HC Deb 18 July 1962 vol 663 cc568-87

Again considered in Committee.

Question again proposed, That those words be there inserted.

Mr. Bennett

I was saying that Her Majesty's Government, although the Molson Commission's recommendations were perfectly clear that these two counties should be transferred while we were still in control of the situation, nevertheless decided, in their wisdom, that instead of this, a plebiscite would be held not earlier than a certain period of two years after the date of independence. Although this caused fairly widespread disappointment in Bunyoro and in certain quarters elsewhere, nevertheless, it has been accepted now that there is no likelihood of an immediate transfer of these territories before a referendum or plebiscite takes place.

I should like to remind the Committee that when we come to the question of when and how the plebiscite should be held, and when we are considering the importance or otherwise of the Amendment which my hon. Friend has moved, we should have regard to two sentences in the Molson Report. I propose to direct the attention of the Committee to paragraphs 104 and 105 respectively of the Molson Report, the first of which reads as follows: The right under the new constitution of the Lukiko to act as an electoral college for choosing all the representatives of Buganda outside Kampala may result in a solid block of Buganda nationalists being elected to the Assembly. I do not think I need weary the Committee by reading the rest of the paragraph, because that one sentence indicates the danger to which I am now alluding. We now come to paragraph 105, and we see what is extremely important in this matter: If a Prime Minister of an independent Uganda were dependent on the Baganda bloc for staying in office he would find it difficult to support any concession to the Banyoro. That has very great relevance to the purpose of our Amendment.

Since my hon. Friend and I and other hon. Members have sought to obtain some form of concession regarding the holding of a referendum, we have sought good and cogent reasons why our arguments are not accepted. We have virtually had only one reply, either during Second reading or in answer to a Question yesterday, and it was that once a territory had become independent, we had no right at all to decide when and how it carries out its electoral arrangements within the territory. That would be much more impressive if it were not precisely what we have done in the declaration issued a few days ago.

It is not acceptable to us that the Government should say that they cannot accept, on moral, judicial grounds, that they have any right to interfere once a territory has become independent, if at the same time they issue a prior declaration, which is now part of the Constitution of the new Uganda, to the effect that that country, although independent, shall not hold a plebiscite until two years after the date when independence has been achieved.

If there is any logic at all, it cannot be said to be intereference with an independent country to say that they shall hold a referendum within five years, when, at the same time, it is said that it is perfectly right to say that they cannot have one, whether they want it or not, within two years of independence. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend, in replying to the Amendment, will not use this argument, because it is not particularly clever to say that we cannot interfere with the independence of the territory, when this is precisely what has been done in the declaration already laid down as part of the Constitution. Whatever arguments my hon. Friend may use, I advise him, in all sincerity and friendship, that this is not one which could be acceptable to me.

It may well be that, the agreement once having been reached, and the declaration once having been made, it is very difficult for Her Majesty's Government to make any change now but, for myself, I should at least be content to receive some asursance that an attempt will be made to obtain the agreement of the Prime Minister of Uganda to something on the lines of this Amendment. We have inserted a term of five years. That might be the wrong period, but we have at least tried to choose a period within which we think it reasonable to ask that the plebicite should take place.

If there is a genuine intention by the central Government of Uganda to carry out a plebicite after two years, I cannot see one good and honest reason why they should not say, "That is perfectly all right. We intend to hold it in 4, 5 or 6 years." There can be reluctance to say that only if there is reluctance ever to hold the referendum at all. Although I address my hon. Friends tonight, perhaps my remarks should really go to the central Government of Uganda. They could resolve this tangle tonight or tomorrow by saying to the world that they accept that no referendum should be held for two years—with that, I think that we axe all in agreement—but that they have no intention of holding back an ultimate referendum but agree that one should be held within five years.

We have in the world today one example of an untidy and rather unpleasant issue at stake which prevents friendship developing between the two great Commonwealth countries of Pakistan and India. Both sides agreed that there should be a referendum on Kashmir, but no date was fixed. As I address the Committee now, no referendum has been held there, and there does not seem to be any possibility of one within the foreseeable future.

