§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)
After the very interesting debate to which we have just listened, I wish to raise another subject which is to some extent connected with it, the subject of Southern Rhodesia. If we discuss, as we have just been doing, how to strengthen Commonwealth links rather than weaken them, if we believe, as the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies and Commonwealth Relations plainly showed in his speech that he passionately believes that the Commonwealth has a future, we must face the problem of Southern Rhodesia and we must solve it. If we fail to face our responsibilities, we may destroy the new strength and power of the Commonwealth in which we have all rejoiced this afternoon.
We have just had a Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference. As the Under-Secretary of State said, we all rejoice that it was successful, that it went off so harmoniously, but I am sure that the House will unanimously agree that Southern Rhodesia was the one subject on which we feared that the Conference might founder. It did not founder, but it did not founder because of certain understandings which were reached, understandings, for instance, as to what our own Government and our own Prime Minister would do following the conference. We have not yet had a debate on the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, and this is our first opportunity to discuss certain aspects of it. It would be quite wrong for the House to disperse for the Recess without giving the Government an opportunity to tell us frankly and clearly what they propose to do on the question of Southern Rhodesia in fulfilment of the understanding which undoubtedly was reached.
We all rejoice that the Conference was successful. We have been invited by hon. Members opposite to attribute its success solely and exclusively to the British Prime Minister. Anxious as always to turn every opportunity to their electoral advantage, hon. Members opposite have 1489 hastened to put down a Motion congratulating the Prime Minister on his wonderful conduct of the conference, and, only a short time ago, in another place, Lord Carrington was repeating the same theme in a debate somewhat similar to this, saying that, of course, we must pay great tribute to the British Prime Minister, who set the tone of the whole conference.
We can well understand why hon. Members are rushing to make this expression of adulation of the Prime Minister on the Commonwealth issue. Understandably, they are anxious because recent Conservative Administrations have not been exactly characterised by enthusiasm for the strengthening of Commonwealth links. There was the unhappy business of the negotiations for entering the Common Market. That may be past history, but the continuing failure of the Government to promote Commonwealth trade, as exemplified by the recent announcement on the setting up of an Export Council, which is not to cover the Commonwealth, quite apart from other things, has tended to tarnish the Government with the reputation for not really caring very much about the Commonwealth. Hon. Members opposite, therefore, approached the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference as they approach everything nowadays, with the sole idea of using it to help restore their tarnished electoral image on Commonwealth matters.
The Prime Minister was determined at all costs to avoid the conference breaking up in disagreement on any point. To do this, he had to surrender a principle which he had been fighting to defend for months past, namely, the principle that Southern Rhodesia's internal affairs are a matter for her alone. I have no doubt that he did it reluctantly, but he had no choice because, faced by his fellow Prime Ministers at the conference, he had to admit that the present situation in Southern Rhodesia, with its racially discriminatory laws, with its administration by a reactionary white minority which has deliberately kept the overwhelming majority of Africans disfranchised, was a direct affront to everything for which the Commonwealth stands. The alteration of the situation was legitimately 1490 the concern of all those who believe in the strengthening of the Commonwealth, and the Prime Minister agreed, therefore, much to the chagrin of Mr. Ian Smith, to the question of Southern Rhodesia being placed on the agenda of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference.
During the discussions, it was made quite clear by the other Commonwealth Prime Ministers, not only the African and Asian Prime Ministers but also the Prime Ministers of white Dominions like Canada, that they believed that, if the present situation in Southern Rhodesia was allowed to continue unchecked, irremediable damage might be done to the Commonwealth.
As we know, in the event, they produced a communiqué which included an agreed statement on Southern Rhodesia. We have been asked to congratulate the British Prime Minister on this, but I think that any objective observer would agree that the overwhelming credit must go to the African and Asian Commonwealth Prime Ministers, who showed remarkable restraint and remarkable willingness not to rock the boat at a crucial moment. They made a genuine attempt to understand the difficulties inherent in the situation.
The conference communiqué stressed two points on Southern Rhodesia. On the one hand, the British Prime Minister maintained that the granting of independence to Southern Rhodesia was a matter for the British Government. But, on the other hand, he promised to consider carefully the views expressed by the other Commonwealth Prime Ministers, which included, in particular, the suggestion that a constitutional conference should be called immediately which the leaders of all parties in Southern Rhodesia should be free to attend, the object beingto seek agreement on the steps by which Southern Rhodesia might proceed to independence within the Commonwealth at the earliest practicable time on the basis of majority rule.They added an appeal to the Southern Rhodesian Government to release all political prisoners so as to enable the African leaders to attend such a constitutional conference, because most of them have been rounded up, arrested or restricted in some way.
1491 It is perfectly obvious from all the comments which we have read in the Press about these discussions that the Commonwealth Prime Ministers would not have been as willing to agree to the first proposition—namely, that the responsibility for action lay with Britain—if they had not been given the Prime Minister's assurance that in carrying out his responsibility for dealing with the question of Southern Rhodesia he would bear their strongly expressed views in mind.
The Times put it even more specifically. On 17th July, it said:Presumably African leaders would not have been so publicly optimistic at the publication of a communiqué which so studiously avoided commitments had they not been given reason to believe that the British Government were going to take some initiative and that Mr. Smith was likely to accept the invitation.That last sentence is extremely interesting. We all know that The Times has rather special relationships with the Government Front Bench and has rather good access to official sources of information. Here we have a statement by a correspondent of The Times to the effect that the Commonwealth Prime Ministers had been led to believe that Britain were to take some initiative and that Mr. Ian Smith would respond.
This was merely a reporter's comment, but this suggestion was strongly reinforced by the comments of the conference which were made after it by some of the Prime Ministers who were there. President Nyerere of Tanganyika, as reported in The Times, said thatthere had been no difference of opinion whether there should be a constitutional conference for Southern Rhodesia, but Britain had questioned the right of other members to tell her to call one. Since Britain had agreed to give careful consideration to the views expressed, 'we must expect such a conference to be called'".Mr. Kenyatta of Kenya, as reported in the same report in The Times of 16th July said, through a spokesman, thathe was satisfied with the conclusions reached on Southern Rhodesia. He understood there would be a conference at which all parties in Southern Rhodesia would be represented.Two or three days later, in Cairo, President Nyerere returned to this theme. Hon. Members will remember that the African and Asian members of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference went straight on from there to a confer- 1492 ence on African unity in Cairo where they had to answer to their fellow Africans for what they had done on behalf of racial equality in Southern Rhodesia. President Nyerere said:It was fine. We had an excellent Prime Ministers' Conference. We reached agreement on a communiqué on certain understandings";and he added these words:We left London confident that action would be taken".Quite clearly, whatever we do about merging the Commonwealth Relations Office with the Foreign Office, or about anything else on the administrative side, if this trust in Britain's word by the other Commonwealth Prime Ministers at the conference were to be betrayed, cynicism would be bred which would rot the very roots of the Commonwealth.
Yet what has been done? It was said only this afternoon in another place that the Prime Minister, from the chair had set the tone of the conference. This was the tone of the conference as understood by the other Prime Ministers. But what did our own Prime Minister say? In his comments to the Press immediately the conference concluded, he struck a very different note. The Times, reporting on the same day, quoted the Prime Minister as follows:Sir Alec … emphasised that the handling of the Southern Rhodesian question remained a matter exclusively for the British Government to decide, nor did it seem at all likely that a conference would now be held. 'I have not had the opportunity', he said, 'to meet Mr. Smith or discuss the form of a conference. I must do this before I decide what form a conference should take, if any'".I remind the House of the words of President Nyerere:We left London confident that action would be taken",and of the words of Mr. Kenyatta, to the effect that it was understood by all of them that a constitutional conference would be called.
It is true that the Prime Minister has gone through the motion of inviting Mr. Ian Smith to London for talks. Has he had an answer yet? We have asked Question after Question about this in the House. Apparently, Mr. Smith has not awarded the Prime Minister the courtesy even of an acknowledgment, but he answered him in a public speech in Southern Rhodesia a very short time after the conference ended. He poured 1493 scorn on the communiqué. He said, "I brush it aside. I ignore them. They have no right to interfere".
The effect of these two facts taken together—the statements of our own Prime Minister at his Press conference and the arrogant response of Mr. Ian Smith—is bound to lead to the impression that the British Prime Minister will betray the hopes of all those who collaborated with him in reaching an agreed statement on Southern Rhodesia. Apparently, the Prime Minister is sitting back waiting for evermore until Mr. Ian Smith decides whether to reply to the invitation. The Prime Minister is drifting; he is doing nothing.
The effect of the response of our own Prime Minister can only be to encourage the white extremists in Southern Rhodesia to believe that they can go ahead and defy the British Government with impunity. It must lend tremendous weight to the propaganda which Mr. Ian Smith is now putting out in Southern Rhodesia to the effect that, "We could unilaterally declare independence and nothing much would happen. It would be a nine-day wonder. It would have no economic ill consequences and no serious international consequences".
I should think that every hon. Member in this House this afternoon has listened on these premises to the pleas of Sir Edgar Whitehead to the effect that Mr. Ian Smith is saying this to the Europeans in Southern Rhodesia and that many of them believe him, because there is no reason to do otherwise. It may well be that by drifting in this way, the British Prime Minister is content to leave the situation so that Mr. Ian Smith can take his unilateral action when we are all preoccupied with a General Election, so that he can catch us on the hop. This has been suggested as one of the things that Mr. Smith may have in mind.
Not least, our failure to take up the spirit of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' communiqué must be breeding tremendous cycnicism among the Africans in Southern Rhodesia. What must they be feeling as the net closes in on them and as hope dies that any help will be brought to them from outside? What else can they feel but the sentiments which were expressed the other day by the Rev. 1494 Sithole, one of their political leaders, when he said:If Africans failed to achieve their ends by non-violence, then violence becomes the only hope for the majority of the people.That is merely a simple statement of the obvious. What happened, however, was that he was immediately arrested by Mr. Ian Smith's Government—another political leader put in gaol or under restriction orders so that he could not continue to agitate for proper constitutional change, leaving his followers with no hope but desperate expedients.
