HC Deb 12 March 1963 vol 673 cc1175-83

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will make a statement on his visit to Kenya.

The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will answer Question No. 74.

The primary purpose of my three weeks' visit to East Africa was to finalise the text of Kenya's new Constitution, so as to enable elections to be held and internal self-government to be introduced. Two out of these three weeks I spent in Nairobi, in almost continuous discussion with Kenya Ministers and with deputations representing regional, racial or sectional interests of various kinds.

I received several deputations from the European community. Among other matters, they spoke to me about the problem facing the aged and infirm, particularly those living in isolated areas. I fully understand and sympathise with their difficulties. I am obtaining further information about these cases from the Government of Kenya, and I hope to be able to make a statement shortly.

During an interval in the discussions in Nairobi, I paid short visits to Zanzibar, Tanganyika and Uganda.

Thanks to the energy of the Governor, Mr. Malcolm MacDonald, and of Kenya Ministers, much the greater part of Kenya's new and complex Constitution had already been settled before I arrived. However, there remained about 25 issues on which K.A.N.U and K.A.D.U. Ministers had not managed to agree, and which it fell to me to resolve. On one or two of these questions, the differences were eliminated in the course of our talks, and in a few other cases the area of disagreement was narrowed.

When it was recognised that further discussion would be unfruitful, Ministers of the two parties agreed to refer the points in dispute to me for arbitration and to accept my decisions. I was very glad of this, since it is of the utmost importance for the future stability of Kenya that the new Constitution should be based upon the willing consent of the two main African parties.

As was to be expected, the points of disagreement were mainly concerned with the balance of power between the central Government and the regional authorities, and with the varied tribal aspirations and fears which are inextricably connected with it. Unhappily, the whole of political life in Kenya today is permeated by intertribal rivalry and suspicion; and any Constitution which ignored this hard fact would, from the start, be doomed to failure.

In coming to my decisions on the points of disagreement, I was guided by three main principles. The first was to adhere faithfully to the basic constitutional framework agreed between all parties at the Lancaster House Conference last year. The second was to create governmental machinery which would be efficient and workable. The third was to provide a sufficient degree of regional autonomy to safeguard one tribal group from domination by another.

In addition to these internal issues, I also had to deal with two problems of an international character. The first concerned the 10-mile deep coastal strip, including Mombasa, which is part of the territory of the Sultan of Zanzibar, but which, under a Treaty of 1895, has been administered as a British Protectorate. The Government of Zanzibar might quite well have maintained that Her Majesty's Government were not entitled under the Treaty to hand over control of the coastal strip to a self-governing African administration. However, when I discussed the matter with the Sultan and his Government, they at once made it clear that they warmly welcomed Kenya's constitutional progress and wished to raise no objections to the continued administration of the coastal strip as a part of Kenya, under the new Constitution.

It was agreed between us that, before Kenya became fully independent, there would, naturally, have to be talks between Her Majesty's Government and His Highness's Government regarding the new situation which would then arise.

I am publishing as a White Paper the text of a joint statement by the Chief Minister of Zanzibar and myself, and I wish to express my warm appreciation of the helpfulness and understanding shown by the Sultan and his Government over this matter.

The other international problem was the demand for the cession to Somalia of the Northern Frontier District of Kenya. The report of the recent Commission of Inquiry shows that the eastern part of this area is inhabited predominantly by Somalis and other kindred people who wish to be integrated with the Somali Republic. On the other hand, the report indicates that a majority of the inhabitants of the western part of this area are opposed with equal vehemence to secession. The impressions I received from my meetings with secessionist and anti-secessionist deputations from the Northern Frontier District fully confirm this conclusion.

I discussed the whole problem very frankly with Kenya Ministers. They felt strongly that, in the absence of a fully representative Government which could speak with authority for the people of Kenya, it would not be right, for the British Government on its own, to take an irrevocable step.

In any case, it seemed reasonable to ask the Kenya Somalis to give a fair trial to the new Constitution with the wide degree of local autonomy which it will confer. However, in order to emphasise their good will and in order to give to Kenya Somalis greater opportunity for the expression of their racial and religious identity, Kenya Ministers agreed that consideration should be given to the formation of a separate region. They left the decision on this question to Her Majesty's Government.

