HC Deb 15 December 1958 vol 597 cc907-18

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Oakshott.]

10.28 p.m.

Mr. James Johnson (Rugby)

I wish to detain the House tonight to speak about a little far-off land which has enormous significance, far outweighing its size, to the world outside. If we sometimes say that Hong Kong is the democratic shop window for China, we might equally say that Basutoland is the democratic shop window for the Union of South Africa.

This land is of vital importance from the ideological point of view. What Her Majesty's Government do there with these people will echo and re-echo among millions of Bantu people. For some weeks we have had a distinguished delegation led by the Paramount Chief, Mantsebo Seeisio, and some of her leading chiefs. Not least in the delegation is a South African who has been advising them, Professor Cowen, of the University of Capetown—a fine type of Liberal. We are glad to see them here, and we welcome them in our midst.

The Bantu are a loyal and an attractive people, who live in a very harsh land. This tough land has made of them a tenacious people. Their country is completely land locked by the Union, and, indeed, if the Union cared to impose economic sanctions it would be very difficult for them. The lowlands begin at some 5,000 feet, and the gaunt highlands go to about 11,000 feet, while the sandy soil has been sapped for over 80 years by excessive cropping. There is no organic manure, for the animal dung is used for fuel.

Here, therefore, we have one of the worst examples of erosion, on a spectacular scale, and I hope that the Minister may be able to tell the House what is being done about this erosion. Is he satisfied with the number and the calibre of his agricultural officers? Is the Administration advancing sufficiently large numbers of young Bantu into these jobs? Are we thinking of mechanising the farming, in place of old and insufficient numbers of oxen? Is timber being planted on the high mountain slopes behind? All these things are of vital concern to these farming peoples.

Again, there are no large towns. Maseru has a population of less than 5,000, and, alone of the capitals of South Africa, does not have a Barclays Bank. There are no roads, no industry, but, lucky for these Africans—and they are luckier than some—no white settlers are allowed to own land. They are a genuine nation, welded together by their famous Chief Moshesh. They became wards of the Queen in I884, and I would like to quote the words of the then Chief Moshesh, as they apply now just as much as when they were spoken. He said: Let me and my people rest and live under the large folds of the flag of England, before I am no more. For over fifty years they have had an Advisory Council, and then before the last war, they asked for a legislative council, and repeatedly since but have not been satisfied. As late as 1943 they were given indirect election, which has worked well, and, at the moment, there are 42 elected members out of 100 on the Advisory Council. Only four years ago, there was a Government Commission, under Sir Henry Moore; but, fantastic to say, this Commission did not say a single word about a legislative council, despite the fact that no less an authority than Lord Hailey had been saying for many years that such a council was the obvious and only step forward in the history of these Basuto people.

There has been this increasing misunderstanding between Her Majesty's Government and the local administration. They are a loyal people, and have an honourable record in two world wars, and they wish to go on their way and develop uninhibited. I think the Minister will agree with me when I say that they would become bitter if South African apartheid should thwart their advance.

In September, 1955, the Basutoland Council, a body of 100 members which, as I say, had been in action for over 50 years, passed Motion 90, requesting that it be given power to make laws in all internal matters. In May, I956, the Secretary of State said that he was willing to consider proposals along these lines, and we have now had a delegation here for some weeks, conferring with the Secretary and the Under-Secretary of State.

Their proposals can be summarised as follows: the establishment of a legislative council; the association of Bantu in the 'work of an effectively-powered executive council, and the establishment of local government. In the legislative field, it is proposed that the elected elements of the council be increased from 36 per cent. to 50 per cent., giving both chiefs and commoners a fair say.

Those are the proposals that they have put forward, but it is the franchise that is so very important, because they say that those who are members of the Bantu nation should vote. In addition, of course, they have the usual other qualifications about being aged 21, having lived six months in the Colony, paid their taxes, and so on.

I think that the only advance to be made in our African Colonies or Protectorates is along the line of a common roll, where Europeans and Africans, and, indeed, Asians, will vote on a common electoral register. I understand that the Secretary of State for the Colonies thinks so too, but does the Minister think so? Of course, I think in terms of white Basutos and black Basutos. There is nothing whatever to stop the 2,000 Europeans who are in the Colony voting upon the same list as the 650,000 native peoples, or, at any rate, those out of that number who qualify.