We know that already provocative, repressive measures have been piled one on top of the other by the Southern Rhodesian Government. In March this year, harsh amendments were introduced to the Law and Order Act, under which certain penalties were made mandatory for certain offences, under which for example, a person can get two years in gaol and six cuts of the cane for throwing a stone. This is happening in the heart of the multi-racial Commonwealth which we have all been boasting about for the last two or three hours. It is, therefore, impossible for this House to disperse for the next two months, which can be vital in the situation in Southern Rhodesia, and leave it at that with nothing said or done by the British Government.
The Spectator this week got it about right in its leading article. I do not know whether I see there the hand of the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod). I should not be surprised. The right hon. Member had to teach some of his hon. Friends opposite many facts of life about the colonial situation and how to deal with it. That is why he was not particularly popular with certain hon. Members opposite. But, my heavens, the British Government's policy now shows the lack of his wise counsels.
This is what the Spectator said:It is now necessary to warn against the easy assumption that all Britain need do is to sit back and wait until the 1961 Constitution grinds out an African majority and in the meantime, by multiplying economic aid hasten the process. It cannot be stated too plainly that in 1964 aid is no substitute for political freedom … It would be fatal for Britain to encourage Whitehead, Welensky et al to believe that the 1961 Constitution can last. That way bloodshed lies.1495 In the same issue of the Spectator, there was a fascinating article by a Mr. Leo Baron of Bulawayo, working out the arithmetic of African advance under the 1961 Constitution. As the House knows, out of a Parliament in Southern Rhodesia of 65 members, only 15 are elected on the B roll, which can bring African members into Parliament, and 50 are elected on the A roll.
Mr. Baron estimates that even on the most generous calculation of the results of the existing qualifications for the franchise, only 6,000 Africans could qualify at the moment for the A roll. To get a minimum majority in the House, they would have to win 18 seats on the A roll. To do this, Mr. Baron calculates, 65,000 Africans would have to qualify for the A roll. He points out that even at a fantastically improbable rate of increase in the economic expansion of Southern Rhodesia of 10 per cent. per annum, it would take 25 years for 65,000 Africans to qualify for the A roll.
Does any hon. Member imagine that we or anybody can sit back for another 25 years, in the heart of our multiracial Commonwealth, and allow to persist in Southern Rhodesia a Government which denies the franchise to the overwhelming majority of the people, which operates a Land Apportionment Act which gives half the area of the land to less than 8 per cent. of the population, half the land to the exclusive use of the Europeans, who number merely 210,000 against 3 million Africans? Can we continue to do that and talk of a multi-racial Commonwealth? Does anybody in the House think that the other Commonwealth Prime Ministers would allow us to do it? They would break up the Commonwealth first. They would not be allowed by their own people to stay in it.
I beg the House, encouraged as we all are by the outcome of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, not to forget that that happy outcome was bought at the price that the British Prime Minister led his colleagues to believe that he intended to take steps to alter this situation.
Certainly, I am fully aware of the difficulties. We all are. Not one of us in the House this afternoon wants to say a word that would encourage 1496 violence or make a peaceful transition to majority rule more difficult. It should not, however, be forgotten that that is the objective which has been set out in the communiqué—the steady organised transfer to a system of majority rule. I repeat that to drift is merely to encourage violence and, as against violence, more repression and, as against more repression, more bitterness and more division between the races, making a peaceful transfer of power increasingly impossible.
The very least that the British Government can do is to appeal to the people of Southern Rhodesia over the head of Mr. Ian Smith. By appealing to the people of Southern Rhodesia, I mean ail the people of Southern Rhodesia, the Europeans as well as the Africans, because the Europeans stand to lose most. Is it not time we started to point it out to them and to point out that they are merely bringing nearer the day of reckoning—and it will be a very dreadful reckoning, indeed. We should tell them, "In our view, the time for constitutional change is long overdue. This is the view of Britain, the mother country of the Commonwealth. But we will help you to negotiate this difficult change. We will give you an honourable package deal. We will give you economic help and, by heavens, you need it, Southern Rhodesia!"
Do not forget that at this moment there is a debate going on in the Southern Rhodesia Parliament in which Sir Edgar Whitehead is moving a Motion of no confidence. In a day or two they will have to introduce a budget which will show a current deficit of over £5 million. Do not forget that Mr. Ian Smith has been to South Africa and made his overtures to Dr. Verwoerd for the South African Government to bail Southern Rhodesia out economically, and he has been turned down. Do not forget that the present situation in Southern Rhodesia is bound systematically to undermine the confidence of external investors.
It is the Europeans in Southern Rhodesia who have as much to lose by this ostrich-like attitude as anybody else. We could tell them, "If you will respond to this and send your representatives to London, and release your African political leaders from gaol and let them come, too, we, the Commonwealth, will step in and negotiate adequate safeguards for minority 1497 rights and help Southern Rhodesia in the most constructive way we can."
Finally, the very least that the British Government can do is to warn the people of Southern Rhodesia publicly and sternly of the full consequences that would flow from a unilateral declaration of independence. This has not been done. I have no doubt that the British Government have privately told Mr. Ian Smith, "If you declared independence unilaterally, we should not be able to recognise your Government." But Sir Edgar Whitehead has complained to us that this has not been said to the people of Southern Rhodesia, and if Mr. Ian Smith is not passing that warning on, the people there have not been told, as they should be, that not only would such a Government be illegal and outside the Commonwealth and the United Nations but it would be outside all the economic organisations which are so essential for Southern Rhodesia's economic survival. It would be outside G.A.T.T. It would also be outside Commonwealth preferences. This needs saying, because when South Africa was turned out of the Commonwealth, Her Majesty's Government did not withdraw the Commonwealth preferences. Can we be surprised that Mr. Ian Smith is able to tell his people that he, too, would get the velvet glove—the harsh word, but the velvet glove?
These things must be done without any further delay. Let us do them in the name of friendship for all the people of Southern Rhodesia. Let us do this out of a hatred of violence and a desire to avoid it. Let us do it out of a genuine belief in a multi-racial Commonwealth and the rôle that it must play in solving the problem of Southern Rhodesia. Let us do it because our Prime Minister promised the other Commonwealth Prime Ministers that something like that was what he was going to do. That is why they signed that communiqué. My heavens, if they find that this was merely another cynical Conservative electioneering trick, Her Majesty's Government will have succeeded in destroying our great Commonwealth!
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
The speech that we have just heard from the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) is one of those speeches which must be profoundly dis- 1498 couraging to every one of the British race who lives in Africa, who must come to regard certain hon. Members opposite as the worst enemies of the British settler in that continent. It was one of those speeches which are filled with hate of the white man in the Commonwealth countries of that continent. How much happier one would feel if one heard equal advocacy, with equal vigour, of good causes when violence is used by black people against white people in Africa, when dreadful atrocities take place, as they have been taking place recently, for example, in South Africa, and when alt the practices and laws of settled life are set aside for political purposes.
The hon. Lady made a reference, which was more than exculpatory, to a Mr. Sithole, who appears to have said that if he and his friends could not get what they wanted quietly they would get it violently. She seemed to think that the Government of Southern Rhodesia were in some way to blame for putting him in prison for saying so. But if someone in Britain were to say that he was prepared to use violence against the Government established by law, he, too, might find himself dealt with in that sort of way.
The hon. Lady spoke with something like horror of the fact that people could be sent to prison, and, indeed, that a form of corporal punishment could be used against them, for throwing stones. She seemed to think that this was a terrible thing in what she called a multiracial Commonwealth. I cannot see the relevance of the multi-racial character of the Commonwealth to the legality or illegality of throwing stones at people or motor cars. It seems to me to be the kind of conduct which ought to be discouraged in any community whether it is homogeneous or heterogeneous in its character.
It is easy to dress a thing like that up in a debate in the House of Commons and make it sound awful. But the hon. Lady may be surprised to learn—perhaps not, since I see that she has a distinguished lawyer, the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Mr. D. Foot), sitting beside her—that the throwing of stones at people or motor cars is a criminal offence in this country, and that in certain circumstances it 1499 could be quite a serious criminal offence. If, as I have read is the case—
§ Mrs. Castle
The hon. Gentleman really does not know what is going on in Southern Rhodesia. His mind is closed. If he did know what is going on there he would realise that the important thing about the amendment to the law and order legislation is that these punishments are mandatory. Therefore, the circumstances cannot be taken into account. Of course there can be certain cases in which the throwing of stones is a very dangerous activity, but there can be others in which it is merely an expression of frustration which has led to no harm, but under the present law there is no choice and the penalty must be imposed.
§ Mr. Bell
I was just coming on to what is going on in Southern Rhodesia. I may even have been there more recently than the hon. Lady. As I understand the position, it is that the throwing of stones in Southern Rhodesia has recently become a serious problem. According to the Government of that country, who are, after all, the official body to which one must turn for information, the prevalence of throwing stones at people with whom one disagrees has grown so sharply in recent months that special measures must be taken to discourage it. There is, again, nothing entirely incompatible with English law in taking specially strict action of that kind for the repression of a practice which has for the time being become a menace to public order. I am certainly no friend of minimum punishments and I never have been. I have often opposed such proposals from Front Benches constituted by either party in this House. The hon. Lady is not on very strong ground there.
We are reaching a somewhat unhappy stage in the question of Southern Rhodesia. This is one of the countries in Africa which have been most successful in its history. It has had a long history of internal self-government—a history which has been almost entirely happy. The relations between the people of different colours and racial origins have been remarkably peaceful and harmonious. The rule of law has prevailed to a remarkable extent throughout 1500 all these years from 1923. The law enforcement activities of the police and, on those rare occasions when they have had to be used, of the armed forces, have often excited the praise of quite impartial and sometimes, one would have expected, hostile observers.
§ Mr. Dingle Foot (Ipswich)
Will the hon. Gentleman also say why Southern Rhodesia is the only territory in the Commonwealth whose Chief Justice thought it necessary to resign office because he regarded the legislation then being passed as a complete negation of the rule of law?
