HC Deb 26 June 1961 vol 643 cc33-41
The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Iain Macleod)

I will, with permission, make a statement on the Northern Rhodesia Constitution.

In my statement of 21st February I informed the House that I had asked the Governor to put forward recommendations after consultation with political groups in Northern Rhodesia on the matters which then remained to be settled. In order to fill in the details of a picture of which only a general outline had been given, I have now received the Governor's recommendations, and a White Paper containing the text of them is available in the Vote Office.

Hon. Members will wish to study this White Paper carefully. At the moment, I propose to confine myself to a summary of the Governor's main recommendations in respect of the more important matters which were left for settlement and Her Majesty's Government's view as to the advice which should be tendered to Her Majesty on these points.

As regards the elected membership of the Legislative Council, the Governor considers that the number of elected members should total 45, as suggested in the White Paper, composed of three equal groups of 15, the 15 members returned by the upper and lower rolls respectively to be elected in single-member constituencies covering the whole of the country.

As regards the third group of national members, he suggests that the simplest arrangement would be a pattern of seven double-member constituencies, perhaps combined with a separate single-member constituency. Her Majesty's Government accept the Governor's recommendation in respect of the upper and lower roll constituencies and in respect of the seven double-member constituencies.

As regards the suggested single-member constituency, we have decided that since the proposed arrangements do not provide an opportunity for the smaller racial communities who have their particular contribution to make to Northern Rhodesia, the Asian and Coloured communities throughout the whole territory should constitute a separate single- member constituency and, consequently, those registered in this constituency will elect an Asian or Coloured candidate.

As regards the method of electing national members the Governor—and Her Majesty's Government agree with him—has come to the conclusion that the basis should be the equalisation of the two rolls as outlined in the White Paper, but he makes two suggestions to meet some of the criticisms he has received. First, he suggests that three or four of the seven double-member national constituencies should each return one African and one European member.

Her Majesty's Government accept this suggestion and consider that four of the seven double-member national constituencies should be reserved in this manner. Secondly, while endorsing the view of the White Paper that all candidates for national seats should be required to obtain a prescribed measure of minimum support, he suggests that the particular method envisaged in the White Paper might not, in practice, meet its object of compelling candidates to seek support from both races.

He therefore recommends that the minimum support required by a candidate in order to qualify for election should be expressed as l2½ per cent. or 400 votes, whichever is the less, of the European votes cast in the election, and 12½ per cent. or 400, whichever is the less, of the African votes cast in the election. Her Majesty's Government accept this recommendation, but also consider that candidates to qualify should obtain in addition at least 20 per cent. of the votes cast by one or other of the two rolls.

As regards the delimitation of constituencies, Her Majesty's Government agree with the Governor's conclusion that it would he desirable to appoint a delimitation commission under the chairmanship of a serving or retired judge.

On the franchise, the Governor's proposals provide for the increase of voters eligible for registration on the upper and lower rolls on the lines recommended in the White Paper. The Governor has reported to me that he has had representations favouring an increase in the number of Africans on the upper roll, but felt that in view of the terms of the White Paper he could not recommend an increase beyond the figures of 1,500 to 2,000.

Her Majesty's Government nevertheless feel that an increase here would be justified, and, accordingly, I propose to ask the Governor to add categories to the upper roll which would enfranchise an additional 500 Africans beyond the numbers mentioned in the White Paper.

I am sure that the House will agree with me in paying tribute to the statesmanlike way in which Sir Evelyn Hone has discharged the difficult and burdensome responsibilities which we had placed upon him. Her Majesty's Government and all communities in the territory are deeply in his debt.

The recommendations he has put forward, with the amendments which Her Majesty's Government have made, accord fully with the objectives which have always governed our approach to this matter—that we should secure a substantially increased number of African members in the Legislative Council, while, at the same time, maintaining the principle of a non-racial political approach in which political parties are obliged to seek support from both races.

Mr. Callaghan

I associate myself with what the Colonial Secretary has said about the Governor, whose steadfastness in recent weeks has undoubtedly been an example to others who have been inclined to flap a little more readily.

Does not the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has just made—if the House will permit an inelegant expression—remind him of a dog's breakfast? Half seriously, I say to him that he ought to supply a slide rule to every elector if everyone is to understand what is proposed.

