HL Deb 11 February 1925 vol 60 cc195-206

EARL BUXTON had given Notice to ask His Majesty's Government whether any negotiations are in progress in regard to the transfer to the Union of South Africa of Swaziland and of the Bechuanaland Protectorate; if so, what conditions will be attached to the transfer, and what steps will be taken to give the natives and the white population an opportunity of expressing their views before any final decision is made; and to move for Papers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, before making some few observations upon the Question which I have put upon the Paper, I should like to be allowed to make a preliminary remark and to enter a protest. The protest is that in your Lordships' House the Colonial Office is not directly represented in the present Parliament, either by the Secretary of State for the Colonies himself or by the Under-Secretary of State. It has, I think, been the almost universal rule that one or other of these, and usually the Secretary of State, has been a member of this House, and I think that this arrangement has been for the convenience of your Lordships. During Mr. Baldwin's first Government the Colonial Office was represented in this House by the then Secretary of State for the Colonies, my noble friend the Duke of Devonshire, while in the last Government, that of Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, my noble friend behind me (Lord Arnold) was created a Peer in order to represent the Colonial Office, and if he will allow me to say so he did so with great distinction. It has been the almost universal practice that either one or the other of these Ministers should be a member of this House.

At present the position is this: While we have here a representative of the Colonial Office—and I am glad to know that it is my noble friend Lord Onslow, who always deals with any question put to him with very good temper and with great lucidity—at the same time I think he will be the first to admit that he cannot deal with any question that arises in reference to Colonial or Dominion matters with that knowledge and that authority which would come from someone directly representing the Colonial Office. After all, this House is, I think, more competent than any other to deal with matters affecting our great Dominions and the Colonies. In the House of Commons, so far as I know, there is no member who has had any personal experience of dealing with Colonial or Dominion matters, whereas in this House your Lordships may be interested to know that no fewer than thirteen noble Lords have been Governors-General or High Commissioners of our great Dominions, or have been in other ways connected with the Colonies. I feel, therefore, that your Lordships are entitled to think that the Colonial Office ought to have a representative in this House, and I trust that the Prime Minister, when he has, as he may from time to time have, to make some natural changes, may consider that one of them should be in the direction of giving this House the honour and satisfaction of enjoying direct representation of the Colonial Office. I apologise for having made these remarks, but it seemed to me that I was entitled to make them.

I will not detain your Lordships at length in asking my Question, but I should like to make a few observations. What I am asking for is information from the Colonial Office and from His Majesty's Government in regard to the question of the possible transfer of one or all of the three Protectorates in South Africa—namely, Basutoland, Bechuanaland and Swaziland. A good many telegrams and much information of sorts have come before the public, but up to the present no authoritative statement has been made, and such information as we have had has been of a very contradictory nature. I am anxious that the Government should give us such information as they possess at the present time, and especially that they should assure us—and this is my main point—that before they commit themselves to the transfer of any of these Protectorates the public, and the natives especially; shall have full opportunities of considering the matter.

I would say at once that I rise in no spirit of hostility towards the proposal for the transfer, at all events, of Swaziland, because, after all, the logical development of our great self-governing Dominions is that they should have full control within their borders, and it is only because of the peculiar historical and racial position of South Africa that this has not yet come about to the fullest extent. Transfer, however, was foreshadowed by the then Secretary of State when the Act of Union was passed, and it is still more clearly anticipated by what is called the Schedule of the Act of Union, which provides for the transfer of these Protectorates at some future time by providing that, if and when they are transferred, full and adequate protection shall be given to the interests of the natives, which are specifically mentioned in the Act of Union.

As your Lordships are aware, there exist these three Protectorates to which I have referred. Of these Basutoland and Bechuanaland are purely native territory at the present moment. No white man can settle or trade there without the leave and licence of the High Commissioner I cannot believe that any question can arise at present in regard to the transfer either of Basutoland or Bechuanaland, and accordingly I will not deal with those Protectorates at this moment. Swaziland is the one Protectorate that is really in question. It is not native territory in the sense in which the other two are, because, unfortunately for the natives, their ruler, King Umbandeni, some thirty years ago, ceded the territory very largely to concessionaires, for a few pounds and some cheap champagne, as a rule. He gave away very fully the rights of the natives in regard to land and other matters of that sort. The result is that that territory is partly native and partly white. Thanks to the action of Lord Milner in the first instance, and afterwards of Lord Selborne, always a very great friend of Swaziland, a good deal has been saved from the wreck. Under the able control of Mr. George Grey and Lord Selborne the natives have been now put in possession of their land which, whatever happens, they will retain for ever.

