.
We decided that that was our duty, however, and we did our very best. I want first to indicate the steps which we took to inform ourselves of the situation in 1955, to draw certain conclusions from them, and from those conclusions to make certain constructive proposals which I shall outline. I speak in particular for the National Executive of the Labour Party and, more particularly, for its Commonwealth and Colonies Sub-Committee, of which I am privileged to be a member.
We gave a good deal of time and thought to the matter, and we had the opportunity of speaking with many persons with knowledge and experience over the last few years in the life of the Bamangwato and in the Protectorate, in order to get their assessment of the situation. We also had the opportunity and privilege of discussing the matter fully with Seretse Khama, who was then, and still is, resident in London.
After considering those preliminary discussions, we came to the conclusion that to be able to assess the position fairly, fully and accurately, it was essential for someone, on our behalf, to proceed to the Protectorate and to the Reserve, make a full investigation in the territory, and to come back and report to us. We were fortunate in having available to us the services of our Commonwealth and Colonies Officer, Mr. John Hatch, who has considerable 1488 experience and knowledge of Africa and African affairs. He went out to the territory in 1955.
When we approached the Commonwealth Relations Office, the Department at once readily and generously provided our officer with full facilities to conduct his investigation. He had the opportunity of meeting representatives of every section of the Bamangwato Tribe. He took the opportunity of discussing the situation very fully and formed certain tentative conclusions arising from his impressions. He had the opportunity of discussion with members of the Administration and of discussing the matter with the then High Commissioner.
I believe it will be accepted by the Under-Secretary of State that our Commonwealth Officer was able to make a full and searching examination of the whole position, and discussed it freely and frankly with all sections of the Administration and people in Bechuanaland. Within a short time, therefore, he was able to gather the views and reactions of the people about the existing situation, and their views about future policy.
When our officer returned, we considered his report and discussed it with persons who were available and who were good enough to give us the advantage of their experience and knowledge. As a result of all the steps which we took and of our careful consideration, we came to certain conclusions about the situation. I want to put before the House the conclusions at which we arrived.
First, we came to the conclusion that the issue of the future of the chieftainship was not considered as finally settled by the members of the Bamangwato Tribe. That is of very great importance. The whole purport of the policy and the changes in policy announced by the Government in 1952 was that it was essential, in their view, to make their decisions, to which I have already referred, in order to achieve permanency and finality in the situation. If their policy does not secure that end, it does not secure the aim which the Government were seeking to attain through that policy. The conclusion at which we arrived was that the issue of the future of the chieftainship was not then—and it is not now—considered 1489 as settled by the members of the Bamangwato Tribe.
We came to another important conclusion—that it was virtually impossible—I choose my words carefully—to get a people like the Bamangwato, with whom tradition is so deeply rooted, to appoint a new chief whilst the man whom they regard as their chief is still alive. Indeed, we came to a further conclusion from that. The Government had pinned their faith in being able to induce the tribe to appoint another chief and had announced that when he was securely established and had built up his own native administration, they would be prepared to reconsider the position of Seretse Khama and would then be prepared to consider allowing him to return.
From our report and from our discussions, we came to the additional conclusion that if any section of the tribe should attempt to push or to influence the tribe towards the selection of another chief, it would not only be unsuccessful but might lead to serious conflict and possibly disorder within the tribe itself.
We concluded from that that the un-settlement and uncertainty which existed then, and which still exists, was retarding the development of the people. I do not think I am going too far in saying that it was preventing the development of what everyone regards as an essential part in the future development of these peoples—the development of representative institutions and councils. The Under-Secretary of State will perhaps be able to tell us what success, if any, has been obtained by our Administration in building representative institutions and in establishing and developing councils in the Bamangwato Tribe. Our evidence is that any attempts have so far completely failed.
The unsettlement, therefore, is having those two effects. It is retarding constitutional development along normal lines of representative institutions, and it is retarding economic development. Before I conclude, I shall refer to something which has happened since our examination and which makes the question of economic development of even greater urgency and importance.
From our examination of the problem, we also came to the conclusion that among the Bamangwato people there is an almost universal desire for the return 1490 of Seretse himself. I will be frank. We also found that there is disagreement still, in particular, about the succession. We also found that the tribe would, as a whole, I think, welcome a new initiative to seek an agreement and a settlement, a settlement which would be generally acceptable to the tribe, and a settlement which would end the uncertainty which still continues.
The overwhelming majority of the tribe—I think I can go further than that and say the whole of the tribe—would welcome an approach to a new settlement in the way which we urged upon the Government, and that was that the Government should convene a conference of representatives of all the people, with Tshekedi Khama and Seretse Khama, here in London, at which the whole situation would be reviewed, at which the possibilities of arriving at a settlement could be discussed, and at which, it seems to us, there would be not only a readiness to discuss but a disposition to strive towards a settlement.
That is the action which we urged the Government to take when some of my colleagues and I were given an opportunity of meeting the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and of urging that upon him. He rejected our proposals. He rejected our proposals because, he said, the Government feared that any reopening of the position at any conference of that kind would not lead to a settlement but would lead to uncertainty.
The fact is that there still is uncertainty. There still is no settlement. The tribe still regard the position of the chieftainship as not finally settled. That is the uncertainty which is retarding the economic and other development of the people out there. The Government rejected the proposal which we put forward, and rejected it on the grounds that it would reopen the matter and create uncertainty, but that argument, in our view, falls to the ground because the Government have failed to achieve any of the things which they said they hoped would be accomplished by their policy and their decisions in 1952. Their policy of 1952 has not achieved any of the things which they sought. They have not been able to induce the tribe to appoint another chief. There has not been the development of representative institutions. They have not 1491 here a people who, after four years of their policy of 1952, regard the matter as closed. It exists still, and we cannot leave it where it is.
Because we believe that the decisions of the Government in 1952 and their implementation have failed to achieve the purposes which the Government themselves told the House were the purposes that they had in mind, it is essential, in our view, that a new approach should be made to seek a settlement, and we put forward this very responsible and very constructive suggestion. We had a free and frank discussion with the Secretary of State, and discussed all possible items for an agenda of such a conference. I shall not tonight discuss them here in public because I still hope that the Government will think again, and I urge them to think again, about convening that conference, and if the conference is to be convened it will be far better, I think, that it should be convened without our having canvassed in public a possible agenda, or possible solutions of the problems which may emerge at the conference, and which the leaders of the tribe, with the Government and the Protectorate Administration, would discuss with a view to arriving at a settlement.
We are still convinced that if such an invitation were sent out the representative leaders of the Bamangwato people would come to the conference. We believe that Tshekedi Khama would come. We believe that Seretse Khama would come to the conference. We believe that if we called them together to a conference of that kind that conference would come to what I am sure we all want, a solution acceptable to the tribe, a settlement which would be regarded by the tribe as laying the foundation for their future development, and one which, having been accepted, would enable them to deal with the immense problems with which they are confronted. In that way we should create the circumstances and the atmosphere in which the social, economic and political development of the tribe could proceed.
I said that since 1955, when we discussed this problem, when we arrived at our conclusions, a new factor had entered into the situation, a new factor which, in our view, and, I think, in the view of 1492 other Members of this House and also of the public outside, adds strength to the proposal which I have put forward. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will tell us something about this. Since a year ago there have been certain developments concerning the Protectorate's future, particularly its future economic development, which is a matter of very great importance. It is reported that certain mining companies are interested in the minerals in the territory in the Protectorate and in the Bamangwato Reserve, and in particular that one of the big companies interested in mining in Africa, Oppenheimers Anglo-American Group, is particularly interested in that.
Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will say whether I am right or wrong, but I understand that the mineral rights in Bechuanaland are vested in the tribes. Bechuanaland is not a Colony: it is a Protectorate, in which the relationship between us and the people there is the relationship of a protector to the people there. I understand that the mineral rights in the whole of the Protectorate are vested in the tribes, and that the written consent of the tribes is essential for a concession; indeed, that it is obligatory upon us, by our act of protection, to obtain that consent.
I understand that attempts have been made to secure the consent of the Bamangwato tribe to the granting of this mineral concession, and, indeed, that of other tribes who are also affected within the Protectorate. My information is that the attempt to secure the consent of the tribe to the granting of the surveying rights and these concessions have so far failed. They have been discussed in what is their representative institution, the kgotla.
That brings me back to the main theme of my speech. I believe that the tribe will not come to a decision upon this matter in the absence of Seretse, and without this position being finally settled. The Under-Secretary of State will say whether I am right or wrong in stating the position, and whether I have stated it fairly or wrongly, but that is the position as I understand it.
Here is this territory, faced with this very big problem. Those of us familiar with Africa, particularly those of us familiar with Central Africa, know what 1493 this new factor portends for this Protectorate. If there are mineral resources available, as it appears there are, and if they are developed by these enormous companies with their very great resources, the whole life of this people will be transformed. We have seen what tensions, what problems, are created by the sudden, rapid transformation by industrialisation of a country with a peasant economy. The minerals will not be worked, the mines will not be worked, economic and industrial developments will not take place, without Africans being brought to work in them.
We shall have here again another copper belt. There can be no settlement, no granting of these rights, without the consent of the tribe. It is clear to us that the tribe will not give their consent until these political problems of which I have been speaking are resolved. I hope, therefore, that there will be no attempt by Her Majesty's Government, or by the Administration or by anyone else, to try to get round this central fact in our relationship, that a development of this kind is not undertaken without their full voluntary consent. The fact is that so far their consent has not been given, and our information is that it will not be given until this problem is solved.
That seems to us to add great strength to the proposal which we put forward to the Government and which we repeat now. We believe that this matter is urgent and important, and in our view it is conclusive proof that the conclusions which we have arrived at and the recommendations which we have made are right. I hope, therefore, that Her Majesty's Government will give fresh consideration to this matter, that they will take the initiative which we have urged them to take, that they will call the conference which we have proposed, that they will invite representatives of all sections of the Bamangwato Tribe to the conference in London, and that out of that conference there can be the beginning of a settlement.
Among the other advantages of such a settlement would be the bringing together again of the uncle and the nephew. These are two outstanding men, both in their personal qualities and abilities. They are sorely needed by their people in their present stage of development, people who are on the threshold of an enormous development in their lives, and 1494 who attach great prestige to the name of Khama.