§ Mr. Bell
Yes, indeed—very slight. Let me mention Ghana. Laws of a far more oppressive character have been passed in Ghana and the same kind of revulsion among public servants would not there take the form of resignation. Let us remember that the contrary has happened with the judiciary of Ghana. Members of that judiciary perhaps would have been wise to have protested earlier and to have had the merit, as did the Southern Rhodesian Chief Justice, of resigning. Instead, they were disgracefully dismissed in the most scandalous circumstances. I repeat that Southern Rhodesia, judged by the standard of any other African country, has a most wonderful record of moderation, of democratic Government and of quiet and peaceful progress.
§ Mr. Bell
No. I only mentioned Ghana in response to an intervention by the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich, who raised a particular point about the resignation of the Chief Justice of Southern Rhodesia.
The point I was making in answer to the speech of the hon. Member for Blackburn was much broader. It was the legitimate point that, judging by the standard of any African State, Southern Rhodesia has had a happy, democratic and progressive history in the last 40 years. I do not think that anyone could deny that. There has been less racial discord there than in almost any other part of Africa.
I would go so far as to say—and I think that I am right in putting this as I do—that, until the institution of federation, nobody had ever heard about Southern Rhodesia in the context of this trouble between the races in Africa. Broadly speaking, that is the case. If I am right in that, then it is a sad development that Southern Rhodesia, which was making such excellent progress, should, not from something that has happened inside it but because of rising tempers and feelings outside, have been thrown into the cockpit of a very acrimonious controversy about constitutional development. That is one of the saddest things that has happened in Africa in very many years.
I believe that the 1961 Constitution, about which the hon. Lady had nothing kind to say, is an admirable constitution. The United Kingdom asked Southern Rhodesia to accept it. We had no right to impose any constitution and did not impose one. Southern Rhodesia is a self-governing country and the matter was one of negotiation. But the Constitution, when it is changed, must, like the Constitution of Canada, be changed by Statute of the Imperial Parliament, and, therefore, of course, we tend to come into these discussions.
The present Constitution of Southern Rhodesia, which was strongly commended by the British Government, was also commended in this House. It was freely agreed to by the representatives of the 1502 African population including, I think, although I cannot vouch for this, Mr. Sithole. Certainly it was accepted by Mr. Nkomo.
The great tragedy is that after it was agreed to on all sides, after it was brought into operation by an Act of the British Parliament, pressures, very largely from outside—and, I must say with regret, very largely from this country—persuaded African leaders to start to boycott the very Constitution to which they had themselves agreed.
When people now point to the number of Africans registered as electors on the electoral roll in Southern Rhodesia, one must bear in mind that the reason why the number is small is not that the number qualified is so small but that many of the African leaders appealed to their African compatriots not to register as electors but to boycott the Constitution.
§ Mr. Bell
With respect, I think that I have given away so often that it is beginning to encroach upon the progress of the debate. There are other debates after this one. I did not interrupt the hon. Lady, although I disagreed with almost every sentence she uttered.
It is a pit that the two hon. Members who wrote the letter to The Times which was published yesterday do not seem to have taken account of the fact that the present state of the electoral register is based upon the boycotting of the Constitution by the African leaders. I think that we are in grave danger here of doing great injustice to our British compatriots, to British Southern Rhodesians, to the white settlers. We are in danger of doing that because we can so easily become the prisoners of glib phrases repeated time and time again by the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn and those who think like her. After all, what the hon. Lady was really suggesting today—and it would seem an enormity to all of us if we had not heard it so often—was that there should be rapid progress in widening the franchise in Southern Rhodesia, and—although she did not say it this evening, others who think like her have said it, progress towards universal adult suffrage—one person, one vote. That is what is being proposed and I have seen 1503 it proposed by many people, including, of course, some Commonwealth Prime Ministers.
This does not strike people as absurd because they have heard it said so often, but Southern Rhodesia is a country which was unknown to Western civilisation until the 1890s, almost within the parliamentary lifetime of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill). Until then, it was an unknown country in Africa to which Western civilisation had not penetrated.
In this country we started our representative Parliamentary institutions somewhere about the middle of the 13th century and we got through to one vote for one adult in 1951, just 700 years later as the result of a long, arduous and chequered constitutional progress. But that progress took the form of a constant widening of the area of education and economic status so that power was gradually spread over an ever wider base.
I am not for a moment suggesting that in the middle of the twentieth century one should ask Africans to wait for centuries for universal adult suffrage. For instance, I recognise that when we are dealing with a country in Africa whose population is almost wholly African, with a country which is homogeneous, even though it may have white settlers, some even settlers in the sense that they remain there and do not regard themselves as expatriates, then, especially when one is driven by world events, one may say, even against one's better judgment, "Let us give universal adult suffrage to these people even though they are not ready for it, because in current circumstances it seems to be the only way in which to deal with the political pressures which have been generated in Africa, and let them make their mistakes and learn from them, for that in the end may be the quickest way of their becoming politically mature".
But can one adopt that sort of solution in the case of a country like Southern Rhodesia, which has a quarter of a million British families settled there many for two and, in a few cases, three generations and who regard themselves as Rhodesians? Can we just throw the problem at them like that and subject 1504 them to an African majority, doing so in the only way in which that can be done in Southern Rhodesia, which is by lowering the qualification for the franchise to vanishing point?
Southern Rhodesia is a country in which the present Constitution does not take account of the different races who live in the country. There is no question of Africans being disqualified from voting because they are Africans. It is an educational and property qualification. We enlarged our franchise primarily through property qualifications. I do not think that we ever had an educational qualification, but that is a sensible thing to have in the twentieth century. Any African who measures up to the qualification, goes on the roll. It has nothing to do with his being an African.
Surely this is just what we want. The way to build up a good multi-racial society in the middle of Africa is to have a sensible qualification for the responsibility of a vote and not to bother about race. I know that there are two rolls and so on, but what I am saying is broadly true. This is a society whose constitution is not based on its races. They are treated as Rhodesians.
The only way in which to bring about what the hon. Lady was advocating is to lower what is now thought to be the proper minimum qualification for exercising a vote. Nobody would regard it as extravagant to suggest that there should not be universal adult suffrage immediately, or very quickly, in Southern Rhodesia when civilisation reached that country only within the lifetime of people now alive if it had not been said so often. People's judgment would not have become so mesmerised about it. It is quite different when we are dealing with West African territories, which have been in contact with Britain for very much longer, places like Sierra Leone. East Africa is not in that position.
§ Mr. Bell
Northern Rhodesia has been in that situation for a little less time than Southern Rhodesia. It came under the British Crown in about 1897; but Northern Rhodesia is different in that it does not have a large, established European population. It can be said 1505 to Northern Rhodesia, as we have said, "Take your full franchise; make your mistakes and learn in that way". I am sure that it will. I have great confidence in Mr. Kaunda and his colleagues and I think that they will do extremely well.
But that cannot be done when there is a white population of 250,000 which has built up a complicated European society with all that goes with it. It does not make sense to hand that over to the same process of learning by mistakes. One has to have a little common sense in these matters and try to proceed sensibly, bearing in mind the established positions of those who live in the country.
Under the 1961 Constitution, Southern Rhodesia embarked on the right road, leading, eventually, in 20 years at the most, to an African electoral majority through the Africans attaining the qualifications for the exercise of casting a vote in a mixed community. That was what we thought only three years ago. Everybody, on both sides of the House, thought it.
§ Mr. Bell
In that case I feel reasonably certain that it was a reasoned Amendment and not a straight vote against.
Certainly I think that there was great unanimity in the House on that occasion; certainly there was unanimity among those who, at the time, spoke for the Africans and the Europeans at the discussions on Southern Rhodesia. In my view, what has happened since is a very sad development. I feel there is a great danger that we shall succumb to pressures from the newly independent African States and make some ruinous bargain for the European population of Southern Rhodesia. I am not very impressed when I hear people like Dr. Nkrumah and others—who, perhaps, it might be politic 1506 not to mention—complaining about the narrowness of the franchise in Southern Rhodesia. What sort of franchise is being currently exercised in Ghana? There is, of course, one man, one vote in Ghana; but, as someone has cynically said, it tends to be one man, one vote—one election.
Once there is a one-party State, which is now established in Ghana and is I fear, though I hope not, about to be established in Kenya—
§ Mr. Bell
—and which looks like spreading to other territories, what is the point of having a vote at all? There is only one candidate for whom to vote. I have heard this argument developed by Communists with whom I have discussed it in various countries. The hon. and learned Member for Brigg (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)—who just now said, "Hear, hear"—was a colleague of mine on a Parliamentary delegation to Roumania on one occasion and he and I discussed this with Roumanian politicians. We said, "How can you have democracy and elections when there is only one candidate for each constituency?" They said that we did not really understand; that there was a lot of discussion and weeding out before the one candidate was chosen and, therefore, they did have democracy.
It is all a point of view. It is not for us to thrust our views down the throats of other people, but a one-party State, while it may suit a certain stage of African development, is not democracy as I understand it. I do not question the right of Dr. Nkrumah or anyone else to have a one-party State if they think that right. I do question the right of such people to complain about qualifications for the franchise in other African States, in particular in Southern Rhodesia.
In her peroration, the hon. Member for Blackburn said that if only the Government would alter their position in Southern Rhodesia she and her colleagues—indeed, we in Britain—would help them to negotiate a new Constitution with an African majority, in which there would be adequate safeguards for the minority. That is easily said, but we negotiated a Constitution for Ghana in which there were adequate safeguards 1507 for the minority. What happened to the minority? What happened to the Parliamentary Opposition? They went to prison. What happened to some of the other minorities whose position was protected? What happened to the Asantehene? His position was supposed to be protected, and there were other people belonging to minorities whose positions were protected. What has happened to them?
When the hon. Lady says that we should give the Africans a vote each and trust them, and help them to negotiate a constitution in which there would be adequate safeguards against the arbitrary power of an African majority, I am inclined to ask what she would be disposed to do—or what she would suggest we did about it—if that did not work out as expected, and if those 250,000 people were to be put into an intolerable position in the land of their birth, the country which they have built up in a most inspiring way and administered with humanity and brought forward in a period of 50 years in a manner which ought to make every British heart proud. What would the hon. Lady want anyone to do about it if what she advocates did not work out? I have a strong suspicion that she would not ask anybody to do anything about it. She would suggest that we should provide money to resettle those people in the United Kingdom. It is appropriate that I should be speaking on the Consolidated Fund Bill, but this is not all just a question of money. There is more to it than that.
