HC Deb 16 February 1960 vol 617 cc1132-42
The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I will make a statement on my journey to Africa.

Soon after I became Prime Minister I determined, if it were at all possible, to make visits during my period of office to all the independent members of the Commonwealth.

In the early weeks of 1958 I visited five of the independent Commonwealth countries in Asia and Australasia—India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Australia and New Zealand. I went, also, to Singapore, but, unfortunately, I was not able to include Malaya in that tour.

I had hoped to complete my Commonwealth travels in 1959, but, in the circumstances which arose, and after careful thought, I decided to postpone the rest of my Commonwealth tour and to undertake instead a visit to Moscow. I am happy to say that this decision was supported by the Governments of all the Commonwealth countries.

In the concluding months of last year arrangements were made by which I could fulfil my ambition of completing my Commonwealth journey by a tour of Africa. As a result, I have recently visited four countries of Africa which have attained, or are well advanced towards, independent membership of the Commonwealth—Ghana, Nigeria, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and the Union of South Africa. I am most grateful to the Governments of all these countries, who invited me to visit them and made such admirable arrangements for my tour.

My purpose in these visits has never been to negotiate or to settle any particular problems which there might be between the United Kingdom and the other Government concerned. Matters of that kind are better left to the normal channels of communication and to the Ministers who have special responsibility for them. My idea was that the visits of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers to London—which we welcome so much when they take place, which is at intervals of some eighteen months or two years—excellent as they are from our point of view, ought not to remain what I have called a one-way traffic. I felt that the presence, even for a few weeks, of a British Prime Minister in office would be both a symbol of the links which bind the Commonwealth and a practical method of holding informal discussions on broad general issues such as are appropriate on a visit of this kind. I may add that it makes my work in London much easier, and I think, more fruitful, if I have some personal impression of the character of these countries, their problems and their ambitions. In addition, one is able to have personal discussions in their own homes with the Prime Ministers and other Ministers concerned.

I have now visited all the independent countries of the Commonwealth with the exception of Malaya. I have, therefore, nearly completed the task which I set myself on assuming office. I would certainly not over-estimate the value of these visits. Still less would I claim that in a few days or weeks one can gain any expert knowledge of the problems of each country. Nevertheless, I hope that these journeys will at least have demonstrated the faith of Her Majesty's Government and people in the United Kingdom in the value of the Commonwealth as one the greatest forces for peace and progress in the world today.

With regard to my few weeks in Africa, I see that there are a large number of Questions on the Order Paper and I have no doubt there will be others in the weeks to come. I will do my best to give the information sought, where it is proper to do so, and to answer the points raised in these Questions so far as possible at the proper time. I shall not attempt today, Mr. Speaker, to anticipate them. I shall confine myself to some general comments.

The countries in Africa which I visited represented almost every different facet of the African problem. In Ghana, where I was most hospitably entertained by the Governor-General and the Prime Minister, I had the opportunity of seeing the great economic, social and political progress which is the culmination of many centuries of contact with the West. Europeans are playing a great rôle in the economic development and progress of this independent African country. I believe that they will continue to do so in the future. For I felt a real sense of friendship for the British people, and a full understanding of the debt which Ghana owes to them.

In Nigeria, I was fortunate enough to be able to address the Assembly on a historic date. This was the first meeting of the Parliament elected under the agreement reached at a series of conferences presided over by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), to whom many tributes were paid. This historic meeting which I had the privilege to address represented the last stage in the country's progress to independence, which will be finally achieved in October this year. Nigeria is of course, an immense country. In area it is four times the size of the United Kingdom. In population it is the largest single country in Africa and the fourth largest in the Commonwealth. It has a great future before it. The recent discovery of oil and the development of agriculture should give it a sound economic basis. I hope and believe that the federal structure which has been devised will enable the three regions to work together in the development of a truly national spirit.

In the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland I was able to have talks with the Prime Minister of the Federation and his Cabinet, with the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia and his Ministers, with the Governor of Northern Rhodesia and his Council, and also with the Governor of Nyasaland and his advisers. I was also able to see representatives of a large number of political and other groups and to form at least some picture of the difficult problems, as well as the impressive prospects, of this immense territory.