As the House knows, we decided to create a seventh region, embracing the eastern part of the Northern Frontier District, as envisaged in the report of the Regional Boundaries Commission. We did not, of course, imagine that this would fully satisfy Somali aspirations, but, while not wishing to exclude future consideration of any methods of settling this problem, we did not think that at this juncture a more radical solution would be justified.

Even if we had wanted to do so, it was clear that in these circumstances a decision by the British Government to cede this territory without the consent of Kenya Ministers would have provoked violent reactions throughout the country, and would certainly have led both K.A.N.U. and K.A.D.U. to leave the Government.

As it was, both parties accepted as fair and reasonable my decisions on this and all the other points of disagreement. The way was thus clear to fix the dates for the elections for the Regional and National Assemblies. These will be staggered over a period of 10 days and will be completed on 26th May, after which the new Constitution will come into force and Kenya will have full internal self-government.

Mr. Bottomley

While recognising what has been accomplished by the Secretary of State, may I ask whether he is aware that if the Government of which he was a member had accepted the Report of the Parliamentary Mission in 1954— of which, incidentally, I am the only member left in the House—his task would have been easier, and he would have got a much better result? However, that is past. I want to pursue with the right hon. Gentleman some questions arising from his statement.

First, we know that in the case of Kitale there were some differences between the two major African parties. One wanted Kitale to go to the Western Province. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman can say something further to assure us that, apart from tribal difficulties, there will not be a development of party difficulties.

The second question concerns Somaliland. It would be most unfortunate if the Government allowed the situation to develop where possible differences concerning the Northern Province had to be settled between Kenya and Somaliland when Kenya became independent. That would place a very heavy burden on Kenya and Somaliland—both of whom are developing countries. I would have thought that the last thing we would want to do was to make it difficult for them to look after their internal affairs. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman might consider asking the African members of the United Nations to appoint a team of experts to look into the matter and make recommendations.

Thirdly, we welcome the fact that both the Kenya Government and the Zanzibar authorities have agreed that the coastal strip shall be a part of Kenya in future.

Lastly, can the right hon. Gentleman say anything more about the Central Land Board? Hon. Members on this side welcome decentralisation, but we would strongly deprecate the position of the Board being strengthened by other action. Can the right hon. Gentleman give us any further information on that point?

Mr. Sandys

May I say a word about the Somalia issue? The formation of the seventh region does not prejudge the final decision on the Northern Frontier District and does not exclude further consideration of other solutions. I should like to make that clear. Regarding the right hon. Gentleman's proposal about setting up an international inquiry into the facts of the situation in this area, I really do not think that we are short of information on this subject. We know the facts. But even after knowing them, the problem remains, and I do not believe that any further inquiry would greatly help us.

My difficulty regarding Kitale was that at the Lancaster House Conference a year ago everybody agreed that a Boundaries Commission should be set up and that all should accept its decisions whether they liked them or not. It was very difficult, therefore—impossible really—for me to reopen this question of boundaries unless there was agreement by the parties who were responsible for the joint decision at the Lancaster House Conference.

However, on the last day I was able to introduce a new provision into the Kenya Constitution which provides a simple and quick method of transferring territory from one region to another during the first six months after the Constitution comes into force; the idea being to rectify any mistakes which had become apparent, provided that the two regions concerned were agreed. Only their agreement by a simple majority will be needed. I am hopeful that the Kitale question will be dealt with in this way if, as we are told, both regions are in favour of this change.

I do not know exactly what points the right hon. Gentleman wishes me to answer about the Land Board. That is rather a wide question. But if there are any specific points he wishes to raise I shall be glad to elucidate them.

Sir H. Oakshott

Will my right hon. Friend allow me respectfully to congratulate him warmly on what must have been an extremely exacting mission, but one which may bear fruit in the future? May I ask this about the Land Board, as it has puzzled me a little? Was not the original idea that there should be a strong central board with an independent chairman which would inspire confidence in resolving tribal conflicts over land, settle purchases, resettlement, and so on, and will not this rather sudden change, the cancellation of General Bourne's appointment, and the reduction in the powers of the Board, damage confidence?

