HC Deb 15 March 1962 vol 655 cc1545-53
The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will now make a statement on ministerial responsibility in respect of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and its constituent territories.

When the Federal Review Conference was adjourned in December, 1960, it was generally agreed that consideration of the future of the Federation should be deferred until further progress had been made with constitutional advance in the Rhodesias and Nysasaland. New Constitutions have now been established for the three territories and the time has come to take up again the problem of the future of the Federation and its relations with its constituent territories. The stage has thus been reached when our relations with the Federation and Southern Rhodesia and our responsibility for the two Northern Territories can appropriately be concentrated in the hands of a single Minister.

While responsibility was divided between my right hon. Friend the Commonwealth Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary, the two Ministers were apt to be regarded in some quarters as identified with conflicting sectional interests in the Federation; and for this reason it would not be practicable to secure the desired unification of ministerial responsibility by transferring the functions of either to the other. Therefore, with the full agreement of the two Secretaries of State concerned, to whose skill and patience in dealing with the respective parts of this problem I would like to pay tribute, I have invited my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to undertake this responsibility. I am very grateful to him for agreeing to do so and for his readiness to add this task to the assistance he already gives me over a wide range of public duties.

Accordingly, from 19th March, all the existing responsibilities of the Commonwealth Secretary for the Federation and for Southern Rhodesia, and those of the Colonial Secretary for Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, will be exercised by the Home Secretary. The staffs directly concerned with these matters in the Commonwealth Relations Office and the Colonial Office will be brought together in a single unit which will be wholly responsible to the Home Secretary. As part of his general responsibilities, the Home Secretary will assume the ultimate responsibility at present exercised by the Colonial Secretary for members of Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service serving in the Protectorates. The undertakings given to these officers by Her Majesty's Government will continue unchanged.

I am confident that this adjustment of ministerial functions will improve our organisation for dealing with the problems confronting us now and in the period ahead, and will serve the best interests of all the inhabitants of the territories concerned.

In conclusion, I wish to emphasise that this new organisation does not imply any change in our policy towards the Federation or any of its constituent territories. In particular, it does not affect in any way the constitutional status of the Federal Government or of the Governments of Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland; nor does it affect in any way the Government's pledge to the peoples in the Northern Territories as set forth in the Preamble to the Federal Constitution, which provided that Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland should continue, under the special protection of Her Majesty, to enjoy separate governments for so long as their respective peoples so desire". This was, and remains, a pledge binding on the Government as a whole.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is the Prime Minister aware that this is one of the most extraordinary statements that has ever been made in my recollection by any Government? Can he think of any precedent in which, to use his own words, because two Ministers were apt to be regarded in some quarters as identified with conflicting sectional interests they are to have two very important sections of their Ministries removed from them and handed over to a third Minister? What are these quarters to which he refers, in which they are regarded as identified with conflicting sectional interests "? We all recognise that the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) is the best Home Secretary we have, but is the Prime Minister convinced that he is also the best Colonial Secretary and the best Commonwealth Relations Secretary, as well as being the best Minister in charge of the Common Market? The House is entitled to rather fuller explanations of such an astonishing development. Is it not the case that instead of fiddling around with Ministerial responsibilities in this way, the real difficulty is the Government's failure to make up their mind about policy towards the Federation?

Over and above all this, do not the Government still stand by the doctrine of collective Cabinet responsibility? If they do, what is the purpose of this nonsensical gesture by the Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman chooses to be rather facetious over a decision which I believe to be sound from an administrative point of view—a decision which will enormously simplify the work.

The right hon. Gentleman asked what precedent there is. What precedent is there for an area being at the same time a member of a Federation when one of its territories is the responsibility of the Commonwealth Secretary and the other two are the responsibility of the Colonial Office? It adds enormously to the work if we have to have two offices and two Ministers to deal with different territories in the same Federation.

Following this decision there will be one Minister—the Home Secretary—and one Department. It is proposed to take the appropriate organisations out of the two present Departments and to make them into a single Department. I believe that it will be of enormous advantage to have this matter treated as a whole from the ordinary administrative and policy point of view.

