HC Deb 16 July 1963 vol 681 cc403-16

6.50 p.m.

Mr. A. G. Bottomley (Middlesbrough, East)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 8, at the end to insert: and provided that no such person is compulsorily transferred to the employment of territorial or other public institutions". This Amendment meets the wishes of the generally expressed view during the Second Reading debate that we should be as generous as possible to those civil servants who, through no fault of their own, are likely to suffer because of the break-up of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. These civil servants were under contract for their terms and conditions of service to the Federal Government. There is no doubt that they worked hard in order to make a success of the Federation, and I am quite sure that their endeavours secured the respect and good wishes of everyone. But it is quite likely—I put it no higher—that there may have been circumstances where a civil servant incurred the displeasure of someone, or perhaps upset some person, and for these reasons he would not wish to be under an obligation to serve other than in the federal service to which he belonged. I should say that that would be a very rare case, but it could happen.

In any circumstances, these civil servants were under an obligation to serve the Federation and I think it would be wrong to force them to go to any other kind of authority for employment. I have not the least doubt that if they went to one of the territorial services they would give the same high standard of service as was given to the Federation. But we all know that if a servant is transferred against his wishes, it does not always follow that his service in the new position is as good as the service which he gave in his former position.

I am confident that if we accept this Amendment, so that there is no compulsory transfer of Federal civil servants to any other form of employment or public institution in another territory, it will not stop those civil servants, who always serve us so well, from seeking to do the best they can for whatever territory may wish to employ them. But I think we should take the opportunity in Parliament to let it be seen that they will not be forced to take alternative employment.

The First Secretary of State (Mr. R. A. Butler)

I understand the motives which prompted the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Bottomley) to move this Amendment, but I am not quite certain whether it is necessary to include the Amendment in the Bill. I have been refreshing my memory not only from the contents of the White Paper, of which the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, but also from my recollection of the conference. I am not aware that anybody at the Falls, in any deputation or delegation, was in favour of compulsory secondment. No delegation suggested it on a permanent basis.

The only reference to compulsory secondment arose from some interest shown by the Northern Rhodesia delegation which thought that it would be appropriate for federal officers to be compulsorily seconded to the Territorial Government for an interim period—this would be only a short period—in order to ensure that the transferred services were adequately manned during the initial stage. The Southern Rhodesia Government agreed that an interim period would be needed for the transfer of the full public services, but they thought that the services could be maintained by a process of voluntary secondment. That was the only reference at the conference, except for the reservation by the Federal Government.

The right hon. Gentleman is quite right to pay tribute to the civil servants who served the Federation, and to enlist our sympathy. But we agreed at the conference that this matter should be referred to post-conference machinery, as it was called. I am able to inform the Committee that the sub-committee, which is referred to in the new machinery in the White Paper, has already met in Salisbury. The object of the machinery which was set up and of the committee which is meeting, was to resolve questions of this sort, with the result that already yesterday there has been a consideration of this matter in Salisbury with a view to further elucidation.

The Federal Government reserved their position on this question, even on a temporary compulsory secondment until there had been full consultation and agreement with the Federal Public Service Association. We started discussions with the Association at the Falls. Representatives of the Association came there to review this matter with us. In paragraph 20 of the White Paper it is stated: The Conference agreed that the post-Conference machinery should take full account of the views of delegations including the reservations entered by the Federal Government"— that is that there should be no compulsory secondment— in the arrangements to be made to cover this standstill period, and should continue the consultations begun with the Federal Public Service Association as part of the general discussion that would be necessary with the Association about the comprehensive settlement of public service issues. As no one wants compulsory secondment for its own sake and as we now are setting about considering the question whether any temporary period is necessary and as the Federal Government have reserved the position that it must be voluntary and not compulsory, I do not think that we should carry the matter further in the Bill.