I hope that my hon. Friend will not turn down this Amendment, because I feel that if he does, Her Majesty's Government will have a large share of responsibility for many years to come in another issue that may prevent a freely united Uganda becoming a real member of the Commonwealth and we in this Committee would share the responsibility.

Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)

I am very interested to find that the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett) places so much emphasis upon the decision of a Commission appointed by his Government. He did not show the same enthusiasm for the recommendations of the Devlin Commission or the Monckton Commission, but I appreciate that he is now taking some notice of the Molson Commission—

Mr. Bennett

That is quite wrong. If the hon. Gentleman looks at HANSARD, he will find that I warmly endorsed almost all the Monckton Commission's recommendations.

Mr. Brockway

I recognise the phrase "almost all", and I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman omits to refer to the Devlin Commission. However, I do not want to speak from a party point of view—

Mr. Bennett

Then why do so?

Mr. Brockway

Because the hon. Gentleman always does so, but I did not intend to make that my main point.

I am glad that this matter has been raised, and I very much appreciate the spirit in which the hon. Lady, the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) has raised it. This problem has gone on for years in Uganda and all of us who have had any association with movements in the territory and with representatives of it are very much aware of it.

There is now an opportunity for Uganda to obtain its independence in October. That opportunity might be prejudiced by the acceptance of the terms of the Amendment. Nevertheless, I intend to make a strong appeal to the Under-Secretary. I say quite honestly that he is one of the two new Members of the Government whom I am glad to see in their places. I will not on this occasion mention the other. I have the feeling that if the Under-Secretary, with his attitude of sympathy for the peoples of the Colonial Territories and his defence, even against his own Government, of the principle of racial equality, will use his appointment between now and October to try to secure from the Government of Uganda a promise that when the territory becomes independent they will seek—I will not say within five or even two years—to have a plebiscite, he will be contributing greatly to a solution of this problem.

The real appeal tonight must be made to the central Government in Uganda. Those who have had some association with the members of that Government in their struggle for independence have the right to make an appeal to them to seek a solution of this problem in the spirit of self-determination for these two territories. I hope that the Under-Secretary will reply in a way which will encourage that hope.

Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)

I should like to sum up the arguments adduced on this problem, a problem which has been bedevilling the situation in Uganda for more than 60 years. It is, therefore, a live and difficult one. We have had two high-powered Commissions, and both said that if the problem is not solved before independence it could result in civil war. That is a serious warning in view of what has happened in another continent, as we have been told earlier in this debate.

It is incumbent on us to do everything we can to prevent such a catastrophe. I accept that it is really too late to take effective action but if any blame is to be placed on anyone it is blame for action which should have been taken in past years. However, I still think that there is something we can do. On Second Reading the Minister, winding up the debate, said that we could not bind an independent Government, yet that is exactly what we are doing today, because we are saying in the Bill that a referendum must be held not earlier than two years hence. Why on earth can we not add a little more and say "but not later than five years"? That is all we are asking.

Even if those words were inserted in the Bill I recognise that the provision could be implemented—either in two or in five years—only by the sovereign independent Government of Uganda. In other words, by Mr. Obote, the Prime Minister. I hope that this appeal will be listened to and acted upon. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, whom I heartily congratulate on his appointment, for he well deserves his new office as a result of the outstanding work he has done in colonial affairs from the back benches, will, in his first speech as Under-Secretary, tell us that the Government can do something towards helping the people of Bunyoro in this difficulty and that he will do his best to pass on the views that have been expressed by hon. Members to Mr. Obote and his Government in Uganda with the request that the necessary action be taken.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)

We on this side of the Committee all wish to join in the congratulations to the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies in his new office, because his record, I say quite plainly, is a very fine one on 'these colonial and Commonwealth matters. It is bad luck on him that on his first appearance he has to defend a quite hopelessly illogical position of the Government, because there is no answer to the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) and the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett).

If we can make a condition of independence that a referendum is not held before a certain date, we can obviously make a condition that it must be held before another date. There is no possible way out of that, and all this talk about the sacred rights of independence, which is quite true, should be dropped in this connection. Either there are no conditions or we can make the conditions we think right.

