HC Deb 13 February 1961 vol 634 cc934-6
Mr. Callaghan

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will make a statement on the state of public safety in Northern Rhodesia in view of the calling out of Federal troops.

The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Iain Macleod)

There is tension in all communities in the territory, who are anxiously awaiting the outcome of the Northern Rhodesia Constitutional Conference. The call-up of territorials in Northern Rhodesia was decided upon by the Federal Government. The Acting-Governor was informed and concurred in this step as a purely precautionary measure.

Any use of troops in aid of the Civil Power in the territory is a matter for the Northern Rhodesia Government.

Mr. Callaghan

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is a most disquieting statement, in view of the fact that it is probably the first time in our colonial history that troops have been called out except on the advice of the Governor? Would he make the Government's position clearer on this? Was it their view that the state of tension to which he refers was of such a character that the troops should be called out, and, if that was so, were the Government not incompetent in not having them called out? If, on the other hand, it was the Government's view that it was not necessary to call them out, are they not displaying singular weakness in not telling Sir Roy Welensky what they are doing?

Mr. Macleod

I would have to look into the question of precedent. It is the responsibility of the Federal Government to station troops within the territory and their use in aid of the civil Power is a matter for the territorial Government.

I have no hesitation, and nor has the Governor, who is here, in concurring with the Acting Governor in Lusaka that this was a wise measure. There is considerable tension in the territory and there have been a great number of inflammatory statements. In a matter of this kind—and I have often been in this position before—when it is a question whether it is wise to call out troops, I think that it is usually better to take the step of calling them out rather than regret later that you have not done so.

Mr. Thorpe

Is it not a fact that the Monckton Commission's Report, in paragraph 149, maintains that troops have never been called out without the prior request of the Governor? Is it not also a fact that in this case the Acting Governor was faced with a fait accompli and had to concur in a decision that had already been taken? Is it not true that the troops were predominantly white and is he not aware that the minority Report by two former Members of this House pointed out the grave danger of having racially selected troops, because they inflame the situation?

Finally, if there is a threat to security, would it not be better that troops be flown from Kenya rather than troops who might be politically tainted?

Mr. Macleod

Certainly not—in answer to the last part of the hon. Member's question. What the hon. Member has said in relation to the Monckton Report is perfectly accurate.

As to the question whether this was a fait accompli, I do not think that that is the position. The Federal Governor thought it was wise to take this action, but before it was promulgated he conferred with the Acting Governor in Lusaka, who concurred in the action. I think that it was a wise thing to do.

Mr. Wall

Is it not a fact that there have been threats against public order both from the European and African Organisations? Is it not wise, therefore, to be prepared and can my right hon. Friend assure the House that, whatever the result of the present talks in Northern Rhodesia, internal security will be preserved at all costs?

Mr. Macleod

Yes, there have certainly been dangerous statements made from both sides, which are deplorable. Of course, I give the assurance for which my hon. Friend asks.

Mr. Callaghan

Is the Minister aware that we shall want to reserve judgment on how wise this move has been? Meanwhile, we are content if the Minister accepts the charge of incompetence. If he believes that there was a threat to public safety, then the troops should be called out on his initiative or the initiative of the Governor.

Coming to the more important point, is it not the case, as the Minister has said, that the build-up of tension is caused by his failure to produce the proposals for the constitutional advancement in Northern Rhodesia when the conference has been running so long?

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

This has nothing to do with the Private Notice Question.

Mr. Callaghan

This is to do with public safety in Northern Rhodesia.

All I am saying, Mr. Speaker, is that public safety will be better served, not by calling out the troops but by producing proposals for the constitutional advances—and this seems to me to be absolutely germane—in which the Minister is known to believe. While realising the difficult pressures to which the Minister is subject at the moment, will he remember that in reaching his conclusion he will save his own self respect if he sticks by the principles in which he believes?

Mr. Macleod

As far as similar events are concerned, I remember very well only a few weeks ago being criticised for pre-decision in relation to the situation in Buganda when a difficult decision had to be taken and I was told that what I had done was provocative. I did not accept that I was and in the event it turned out well.

I accept that this particular matter will have to be judged by what happens. All I can say is that we were getting constant reports of what was happening from the Acting Governor as well, and I believe that this was a wise decision that they came to yesterday in this particular matter. As far as the proposals for the Northern Rhodesian Constitutional Conference are concerned, the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that a plenary session to discuss that matter in particular has been called for tomorrow.