When I introduced the Bill on Second Reading I said: …it in no way prejudges what the nature of those provisions may be….Their terms can be determined only when the arrangements to be made in connection with the dissolution of the Federation have been settled through the special inter-governmental machinery, which is referred to in the White Paper, established at The Victoria Falls Conference."—[Official Report, 11th July, 1963; Vol. 680, c. 1427–8.] We therefore maintain that however important this subject is—I claim that it is very important, and that it is perfectly right to discuss it during the Committee stage—it would not be right to prejudge the discussions, with which the Federal Public Service Association would be associated, on this one aspect of the general problem of the Federal public service. In my view the position about compulsory secondment has been completely reserved for this machinery to discuss. There is no proposal for permanent compulsory secondment. The proposal of the Northern Rhodesia Government has had reservations put to it by the Federal Government; the Federal Public Service Association has been consulted, we obtained its views before the decision, and so the anxieties of the right hon. Gentleman are not likely to be fulfilled. I suggest, therefore, that instead of altering the Bill to the extent of putting in something which would prejudge the machinery we have set up, we should leave the matter for the machinery to discuss.

Mr. Bottomley

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I assume that the consultations with the Federal Public Service Association will be continued?

Mr. Butler

Yes. They are continuing this very day and will continue for the next week or two pending a final report by the Committee.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)

I think that the First Secretary is right upon the general approach to this problem, and perhaps my right hon. Friend will consider withdrawing his Amendment, but I ask for a definite assurance in these matters. We have had some experience of this in other territories, and sometimes some branches of the public service have been left outside. I do not want to mention them now, but it will be familiar to the right hon. Gentleman and to the Department of Technical Co-operation, which has handled some of these problems, that some people have been left outside these arrangements, and it has been a great disadvantage to them. I hope that there will be full consultation with the organisations representing all branches of the service in the Federation.

Am I to understand that this matter has been only considered on a basis of temporary transfer for a transitional period, or is it still being considered whether it will be permanent, compulsory transfer from the Federal service back to the territorial service? I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman was quite clear about that. What I am particularly asking is that there shall be the fullest consultation with the representatives of the organisations representing every branch of the Civil Service.

Mr. Butler

I can give that assurance. I shall see to it that the observations made by the two right hon. Gentlemen are telegraphed to Salisbury so that the Committee can consider the representations put forward by the official Opposition on this important matter. That will guarantee that these points are looked into. There is no question, as far as I am aware, of permanent compulsory secondment. The only proposal put forward by one of the territorial Governments was for a transitional period in which, in order to make the machine work, there should be a temporary period of compulsory secondment. This was objected to by the Federal Public Service Association, and it is now on the lines of voluntary secondment that discussions are taking place. I do not know what the result will be, but I shall see that the observations are telegraphed so that there will be no delay.

Mr. Bottomley

In view of what has been said by the First Secretary of State, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Dingle Foot (Ipswich)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 22, to leave out from "Parliament" to the end of line 24.

This leaves out the words: so however that this section shall not authorise the amendment of the constitution of any of the Territories; During the debate on Second Reading we were informed by the First Secretary that those words were inserted at the request of the Southern Rhodesian Government. We on this side of the Committee would like to know a little more about the exchanges which took place on this matter at Victoria Falls between the right hon. Gentleman, on the one side, and Mr. Winston Field and his colleagues, on the other.

We were informed during the debate on Second Reading by the Attorney-General that no secret pledges or undertakings were given to the Southern Rhodesian representatives during the course of the Conference. I should like to ask: was any undertaking asked for? If so, was it refused, or did the right hon. Gentleman, who, we all know, is a past master at this sort of thing, somehow turn the question aside? Was the issue of independence for Southern Rhodesia not discussed at all?

We have put down this Amendment because we want to be quite sure that these words do not represent a further stage in the disastrous process by which Her Majesty's Government have handed over the substance of power in Southern Rhodesia to a European minority. I suppose that the future of Southern Rhodesia is one of the most difficult problems, if not the most difficult problem, that Her Majesty's Government today have to face. It is a difficulty very largely, if not entirely, of their own making.

If anyone cares to look back at the debates of 1961 when the reserve powers were sacrificed and the new Constitution for Southern Rhodesia was introduced, and at the events which have since occurred, he will see that the Government received a great many warnings from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice), my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), and many other hon. Members on this side of the Committee, and those warnings have been amply justified by the march of events.