Mr. Gaitskell

Will the Prime Minister at least attempt to answer some of my questions? Are we to understand that the two Ministers simply cannot agree with each other and that the Cabinet cannot impose its decision upon them? If the Cabinet can impose a decision, what is the ground for this extraordinary step of taking away Ministerial responsibilities in this fashion? Will he answer my question as to which quarters there are which regard these two right hon. Gentlemen as so identified with conflicting sectional interests"?

The Prime Minister

What I had in mind was that it is a great advantage to have a whole territory, whether it happens to be Colonies or part of a Federation, under a single Department as well as under a single Minister. When we settle the constitutional advance for the three territories of Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, that is the moment to bring the whole matter into a single control and single administration.

Had the territory been handed over to the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, there might have been a feeling in some of the African Colonies, where Africans predominate, that they would be too much subordinated to the Commonwealth point of view. Alternatively, had it been handed over to the Colonial Secretary, such countries as the Federation itself and Southern Rhodesia, which have long been independent, would have resented being handed back into a colonial status. By far the best way, therefore, if we are to take this single step, which I think is right, is to have a separate Minister.

I frankly admit that the Colonial Territories, the Africans, up to now have regarded the Colonial Office as their protector—which is an interesting comment on those who talk so much about colonialism. But all the pledges remain, and all the duties will remain; all the duties of the Colonial Office in those territories will be part of the new Department under the Home Secretary. I am quite certain that if we are to try to resolve these very difficult problems which lie before us it is far better for the method of administration to be handled in this way. It is no reflection on the Ministers concerned, who have other very heavy duties to perform. It will be a better administration which will lead to better results.

Mr. Turton

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the Estimates Committee, in a previous Session, recommended the merging of these two offices under a single Minister? Will he regard this announcement as possibly the first stage towards the implementation of that recommendation? Secondly, will the Prime Minister tell us what will happen to the staff of the two Ministries concerned? Will they be housed in the Home Office, or will there be built up a separate Department to deal with these territories.

The Prime Minister

I am glad that my right hon. Friend asked that question. The amalgamation to which he referred in the first part of his question is a process which must inevitably come in the end. People have often talked of amalgamating the whole Colonial Office with the whole Commonwealth Relations Office. There are difficulties about that, as the House knows. As long as there are dependent territories there is always the danger that it might not be acceptable to some members of the Commonwealth. We have to bear that in mind.

We have made one similar organisation on this basis in setting up the Department of Technical Aid, where we took the appropriate parts of the Commonwealth Relations Office and of the Colonial Office and other Departments to perform a functional task. This is on the way to what ultimately will come—a single Department—as the dependent territories become very small and almost of minor importance.

Turning to the second part of the question, the staff of the Central African Office, as it will be called, will be composed of the administrative divisions now dealing with these subjects in the two Departments. It will be responsible to the Secretary of State. It will have a Deputy Secretary. The Home Secretary, with my approval, has appointed to this Office Mr. M. D. Tennant, Secretary-General to the Monckton Commission and now an Under-Secretary in the Ministry of Labour. There will be a separate Vote. But, of course, it will not be necessary to build up a whole organisation afresh, because they will draw on the existing Departments for legal, financial, economic and communications questions and other matters; for these they can draw on the services of the existing Departments.

Mr. Grimond

Why does the Prime Minister consider that the creation of a third Department will make it easier to merge the existing two? Why was the Home Secretary chosen for this job? If there were confusion before in Africa between the Commonwealth Relations Office and the Colonial Office, will this confusion in African minds be cleared up by the knowledge that they are now to be under the Home Department?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman knows that there are two reasons. First, the Home Secretary is, I believe, extremely able to perform this task, and he is willing to undertake it. As he has given up the Leadership of the House and other functions, I believe that he can carry it within his stride. [Laughter.] The second reason is more technical. All Secretaries of State, as no doubt the right hon. Gentleman knows, can carry out the functions of any. Consequently, this step does not require legislation—not even an Order in Council.

Sir R. Robinson

While welcoming the Prime Minister's statement—[Laughter.]—as an indication of unity and of purpose in this important field, may I ask him to deal with two points for clarification? First, what is the position of the Protectorates? Do they still look to the Colonial Office for their protection? Secondly, will the Government—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think that these expressions of joy can be wholly unconfined, because we have so much to do.

