HC Deb 19 December 1962 vol 669 cc1266-72
The First Secretary of State (Mr. R. A. Butler)

I will, with permission, make a statement.

In the course of the debates on Central Africa on 8th May and 3rd December I emphasised two points: first, that it was the desire of Her Majesty's Government to find an acceptable solution of the situation in Central Africa which would maintain the very real advantages of continued association between the territories; and, secondly, that Her Majesty's Government acknowledged the position of the Malawi Congress Party, namely, that they are not prepared for Nyasaland to remain within the present Federation.

Her Majesty's Government are aware of a widespread desire for early decisions which will remove uncertainty and give new impetus to progress and development. Her Majesty's Government therefore propose, now that new Administrations are in office in Northern and Southern Rhodesia, to engage in early consultations with the Federal and Territorial Governments.

I propose to visit Central Africa to initiate those consultations and to seek, in co-operation with the Governments concerned, ways and means of achieving a practical and durable solution. Full account will have to be taken of the close links which have developed between the territories and particularly between Northern and Southern Rhodesia whose economies are so closely interwoven. The form which future association of the territories may take will be covered by the consultations to which I have referred.

Her Majesty's Government accept in principle that Nyasaland shall be allowed to withdraw from the Federation. I should explain that such a withdrawal does not mean that the present constitutional relationship between Northern and Southern Rhodesia is thereby broken.

The financial and economic consequences for Nyasaland will be serious and substantial. The Nyasaland Government are fully aware of them and are ready to adopt policies to minimise them.

Detailed negotiations between Her Majesty's Government, the Federal Government and the Nyasaland Government will be required before effect can be given to the decision that Nyasaland should secede. Her Majesty's Government will expect the Nyasaland Govern- mentto shoulder their just commitments and liabilities arising from their membership of and withdrawal from the Federation. Many matters will need to be examined and negotiated, including, in particular, those arising from the Nyasaland Government's obligation to bear their due proportion of the Federal debt, and to assume their proper responsibilities, financial and otherwise, in respect of the problems which may arise over the transfer of present Federal functions and its effect on individual officers, and also over the future of Federal statutory bodies and their staffs operating in Nyasaland.

Arrangements will have to be reached regarding loan expenditure by the Federal Government in Nyasaland between now and the actual date of withdrawal. Other problems requiring examination will include the Nyasaland Railways.

There is no reason why the decision regarding Nyasaland need impair the basic economic strength of the rest of the area, which rests on its agricultural, mineral and other resources. These resources will continue to provide a good foundation for a stable and expanding economy. It is, of course, very important that credit should be maintained, and that private enterprise should continue to invest in the area. In seeking a solution to the political problems of Central Africa, it will be Her Majesty's Government's aim to co-operate with the Governments concerned in maintaining confidence, especially over the period of transition.

Her Majesty's Government reaffirm their constructive purpose, taking account of the benefits that have been derived from the past as well as the aspirations for the future, to secure in Central Africa conditions in which a stable and expanding economy can be maintained and people of all races can live in harmony.

Mr. Healey

First, I welcome on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends the right hon. Gentleman's decision to permit Nyasaland to secede from the Central African Federation and his recognition that the Nyasaland Government are both able and willing to meet the economic consequences of secession.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman one or two questions arising out of his statement? First, is it really necessary to take two bites at the cherry of the Federation? Is it not the case that all three Territorial Governments now oppose the continuance of the Federation and that the majority of the European as well as the African communities in the area as a whole have voted recently against federation? Would he not acknowledge, also, the fact that the present governing parties in Northern Rhodesia have expressed their desire—the desire of 80 per cent, of the population at the last election—to secede from the Federation?

Finally, would he agree that secession from the Federation does not of itself imply independence from British control, and, in particular, as the new Southern Rhodesian Government reject in principle the idea of African majority rule, could he assure the House and the world that Her Majesty's Government will not agree to independence for any of the territories until they enjoy Governments which represent the majority of the population?

Mr. Butler

In reply to the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I have nothing to add to what I said in the debate a short time ago, namely, that there are no plans on foot for granting independence as suggested by the hon. Gentleman. I agree that secession does not of itself lead to independence.

With regard to making bites at the cherry of federation. I think it vital that these important matters should, first, be considered by the new Governments in the territories concerned, who have only just been formed, and, secondly, that they should be the subject of consultation with Her Majesty's Government, which I have suggested.