If the Government reject the proposals we put forward, what is their alternative? The matter cannot be left where it is. We have put forward a responsible and constructive proposal, and we have put it forward after due thought and full consideration. We still believe that it is the best way to act, and we hope that Her Majesty's Government will act, and will act in time.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Beresford Craddock (Spelthorne)
I am sure that all hon. Members listen to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) with great interest and respect. The right hon. Gentleman knows that this is certainly my view, and my one regret is that when we discuss colonial and kindred matters I generally find myself in disagreement with the policy he advocates. I had hoped that this evening, on the eve of our Summer Recess, I might find myself for once, at least, able to agree with the recommendations and policies advocated by the right hon. Gentleman. I am sorry to say that once again I cannot do so, and I shall give my reasons for the view I take.
Before dealing with the main theme of the debate, the question of whether Seretse should be allowed to return, I want to say something about the important issues raised in the last part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, namely, the development of the mineral rights of the Protectorate, and those in the Bamangwato Reserve. I think I am right in saying that certain lands still belong to the Crown, but that the bulk of the land is vested in the Tribe, as the right hon. Gentleman said. It is also true that none of those minerals can be developed without the consent of the Tribe itself. That is right and proper and, as we all know, that position obtains in other parts of Africa.
I think I am also right in saying that the Tribe is not withholding its consent to the development because Seretse is not there. My information is that they want advice from one of the sons or from both sons of Khama, that is, from Seretse or Tshekedi, or both. Tshekedi is now a private individual. I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth 1495 Relations will deal with this matter, because it is not right that I, as a back bencher, should deal with it. However, I can see no reason why it should not be possible for permission to be granted to Tshekedi to give that advice to the Tribe which, as far as I am aware, they will accept. Therefore, this matter does not necessitate the return of Seretse. I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend will correct me if I am wrong in that view.
I fully agree with the right hon. Gentleman that although this problem affects only a small tribe of 15,000 people it is a very important one, and I do not want to introduce any party politics into this debate any more than did the right hon. Gentleman. If I may respectfully say so, I thought he approached the problem in a very statesmanlike manner. He gave the previous history, with which those of us who take an interest in this matter, and who took part in the discussions of 1950 and 1951, are acquainted. At that time the present Labour Opposition were the Government of the day. However, I feel justified in recalling one or two other factors in the situation, which must be borne in mind if we are to approach this matter with a true appreciation of its background.
The problem of Seretse really started in the summer of 1949 as the result of his marriage to an English girl. I have said before in this House that I am not in favour of such marriages. I think that they are a mistake. All my experience indicates that. Nevertheless, as I have said before—
§ Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)
Would the hon. Gentleman say that the considerable experience of mixed marriages in the West Indies, and the tributes paid by Governors and others to their success, biologically and psychologically, is an argument in favour of the proposition he is now expressing?
§ Mr. Craddock
I am only expressing my own personal view. As I have said before in this House, I have had the experience of Africans, Indians and Europeans coming to me for advice and, rightly or wrongly, I have always expressed the view that mixed marriages are a mistake. However, I was going on to say that, even so, this is a matter for the individuals concerned. They are the 1496 judges in the matter. I simply give my own opinion, but I mention this point because I take the view that the position of Seretse Khama was entirely different. After all, he was the heir to the kingdom and, as we know from experience in our own country, the Royal position is one which enjoys great privileges but. at the same time, carries with it great responsibilities. It has been a rule of the Bamangwato Tribe that the King, or the heir apparent, should marry one of his own kind.
That was where the trouble began, and it is a point which we should not forget in our approach to the problem. After that event, there was great disturbance in the Bamangwato Tribe. They held a kgotla to decide whether, in those circumstances, they would have Seretse back as their chief. The overwhelming decision at the first kgotla was against Seretse succeeding to the chieftainship. The right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) was Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations at the time.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)
I was not Secretary of State at the time. I became Secretary of State afterwards.
§ Mr. Craddock
I am sorry; I withdraw that. In any event, the Secretary of State at the time made a mistake in not accepting the overwhelming decision of that first kgotla.
A second kgotla was called and even at the second meeting it was agreed that, in the circumstances, Seretse could not go back, although this time the majority was only small. Finally, a third kgotla was held at which there was a majority in favour of Seretse. I believe, as I said at the time, that it was a mistake to hold the third kgotla. The decision of the first kgotla not to have Seretse back should have been accepted.
§ Mr. Craddock
I cannot give way. I have promised not to speak for long, for a large number of hon. Members wish to follow me in the debate.
If the decision of the first kgotla had been accepted by the Government at that time, we should not have had all this trouble. That is the background to the position and I think it important that it should be stated. Certainly, I believe that 1497 the decision to ban Seretse from the chieftainship was right in view of his having disobeyed tribal laws and rules which have stood ever since time began. I do not believe that anyone occupying that position, whether the chieftainship of a tribe or the monarchy of a country, carrying great privileges but also great responsibilities, can have it both ways; he must make his choice, just as Seretse made his choice. In my view, it was a proper decision, therefore, that he should have been compelled to leave the country. I fully agree with the decision then taken in the light of the circumstances, and I also believe that the decision of the Government of 1952 was right. It would have been quite wrong to have allowed the situation to continue to create uncertainty.
Here, I am bound to say, my information is slightly different from that of the right hon. Member for Llanelly. I receive regular reports from that part of the world, and my information is that the country has been going along very well in the last year or two and that they are making progress. I believe that it would be unwise, certainly at this juncture, to do anything likely to create more uncertainty and perhaps to stir up feelings which have been dying, if they are not already dead.
Nor do I think it true to say that the fact that Seretse has been banished from his country is retarding development. My information—and I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend will deal with this point—is that one of the troubles is that they have not gone ahead with the formation of district councils. Frankly, I think that that is a mistake. I should have thought that every effort of our Administration and the officials on the spot ought to have been concentrated on encouraging the people of the Tribe to form district councils. As far as I am aware, there is no reason that they should not do so. I cannot think of a reason, and I shall be very interested to hear what my hon. and gallant Friend says about it.
I promised to be brief and I will conclude. Having a very great affection for the people of Africa, I feel most sincerely that it would be a great mistake at this stage to upset them and perhaps to create a great deal of strife at a time when, on my information, all is going well. I believe that if the Tribe are encouraged in the formation of district councils, they will make good progress.
1498 I sincerely hope, therefore, that on this occasion the Government will not accept the advice of the Opposition to set up a commission of inquiry. Such a commission is not necessary. I feel very strongly that, in the light of present conditions, it is better to let things go on as they are. I hope, as does the right hon. Member for Llanelly, that the Tribe will go on in its development from strength to strength. Like all Africans, the Baman-gwato are a great people, and deserve all the help which we in the House can give them.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)
I am afraid that the type of help which the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Beresford Craddock) has offered to the Bamangwato Tribe and Bechuanaland in general is the type of help which does them no good and is doing us, as a people, very great harm. I do not know whether the hon. Member means to be over-patronising. I agree with him that royalty has its obligations and its hardships as well as its privileges, and that all people have their conventions, their prejudices and their tribal taboos.
The people of this island decided that they had a prejudice against an American lady marrying an English King. That was the affair of the Government of this country and the people of this country, and I think we should have resented it very much indeed if the people of Bechuanaland had sarted to lay down the law to us and to tell us what we had to do.
I am not forgetting that Bechuanaland is a Protectorate which depends upon this island in many respects. Nor am I forgetting that it is a comparatively small corner of the country of Africa. But it is not the size of this problem which gives it its importance. It is the intrinsic issues raised by the problem, and I am certain that these are not issues which are confined to Buchuanaland or any one part of it but are issues on which the whole of the African Continent is exceedingly sensitive.
§ Mr. Beresford Craddock
I do not wish the hon. Lady to misrepresent me. I thought I had made it clear that it was the decision of the Bamangwato themselves at their first kgotla not to accept Seretse. It was left to them, and their decision should have been accepted.
§ Miss Lee
But the hon. Member is flying in the face of all contemporary evidence by trying to base himself on a decision taken under the influence of immediate emotion. I am sure that it was a great shock to the tribe to find that their young chief had married an English lady, and they reacted in a certain way. However, they have had a long time to think about it and so have we. They soon revised their views.
The hon. Member for Spelthorne gave testimony which was in direct contradiction to the evidence given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths). We have all been watching developments with the greatest care. There can be no doubt that with the passage of time we are not getting a more settled atmosphere. With the passage of time we are again and again having the fact reiterated that his people insist on Seretse Khama going back.
I am not an admirer of the hereditary system, as I have said before: these debates are apt to recur and most of us have said before what we want to say, but we should at the same time examine the new evidence which comes before us. I am convinced that we shall not have the development of democratic government in that part of the world until we first overcome the terrific emotional hurdle of the injustice which they believe to have been done—and that is my view too—by the exile of the chieftain of the tribe.
I should like my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly to go even further than he has done. I hope that if we can get no satisfaction from the Government, not only right hon. Members, but the whole Labour movement and all Liberal opinion in Great Britain, with some Conservative opinion as well, will insist on bringing certainty into this uncertain situation by pledging now that when we have a Labour Government, Seretse Khama will go back. I am a little anxious about news going to Bechuanaland that the British House of Commons is suggesting that a conference should be held with Seretse Khama, Tshekedi Khama and other representatives brought to this country to discuss the situation. I am all in favour of such a conference but as a prelude to it there should, in my view, be a plain statement that Seretse Khama is going back.
§ Major Patrick Wall (Hull, Haltemprice)
Is the hon. Lady suggesting that Seretse Khama should go back as a private individual, or as chief of the Bamangwato Tribe.
§ Miss Lee
I am suggesting that he goes back as chief. He was not exiled because he had violated a constitutional law, nor because he had refused to be co-operative. He had not taken that position. We have had the example of the Kabaka of Buganda. We could not have had a more enlightened Governor than Sir Andrew Cohen. We had a man who meant very well by the people, but nevertheless we have to face the fact that if we, from this island, try to lay down the law to another people of another race, another colour and with other conventions, then all of them will unite against us for that first primitive right, as they consider it, that they shall decide who shall be their king, who will be the chief.
The size of the area and its state of economic development do not alter this fact. I see no possibility whatsoever of our doing our duty towards this tribe until we allow Seretse Khama to return. As has been said, great exciting possibilities are now opening up. An extremely poor people may very soon have the wherewithal to finance new villages, new roads, new schools, new hospitals, new amenities of every kind. What pleases me very much as a Socialist is that the potential wealth is now in the hands of the tribe and not in the hands of an individual, so that the tribe will not have to go through all the complicated processes through which we go in this country to see that all the people share the resources of the country as these are developed.