There are great and sad problems in Africa. I, at least, can say that I have always been frank about my view. I never felt—I have written this in a letter to The Times and so I am not saying it for the first time—that we should have been so critical of South Africa. My view is that if our multi-racial experiment in Central Africa worked out, it would not be necessary to attack South Africa because, plainly, South Africa would be wrong. We would have found the right solution and made it work. And, if our multi-racial experiment in Central Africa failed, how could we criticise? The Federation has collapsed in a tragic ruin, a really tragic ruin, because it was the best hope of a multiracial community. If it had succeeded, 1508 we could have pointed south and said to Dr. Verwoerd, "This is how you do it". Vulgar abuse will not get anyone anywhere; it is much better to show them how to do it.
The Federation has gone, it is no use weeping over that, but Southern Rhodesia is left. In it lies the only hope left of showing the world how this can be done. I think that it will be an absolute tragedy if, in order to pacify and to placate people like Dr. Nkrumah and some of his colleagues, we abandon those in Southern Rhodesia who have the courage to hold on to a steady course; who refuse to be rushed or blown about by the "wind of change" or the "gale of the world" or any of these cant expressions; who are, in a pragmatic, practical and progressive way, dedicated to working a multi-racial experiment based on qualifications for a franchise. There will be no vote tonight, but I am glad that the hon. Member for Blackburn raised this question and gave an opportunity for those of us who disagree with her so strongly to say what we think about Southern Rhodesia.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
Anyone who listened to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) would agree about the seriousness of the situation which she described. In a moment I shall try to answer some of the comments on her speech made by the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell). First, I wish to say something, through the Under-Secretary, to the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and for the Colonies.
Those of us who had to make up our minds whether we wanted to raise subjects on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill had a large number of questions we wished to raise with the right hon. Gentleman. We had the further subject we should have liked to raise with him which has occurred as a result of the development on the Malta Independence Bill. It would have been proper and graceful to the people of Malta if time had been found for the Commonwealth Relations Secretary to make an apology for the way in which the House has been treated, and an apology to the people of Malta. He did not choose to make that apology, and even today when he was questioned he made no apology about that matter.
1509 When we had the debate on the Malta Independence Bill I was presumptuous enough to say that many hon. Members opposite had not read the Constitution on which we had to vote; the matter had been so violently rushed through the House. It is now apparent that the Commonwealth Relations Secretary had himself not read the Constitution. It is a shocking thing that a Measure of such grave importance to a British territory—the same applies to all territories for which we are responsible—such a shocking and shameful example should be given to those whom, according to the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South, we are supported to be teaching democracy and that we should give such a poor exhibition of democracy by the way we treat the independence of Malta. I hope it will be conveyed to the Commonwealth Relations Secretary that it does not do him any good to treat the House as contemptuously as he has done over the Malta Independence Bill.
There is another question which many of us would wish to raise with the right hon. Gentleman if we were able to raise more than one subject. I should have liked, equally with the question of Southern Rhodesia, to have raised the question of the situation in British Guiana. That is a very serious matter. The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South has spoken about political prisoners in Ghana. I am absolutely opposed to people anywhere being locked up for political offences. Some of us have protested as violently about what is happening in Ghana as we have protested about what is happening in Southern Rhodesia. The hon. Member has to wake up to the fact that hon. Members of this House have responsibilities for these territories.
We have a direct responsibility for political prisoners in British Guiana. At present 36 of them, including the Deputy Prime Minister, have been locked up without trial and without any charge being made against them. I understand, although I am not absolutely certain, that the Deputy Prime Minister has been locked up in circumstances in which his wife is able to see him only on one day in 35. Yet since the announcement of the proposals of the Commonwealth Secretary about British Guiana, so far from violence being abated, it has grown. Many people 1510 have been killed there in most bitter and tragic circumstances.
The situation in British Guiana is an extremely serious one. It is made all the more serious because, despite all the appeals that have been made from this side of the House, particularly my my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Bottomley), my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway), for the Secretary of State to take some new initiative, the Government have flatly refused to do so. Therefore, the House will adjourn in circumstances in which great dangers might arise in British Guiana. I hope that it does not happen—of course we all hope it will not—but there may be much greater shedding of blood there. The British Government sends us away in circumstances in which they have no proposition whatever to offer for dealing with this situation. The right hon. Gentleman has very direct responsibilities in this matter. He has said that he will take no new initiative whatever.
Doubtless it was under his influence that the Commonwealth Conference was prevented from dealing with British Guiana as fully as some people, who know much more about it than he, would have wished. If we read the comments of Dr. Eric Williams after the conference we see that he considers that the situation was dealt with in a completely unsatisfactory way. He has put forward fresh proposals which have been rejected by the British Government. A very heavy responsibility rests on the Government for what has happened in the last few days.
I hope the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South is not now leaving the Chamber, because I want to make some comments on his speech. I have been referring to political prisoners in British Guiana because he apparently protested about people being locked up in Ghana. I shall return to his speech in a few moments. One of the gravest failures of this Government has been its conduct of colonial affairs. Unfortunately, what they have done in regard to British Guiana, and even more, what they are doing about Southern Rhodesia, may have the effect of injuring the good reputation which this country largely deserves throughout large parts of the 1511 world—particularly in Africa—for what she has done. Therefore we have some serious quarrels with the right hon. Gentleman.
I do not know what has happened now to the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South. He apparently has skedaddled, but after making such a speech as he made he should have stayed to hear the reply. William Hazlitt once said:If you have something nasty to say about me, say it behind my back.I should not like to apply that to the hon. Member. I would much rather say it to his face. The hon. Member talked about history. There is a long history to this subject of Southern Rhodesia. A day or two ago I read through the debate of 8th November, 1961, when the Southern Rhodesian Bill was being considered. It gave the present constitution to Southern Rhodesia. It is a rather interesting fact that the development of the whole Southern Rhodesian problem fits into this Parliament in this sense. We have just had the concluding chapter of the Commonwealth Conference. The first chapter, in a sense, opened at the beginning of the 1959 Parliament when Sir Edgar Whitehead, Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia at that time, appealed to the British Government to introduce a new constitution for the first time since 1923. The whole process of dealing with Southern Rhodesia was initiated at the beginning of this Parliament. We can see what the Government have done during these five years and how we have reached the present situation.
When I read the debate of five years ago I thought the whole thing was absolutely out of date. Anyone who reads it now can see that the Government speeches on the Bill were completely irrelevant to the constitution. When I heard the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South, however, I realised that perhaps one hon. Member still thought in terms of the 1961 debate. Incidentally, I should correct him for he is absolutely wrong in suggesting that the Labour Party supported the new Constitution. He was absolutely wrong to suggest that there was merely a mild Amendment, for what was moved from the Opposition Front Bench was:this House cannot assent to a Bill which is intended to implement constitutional pro- 1512 posals which fail to provide for the African people of Southern Rhodesia either adequate safeguards against discrimination or adequate representation in the legislature."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th November, 1961; Vol. 648, c. 1051–2.]
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
I quite agree. The hon. Member is quite right. I am glad to make the correction. This arose from my practice of giving my opponents credit for more sense than in fact they have.
§ Mr. Foot
What the hon. Member was trying to do was ignorantly to misrepresent the Opposition. When his ignorance is corrected he has not even the grace to acknowledge it.
It is difficult to know where to start to argue with the hon. Member because his terms are so different. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn made a most moving appeal to people in Southern Rhodesia, however deep the provocation, to avoid violence, but the hon. Member accused her of wishing to stir up violence. He also suggested that she was animated by malice against the white settlers.
§ Mr. Foot
The hon. Gentleman said more than that. I think that if he examines what he said he will find that he is as mistaken as he was in his previous recollections of the 1961 debate.
He also said that my hon. Friend was actuated by malice against the white settlers. He used the word "hatred". This was a most shocking thing for him to say. Whatever the differences of opinion, he ought to recognise that the policy which my hon. Friend advocates is as much in the interests of the white people of Southern Rhodesia as it is in the interests of the coloured people of Southern Rhodesia. I am sorry that the hon. Member has been to Southern Rhodesia recently, for I am sure that he has done a lot of damage there, because if the people in Rhodesia were foolish enough to listen to his advice, the risks of bloodshed would be greatly increased.
It is difficult to argue with the hon. Member because the terms are so different. He said that Southern 1513 Rhodesia has had a great democratic history. I do not know what he means by those words. Democracy is associated with the suffrage. Apparently the hon. Member is in favour of democracy but opposed to universal suffrage, and the two are very difficult to combine. It is difficult to define what democracy is if it is not something to do with how many people vote.
§ Mr. Foot
If the hon. Member thinks that this country has been democratic for 700 years, I can see that the terms are so different that it is impossible to argue with him. We are glad to hear—the most progressive thing that he said—that he is in favour of this advance throughout the years. Apparently he is now in favour of the Reform Act of 1832. I do not suppose that his ancestors were in favour of it at the time. He is catching up.
This country has not been democratic. It finally became democratic just after the First World War, and we have had 30 or 40 years of democracy in this country. It is a very young and exciting dream, and that is why many other nations want to adopt it for themselves. The whole point about the Southern Rhodesian Constitution, about which he was so enthusiastic—and, indeed, the precise reason why he was enthusiastic about it—is that it is undemocratic. That is why it was approved by Mr. Ian Smith, who has worked out the figures a good deal more accurately than has the hon. Member and who says that not in his life-time will there be a majority rule in Southern Rhodesia under this Constitution. I do not think that I can waste any more time on the hon. Member. Moreover, he is in conflict with the recommendations not only of the Commonwealth Conference but of his own Government. He is even more reactionary than his own Government, and he had better argue it out with them.