Although the position is totally illogical, I agree that it probably would be dangerous and irresponsible action to insert the Amendment in the Bill tonight, because this is a settlement which has been arrived at on the matter of Uganda independence with great difficulty. It is a very delicate matter, and no doubt the Government have done their best to make a settlement. It does not sound a very satisfactory one. I think that both sides of the House of Commons have felt that, but we could hardly take the responsibility tonight in this Committee of altering it.

The answer surely is to answer the appeal of my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) and others that all effort should be made to reopen the matter with the Uganda Government on the basis of friendly negotiations and see whether something better than this cannot be achieved. It may be a mistake actually to put the condition that is in the Bill if we are not to go a little further and put the further condition in. At any rate, let us get the best possible understanding with the Uganda Government, because obviously all of us, on both sides of the Committee, feel that in all these independence Measures which come in an unending stream through the House the vital thing is to leave the new country in a condition in which it has the best chance of survival, unity and avoidance of the disaster of civil conflict. We certainly appeal to the Government to make another effort to help the Uganda Government in what is obviously the difficult problem which it faces.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Nigel Fisher)

I should like to thank my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers), Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett) and Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), and also an old opponent but, I hope, an old friend, the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway), and the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) for their generous welcome to me at the Colonial Office. I wish very much that I could reciprocate this welcome by giving them what they want this evening. I should like to do so, but I am afraid that they will be rather disappointed by my reply.

One of my hon. Friends, quite rightly, drew attention to the Buganda fly in the Uganda ointment, and this, as everybody in the Committee knows, is the one matter—that is the boundary dispute between Buganda and Bunyoro— which was not settled with an agreed solution at the conference. I have never been to Uganda, so this is a new field for me, but, from what I have read during the last day or two, I am sure that the Molson solution was the best one. Unfortunately, I do not think it would be possible, and I am advised that it would have led to real trouble in Uganda.

It has often been said that politics is the art of the possible and, human nature being imperfect, ideal solutions cannot always be achieved in practice. A referendum at this time would not give a reliable result. I think it would increase the bitterness of feeling on both sides. This view is endorsed by the Molson Commission which in paragraph 98 of its Report said: We have decided against a referendum and goes on to say … a referendum would inevitably fan the flames of tribal feeling, would invite intimidation, and would create a situation in which no lasting settlement could be expected. At worst, it could lead to bloodshed. That was the view of the Molson Commission. In the face of that, we have tried to choose a middle way, a compromise if you like, by putting the two counties under what I would call the neutral control of the central Government. I hope that this will ensure peace in the area. I think it is about the only thing that could possibly ensure peace in the area at this time.

Hon. Members have asked why we have not put a date upon the referendum, a maximum period. The answer to that is that, first, we do not know when conditions for a referendum will be right. Secondly, we really cannot bind the Government of Uganda to a precise time limit. The two-year time limit— the opening time limit—has been agreed, but the five-year maximum for which I have been asked has not been agreed and there is every difference between the two. In the face of no agreement on this point, independence means precisely what it says. It means that the decision in the future will be for the central Government of Uganda and not for Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. I do not see how one can get away from that.

I come directly to the Amendment. This seems to me to be open to three different interpretations. I am not clear, having heard my hon. Friend, which interpretation she really wants put upon her Amendment. The first interpretation is this: If no referendum is held, my right hon. Friend should intervene after independence to make sure that it is held.

Mr. Geoffrey Hirst (Shipley)


Mr. Fisher

I did not think that could be my hon. Friend's interpretation, because it does not make sense and I know my hon. Friend's experience in the House. I did not think she would put on the Order Paper an Amendment which did not make sense, so I rejected that interpretation. The second one is that the date of independence will be 9th October only if before that date Her Majesty's Government and the Uganda Government have agreed that the referendum will be held within five years.

Miss Vickers


Mr. Fisher

If there is no agreement there will be no independence. That is the interpretation which the Colonial Office legal advisers, reinforced by Parliamentary Counsel, put upon my hon. Friend's Amendment. They have no doubt at all that that is what it actually means, whatever she says it means.

Mr. Hirst

Let us change them.

