HC Deb 21 May 1963 vol 678 cc192-4
The First Secretary of State (Mr. R. A. Butler)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement.

I have for some weeks past been in touch with the Governments in Central Africa about the immediate steps to be taken to secure consideration of the orderly dissolution of the Federation and of the consequential problems involved. I would like to inform the House that I am communicating with the Federal Government, the Government of Southern Rhodesia and the Government of Northern Rhodesia about arrangements for a conference to start at the Victoria Falls, or Livingstone, on a date to be agreed in the second half of June.

The House will be aware that over the same period correspondence has continued with the Southern Rhodesia Government on the subject of the future independence of Southern Rhodesia. The point has now been reached when it appears desirable that these discussions should be continued through personal contact between the two Governments. I have accordingly invited the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia, with his advisers, to come to London for discussions which will begin on 27th May.

Mr. G. Brown

May I say how pleased we are that an attempt has been made to get this conference together? Can we assume that the other people who have been invited will, in fact, attend the conference? Can we also assume that the First Secretary is not himself, before the conference begins, committed on the matter of independence for Southern Rhodesia?

Mr. Butler

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's acknowledgment of the fact that we are trying to get these Governments together. I cannot give a final answer on behalf of these Governments.

There is no question of Her Majesty's Government being committed prior to the talks.

Mr. Grimond

I wish to ask the First Secretary two questions. First, does the timing of these two conferences imply that it is hoped to decide the future of Southern Rhodesia before the future of the Federation is discussed? Secondly, does the use of the phrase "the future independence of Southern Rhodesia" imply that Her Majesty's Government are at least committed to taking no further responsibility themselves for Southern Rhodesia?

Mr. Butler

I cannot say whether it will be possible to make sufficient progress in the 1.alks with Southern Rhodesia in relation to our talks which are starting on 27th May. We must leave those to be conducted without prejudice and without prior commitment.

We have at present practically no power of intervention in the internal affairs of Southern Rhodesia. That has been the case now for many years past and it is particularly remarked in the 1961 Constitution. That remains the present position.

Mr. Goodhew

Is the First Secretary not aware that Southern Rhodesia would have been independent long ago had she not been asked to form part of the Federation by the British Government? Does my right hon. Friend not think that it would be only right to acknowledge her right to independence once the Federation ceases to exist by the secession of one of the territories, as he has already granted the right of secession to the other two territories as a condition for their appearing at a future conference to talk about the association of the three territories?

Mr. Butler

For forty years or so this has been what is called a self-governing Colony.

In regard to the second part of my hon. Friend's question, I have nothing to add to what I said earlier. We shall have the talks without prejudice with the Southern Rhodesia Government about their future. I hope that we shall have successful conversations.

Mr. M. Foot

In view of these arrangements, can the First Secretary say whether any arrangements have been made at time same time——or roughly at the same time—to discuss these problems with those who represent the majority of the people in Southern Rhodesia?

Mr. Butler

This particular discussion is simply between Governments.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Can my right hon. Friend say whether he regards the whole question of the independence of Southern Rhodesia as a matter purely as between the Government of Southern Rhodesia and Her Majesty's Government, or whether he considers it a matter which ought to be considered by the whole Commonwealth and, if the latter, have the Commonwealth indicated what they think about the matter?

Mr. Butler

The negotiations must take place between the two Governments —Her Majesty's Government and that of Southern Rhodesia—but it would be idle not to say that there is a great deal of interest in the Commonwealth, who are watching this matter very closely.

Mr. Mason

Apart from the question of the independence of Southern Rhodesia, which seems to have receded somewhat in view of the change of Government which has taken place there recently, could the right hon. Gentleman say how high on the agenda is the desire by all races that there should be a continuing economic alliance of the three territories in Central Africa?

Mr. Butler

There is a very strong feeling, which was confirmed to me in conversations with Mr. Kaunda when he passed through London recently, and which has been confirmed to me by the Southern Rhodesia Government and by the Federal Government, that there should be, as a successor to the Federation, as close an economic link as possible, at any rate between the two Rhodesias. I am also in touch with Nyasaland and I am ready to bring her in in the proper way, whether by way of an observer or some other way, into the conversations.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Is it not unrealistic to suppose that Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom will be able to refuse the right of independence to the Government and Parliament of Southern Rhodesia? Had we not better face the facts in this unhappy situation?

Mr. Butler

The fact that we are facing the facts is demonstrated by our invitation to the Prime Minister and his advisers to come and discuss the matter with us.