The seriousness of the situation, as illustrated by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, arises, as she quite rightly said, from the complete difference in interpretation of what happened at the Commonwealth Conference. It is a very serious matter indeed, and it is impossible 1514 to imagine anything more damaging to the Commonwealth. It might even be the factor which could destroy it, for the British Government and the other Governments have a complete difference of opinion about what happened at the Commonwealth Conference. We have to probe to see, as far as we can, what happened and how the Governments interpret it.
First, we must take two separate matters to which my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn has already referred in a slightly different context. The first is the question of prisoners. Here, again, it is not some academic question of how many political prisoners there are compared with other places. There are political prisoners in Southern Rhodesia at present, for the leaders of the African people are under restrictions—and under restrictions which have been condemned by the High Court and which the High Court said were invalid. The Southern Rhodesian Government went further with these restrictions; they keep these people in prison, or in some restrictive custody.
The Commonwealth Prime Ministers discussed this matter fully, although the Prime Minister had told us on many occasions that they would not discuss it. Somehow they managed to get it into the communiqué, even though, according to the right hon. Gentleman, they did not discuss it at the Conference. They said,With a view to diminishing tensions and preparing the way for such a conference, an appeal was made for the release of all the detained African leaders".The Prime Minister of Britain commenting on that, later in the communiqué,said that he would give careful consideration to all the views expressed by other Commonwealth Prime Ministers".These seemed to me clear enough, and extremely important, declarations. They were important from the human point of view, because these people are locked up without trial; from the political point of view, because these are the leaders of the African people in Southern Rhodesia; and from the practical point of view because we can get no constitutional advance in Southern Rhodesia unless we talk to the African leaders.
What does the Prime Minister do? This was what was put out in the communiqué and what the Prime Ministers of the other Commonwealth countries had 1515 agreed. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn has already quoted what the British Prime Minister said at the Press Conference. It is bad enough if hon. Members look at what he said in the House, when he answered questions about the Commonwealth Conference. As reported in HANSARD of 15th July, when the Prime Minister was asked about the prisoners, he said,Therefore, I have asked Mr. Smith to come here. After seeing Mr. Smith, I shall have to consider what further steps are possible. As the communiqué says, an amnesty for prisoners is a matter for the Southern Rhodesian Government. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that, in the case of one prisoner, an appeal is pending next week. Therefore, I think that I had better say no more on this".It seems to me that this is a strange and equivocal answer, because the communiqué specifically does not say that the amnesty is a matter for the Southern Rhodesian Government. As far as I can read the plain language, the communiqué said, "An appeal was made by all the Prime Ministers that the prisoners should be released and the British Prime Minister said that he would take careful consideration of what the other Prime Ministers felt". Yet the Prime Minister told us that the communiqué said thatan amnesty for prisoners is a matter for the Southern Rhodesian Government.The communiqué says nothing of the sort. One of my hon. Friends comments that this was straight talk. I have studied the Prime Minister carefully. If I accused him of deliberate equivocation I might be ruled out of order by the Chair, and I do not do so, but I must say that compared with the Prime Minister I am coming to regard the previous Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan), as a paragon of blunt and homely candour. The present Prime Minister always manages to put a gloss on these statements which means something slightly different.
Therefore, on the question of the prisoners, we want to know exactly what is happening. The Prime Minister made the excuse to the House that an appeal "is pending next week". That next week has passed, so the right hon. Gentleman cannot have that excuse. Has he done anything about it? Mr. Ian Smith has not come to London. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn 1516 has described that situation. Does the Prime Minister take the view that, as Mr. Ian Smith has not come to London, therefore he has not been able to raise the question of the prisoners? What form has the communication taken? I hope that the Under-Secretary who is to reply will tell us the answers, because we certainly have a right to have answers to these questions before we depart. The statement is made on the authority of all the Commonwealth Prime Ministers that an appeal is to be made for the release of a certain number of prisoners, and the House is asked to depart without knowing what is the response to that appeal and what the British Government have done to carry out the apparent undertaking which they gave to the Commonwealth Prime Ministers and which was certainly the understanding of some of those Prime Ministers as a result of the Conference.
We want to know that from the Under-Secretary who is to reply on behalf of the Commonwealth Relations Office. I hope that he will not tell us that this is a matter for him and that the Prime Minister would have to make a statement on such a matter. That would not be adequate. I am dealing now with one of the major matters dealt with in this part of the communiqué following the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman should be able to give us fresh information. What representations have the British Government made to the Southern Rhodesian Government about the release of prisoners? Have they had any effect? If the Southern Rhodesian Government have said that they will not release these men, who are being held without any charges being made against them and also in defiance of the High Court, if there has been no response, and if the Southern Rhodesian Government will take no steps to release these men, what further protests do the British Government intend to make? Have the Government and the Commonwealth Relations Office communicated with the other Commonwealth Prime Ministers and told them what have been the results of the representations made about the prisoners?
I hope that we shall have the clearest answers to these questions. This is what debates on the Consolidated Fund Bill 1517 are for. We go away at the end of this week, and not only will it not be possible for Members to make direct representations for the release of people who we think should never have been imprisoned, but it will not be possible for us to make representations to discover what the Government have done to carry out the general understanding of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference.
I come to the second major point dealt with in the communiqué. This is the constitutional question. Though the release of the prisoners is connected with the constitutional question, the constitutional question is a broader and even more important question. These are the essential sentences in the communiqué:The view was also expressed that an Independence Conference should be convened which the leaders of all parties in Southern Rhodesia should be free to attend. The object would be to seek agreement on the steps by which Southern Rhodesia might proceed to independence within the Commonwealth at the earliest practicable time on the basis of majority rule.We know that that is the statement of the other Prime Ministers. The comment of the British Government, which is the responsibility of the Prime Minister, comes a little later in the same statement of their responsibility which I mentioned in connection with the prisoners:The Prime Minister of Britain said that he would give careful consideration to all the views expressed …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th July, 1964; Vol. 698, c. 1429–35.]Therefore, the British Government are committed in the communiqué to giving careful consideration to the proposal for the calling of an independence conference at the earliest practicable time.
I want to know what has happened about that. The calling of an independence conference to try to discover measures for widening democratic possibilities in Southern Rhodesia is not a new proposal. It now has the sanction and support of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, but it has been made many times before. However, it has been flatly rejected by the Government. I am not sure whether it was the very first occasion, but in June, 1962 the United Nations Assembly passed by 73 votes to one the demand for a Constitutional Conference in Southern Rhodesia. The only opposers were Great Britain, South Africa and Portugal. Seventy-three 1518 nations then supported the proposal which is now adopted by the Commonwealth.
Some hon. Members opposite do not like the United Nations. Very often they attack it and jeer at it. The Prime Minister is more guilty in this respect than almost anybody else. I wonder whether the Prime Minister dilated on these matters to the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, because this is a peculiar situation, particularly when we are told that this was a very successful Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference in which the Prime Minister of Britain played a leading part. It is interesting that what the Commonwealth Prime Ministers did about the constitutional question in Southern Rhodesia was to adopt the same resolution as the United Nations passed in June, 1962 and which the British Government opposed. So we are making some progress.
Another warning was given to the Government about Southern Rhodesia which I might be pardoned for quoting to the House. This was the warning given by the British spokesman at the United Nations at the time, who wrote a message to the British Government in August, 1962 trying to warn the British Government what were the perils in Southern Rhodesia and making some suggestions as to what they should do about it. I ask hon. Members to remember that this is August, 1962, quite a long time ago. He said:What could be done to save the situation? Unless something is done very soon non-cooperation and violence on one side and repression on the other are likely to rule out any hope of a peaceful settlement, and then all the forces at present moving in Africa will come into conflict. There is perhaps still time to avoid such a calamity, but to do so some practical gesture is required from the Southern Rhodesian Government and some reassurance from Her Majesty's Government.Could the Southern Rhodesian Government be persuaded to release the political detainees and to declare that the new repressive legislation will not be brought into effect if violence is avoided? At the same time could the Southern Rhodesian Government be persuaded to make substantial improvements in the franchise? …Might not the British Government at the same time declare that we are in favour of progressive steps towards full participation of all the people of the territory in the Government, and that following the forthcoming elections we shall invite the leaders of all parties to participate in a conference on future constitutional advance?1519 This was the proposal made by Sir Hugh Foot to the Government in private in August, 1962. He returned here to urge it upon the Government and to ask them—"Why do you not listen? Do you not know what is happening in Southern Rhodesia? Do you not know what is happening at the United Nations? Do you think it is a good thing that we should be in a minority in the world alongside only Portugal and South Africa?" The Government rejected it. They would not move an inch towards any proposal for a constitutional conference then.
Now they have had to accept it. I do not blame Members for being absent from debates. We all know that we do so at various times. It is a pity that some of those hon. Members who tabled the Motion for the greater glorification of the Prime Minister for bringing about the great success of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference have not turned up to discuss this subject. Where is the triumph on Southern Rhodesia when what the British Prime Minister had to do on Southern Rhodesia at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference was to accept the proposal which Sir Hugh Foot had put forward but which the British Government had rejected and accept the proposal passed by the United Nations which the British Government voted against? That is what happened, and I am sure that the Under-Secretary could confirm my history in every detail.
What is to happen about it? Now that we know that the British Government were forced into this against their will, will they carry it out? My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn gave a long list stating what were the understandings of the other Commonwealth Prime Ministers. We are here today partly to extract from the Minister the Government's interpretation of their commitments under the communiqué of which they are so proud. There are many parts of the communiqué which we applaud and of which we are thoroughly in favour, but we need to know to what the Government feel committed and what steps they have taken and intend to take since the communiqué was issued.
When Mr. Ian Smith is eventually persuaded to come here—or if he will be 1520 courteous enough to come—what will Her Majesty's Government propose to him for carrying out the proposals in the communiqué because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn indicated, this could be the most dangerous moment in the history of the British Commonwealth. There have been suggestions to the effect that the Prime Minister had a great success at the Commonwealth Conference. Personally, I believe that the Prime Minister both as Prime Minister and in his previous rôle as Commonwealth Secretary—and in his support of Britain's unconditional entry into the Common Market—did more to injure the Commonwealth than any other member of the administration.
