HC Deb 21 February 1961 vol 635 cc323-35
The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. lain Macleod)

I will, with permission, make a statement on the Northern Rhodesian Constitutional Conference which concluded at Lancaster House on Friday, 17th February.

A record of the proceedings is being published as a White Paper, Command No. 1295, and is now available in the Vote Office. Copies of this statement will also be available.

The White Paper makes clear how far apart the views of the political parties in Northern Rhodesia regarding constitutional change were and have remained. Accordingly, it became necessary for me to put forward a plan on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. The details are given in the White Paper and I would here only refer to the main features.

First, there should be an enlarged Legislative Council containing about 45 elected members. The Legislative Council should be composed of three elements —a number of members elected by voters on the Upper Roll, an equal number of members elected by voters on the Lower Roll, and a substantial number of "national" seats in which candidates would have to obtain some measure of support from both Rolls. A possible division would be 15 on the Upper Roll, 15 on the Lower Roll and 15 national seats.

In the national constituencies it is contemplated that to qualify for election candidates should obtain the same prescribed minimum percentage of the votes cast on each Roll; and that the voting power of the two Rolls would be equalised by averaging the percentage of votes cast on each Roll which is secured by each candidate. There are obviously points on this part of the scheme which will require further consideration.

In addition to the elected members. there would be up to six official members; and one or two nominated members might be added.

Her Majesty's Government feel that this plan taken as a whole would achieve the objective of securing a substantially increased number of African members on the Council and, at the same time, maintain the principle of a non-racial political approach in which political parties are obliged to seek support from both races.

An outline scheme for franchise qualifications on the Lower Roll, which would, it is estimated, enable about 70,000 Africans to be enfranchised on this Roll is given in the White Paper. It is not intended that there should be any major changes in the qualifications for voters on the Upper Roll, but the alterations which we have in mind might result in between 1,500 and 2,000 African voters becoming eligible for the Upper Roll in addition to those now qualifying.

Under the present responsibilities of the Territorial Government the Executive Council would consist of three or four officials and six unofficials. The Governor would be Chairman and the Council would be advisory to him. In making his appointments, the Governor would consult with and pay due regard to the person or persons who appear to him to command the widest measure of support in the legislature. The unofficials would include at least two African and at least two non-African members of the Legislative Council. In addition, Parliamentary Secretaries might be appointed.

The Conference agreed that a House of Chiefs should be established in Northern Rhodesia and full details of this proposal are given in the White Paper.

I informed the Conference that in the view of Her Majesty's Government the new constitution should include a Bill of Rights designed to safeguard the rights to individuals and the interests of minorities; and that consideration should also be given to the creation of a Constitutional Council to afford protection against unfair discrimination or other contravention of the rights guaranteed to individuals.

The application of the provisions of the United Kingdom's Government's plan to Barotseland will be discussed with the Paramount Chief.

Naturally, many matters still remain to be settled; for example, the delimitation of constituencies, the way in which national members are to be returned and matters relating to franchise qualifications.

I am asking the Governor to give early consideration to these matters and to bring into consultation with him the political groups in Northern Rhodesia. He will then put forward his recommendations and Her Majesty's Government will advise Her Majesty on the constitutional changes to be introduced.

Mr. Callaghan

I think that it would be a hard-hearted man who did not sympathise with the Colonial Secretary in the difficulties that he has had to contend with over the last weeks, and not the least of them has been the activities of the Prime Minister.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman three questions? First, in view of the gravity of the situation in Northern Rhodesia, I am surprised that there was no reference in the right hon. Gentleman's statement to the state of public safety and security there. May I ask what information he has from the acting Governor about the position, and specifically whether he has put himself in a position to be able to deal with any violence or trouble, if it should unfortunately arise, with his own resources and without the need to call upon Federal troops?

Secondly, why is it that the right hon. Gentleman has departed from the simple proposal recommended by the majority of the Monckton Commission for a majority of African members in the Legislative Assembly, in view of the fact that when the Federal Conference was under review the delegates attending it were led to believe that an African majority represented the views of the Colonial Secretary at that time?

Thirdly, in view of the gravity of the situation, does the right hon. Gentleman not think that it was an error on his part not to have disclosed the details of the franchise and of the constituency boundaries to the delegates attending the Conference? As so much of the business is, in the words of the right hon. Gentleman's own statement, unfinished, may I put a plea to him that instead of leaving this to the Governor he should now recall the Conference here and put to the delegates who are willing to attend—and I hope that all of them will come—the details of the franchise which he has in mind and the nature of the constituency boundaries that he intends to draw so that thus they can see the picture as a whole?