Let me say one word in reference to another friend of Swaziland whose premature death I learned of this morning—namely, Sir Robert Coryndon, who was for a long time Resident Commissioner in Swaziland. All of us who knew him personally feel that in his premature death the Colonial Office has lost one of its best men and one who was doing admirable work in Kenya and elsewhere. Now let me refer to the history of Swaziland. It is a small country but rather peculiar and rather interesting. Some thirty or forty years ago, after the death of Umbandeni. it fell into confusion, and the Transvaal and the Imperial Government jointly controlled the country. That position became intolerable. We had no access to the country, while it was contiguous to the Transvaal, and they had obtained all the administrative concessions. In 1894, under a Convention, the control was handed over under certain conditions to the Transvaal, and that position lasted until the time of the war. During the war the Transvaal, as your Lordships will remember, was annexed, and with it Swaziland also, to the British Crown and Government, and the High Commissioner in the Transvaal had full control over Swaziland.

That continued when responsible government was given to the Transvaal, and also when the Union came into force, although I have never understood why Swaziland was not handed over completely to the Union. But, looking at the past history of Swaziland, its former connection with the Transvaal, its contiguity to it, and its economic dependence upon it, successive British Governments have recognised that if the Union desired the transfer of Swaziland, and the moment was opportune and proper conditions were fulfilled, they would acquiesce in that view. I believe it is no secret that during General Botha's life negotiations took place on two occasions for the transfer. The first came to nothing because of the war. The other, which occurred a few months before he died, was in a fair way of being carried through, and I think that if General Botha had lived probably we should have had Swaziland transferred before this. In neither case did the Imperial Government raise any questions of principle against the transfer itself. There are certain conditions for the protection of the natives contained in the Act. of Union. The main one is the provision for protecting their rights to land contained in Clause 14 of the Schedule and providing that It shall not be lawful to alienate any and in Basutoland or any land forming part of the native reserves in the Bechuanaland Protectorate and Swaziland from the native tribes inhabiting those territories.

As regards their territories, therefore, they are fully protected in the future in any question of transfer, and their native customs and pitsos and representative assemblies are also protected in other ways here. The interests of the natives will, we hope and believe, be fully protected in any question of transfer.

There are two other provisions, not in the Act, which are also some security to them. In the first place the Imperial Parliament has to be consulted, and its assent obtained, before any transfer takes place. I do not attach any great importance to that as a security, because, obviously, if His Majesty's Government and the Union of South Africa have come to an agreement about it, the Imperial Parliament would be very loath to intervene, and would probably accept the proposals without, very much criticism. The other condition to which I draw the special attention of my noble friend who is going to reply to me is not a statutory undertaking, but it is an undertaking to which I do attach great importance. When the Act of Union was going through Parliament it was clearly laid down by the Secretary of State who was then responsible for the Act of Union, that if the transfer of any of these territories was at any time contemplated, and before it was initiated, full notice should be given to the natives of the territory, and full opportunity given to them to express their views in regard to the matter; and various successive High Commissioners have endorsed that pledge more than once. As late as the month before I left South Africa in August, 1920, I emphatically endorsed that pledge, and I feel sure that my noble friend will give us an assurance that this is regarded as a matter of obligation on the part of the Government which must be honoured to the full.

It is of no use disguising the fact that the natives of these three territories are very hostile to any transfer to the Union, and it would be extraordinarily distasteful to them if the transfer took place. They are content to be under the direct control of the Imperial Parliament. They desire to remain as they are. knowing exactly how they stand at the moment. They are nervous and anxious as to what may happen if a. change takes place. I need not trouble your Lordships with quotations from various addresses and petitions which I and my predecessors have received from time to time from natives affected in Swaziland and elsewhere. There has always been a very emphatic desire to remain under the Crown and under Imperial control. It is essential, therefore, it seems to me, before any change is made, that they should have ample time for consideration of the matter, for full explanation to be given and for their interests to be safeguarded—that they should have the opportunity of discussing the matter fully and being able more clearly to understand the safeguards under which they will come, so that their disinclination may be modified or overcome. In my view this is a very important matter, not only from the point of view of the Imperial Government who are concerned to see that no transference shall take place from the Colonial Office to the Union of natives who are unwilling or discontented, but also from the point of view of the Union Government themselves, who have the very heavy burden of the control of an enormous native population. One would imagine that they would not desire to add to their burdens and difficulties by the transfer to them of those natives who do not come more or loss willingly under their control.