Mr. Sandys

Naturally, I gave a great deal of thought to this matter. The original plan for the Central Land Board was made on the assumption that an independent body could be entrusted with controversial decisions on the allocation of land as between tribes, and also with the administrative problems of actual cultivation after the land had been resettled. That was the decision which emerged from a unanimous view of the Lancaster House Conference.

But things do not always look quite the same on the ground as they do around the conference table in Lancaster House, and I think that on further reflection people came to the conclusion that the question of dealing with rival tribal claims for land was much better left to the regional authorities in whose area the land lay and in whose area the tribes live. Administrative arrangements for the cultivation of the land could not be divorced from the overall responsibility of the Government for the formulation of an agricultural policy.

Confidence in the Land Board, in particular, is a matter for the Europeans, because they are primarily affected in this matter. I should like to point out that the Board will continue to be exclusively responsible for all those matters which are of direct concern to the European farming community, that is to say, selection of the land to be bought and the valuation, and the payment of the purchase price. Because of the restriction in the scope of the Board and the exclusion from its purview of tribal and other matters, it has now been possible to put on to the Board something which the European community always wanted, a representative of the European farming community to watch their interests.

Mr. Wade

What assistance will be given to the aged and infirm who wish to come to live in this country and what assistance will they receive when they have arrived here?

Mr. Sandys

As I told the House in my statement, I am getting further information about these cases and I hope to be able to make a statement very shortly.

Mr. Wall

I particularly congratulate my right hon. Friend on obtaining an agreed form of regional Constitution. May I ask what degree of financial autonomy the regions are to have? I recognise the difficulty over the Somali problem. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the decision is likely to create a certain amount of feeling throughout the whole of the Moslem world? Does not he think that there should be a rectification of the frontier in the context of the new East African Federation?

Mr. Sandys

I do not know about a rectification of the frontier in the context of the East African Federation. As my hon. Friend knows, the Federation does not yet exist, and is still a long way from existing. As I said in reply to a question by the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Bottomley), the decision to form the seventh region does not exclude further consideration of other solutions.

As for the financial side, the fiscal setup has been largely determined by a very able report by Professor Tress on the whole of this problem, which we have been able to follow pretty closely.

Mr. Brockway

May I ask whether the Minister is aware that many of us appreciate the difficult problems with which he has been dealing and that, broadly, we should like to congratulate him on the Constitution that he has gained? May I ask whether he will consider a suggestion regarding the very grave issue of the northern frontier and the claims of the Somalis? First, will he seek to expedite the conclusion of the East African Federation within which the problems of this area may be settled by incorporation in that wide Federation, and, secondly, will he encourage the heads of African States—because in the last resort this problem will be settled in Africa and not here—who are shortly to meet at Addis Ababa, to offer their arbitration on the problem of frontiers between the different African communities?

Mr. Sandys

I thank the hon. Member for his friendly remarks.

On the question of Somalia, I rather doubt whether a conference of the kind which is to be held at Addis Ababa would provide a suitable medium for arbitration, or whether either of the two parties would be very happy to accept it, but I know of the hon. Member's great interest in the whole of this problem.

On the question of federation, I think that it is well known that Her Majesty's Government want to see any steps taken which are feasible to strengthen the economy and stability of the whole of this area. We welcome the efforts which are being made by a number of elements in East Africa to pursue the idea of a closer association of one kind or another. So far as we are concerned, it will receive all our encouragement and support.

Mr. F. M. Bennett

May I ask two short questions? First, following the question of regional finance, we all agree that Professor Tress's settlement guarantees adequate revenue. What some of us are worried about is whether that revenue is secured to the region in the context of the suspicions existing at present in Kenya.

As to the Kitale problem, would the Secretary of State agree that his chief problem here is not so much frontier rectification between quarrelling tribes as the settling of agreed frontiers between the regions separate from the interference of third parties who had no interests in the matter except to try to stir up trouble?

Mr. Sandys

I do not want to stir up any trouble either. As far as fiscal arrangements are concerned, the regions are assured in some cases of the general product of certain taxes, and in other cases of a percentage of the total product of the taxes for the country as a whole. In addition, there are local authority taxes of which the regions can, if they think it necessary, assume a part.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

I regret that my duty is so difficult, but I think that we must get on.