I hope that the Under-Secretary will have something hopeful to say to us at the end of the debate. One condition I lay down as absolutely essential is that Seretse Khama should go back. If we cannot get that firm promise from the Government, I hope that we shall get a firm assertion from the Opposition. As my right hon. Friend said, we have had uncertainty since 1952. The banishment should not have taken place in the first instance, but we need not go back over all that.
There has been at least five years' banishment and we must all be impressed by the dignity with which Seretse Khama 1501 and his wife have gone through those difficult years. It is not easy for a young couple to have to face, early in their married life, all the difficulties which they have had to face.
Anybody who has been pestered by the Press of Great Britain knows that it takes strong character and a great deal of dignity and concern for the privacy of the home and for one's family in order not to be cheapened and vulgarised in a thousand and one ways. But I am now on a rather false argument, because even if Seretse Khama had been far less able and distinguished a man than he is, and his wife Ruth a less lovely and gifted lady than she is, the essential argument still stands that we cannot even begin to make the constitutional or economic progress which could be made until we first right the wrong which has been done to these people.
I very much hope that when Seretse Khama returns to his country he and Tshekedi Khama, his uncle, can co-operate in developing the resources of their country. But I very definitely do not want to see, during the remaining period of the present Government—which may be a month or two, or alas, a year or two—a continuing uncertainty in this matter. This is probably the last chance that the Government will have to take the initiative.
My right hon. Friend could not have stated our case with greater moderation, and I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that, if he cannot meet this case, the next statement which will come from a united Labour movement, with the support of many more people, will be an immediate promise that when we come back Seretse will return, and that the people out there can consider what they are going to do today in the light of that promise for the future. They must know today what is going to happen to them tomorrow—and what is going to happen tomorrow, so far as hon. Members on this side of the House are concerned, is, first, that the wrong which we have done them will be undone and, only following that can there be a building up of both the economic and the democratic potentialities of this sorely tried people.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Major Patrick Wall (Hull, Haltemprice)
I find myself in a considerable amount of agreement with the summary of the situation put before us by the right 1502 hon. Gentleman the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, but I disagree with the solution proposed by the hon. Member for Cannock (Miss Lee), and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman does so too. If Seretse is brought back immediately, or in the near future, as chief of the Bamangwato, we shall be right back where we were four years ago. We shall stir up all the old controversies which still exist, and have achieved nothing at all.
I think the House will agree that although the matter is not settled for the Bamangwato, conditions are far more favourable than they were four years ago, and the last thing we want to do is put the clock back. The right hon. Gentleman said that the future leadership of the Tribe was not settled, and I agree with him. He also said that the Tribe was most unlikely to agree to the appointment of a new chief, or to appoint one themselves, while either Seretse or Tshekedi are alive. I agree that the matter of chieftainship should be settled, as present uncertainty is hindering the development of the Tribe. I also agree with the right hon. Gentleman that even now there would be a considerable amount of disagreement over the return of Seretse, and especially with regard to the succession of his heir. This is not because he married an Englishwoman, but because he married without the approval of the tribal elders and, I believe, without even consulting them. When he did that the succession was immediately put in jeopardy.
What are we to do? The right hon. Gentleman suggests that we should bring leading people from Bechuanaland to this country for a conference. I suggest that that might create even more difficulties than it solved. How are we to select these people? If they are selected by Government officials they will be suspect, and what will be the respective proportions of the supporters of Seretse, Tshekedi and others and how is this to be decided? It will be extremely difficult to hold an impartial conference in this country.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
I do not think that there is any difficulty about selecting conference representatives besides Seretse and Tshekedi. If I do not elaborate the point now, it is only because my right hon. Friend will deal with it if he catches Mr. Speaker's eye.
§ Major Wall
I thank the right hon. Gentleman.
I think that an alternative suggestion is the development of district councils. If we introduced district councils at tribal level—they do not now exist—we should be erecting a democratic organisation with whom we could consult. I admit that the drawback to the suggestion is that it would take time, but I do not believe that it would take as long as all that. It might well be a case of slow but sure. It is quite likely that, having initiated the proper democratic machinery of elected representatives which would be in proportion to the feeling of the Tribe, expression would then be given to the opinion of the Tribe as a whole. I believe that a system of elected councils at tribal level would provide a better and more enduring answer than would a conference in this country at the present time.
I am sure that I speak for hon. Members on both sides of the House when I say that we all desire the development, not only of the Bamangwato and Bechuanaland, but of all the High Commission Territories. For various reasons most of us dislike the doctrine of apartheid in the Union of South Africa and it is up to us to show, in the territories under the Government, and under the control of this House, an example which can be set against apartheid. The Government of the Union are always bringing forward the fact that they spend so much on developing native schools, and so on, and the more economic development which we can achieve in the territories, the better will be the standard of living of the people there and the more effective the contrast to apartheid.
Mining concessions have been mentioned, and that reinforces the point made by the right hon. Gentleman. My information is that the Bamangwato will not decide on these concessions—and it is their right to do so—without advice from a son of Khama. Therefore, it is essential that this advice should be available in the long run, and I suggest that, in the long run, this will be achieved by having elected councils and by consulting with them.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)
I found myself in very strong agreement with the concluding remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for 1504 Haltemprice (Major Wall), and before I conclude I should like to refer to his speech. I wish also to refer to the speech of my neighbour—we actually share the representation in this House of one small village—the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Beresford Craddock).
I welcome the fact that we are at last discussing this subject. I was one of the small group of hon. Members who opposed the original decision to banish Seretse Khama. We opposed it, even though that decision was taken by a Labour Government of whom we were supporters. It gives us great delight that now, after a period of years, this matter is being raised, officially by Her Majesty's Opposition, and that such progress should have been made.
May I briefly state the grounds on which a number of us are opposed to the banishment of Seretse Khama? First, we take it on the quite simple principle of human rights. I have never been able to understand how anyone could possibly defend the action of an external Government in taking a man from another territory and another race, lifting him from among his own people, and deciding to banish him—in the case of the Labour Government for a period of years, and for all time, as Her Majesty's present Government have done.
That seems an infringement of human personal liberty of which it is just impossible to think. It destroys entirely democratic criticism of totalitarian Governments in the world who, when they practise these things across the Iron Curtain, are the subject of denunciation by hon. Members on both sides of this House.
The right of an individual who was born in a territory, has been living in the territory and belongs to its people to live in that territory is an elementary human right, and for anyone, whether a Minister or a person in any other position, to deny it is to accept for himself the denial of elementary human principles.
Secondly, we were opposed to the banishment of Seretse Khama because it was a denial of the principles of democracy. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Spelthorne is not now in his place. He argued in the House that the first kgotla, or tribal assembly, denounced Seretse Khama for his marriage and 1505 wished to disown him as its chief. There were three kgotlas. It is true that the first, under the emotion of the moment, repudiated Seretse Khama as its chief. One recognises that on the African side, as on the European side, there is sometimes racial consciousness and the colour bar.
The kgotla met again and discussed the matter further, and was undecided. The third kgotla, when there had been an opportunity to discuss all the relevant facts, came to the overwhelming conclusion that it wished Seretse Khama to return to it with Ruth Khama as his wife and as its chief. No one who has followed the situation in Bechuanaland since, and the feelings of the Bamangwato Tribe, can have any doubt that that is the overwhelming desire and wish of the Bamangwato people.
We in this House claim to accept democratic principles, yet the Government say to the Bamangwato Tribe, in Bechuanaland, "You shall not have the chief whom you desire and who, years ago, by overwhelming vote in your assembly, you desired should return." The Tribe has remained true to that principle ever since. I do not know how many times Her Majesty's Government have tried to get the kgotla to change its decision. They have called it again and again, but it stands by its view. The Government even imposed a Native Authority upon the kgotla, but the kgotla has rejected him as its chief year after year.
I wonder how any hon. Gentleman, or Her Majesty's Government, can dare to assert that they hold democratic principles. A tribe in Africa, year after year, despite all the circumstances against it, says, "We want this man to return as our chief", while the Government, claiming to accept democratic principles, have the impudence and arrogance to sit on the Front Bench of a Parliament thousands of miles away, here in Westminster, and say to that tribe. "You have no right to choose your own chief. We shall not allow him to return and we impose a Native Authority upon you."
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Commander Allan Noble)
Perhaps I might answer the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) on that point, which, I think, was also made by the 1506 hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee). I should like to refer right hon. and hon. Members opposite to the White Paper of 1950, which was published by their Government. Paragraph 18 of that White Paper said:His Majesty's Government have a wide responsibility for the well-being and good government of the Protectorate as a whole, and of the other High Commission Territories. In particular, they have in this respect a duty in matters of disputed successions that they must discharge. The opinion of the tribal assembly can only be one of the factors contributing to their decision.That is in the White Paper of 1950, published by the Labour Government.
§ Mr. Brockway
The hon. and gallant Gentleman must know that the quotation of that passage makes no impression on my mind or upon the minds of those of us who opposed the action of our own Labour Government, because we then felt that it was a denial both of human liberty and of democracy.
§ Commander Noble
I quite understand that, but I thought that this was the moment for that to be put on record.
§ Mr. Brockway
That has been put on record before, but we reject even the argument reflected in that paragraph and, as I shall show, the whole history of the Bamangwato Tribe and Bechuanaland since confirms the criticism we made then and which we emphasise in our speeches now.
In my experience of this House I do not know any part of the British Commonwealth or the British Empire whose civil servants are so ill-informed of what is happening in a territory as the civil servants who serve the Commonwealth Relations Office in relation to Bechuanaland. I think that that is due to the fact that the High Commissioner for the Protectorates does not even live in the Protectorates; he lives in the Union of South Africa. The Protectorates are regarded almost as the forgotten children of the British Commonwealth. They are treated in a way which can only encourage the Government of the Union of South Africa to turn their eyes on those Protectorates. Not only the hon. and gallant Gentleman on the Front Bench, but the hon. Member for Spelthorne and other hon. Members, are being kept in the dark regarding the real opinion of the Bamangwato people today.
§ Mr. Beresford Craddock
How can the hon. Member say that that is the case when his Government and this Government have given quite substantial grants out of colonial development and welfare funds in order to help those territories?
§ Mr. Brockway
That intervention is so irrelevant that I am hardly going to deal with it. Of course I am aware of the contributions that have been made, but I would also say very strongly that those contributions are utterly inadequate to the needs of those peoples and the importance of those territories at the present time.
