HC Deb 24 October 1956 vol 558 cc629-31
27. Mr. Fenner Brockway

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will make a statement regarding the circumstances in which a state of emergency was declared in Northern Rhodesia during the strike of members of the African Mineworkers' Union.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Yes, Sir. The Acting Governor of Northern Rhodesia proclaimed a State of Emergency in the Western Province, which includes the Copperbelt, because he was satisfied that this action was necessary to secure the peace, and prevent outbreaks of violence, loss of life and damage to property.

The threatening situation with which he was faced had its origins in a dispute involving the African Mineworkers' Trade Union and the mining companies over the right of the mines African Staff Association to represent Africans in supervisory and staff grades. The dispute, which had resulted in a planned series of strikes, had engendered bitter feelings between the two groups of workers, and there had been violence and intimidation in the miners' compounds.

The announcement on 11th August that a Commission would be appointed to inquire into the causes of unrest in the Copperbelt did not effectively relieve the tension. The leaders of the mine-workers announced that they would not give evidence to the Commission. They were prepared neither for conciliation nor for negotiated settlement, and were evidently determined to keep the unrest alive.

Events came to a head when the Union called on the men at all the mines to present themselves for work without protective leggings or check discs, safety precautions without which it was known the management could not let the men go underground. By 11th September the atmosphere was such that a small incident among the crowds of miners congregating daily at the shaft heads would have created the risk of major riots and general violence. Great alarm was felt by all law-abiding persons throughout the area.

I fully support the action of the Acting Governor, which was taken neither before it was necessary nor too late to prevent serious and long lasting disorders. No life has been lost. The Acting Governor and many officers in the Service, and others, who have supported him deserve the gratitude of Northern Rhodesia and of this House.

Mr. Brockway

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, in a situation in which the African Mineworkers' Union is now threatened with complete destruction, he will take action, in view of the fact that the Union has contributed so largely to the organisation of the African workers, to the lifting of their standards, to the opening of doors by which they can obtain higher posts in that industry, and whether he will exert his influence for immediate steps so that there may be a restoration of this organisation?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I could not accept what the hon. Gentleman has said. Mr. Katilungu, the African General President of the Union, has declared his opposition to the unconstitutional methods of the leaders who have been detained, and he has successfully made efforts to get the men to go back to work. With regard to the latter part of the Question, the justification, so-called, of the troubles that have arisen was African advancement, and I am in favour of African advancement in giving to Africans in the Copperbelt opportunities to fill jobs that have hitherto been reserved for Europeans.

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