Mr. Fisher

If they are right, I would say that important as it is, this is not really so important that it justifies postponing the independence of Uganda. Postponement would be greatly resented in Uganda and there would be bitter disappointment in 'the country as a whole. There are, after all, only 200,000 people in Bunyoro and the two counties whereas there are 6½ million in Uganda. There is another point. If we impose a new condition such as this, we reopen the whole basis of the conference and that is out of the question because the whole independence of Uganda would be in jeopardy.

Now I come to the third interpretation of the Amendment, and the third view of what my hon. Friend might mean. Although the Colonial Office legal advisers do not agree with me, I think that this is what my hon. Friend means. The third interpretation of her Amendment is that if he cannot get agreement on the maximum date before independence, my right hon. Friend should write five years into the Constitution before 9th October as the maximum. If this was not adhered to, judging from my hon. Friend's Second Reading speech, I believe that she would like to see a right of appeal to the Privy Council.

Miss Vickers indicated assent.

Mr. Fisher

Assuming that that is the case—and I am glad of confirmation that I was right in what I thought my hon. Friend meant—I must put to her this point of policy. The object of our policy—and it must be the object of my hon. Friend, too—is to allow everyone to calm down and to allow passions to cool in this dispute. If now we write in a date, that would be almost an open invitation to both sides to stir up feeling in anticipation of a referendum. [HON, MEMBERS: "Oh, no."] There is real feeling that that would be the case. We want to avoid it if possible. If there is no date, we hope gradually that feeling will simmer down. If, however, we write in a date, until that date is reached both sides would work up their people to a general crescendo, which would be inimical to a peaceful settlement.

I believe genuinely that if we do not specify a date we shall have the best hope of a peaceful solution, which is what we want to achieve. However one interprets the Amendment, it would be a departure from the general settlement made at the Conference which was agreed with the central Government of Uganda. It would lead inevitably—I do not see how anybody can refute this— to the reopening of the whole difficult negotiations, which, I am sure, none of my hon. Friends or any hon. Member opposite wants. On these grounds, I ask my hon. Friend to withdraw her Amendment.

Mr. Wall

Has any representation been made by the Colonial Office to the Government in Uganda asking whether they will consider this further date, since the matter was raised by nearly every speaker on Second Reading?

Mr. Fisher

The only thing we have got agreed with the central Government is the two-year minimum period. We do not have the maximum five-year period agreed. As far as I know, there is no possibility of achieving agreement on the five-year maximum—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not try?"]

Mr. Peter Kirk (Gravesend)

I come completely fresh to the matter but have listened to virtually the whole of this short debate. Cannot my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary go just a little bit further? I accept fully that the Amendment in its present form is not suitable. I am not prepared to ask the Committee to vote for it and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) will withdraw it.

Nevertheless, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has been asked by every speaker in the debate whether the Government will not approach the Government of Uganda and ask them to do something about it. Cannot my hon. Friend at least say that the Government will do that? If he would say that, I should be quite satisfied. I see no point in writing in any date, because once the Government of Uganda are sovereign, they can ignore anything that the House of Commons says. I well remember that when I was a foreign correspondent at the conference on Vietnam, it was written into the Treaty that elections must be held throughout Vietnam within two years of signature of the Treaty. That was eight years ago, but elections have never been held yet.

It is clear that anything we write in now will not bind the Government of Uganda, but cannot my hon. Friend at least say to them that there is strong feeling here that unless they are prepared to take this step, there is grave danger of civil war, and will not the Government of Uganda at least agree to consider the matter and make a statement before 9th October? If my hon. Friend replies in that way, I will be perfectly satisfied, and I hope that my hon. Friends will be, too.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Fisher

I understand the feeling on both sides of the Committee. I will put these aspects of the matter, particularly the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk), to my right hon. Friend. I do not think that any fair-minded person in the Committee would expect me to take responsibility at this Box in answering the debate to go further than that. I do not think that it would be right for me to do so, even if I were prepared to take the responsibility, because I do not know enough about it.