I do not know how anyone can have any doubt that the exclusion of Seretse Khama from Bechuanaland is preventing the social and economic and political development of that country. Among a large number of the Bamangwato Tribe there is now an attitude of non-co-operation with the British Administration. It is the same technique that Gandhi adopted in India, "We decline to recognise the Native Authority which the British Government have imposed upon us. We decline to recognise this British Administration. We will not co-operate with it." Whilst the effect of that among masses of the people may not be strong, its effect among the leaders of the people is very strong indeed. During the last two or three years the headmen, sub-chiefs and other native representatives who have supported Seretse Khama have either had to give up their positions in the Administration or, for one reason or another, those positions in the Administration have been discontinued.
I say to the hon. and gallant Gentleman that with a Tribe like the Bamangwato, in which the number of people who can be selected for administrative purposes is relatively small, to have lost some of the best leadership—as we have because of the situation in Bechuanaland—has been one of the factors responsible for the position there. I have drawn attention in this House to certain brutalities which have occurred in the course of the native administraton. I am not saying for one moment that they are the direct result of having had headmen who, because of the issue of Seretse Khama, have been particularly vicious with their people. What I am saying is that because we cannot now select the best people for that job, due to the attitude of non-co-operation of 1508 the Tribe itself, we are getting people who cannot control that position as it ought to be controlled,
I should like to acknowledge that, as a result of the exposures which have been made in this House, the beating of women in public has now been made illegal. I want to acknowledge that, as a result of exposures made in this House, the beating of children in public at the kgotla has been made illegal. But I say to the Under-Secretary of State that until he gets the co-operation of the best men in that tribe—who so frequently are the supporters of Seretse Khama—to act as administrators, he is likely to have these old tribal antagonisms finding expression in the kind of brutalities that have occurred.
I was very glad to hear the plea made by the hon. and gallant Member for Haltemprice for the development of district councils, but does he really believe that we will be able to build up an administration of democracy in Bechuanaland when the majority of the Tribe have an attitude of antagonism to the British Administration or, at least, of non cooperation with it? In circumstances like that, we cannot begin to build up the system of democracy. I should welcome a system of district elected councils, but it is hopeless to attempt to begin to develop democracy within the tribe when we ourselves begin by denying the very principle of democracy in the choice of chiefs.
The economic aspect has been emphasised, and I need not argue it at length, but I want to say this to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. The Tribe has the right to decide how its mineral resources shall be utilised. There is now on the Front Bench opposite a very dangerous tendency to give to the Native Authority whom the Government have appointed, all the powers of a chief selected by the tribe. When the Government first appointed a Native Authority they emphasised the difference between that Native Authority and a chief. I have had a letter from the Under-Secretary of State within the last month which seemed to indicate that the Native Authority had the powers of a chief.
§ Mr. Brockway
I want to warn the Government very strongly indeed against 1509 the application of that legal power. If they do it, they will only make the situation in Bechuanaland worse.
Finally, I should like to welcome the proposal which has been made by my right hon. Friend. I should like to remind the House that that proposal was introduced in a Resolution adopted by the last Labour Party Conference by these words:We believe the time has come when the exiling of Seretse Khama from Bechuanaland should be reconsidered".That is the principle on which we began to consider this proposal for a conference to settle this issue. I should like this conference to be called. I should like to see Tshekedi Khama and Seretse Khama coming together on this issue.
I should like to see Raseboli, the Native Authority, and representatives of the Bamangwato Tribe being brought together by the Government to try to bring about a settlement of this issue. But the first principle must be the right of Seretse to return to his country and his Tribe when it is the desire of the Tribe that he shall so return.
Perhaps I might make a plea for one more thing, because there has been some misunderstanding about it. One of the real tragedies of the situation in Bechuanaland has been the tendency towards conflict between those two sons of the great Khama, Tshekedi and Seretse Khama. There are few things which I should desire more than that agreement could be come to between them. I wish it were possible, even during the present visit of Tshekedi Khama to this country, to bring about some agreement between them. If that agreement could be obtained, we should, I believe, go very far towards ensuring the success of the conference for which my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) has pleaded.
Certainly, while asking that Seretse Khama should have the right to go back to Bechuanaland, one also urges with equal determination that Tshekedi Khama should have every right in Bechuanaland to carry on his political activities and his public life and make his contribution to his people.
The Protectorates, two of them islands of territory within the Union of South Africa, one of them on the edge of South Africa, may be of tremendous importance to the whole future of Africa. If 1510 we are to influence the Union of South Africa it would be by making those Protectorates models of racial equality and of educational, social and political advance.
It is a tragedy that, instead of Bechuanaland appearing like that to the rest of Africa, it has become a symbol of the colour bar because of our treatment of Seretse and Ruth Khama. [HON MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, indeed; one can scarcely go to a country in Africa today and mix with the African people themselves, not with the European settlers, without hearing of Bechuanaland, because of our treatment of Seretse Khama, as a symbol of the colour bar throughout the whole of that Continent.
It is a great tragedy that that should have occurred in a territory so near to the Union of South Africa. We want to make a plea tonight to the Government that they will seek to build up the Protectorates as symbols of racial equality and of educational, social and political development, because if we want to influence events in the Union of South Africa that is, the best contribution that we can possibly make.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)
I had at one time thought that this debate would have started a little earlier than in fact it did so that we might have had the opportunity to discuss some of the wider considerations in the High Commission Territories. The Minister will be much relieved to know that I do not propose to raise these wider considerations tonight, because although we are not actually formally limited in time, nevertheless we are approaching a fairly late hour and there are other hon. Members who wish to speak.
I am very glad that we have had this opportunity of discussing once again this very difficult subject. I will not go over the past history, because I think it is familiar to all of us who are taking part in the debate. I should only like to say that I think we are discussing a tribe which has certain characteristics which one must remember if one is to speak realistically. One of these is that it is a tribe which, I am sorry to say, has been noted for its dissensions, and, though some of the differences which there may have been in the last few years may have had some cause in the relationship 1511 between Seretse Khama and Tshekedi Khama, that relationship is nothing new in the Bamangwato.
It is a tribe which is inclined to have factions and feuds. It is also a tribe which has been accustomed to very strong leadership for many years. Sometimes, perhaps, that leadership has been too strong, and for that reason the great mass of the tribe is rather apt to take a passive attitude and wait for a lead from above. That has been its experience in the past, both with Tshekedi and with the Great Khama.
I think that one has to remember these things, because they have a very considerable bearing on what is the wisest thing to do in present circumstances. The tribe has been deprived of the kind of strong leadership to which it has been for so long accustomed, and I am not now arguing whether that leadership was wise or not, but the fact remains that the tribe has been accustomed to it and is now left without the leaders to whom it has previously looked. It is true that Tshekedi Khama is permitted to live as a private citizen within the area of the tribe, but his activities are very much circumscribed, and Seretse, of course, is in exile. The tribe, therefore, cannot effectively look to either of these natural leaders for advice or assistance, and that seems to me to be a very difficult state of affairs.
It is true that there is a person who was appointed as Native Authority. He has not been recognised as chief, and, with the very best will in the world, although he has admirable qualities, I do not think that anyone would suggest that Rasebolai is a strong leader. Therefore, he does not fill the vacuum which was very suddenly left, so that we are confronted with a situation in which we are called upon to exercise wisdom and statesmanship, which is what I hope the Under-Secretary will apply in trying to meet this difficult situation.
The mere fact that there have been no serious acts of violence—I am not speaking now of some individual and relatively minor acts of violence or persecution or complaints of maladministration—the mere fact that there has been no organised violence or anything of that sort in the tribal area should not lead us to imagine that everything is positively as 1512 well as it might well be. As other hon. Members have pointed out, we are at this moment at a point of time in the development of the Protectorate when some leadership is very important indeed.
We have spoken of the possible economic developments. The whole question of both railway and mineral development is extremely important. It is important that not merely should the tribe be asked for its consent, which, I think the Government agree, is necessary constitutionally, for the purpose of mineral concessions within the tribal area. I am not sure of the position concerning railway concessions, and should be interested to know from the Under-Secretary of State whether the same principle applies. In any event, whether there is legal obligation or not to obtain the tribe's formal consent, the fact remains that developments of that kind should be fully and thoroughly discussed with the tribe by people of its own population who can understand the issues involved.
There are not very many people among the Bamangwato who are able to grasp the full implications of some of these economic developments. It does a great disservice to the tribe to deprive it of the kind of leadership to which it is entitled and which it ought to have, but which it cannot possibly have in present circumstances.
There are other important developments in education and in other directions which should be pushed forward. As the hon. and gallant Member for Haltem-price (Major Wall) so rightly said, we are in a very difficult moral position vis-à-vis the Union of South Africa when we say—unitedly, I am happy to think—that we could not contemplate handing over the High Commission Territories, and when, at the same time, it is obvious that we have not so far developed the social or educational services in the High Commission Territories to anything like the extent that they are developed in the Union of South Africa. We are now trying to catch up. We were glad to have the recent White Paper on Economic Development and Social Services in the High Commission Territories, but the resources of leadership are necessary to maintain pressure on the administration and to see that the tribe and the people have a real understanding of what one is aiming at 1513 and what is required to meet the new conditions.
Too much emphasis can be placed upon the question of chieftainship. I think that the period of indirect rule through an individual chief is something of the past. We are moving away from that conception. This applies just as much in the Bamangwato area as anywhere else.
I should like to say a few words in parenthesis, although I do not want to draw too close a parallel between things which are not really parallel. My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) referred to the Kabaka having been exiled and being allowed ultimately to return. The Kabaka, however, returned in rather different conditions. Considerable constitutional changes had been argued out in the meantime, and when he went back, admittedly as Kabaka, the constitutional position was very different from the time when he left. That is not a fully parallel case and I do not want to draw an unreal comparison, but, after all, time has passed since 1950, and, whatever we think about what was done at that time, we ought now to be thinking of what we must do in the immediate future.
We ought surely to proceed not only more rapidly than the Government think desirable, but more rapidly than they think possible. The time has come when we should press on with a form of representative Government which would make it posible to utilise the services of the best talent in the tribe, both among the Bamangwato and, I should hope, also in the other tribes of the Protectorate. I think that is the only way in which we can hope to have adequate and intelligent discussion of these very important changes which are coming about.