Basutoland is the ideal place for a common roll to be enacted in this way. There would be no apartheid there, although I am told by those who have been to the Colony that they have been shocked by the application of the colour bar which operates at the present time. There is a hotel called Lancers, to which entry is refused to even distinguished people in the Colony, people such as some of those who appear in the delegation. Even leading chiefs are not allowed to enter the hotel. I understand that the Paramount Chief herself and a few civilians are given permits to enter the hotel. This state of affairs is quite appalling in a colony where Europeans are not even allowed to own land and who are there under terms laid down by the great Mushesh Chief seventy or eighty years ago.

Turning to economic development; any young man of the Colony has to leave the country in order to get a job. Some 150,000 go to the Union in the mines and farms. What are the Administration and Her Majestys' Government doing about developing the Colony's internal economy? What about the development of water power on the Orange River? What is happening in the matter of diamond mining with a gentleman named Colonel Jack Scott? What about the possibility of starting a tobacco or blanket factory there? There are over I million sheep in the Colony and blankets are the natives chief item of attire.

There has never been a high-powered economic survey of the Colony. The Minister might consider sending somebody like Mr. Arthur Gaitskell, or someone of his calibre, to investigate the possibilities of the Colony, for activities by C.D.C.

I come next to the question of education. There is an enormous thirst among the Basuto people for education. It is amazing to find how many girls in the Colony attend school. There are about 116,000 pupils in the schools of whom 72,000 are girls. This is an amazing difference to the pattern for Africa as a whole, where usually the boys are at school. They are nearly all literates, even the high shepherds and the cattlemen in the mountains.

Unfortunately, what about the lack of facilities for higher education? I think that there are only 11 Basuto students in the United Kingdom and nine in the Union. The Union is now clamping down on Basutos coming to its territory. Would the Minister consider sending these young people to the new university in Salisbury? That seems logical. The Canadian Catholics in the Pope Pius XII College at Roma are doing fine work in this field—where their students number 100 Africans and seven Europeans. They are completely non-racial.

It would be much more logical and sensible, since we are not to send these Basutos to the Union as in the past, to tie up the schools matriculation examination with that of the Federation of Central Africa and, also, London, and have the college in Basutoland linked with the University of London and with the Inter University Council.

The Basutos are vehement in their opposition to Bantu education. Therefore, I ask the Minister to think about matters on these lines. The sensible thing to do is what the Basutos want.

What about the future constitutional position of these people? Are the Basutos to be denied advance because of their country's geographical position? There they are land-locked by the Union and the only way out is through Bloemfontein. It is thought that Dr. Verwoerd wishes to absorb Basutoland. Certainly the Basuto nation wishes to avoid this at all costs—they have an abhorrence of apartheid just like ourselves. It is interesting to see this view expressed by a member of the executive of the official South African Bureau of Racial Affairs, in its news letter of July and August: The Basutoland proposals, which at the moment are enjoying the attention of the British Ministry of Commonwealth Relations, is an important step in the direction of the political coming of age of Basutoland. In the event of its acceptance it would, without a doubt, influence the relationship between the Union and Basutoland. It would possibly make the incorporation of Basutoland by the Union less likely and even eliminate such a possibility completely. On the other hand it can be a demonstration lesson as to the direction in which the Union can move in connection with its own Bantu territories. Perhaps the Minister saw The Times last week in which Dr. Verwoerd was stated to be thinking in terms of Bantu states—Pondoland, Zululand, Ciskei and Ternskei, which he intends to develop as a Commonwealth inside the Union, with their own emissaries to Cape Town, while he would send a Lieutenant governor to these Bantu states. Dr. Verwoerd is constantly gibing at us about the lack of development of the High Commission Territories of Basutoland, Swaziland and Bechuanaland. He says in overtones that we do not do enough in social services for these territories. Why cannot we do more than we are doing for our colonies like Basutoland? Why cannot we compete with Dr. Verwoerd and show him that states like Basutoland will be on a par at least with his own Bantu states? Her Majesty's Government must give the Basuto people the urge to build up and compete with the Bantu peoples inside the Union. Let us have more Basuto in the Administration and get away from this paternalism of the past. Give the Basuto a chance to develop and get away from this over-anxious regard for Dr. Verwoerd and this fear of offending the Union. This is a challenge to the Government, and I am convinced that Basuto people and their leaders will more than vindicate the faith that we place in them.

10.42 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson) on raising this question on the Adjournment. I should like to express from this side of the House the wish for continued good relations with these brave and loyal people. We have all been much impressed by the Basutoland delegation which has been here in the last few weeks.