When we are now told that he has rescued the situation and that he has achieved a great success, I am reminded of the famous story by Victor Hugo of the man who let loose a battering ram against a ship but who at the last moment, with great agility, prevented it from doing its full damage. He was first decorated and then shot. It might be a commendable way of dealing with this situation, bearing in mind the way in which the Prime Minister did his rescuing operation.
If, in fact, a better atmosphere prevailed at the Commonwealth Conference and then it was discovered afterwards that there had been what some would regard as deception about what was agreed, I do not believe that the Commonwealth would easily survive that. There is a further political deduction to be drawn. The truth is that the British Commonwealth can survive in the end only if it is prepared to have a common policy about Southern Rhodesia. I do not mean in terms of every detail and step, but if there is to be a departure from the principle of trying to seek, at the earliest possible moment, majority rule in Southern Rhodesia, the Commonwealth could break up and, for this reason, Her Majesty's Government are asking the House of Commons to go away in very dangerous circumstances.
We know that this Government need to be carefully treated on this question. They have said that their elbows are easily jarred—that they must be treated kindly or they may upset things. They have said that officially, but what they are asking us to do in this case is to trust them on the basis of their actions 1521 at this Conference. I must say that in view of the history of this question, in view of the tardiness which the Government have shown in the acceptance of the application of the same principle to Southern Rhodesia as has had to be applied to other parts of Africa, we are made suspicious as to whether they will carry it out. I am glad to support the urgency which my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn placed on the serious nature of the question; that if there were to develop any misunderstanding between Her Majesty's Government and the other Governments of the Commonwealth about Southern Rhodesia and what was agreed at the conference, it could have most serious consequences.
The Under-Secretary spoke in the previous debate as a genuine supporter of the Commonwealth. The hon. Gentleman, who has the respect of all of my hon. Friends, spoke admirably of how he wished to see the Commonwealth succeed, and I am sure that he is sincere in his views. However, many hon. Members opposite have lost interest in the Commonwealth now that the majority of it has become a more democratic institution. That is why many of them were eager to get into Europe, for they had lost interest in an institution in which others had the same rights as they have had in some of these territories.
I agree that some hon. Members opposite want to see the Commonwealth strengthened, and the Under-Secretary spoke eloquently of how proud he was at the way in which the old Empire had developed into the Commonwealth. That is something of which this country has every right to be proud. It is one of the great developments of the twentieth century and this country has, in many respects, been a leader in this development.
The appalling tragedy is that all that goodwill, all that following, all that greatness—in Africa, Asia and all over the world—could be thrown away in Southern Rhodesia. For this reason we want to know from the Government today exactly how they will carry out their commitments on the two questions of constitutional advance in Southern Rhodesia and the appeal for the release of the prisoners which is essential to help secure that advance. 1522 We want to know what Her Majesty's Government are doing to sustain the ideas which were preached so proudly at the Commonwealth Conference.
§ Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)
On a point of order. In view of the serious charges which have been made, in a reasoned manner, I agree, by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) against the Prime Minister, and since a junior Minister will be replying to the debate—remembering that a junior Minister can easily be at a serious disadvantage—have we not the right to request the presence of the Prime Minister to answer these questions, since, in a few days' time, we will be leaving here for a few months?
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
I wish, first, to apologise to hon. Members for being absent for part of the debate. I was called out of the Chamber on several occasions and heard the debate intermittently. I heard the beginning of the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), part of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) and most of the speech of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot). I hope that the House will bear with me, since circumstances completely beyond my control meant my missing some of the debate.
The hon. Member—I prefer to say my hon. Friend and near neighbour—for Ebbw Vale said in his closing remarks that this country has reason to be proud of the way in which so many of the constitutional territories of the former British Empire have been guided and assisted towards the status of self-governing countries. I thoroughly agree with him about that, as all hon. Members must. I think that he will agree with me that the Labour Government of 1945 to 1951 had a great deal of which to be proud for the part they played in continuing the first steps which had been taken with the white Dominions before the war in pursuing the process into India, Pakistan, Ceylon, and so on. I also hope that he will agree that since 1951 successive Con- 1523 servative Governments have had considerable reason to be proud of the way they have pursued that process in so many territories.
When one lists these territories, one is amazed at how many countries have gone on that road of progress towards self-government since 1951. One thinks of the countries in East Africa, of Ghana, Nigeria, and of Malaya, Singapore and others. Looking down the list, one realises that this process has gone a very long way indeed. I was rather surprised that the hon. Gentleman should have spoken of certain suspicions of the Government's intention to do this as emphatically in the case of Southern Rhodesia.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not disregard the fact that the history of Southern Rhodesia has been very different from that of any of the other territories. He does not forget that 40 years ago, in a referendum held in that territory, only by a narrow margin was it decided not to join with South Africa. Had the people voted only slightly differently, we would not even be discussing this question now. Southern Rhodesia's history has been completely different, and it amazes me that any hon. Member opposite can make a speech that seems completely to disregard that fact.
Our relationship with countries like Ghana and Nigeria before independence was clear-cut. We had the power, and we showed that we had the desire and the intention, to guide them to self-government. On the other hand, our relationship with Southern Rhodesia, as hon. Gentlemen know, is a very delicate and difficult one, and cannot be compared with our relationship with any of the other territories.
It is folly for us to disregard the fact that, in Southern Rhodesia's internal affairs, our Prime Minister and Government have virtually no power at all. That is a hard fact of the situation that we must recognise. To compare the position there with that in other territories, or even to pretend that it is comparable, does not make for a really useful debate on such a subject. We still have certain reserved powers in external affairs, but in internal affairs—none at all.
1524 The point I seek to make is that our relationship with Southern Rhodesia is completely different from the relationship of other Commonwealth countries with Southern Rhodesia. Those other countries can pass resolutions and say what they like—they have no powers at all in Southern Rhodesia's internal or external affairs. Australia has no powers in respect of Southern Rhodesia, neither has Canada—if Southern Rhodesia cared to tell them to mind their own business, they could do nothing about it. None of the other countries of the Commonwealth has any powers, internal or external, in relation to Southern Rhodesia, and that is a very important fact.
As I see the law position—and hon. Members are not always prepared to recognise this—convention is almost as important as statute law; in other words, the very fact that we have refrained for a very long time from exercising a particular power means that, by the convention of our Constitution, that power may have ceased to exist. Therefore, if we wish to do anything in this sphere, the whole relationship must be one of persuasion. We can only hope to influence Southern Rhodesia in what we deem to be a desirable direction by persuasion.
I would say in all sincerity to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale and his hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn that persuasion is not always best achieved by blunt outspoken language; it is sometimes carried out more effectively in private conversation. If I want to persuade a friend, I do not announce it to the world. If I want to influence a friend, I do not necessarily tell my neighbour, too. Indeed, if I do, I may be damaging my own ability to influence and to persuade.
Although, normally, outspokenness, blunt and plain speaking may be, and probably are, virtues, I respectfully submit that when one has little more than powers of persuasion they may positively damage one's ability to help—
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that my hon. Friends are only following the example of the Prime Minister, who said that he would go in for straight talking?
§ Mr. Gower
I have said that straight talking may be a virtue in most phases of policy, but I suggest, not only to the House in general, but to the hon. Gentleman in particular, that this is a very specialised example, due to the history of the territory, due to the limitations of our legal powers which are, in effect, almost non-existent. I was astonished the other day to read a very distinguished former Southern Rhodesian judge stating that certain things can be done by the Southern Rhodesian Government that would be illegal. That sort of argument does not help. What George Washington did was illegal; the action was illegal, but it does not help us to say so—it was effective. One has to deal with this sort of reality.
A resolution was announced in the form of a communiqué. The hon. Gentleman obviously knows as well as I do that this is a matter of balances, of delicate negotiation, and that when people said that this was a praiseworthy conference they meant that it was remarkable that some combined observation could have been made by so many dissimilar Ministers of so many dissimilar countries about so dynamic and difficult and so delicate a topic. In that sense, I plead with the hon. Gentleman to agree that it was a considerable achievement.
In the light of what has been achieved, not only by his own side but by this side in guiding and helping so many territories to self-government—because that has been our objective—I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider that we have not wished to withhold from the people of any territory the democratic powers we have the power to confer—our whole history in recent years shows that we have not—but here is a case where we have no power to confer those powers and, if we push too hard, we may prevent the people who have the power from using it.
My correspondence with people in Southern Rhodesia makes me believe that some of the things said in this House have had an effect completely opposite to that which those making them intended. They have been making the progressives less progressive. Thai is the difficulty. Most of the power resides there, not here, and we must not 1526 forget that. It is a very difficult, a diabolically difficult situation. That is why I respectfully submit that those who, with the finest intentions and finest motives, talk of blunt and plain speaking may, contrary to their best objectives, be having the most terrible effect on the hope and the possibility of an ultimately beneficial solution.
The hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn asked for a blunt assessment, a blunt interpretation, and proof of what has been said to substantiate this delicately evolved communiqué. I should be surprised if they could easily be given. If I had wanted to influence Mr. Ian Smith I certainly would not announce it to the world at this stage. I should be having private conversations if I were in that position. The last thing that I would be doing would be to say things which might embarrass anybody who is involved in this problem. I hope, for these reasons, that anyone who speaks subsequently in the debate will speak with great caution about these terribly difficult problems.
§ Mr. M. Foot
Does the hon. Member think that there would be any difficulty or any awkwardness in Members of this House stating as strongly as they can how important they think it is that the Southern Rhodesia Government should respond to the appeal of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers for the release of people who are in prison without trial?
§ Mr. Gower
I see nothing wrong in individuals saying that, but it is wrong for the same individuals to say to the Government that they should make a demand on the Southern Rhodesian Government which our Government have no power to enforce. That is a very different thing. I see no harm in my sending a letter or doing anything else to influence any Government against tyranny over any citizen of whatever colour or race, but my objection is to calling upon our Government to do something which they have no power to enforce.
This is the danger and the difficulty. It is easy for other Commonwealth Governments to say things because they have no power, and they can be told by the Southern Rhodesia Government that 1527 they have no power, but if our Government say these things the Southern Rhodesia Government may think that we have a reason for saying so, but the power of enforcement is very tenous. I hope, therefore, that those who follow me in the debate will speak with great forbearance on a matter for which it is so difficult to find a solution.