We had a further debate on this subject on 3rd December last. On that occasion the change of Government had not then taken place with Southern Rhodesia, and we were urged by a number of hon. Members opposite to have faith in the liberal intentions of Sir Edgar Whitehead. Now, of course, Sir Edgar Whitehead has disappeared from the scene.

Her Majesty's Government find themselves today in a hideous dilemma. They have handed over all internal authority to the European Government of Southern Rhodesia, but they have not been able to divest themselves of all responsibility to the outside world for what goes on there. We are still answerable for Southern Rhodesia in foreign affairs and at the United Nations, and we are regarded very widely throughout Africa as having some actual measure of responsibility for the policies which the Southern Rhodesian Government pursue. We cannot escape that dilemma because, however formidable the undertaking might be, it is still open to this Parliament, as a matter of law, to suspend the Southern Rhodesian Constitution. It was done in the case of Malta and once in British Guiana, and we gather that the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations may have been threatening to do it again. I am not suggesting that at this stage it should be done in relation to Southern Rhodesia, but I would press the Secretary of State, or the Attorney-General, or whoever is to reply, for the assurance for which we asked him last December—the assurance that independence will never be granted so long as effective political power is confined to a small racial minority. We all pressed him at the time, and the right hon. Gentleman said this: As to withholding independence, all I can say is this. Southern Rhodesia is part of the Federation, No question of granting independence, therefore, arises in present circumstances. There are no proposals for granting independence to Southern Rhodesia and, therefore, we must regard this question as purely hypothetical."—[Official Report, 3rd December. 1962; Vol. 668, c. 1064–5.] That was last December. It is not hypothetical today.

We all know—and this was emphasised in certain very remarkable speeches from hon. Members on the other side on Second Reading; the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkeley) and the hon. Member for Hertford (Lord Balaiel)—that this is a matter to which the upmost importance is attached, not merely by the Southern Rhodesians themselves but throughout the whole African Continent. This is something which may ultimately involve the whole future of the Commonwealth. I and my hon. Friends have put down this Amendment in order that we may press the Government still further to reveal their mind on this vital issue.

Mr. R. A. Butler

I am only too glad to reply to the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Mr. D. Foot) but I must make the preliminary observation, which was made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General in his speech on Second Reading, that this Bill has nothing to do with either granting or not granting independence to Southern Rhodesia. Nevertheless, with as much care as I can, I will answer the arguments as they have fallen from the hon. and learned Member so gracefully this afternoon.

The position is that if we take this Amendment literally we find that it does not apply very much in relation to this Bill. Only such incidental, supplemental and consequential provisions as appear necessary or expedient for the purpose of the Order can be made by this Bill under Clause 1(1). The various incidental, supplemental and consequential provisions are in subsection (2) of Clause 1. Therefore, any major alteration of the Constitution of a territory could not be permitted either under Clause 1 or under the Long Title of the Bill.

If we omitted the words to which the hon. and learned Member has drawn attention, we would not omit a very great or dangerous provision, but only one which could have been governed by the terms of Clause 1(1) of the Bill. If we establish that as a matter of law—and he is better at this subject than I am—we see that in fact no great difference would be made. These words were inserted simply to remove doubt, a doubt felt by the territories, not necessarily only by Southern Rhodesia—and the territories are referred to in toto—lest any reference to amendment of the constitution of the territories might be brought into this Bill.

Therefore the Government could not accept that these words should be left out because we want, out of greater care, to make sure that there is no provision in this Bill which would alter the Constitution of a territory. Having made that preliminary observation to show that the scope of the Amendment is somewhat limited, I shall endeavour to answer some of the points made by the hon. and learned Member. He referred first to exchanges with the Southern Rhodesian Government at the Victoria Falls.

I ought to make clear that these fell into two different categories. There was one category which, as announced in the White Paper of 18th June, resulted in a conversation arising on the subject of the future independence of the territory. The other exchanges took place on the Bill itself. These were largely on legal points.