At the moment when my noble Friend Lord Monckton and his colleagues are just about to start work I do not think that the House would wish me to comment upon the constitutional problems, except to say this. We know that, in the course of the next year, important decisions must be taken. The final responsibility lies, of course, with the Governments. But they will, I am sure, be well served by the preparatory work which is to be undertaken by the Commission. We shall come to the final conference well prepared. Meanwhile, I must say that everything I saw confirmed my confidence in the future. Much progress has been made in recent years and great possibilities for future development lie ahead. The formal opening of the Kariba Dam by the Queen Mother this May will be an impressive symbol of what has been done and what may be achieved in the future.

In the Union of South Africa I had only a few days to make a tour covering a very large area, but I was able to see a little both of the mining and of the various industrial developments, and to have long and intimate discussions with the Prime Minister—who kindly entertained me in his own house at Cape Town. The Union of South Africa is about to celebrate the fiftieth year since its foundation. It should not be forgotten that it came into being as the result of a decision of the British Parliament in 1910 in an attempt to build a single nation after the long struggles between the Afrikaaners and the British.

While I was in South Africa I was able to pay visits to each of the three High Commission Territories—Bechuanaland, Swaziland and Basutoland. The visits, however short, were a demonstration of the interest shown by the people of the United Kingdom in the progress and welfare of these territories.

Here, then, was contrast; I began with Ghana, which became independent two years ago, and I ended with the Union, which became independent fifty years ago—both by decisions of the British Parliament. I began with a purely African country where there has never been and never can be a European resident population. I ended with a country where, as well as the large African population, there are 3 million Europeans, many of them descended from ancestors who entered the country more than three hundred years ago. In between these two we have the Federation—containing, in Southern Rhodesia, a large European population and smaller European communities in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. They are citizens of these countries and cannot be citizens of any other country, for their homes are there.

All these varying situations, as well as the immense distances and size of these territories, convince me more than ever that it would be wrong to try to apply a single and simple solution to a multiform and complex problem.

In a speech of some length in Salisbury I tried to state the point of view of the United Kingdom Government on certain aspects of policy for which the British Government and Parliament have varying degrees of responsibility. In Cape Town, where the Prime Minister kindly invited me to address the Assembly and the Senate, I tried to set out courteously, but, I hope, clearly, the broad British point of view on the handling of these problems. Of course, I made it clear that in the Union we had no direct responsibility beyond that which every man of good will has towards his neighbours in trying to understand their problems. I made it clear, also, how deeply we treasure and value the Commonwealth connection and how great I believe the contribution of the Union can and will be towards the strength of the Commonwealth.

Perhaps, Sir, I might make two final observations. In the first place, I am more and more impressed by the need and duty of the people of the United Kingdom so to try to manage their economic affairs as to be able to make increasing contributions, from genuine savings and a favourable balance of trade, to the economic welfare of the less developed countries of the Commonwealth. The more we are able to improve our position at home the more we shall be able to follow the policy of the good neighbour overseas.

The second is this. We have to face, within a few months, certainly in this coming year, the next stage in attempting to reach some settlement, whether permanent or temporary, of the differences between Soviet Russia and the Western Powers. I feel more than ever convinced, as a result of this journey, as well as my previous Commonwealth journeys, that the contribution which the United Kingdom Government may be able to make towards this—the supreme question which faces the world today—can be enhanced by the sense of comradeship and fellowship which we have in the Commonwealth. I am very glad to think that we shall have an opportunity of consulting with the other Commonwealth Prime Ministers in London in the week preceding the Summit Conference.

Mr. Gaitskell

May I, first, welcome the Prime Minister back from his African tour? We have always taken the view that these tours in the Commonwealth by the Prime Minister could be of immense value and it is apparent, I think, that the Prime Minister has learnt a good deal during the course of these last few weeks.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his statement in Cape Town in particular was warmly welcomed by this side of the House, particularly his references to the march of African nationalism, to the importance of a society based solely on individual merit, and his forthright denunciation of the policies of apartheid? May I express the hope that when he addresses this Parliament he will be equally clear and forthright? Is he aware, however, that declarations are all very well, but that the real question is what policies are pursued? In that connection may I put three questions to him?