Would not that be better than leaving the situation in the state it is, in which there is uncertainty on all sides, in which the Government have lost the confidence of every one of the major parties attending or not attending this Conference, and allowing a situation to develop in which delegates will return to Northern Rhodesia without any tempering influence that might be felt in this country, and we may have a great explosion there?

Mr. Macleod

On the hon. Member's first general observation, let me say that I have never, and I never will, put a plan before the House for any Colonial Territory which is not my own. I am quite ready on this plan to accept any criticisms there may be, but this plan is and remains a plan which I think is the right plan for Northern Rhodesia. I may add that in working out the plan I have had very great assistance—and I am delighted to acknowledge it—from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

The hon. Member mentioned three specific points. First, he raised the question of security, which we discussed in a Private Notice Question recently. On the whole, the reports which I have had from Northern Rhodesia—and I have had them daily—are reassuring on this matter. The action of calling up two battalions of European territorial federal troops had a reassuring effect. Naturally. Her Majesty's Government have responsibility in this matter, and so have the Governments in the Federation.

The hon. Gentleman then referred to the Monckton Report. It is true that a majority of the Monckton Commission said that there should be a majority of Africans on the Legislative Council, but he will also remember the Monckton recommendation, as far as internal structure was concerned, that there should be parity, and that within that parity there should be parity for Northern Rhodesia. The objection I have to the main recommendation of the Monckton Report is that it is purely a racial one—in other words, that we should set up a certain number, perhaps 30 Africans and 30 whites facing each other. I thought that the note of reservation was the weightier point and had some points in company with this plan.

The hon. Member's third point was the question of the finality of the Conference. It is never possible—and he errs in this respect—to reach finality at these conferences where constituency boundaries are changed. I will give him the appropriate White Papers on the Kenya Conference, the British Guiana Conference. the Nigeria Conferences, and the Nyasaland Conference, and if he consults them he will find that in all these cases delimitation of constituencies and allied matters were left to a working party. It is not possible that a conference should do this.

When the hon. Gentleman says that there should be consultation, I agree with him. These consultations will take place with all the political parties, and share his hope that they will be with both those who attended the conference and those who did not attend. I think that these talks are far better carried out in Lusaka by the Governor, who, as I said, will then report to Her Majesty's Government.

Mr. Callaghan

Is not the fundamental difference, between this conference and the other constitutional conferences to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, that delegates to those other conferences went home having agreed to work out details? In this case, the basic difficult that he is up against is that delegates are withdrawing without having agreed to the basic Constitution?

Does the right hon. Gentleman not know that one of the main difficulties of the delegates who attended was that he refused to disclose to them the details of the franchise? I leave constituency boundaries on one side for the moment. Why did he not tell them what the franchise was?

Further to the question of parity and racial representation, may I ask whether it is not the case that in Nyasaland there is to be an African majority? is he not introducing a quite irrelevant consideration in speaking of the federal position in relation to Northern Rhodesia? Does he intend that the Africans should have a majority in this new Legislative Assembly or not, for it is upon that that his troubles will depend?

Mr. Macleod

I will answer that last question straight away. It shows that the hon. Member has failed to grasp this scheme. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"] That is so. The whole point of having national numbers of this sort is that one should neither enshrine nor have a European or an African majority, but that there should be these two blocs—if that is how they will be called in the end—founded on the upper and the lower rolls, and that the national seats should be open to people to put up their own candidates, who may be of any colour, in order to attract the middle vote that will be essential in this case.

Mr. Callaghan


Mr. Macleod

It is not true by any means that in the previous cases I mentioned there was agreement. In the case of Northern Rhodesia, I am right in saying that it has been necessary—and this includes 1958—to impose all the constitutional settlements that there have been.

As I think the hon. Member will realise if he reads the White Paper, and, in particular, the first speech I made, which is printed in full, in December last year, and if he follows the reactions of the different parties, which are summarised. he will see that the two points of view were so far apart that the only thing to do was for Her Majesty's Government to come to their own conclusions on what was best and right for all the peoples in Northern Rhodesia, and that is what we have tried to do.

Mr. Turton

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear whether he regards this plan as being in line with the fundamental principles announced by his predecessor in the House on the 27th November, 1958, bearing in mind that in that previous constitution there were 18 multi. racial seats and four racial seats?

Mr. Callaghan

They were all bogus.