I can deal with that second form of exchange immediately by saying that only in minor detail did they suggest amendments of the form of the provisions we were going to put into the Bill, and I do not think they would interest the Committee. They were only detailed points and this happened to be one of them. It was put in for greater care so that we would not appear to be altering the Constitution.

The hon. and learned Member referred to other exchanges at the Falls which related to conversations I had about the possible independence of the territory. My noble Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) raised this point in the debate on Second Reading and asked if there were any secret pledges. The Attorney-General, in winding up that debate, said there were no secret pledges. I should be very glad to reinforce that statement personally as I was responsible for the talks. There were no secret pledges given or exchanged with the Southern Rhodesian Government on the subject of independence.

I think I can usefully say that the situation remains as summarized in the White Paper at the end of our talks in London, namely, that while the matter is open we have not got any farther than the suggestion we made there that we would look to the Southern Rhodesian Government to make proposals to us for any amendments of their Constitution which would result in broadening the basis of representation of the legislature to take effect as soon as practicable and we also discussed in that White Paper the future development policy on non-discrimination. That is where the matter lies. There are no secret pledges and I have nothing to add on that matter today.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. J. Griffiths

This is what many of us are concerned about, that there were discussions between the First Secretary and the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia in which the right hon. Gentleman speaking for the Government—I hope I have got it accurately—said that he would like to explain the plans there in relation to the future Constitution and, secondly, on non-discrimination. Was it understood that they should be preliminary to independence?

Mr. Butler

Yes, Sir. The whole matter is completely open. We have not up to date received any suggestions which would enable us to carry the matter further.

The hon. and learned Member said that it was still open to Parliament to suspend the Constitution of Southern Rhodesia. I was very glad to hear him say that he was not himself suggesting that. The Government take the line that there has been a 40-year convention, since 1923, with Southern Rhodesia that we should not intervene in their constitutional matters. I make it clear that I am glad to accept what the hon. and learned Member said. The Government, as the Bill makes clear, have no intention of interfering or intervening in the Constitution of Southern Rhodesia. The line of our conversations throughout with the Southern Rhodesian Government has been that this Constitution, introduced in 1961, has the powers of self-amendment in it and anything almost can be done by way of amending the Constitution. The exchange of letters referred to in this White Paper relates to amending the Constitution on the lines that the initiative should be taken by the Southern Rhodesian Government themselves. They are quite capable of taking that initiative; the powers are there if it is desired to use them.

I do not think I have anything further to add except to point out that under the terms of the Bill it is not possible to make anything more than minor alterations to a Constitution and we do not propose to make alterations to a Constitution but we propose to adhere to these words. I should make plain that there are no secret pledges. The position about this very important and weighty question of possible independence of Southern Rhodesia is in the further correspondence. I have nothing further to add tonight and if initiative is taken in relation to this question of amendment it must be taken by the Southern Rhodesian Government in relation to its own Constitution.

Mr. G. M. Thomson (Dundee, East)

We are glad to have from the First Secretary a repetition of the assurance that there are no secret agreements about independence for Southern Rhodesia concealed in the arrangements for the dissolution of the Federation. The more often this is said the clearer is the air, and therefore the greater the possibility of getting some sort of constructive advance in the end.

We fire still somewhat puzzled by some of the points made by the First Secretary. He was resisting the Amendment moved by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. D. Foot) on the grounds that the text it is proposed to delete is essential for the purposes of the Bill. On Second Reading the right hon. Gentleman himself was kind enough to explain why those words were in the Bill. He said that this assurance was especially sought by the Government of Southern Rhodesia. We got the impression from those words that it was not something which Her Majesty's Government had wished to concede initially but that they were making a concession to the Government of Southern Rhodesia. We on this side of the Committee certainly felt that Her Majesty's Government would have been wiser to have preserved their freedom of manœuvre in this matter.

There was one other matter in what the First Secretary said which puzzled me a great deal. That was when he declared that there had been a convention for 40 years that we did not interfere in any way with the internal affairs of Southern Rhodesia. If he meant that for 40 years there had not been positive interference by this country in the internal affairs of Southern Rhodesia, I suppose that historically he was accurate, but the word "convention" normally has a stronger meaning, some sort of positive understanding, either written or unwritten, that these things should not be done.