I shall refer this matter at once to my right hon. Friend and convey to him the feeling of hon. Members about it and ask him whether, in his judgment, he thinks that it would be useful and helpful in the context of all that has been said this evening to reopen this particular question about a maximum five-year period with the central Government of Uganda with a view to reaching an agreed settlement. I emphasise that it must be agreed; otherwise, nothing will flow from it whatever. I shall certainly put it to my right hon. Friend. If hon. Members would allow me to leave it like that, I think that that is as far as I can go this evening.

Sir John Barlow (Middleton and Prestwich)

I do not regard that as entirely satisfactory. We are here acting as a legislative body. What does this promise mean? As I understand it, it means that this matter will be put before the Colonial Secretary, and there the matter may end. He may say "Yes" or "No," and it will not be referred back to us or to any other authority at all. That is not quite what I had hoped.

I appreciate that there is the difficulty that the Parliamentary Secretary has not occupied his position for very long. He cannot help that, and we cannot help that. We are a legislative body, and we are asked to pass a definite piece of legislation tonight. It puts a great responsibility upon us. I am sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary cannot go a little further because, as far I can see, the matter will be out of our hands tonight. Could he go any further to meet us?

Mr. F. M. Bennett

I feel intensely sympathetic towards my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary in the position in which he is placed, but, as has been said, that is not our fault. I know that he will not expect us to weaken our sense of responsibility towards this problem on account of our personal regard or sympathy for him. We have a wider responsibility which we must fulfil to the best of our ability.

I very much welcomed the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Kirk). For my part, although I did not move the Amendment, I should be prepared to accept an indication that an attempt would be made not just to refer the matter to the Colonial Secretary but—there are methods of achieving some some of understanding from a higher quarter— to address an appeal, conveying the feelings of the Committee and of the House of Commons, to the Prime Minister of Uganda. If my hon. Friend cannot be expected to give a definite answer tonight as regards a period, I should for myself be very pleased if the Prime Minister of Uganda could even be asked to reiterate his determination and that of his Government to hold a referendum, without any date being specified at all. In other words, will the Prime Minister of Uganda say, in effect, "These suspicions are unworthy. We accept a minimum period of two years. We are not prepared to accept a maximum period, but we intend quite definitely to hold a referendum"? I go so far as to make that suggestion to my hon. Friend because I very well understand the position in which he is placed.

Mr. Hirst

I have not followed this matter in every detail, but I have visited the State of Uganda on more than one occasion and I, therefore, have a certain interest—not an interest to declare but the interest one inevitably has when one has visited a country. I accept the position which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary is in. He has not held his office very long, and, obviously, it is rather a trial to be placed as he is. But I suggest that the House and this Committee should not be placed in this position. Probably, there is a very adequate reason for the absence of the Colonial Secretary. I do not know it myself, and I think we might be informed of the reason.

This is a very important matter. It has not been bounced on the Committee in any way. The Amendment is on the Notice Paper. The question was raised on Second Reading. There is nothing new about it. Why on earth we should be placed in this situation and be told that this matter, which has been raised now, will be brought to the attention of my right hon. Friend, I just cannot conceive.

It is not the first time in this Committee, and it will not be the last, either, that I have had to complain about discourtesy. I am always having to do it and I regret it very much, but I will not have it, and I will not stay in this Committee or the House and not if necessary raise my voice against discourtesy to the Committee or the House—and, indeed, to the country—in a case like this, on an important Bill, with Amendments put down. The Under-Secretary of State, for whom I have the highest personal regard, though I did not share all the views which he expressed from these back benches on more than one occasion—though that does not alter my regard for him—is placed in the position of having to answer, as he has, in a matter like this, and appeal to the Committee and say, "I have only been a day or two in my office and I cannot say a confounded thing."

I can understand his feeling in his position, but it is really not good enough that he should be placed in it. In the circumstances we must appeal to the Leader of the House, if we cannot get any satisfaction in the matter. I do not want to see the Amendment, per se, pressed, but I do not think the Committee should leave this matter alone. It is quite disgraceful that we should be put in this position on an important Bill and told that the matter will be referred to my right hon. Friend when he knows the point perfectly well already. It was made perfectly clear in the Second Reading debate, the report of which I read. It is perfectly clear, and the Amendment is perfectly clear, also, and yet on a matter of this sort we are told, "I have only been in office a day or two and I cannot give an answer." This is a grave discourtesy to this Committee.