Will the right hon. Gentleman kindly explain—if it is possible to get it across—what he means in his statement by African voters and European voters? Surely, there is no such things. There is an upper roll and a lower roll. Can he explain how his reference to 12½ per cent. of African votes and European votes comes to be included, and what connection this has with the 20 per cent. minimum which the Government believe that people must have? I say, frankly, that I do not begin to understand it. Obviously, we shall need time—I hope that the Government will provide time for a debate—so that we may understand these issues.

Does the Colonial Secretary realise just what difficulties one falls into when one departs from a simple statement such as that made by Monckton, that the object of this exercise is to provide a majority for the Africans in the Legislature, and that, if he had stuck to that, he would not have been involved in this tissue of nonsense, which will not stand up beyond one election even if it lasts so long?

Mr. Macleod

The hon. Gentleman seems to have changed his mind a good deal since we debated the White Paper. In fact, we have stuck with almost obstinate fidelity to the White Paper which we laid before the House.

If the hon. Gentleman will study carefully—I am sure he will—paragraphs 18 and 19 of the White Paper I have put before the House, he will see that we put two objectives there for the national seats, the whole objective of the national seats—I think it commanded the support of the House—being to have seats which would be won by moderate people whatever the colour of their faces might happen to be. We said there that we wanted to see a qualifying minimum percentage, which we regard as essential because, otherwise, a purely racial approach could be made, and also that support could be had from both races. If the hon. Gentleman will study the speech of the Leader of the Opposition in a short debate we had the next day, he will see that when talking of the qualifying minimum percentage he was referring entirely to race.

The position is that the two rolls are equalised for the purpose of the national seats, but, as the Governor points out, unless there is a qualifying minimum percentage on a basis of race it would be possible to reach it without producing a single Member in one case of the other race. Therefore, though the basic principle remains of the appeal to the two rolls and the equalisation of the two rolls—the hon. Gentleman will, I think, fairly easily be able to do his sums in regard to that—it is necessary, for the qualifying minimum percentage, to do it in terms of race.

I fully acknowledge the complexity of the scheme, but, after all, if one is trying to have not just a parity scheme but a parity scheme plus the addition of a block of seats which are won, and which can only be won, because of the qualifying percentage, by those of moderate views, it is necessary to import a good deal of complexity.

Mr. Callaghan

Will the Colonial Secretary explain what relation the 20 per cent. minimum bears to the 12½ per cent. minimum? How does he justify this as a non-racial approach, when what he has done is to ensure that more Europeans and Africans are elected as such in the national constituencies and that an Asian is elected or, at any rate, that Asian interests are represented?

Mr. Macleod

I am sorry; I forgot the point about the 20 per cent. If one had just 12½ per cent. alone, it would then be possible, for example, for somebody who got, shall we say, 13 per cent. of each race to qualify and to beat someone whose vote was very much higher. We thought that we should add the small additional hurdle that, on either roll but not both, a candidate would have to reach a figure of 20 per cent.

Mr. Callaghan

What happens if no one does?

Mr. Macleod

If no one reaches it—the question of frustration is dealt with in paragraph 10 of his report—the Governor recommends that there should be one by-election in the same circumstances and that, if after that nobody reaches the qualification, the seat should remain unfilled.

Mr. Turton

Can my right hon. Friend say on what argument he bases the claim that this solution follows the principles laid down in the Lennox-Boyd Constitution of 1958? Can he deny that that 1958 Constitution was far less racial in character in relation to representation than this solution?

Mr. Macleod

No, I cannot accept that. If my right hon. Friend will refer to the Northern Rhodesia White Paper of 1958, he will see it clearly laid down there that it must be necessary for Africans to elect with their votes an African and for Europeans to elect with their votes a European. I should not say that this is in any way a more racial approach than that of 1958. Indeed, I think that it is closely linked to that approach.

Mr. Grimond

Will the Colonial Secretary agree that this is a very complicated Constitution, especially coming from a Government who have always said that any type of electoral reform in this country would be too difficult for the electorate to understand?

As regards the seven double-member constituencies, I gather that four are to elect one European and one African. I do not know what is to happen to the other three, and I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would explain that. Secondly, though I quite understand that he wants a non-racial approach, the majority Report of the Monckton Commission made quite clear that in its view the only Constitution which would work in Northern Rhodesia was one which allowed Africans at least the chance of electing an African majority. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether his proposals would allow the Africans to elect an African majority, were they so minded?

Mr. Macleod

Yes; the two questions are, in a sense, one. Six of the 14 seats are unreserved and anybody can put up any candidate at all there, either African or European. It is, therefore, implicit in that that these proposals could produce either a European or an African majority.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Is this to be an imposed Constitution which it is expected will be opposed formally or otherwise by the United National Independence Party or the United Federal Party?