As he is now in the middle of constitutional talks, I will not press my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on the subject of political advance. All I would say on this subject is that both sides of the House join in hoping that the Basuto people will be given a greater say in running their own affairs.

I want for a few minutes to discuss education which has already been mentioned by the hon. Member for Rugby. Of course, the snag, as usual, is money. I believe that it is very unfortunate that the teachers who are educated in the secondary schools and universities in Basutoland, tend to go to the Union of South Africa just when they are qualified and can do useful work in their own country. The reason is that the standard of pay for teachers in Basutoland is well below that of the Union of South Africa. Would my hon. Friend look into this and see what can be done?

As throughout the whole of Africa, secondary education could be much improved, particularly in technical and trade schools. But there again, money plays a great part.

I should like to take up a point raised by the hon. Member, namely, the question of the Pope Pius XII University which plays a great rÔle in Southern Africa. I believe that considerable expansion is hoped for and I hope to visit the university during the Christmas Recess and see exactly what is required. I believe they wish to affiliate with the University of London for the reason already given, namely that it will enable them to establish a truly multi-racial university on the same lines as Salisbury. I hope that my hon. Friend, as far as it lies in his power, will encourage that aim.

I understand, however, that there is one difficulty, namely, that this affiliation would mean a five-year degree course, which might well be too long for people in an emergent, growing country which wants to have educated people in circulation, if I may put it in that way, as soon as possible. If this affiliation with London proves a real difficulty, perhaps affiliation with some provincial university or with Edinburgh University, where I understand the degree course is three years, could be considered. This would, perhaps, be more suitable for the Basuto people.

I understand that the grants made to the various religious denominations vary very much in size. The religious denominations, both Protestant and Catholic, are doing fine work in the Territory, but I think I am right in saying that the disparity in grants between the denominations causes certain difficulties. Perhaps my hon. Friend might consider this also in relation to education policy for the Territory.

I hope that Her Majesty's Government will be generous both politically and financially in their discussions with these loyal and happy people. After all, it is up to us to show that our system of government is better than the system practised by the existing Government in the Union of South Africa. In Bechuanaland and Basutoland, we have a test case in order to show that our ideas of freedom and democracy and our leadership of the emergent peoples offer them a better future than is offered by the present Government in the Union of South Africa.

10.46 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. C. J. M. Alport)

The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson) who opened this debate on Basutoland asked me to refer to the constitutional discussions which we are at present holding with the Basutoland delegation, led by Professor Cowen. I am afraid that I must disappoint him. At this stage, I can only say that my noble Friend hopes to make a statement on these negotiations before Parliament rises. One thing I can tell him is that there is now a branch of Barclays Bank in Maseru, though what significance he will draw from that I am not quite clear.

Both the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rugby and my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) concentrated most of their remarks on education, and I fully agree with the hon. Member for Rugby that the thirst and desire for education in Basutoland is, perhaps, greater than it is in any High Commission Territory. When I was in Basutoland last June, I had the opportunity of seeing something of the educational progress which has been undertaken both by the Government and also by the three great missionary societies which work there.

I did not have a chance of visiting the headquarters of the French Evangelical Mission, although I did learn a good deal about its work and some of its many difficulties in conversation with its leaders. I spent a day at Roma, and I am delighted to know that my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice intends to go there, if only for a brief visit. It is a most interesting experiment in higher education in Southern Africa. I had the opportunity of meeting both Bishop des Rosiers and Father Guilbeault, who is rector of Pope Pius XII College.

As my hon. Friend said, this college is associated at present with the University of South Africa. That is purely for academic purposes. It meets the normal degree requirements of 'bachelor of art, bachelor of science and bachelor of commerce. In recent months, there has been a great deal of first class building undertaken by the college authorities. With these improved facilities and further improvements which will take place in the near future, it is fairly certain that during the course of the next few years, Pope Pius XII College will be able to absorb most of the likely Basuto matriculants. The college not only takes students from Basutoland but also from other High Commission territories and the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, and reciprocally the University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland takes students from Basutoland. I personally hope that this exchange of students will increase in the future.

As for my hon. Friend's point about the affiliation of Pope Pius XIIth College to some other University, I should like to study his remarks and the contribution made by the hon. Member for Rugby.