At the moment there are advisory bodies, but they have no right to demand to discuss matters beforehand. They can be presented with reports, etc. on which they can express opinions, but that is all. They cannot do more than that. I do not think that that form of administration is adequate, or will prove adequate in the coming years. So I think that generally the emphasis should be on developing representative Government.
That policy has been supported on both sides of the House. In that way we may find a solution to this very difficult problem of how to fit the Khamas into the 1514 situation in that area. I do not see how else we can do it. I do not see how else we can bring in the resources of both Seretse and Tshekedi and the other persons who have allied themselves with one or the other of these leading figures, and who, in present circumstances, find it very difficult to co-operate with people who have taken an opposite view on this very awkward question. I think we could very well bring both of them into some such representative body. That is my opinion; others may hold another opinion.
Because I regard that as one possible solution, I think it ought to be very seriously considered. My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), very properly, I think, speaking, as he was, from our Front Bench, did not wish to commit himself to an agenda for the proposed conference. I can quite understand that, but I think that we on the back benches should put forward possible solutions, and this, I think, is one of the solutions which ought to be very seriously considered.
The Government hold the view that if the tribe were to choose some other chief, and if he were firmly established, they could consider the return of Seretse Khama as a private citizen. However, that simply will not happen. I do not think that anybody will now really seriously argue that the' Bamangwato will choose another chief. I think, therefore, that that is now, whatever may have been thought previously, an unrealistic assumption. If that is an unrealistic assumption, then, so far as the Conservative Government are concerned, Seretse is to be permanently an exile. That means that there will always be a source of possible discontent in the tribe.
My view is that, better than having him as a martyr at a distance, it would really be far healthier for the life of the tribe for Seretse to go back. Of course, the terms or conditions on which he should go back would have to be discussed, but he certainly should go back.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) said, quite apart from the situation in the Bamangwato Reserve, there is also the very difficult position in which we are put by being charged not merely with having deposed him as chief but with exiling a man in perpetuity because of a mixed 1515 marriage, a charge which we find very difficult to defend ourselves against, as my hon. Friend said, in the West Indies, for instance, where there are some very distinguished statesmen—Prime Ministers, indeed—who are obviously descended from mixed marriages. Therefore, that wider issue must be in our minds.
From the much narrower point of view of the tribe itself, I think it would be to its great advantage if the full resources of the Khama family could be given proper opportunity to assert themselves in modern conditions. This is an urgent matter which should be resolved in view of the exceedingly important developments which are likely to take place during the next two years.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
I did not intend to intervene in the debate, but I should like, if I may, to correct the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fanner Brockway), who made too much of this question of the colour bar. I understand that in a great many of these countries—as, in fact, in countries like Malaya, in which I have spent a great deal of time—and in a great many tribes it is not necessarily a question of inter-marriage between one race and another. It is a question of the different traditions of the peoples themselves. An inter-tribal marriage within Africa might have created equally difficult reactions in the tribe itself. That has happened in many countries. For instance, the son of a Sultan of Malaya may marry someone of another race, not necessarily a European race.
I suggest to the hon. Member for Eton and Slough that he is laying too much emphasis on the point that the trouble arose primarily because Seretse Khama married a girl of European origin. I think that the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) is right in thinking that the days of the great chiefs are really past. We recognise that in their ways they were quite despotic in their behaviour, but with gradual education that sort of rule will not be necessary.
I wish to pay tribute to Tshekedi Khama for the way in which he behaved when he was deprived of his rights, and to point out that it is possible to sink 1516 one's political feelings and to go back and become a citizen of the territory concerned. I hope that we shall this evening consider such a return in the case of Seretse Khama, because his uncle has been able to fulfil the pledge which he gave. It may be possible for Seretse Khama also to go back on similar conditions, and then to proceed to the working out of local councils such as the hon Lady the Member for Flint, East suggested.
I think that these local councils are essential for both Africans and Europeans. There is room at present for eight such councils. I am rather frightened of breaking them down into too small units and dividing the tribes into clans, thus creating further disunity among the people. I should like my hon. Friend to consider setting up those councils as soon as possible.
We must get down to the task of opening up the industry of that country. One thing which has not been mentioned so far is the fact that over 4,000 people from the territory migrate to South Africa every year. When they return they feel very unsettled, which does not help the welfare and happiness of the country. I feel that if we could have these councils in which Europeans and Africans could get together in the district we might eventually have representatives from the councils sent to a central council. That might well be the beginning of self-government within the tribe.
I feel that we must get on with this matter as soon as possible because I rather fear that, owing to the difficult economic conditions in these territories at the present time, the Government might be tempted to take action to expropriate the land in order to develop the mineral resources in it so that the people may enjoy the type of life which we desire them to have. If matters go on too long as they are there may be that temptation. Therefore, I suggest that the sooner we encourage these people to form these councils and to realise the great benefits which they may receive if they can work out for themselves how to open up the land with the kind of help mentioned by the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), the better for the happiness of all concerned.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
I desire to intervene for only a few moments to support the excellent and reasonable appeal, full of understanding for this matter, made by the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White).
I do not want to enter tonight into all that has happened with regard to Seretse and Tshekedi Khama. My view of the action taken over six years ago is well known because I have too often debated this matter in the House. Six years and more have now elapsed since that great evil was done. It was a great evil because there is nothing more cruel than banishing a man from his own people. To send a man to live among people with different traditions and a different culture, to hear a different language, is a great evil. Over 2,000 years ago one of the wisest men the world has known, whose teachings are still regarded by us as those which have guided mankind and should guide mankind, chose death rather than to be banished from his own people.
So the evil that was done six years ago has not yet been remedied. The position is very unsatisfactory and I join with the hon. Lady in appealing to the Government to make an entirely new approach to this matter. They have tried, genuinely and hard, to get this matter settled. But it remains unsettled in an area which is of supreme importance, because the whole of Bechuanaland is like a Naboth's vineyard close to South Africa, and without doubt there are covetous eyes upon it. It has been necessary for strong statements to be made from the Box opposite, particularly by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), which have shown our determination to give these people the protection that we undertook to give them when the Great Khama first approached us to render that protection.
The position there is most unsatisfactory. And these are people who are exceptionally gifted. In particular, the Bamangwato Tribe have established their own independence, and by that, by their own strong arm and by their own methods, they had become leaders amongst all the neighbouring tribes. So much so that a large number of the smaller ones threw themselves under their protection. These people can see 1518 developments taking place in other parts, whereas they are not developing as their gifts and talents would undoubtedly develop if they had proper guidance now.
Socially, politically and economically there has not been the development there that there should have been during these last six years. Not only have they lost the guidance of a chief but, even though Tshekedi Khama has gone back as a private citizen, they have not yet had the full advantage of all the experience and knowledge which that remarkable man could put, not only at their disposal, but at the disposal of the Government. So highly do the Government regard his gifts that they are using him for other purposes, but within the limit of his own people his activities are circumscribed.
Therefore has not the time come for a different approach to be made? Again I agree with what the hon. Lady has said. The idea of chieftainship is gradually fading away and modern ideas are taking its place. One of the foremost in asking the Government to turn their minds to that matter has been Tshekedi Khama.
I will not enter into the details of this matter but merely join the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East in asking for an entirely new approach. The best way may be that of calling the conference suggested by the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths). In any event, something must be done to put an end to the chaotic position which is trampling down the development which would otherwise take place.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)
I was not present for the early stages of the debate and had not intended to take part in it, but, having listened to the last four speakers, I feel that I must say a few words. First, I thoroughly endorse what has been said about the chaotic position in Bechuanaland and I hope that the Government will take a hand in straightening it out. It is true that the tribal system is breaking down and, as the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) said, something must take its place.
I want to see something done to put Tshekedi not in charge of his own Tribe but at a higher level, because he is an 1519 outstanding African. He has shown what sort of a man he is by the attitude which he has adopted in the last five or six years since this trouble started in Bechuanaland. I hope that the day has now come when Seretse and Tshekedi can settle their differences by Tshekedi taking a bigger job, which he is capable of doing, in Bechuanaland but not confined to his own Tribe. I think that there are great possibilities.
Having said that I agree almost entirely with the last hon. Members who have spoken, I must now disagree with the complaint of the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) about the attitude of the European and the African in Bechuanaland. I had the pleasure of meeting Tshekedi this afternoon at a meeting at which he was asked that very question—how do the Europeans and the Africans get on with one another in Bechuanaland? He said that the relationship was good, and I agree that it is good. Many Europeans in Bechuanaland get on very well with the Africans and there are many people, such as storekeepers, who are doing a great service for the Africans.
§ Mr. Fenner Brockway
I was not aware that I made any reference whatever to Europeans and Africans in Bechuanaland.
§ Mr. Baldwin
In that case, I am greatly mistaken, but I shall be interested to see HANSARD tomorrow morning, because I thought the hon. Gentleman made his old claim about the colour bar in Bechuanaland. That colour bar will gradually be broken down if we make use of such men as Tshekedi and do not try to stir up differences between black and white. Let us make use of these outstanding Africans and the problem will settle itself in the course of evolution. We cannot settle it quickly.
The hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East referred to the better standard which the African had achieved in South Africa and which is higher than that in Bechuanaland. South Africa has the benefit of great mineral wealth, which is being used to help the Africans, although I do not agree with the system in South Africa. They make use of their great wealth in bringing a better standard of life to the Africans.
I want to see two things in Bechuanaland. First, I want to see the time come 1520 when a West African port will be an accomplished fact. We cannot develop Bechuanaland as an agricultural country unless we have some system of transport for the produce. Such a port would enable an agricultural country to be developed. Secondly, I want to see a geological survey made of Bechuanaland to discover what mineral wealth the country possesses.
§ Mr. Baldwin
I have not seen it, but, from what Tshekedi Khama said, not much attempt has been made with the geological survey. I cannot think that that part of Africa between two countries with vast mineral wealth does not have mineral wealth somewhere. If we want to advance the Africans, we must make use of that mineral wealth, and by that I mean that I do not want the West Coast port used to take the minerals out of Africa. I want the minerals in the country to be developed for the benefit of the people there.
I hope that we shall not have too much talk about the colour bar and that we will make full use of Africans like Tshekedi Khama who will help to bring Africans out of the present primitive state in which they are now living.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
The reason for this debate is, of course, that my right hon. and hon. Friends decided to raise this as one of the Adjournment subjects before the Summer Recess, but the need for it stems from the failure of the policy of banishment of Seretse Khama, which, in its final form, goes back to 1952. My suggestion to the House tonight is that we should realise that the onus of responsibility rests with the Government to show what policy they have for the Protectorate.