Mr. Turton

Was not a clear assurance given by Her Majesty's Government on 19th January, 1953, that no change in Vhe federal structure would be allowed until the consent of the other Governments had been obtained? Can my right hon. Friend say whether the consent of the four other Governments has been obtained in this case before marking this announcement, and if not, why he is disregarding the promise?

Mr. Butler

I am aware of the exchanges which took place at the conference in 1953, which have hitherto been confidential and unpublished, and I have the following observations to make.

First, then and now it was and has been clearly established that Her Majesty's Government have the inalienable right to take action on these matters.

Secondly, I would sympathise with my right hon. Friend in his obvious desire that we should have worked with agreement. We attempted to gain agreement with the Federal Government. I have been in touch with them ever since May last, and had conversations during the whole of the last week with Federal Ministers, and I am sorry to say that we were unable to reach agreement on the terms on which this statement should be made.

In the circumstances, in this difficult situation, Her Majesty's Government have decided that we cannot allow a refusal to agree to put off our duty to Nyasaland and that the future consultations—I stress this—which I shall have in Africa with the Federal Government and the other Governments will do better if they take place on the basis that we have decided for Nyasaland.

Mr. Grimond

Since we have suffered already from trying to obscure the facts of life in Africa and perhaps from trying to be too many things to too many people, can the Government be a little clearer about what they mean about reaffirming their constructive purpose? What is now the Government's present purpose in Africa? Do the Government still accept their responsibility for the political development of Southern Rhodesia?

Mr. Butler

Yes, Sir; I think that I can say, in general, that our objectives in Central Africa are to find the most happy, durable and acceptable form of association for the territories concerned. I should like to say that, although the decision about Nyasaland will be, and is, controversial, which I very much regret, I believe that once that decision is out of the way there will be all the more chance for an association with Nyasaland as well as with the other territories, because before that decision was taken no constructive thought was being given to the future in the way it should have been given. Therefore, I hope that we can take a constructive view about the future despite the present controversy.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Since there are new Governments now in Northern Rhodesia and in Southern Rhodesia, and Southern Rhodesia's new Prime Minister has made a constructive statement with regard to the Federation, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that his decision to visit the Federation is very welcome? May I ask him, also, whether he would not agree that Nyasaland is a very special case, and will he assure the House that Her Majesty's Government will make no unilateral decision with regard to the secession of any other member of the Federation or with regard to the ending of the Federation?

Mr. Butler

The precise object of the consultations in which I propose to engage—I think that they will be very difficult, and I hope that I shall have the support of the House—will be, as I say, to find a durable and acceptable solution for the future, and I would not like to prejudge them. I do not think—I tell the House this—that I shall be able to achieve success in a short time. I shall have to go out and explore the situation and then come back and consult and find the best method.

Mr. Bellenger

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Nyasaland has been receiving substantial subsidies from the Federation in order to keep its affairs going during the last few years? Although it may be welcome to hear that Nyasaland has accepted its responsibilities in relation to the Federal loan and other financial matters, how is it to be done? Is it to be done by asking the British taxpayer to pay?

Mr. Butler

As I pointed out in my concluding speech in the recent debate, my discussions with Malawi Ministers who visited London for the Constitutional Conference revealed that they were ready to assume their share of future liabilities. They have made plans accordingly. This does not mean that Britain will be absolved of all responsibility. Indeed, I hope that we shall not be so absolved. At the same time, I think that we can feel that the responsibility will be shared.

Sir G. Nicholson

Will my right hon. Friend take it from me, as one with many friends in Nyasaland, that the vast majority of the population there will rejoice in what he has said today? Will he also take it from me that everyone, whether agreeing with what he does in Central Africa or not, will pay full tribute to his courage, his industry and his intellectual honesty?

Mr. Butler

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Some of the comments made in Salisbury are not quite so complimentary.

Mr. Healey

While welcoming the right hon. Gentleman's decision to visit the three territories concerned, and also the spirit in which he will carry out his consultations, may I ask him whether he does not agree that the possibility of future economic association between Northern and Southern Rhodesia and, indeed, Nyasaland, will depend on the African Governments in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland being satisfied that their fellows in Southern Rhodesia are working towards majority rule? This being the case, can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that, during his visit to Southern Rhodesia, he will try to restore some contact between the leaders of the European minority and the leaders of the African majority?

Mr. Butler

That is a consideration which I will have to bear in mind. I have only once met the new Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia and I think that it must be left to me now to have consultations with him.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think that we can go on with this any further today.