Sir R. Robinson

Secondly, will the Governors of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland have direct access to Her Majesty through the Home Secretary?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend asks, first, about the protective powers. Those functions which at present are exercised by the Colonial Office will be exercised by the senior Secretary of State, the Home Secretary, who has this new Department. It is a fine thing that there is such confidence among Africans in the Colonial Office. Many people outside this country who do not always recognise it might recognise that fact. All the pledges and all the duties towards the Africans and the protective power will be carried on through the new Department.

In answer to the second question, the system will be as now: the Governors of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland will be directly responsible to the Secretary of State.

Mr. Dugdale

While I realise that the Prime Minister did not consult but merely ordered the acquiescence of his two reluctant colleagues on each side of him, may we be told whether he consulted the Prime Ministers of the countries concerned, and, if he did, what exactly was their reaction in each case?

The Prime Minister

This is an administrative change within our own structure. All the Government's obligations, of course, are collective, and this, therefore, makes no difference. It is a matter of organisation. I believe—and anybody who has been studying this matter will believe—that since we have reached the stage which we contemplated after the last Federal review, of having three Constitutions settled, this is the right step. Whatever may be the final answer to how these territories are to live, either separately or together, and how the Federation is to function, what are to be its duties and what it is to do, it is far better that the question should be handled by a single Minister responsible to the collective Cabinet as a whole.

Sir G. Nicholson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that by this gradual hiving off of bits of the Colonial Office much knowledge and expertise will be lost? Is it not much wiser not to take so many bites at the cherry, but to amalgamate the two Departments as soon as possible?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that the expertise will be lost because the Assistant Secretaries, the two principals, the people now dealing with the two territories in the Colonial Office, will be in part of the new Department. Similarly, from the Commonwealth Office those who have dealt with the Federation will be in the new Department. They will have the technical financial, legal and social services available in the respective Departments.

I repeat that I think the day will come when these two Departments will be amalgamated, but I must be frank and say—and I believe that it will be accepted by the House as a whole—that at the present state of development of the Commonwealth that would be misunderstood. It might well be resented by some of the countries which have just become independent if they felt that they were being dealt with by a Department operating the direct rule of dependent territories.

Mr. Strachey

As part of the duties of the Home Secretary will be under the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill, when it becomes law, to restrict the immigration of British citizens into this country, does the right hon. Gentleman think it a good arrangement that the protection of these citizens should be transferred to this particular Minister?

The Prime Minister

As regards the principle, I am quite sure that its operation will be with the complete fairness one would expect from my right hon. Friend. As regards the practical importance, I would have thought that migration from these territories would be almost negligible.

Mr. Russell

May I ask my right hon. Friend, first, whether this arrangement requires legislation, and, secondly, what arrangement he intends to make for Questions to be answered in the House by his right hon. Friend, bearing in mind that he is already asked a number of Questions as Home Secretary?

The Prime Minister

This does not require legislation, or an Order in Council, because, as I have said, under our historic traditions the functions of any Secretary of State can be carried out by any other. Therefore, the arrangement is purely administrative and does not need formal legislation or Order.

The Home Secretary will himself answer Questions directed to these territories, and in his absence the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will answer for him—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—at any rate, for the time being, but I do not think that this is likely.

The fixing of an appropriate day might, perhaps, be taken up through the usual channels. I understand that discussions are already taking place about some alteration of Question days.

Mr. Healey

Can the Prime Minister assure the House that nothing he has said this afternoon about the time having to come to review the Federal Constitution derogates or replaces the undertaking given the other day by the Colonial Secretary that there will be no negotiations about the future relationship of Northern Rhodesia to the Federation until elections have been held in Northern Rhodesia and there is a more representative Government there?

The Prime Minister

These statements which are on the record will, of course, remain. This administrative change is for the sole purpose, first, of easing the very heavy burdens which lie on the two Secretaries of State—and they are very great—and, secondly, of making what I believe to be—and I say this with absolute sincerity—a better arrangement from the administrative point of view. It will allow a single mind to be concentrated on the problems of the territories without regard to whether they happen to be nominal Colonies or part of the Federation as a whole.

Mr. Gaitskell

In view of the totally unsatisfactory answers given by the Prime Minister and the fact that the House clearly wishes to probe this matter further, will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking to find an early date for debating this important change?

The Prime Minister

If that is put through the usual channels, no doubt time can be found for debate.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must get on.