Under the overall direction of the Education Department, there were in Basutoland last year 116,000 Basuto children at school, which we estimate as being more than 50 per cent. of the child population, and most of them are attending the higher or lower primary schools run by the two missions to which I have referred, and by the Church of England Mission, which, with the somewhat more limited resources available to it, has been doing splendid work in Basutoland under the leadership of the Bishop. Grants-in- aid are paid by the Basutoland Government to the tune of £238,700 a year to assist and supplement the salaries of all teachers on the approved establishments. Indeed, 20 per cent. of the Territory's total revenue is spent on education, and there is really a substantial number of lower and higher primary schools available in Basutoland, and of teachers to work there, although I would not claim that we are ever satisfied with the existing circumstances, particularly regarding education.

Although some progress has been made recently in the technical and agricultural field, I hope the resources of the Territory would enable further expansion to take place in due course. That must depend in some degree on the development of the country's economy. This, after all, is based on agriculture and it has been true for a long time that the amount of land available has been insufficient to provide the average needs of all families. The result has been that the economy has been greatly assisted by the movement of something like 100,000 or 150,000 men at any one time into employment in the mines and farms of the Union.

The Basuto have the reputation generally for hard work and reliability, particularly in the mines, and I am certain that mine managements would agree that they have contributed greatly in turn to the development of the mining industry in various parts of the Union.

It is extremely disappointing that up to the present it has not been possible to discover any substantial mineral resources in Basutoland itself. Quite recently Colonel Jack Scott, whose family have had a long association with Basutoland, was given certain prospecting and mining rights by the Paramount Chief, and has shown great energy and initiative in his search for diamonds. But so far his success has been limited and I can only hope, in the interests of Basutoland, that his efforts will obtain a better reward in the future.

There have been rumours of the presence of uranium and thorium in the Territory, but I have no information which confirms that that is so. Indeed, the information that we have on this is, frankly, negative. But it may well be that there is a good case for a follow up to the minerals search that was carried out some years ago, and the truth of the matter is that if one takes the example of Swaziland, the potential development not only in agriculture but in minerals there has made a tremendous difference to Swaziland, transforming it, perhaps, from the Cinderella to the most highly developed of the three High Commission Territories.

A similar windfall in Basutoland could change overnight the economic prospects of this Territory. I know that the Basuto themselves are keenly alive to their own economic interest in the finding of mineral resources in their Territory, and they know they are safeguarded in this because the rights to these are vested in the paramount chief, in trust for the Basuto nation.

In developing their arguments, hon. Members opposite, like the hon. Member for Rugby, tend to give the impression that the United Kingdom does very little for these Territories. I am not complaining about that; I have no doubt that when I sat on the benches opposite I took the same sort of line. But we have made a substantial contribution to the development of Basutoland between I945 and 1955, and, indeed, right up to the present day. Under the Colonial Development and Welfare Acts £2¼ million has been allocated, and £1½ million actually spent upon various forms of development. In addition, there has been a loan programme of £500,000, running up to 1960. In the allocation of these moneys particular attention is being paid to the improvement of communications, both of roads and telephones, and the extension of water supplies. Indeed, no one who has visited the Territory and been up the mountain road can be other than impressed at the feat of engineering which it represents.

Apart from any assistance that we may be able to give, Basutoland depends primarily upon its agricultural and pastoral activities. I know of no land that is so treeless, or so much in need of modern methods of soil conservation. if the hon. Member were to go there now he would still find it pretty treeless, despite the efforts made to plant millions of trees. He would, however, be greatly impressed with the progress made in soil conservation in certain agricultural schemes in different parts of the Territory.

This work takes time, and requires patience, when it affects long-established rights, but the evidence I saw at the agricultural training school, and the expansion of co-operative organisations in the Territory, are clear proof that the Basuto are energetic and enterprising, and keenly anxious to improve their own standards of living by the introduction of modern methods of marketing organisation. Her Majesty's Government are only too anxious to assist in that, because we realise clearly the importance of making a contribution to a Territory which has been more than normally handicapped by lack of economic resources in these many years.

The hon. Member for Rugby referred to the "failure" of Her Majesty's Government with regard to the appointment of Basuto civil servants. I would only say that, hitherto, the emphasis has been placed upon the junior service, which is practically all-African at present and consists of about 1,000 civil servants, but a start has been made—and I am sure that this is most important—upon the appointment of Africans to the senior service, and 17 have already become members of that service. I can assure the hon. Member that as it becomes possible, with the coming forward of candidates with the sort of qualifications required, we will continue to promote this policy.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at one minute to Eleven o'clock.