HC Deb 12 April 1962 vol 657 cc1477-9
11. Mrs. Castle

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Central African Office) if he will take steps to ensure that in future the rights of free speech and of political association and meeting are not denied to the inhabitants of the mining townships of Northern Rhodesia.

Mr. R. A. Butler

There is no restriction under the law of the rights of the inhabitants of mining townships to free speech or of political association and meetings. Certain companies, in their capacity as property owners, do regulate political activities on their own property, but generally the residents enjoy the same rights as any other persons subject only to compliance with statutory laws which do not discriminate.

Mrs. Castle

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I have here copies of correspondence which has passed between the national secretary of the United National Independence Party of Northern Rhodesia and the general manager of the Northern Rhodesian Broken Hill Development Company, showing that the latter prohibits the holding of political meetings in the African mining townsihip of Kaswe and also the sale of political party membership cards? Is not this a gross interference with personal liberties? Do these companies think that they have bought the freedom of Africans just because they have provided them with tied houses?

Mr. Butler

I, too, have a copy of this correspondence. The company's reply was that it was not responsible for police action against certain party officials. The company said that it did not interfere with its employees' private activities and that there was no discrimination against the union. I believe that to be true, but it is quite true that the company discountenanced political activities within this particular township. That means, if the hon. Lady reads my original Answer, that political meetings must be held outside the particular township or outside townships owned by these companies. In that I am not able to interfere.

Mrs. Castle

Would we not consider it quite intolerable in this country if a farmer, for instance, were able to say that one of his tenants in a tied cottage could not have a politcial meeting in that tied cottage? Would we not take steps to deal with this as a gross violation of civil liberties? Is it not within the power of the Northern Rhodesian Government to take action to prevent the abuse of the private rights of individuals?

Mr. Butler

The hon. Lady must not under-estimate the importance of the early part of my Answer, that there is no restriction under the Jaw of the rights of the inhabitants of these townships in their political life, and nobody intends that there should be. The only thing that I am not able to control is the actual behaviour inside the property of these companies.

Mr. Brockway

Will not the right hon. Gentleman reconsider this matter? Does he remember that fifty years ago this issue was fought out in the United States of America, where mining companies in a smiliar way prohibited political activities in their towns? America has remedied this. Is it not time that our Government did so in a Colonial Territory?

Mr. Butler

I am perfectly ready to receive from the hon. Member or any Member of the House information which I can pass on to the administration locally, and I will certainly do so; but I do not wish to give any undertaking today which I cannot carry out.

Mr. Healey

Will the Home Secretary at least assure the House that he will bring his influence, which is not inconsiderable, to bear on the mining companies to implement the views he expressed in the first part of his reply?

Mr. Butler

I will certainly communicate with the mining companies; but in this case, as I have said, the company said that it was not responsible for police action against certain party officials. That I cannot interfere with. However, I will certainly have a general discussion with them on the points raised today.