HC Deb 13 December 1960 vol 632 cc214-6
Mr. Callaghan

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations whether he will make a statement on the withdrawal of the African delegates from the Federal Review Conference at Lancaster House yesterday and the postponement of the Central African Territorial Conferences.

The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

At the opening meeting of the Federal Review Conference on 5th December all delegates agreed that their proceedings would be confidential. I do not, therefore, propose to say anything about what took place at our meetings. However, hon. Members will have read in this morning's newspapers statements made outside the Conference by certain of the African delegates. From these statements it would appear that these delegates have decided not to attend any further meetings of the Conference.

The Conferences to review the Constitutions of Southern Rhodesia and Northern Rhodesia are, of course, closely interrelated with the Conference to review the Constitution of the Federation. It was, therefore, decided to postpone these territorial conferences, which were to have opened this morning, to give time to clarify the position. The Federal Conference is, of course, continuing as planned, and is at this moment in session.

Mr. Callaghan

Does the Minister not realise that it is at least arguable as to how far the two sets of conferences are interrelated, especially when one takes into account that the Nyasaland Constitutional Conference was held quite separately many months ago and decisions were reached? I hope that he will not rely on that as being the reason for postponing it.

May I ask him whether he accepts the view that unless there is agreed constitutional progress for these two territories, particularly for Northern Rhodesia, and some considerable improvement in the franchise in Southern Rhodesia, there is no prospect of success for the Federal Review Conference?

Mr. Sandys

Of course, I accept that the successful outcome of the Federal Review Conference does depend, as the hon. Gentleman said, to a large extent upon the progress made at these territorial conferences. That is the reason why I said that the two were closely interrelated.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Will my right hon. Friend make it absolutely clear that postponement of the territorial conferences is a matter of convenience only and not of principle?

Mr. Sandys

It is to see where we are.

Mr. Dugdale

Following on the noble Lord's question, will the Minister assure the House that it is not in any sense a threat that if the African delegates do not return the territorial conferences will be put off?

Mr. Sandys

The threats have all come from other people.

Sir G. Nicholson

Will my right hon. Friend urge on the African delegates the illogicality and the harm that will be done by taking up an irrevocable position vis-à-vis the Federal Conference before seeing what progress is made in the territorial conferences?

Mr. Sandys

I think that those African leaders who have remained may well achieve more by calm discussion round the conference table than those who have walked out will achieve by striking attitudes in front of the television cameras.