HC Deb 27 February 1959 vol 600 cc1459-64
The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Julian Amery)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to make a statement on Nyasaland.

In answer to Questions on Wednesday I undertook to keep the House informed of developments in Nyasaland. There is not much to add to what I then said, but in view of requests from the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition at Question Time yesterday, we are very glad to give the House such further information as is in our possession.

Reports from the Governor show that on 24th February there was a disturbance at Balaka, in the Southern Province, in which an African policeman was stabbed. There were also disturbances at Lilongwe in which tear gas had to be used to disperse a serious riot. The King's African Rifles were compelled to fire four rounds, as a result of which two persons were killed and one wounded. The disturbances in the Northern Province are contained, but the airfield at Fort Hill is still blocked by trees and stones and out of action. Further reinforcements have arrived. There are no reports of further disturbances this morning, but the situation remains tense.

Against this background of violence and unrest Her Majesty's Government have decided that the proposed constitutional talks cannot at present be held. My noble Friend's visit has, therefore, been postponed. He will, however, go as planned to East Africa, from where he will be readily available to visit Nyasaland.

The closest co-operation prevails and has prevailed throughout between the two Governors, the Government of Southern Rhodesia and the Federal Government on measures to help restore the position in Nyasaland.

Mr. Callaghan

I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for making that statement, but I am very alarmed about the last paragraph, in which he refers to close co-operation. Has he seen the report in The Timesthis morning, in which the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia is reported as saying: If we only clean up the situation in Southern Rhodesia and nowhere else there is a risk of re-infection. I hope we shall find the other Governments follow the example that Southern Rhodesia has set."? Is there any likelihood that the Government will follow the panic-stricken measures adopted in Southern Rhodesia? I trust that the Under-Secretary can give us an assurance on that point.

Secondly, on the constitutional talks, why postpone this visit now? Have not we yet impressed upon the Government the absolute essential first importance of getting on with these constitutional proposals, so that the people of Nyasaland know where they stand? Will the Government please give us their proposed plan for the future? When can we expect some result of this eighteen months' cogitation?

Mr. Amery

It would have been quite impracticable to have held the constitutional talks against the present background of rioting and violence. Indeed, we were advised by the Governor that to have gone ahead with the talks now would have been to risk provoking further serious disturbances, and in that situation it would have been quite wrong to have gone ahead.

As for the earlier part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I can only repeat what I said earlier, that there has been the closest co-operation between the four Governments concerned on measures to restore the situation in Nyasaland. As I explained on Thursday, the Governor has called for reinforcements from the Federal Government and has received them very readily.

Mr. Wall

May I ask my hon. Friend whether there is complete co-ordination between his own Ministry and the Commonwealth Office, and how far the situation in Nyasaland has to deteriorate before a state of emergency is introduced; and, also, whether he feels that the situation where military forces are under Federal control and the police forces are under territorial control is conducive to the restoration of law and order?

Mr. Amery

The presence, side by side, of my hon. Friend and myself will, I am sure, reassure him that there is the closest co-operation. On the control of the police forces and the Army, when the Army is in support of the civil power it comes under the command of the Government as do the police. The decision to declare a state of emergency is one for the Governor alone.

Mr. Grimond

As I understand, the Minister may go to Nyasaland. Would it not be desirable that he certainly should go there to reassure the people there that Her Majesty's Government intend to fulfil their responsibilities and not in any way to abrogate them to Southern Rhodesia?

Mr. Amery

My noble Friend will be in East Africa and, therefore, only two or three hours by air from Nyasaland. He will be able to go there the moment that there is any possibility of restoring constitutional talks.

Mr. Hale

Will the hon. Gentleman remember that when this Constitution was imposed upon Nyasaland against the most bitter opposition in this House, and the opposition of almost every African in Nyasaland, the clearest undertaking was given by the then Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Chandos, to the House that the Constitution, if not worked effectively, could be revoked.

Surely the time has come when the Government must take a strong line in the matter, because it is nonsense to suggest that while the principal leader of the African people in the most populated territory is a prohibited immigrant in the rest of the Federation this is an effective Federation. If the Government wish to avoid trouble a strong line must be taken and a clear indication given of the will of this House.