The right hon. Gentleman will, I think, agree that one of the key points in the present situation in Africa is Nyasaland and he will not, I think, under-rate the importance of proceeding with constitutional advance there. This largely turns on being able to negotiate with African leaders. What are the right hon. Gentleman's intentions regarding the release of Dr. Banda and his colleagues? Is it not evident that their release is a necessary condition before effective negotiation can take place with the leaders of African opinion in Nyasaland? The sooner this is done, the better.

Secondly, reverting to a matter raised at Question Time, the Prime Minister made a speech in Salisbury, to which he has referred in his statement, about the rights of the people of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland in relation to federation. We have all studied this speech with great care and we are very anxious to find out exactly what it means. Is he saying to the peoples of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland simply that they will not be forced against their will into a free and independent Federation, or, in other words, that without their consent Dominion status cannot be accorded to the Federation? Is that all he is saying, or is he saying that they will have a choice not only between federation as a free and independent Federation and a Federation as it now is, but also between entering a free and independent Federation and becoming self-governing independent States?

Thirdly, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia laid down quite specifically four conditions without which he would feel obliged to consult the opinion of his electorate before taking part even in the conference later in the year on the future of federation? Two of these conditions are that the Federation must remain governed by "civilized" people and that there must be no African Nationalist Governments in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. I put this straight question to the Prime Minister: is he going to accept the conditions laid down by Sir Edgar Whitehead?

The Prime Minister

On the position in Nyasaland and the possibility of bringing the emergency to an end, I would only say that I have no statement to make today.

The first interpretation which the right hon. Gentleman put upon my speech is correct. I said—and it is stated in the Preamble and elsewhere—that if there is to be a question of an independent Commonwealth country as we know it under the Statute of Westminster, then, as was intimated at the very start, the consent of the peoples of the two Northern Territories must be forthcoming. That is the right interpretation.

I have not seen what Sir Edgar Whitehead said. We have quite a difficult year ahead of us. We shall end having the Monckton Commission. We hope that that will help us. Then we shall have negotiations. What we hope to achieve is that these negotiations are entered into by all the people concerned in the best possible spirit. I do not think that it would help if, every time a Prime Minister or notability out there made, or was alleged to have made, a Press conference statement, I made some answer to it.

We realise the difficulty and the responsibilities to everybody—all our peoples concerned, whether white, European, coloured or African—[HON. MEMBERS: "So do we."] So do hon. Members opposite. I do not believe that to try to make comment on this or that statement will help. What we have to do is to get these negotiations going under the best possible terms that we can. If we fail, then we fail. But we are going to try.

Mr. Gaitskell

The Prime Minister said he had not seen Sir Edgar White-head's statement. May I offer him a copy? This question has been raised in his absence and it is an extremely important matter. If he really has not seen the speech before, we would wish him to have time to consider it and we would like a statement at an early date commenting on what Sir Edgar Whitehead said.

In reference to the earlier question, does not the right hon. Gentleman feel that a limited statement about the future of Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia, to the negative but important effect that the people of those two territories will not be forced into a free and independent Federation against their will, is leaving far too much in the air the question of their future? Does it not imply that they will not have the right to self-government and independence without federation?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman asked me what I said and which of two interpretations was correct and I have told him. Having made my speech, I cannot alter it.

Mr. Gaitskell

Amplify it.

The Prime Minister

I hope that I do not have to make another speech.

I will study the Press report of an interview, but I repeat that I would much rather concentrate on trying to steer this ship home than having a continuing battle this and that way about what somebody did or did not say.

Sir T. Moore

Does the Prime Minister appreciate that we on this side of the House, and, indeed, people in the country as a whole, are deeply indebted to him for the courage, tact and endurance which he has shown on this uniquely successful trip?