§ Mr. A. G. Bottomley (Middlesbrough, East)
My hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. D. Jones) made an appeal a few moments ago that the Secretary of State should be present. In view of the reasoned, thoughtful and strong indictment against the Government by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), and my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot), we consider that the Secretary of State should be present. May I therefore ask the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations whether, in the interval, he has had an opportunity of raising this matter with the Secretary of State and, if he has not, whether he will now do so?
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and for the Colonies (Mr. R. P. Hornby)
I hope that the House will agree that I have been present throughout the debate and have taken careful note of the comments that have been made. I hope that the House will also agree that, in accordance with the arrangements which have been made, I should answer points made in speeches to which I have listened rather than that we should call upon my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who has not been able to be present during the debate.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)
I regret that the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) has not been present during the whole of the debate, though, of course, I accept the reason. The hon. Member has heard the greater part of the speeches by my hon. Friends the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) and the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot), but, unfortunately, he did not hear the greater part of the speech of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell). I regret it, because if the hon. Member for Barry had done so I am sure that for the sake of 1528 the point of view which he holds, and of the party which he represents, he would have repudiated very much of what was said.
The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South is, by constituency, my neighbour and I am very well aware of his views, but I have to say frankly—and I regret that he is not now in the House—that I have been shocked by some of his expressions this evening. He said three things to which I want to reply, because I appreciate that they represent an ignorant view which is rather widespread.
The hon. Member's first statement was that the attitude of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, and of those of us who are proud to be associated with her expression of views, is motivated by hatred of the white settlers in these territories. His second charge was that we on these benches fail to criticise violence when it is practised by Africans. The third charge was that we are silent when African States practise dictatorial methods, and his particular reference was to Ghana.
If the hon. Gentleman did hear most of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, he must have been impressed, as I think we all were, by the appeal that she made for a change of policy in Southern Rhodesia in the interests not only of the Africans but of the European community. The hon. Member should know very well that there is a considerable and influential minority among the white community in Southern Rhodesia who share the views which are expressed on this side of the House. He must be aware that there are courageous men, not only the many unknown, but men who have occupied high Government office, who have criticised the régime in Southern Rhodesia because they feel that whilst that régime continues it will ultimately be the security and the safety of their fellow white residents in Southern Rhodesia which will be at stake.
I belong to a family of three generations of white persons in Colonial Territories, either in the old British Empire or in the French Empire. Not only do I have that historical tradition, but I have been to those countries, and I have got the sense of kith and kin. I particularly appreciate the situation of the young children who are growing up in those territories. We are not just 1529 thinking of the rights of the African peoples. We are thinking of the future of the European residents in those territories.
I would put it to the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South, if he were in the Chamber, that the experience of other African countries is showing that the greatest happiness for European residents in those territories must lie in the recognition of the rights of the African population. It was only about 10 days ago that the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South was welcoming the independence of Northern Rhodesia and that I found myself on that rare occasion speaking in agreement with him. Did he take that view one year ago about Northern Rhodesia? Did he not a year ago take the view that to grant independence to Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, would be dangerous to the European residents? Independence is now gained for Zambia, and the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South paid a tribute in this House to the racial generosity of Mr. Kenneth Kaunda, the new Prime Minister, and expressed confidence that the European population there would be happier and safer.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has now returned to his place.
What is true of Northern Rhodesia or Zambia has been true of Kenya, of Malawi and of Tanzan—fears among the European population before independence was gained but, after independence, the European population being rather surprised by the spirit of co-operation on the part of the African régime and finding themselves more secure and more happy than they were before.
The second charge which the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South made was that my hon. Friend and those of us who have been associated with her have failed to criticise violence when it has been practised by Africans. Some of us have more right to criticise violence when it is practised than the hon. Gentleman has because, philosophically, we are opposed to violence itself. The hon. Gentleman suggested that we are silent when it is practised by Africans but are alerted when it is practised by Europeans. I might almost retort that he is silent when it is prac- 1530 tised by Europeans and alerted when it is practised by Africans, but I do not do so.
I believe that violence should be condemned whenever it takes place. The precedent in the great historical struggle for independence in the world was that set by Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Movement. Nevertheless, I go on to say that those who, in philosophy, are not opposed to violence have no right to condemn those who are denied democracy and self-government when they appeal to violence. That is the very basis of the Jeffersonian principles of the American Constitution which we have so often praised.
Some of us who have a little influence with African leaders have, on every possible occasion, urged them to refrain from violence in their struggle, and the hon. Gentleman has not the least right to say that we have failed in our denunciation of it. He referred to an incident in South Africa. Only yesterday, I sent a message to South Africa regretting and deploring that a bomb had been placed in a railway station there which had led to the injury of other people. It just is not true that we are silent when violence is practised by the African and condemn it only when it is committed by the European.
Thirdly, the hon. Gentleman said that we are silent about the dictatorial attitude of certain African Governments, particularly the Government of Ghana. Many of us believe in liberal democracy to such an extent that we denounce imprisonment without trial for political opinions whenever and wherever it takes place. I have never been to a country where the Government practised imprisonment for political opinions without going to the leader of that country and expressing my dissent and criticism. I have done it Poland, in Yugoslavia, in Ghana and in Tanganyika where it is now operating against some trade union leaders. I have done it in Cairo, in the United Arab Republic.
The hon. Member must not, in this House or in his constituency, take the line that those of us who stand for the rights of African peoples and for their democracy and liberty are full of praise for all that the Africans do and full of condemnation of what the whites and Europeans do. That is not our attitude. 1531 We stand on principles, and we denounce any denials of those principles, whether practised by Africans or Europeans. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not again make the kind of accusations which he has made tonight.
Passing from those criticisms, I want to turn to the rather deeper and more philosophical argument which has emerged about democracy in Africa. I recognise at once that the degree of tolerance and democracy which we have in this country has come from hundreds of years of struggle. If it had not been for great pioneers who were martyrs through those centuries in the struggle for liberty we should not now have our democracy. I do not pretend for a moment that democracy can come overnight in any territory. It cannot be born over the weekend. We have not the right to expect African countries, suddenly becoming independent, to be perfect specimens of democratic practice at once.
That conclusion leads me to ask this question: in these circumstances, is it better to continue an alien occupation of those territories or to grant them self-government? I think that we might have been in a better position to assert the principle of continued colonial rule if our history had always been rather better. I admit that one of the things which made me angry was that at the moment when Dr. Nkrumah and the Ghanian Government were being denounced our own Government were practising in what was then Nyasaland imprisonments, untruthful assertions of conspiracies, and suppressions on a much vaster scale than were being practised by Dr. Nkrumah. I admit at once that that was a rather exceptional incident in a period of years, but we should have been in a better position to urge that colonialism should be retained while people were trained and guided towards democracy if our own record had been rather cleaner in those respects.
I take the alternative view, very strongly indeed, that Asian and African nations are more likely to develop the kind of democratic tolerance in which we believe by acknowledging their right to independence, by giving them the opportunity of self-government, by the failures and disappointments which will come but from which they will grow and that 1532 the degree of suffering which arises as a result of that policy will be much less than would arise by denying them what they are demanding and seeking. If the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South will not listen to me in urging that political philosophical argument, I hope that he will listen to the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) who, as Colonial Secretary, had vast experience of these problems and, with much more knowledge, has put forward the view which I have been expressing. I did not intend to rise merely to answer the hon. Member, although his constituency surrounds but does not throttle mine, because I am mostly concerned about the situation in Southern Rhodesia itself. I will speak briefly about it, if I may.
We are in this dilemma. We do not want to say any word tonight which will strengthen the position of Mr. Ian Smith, or which will rally his supporters to him and make the danger of a unilateral declaration of independence of Southern Rhodesia more real. I know the threat which exists, but I support my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn when she appeals to the British Government to use their influence to dissuade the Prime Minister and the Government of Southern Rhodesia from proceeding to a unilateral declaration by making publicly and abundantly clear what would be the result of a unilateral declaration: expulsion from the Commonwealth, expulsion from the United Nations, losing Imperial Preference, losing the preferences of G.A.T.T. and economic boycott by Zambia, Northern Rhodesia.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
Is not the hon. Member mistaken? My impression is that Southern Rhodesia is not a member of the United Nations. There could not, therefore, be a question of expulsion.
§ Mr. Brockway
I very much appreciate the correction of my grammar—it was only my grammar. When I speak about expulsion from the United Nations, I appreciate that Southern Rhodesia at present is not a member. An independent country would expect to become a member of the United Nations. I ought not to have said "expulsion"; I should have said "exclusion". I am grateful to the hon. Member.
1533 There would be not merely those things, but isolation in the whole Continent of Africa. Southern Rhodesia would become more isolated in the world than South Africa. If the white residents of Southern Rhodesia understood that and if the Government said it frankly and clearly, it would be likely to influence them from declaring unilateral independence.
It is tremendously important that this should be done tonight. If the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and the Colonies will forgive me, that is why I am sorry that the Secretary of State is not here to say it with authority. I am sorry that the Prime Minister is not here to say it with authority. I hope that, having listened to our words, the hon. Gentleman will tell his right hon. Friend how important we consider it to be that this should be said immediately, because the critical debate is now taking place in the Southern Rhodesian Parliament.
Whilst we have to keep in mind the effect of our words upon the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia and the white population there, we also have to bear in mind the effect of our silence upon two other spheres of importance in the world which, if we are silent, may lead to a more serious breach with this country and with our Government than the breach which we are fearing from Southern Rhodesia.
The first of those two other spheres of importance in the world is the Commonwealth. What my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale has said is absolutely true. During the time of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, I had the privilege to meet nearly every Asian and African representative. I heard their views at the end of long days at the conference. It is not possible to exaggerate the depth of their feeling about Southern Rhodesia. Before the conference met, it was to be placed nearly last on the agenda, but it had to be placed first on the agenda after the international review because of the strength of the feeling. Indeed, it became the issue of the conference. I met the Commonwealth representatives as they left the conference day by day, and I know how they felt, and I know how they will feel now if the British Govern- 1534 ment do not fulfil the hopes which were aroused by that conference.