The First Secretary knows that until very recently the Government in this country enjoyed reserve powers to dis- allow legislation affecting the internal affairs of Southern Rhodesia. He knows that there was considerable doubt and anxiety on more than one side of the House about the surrender by the Government of those reserve powers. Indeed, the Opposition finally went into the Division Lobby against the Government's proposals in that respect.

It therefore disturbs us a little as an indication of the Government's thinking that they seem to believe that for 40 years they have had no positive right to influence the internal affairs of Southern Rhodesia and that they therefore allowed this Clause to be inserted somewhat casually, thereby limiting still further the freedom of manœuvre in this matter which we believe the Government ought to preserve for themselves.

The Attorney-General (Sir John Hobson)

With respect to my right hon. Friend the First Secretary, he was not quite accurate in saying that the convention had existed for 40 years. It arises out of 40 years' history and it has coalesced or congealed into the formality of a convention much more recently.

Mr. J. Griffiths

What does the First Secretary mean by "convention"?

The Attorney-General

I will come to that. This arises out of the way in which the Commonwealth has grown up. It does not arise only in relation to Southern Rhodesia but goes back into the history of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other countries and the circumstances in which, in the course of their development, it was usual or conventional for the United Kingdom Parliament to legislate in respect of their internal affairs. The way in which the convention is usually stated is that we in the United Kingdom Parliament do not legislate for self-governing colonies without their consent in respect of matters which are within the responsibility of their own Legislature.

As I said on Second Reading, the application of the convention to any colony depends on the stage of development of self-government which that colony has reached. It is obvious that by the time of the Statute of Westminster, although nominally it had the legal powers of legislating for the internal affairs of Canada and some other countries, the United Kingdom Parliament would not have thought of doing so.

I think that my right hon. Friend is right in saying that 40 years of history of Southern Rhodesia has brought about a situation which was first recognised in 1961—namely, that as from 1961 we in this Parliament have recognised that the convention has put us in a situation in which it would not be right for this Parliament to legislate for matters which are within the competence of the Legislature of Southern Rhodesia without the consent of the Southern Rhodesian Parliament.

I understand that that is the only position which has been taken and that all that my right hon. Friend the First Secretary says on this Bill is that these matters may be debated upon another occasion; the convention and its relevance to the powers of this Parliament and whether they should be exercised may be subject to discussion hereafter. But the Bill is aimed only at the dissolution of the Federation and not at any other matter. The Federation can be dissolved without any amendment of the constitution of any of the territories, and it was thought that it should be made plain that Orders in Council under the Bill would not be used for that purpose. Of course, that does not in any way inhibit the use of the powers of this Parliament in such a way as this Parliament thinks right and proper.

Mr. J. Griffiths

I am grateful to the Attorney-General for that explanation. We well remember that there was a claim in respect of the Central Africa convention that this House would not legislate about the Federation without its consent, which is precisely what we are doing now. The record ought to be put straight.

It is right to say that this House has not legislated on matters which were competent for the Southern Rhodesian Government within their own constitution. But I have heard it said in the House that there have been many occasions in the course of that long history in which Southern Rhodesia has consulted Her Majesty's Government through the Dominions Secretary, and later through the Commonwealth Relations Office, and matters have been settled. The practice was that there were consultations and that these consultations sometimes led to the modifications of proposals which the Southern Rhodesian Government had put forward without the necessity of coming here for legislation. It is important that this should be on the record, since it means that the Southern Rhodesian Government recognised that on matters concerning discrimination, in respect of any Bill which they proposed there was consultation with Her Majesty's Government through the usual channels and by Ministers. I am sure that the First Secretary does not suggest that there was never consultation in that way between the Government and the Southern Rhodesian Government.

I understood him to say that no proposals had been received from the Southern Rhodesian Government, though he indicated that Her Majesty's Government would like to see proposals on these two problems of the constitution and discrimination. I think that that is his view and the Government's view—that they should not put forward any proposals but should wait for Southern Rhodesia to do so.

Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.