Mr. Braine


Mr. Hale

On a point of order. When I address a question of that kind to the Under-Secretary of State he should either say that he refuses to answer it, or is unwilling to answer it, or does not know the answer. This is a very grave situation. The Under-Secretary of State should abstain from exacerbating the feelings of the House and the trouble. If he is to go on ignoring questions, then he must expect that the usual channels will not work in the same way as before. Is the hon. Gentleman willing to answer?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that we should all aim at avoiding exacerbation. I heard the hon. Member address certain arguments to the Under-Secretary of State, but I did not catch the purport of his question.

Mr. Hale

I asked the Under-Secretary of State whether the Government were prepared to say that in certain circumstances they would implement the specific undertaking given to the House by Lord Chandos and whether they were prepared to govern.

Mr. Amery

I did not understand that the hon. Gentleman's question was intended to elicit information. I was trying to give the House the latest information on Nyasaland in response to what the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday. I do not think that these great political issues can be advanced, and still less decided, by exchanges across the Floor of the House.

Mr. J. Griffiths

May I say to the Under-Secretary of State that we are all sorry to learn that the Minister of State is not going to Nyasaland? The hon. Gentleman will understand that there is a political background to this matter and that there are pending constitutional talks of very great importance with regard to the territorial Government of Northern Rhodesia.

Among the other assurances given by the then Secretary of State, Lord Chandos, was the very specific assurance that the political advancement of the people in the two Protectorates, which include Nyasaland, is a matter for the people themselves in the territory and for Her Majesty's Government and not for the Federal Government. The postponement of this visit could give the wrong impression that the action of Southern Rhodesia is partly responsible for it.

Mr. Callaghan

It was planned weeks ahead.

Mr. Griffiths

If we are to restore order it is important also to restore the political situation. That is why I am asking whether the hon. Gentleman will repeat the assurance, given categorically by the Secretary of State, that it is a matter for the people of Nyasaland and for the Government and not for the Federation, because it is the fear that the Federation will dominate the situation which is the background of this political agitation.

Mr. Amery

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, as I did on Thursday, that we have never departed from the pledges given at the time that the proposals were introduced.

Mr. Braine

Is my hon. Friend aware that his last statement will give general satisfaction to all, but would he not agree that the condition of ensuring that those obligations can be carried out according to the true wishes and in the best interests of the people of Nyasaland is that law and order should be maintained and for intimidation and violence to be outlawed?

Mr. Amery

I agree with my hon. Friend, although it would have been impossible to carry out the talks in the present climate.

Mr. J. Johnson

The Under-Secretary of State made the unusual and almost sinister statement earlier that the visit of the noble Lord would—I quote his words—provoke more disturbances. I should have thought that if the Minister had been there to discuss the matter it would have soothed the situation and not aggravated it. as the hon. Gentleman suggested.

Mr. Amery

The advice which we have from Nyasaland is that the visit of my noble Friend, and the hopes and fears which it might have aroused, might have raised the political temperature and provoked more disturbances. It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to shake his head, but this is the advice from the men on the spot.

Mr. Callaghan

In the circumstances, if the noble Lord was so wrong about Cyprus, why cannot he be wrong also about this? Cannot the Under-Secretary find some other way round it? I take it that he agrees that the statement of constitutional progress is vital. If Lord Perth cannot go to Nyasaland, why cannot the Governor come here? Why cannot the Government tell us what is holding up the publication of these proposals now? Is there some difficulty in the way?

Mr. Amery

Only our adherence to the well-worn principle that it is a good thing to discuss these arrangements with the representatives of the people concerned.

Mr. E. Fletcher

Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that the postponement of the visit of Lord Perth to Nyasaland has created a most unfavourable impression? Does he not think that in the interest of the Constitution and the future of Nyasaland it is more important, not less important, that Lord Perth should go there to ascertain what the position is? Surely it is not so serious that it is not safe for him to go. Is it not more urgent that he should acquaint himself with the situation and have constitutional talks in order to prevent the situation from deterioriating?

Mr. Amery

There is, of course, no question of the situation being too dangerous for my noble Friend to go. The problem is that his visit might have given rise, so we are advised, to the danger of further disturbances and loss of life. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not wish us to take steps that might lead to that situation.

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