I personally consider that we ought to protest against this sort of situation. I am not prepared to accept it. Some- thing ought to be done. I am not prepared to allow it to go like this. While understanding the position in which the Under-Secretary is placed, I want to say to the Leader of the House, who is here, and who has great experience, that he ought to intervene, and the Committee ought not to be treated with this discourtesy.

Mr. Fisher

I take the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett). I recognise that the Committee is in a difficulty. He has gone a long way to meet me. I think that everybody on both sides recognises that this is ultimately a matter for the central Government of Uganda to decide, and so I think that the only point on which we are at issue at this moment is whether my right hon. Friend is to approach the central Government of Uganda to ask them if they will agree to a five-year maximum—

Mr. Hirst

Why should he not?

Mr. Fisher

This is, as I see it, a fairly narrow point, as to whether my right hon. Friend is prepared to reopen this matter with the central Government of Uganda.

I have given the Government's view in reply to this short debate. I cannot go further than the view of the Government on this matter, but, of course, I will ask my right hon. Friend if he will take the action which hon. Members on both sides of the Committee propose that he should take. I think it will be generally recognised—and I am not appealing for mercy because I have only been in this office for one day; I do not mind about that—in any circumstances, however long a Minister had been in office, the Committee could not really expect an Under-Secretary, to commit in advance a Cabinet Minister, his own leader, to a move of this sort if he had had no instructions before hand. I do not think I can.

I will put the views of the Committee very strongly to my right hon. Friend, who will read this debate. I will suggest to him that he might consider if it is possible in the context of the negotiations which have taken place, of which I had no knowledge and in which I had no part, to reopen this issue with the central Government of Uganda.

But I cannot go further than that and I do not propose to do so. If hon. Members think I have not gone far enough, I am afraid their only remedy is to divide the Committee— which I hope they will not do, for I think this is a fairly narrow point. I believe I have given as complete an undertaking as a junior Minister can give under these circumstances, and there I propose to leave it. I do not think that I can be persuaded to go further, because I do not think that it would be right for me to do so.

Mr. Strachey

The Under-Secretary of State is clearly in a difficulty. But so is the Committee. He has argued— and this is a substantial point—that if we put anything of this sort into the Bill we have no sanctions after independence by which it can be carried out. Of course, that applies to what we have already done by putting in the two-year provision. If the Uganda Government do not carry out that agreement—Governments often do not carry these things out after independence—we again have no sanctions. His point that after independence the decision will rest with the Uganda Government is therefore sound.

But the Committee feels strongly that the Uganda Government, in the remaining weeks before independence, should be pressed very strongly to give an indication that in the not too distant future they will hold a referendum. I should not have thought that we really require more than that. It would be a mistake, perhaps, if dates were mentioned one way or the other, but there should be a referendum and we should have an assurance about this. It would be a great advantage.

I understand the Under-Secretary of State's position. He can hardly give that assurance to the Committee. But, after all, the Leader of (the House is present even if the Secretary of State is not, and he is not unfamiliar with the office of Colonial Secretary and this situation. Perhaps he could give the Committee an assurance that the Secretary of State will, when he has considered this matter, come back on a suitable occasion and tell us his decision, so that at any rate the matter will not have gone entirely from our hands.

Perhaps we could have an assurance from the Secretary of State that he will approach the Uganda Government. There may be reasons against it and I should not like to be dogmatic about it. But we should like an assurance that the Secretary of State will reconsider the matter in the light of what has been said and will tell us his final view. It would help the Committee if the Leader of the House could give an assurance that we shall hear of the matter once again.

Mr. Hirst

This situation is utterly fantastic. I cannot for one moment understand why my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has been placed in this position by the Government. It is astonishing that in a matter of this grave importance some arrangements have not been made for the Secretary of State to handle this situation here. There may be an adequate reason—we know that Ministers have important engagements to fulfil outside this Committee—but that the Under-Secretary of State, after so short a period in office, should be placed in this position is disgraceful.

