§ The First Secretary of State (Mr. R. A. Butler)
The House will be aware that since my statement on 21st May discussions have taken place in London with the Southern Rhodesia Government. There has also been a further exchange of letters. The position has not yet been reached which would enable Her Majesty's Government to arrive at a decision on the question of Southern Rhodesia's independence. Contact is being maintained with the Government of Southern Rhodesia.
I am, however, glad to be able to inform the House that the Federal Government and the Governments of Southern and Northern Rhodesia have agreed to attend a conference on the orderly dissolution of 227 the Federation and the consequential problems involved. This will begin at Victoria Falls on 28th June, and I will be leaving for Africa early next week.
For the convenience of the House I have arranged for the recent correspondence exchanged between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of Southern Rhodesia to be published as a White Paper. Copies of this are now available in the Vote Office.
§ Mr. Strachey
Is the First Secretary aware that hon. Members on this side of the House think that it is high time that Her Majesty's Government did arrive at a decision on the question of the independence of Southern Rhodesia, and that this decision ought to be that independence cannot be granted while the present constitution of Southern Rhodesia remains unamended? Is he further aware that these amendments should be on the lines of the phrases used in his concluding letter to Mr. Field, in which he refers tobroadening the basis of representation in the legislature"—of Southern Rhodesia—which…would take effect as soon as practicable,and also to the future development of policy on non-discrimination?
Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that he is making the acceptance of these propositions by the Southern Rhodesian Government a condition of independence?
§ Mr. Butler
That is precisely why it is included in the last letter in this published series. Those are the subjects that we have been discussing with the Southern Rhodesian Government. The House will be aware that Mr. Winston Field, in a previous letter—just before that to which the right hon. Gentleman referred—said that his own Government were not able to accept this basis of discussion at the present time. Discussions will continue, but we shall continue to put these points of view.
§ Mr. Turton
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the success in the initial step of negotiations. Will he make it clear how far the future economic links of the three territories will be the subject of this first part of the conference? 228 Will he take the opportunity of impressing upon the delegates to the conference the inevitability of a fall in the standard of living in all three territories unless some form of economic link is devised?
§ Mr. Butler
The primary object of the conference is to arrange the orderly dissolution of the Federation, but all the territories are interested in future links, and I am hoping that opportunities will arise while I am at Victoria Falls for this matter to be carried a stage further, so that further constructive work can be done in order to alleviate the economic difficulties of the area.
§ Mr. Wade
Are we to understand that the conference at Victoria Falls will be limited to representatives of Governments only? Where great constitutional issues such as this are involved, is it not most important that as wide a body of opinion as possible should be consulted, and that we should try to avoid the errors committed at the first Victoria Falls conference? What steps will be taken to ascertain the views, for example, of the Africans in Southern Rhodesia?
§ Mr. Butler
It is important to make it clear that the conference at Victoria Falls is a conference of Governments. Unless we stick to that we shall not make any progress. I would also say that I have given an assurance—particularly to the Southern Rhodesian Government, but also to all the Governments concerned—that this conference will not be engaged in discussing the constitutional and internal affairs of any particular territory. When that time comes, I will pay attention to what the hon. Member has said.
§ Mr. Wall
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that two days' discussion prior to the conference has the object of reaching agreement on Southern Rhodesian independence, that there is no need for a further constitutional conference on this matter, and also that it is his desire to bring Southern Rhodesia to independence as soon as the Federation is dissolved?
§ Mr. Butler
First, there is no proposal for an actual constitutional conference in Southern Rhodesia. There is the acceptance of the request of Mr. Field to have a further discussion, but 229 in that discussion I shall certainly maintain the points of view that I have put, which are mentioned in the exchange of correspondence. So, at present, I must enter any further discussions without any commitment, but with good will towards that Government. I cannot do more than that. I do not wish to be tied down any further as to the discussions that I will have.
§ Mr. Mason
Do I understand that Nyasaland is not being invited to the Victoria Falls conference? Do I understand that the right hon. Gentleman has not come to a compromise agreement with Mr. Winston Field regarding the independence of Southern Rhodesia? Thirdly, do I understand that Her Majesty's Government have not made the three territorial Governments aware of their views on the future of the Central African Federation and the continuing economic links before the conference takes place? There does not seem to be a reference in the White Paper to any agenda. Finally, may I ask what possibilities does the right hon. Gentleman think there are of broadening the franchise of Southern Rhodesia?
§ Mr. Butler
Nyasaland has been invited and is to send an observer, for which I think we should be grateful, because Nyasaland was taking up a non-co-operative view before.
An agenda of a simple character has been agreed with the Federal Government and the other Governments concerned. It is not published in the White Paper, but if the hon. Gentleman is interested I can send him a copy.
The broadening of the franchise of Southern Rhodesia is precisely one of the matters which we have been discussing with the Southern Rhodesian Government.
§ Sir R. Nugent
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his skill in bringing about this conference? Is he aware that to have yielded to the pressure from Southern Rhodesia to grant independence to them as a quid pro quo for attendance at the conference would undoubtedly have destroyed the conference before it ever started and completely destroyed all prospects of future economic links? Is my right hon. Friend aware that he is 230 very much to be congratulated on resisting that pressure? Is he also aware that he will have the good wishes of the whole House for the success of this conference?
§ Mr. Butler
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention. I shall certainly need the good wishes of the House, as I think that the conference will not be an easy one to carry through. The dissolution of the Federation is not a thing we desire, but we think that it is now inevitable. It has to be done in an orderly way and I certainly hope that I carry the good wishes of the House with me.
§ Mr. Strachey
The First Secretary has said that he would maintain his position on the broadening of the franchise in Southern Rhodesia. May we be assured that he means that he makes this condition of the granting of independence, because that is the real issue before the House?
§ Mr. Butler
I cannot say how far we shall get in the next stage of the discussions with the Southern Rhodesian Government. But having taken up a position, the House must be aware that we wish to see a definite indication of a development in the constitutional field, including the matter to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, before we can make satisfactory progress.
§ Mr. Brockway
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Do you remember that in reply to a question which I put yesterday the right hon. Gentleman the First Secretary of State said that this statement would be made today? May I therefore have an opportunity to put a supplementary question to him?
§ Mr. Speaker
I confess that that matter was not in my mind. My difficulty is that I hardly ever succeed in stopping questioning on these occasions without a protest from an hon. Member. Each time I make a final concession, alas, I set myself an embarrassment for the next time. I am sure that the hon. Member will understand.