I listened to the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Beresford Craddock) with very great care, and as I listened I followed the same speech which he made four years ago on the previous occasion when we debated the subject. It was so much the same that some of the same stories appeared four years ago. I preferred the first version, because four years ago it was a little more related to the circumstances of the time. I admit that I thought it was a little irrelevant, 1521 four years ago, to lay stress on the first kgotla which was three years before that. But tonight, seven years after that kgotla, the hon. Member bases himself on what happened at that kgotla, which was to consider whether Seretse should be chief.
§ Mr. Beresford Craddock
I stressed that because, as I tried to explain, the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) gave the original facts of the case and I thought that it was only right that other facts should be put, even at this late stage.
§ Mr. Benn
If the hon. Member looks at HANSARD for 28th March, 1950, he will find that there was a very long debate on the meaning of these kgotlas, and their significance was by no means uncontested. At any rate, whether we argue about those or not, today we are testing a policy which was brought out by the present Government in 1952. This was the policy of the so-called final settlement of the Seretse Khama issue. It was achieved after a great deal of consideration and after a change of Commonwealth Relations Secretary about six months after the Conservatives came into power.
I have the HANSARD of that debate with me, and I propose—not with a view to saying, "I told you so", but with a view to seeing how far the hopes then expressed have failed to be realised—to read two or three extracts from the speech of the hon. Member for Spelthorne on that occasion, and from the speech of the Minister who replied to the debate. The hon. Member, who was speaking about a speech I had made on that occasion, said:At the moment in the Bamangwato Reserve the whole of the tribal life is disintegrating. This action will do more than anything else to restore the tribal pride of the Bamangwato."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th March, 1952; Vol. 498, c. 907.]That action was the banishment of Seretse Khama and nobody today has at any stage, whatever else they have said, claimed that the hon. Member was proved to be right in those words.
In fact, everybody admits that the tribal pride of the Bamangwato is far from being restored by this position. I intend to rub the hon. Member's nose in this. I listened to his speech. I will give way if he likes, but I shall go on when I get up again. He went on to say—and this is again a reference to the banishment of Seretse Khama: 1522I think that the steps that have been taken will have nothing but a good effect, once more cementing together the whole of the Bamangwato tribe."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th March, 1952; Vol. 498, c. 909.]
§ Mr. Beresford Craddock
That is the point at issue. I am sure that the hon. Member will go on to say that that has not come about. I take the view, and I have the support of many of my hon. Friends, that there has been a vast improvement in the conditions of tribal life and the progress made in the Bamangwato since 1952. I know that the hon. Member does not agree, but that is my opinion.
§ Mr. Benn
We are now examining what I wanted to examine, which is the record of the last four years. The hon. Member looked round expansively just now and said that he had many of his hon. Friends on his side. He should read, in tomorrow's HANSARD, the report of the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin), which deeply impressed me, particularly in its references to the possible rôle which Tshekedi could play in Bechuanaland as a whole. He used the word "chaos" in referring to the state of the Bamangwato Tribe. The hon. and gallant Member for Haltemprice (Major Wall) also took a different view. I am only suggesting that the wise words which hon. Members opposite have so often put up against the so-called emotional appeal of my right hon. Friend have turned out to be wrong.
My charge about the last four years is that the banishment of Seretse Khama was based upon the belief, which the Minister repeated, that it would lead to the selection of a new chief. The hon. and learned Member for Northwich (Mr. J. Foster), who was then the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, said this:… making the exclusion permanent instead of temporary is necessitated by the fact that until the Bamangwato have a chief round whom to group themselves they can be in no position to make the progress we want."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th March, 1956; Vol. 498, c. 948.]The whole case for banishment was rested upon the desire and the practicality of getting a new chief.
What has happened? An attempt was made to get Rasebolai made chief, but it failed in successive kgotlas. Whether 1523 or not that is regarded as proof of the cementing of the Tribe I leave the House to decide. The Tribe would not and will not select a new chief, and I am told by those with more experience than I have of these matters that there is no case known to anthropologists where tribes have been induced from outside, against their will, to select a new chief while their present chief is alive. Whether those anthropologists are right or wrong, or I am representing them rightly or wrongly, the fact is that today we are faced with the collapse of that policy.
The hon. Member may say that something has happened which is even better than the selection of a new chief, namely, the fact that we have a new Native Authority. But the outcome is not as predicted by the Government. The reason why I go into this matter is to show that my hon. and right hon. Friends, in making their proposal for a conference, are really coming to the rescue of the Government and are not merely reviving a problem that was already dead. This is a live problem, and my hon. Friends are being very constructive in their approach to it. It may be asked why it matters whether the Bamangwato Tribe is in these difficulties. I do not think that anyone looking at Africa today need look very far for an answer to that question.
It may be argued—in fact, I am not sure that it was not argued in this debate—as proof of the fact that everything was all right in the Reserve, that there has been no violence. What sort of a state are we in if, when there is violence, we are told that we must have law and order and, when there is no violence, that everything is all right and the tribe has now settled down? I believe that the supporters of Seretse Khama in the Bamangwato Reserve have shown remarkable restraint in this matter, and a wisdom in pressing their claims as best they can without violence. The Government cannot have it both ways and say that when nothing happens everything is all right and, when something is happening, that nothing will be done until the something that is happening stops happening. That is the logic of the Tory policy.
The second reason why this is important is that there must be constitutional advance among the Bamangwato. I wish to say a word, which some of my hon. Friends may think a little critical, about 1524 this approach to the problem of African chieftainship. It is often argued that good Socialists should never be in favour of chiefs, but of district councils, local authorities, Labour groups and all that. I hope that no one will think that I am in favour of chiefs. Seretse Khama and I are related in a curious way—he wants to be a chief and I do not want to be a chief. I do not believe in Mau Mau or witchcraft or Letters Patent, or the things that go on in the oath-taking ceremony in another place. I am a passionate democrat and I want to remain "Mr. Benn".
But when we are dealing with an African tribe, we must deal with them on the terms of their own native law and customs, and not by what I choose to call the "nanny" approach to backward people. The idea that they must be shepherded along because, "nanny knows best" is the sort of approach which leads to loss of face and the difficulties which surrounded the Kabaka decision. I put it seriously to the House that we must attempt to get a settlement which will find a response in the hearts and minds of the members of the Tribe.
There are other reasons why this is important and I mention only one briefly, because it must be in the minds of hon. Members. It is the presence of South Africa to the south and the Central African Federation to the north. After all, the South African Government are bringing constant pressure on the British Government to net the so-called pledge—I do not accept it as a pledge—in the South African Act implemented with regard to the transfer of these Territories. It greatly strengthens their claim if they can point to territories and say that there is no settlement there, and they can do that with regard to the Bamangwato Reserve.
I was depressed and surprised when I saw that Mr. Garfield Todd, the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia, supported the claim of the Union to these three High Commission Territories, and if we are to justify our status and position there we must do a great deal more for the people. It is not possible to do it so far as the Bamangwato is concerned without the return of Seretse Khama.
I wish to say a word about the idea of the conference suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly. I 1525 wish to ask him a question, because I think that by an oversight he forgot to mention this. He was urging a conference on the Government now. Am I right in supposing that it is his view that, when returned, the Labour Government would bring about a conference?
§ Mr. Benn
My right hon. Friend has indicated assent and I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) will refer to this later.
This conference is to decide the conditions under which Seretse Khama returns and not to decide whether he is to return. The view of my right hon. Friend—I know I am representing it fairly—is that the return of Seretse Khama to the Reserve is not a matter to be discussed any more. I think that this is a vital point to get on the record. The view of my right hon. Friend and the party, as understood by myself and others, is that the return of Seretse Khama is something which is now the policy of the Labour Party.
If we take the two extremes, Seretse Khama can return either as a private citizen subject even to the limits to which Tshekedi is subject, or as a full tradition chief. It is to settle this that the conference is to be called and I think it very important that this should be properly understood. I know of no disagreement at all with those who are eloquent about the need to bring Tshekedi and Seretse together within the Tribe. I believe that it can be done and that the conference is the only way to do it. Without a conference it would be impossible. Therefore, I am delighted that my right hon. Friend and the party have now given these twin pledges about the return of Seretse and the conference to settle the future constitution of the Reserve.
I would finish on that but for the obvious point that the Seretse Khama case is more than just a trouble in one area of the Colonial Empire. It is more, and it is bound to be more, than just one issue, one constitutional teaser, to which we all turn our minds, one issue of debate between the two sides of the House. It is more than that because of the mixed marriage. It is because of this mixed marriage of white and black, particularly at such a high level as that of a chief in 1526 Africa, and the fact that the mixed marriage challenges the whole basis of apartheid, that the Seretse case gets support.
If I were to mention the name of Miss Lucy in this House every hon. Member would know who I meant. It is not just a case of a girl going into a university, which is not of any particular interest, but a case which is the symbol of the fight of the United States Supreme Court to get people accepted in universities in the south of the United States, regardless of colour. Miss Lucy is not only discussed in Tuscaloosa or in Alabama, or just in the United States; she is debated and discussed wherever intelligent thinking people meet in any part of the world. So it is with Seretse Khama. Wherever one goes, the name of Seretse Khama is known.
It is a blot on this country that he should be excluded. The decision of the Labour Party that he should return to his own country is a great landmark in the struggle for human rights and is of symbolic importance. Now that the case has been reopened I am confident that it will finally be put right. The Government could not get a settlement for four years when the Labour view was not clear. Now it is obvious to everybody here that the only settlement lies in bringing together all the talent in the Tribe and asking its people to work together for their future and that of the Continent of Africa.
§ 9.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)
I would like to say a word in support of the proposition put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths). The proposal which we are making springs out of the original decision taken by the Labour Government in March, 1950, with which I was associated, which has inevitably since then been a matter of great controversy, and about which no one who was associated with that decision could be wholly happy. I do not want to go over the whole thing again tonight. I still think, balancing, as one had to, extremely difficult considerations, that it was the right decision at the time.
We must be clear what that decision was. There was little chance of a peaceful settlement to the disputed succession to the chieftainship at that time. In the 1527 High Commission Territories, because of their special relationship to the Union of South Africa, any failure of government or breakdown of order is terribly dangerous. We had reason to hope from our knowledge of the situation that, given a certain amount of time, the possibility of a peaceful settlement would very greatly increase. It was, therefore, a decision to suspend Seretse Khama for five years.