Mr. Grimond

I am sure that we are all glad to see the Prime Minister back and hope that he had a happy birthday on the way. The right hon. Gentleman made it very clear in South Africa that he disapproves of apartheid. He has also said today that the Commonwealth has a great part to play in world affairs. Clearly, it is made more difficult for us to play that part when apartheid is practised by one of the most important members of the Commonwealth. Can the right hon. Gentleman at least give us any ray of hope or optimism that the present policies of apartheid practised in South Africa—which, as he said, came into being in the hope of combining together different nationalities and which has failed to some extent—may be diminished, or broken down, or improved in any way?

The Prime Minister

I am very grateful for the hon. Gentleman's kind remarks about my return. Things seem to be going on very much in the same way as when I went away—very familiar and very friendly.

Mr. Manuel

Go away again.

The Prime Minister

Every word which any of us says about the Union is watched in the Union. I tried to put my point of view in a speech which I prepared carefully and which, I hoped, was clear but also courteous, as it should be when one is visiting an independent country of the Commonwealth which has been good enough to invite one. South Africa comes to our conferences and I hope that it will play a great Nile in the Commonwealth.

The hon. Gentleman asked me how I thought things might develop. The purpose of stating our views, and what I believe to be the views of all British people, is that they may be studied and thought about and, perhaps, be of some use in the development of opinion. If I have done anything in that direction, I am quite content, but I do not want to add words which might have the opposite effect. I would rather leave it there and have, as I have, faith in the development of the future.

Mr. S. Silverman

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of us on this of the House and elsewhere, who have not always agreed with him about this or other matters, are very grateful to him for the courage and eloquence of his speech in Cape Town?

With regard to the very important last part of his speech, to which he obviously attached, as we all do, great importance, was any communication made to him, of any kind, or did he gather any evidence himself, as to whether any harm had been done, or was likely to be done on that aspect of the matter by the recent tests of nuclear weapons which our French ally has insisted, against all protests, in having on African territory?

The Prime Minister

I am being led into another difficult subject. We made our position clear at the United Nations when this matter was discussed. I still hope and believe that we shall be able to obtain, by one means or another, an agreement on the tests, whether at Geneva, where we are labouring on, or perhaps at the Summit—perhaps confirmed at the Summit.

The French Government thought fit to make their tests—as, indeed, we have made many, the Americans many more and the Russians many more still. I do not feel that it would be right for us to take any line except that of working for an agreement to which all countries could adhere, it is for those countries which have made the largest number of tests and who are now great nuclear Powers—those three countries—to take the lead. Otherwise, I cannot help thinking a little of the mote and the beam. We three countries have made a tremendous development of nuclear power. If only we can agree, we can go to other people and ask them, "Will you adhere and on what terms and how can it be arranged?"

Mr. C. Osborne

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the difficult and delicate questions in Africa would be helped towards a solution if hon. Members exercised some restraint—[Interruption.] I am grateful to see the Leader of the Opposition is nodding his assent to the point which I am making—in the barbed questions they put, because matters which are raised in the House are exaggerated in different parts of Africa and given an importance which sometimes they do not deserve?

Mr. Stonehouse

Is the Prime Minister aware that we are delighted to have him back in the House and that, for a Conservative Prime Minister, his tour was quite successful and that we congratulate him on it?

Why did he have arrangements made for seeing Dr. Hastings Banda suddenly cancelled when he was in Rhodesia and Nyasaland? Can he clear the muddy waters, which were revealed in the Answers given by the Colonial Secretary earlier this afternoon, and say when Dr. Hastings Banda is to be released?

The Prime Minister

No arrangements were made or cancelled. On the second question, I have nothing to add to what I have said.

Mrs. Castle

Does the Prime Minister really think that he can acquire a personal knowledge of the problems of these countries, their character and conditions, when, during a visit to any one of those countries, he met only the representatives of the white minority and no representative of the black majority, as in South Africa? Can he tell us whether he made any protest to the Prime Minister of South Africa about the nature of the itinerary arranged for him there?

The Prime Minister

I was very careful in what I said to disclaim any intention of posing as an expert after a few days' visit. I think that what I said was exactly the opposite. No one can do anything except to get a few impressions which may be helpful in reading the papers and telegrams which come. I do not pose as an expert. I do not propose to write a book, even if I can find a publisher.