Mr. Turton

As far as one can gather, under the plan my right hon. Friend is putting forward, there are to be 15 multiracial seats and 30 racial seats.

Mr. Macleod

None of the seats in this plan is labelled African or non-African in any way, and the heart of the matter, which is the national balance, I regard as being entirely in line with the principles behind the 1958 proposals.

Mr. G. M. Thomson

Is it not clear to the right hon. Gentleman from the question which he has just answered that his appeasement of his right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) and his supporters has not succeeded, as appeasement never succeeds? Is it not tragic that the Colonial Secretary has retreated from his original intention of conceding the Africans a majority in the Legislative Council, as he has conceded such a majority in Nyasaland? Is he not taking the responsibility for undermining the moderate leadership of Mr. Kenneth Kaunda, and replacing him, perhaps. by much more extreme leaders?

Mr. Macleod

If the hon. Member will read the speech to which I have referred, he will see that from the beginning what I put before the conference was a scheme based on parity, or variations on the theme of parity. For myself, I am neither surprised nor do I deny that there are many members of my party who are anxious about the pace of events in Africa. So am I—so we all ought to be. I happen to hold the view that we are going at the right pace in these circumstances. This plan was drawn up long before any of the events to which the hon. Member has referred.

Mr. F. M. Bennett

It is obvious that it would be extremely difficult to comment constructively on these proposals until we have had an opportunity to study the White Paper—and it would, indeed, be unfair to try to do so. Meanwhile, however, does my right hon. Friend agree that, in these communities where there is a large racial minority, a minimal degree of co-operation is essential if catastrophe is to be avoided? Does he consider that this requirement has been met in these proposals?

Mr. Macleod

I do not think that we can tell at this stage. Faced by two points of view which appeared, to our great regret, to be irreconcilable, the only thing that we could do was to put forward, honestly, our own point of view. I can assure the House that we have done that without regard to pressure from any quarter. I think that the reactions to the plan make that fairly plain. We believe that it is the right plan for Northern Rhodesia.

I believe that if people will accept the challenge of the plan—and the Liberal Party, under Sir John Moffat, which attended the Lancaster House Conference, has—as an appeal which cuts across the racial boundaries, we have the right answer.

Mr. Grimond

Is it not the fact that the Liberal Party in Northern Rhodesia accepted this plan on the understanding that it would guarantee a black African majority if the black Africans so desired? While we all share the right hon. Gentleman's desire for a non-racial approach, will he assure us that a nonracial approach does not mean that an absolute veto remains with a very small minority, and that ultimately the power of an elected majority must pass to black Africans, which they may use to elect black or white representatives? Will he assure us that in his view the plan means that that is where the majority power will ultimately lie?

Mr. Macleod

Nobody doubts that, ultimately, the majority power in Northern Rhodesia will be with the African people. That is accepted by the United Federal Party and all others. There can be no question about that and if the Leader of the Liberal Party will study the plan he will see that that is so. At this stage, I must say—because I do not know whether the representatives put up for the national seats will be Africans or Europeans—that I do not know who will win those seats. That is up to the people of the electorate of Northern Rhodesia, as it ought to be.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Apart from the Liberal Party, have all the leaders of the Northern Rhodesian parties had an opportunity to study the plan contained in the White Paper, and if so, to what extent do they regard it as a reasonable basis for further discussion?

Mr. Macleod

All the leaders of the parties who attended at Lancaster House have seen the plan. Of course, we have an obligation to consult and, naturally, Sir Roy Welensky has seen it, as have all the leaders in Northern Rhodesia. I want to answer that question perfectly clearly. I do not think that the plan ments what the African nationalist leaders would wish to see in the plan, and I think that some of the parties in Northern Rhodesia think that it goes too far, but, balancing those two risks as best we can, Her Majesty's Government believe that it is the right plan to put forward.

Mr. Dugdale

The right hon. Gentleman had a similar problem in Nyasaland. Why is it right that there should be an African majority in Nyasaland when it is wrong in Northern Rhodesia, where there is a similar situation and where there should be just that majority?

Mr. Macleod

Nobody who knows anything about Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia and the racial problems there can assume for a second that the two are on a par.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

We cannot debate the matter now without a Question before the House.