The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister said that the question of prisoners is an internal matter for Southern Rhodesia. I acknowledge this at once. But I was delighted when I heard from him in the House yesterday, and when I read in The Times this morning the words of Dr. Verwoerd, that the British Government had made a protest regarding the prisoners in the Republic of South Africa and had appealed for some clemency with regard to the sentences. How in the world can the Government intervene in the case of the Republic of South Africa, which we welcome, and then fail to intervene in the case of Southern Rhodesia, which is a part of the Commonwealth? I hope very much that the Government will, as a result of the discussions at the Commonwealth Conference, make an appeal for the release of Joshua Nkomo and his colleagues and the staying of the proceedings again Mr. Sithole, and thus create an atmosphere there which would be more hopeful for solution.
The other area of the world whose friendship to us is, in my view, even more important than the fate of the Government of Southern Rhodesia is the Continent of Africa as a whole. Its importance is shown by the way in which America and Russia are now competing for influence there. The cold war is ceasing to be largely a matter of armed preparations and is now a competition for the welfare and the support of the new nations. Undoubtedly, if we fail in this crisis to reflect the views of the Commonwealth Conference and of the United Nations on this issue of Southern Rhodesia, we shall be in very great danger of losing the sympathy, hope and confidence of the peoples of the Continent of Africa.
On these two grounds I make a very earnest appeal to the hon. Gentleman to urge the Minister and the Prime Minister to act in the spirit of what has been expressed tonight.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and for the Colonies (Mr. R. P. Hornby)
I have listened with very great care to every single word that has been spoken in this debate. 1535 It is the most natural thing in the world that the House should wish to discuss the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference and the views that were expressed there about the progress of Southern Rhodesia towards independence. As, I think every hon. Member on both sides of the House is very well aware and as has been shown by everything that hon. Members have said in this debate, this is one of the most difficult problems that we have ever had to tackle in the history of transition from colonial empire to association of independent Commonwealth States. I do not for one second under-estimate the point made by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway), namely, the importance of the effects of our decisions in this field all over the rest of the world.
As I have said, I fully understand the very strong feelings that are to be found among many people in this House, in the country and in many parts of the world. But I hope that the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) will not take it amiss—because I do not mean it in that sense—when I say that I wish I could feel confident that her speech was helpful in bringing about the peaceful solution we all want. We would do well to heed the words of caution uttered by my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) although that, of course, does not inhibit hon. Members, as the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) said, from speaking their feelings and speaking their minds as and when they think fit.
I am also sorry that the hon. Lady found it necessary to cast doubt on the motives of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in calling the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference and the manner in which he presided.
§ Mr. Hornby
I believe that there is a better and a longstanding tradition, which most hon. Members cherish, whereby we like to assume—on both sides of this House—that we share common enthusiasm for the Commonwealth association and a determination to see it prosper, however hard we may argue from time to time about details of policy. It would be helpful in getting our answers right if we adhered to that.
§ Mr. Hornby
I can certainly say that it has been the cornerstone of the Government's policy to try to uphold the Commonwealth association to the utmost of their ability throughout the lifetime of this Parliament and its predecessors.
I remind the House of the context within which Southern Rhodesia was discussed at the Prime Ministers' meeting. As the House knows, it has been normal for some time for the progress of British Colonies towards independence to be reviewed at each Prime Ministers' conference, and it was under this heading that the question of Southern Rhodesia was raised this time. The Prime Ministers stated their views on the steps which might be taken to facilitate its progress to full independence within the Commonwealth.
I emphasise what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already told the House—and it was underlined in the communiqué—that we made it quite clear that the internal affairs of Southern Rhodesia were the responsibility of her Government. It is as well that I should re-emphasise that now because, from time to time in this debate, it seems that some hon. Members have forgotten it.
I also emphasise what the communiqué stated—that the authority and responsibility for leading her remaining Colonies to independence rests with Britain alone, and the other Prime Ministers fully accept that position. I make that point because that is, in effect, the answer to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, who made the plea for a Commonwealth policy for Southern Rhodesia. I take note of the points he raised, but in the communiqué he will find that the Commonwealth Prime Ministers fully accepted Britain's position.
The House is naturally anxious to know what initiatives we now propose to take and under what conditions it will be possible for Southern Rhodesia to obtain independence. First, let me say again what has already been made clear to the Southern Rhodesian Government: we regard sufficiently representative institutions as a pre-condition of the granting of independence. Secondly, we have 1537 stated that it would not be possible to recognise any unilateral declaration of independence, a view which was shared by all the other Commonwealth Prime Ministers.
We have made this known not because we have any wish to utter threats against the Southern Rhodesian Government, or to anticipate hypothetical situations, but because there have been rumours from time to time about possible unilateral action, and it would clearly be tragic—I am sure that the whole House would agree on this—if any action of this kind were to be taken without the Government of Southern Rhodesia being fully aware of the attitude which the British Government would adopt.
The hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn and the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) suggested that we should here and now make public what we have said to the Southern Rhodesian Government about the consequences of any unilateral declaration of independence. I believe that it is a sound practice that correspondence between Governments should normally be regarded as confidential. Having the responsibility to handle these discussions, it must remain for my right hon. Friends and the British Government to reserve to themselves the decision whether it is necessary at this or any other time to make a public statement on so sensitive a matter.
The House knows that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has invited the Southern Rhodesian Prime Minister to come to London for talks. I am sure that it is the wish of all of us that he should agree to do so and that we shall soon hear when he will be able to come.
§ Mrs. Castle
Is the hon. Gentleman telling us that although a considerable time has elapsed since the Prime Minister wrote, there has been no communication whatever from Mr. Ian Smith? What time limit are the Government setting for the receipt of a reply before deciding what other action they might have to take?
§ Mr. Hornby
I think that the hon. Lady will recognise the desirability of our having these talks. We have issued this invitation and we very much hope 1538 that the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia will be able to come.
Naturally, the House would like to know more of the proposals which we would then put before him, no less than the hon. Lady would like to know the precise date when he is coming. A number of suggestions have been made in the debate. For instance, it was suggested that the first step should be to convene a full independence conference with representatives of all parties in Southern Rhodesia. My answer to that suggestion is that we must first talk to the Southern Rhodesian Government and then, in the light of those discussions, consider how best we can go forward. My hon. Friend the Member for Barry rightly said that one can often achieve more through private discussion than through public speeches. I urge upon the House the wisdom of that.
§ Mr. D. Jones
I am not dissenting in any way from what the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) said, but the House has a right to know what we are to do if Mr. Ian Smith persists in declining the invitation to come to this country. I suppose that discussion would not then be possible.
§ Mr. Hornby
Again I urge on the House the advisability of dealing with the existing situation and not dwelling on hypothetical problems.
It has also been suggested that it would help very much to create the right atmosphere for such a conference if the African leaders now in detention could be released. I must remind hon. Members of what they know already, that this matter is the responsibility of the Southern Rhodesian Government. There is an important case now before the courts in Southern Rhodesia. The Southern Rhodesian Government are well aware of the views expressed in the Prime Ministers' communiqué and the appeal contained there. The Commonwealth Prime Ministers are also well aware that this is an internal affair.
If the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) had read on to just one sentence further than the sentence from the communiqué which he read out, which was:The Prime Minister of Britain said that he would give careful consideration to all the views expressed by other Commonwealth Prime Ministers1539 he would have seen that it states:At the same time, he emphasised that the Government of Southern Rhodesia was constitutionally responsible for the internal affairs of that territory …
§ Mr. M. Foot
I understand perfectly well that the Southern Rhodesian Government are responsible for the conduct of affairs in that Territory. The question of making an appeal is not in the same category. We want to know whether the Government have backed the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' appeal for the release of these prisoners. Are they giving full support to that appeal? How have they made their representations? What has been the response to the British Government's representation?
§ Mr. Hornby
We should be much wiser to stick to the words of the communiqué and remember what I have already said, that the appeal is well known to the Southern Rhodesian Government who have seen the communiqué. It is also well known to the House that this is an internal affair of the Government of Southern Rhodesia.
§ Mr. Foot
The hon. Gentleman has referred, as did the Prime Minister, to a case which is pending before the courts. May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether, when that case is over, the Government will make their representations for the release of the prisoners? We want to know what the Government are doing to impress the Southern Rhodesian Government with how important we think this question. If we leave it, and the Government of Southern Rhodesia do not hear anything but the communiqué, they will not know how important it is. Surely the hon. Gentleman can say that the Government give the fullest support to the appeal from the Commonwealth Conference and hope that the Government of Southern Rhodesia will act on it in the very near future?
§ Mr. Hornby
The hon. Member has asked what we shall do after the case before the courts has been heard. I say again, do not let us judge a situation which does not exist, let us deal with the existing situation. Secondly, I say 1540 again to the hon. Gentleman that the Southern Rhodesian Government are perfectly well aware of the views expressed in the Prime Ministers' communiqué. Thirdly, I am sure that it would not be helpful for me to act on the points made by the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Brockway
The Minister has been very good in giving way to questioners. Will he deal with the point which I raised? We welcome the fact that the Government have made an approach to the Government of the Republic of South Africa about their prisoners as a result of the Commonwealth Conference discussion. If we can make an approach to a Government who are independent and sovereign, why cannot we make an approach to a Government of a country still within the Commonwealth and for which we still have considerable responsibility?
§ Mr. Hornby
I take the point the hon. Member has made, but I put it to the House that on all these very sensitive questions—questions for possible discussion with the Southern Rhodesian Government—although I have listened to all these points with very great interest, it would not be right or helpful for me to go beyond what I have already said and forecast the points which the Prime Minister or the British Government might make in personal or private discussion.
There is not one of us who does not eagerly look forward to the day when Southern Rhodesia can join other independent members of the Commonwealth. I hope hon. Members will agree that I would not be helping matters at the present moment—I know this is not the view of every hon. Member present, but I remind the House again that the Government have on their shoulders the responsibility of handling these negotiations—if I anticipated in public the important and private talks my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister hopes to have with the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia. I firmly believe that we may by negotiation achieve the solution that every one of us wants, and which is very important to us all.