Mr. Macleod

I do not know yet. Each Constitution of the last six has been imposed. I hope that one will receive a measure of support for this Constitution, but, of course, it is too early to tell.

Mr. Brockway

The right hon. Gentle-may said that the Governor had discussed these proposals with representatives of the parties, and the right hon. Gentleman himself has discussed them in London. Will he inform the House how far the various parties in Northern Rhodesia support these proposals and how far his statement is an agreed statement?

Mr. Macleod

Obviously, I cannot, because, naturally, it is my duty to inform the House of Commons first. The parties in Lusaka will not be aware until now—they will be told at once by the Governor—of the proposals I have put before the House.

Mr. Wall

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on achieving a solution within the terms of the White Paper, which should satisfy all political parties in Northern Rhodesia. I have two questions to put to him.

First, who is to decide—and on what basis—which of the middle roll seats will return an African and a European and which will return two members of any race? Secondly, in order to make the system rather more simple in providing for how the middle roll is to return 14 plus one for the minorities, would it not be better to have a combination of three 14s rather than three 15s?

Mr. Macleod

The Governor recommends that the three-15 system should be maintained. I do not think that he found serious opposition to that from the parties in Lusaka. So far as the detailed questions of delimitation are concerned, we thought the best thing to do was to appoint a Delimitation Commission, as I have said, under the chairmanship of a judge. Although one cannot undertake to do so, I am sure that his recommendations on the sort of matters which my hon. Friend mentioned would be accepted.

Mr. Gaitskell

The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate how difficult it is for us to grasp, from his statement, exactly how the national roll will work out. I should like to ask him three questions, the first a very simple one. When will the Delimitation Commission conclude its work, because it is obviously of major importance? Secondly, can he say whether there will now be a necessity for registering either as Europeans or Africans or Asians—the third category? Thirdly, will he arrange—and perhaps this is already taken care of—that in a White Paper or in some other way a series of illustrations and examples could be produced, as, for example, in bridge problems, in dealing with which the right hon. Gentleman is so adept?

Mr. Macleod

That seems to me where I came in. I cannot give a precise time for the work of the Delimitation Commission. We will have to draw up terms of reference. All I can say is that the administrative work that is inevitable will follow as quickly as possible. I am told that with the exception of registering Asians it will not be necessary under this system to have racial registration.

Mr. Callaghan

How does the right hon. Gentleman know?

Mr. Macleod

This is what I am told by the Governor. I will certainly consider arranging illustrations of how this scheme will work out.

I would make this simple point. It seemed to me that from the beginning there were three key objectives in the White Paper. First, the basic point that the rolls should be equalised for the national seats. Secondly, that there should be a qualifying minimum percentage throughout all the seats. Thirdly, that an appeal should be made to people of both the main races. This scheme—and I acknowledge its complexity—at least does all these three things, and, therefore, follows faithfully the White Paper which was put before the House.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

In all these complexities, is not what really matters the strength and prosperity of the Federation as a united non-racial State? May I ask the Colonial Secretary, now that he has laid his White Paper, whether Her Majesty's Government will do their best to expedite the Exchequer loan to the Federation, which many people think has been unreasonably delayed?

Mr. Macleod

I assure my hon. Friend that there is no connection whatever between those two matters. It does not arise out of my statement, but I give him that assurance. I think that these matters are more or less finalised now.

Mr. Callaghan

Is there a mistake in the Colonial Secretary's original statement? He has just told us, in answer to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, that there is no need to register as Europeans or as Africans. Did not his statement say that it would be necessary to get 12½ per cent. of the European votes cast in the election or 12½ per cent., or 400, of the African votes cast in the election? How will they know which are African and which are European votes unless the people are registered as Europeans or Africans?

May I ask him whether he is aware that most of us regard Federal influence in this matter as being most baleful and completely unproductive of any lasting settlement?

Mr. Macleod

I do not subscribe to that last view at all. I have no complaint to make of the very proper interest which the Federal Government have throughout shown. Sir Roy Welensky is a man who fights his corner firmly. Every single line of this is in accordance with the White Paper, with one exception, which is the addition of 500 Africans to the upper roll. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is objecting to this. I discussed racial registration with the Governor. It would be necessary to register the Asians of the Colony, but I am told that if that is done there is no need to have an additional registration of Europeans and Africans, who would merely be handed different forms at the polling booth.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot pursue this matter now.