Mr. Callaghan

On a point of order. The House has not yet reflected on the gravity of the situation resulting from the breakdown of this Conference. I therefore wish to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 on a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the serious situation arising from the breakdown of the Northern Rhodesia Constitutional Conference. I do so for the following reasons. First, there is serious reason for believing that when some of the leaders return to Northern Rhodesia, they will be put in gaol, and if that is so, then the constitutional talks for which the Colonial Secretary hopes cannot take place out there. Secondly, many of us want to make an urgent appeal to him during a debate in which we can ask for his and the Government's views on recalling the Conference in London before the delegates disperse. That seems to us to be of the utmost significance so that they can all see the plans which the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. Thirdly, we believe that tragedy will ensue if the delegates of this Conference disperse—although we hope and we ask all the parties, both European and African, that there shall be no violence despite the bitterness which exists out there. We therefore ask you, Mr. Speaker, to give us an opportunity to debate this matter at seven o'clock tonight.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 on a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the serious situation arising from the breakdown of the Northern Rhodesia Constitutional Conference. Hon Members will understand that I necessarily anticipated and contemplated this situation, but I cannot accede to the hon. Member's application.

Mrs. Castle

On a point of order. Are you aware, Mr. Speaker, that, according to reports in responsible newspapers like the Guardian to-day, units of our strategic reserve are now being prepared for flight to Lusaka to help the Federal Government to deal with trouble arising from the imposition of a Constitution which the majority of the Northern Rhodesian people do not desire?

Is not this an urgent and definite aspect of the problem which brings the matter within the ruling of Standing Order No. 9? Will you, therefore, accept a Motion under that Standing Order in the following terms: the alerting of certain units of Britain's strategic reserve for service in Northern Rhodesia to help impose a Constitution following a break-down of the constitutional talks?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Lady asks me to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9, in this case on the basis of the alerting of certain units of Britain's strategic reserve for service in Northern Rhodesia to help impose a Constitution following a break-down of the Constitutional talks. I cannot accede to the application in that form.

Mr. Stonehouse

On a point of order. May I ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker? In view of the urgency of the position, how is it possible to obtain further information from the Colonial Secretary today about the steps which he now intends to take?

Mr. Speaker

I appreciate that all this is a matter which the House will no doubt wish to discuss in its own due time. My difficulty is in seeking to apply the Standing Order in a way which would produce a result which I am asked to achieve.

Mr. Leather

Will you also take account, Mr. Speaker, that there has not yet been a chance for the House to register the fact that on this side there is overwhelming support for the Colonial Secretary for what he is trying to do?

Mr. Gordon Walker

On a point of order. May I seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 on a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the refusal of Her Majesty's Government to recall the Northern Rhodesia Constitutional Conference? I put it in that form because it then becomes the direct responsibility of Her Majesty's Ministers.

Mr. Speaker

In this case the application is based on the refusal of Her Majesty's Ministers to recall the Northern Rhodesia Constitutional Conference. I do not think that that, either, is within the Standing Order.

Mr. Brockway

On a point of order. The whole House has a sense of the gravity of the situation in Northern Rhodesia and hon. Members on both sides will desire to have the earliest possible discussion. If, Mr. Speaker, you do not feel able to accept a Motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 now, does that mean that you would be ready to consider such a request tomorrow, or at a later date, or consider a request for a debate by the whole House?

Mr. Speaker

A request for a debate is not a matter for me, as the hon. Member knows, but what he has said will no doubt have been heard. I have to hear applications for an Adojurnment under Standing Order No. 9 and I will hear them and consider them whenever they are made to me.

Mr. Gaitskell

We all appreciate that you are bound by the rules of order about whether you can accept a Motion for the Adjournment under Standing Order No. 9, Mr. Speaker. But we are conscious of the gravity of the situation in Northern and in Southern Rhodesia, too. I believe that there is a general desire in the House to have a constructive and exploratory debate, in which Members on both sides will wish to give their view. Since you are apparently debarred by the rules of order from acceding to a request for an Adjournment of the House now, may I ask whether the Government will find time for a very early debate on this subject?

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. R. A. Butler)

We will consider the right hon. Gentleman's request. I can give no undertaking, for I have to consult my right hon. Friends, but perhaps conversations could proceed through the usual channels.

Mr. Thorpe

On a point of order. Since the Leader of the House has sought to answer a question of the Leader of the Opposition and has, therefore, accepted that he is answering questions at this stage, may I ask him whether he will make a statement tomorrow on the possibility of having a debate on this subject in the near future?

Mr. Butler

I accept the suggestion of having consultations. There is a great deal of business ahead of us, but nobody under-estimates the importance of this subject. I must adhere to what I have said, namely, that we will have consultations about the matter.