Even admitting, as we are bound to admit, the principle to which I have referred—namely, that the Union Government at any time desire the transfer of those territories—it is for His Majesty's Government to decide whether that is an opportune moment at which the transfer should take place—we might ask ourselves whether the present moment, or a period within a comparatively short space of time from the present, is an opportune moment for such a transfer. After all, the last few months in South Africa have completely transformed the political position there. The fusion of the British and a section of the Dutch has ceased to have a majority, and the present Government are predominantly Dutch, with a certain element of Labour, but the natives, unfortunately, have nothing for which to be particularly grateful to Labour in the past. Moreover, the policy which was advocated by those responsible, the Prime Minister of the Union and others, was a policy which, however it may be carried out, aimed, if not at, actual separation, at all events at the diminution of the connection between the Union and the Empire. I think one may say without offence no those who advocated that policy, and to the present Union Government, that that attitude and that action have rendered the transfer of these territories at the present moment more difficult, because the nervousness and fear on the part of the natives in Swaziland, Basutoland, and Bechuanaland have undoubtedly been accentuated thereby.

There is another point which, I think, is germane to the point which I am urging, that the present is an inopportune time to consider the matter, and that is that at the Election General Hertzog, the present Prime Minister, and his principal colleagues advocated a very comprehensive native policy, the basis of which is what is called segregation. Segregation is not a new policy, and in many respects and up to a certain point it is a very proper policy in reference to South Africa. But segregation depends entirely on how it is carried out, and the extent to which it is enforced, so far as the interests of the natives and, indeed, of the whites are concerned. The Union Government have been in office now for some months, but so far they have not thrown any light on this question and on how they propose to carry out their extensive policy of segregation.

The Union Government, I am sure, would themselves make no possible complaint against His Majesty's Government if they said that until they had had an opportunity of seeing, in the form of a Bill and in other ways, what this policy was, and especially until they knew how far it might conflict with the security conditions under the Convention, it was premature to consider the question of transfer. I should like to have that assurance from His Majesty's Government—namely, that they will not be committed to any question of transfer in regard to Swaziland or any other of the Protectorates until the undertaking that the natives should have a complete opportunity of expressing their views upon the matter has been carried out to the full. I should be glad also if they agreed with the view which I have expressed that at all events, for the reasons I have given. it would not be opportune at the present moment, or for some time to come, that such a transfer should take place.

Many other questions arise in connection with transfer, if transfer of Swaziland is to take place. I have dealt solely with the native question. There is, of course, the question of the interests of the white settlers there, who are considerable in numbers; but I do not propose to consider them now, or the problems of representation which this matter raises, because it would be premature to do so until the question of transfer is further advanced. I have ventured to raise this Question as we have seen a great many rumours and statements in the Press, in order that we may have the full information which is in possession of His Majesty's Government, and in order to allay the fears of the natives that some premature action may be taken before they have an opportunity of expressing their views.


My Lords, I am sure my noble friend will not expect me to make any observations on the first part of his speech, except to assure him that I will do the best I can to answer the Question. I think, as a matter of meticulous accuracy, he was not quite correct in saying that there is nobody in the other place who has represented His Majesty the King in the Colonies. I have looked into the works of reference on the Table and I see that a former distinguished Governor of New South Wales took the Oath yesterday, so that there is one at any rate. The noble Earl referred to certain rumours which had arisen with regard to Bechuanaland and Swaziland, and I think the fact that certain deputations have waited on the High Commissioner for South Africa and on the Prime Minister of the Union, General Hertzog, has perhaps given rise to the belief that the question of the transfer of the Protectorate of Bechuanaland and the district of Swaziland, both of which, as my noble friend observed, are at present under the administration of the High Commissioner, had advanced a great deal further than it really has.

The noble Earl, in his speech, drew attention to Section 151 of the South Africa Act. In that Act the possibility of the eventual transfer of the Protectorate of Bechuanaland and the district of Swaziland was taken into consideration by those who framed the Act, of whom my noble friend was one, and if your Lordships will turn to the section you will see that provision in regard to such transfer is made. So far as the present state of affairs is concerned, an announcement which has recently appeared in the South African Press shows, I think, that no step has been taken in the direction of a transfer beyond the discussions with the deputations to which I have referred. It is possible that your Lordships may not have noticed that announcement, because I do not think it has been given much publicity in the English Press, so, with your Lordships' permission, I will read it.