I have nothing to complain about in the way my hon. Friend has handled this debate. He knows that I do not share all his views, but I pay the highest personal tribute to him. But this situation is discourteous to the House and is absolutely intolerable, and for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to sit there and listen and do nothing—

The Chairman

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but we are discussing one rather limited Amendment, that certain words should be inserted in the Clause. I hope that the hon. Member will not go too far.

10.45 p.m.

Mr. Hirst

I am grateful to you, Sir William, and I agree with you. I am angry about this situation, and I probably went a little outside the Amendment.

We have been discussing an important Amendment in relation to a matter raised on Second Reading, and the Government are therefore fully aware of the feelings of many hon. Members about this. In the circumstances I do not think that my hon. Friend's reply was satisfactory. There is nothing personal in what I am saying, and I am sorry that it is my hon. Friend whom I have to address. The Opposition have their rights, and I will uphold them as strongly as I do my own. I agree with the appeal of the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey). The absence of my right hon. Friend 'the Secretary of State for the Colonies is a grave discourtesy to the Committee, but there must be some reason why he is not here. However, the Leader of the House is present and I think that he ought at least to reinforce the view of the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies that the matter contained in the Amendment will engage the attention of the Government to the best of their ability. We cannot expect more than that, but nothing less than that is our right.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Iain Macleod)

I am glad to respond to what has been said from both sides of the Committee. I have attended the debate not in my capacity as Leader of the House, but because no Member of this House has been as closely connected with these matters as I have. The last day on which I held office as Secretary of State for the Colonies I presided over the Uganda Independence Conference, and my last act as Secretary of State for that Department, which I recall with great pride, was to announce the success of that Conference and the date of independence as 9th October of this year.

From that date, as we have recognised, it became inevitable and right, and we welcomed it, that Uganda would take its place as a Sovereign nation in the Commonwealth. Also at that time, because I was responsible for appointing the Munster Commission, I appointed, or devised the idea of appointing, the Commission of Privy Councillors which eventually became the Molson Commission, so I have throughout had a responsibility for that matter.

I think that we are agreed that it would be wrong to put in the words suggested in the Amendment, for two reasons: First, because they do not exactly carry out the intent of those who have been putting the point before us; and, secondly, because we have not agreed these words with the country that is to be a sovereign kingdom within the Commonwealth within a very short time. I think that the point made by my hon. Friend is very valid. Two years is in because this has been agreed to, but we cannot insert five years, because we have not agreed to it. I gladly reinforce what my hon. Friend said, and I do this in response to the request of the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey).

I take the helpful point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett) but he will realise that one cannot from this Box promise that the Prime Minister of a country in the Commonwealth, about to become independent, will or will not make a particular statement. One can only see that the views of this House are put to him, and I give that undertaking.

Also in response to the right hon. Member for Dundee, West I will see that in some way the House is apprised of the situation once more before we rise for the Recess.

On that understanding, and after this very good debate, I hope that my hon. Friend will agree to withdraw the Amendment.

Miss Vickers

I am obliged to my right hon. Friend and to my hon. Friend for the answers which have been given. There is nothing new in this debate. We have had a Second Reading of the Bill, we have had questions, and on Monday I presented a Petition. The situation has materially changed since this Bill was printed. Bunyoro feels more strongly than it did before, and it should be remembered that its delegate walked out of the Conference.

I want to suggest to the Committee tonight and to my right hon. Friend that in this period of good will—after all, the day of independence is always a time of rejoicing and good will—the matter might be reopened on the lines suggested by my right hon. Friend between the Kabaka of Buganda and the Amukama of Bunyoro. I fed that if in a spirit of good will they could get agreement on an agreed date for the referendum, it would be a very good thing. I should like my right hon. Friend, if he can, to see if it would be possible to place in any further agreement the right of appeal to the Privy Council should no action fee taken. A right of appeal to the Privy Council is written in the Constitution.

I am vary grateful to my right hon. Friend for the suggestion that he has made, and on the assurance that he has given to the Committee, I bog to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 2 to 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedules 1 to 3 agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time and passed.