The Labour Government never intended this to be a permanent policy. The policy was to be reviewed—this was an integral part of the decision which we then took—in five years. There were many reasons why it was necessary to make this a temporary and not a permanent policy because, of course, very-great disadvantages attached to the decision. It was quite clear that the Tribe was not going to settle down until it could determine this matter for itself.
It was also quite clear, as many hon. Members have pointed out this evening, that the economic development of the area, of the Tribe, and to some extent of the entire Protectorate—because a great deal of the minerals of the Protectorate lie in this tribal area—could not go forward until this matter had been settled. It was for that reason that we very greatly opposed the decision of the present Government in March, 1952, to make the exile of Seretse Khama permanent.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) has just said, that created a new situation and, in our view, it was a very grave error. We divided against it, opposed it and refused to be bound by it. Now we feel that the time has come, in the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway), for the Government to reconsider the exile of Seretse Khama.
The reasons we think that that is so are, first, that the five-year term we originally set is up; it is now a little more than up. Secondly, the disadvantages of a failure to settle this matter are at least as grave, and in some respects graver, than they were at the time when we had to weigh them in taking our decision. The economic disadvantages are greater now than they were then because there has been a geological survey.
In reply to the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin), I would say 1528 that it was not as thorough as it could be. One can always make them more thorough, but it was thorough enough to show that there are very good prospects of mineral develpment in the Protectorate. Therefore, the economic disadvantages are much greater, because one cannot get these things settled until the tribe will agree.
Thirdly, there is now, in our view, clear evidence that there is a much better chance of a peaceful settlement of this dispute in the Tribe. There still are differences As my hon. Friend said, we must face them realistically. It is no good pretending that there are not problems there and problems which we have to face. There are still differences in the Tribe about the heir and succession. Therefore, we feel that because the arguments for looking at this again are now so great, because there are still differences—although, as we believe, they are much less great, or sharp, or bitter differences than there were five years ago—we have come to the conclusion that the only logical way out of this difficulty is to propose the conference which we have proposed.
The hon. and gallant Member for Haltemprice (Major Wall), in an extremely able, important and valuable speech, said that it might be difficult to fix the composition of that conference. I do not think that that is a very good point against this proposal. After all, there are organs there from which one can get opinion, even as things are in the Protectorate and the Tribe. There is the African Advisory Council, there is the kgotla and it is known who have views on these matters and who are important, responsible, and leading people in the Tribe.
I would not object in principle to the alternative idea of the hon. and gallant Member of some sort of representative council, but, in practice, it would take such a long time to get that going and I am not sure that one could get it going without settling the matter which the conference itself would have to settle. Although I am not against his proposal in principle, I think that our proposal has great practical advantages over it while his proposal has certain theoretical advantages over ours.
As I see it, this conference would, naturally, have to discuss the terms and 1529 conditions of the return of Seretse. Although I agree that at this stage we must not attempt to lay down an agenda, I hope it would also discuss the democratic development of the Tribe, as suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White), with whom I agree very much that perhaps those two points are connected.
Perhaps the progress one could make in agreement with the representatives of the Tribe in the development of representative organs or councils, whatever they may be, may help to get a solution of the succession problem, because the consequences of the succession and the powers which would go with it would be affected by what we did in the development of democratic organs. I use a neutral term.
Any Government that came to this decision and held such a conference would have to be guided by the decision reached at that conference. One cannot ever be sure of anything, but I am almost sure that such a conference would produce agreement. It might take a bit of thrashing out, and a bit of talking and compromise, and a bit of time, but I think it would produce agreement, and would produce what various hon. Members have mentioned as being so important—and I agree with them—a reconciliation between the uncle and the nephew.
I would urge upon the Under-Secretary of State to consider the point—in addition to the arguments which we have all been using—that this is now really bound to come. The Government are not the only factor in this. The Opposition of the day, too, is a factor. They have to take a responsible attitude to this, because, however much we may argue as to when it will happen, at some time the Opposition are bound to become the Government of the day, and this is a statement of our policy as a Government, when we become a Government.
The Opposition, having done two things, having refused to accept making permanent Seretse Khama's exile in March, 1952, and having now put forward this demand for a meeting or conference of leaders, mean that there cannot conceivably be settlement in the Tribe without this meeting coming about. Knowing that it is to come one day, the Tribe will not accept a settlement there without it. I beg the 1530 Government to pay attention to this consideration. It means that every minute, every hour, every month and every year that they put off the decision, they are wasting time. There will not be a settlement now without the sort of conference which we propose. It is, therefore, really better that it should take place soon, and that the Government should abandon their barren and hopeless policy of a permanent exile without any further consideration or consultation with the leaders of the Tribe.
I urge that the Secretary of State ought now to decide to summon this meeting. and I think that he should preside over it himself and should do his utmost to get the sort of settlement that we believe, with all the evidence which we have—and my right hon. Friend has explained the evidence; it is not just hearsay evidence, but first-hand—would follow. Such a policy would have the immense merit of letting the Tribe itself take into its own hands the final settlement of what has been, from the very beginning, a very unhappy affair.
§ 10.3 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Commander Allan Noble)
This has been a fairly wide debate, and I certainly would not complain, because, as the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) has said, this matter has not been debated here for some years. I will do my best to answer the main points that have been raised.
The debate was opened very fairly, I think, by the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), and I should like to thank him, if I may, for the courteous way in which he discussed with me the arrangement of this debate. I am very grateful also to the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) for having told me earlier that she was to raise much wider subjects. Perhaps I might say that I am very glad that she was unable to do so.
I am very pleased that the Leader of the Liberal Party was able to take part. We all know the great interest which he has taken in this subject over some years. He has told me that he was unable to stay later tonight. Perhaps, in passing, I might support what my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) said about backing up the Europeans who 1531 work in the Reserve. They do a great deal of work and are, I think, a considerable help to the Africans themselves.
The background to this discussion tonight has been gone into by quite a number of speakers, first, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly, and then by my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Beresford Craddock); and other hon. Members have filled in bits here and there. If the debate had not gone on for quite so long, I should have liked to have tried to summarise it, because I think that, from time to time, we did take some short cuts; but I do not think it would be the wish of the House that I should do that now.
Before I deal with the general debate, may I add my word of praise of Tshekedi Khama? All of us know that he was Regent for many years, and we know what a forceful and enlightened person he is. I am very glad to have met him on two occasions during the past few days. We all recognise the great service which he did as Regent, not only to the Bamangwato Tribe but to the Bechuanaland Protectorate as a whole.
The right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) criticised our action in 1952. We think that the decision of the Government in 1952 followed logically from the White Paper of 1950, because the hopes expressed in that White Paper did not come true. In fact, because the Socialist Government did not take the final decision, the Reserve did not settle down; and because we did take the final decision, the Reserve is now settling down. I hope to be able to give some facts and figures to show that that is indeed true.
The main proposal put forward by the Opposition tonight is that there should be a round-table conference, to which Tshekedi, Seretse, Rasebolai and other tribal leaders should be invited. I gather that that conference should try to find a chief acceptable to the whole tribe, or indeed any other solution. I think that the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) was expressing only her own view when she said that the Labour Party, if it was returned to power, would immediately send Seretse back as chief. I do not think I understood that from what was said by the official spokesman on the Labour Front Bench.
§ Commander Noble
I did not understand that from the right hon. Member for Llanelly who opened the debate. It may, of course, be the view of the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn). I shall go into that proposal in detail in a few minutes.
I should like the House to look at the position in the Reserve, and see what changes there have been in the last few years, because my information is very different from what has been put forward tonight from the other side of the House. When I became Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations at the end of last year, I turned first to those areas where the Secretary of State has direct administrative responsibility, which, of course, are the Protectorates; and I turned to the Seretse problem in particular. I found that considerable progress was being made in the area, although I will admit, as hon. Members have said, that there is still a lot to be done. Nevertheless, there is undoubted progress going on there month by month. In the Bamangwato Reserve in particular, there is much encouraging evidence of steady progress towards the restoration of stable conditions and of progress both in economic improvement and in the social services.
To turn to the African Authority, Rasebolai, there has been no doubt about the growing stability and efficiency of the administration. He has steadily consolidated his position since his appointment in 1953. All those who are in a position to judge will confirm that he is steadily winning the respect and confidence of his tribe. I do feel that those who have said to the contrary were grossly exaggerating the difficulties of the position.
Not only has he been able to win its confidence in matters concerning the day-to-day administration of its affairs, but he has also made some progress—and I know this will interest the House because nearly every right hon. and hon. Member who spoke mentioned it—with a scheme for the formation of advisory councils at 1533 the headquarters of his Subordinate African Authorities. I hope that by the end of this year Rasebolai will have succeeded in laying the foundation of a system of councils—and I think that is what the House would wish—which for the first time will give the Allied Tribes in the Reserve some real say in the conduct of their affairs.
§ Mrs. White
The phrase "advisory council" was used. Are these councils not to have any executive power whatever?
§ Commander Noble
These councils will start off with two-thirds elected and one-third nominated members, and will, in the first place, be of an advisory nature. The hon. Lady will agree that matters do move slowly in this Reserve, and I do not think that we want to go too fast. The fact that Rasebolai has set up these councils is, in my opinion, a very important step forward.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
Could the hon. and gallant Gentleman tell us whether the structure of these councils has already been decided, and, if not, will he in due course—perhaps even tonight—let the House know? There is an immense amount of experience in building up representative institutions in the Colonial Territories. Are they to be on the model of the beginnings of representative government, moving towards fuller government?
§ Commander Noble
I would not wish to go further on this matter tonight, but if the right hon. Gentleman would like that information, I will obtain it and inform him on another occasion. It is an important step forward that these councils are now going ahead.
From the economic angle, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed to suggest that there was economic stagnation in the area. I do not believe that that is so. As I think the House knows, more than £500,000 has been allocated for the development of new water supplies in the Protectorate, and hon. Members will know from the White Paper published last year that there are new plans for opening up an additional 10,000 square miles of new grazing in the western parts of the Reserve. This will have a tremendous effect, with the simultaneous development of the new abattoir, in encouraging the Africans to increase their turnover of cattle.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
I am very glad the hon. and gallant Gentleman has pointed that out, because it is perhaps under-rated by some of my hon. Friends, but our main point is that until there is a settlement of the whole tribal position and the chieftainship position, we shall not get agreement about concessions for major mineral developments.