It runs as follows: Recent deputations to the Prime Minister from the European inhabitants of Swaziland and Bechuanaland having aroused considerable public interest in the political future of these territories, the Union Government has thought it advisable to make the following statement of the position:— 'The Imperial Government has not been asked by the Union Government to come to any decision on the question of the transfer to the Union either of the Bechuanaland Protectorate or Swaziland administration. The Prime Minister has so far done nothing more than express to Mr. Thomas his personal belief that the time is approaching when views on the question might be informally exchanged with advantage, and after the present British Government assumed office Mr. Amery was acquainted with the suggestions that had been made to his predecessor. 'The representations which the deputations have made to the Prime Minister will be borne in mind, but the Union Government feels that there are many important considerations which will require careful study before any negotiations with the Imperial authorities can be initiated. The Union Government does not in any event intend to ask for the transfer of either territory at present, nor will the question, so far as they are concerned, be raised during the forthcoming Session of Parliament.' So far as the matter stands at present, your Lordships will see that the Union Government realise that a very careful study will have to be made of the important considerations involved before negotiations can be opened with the Imperial authorities for any action under Section 151. It will be seen also that in any case the Union Government do not intend to ask for such action at present, nor do they intend to raise the matter during the forthcoming Session of Parliament.

I think this disposes of the question for the present, for your Lordships will see that the matter has not yet reached the stage at which His Majesty's Government have been asked to arrive at any decision. So I turn to the second part of my noble friend's question, which inquires as to the terms on which such a transfer might be effected, if and when that transfer should take place. As the Imperial Government have not yet been approached in the matter it is obviously premature to make any statement as to what conditions would be attached to any such transfer. It would not, of course, be possible to consider that matter until a definite proposal had been made by the Union Government. I think my noble friend discussed the question in rather general terms and, generally speaking, I can assure him that the provisions of Section 151 of the South Africa Act, 1909, will be carefully adhered to. As I think my noble friend pointed out, that Section provides that His Majesty the King, with the advice of the Privy Council, may, on addresses from the Union Parliament, transfer to the Union Government such territories as are referred to in the Question, and if such territories are transferred their government will be carried out in accordance with the terms embodied in the Schedule to the Act, to which my noble friend referred at some length. As my noble friend mentioned—he read, I think. Clause 14 of the Schedule—the Schedule sets out in great detail the safeguards and conditions which regulate the government of the native population of such transferred territories.

Then, lastly, my noble friend inquires what steps will be taken to give the native population, and I think he also said the white population, an opportunity of expressing their views before any final decision is reached. The noble Earl has already mentioned the debates which took place in your Lordships' House and in another place during the passage of the Act of 1909. He referred also to the assurances which were given by himself and others who have held the post of Governor-General of South Africa. As he rightly said, assurances were given in 1909 that in the event of a transfer being contemplated steps would be taken to ascertain the views of the population inhabiting the territory proposed to be transferred. His Majesty's Government adhere to that pledge, and if at any time they should be asked to come to any decision in regard to any such transfer as that referred to in this Question, they will not make any decision until the native population and the white population have had full opportunity of expressing their views, and any views they may express, and any representations which cither the native population or the white population may make to His Majesty's Government, will receive the most careful consideration before the Government come to any final decision in regard to the matter. I do not think I can usefully follow my noble friend any further in his observations on the general question, and I hope that the information I have been able to give him will he satisfactory.


My Lords, I intervene only for the purpose of saying one or two words upon this matter. I am glad that my noble friend has placed this Question upon the Paper. He speaks, of course, upon these questions with very great experience and authority, and I am sure that anything he has to say on such matters will always receive the most close consideration of His Majesty's Government. The point upon which I wish to say a word or two concerns the interests of the natives. Certain assurances have been given and their interests are in certain respects also safeguarded by legislation; but I would like to press upon the noble Earl and upon His Majesty's Government the extreme importance of making sure that if and when the natives are given an opportunity of expressing their views before any final decision is arrived at, it shall be a real and full opportunity, and not merely to the chiefs but the natives themselves. It is not easy, I know, to find out exactly what they are thinking, but certain steps should be taken and I hope that in due course those steps will be taken. The interests of the natives are many. They are not confined merely to the land, though that, no doubt, is their chief interest, but they have other interests—labour conditions, and so forth. I venture, therefore, to take advantage of the opportunity to express the hope that in regard to anything which may be done about these matters in the future, as also in regard to the whole policy in Africa where we have to safeguard the interest of the natives, the closest attention will be given to them.