§ Commander Noble
I shall answer that point in due course, but I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman.
I was talking about the additional grazing land which will improve the herds of cattle and will be of great importance. As a result of the grant-in-aid from the British Treasury, programmes for the expansion of the social services and the strengthening of the administration have been made possible. The agricultural, veterinary and medical departments all have comprehensive plans of development for the period up to 1960, and again the Bamangwato Reserve will have its share in all those new developments.
Perhaps I might mention, since the hon. Lady for Flint, East mentioned it, that education in Bechuanaland is going ahead. The Moeng school is being extended and that will help in African education. Perhaps in this connection I might say that school attendance in the Reserve, which I think is a sign of settled conditions, is higher than at any time since Seretse left. Another example is that tax collections last year were higher than ever before. That may be a strange illustration to give, but it does show that there is prosperity and indeed settled conditions.
I think that that is an encouraging picture, but the hon. Member for Eton and Slough, whom I am glad to see back in his place, has during the last seven months during which I have held my present office been asking in the House a succession of Questions which seem to imply victimisation and savagery in the Reserve, and the hon. Gentleman referred to that again tonight. He has alleged in supplementary questions that such things are due to the absence of Seretse and the agitation for his return. I do not agree with him, and, even at this late hour, perhaps I may deal with one or two of those allegations.
The hon. Member has suggested, for example, that the present African 1535 Authority and its Subordinate Authorities have singled out the supporters of Seretse for specially oppressive treatment. I can positively say, after most careful inquiries, that there is no foundation whatever for these allegations. Nor is there any suggestion that the relationship between the British officers in the Reserve and the inhabitants are in any way open to criticism.
It is true that in some of the more remote areas where one Subordinate Native Authority may have to maintain law and order in an area about the size of an English county, rough and ready measures sometimes have to be adopted. Neither do I think that it is at all unreasonable—this is another point that the hon. Member has often raised—that people awaiting trial or having to be held for any reason in places where there are no lock-ups should be tied to some heavy movable object. The hon. Member for Eton and Slough has raised with me at Question Time cases of people being tied for the night to lion traps. He rather ridiculed me on one occasion when I said I hoped that in making that statement he was not suggesting that the lion trap was being used as such at the time. These meanings are read into such questions, and the hon. Member should be more careful when launching out in that sort of question without giving me a chance properly to reply.
§ Mr. Fenner Brockway
May I make two points? When I have suggested that head-men, sub-chiefs or native representatives have been deposed or removed from their position I have suggested that it was because they were supporters of Seretse Khama and have participated in the campaign of non-co-operation. When I have drawn attention to the conditions under which prisoners have been confined, whether in cells with cement floors or tied to poles or to lion traps, I have not meant that they were in that position because they were supporters of Seretse Khama. All I have meant is that the Government have not had the best administrators, because the supporters of Seretse Khama have been adopting the attitude of non-co-operation.
§ Commander Noble
In answer to the hon. Member's second speech, I would say that I think that in the absence of lock-ups the use of those objects is necessary. I do not think the House will dis- 1536 agree with us if we try to build schools and dispensaries before lock-ups.
Another point upon which I wish to answer the hon. Member concerns the flogging of school children in public places. The children had been on a school outing and had got intoxicated and behaved in an unruly manner on the return journey. The schoolmaster wished to expel them but the Native Authority thought that a caning would probably have less damaging effect on the children's future generally. I think it was a very sensible decision.
When the hon. Member for Eton and Slough refers to flogging, I should point out that it is only a few strokes with a light cane, as might well be used at certain educational establishments in his own constituency.
§ Mr. Brockway
If there is no reason why this whipping should occur, why did the hon. and gallant Member himself take the decision, as a result of my raising this matter, to give instructions that this whipping in public places should not take place?
§ Commander Noble
I do not think I have said that I have given those instructions. I think it was the whipping of women—
§ Commander Noble
This was a rather exceptional case. The headmaster wanted to do one thing, whereas the Native Authority—wisely, I think—did the other.
§ Commander Noble
The hon. Member for Eton and Slough is a little unfair to exaggerate these matters. It makes it very difficult for the Administration on the spot if matters are raised here and are not raised there. There is no doubt that publicity over here only adds to the ammunition of the few extreme partisans there are in the area.
Many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen have mentioned mineral development. I have some good news about that. The African Authority, after long and careful discussion in kgotla, has announced his decision in favour of mineral development. Indeed, there is general agreement in the tribe that it is desirable, 1537 and those who oppose it do so on the ground that no decision shall be taken until a chief has been appointed. I shall come back to that point in a minute or two. The African Authority has all the powers of a chief in this matter and there is, therefore, no basis in law for the suggestion that he lacks the authority.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
This is rather important. When the hon. and gallant Gentleman says that the African Authority has consented, I presume he is referring to Rasebolai.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am putting a point to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. It needs clearing up. Is it not implicit in the Protectorate status that the consent of the tribe, not of any authority, must be obtained before this can proceed?
§ Commander Noble
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman can have heard what I said. I said there is general agreement in the tribe that it is desirable. I think that when I have finished this part of my speech I shall have cleared up the query which the right hon. Gentleman has in mind.
It may be that there is in the tribe a general fear that mineral rights may be given on terms which disregard the true interests of the tribe, and I recognise that some members of the tribe may entertain such a fear, but I can assure the House that there is no justification for that whatsoever. I think that what I am saying makes that quite clear. I apologise for reading this in detail, but I think it is important.
The Resident Commissioner has already had a full discussion with chiefs and African Authorities on this subject. He has explained that the Administration intend to bring together the representatives of all the tribes and of the company which is interested in mineral development in Bechuanaland, and he has promised that before then the chiefs will be consulted about the line to be taken at the conference. I think that is an important step. He has assured them that no commitments have been or will be entered into without their knowledge, and 1538 that they will be free to decline to negotiate, if they so wish. Indeed, he has explained to them that any agreement entered into without the written consent of the chiefs and African representatives, as owners of mineral rights in the Reserves, would be invalid under Bechuanaland law.
I understand that the chiefs are very satisfied with those assurances, and that they are anxious that mineral prospecting and development should take place as soon as possible. I can assure the House that it is the firm intention of the Government that no mineral rights shall be given in the tribal reserves which do not fully protect the interests of the tribes and—let me repeat—which do not have the consent of the tribal authorities.
This is an important point. In the Bamangwato Tribe there may be a desire for senior representatives of the House of Khama at present in the Reserve to be associated with any agreement which is eventually negotiated to the point of signature. If that is the wish of the tribe, the Administration are anxious that custom should be preserved, and will consider how this can best be done.
I would not wish to go further on that tonight, but I think that answers the question which was raised.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
I recognise that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will have made an important statement like that with great care, but on the last point he made there is a very important question which I want to ask, for I want to know what it means. He is now suggesting that a representative of the Khama family must be associated with the final decision. Presumably the hon. and gallant Gentleman is referring to Tshekedi Khama or some other member of the family. Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman realise that this adds strength to the view which we have repeatedly put, that until the question of the future of the chieftainship, and in particular of the position of Seretse Khama, is settled, this question of the development of mineral rights will not be satisfactorily settled?
§ Commander Noble
No, I do not think so at all. I particularly made that point, and I realised that the right hon. Gentleman would probably look at it in that light.
§ Commander Noble
It means that if. after the chiefs and the tribal leaders have negotiated this agreement, they would like to have a Khama signature on the document, we will consider their request. That is exactly what it means, and it is, I think, quite a fair answer.
I should not like to leave this subject without making it clear that mineral development, properly controlled to safeguard the true interest of the tribes, will be of the greatest benefit to the African inhabitants of Bechuanaland. Indeed, I believe that all hon. Members who have spoken tonight take that view.
To sum up this point about mineral development, the people as a whole want it; the evidence shows that it will bring great benefits to them; and the Administration are determined to see that it is properly controlled and only brought about with the agreement of the tribes. There is one other very important point about it. It will give the young men of the tribes opportunities to obtain industrial employment near their homes.
§ Mrs. White
Can the hon. and gallant Gentleman tell us whether there will be any public participation in this mineral development either through the Colonial Development Corporation or otherwise? Is the principle of some public participation, as in Uganda, for instance, to be observed in the Protectorate?
§ Commander Noble
These negotiations, of course, are in an early stage, but my information is that this would be a mineral concession such as is given in other territories, but it would be given by the tribes themselves and not by the Administration.
§ Mr. Benn
I am very sorry to interrupt the hon. and gallant Gentleman again, but I should like him to clear up this question of the name of Khama being attached to the document. This is really a matter of the very greatest importance, and I hope that the Minister will not leave it just with the words that he has used. Are we to understand that the tribe's acceptance of mineral concession involves the use of a Khama signature without the settlement of the chieftainship?
§ Commander Noble
No, that is not what I said. I said that if the tribe wished to have a Khama signature as well we would consider the matter and see how 1540 best to do it. That is exactly what I said and exactly what I meant to say.
Against the background of what I have just said about the Administration and the economic position today, I would ask the House to look at the request made by the Opposition for a round-table conference and to consider what, in fact, such a conference might achieve. The advice available to Her Majesty's Government shows that Seretse, his wife and his children would not be acceptable to the tribe as a whole as chief, chief's wife and next in line for succession. I have heard nothing to make me think that this advice is not well founded.
So far as I am aware, there is no other person acceptable at present as chief. There is no doubt that such a conference as proposed by the Opposition would stir up once again all the personal animosities and feuds which have now died down. If the conference failed, it would, I think, do far more harm than good. Personally, I cannot see any need for it. I repeat that it would unsettle the tribe, and, if the conference failed, it would do very great harm.
In our view, the supreme need is for a period of quiet and peaceful development—I think that over the last few years that has paid dividends—to enable the tribe to regain its unity. I earnestly ask all right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House to co-operate in giving the tribe an opportunity to forget its differences and to forge a new unity.
There is, of course, no question of the permanent banishment of Seretse. When a chief has been securely established, the present Government will be ready to give sympathetic consideration to his eventual return as a private citizen. Let us strive to bring that day nearer by helping to heal old wounds and by giving the present African authority and his Administration a chance to prove their worth.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
Before the hon. and gallant Gentleman sits down, may I say that I realise that he has used words carefully but that other hon. Members and myself are still confused about his use of the name Khama. I reaffirm the proposal which we have put forward because it is a constructive proposal and the only one which, we think, will arrive at a settlement. The position as the hon. and gallant Gentleman has stated it has been left very obscure.